Posts Tagged memoir

book review: Drawing Blood

drawing blood

Drawing Blood by Molly Crabapple. Harper| December 2015| 352 pages | $29.99| ISBN: 978-0-06-232364-4

RATING: *****/5*

“I wanted to meld my two communities: professionally-gazed-at girls like Stoya, and professionally-listened-to journalists like Laurie [Penny] and Tash [Natasha Lennard]. The world tells women they must choose between intellect and glamour, but I saw no such distinction.”

What a difficult review for me to write. It’s such a beautiful book. Gorgeous drawings. An intriguing, meaningful progression. I’d like to say just read it already.

Feminist and activist Molly Crabapple details her journey from burlesque dancer to artist who sketches conflicts and society’s woes with fervent energy in this compelling memoir. Born in New York, Molly has lived there her entire life. She now travels extensively to worn-torn and hot-zone countries in order to document the travesties so the rest of the world can see and feel what she witnessed through her writing and drawings. She’s an artist and a journalist these days but it wasn’t a simple road.

“Artists are the fanciest of the fancy. We’re presumed to exist in a rarified space requiring silence and deep thought. Because of this, the world often ignores the physical reality of what we do in favor of the ideas that animate it. The work of artists often involves skilled and demanding manual labor. Yet we’re often treated more like sophisticated pets than like true workers.”

Molly stripped and worked as a burlesque dancer. She searched Craigslist for illustrator gigs. Working as an artist and performer allowed Molly an entrée into a world she’d never envisioned she’d be in. She schmoozed and mingled with the wealthy and the corrupt. She delves deep into the underground art community filled with weirdos and creatives, the working poor. It’s all sex, drugs and art. She first works art for desire then for money and then for a purpose. She writes: “Once I was out in the world, the art that so horrified my teachers would become my way of gaining the attention of politicians, criminals, nightclub barons, and porn stars. It slipped me past doors marked “No Admittance,” past velvet ropes to rooms where dancers glittered, their lips the purest red.”

Before college, Molly heads to Paris and lives at Shakespeare and Company for a time. “Dirt coated every surface at Shakespeare and Company. It was brown, fragrant, a mixture of mold, cooking oil, and the dust of decaying books. Sometimes if I slept on a top bunk, cockroaches feel on my face. In the upstairs kitchen, the mold-furred refrigerator was stuffed with rotten soup. For Sunday tea parties, George baked pancakes with rancid flour. Ants drowned in the tea. Yet all that decay only made the store more lovely; the place had all the dark romance of Miss Havisham’s wedding dress.” One book Molly read –Explosive Acts: Toulouse-Lautrec, Oscar Wilde, Felix Feneon, and the Art of Anarchy of the Fin de Siecle– greatly influenced her future. “Though I was the daughter of an artist and a Marxist, I’d always feared that politics had to be grim and art had to be frivolous. The book showed me another way. Art and action could infuse each other.”

I’ve always appreciated art but never have been a part of the art world. Music sure. I do have a wonderful artist friend Cynthia von Buhler [also a musician/ former band manager etc.] who threw the best parties and dubbed her house filled with antiques and thrift store finds and mirrors and velvet “Castle von Buhler.” Turns out that Cynthia hired Molly for one of her first gigs. Molly writes: “the artist Cynthia von Buhler hired me to pose as a human statue at a loft party. I painted myself white like Venus, with my breasts out and my hips draped in a white sheet. After a night drinking absinthe with Manhattan’s moneyed bohemia, I took home two hundred and fifty dollars in tips, and swore off honest employment forever.” [note: Cynthia told me at the time of this party she herself was broke. As I said she’s super creative and knows how to inventively throw a party. She and Molly remain friends. I’m sure because they’re both scrappy and driven by art.]

“Despite our ambitions, we had almost no entrée to the New York art scene. There, art was a hobby for trust-fund kids. The road to getting a gallery started with an MFA from a prestigious school—preferably Yale—which would cost you around fifty thousand dollars. Tack on a staggering sum for studio space. In New York, money was the silