Posts Tagged memoir

book review: Cut Me Loose

cut me loose

Cut Me Loose: Sin and Salvation After My Ultra-Orthodox Girlhood By Leah Vincent.
Penguin Books| May 12, 2015|256 pages |$16.00| ISBN: 978-0-14-312741-3

Rating: 3.5/5*

Leah Vincent divides Orthodox Jews in three groups: Hasidic; Modern Orthodox –“semiassimilated into modern life—and Yeshivish –“committed to the centrality of the yeshivas—study halls where men ponder ancient legal texts.” It sounds a lot like the Amish. No television or modern technology. Little higher education. Young girls get married off as teenagers to start families at age 16 if possible. It’s a fundamentalist religion that many don’t understand and with knowledge/education and other options might disagree with it.

At the beginning echoing back to a teenage voice Vincent explains how she began to question the Yeshivish lifestyle and faith as a teen when she became interested in boys. That seems to be the main issue with which she struggles: “Yeshivish girls were not permitted to talk to boys. We were not allowed even to think of them. Since adolescence had arrived, my desire had roiled within, getting larger in the small container of my skin. My feelings were intensified and distorted in their repression. Nearly every boy I saw became a swoon-worthy Prince Charming.”

At 16 she’s sent to a Yeshivish school in Manchester, England where she meets a boy and they begin a correspondence. Her parents find out and she’s banished first to Israel as a semi-last resort. Vincent writes: “Though I understood the smallest brush with promiscuity spread around a girl and her family like toxic ink in a fishbowl, my banishment from Manchester was crushing. I was not a loudmouthed slutty girl who laughed at Jewish law. I was a girl who cried real tears over the destruction of the Temples every Tisha B’Av. I was a girl who would never sneak a kosher candy bar that did not carry the extra-strict cholov Yiroel certification. I wanted to be good. I was good. I had just been curious.”

Vincent then attends a school in Jerusalem. Her parents aren’t happy but don’t give up immediately. However, when she’s caught hanging around with boys her parents cast her out to live and work alone in New York. At first tries to stick to her Orthodox ways by eating Kosher, dressing modestly but soon enough isolated, confused and alone she spirals into a self-destructive phase. She cuts her arms. “The cutting gave me such release, I returned to it again and again and again in the days that followed, until it became a regular habit. The relief I found in cutting my skin helped me cope as I lived my split life of religion and college, modesty and loneliness, hope and memory.”

She has unsafe sex. She puts herself into situations where she’s raped and abused. Vincent quite explicitly describes the sexual situations. Perhaps she thought it would intensify or explain her turmoil. For someone so downtrodden she manages to work, pay her bills and attend college. At college she has an affair with a married professor 40 years her senior. The misguided father figure affair.

“I had chosen freedom, and I had paid the price: The loss of my family. Too much heartbreak. PID [pelvic inflammatory disease]. But where was my delicious free-for-all? Where was all the candy sweetness of sin I had been so direly warned about? Wasn’t that supposed to come along with its toxicity? All I seemed to encounter was rejection and disappointment. What other commandments would I have to break to access the goodies?”

Being agnostic, I don’t understand the draw of religions that don’t value women, that want to keep women in domesticated roles, bearing as many children as possible and never becoming educated. Strict religions and cults intrigue me. How can these strict religions and cults exist in the modern world? That’s why this memoir intrigued me. Vincent writes well. A bit more on her college experiences besides the affair with the teacher and her drive to attend Harvard for graduate school would make this much better.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Penguin Random House.

Cut Me Loose: Sin and Salvation After My Ultra-Orthodox Girlhood

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book review: Whatever . . . Love is Love

love is love

Whatever . . . Love is Love By Maria Bello.
Dey Street Books| May 12, 2015|256 pages |$25.99| ISBN: 978-0-062351838

Rating: ****/5*

Actress and activist Maria Bello is known for her roles on ER and in films like Coyote Ugly and A History of Violence. She wrote a much lauded and popular Modern Love essay for the New York Times entitled “Coming Out as a Modern Family.” Bello wanted to share her disdain for labels and illuminate how her perhaps unusual family situation works. She’d fallen in love with a female best friend yet remained close with her 12-year-old son Jackson’s father. While struggling from a parasitic infection after a trip to Haiti, Bello started reading her journals and decided she thoroughly need to tell her story.

“In the summer of 2013, while I struggled in the hospital, I realized that waiting to do something isn’t always an option. In a moment, everything could end, and my stories would be lost—stories of love, partnership, miracles, and madness that filled the hundreds of notebooks beneath my bed. During my months of recovery, I read through each one of my trusted journals, collections of my thoughts since I was a teenager.”

In Whatever . . . Love is Love: Questioning the Labels We Give Ourselves, Bello ponders many aspects of her life. She shares intimate details about failed affairs, insecurities, challenges growing up with an alcoholic bipolar father and her own bipolar diagnosis. She shares stories and thoughts on being labeled a humanitarian, a feminist, a mother, a daughter, a sister, an actress and a lover. In her memoir Bello answers questions such as am I a partner; am I perfect; am I a good mom; am I a humanitarian; am I a feminist; am I a writer. This is how she shares her stories and shares herself with the reader. She lives life on her own terms. While Hollywood and acting situations constantly change and flow, Bello strives to remain in the moment and be appreciative. She possesses a beautiful spirit and attitude. It’s an enlightening read that’s honest, smart and thoughtful.

On labels:

“Traditional labels just don’t seem to fit anymore. These labels are limiting the possibility for people to question more and become who they are meant to be. By asking questions and challenging our own beliefs, I feel we can update all of our outdated labels and realize that labels need to evolve just like people do.”

On the term partner:

“I have never understood the distinction of a ‘primary’ partner. Does that imply that we have secondary and tertiary partners, too? To me, a partner is someone you rely on in your life—for help, companionship, mutual respect, and support.”

On sex vs. love:

“To me, sexual desire and love are two different things. That certainly doesn’t mean that people inside of long-term committed relationships don’t have great sex. I know some who do. But not many, if I’m honest.”

Maria Bello has struggled with the sex/love connection like many women:

“I felt rejected. I knew he just wanted sex and what I really wanted was sex and love.”

She’s done humanitarian work in Nicaragua, many countries in Africa and Haiti. After the Haiti earthquake Bello returned to help: “Those of us who went in those days after the quake all experienced a deep despair, and an incredible joy, feelings that would bond us together for life. In those first few months after the earthquake, I saw the best and worst of what human beings, nature, and I are capable of. I saw moments of grace that I won’t ever forget. We were all challenged by what we experienced. When I left Haiti for the first time after the earthquake, all I could think of was returning.”

She expresses what many with mental illness feel and for an actress, celebrity, public figure to discuss mental illness so openly and bravely is wonderful for the rest of us who also grapple with mental illness every day: “I cried because no one would ever want me, because I was too messed up. And now, everyone knew. They knew that my father was sick in his head and that I was just like him.” And another reality: “Now and again over the years I’ve had to adjust my meds, just like my dad and others I know who have this or similar illnesses. I am dutiful about taking my pills every day. But once every couple of years, if I am triggered in some way or the medicine stops working, I find I’m not quite myself. I know it’s time to go back to the doctor. And I do. I know that without medication I would end up suicidal and eventually dead.”

On feminism:

“For me, calling someone a feminist is one of the highest compliments I can pay a woman, or a man, for that matter. It’s a label I give myself and I wholeheartedly accept others giving it to me.”

On being herself:

“I am already whole—just complicated, wounded, loving, difficult, and kind. I have finally discovered the joy that comes from hitting bottom and pushing oneself up to the top again.”

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Dey Street Books.

Whatever…Love Is Love: Questioning the Labels We Give Ourselves

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book review: How to Grow Up

how to grow up

How to Grow Up By Michelle Tea.
Plume| January 2015.| 304 pages |$16.00| ISBN: 978-0142181195

Rating: 3.5/5*

“If your path into so-called adulthood has been more meandering and counterintuitive than fast-tracked, then this is the book for all of you, my darlings.”

“Those ten years living below poverty level would likely be unacceptable to someone reared in a wealthier environment, but I always expected I’d be poor. I hadn’t expected to be able to build a life around being creative, and I really hadn’t expected to ever make a living at it.”

The Chelsea, Massachusetts native writes about her prolonged move into what many deem adulthood—the societal check-list sort—buying a home, having a successful career, not living paycheck to paycheck and being in a stable adult marriage that maybe includes marriage and a family. As a fellow GenXer I understand the protracted route. Not knowing exactly what you want to do or where you want to be. Not knowing how to become who you want or how to be who you are and make money. All real worries. Plus roadblocks both mental and actual. In her youth, Tea worked lots of odd jobs. Some places fired her and some she quit. She learned from it: “I realized that having a job to fund your life’s purpose was every bit as important as being ready to quit your job when it got in the way of your life’s purpose.”

How to Grow Up is a series of essays that connects Tea from her childhood in working-class Chelsea to her happy marriage in San Francisco. She discusses meditation, Buddhism, healthy eating, feminism, writing, working out, being a creative type and finding love. Tea writes: “At forty-three years old, I think I’ve finally arrived, but my path has been via many dark alleys and bumpy back roads.”

In “You Deserve This” she writes of her awful apartment experiences–places chosen for locations and cheap rent. Most of us urban dwellers have had relatable experiences. I’ve moved annually. I could probably write a book about it. She writes: “It was as if each new apartment would elicit from us the harmony we lacked, each new house key a metaphorical key, too, the elusive key to making this thing work.” Also this wise statement: “By the end, I knew one thing for sure. Whatever relationship you are in right now, that is the relationship you’re in. You’re not in the future awesome relationship that may never happen. You’re not in the possibility of it, you’re in the reality of it.” So live in the moment. Get out if it’s bad. Seek therapy if you can.

Redefining feminism I understand. I had a millennial tell me that she felt guilty getting a pedicure and felt it was an anti-feminist thing. Tea explores Botox, anti-aging creams and other beauty products in “I’m So Vain.” She states: “When feminism felt like it was bumming out my reality, it was time to redefine what a feminist was.” At the base level feminism means equal rights for women in all aspects of society. Of course after Patricia Arquette’s wonderful speech about pay inequity at this year’s Academy Awards, she’s been called out for not being inclusive enough, overlooking that fact that she brought up the subject at all. It’s become that this white woman cannot speak for all of us. I would like women to just support other women.

Her relationship with veganism, being a Buddhist and eating healthy carries complicated explanations. In “My $1,100 Birthday Apartment” she said: “There was not a moment of hesitation about which purse I desire. It consisted of the slashed, long-haired pelt of some poor animal I hoped had died a natural death, not that I thought too much about it.” So she knows that likely that animal did not die a peaceful death for your designer bag. That dichotomy. Eating animals does hurt the animals and the environment and one’s health. All things that at various times, Tea says she cares about. She writes in “WWYMD: What Would Young Michelle Do?”: “I still wonder about my ability to love and emphasize with animals and yet eat them. It seems a disconnect must be in place, a kind of denial, but the more I probe, the more I believe it’s not denial but acceptance. I am a feeling, loving human who lives off the meat of other feeling, loving animals.” And then: “But somewhere along my stumble to adulthood I began to realize that, while it was important, food tasting good was only part of it. It should also be good for you, and maybe even be produced in a way that doesn’t harm working people or the planet itself.”

She starts to loosely practice Buddhism like most Americans who practice Buddhism. Buddhists are vegan. Not many Americans have the willpower to be vegan. One of the tenements is not to kill anything. She finds that meditation helps her greatly: “So Buddhism didn’t get me high, and it didn’t make me stop hating my ex. What it did do is show me exactly where the problem was located: in my mind. Which was great, because my mind, unlike my ex, was something I had some control over.”

Tea chooses not to be involved with anyone with depression and that’s her prerogative. Many people want to stay away from the crazy of mental illness. It takes a truly compassionate person to date someone with mental illness. Of course no one can prevent being mentally ill. Tea says in “Beware of Sex and Other Rules for Love:” “One standard that took me a while to wake up to was, no depression people. It was tricky in many ways, the deepest being that depressed people were my type, and for a long time, I didn’t even know it. Depression is like a haze, a cloud or an aura that surrounds certain people.” She meets a woman who complements her personality and loves her as is. They marry. Of Dashiell she writes: “As someone who likes to say yes to lots of things, especially odd clothes and home décor sourced from dusty thrift shops, I have been blessed to be with someone like Dashiell, whose dial is set to no.”

Although slow to start in which I had my doubts I ultimately truly liked my first Michelle Tea experience. I will seek out another of her memoirs. Some essays are more interesting and stronger than others but ultimately How to Grow Up is worth reading.

–review by Amy Steele
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Plume.

purchase the book: How to Grow Up: A Memoir

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book review: Ghost Waltz

ghost waltz

The Ghost Waltz by Ingeborg Day. Publisher: Harper Perennial (June 2014). Memoir. Paperback.  232 pages. ISBN13: 9780062310002.

“It was simple. If I detested anti-Semitism with my brain and soul, I had to distance myself from my parents to a degree unbearable for me. So I detested anti-Semitism with my brain alone.”

An editor at Ms. Magazine, Ingeborg Day published both Nine and a Half Weeks and Ghost Waltz in the 1980s under a pseudonym. Born in Austria in the midst of World War II, Day didn’t hear about Nazis, Hitler or the Holocaust until she moved to the United States in 1957. However she already retains a hatred for Jews, Jewishness and Israel ingrained into her psyche from an early age. She recognizes that she works with many Jewish people and counts many Jews as her friends. This memoir recounts memories of her Nazi father as well as retracing her mother’s ancestry to Vienna.

“To say, ‘My father was a Nazi,’ is bad enough. To say, “He belonged to the SS,’ and to say it in Manhattan, today means that every listener assumes my father pushed bodies into gas chambers, spend quiet evenings stretching skin into lampshades.”

Day traverses between her past in Austria to her present in New York. She explains the differences between Austria and Germany during WWII and that many people don’t distinguish between the two countries. She provides immense historical background about Austria and the Nazi party. She somewhat comes to terms with her own degree of anti-Semitism as much as a New York magazine editor can. Day connects a dark past, her parents’ even darker existence with her present. She recalls the time she slept with a Jewish guy who thought it rather reckless, even bemusing, that he was having sex with a Nazi’s daughter. He only wished she could dress the part. Ghost Waltz is detailed and somewhat provocative. It’s also indulgent. A glimpse into one’s soul-searching that proves absorbing at parts and tedious at others.

RATING: ***/5

<em>FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Harper Perennial/Harper. </em>

purchase at Amazon: Ghost Waltz: A Family Memoir (P.S.)

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book review: Men We Reaped


Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward. Publisher: Bloomsbury (2013). Memoir. Hardcover. 272 pages. ISBN 9781608195213

“From 2000 to 2004, five Black young men I grew up with died, all violently, in seemingly unrelated deaths. The first was my brother, Joshua, in October 2000. The second was Ronald in December 2002. The third was C.J. in January 2004. The fourth was Desmond in February 2004. The last was Roger in June 2004. That’s a brutal list in its immediacy and its relentlessness, and it’s a list that silences people. It silenced me for a long time.”

A heartbreaking, honest and gripping memoir in which Jesmyn Ward describes growing up poor and black in Louisiana and its impact on both the deaths of these five black young men as well as on her writing and her life. statistically these black young men have little chance to succeed—to make it much beyond high school, to college, to age 21, to age 25 and beyond, to get past a life of drugs, poverty and living paycheck to paycheck. Ward illuminates the broadening gap between race and class in our country. These struggles and prejudices have long existed in the south for young black man for which this memoir’s a distressing reminder.

Ward’s mother never went to college and worked cleaning houses to take care of her four children—Jesmyn, her brother Joshua and two sisters Charine and Nerissa. My mom didn’t go to college either but secretarial school. My parents also divorced when I was in elementary school. My mom did re-marry, Never did I doubt my future educational path: college and graduate school. White-privilege. I get it. I understand I have it. I was born in Massachusetts. Grew up middle-class in Connecticut and Massachusetts, now live in Boston and that’s my point of reference. Though I’m unemployed, don’t receive unemployment benefits, SSDI or a paycheck, I’ll likely never know the poverty that these men and Ward herself knew growing up in Louisiana.

Ward’s parents didn’t divorce right away but her father wasn’t around often and wasn’t faithful to her mother. A drifter and dreamer, her father moved out. [“He was forever in love with the promise of the horizon: the girls he cheated with, fell in love with, one after another, all corporeal telescopes to another reality.”]

Ward writes: “His leaving felt like a repudiation of the child I was and the young woman I was growing into. I looked at myself and saw a walking embodiment of everything the world around me seemed to despise: an unattractive, poor, Black woman. Undervalued by society regarding her labor and her beauty.” She didn’t have the best grades at school but she fell in love with books and reading. As for many girls, literature proved to be somewhere to escape for Ward. She could engulf herself between the pages and discover new worlds and literary role models “. . . I found girls who were strong and smart and creative and foolish enough to fight dragons, to run away from home and live in museums, to become child spies, to make new friends and build secret gardens.”

At some point, her mom worked for a wealthy and generous lawyer, a Harvard alumnus, who practiced in New Orleans and offered to pay to send Jesmyn to private school—of course an amazing opportunity for her—allowing her a chance to attend college which she does. She writes: “I knew there was much to hate about home, the racism and inequality and poverty, which is why I’d left, yet I loved it.” Ward earned her undergraduate degree from Stanford and her M.F.A. from the University of Michigan. When her brother died she was working in New York at a publishing company.

“Perhaps my father taught my brother what it meant to be a Black man in the South too well: unsteady work, one dead-end job after another, institutions that systematically undervalue him as a work, a citizen, a human being.”

RATING: *****/5

also on my Best Books of 2013 List

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Bloomsbury.

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Sister Mother Husband Dog (etc.): book review

sister mother husband dog

Sister Mother Husband Dog (etc.) by Delia Ephron. Publisher: Blue Rider Press (September 17, 2013). Essay/Memoir. Hardcover. 224 pages. ISBN 978-0-399-16655-6.

“No question, I had an inbred arrogance about the culture I was raised in, about the worship of books, theater, writing and brains. My mother often said proudly, ‘We have books in every room.’ Yes, floor-to-ceiling shelves galore crammed with books. There were not artfully placed objets on our shelves. Every ounce of space was for the written word.”
From “Am I Jewish Enough?”

When Delia Ephron’s essay collection arrived at my door I was just finishing up her sister Hallie’s latest thriller. Talented sisters from a talented family. Set aside a few hours because once you start reading, you won’t want to stop. Delia tackles the profound to the superficial with wit, perception and charm. She maintains a steady wisdom-filled tone. She’s a woman who’s experienced plenty and shares mistakes, some secrets and reflects upon life lessons with those willing to listen.

I knew the Ephrons grew up in Los Angeles but didn’t know that Nora, Hallie, Delia and Amy’s parents wrote screenplays such as There’s No Business Like Show Business, The Jackpot, Carousel and Desk Set. But as Delia writes in “Why I Can’t Write About My Mother,” their mother was also a fierce alcoholic. One of those working alcoholics. Delia writes: “I believe having an alcoholic parent is not only something to write about, but that there is an obligation to do it. Growing up as that child is lonely, isolating, confusing, and damaging. There are lots of us. If I have the power by telling a story to make an isolated person less alone, that is a good thing. Besides, I don’t believe in protecting parents who drink—sympathizing, forgiving, but not protecting.”

In the heartbreaking and reminiscent essay “Losing Nora,” Ephron writes about her writing collaboration [You’ve Got Mail, This is My Life] with her competition older sister Nora who died from cancer last year. “Our lives were in some ways entirely separate and unknown to each other, in other ways like vines twisted together. Invading her privacy is not something I want to do.” In other words, the essay’s about their working relationship, their sisterly bonds. You’ll read nothing about Nora’s battle with cancer. That, Delia explains is not her story to tell. “Blame It On the Movies” quaintly chronicles Delia’s introduction to romantic comedies and how she’d compare everything relationship going forward to a movie. She writes: “So there was this problem in my first marriage along with many others. I was actually in love with a city, not a person. No movie prepared me for city love.” [Well said, Delia, well said and completely understandable.]

“Am I Jewish Enough?” allows Delia to delve into the religious question when she’s asked to speak at an exclusive book club to promote her latest novel. She’s never been very strict about her religion and now questions whether she’s welcome into the fold, so to speak. It’s provocative and immensely contemplative. One of the best essays in the collection. “I felt the oppression of religion. Of any organization that gathers us because we’re one religion and not another. Because what I really think is that there is too much religion these days. Too much ‘I’m this and you’re that.’ Fanatics are everywhere.”

The essay “Bakeries” turns into a brilliant mediation on having it all. As women, whether we choose to marry or not. Whether we choose to have children or not. We still get caught in the debate how far to lean in or not. Whether we’re too bitchy or too much of push-overs. Delia writes: “One of the most revolting parts of the American female version–and there are many revolting parts—is that having it all defines “all” in one way: marriage, children, career. It assumes all women want the same thing. Success rests on achieving three goals (life viewed not as a continuum, but an endpoint), and these goals, as it happens, are exactly the ones that will declare you a success at your high school reunion.” Absolutely. This is why I generally avoid Facebook and get super depressed at high school reunions.

Delia and I are Twitter friends (at least in MY mind—bonding with #TheHairReport) so reading her essay collection just brought us closer.

RATING: *****/5

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Blue Rider Press.

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Elsewhere: book review


Elsewhere: A Memoir by Richard Russo. Publisher: Knopf (December 2012). Memoir. Hardcover. 243 pages. ISBN: 978-0-307-95953-9.

Richard Russo doesn’t write particularly empathetic female characters. Writers write what they know and any psychiatrist might extrapolate the relationship with his mother from his novels. In Elsewhere, Russo describes a mother so dependent on her son that she follows him constantly, across the country from New York to Arizona and back to Maine. She suffers various afflictions and anxieties though never seeks any medicinal or therapeutic help. Russo’s a fantastic writer but there’s an arrogance to this. He writes, “From the time I was a boy I understood that my mother’s health, her well-being, was in my hands.” Just how much does he resent his mother?

“My mother’s ‘condition.’ This was something the whole family seemed aware of, but no one talked about it. One word, nerves, was evidently deemed sufficient to describe, categorize, stigmatize, and dismiss it.”

Russo left the factory town of Gloverstown, New York in 1967. He writes of it often—Empire Falls, Nobody’s Fool, The Whore’s Child—but he’s never been back. When Russo enters the University of Arizona, his mother tells him she’s left her well-paying job and will move to Arizona as well. She needs a fresh start too, after all. This continues. He finds apartment after apartment for his mother wherever he’s living. While exhibiting a snobby outward appearance she’s becoming increasingly shaky and unsure of herself. She claims independence and feigns disdain when Russo offers assistance.

She can’t understand why her son, an accomplished scholar, a PhD, continues to write about their mired hometown. She’s never satisfied. Russo says one kind thing about his mother and that’s her accumulation of books and her establishment of some sort of library—“If a stranger came into her apartment, a quick scan of her books would give him a pretty good idea of who she was, whereas all he could say about ours was, Boy, these people sure have a lot of books.” When his daughter gets diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder [OCD], Russo ponders his mother through a diagnostic lens. Mental illness can skip a generation. Elsewhere is quite stark yet enthralling, honest. This memoir now becomes part of my library.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher.

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loose diamonds: book review

loose diamonds by Amy Ephron. Publisher: William Morrow Paperback (September 2012). Memoir. Paperback. 166 pages. ISBN: 978-0-06-195878-6.

Certainly the Ephron family grew up unlike many other families but also like many families in Hollywood. Creative. Eccentric. Domestic help. Private schools. When Amy Ephron had her own family she also had help raising her children and sent them off to various private schools. Amy wrote two charming historical novels that I recommend as often as possible, A Cup of Tea and One Sunday Morning.

In this delightful collection of essays, Amy Ephron shares her deft observations about a multitude of subjects including her childhood, her mother, giving birth, fancy shoes, shopping (particularly at Saks), affairs, flying, her first marriage, divorce and her second marriage. She loses things—sometimes objects, sometimes relationships, sometimes emotional states– and through heartfelt, witty, insightful and clever means, she explains to the reader how she’s learned from those losses. It’s a sparkling memoir.

A burglar steals jewelry from Ephron’s home in “Loose Diamonds.” Much of it irreplaceable antiques. Ephron admits she doesn’t wear it often but had maybe planned to pass some along to her children. Since she kept it locked in a safe and rarely wore the pieces, she re-evaluates its necessity. The startling premature birth of her daughter Maia centers the sweet, darling essay “Labor Day” – “I looked at Maia in her little wicker basket in our little house in Laurel Canyon and I realized that I couldn’t leave. . . I realized I wasn’t going to be able to leave for something like the next 21 years, not in any substantive way anyway.”

Can you imagine separating from your husband and he proceeds to sleep with most of the mothers in your son’s elementary school class? This happened to Ephron and she tells-all in “Musical Chairs.” She’s tipped off when a strangely jealous mom rear-ends her at pick-up time. Two years after her divorce she remarried and writes honestly in “Post-Modern Life” how “families meld, change, grow, have spats, meltdowns, blowups, periods of time when they don’t speak and periods when they’re incredibly cozy, envy morphs into support or vice versa (particularly if the siblings are close in age).” My favorite might be the apropos newest essay added to the paperback edition “The Best Kept Secrets” in which Ephron ponders secrets and whether affairs must become public knowledge or not. Can a kiss be just a kiss?

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher.

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book review: Who I Am

Who I Am by Pete Townshend. Publisher: Harper Collins (October 8, 2012). Memoir. Hardcover. 544 pages. ISBN: 978-0062127242

“My characteristic stance on stage—the leaping, the windmilling and wrecking of guitars—was by now a purely physical display of macho swagger, yet at a psychic level the Angry Yobbo, or hooligan, had seared himself into my soul, and I was still no wiser about where all that energy came from.”

Whenever I listen to The Who’s Greatest Hits while power-walking, I windmill during “My Generation” and “Who Are You.” Doesn’t everyone? It’s addictive to picture yourself onstage like guitarist Pete Townshend shredding away. On this website, Entertainment Realm, I mostly review music and books. This memoir seemed the perfect thing. Growing up after The Who achieved notoriety I wasn’t an avid fan and didn’t appreciate them until much more recently. I like The Who now. I’m not a fan of a lot of classic bands.

If you expect rampant tales of sex, drugs and rock and roll in this memoir you’ll be disappointed. It’s tame compared to other rocker memoirs. Townshend used this more as a meditation on his years with the band. In this memoir, Townshend focuses on how he developed as a musician, how he helped shape The Who into the powerhouse legendary band it became and how drugs and alcohol nearly made him lose everything. Keith Moon’s death only garners a sentence in the book. Of course he’s talented and wrote many memorable songs for The Who. He’s also immensely arrogant.

He includes details about his numerous side projects including developing a company to build home studios, working at a publishing company and writing for a music magazine. He ponders his difficult childhood and its effect on his adulthood [including a sting that got him arrested in a child pornography ring]. Who I Am will mostly appeal to die-hard The Who fans. It’s slow, tempered and not terribly juicy.

On Being a Londoner:

“I am British. I am a Londoner. I was born in West London just as the devastating World War came to a close.”

On abandonment:

“Denny’s feelings for me seemed vengeful, as did Mum’s abandonment. The deaths or disappearances of the beloved men in my life—my absent father and the recently departed George VI—seemed vengeful too. At the age of seven, love and leadership both felt bankrupt.”

Post-war creativity:

“For me these feelings coalesced in a conviction that amid the aftermath of war had to be confronted and expressed in all popular art—not just literature, poetry or Picasso’s Guernica. Music too. All good art cannot help but confront denial on its way to the truth.”

Creating songs:

“One notion kept coming into my head: I can’t explain. I can’t explain. This would be the title of my second song, and I was already doing something I would often do in the future: writing songs about music.”

“‘Happy Jack,’ a nonsense song I wrote about a village idiot from the Isle of Man. This is Paul McCartney’s favourite Who song—tellingly, because it was partly inspired by ‘Eleanor Rigby,’ which I thought was a small masterpiece.”

“One of the important documents I referred to while writing Tommy was a diagram I had sketched of the beginning and end of seven journeys involving rebirth.”

On Mick Jagger:

“Mick is the only man I’ve ever seriously wanted to fuck. He was wearing loose pyjama-style pants without underwear; as he leaned back I couldn’t help noticing the lines of his cock laying against the inside of his leg, long and plump. Mick was clearly very well-endowed.”

Personal issues:

“Years later I would discover that I really was struggling with some psychological anger that had always needed management, perhaps treatment.”

“Drinking was now necessary every day there was a show, but I knew when I got back to my family I could knuckle down and behave.”

Fan mail:

“If men sent photos they tended to be family-oriented, fathers and sons, or groups of men at rock shows or baseball games. Women’s photos were almost always solo, intended to trigger a connection.”

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher.

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This is How: book review

This is How by Augusten Burroughs. Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (2012). Self-help/memoir. Hardcover. 230 pages. 978-0312563554.

Being an unhappy person does not mean you must be sad or dark. You can be interested instead of happy. You can be fascinated instead of happy.

The rare writer who transforms dark thoughts and memories into cleverly worded stories about love, loss and learning, Augusten Burroughs has never been someone I consider to be a humorous writer but a memoir writer with a sense of humor and a dry wit. I’ll smirk here and there. I appreciate its honesty, bizarreness, rawness. He is willing to share intimate moments and thoughts. Of course, that makes or breaks a good memoir. apparently he’s decided that his years as an alcoholic and his experiences with a lover dying of AIDs as well as being fat, rejected, insecure, suicidal, among other things makes him the perfect person to write a how-to book. And I have to agree. Why not? Everyone has one out there– Bethenny of Real Housewives fame, Taxi’s Marilu Henner, [insert pop star name here].

A Wolf at the Table remains my favorite by Augusten. Sure Running with Scissors really went deep and was so implausible that people couldn’t help but laugh at Augusten’s situation. I think a lot of people lump him in with David Sedaris because they’re both gay and a bit off-beat. Gay is the only commonality between the two. Although, for the record, I don’t really think Sedaris is that funny. Augusten would be my friend if we ever met. I’d make him be. This is How has chapters on how to commit suicide, how to be with a dying lover, how to be fat, how to be thin, how to succeed, how to find love, how to be confident and much more from someone who hasn’t researched the best way for you to do these things. No. He’s giving the reader advice based on own painful trials and tribulations.

A few gems I’d like to share:

How to Find Love:

Personal ads and dating websites work. Anything that hurls your ass into the orbit of other living people can work. But there’s still a mistrust of the Internet.

You are exactly everything enough to the person who thinks you are.

How to Be Confident:

To allow yourself to be ‘yourself’ when you are with others, you don’t need to have years of therapy-polished love for yourself—merely tolerance.

How to End Your Life:

If you hate life, you haven’t seen enough of it. If you hate your life, it’s because your life is too small and doesn’t fit you. However big you think your life is, it’s nothing compared to what’s out there.

How to Identify Love By Knowing What It’s Not:
[This was one of the most enlightening and comforting chapters for me]

Love Doesn’t Use a fist.
Love never calls you fat or lazy or ugly.
Love does not ask or even want you to change. But if you change, Love is as excited about this change as you are, if not more so.
Love does not maintain a list of your flaws and weaknesses.
Love believes you.

An abusive partner is controlling. They are manipulative. They might make a special point of coyly sharing information that they actually know will upset you. They might supply reasonable arguments as to why they and not you should make important decisions.

Emotional abuse is the process of breaking the spirit or shattering the confidence of another for one’s own purpose.

Abusive people never change.

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purchase at Amazon: This Is How: Proven Aid in Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decrepitude & More. For Young and Old Alike.

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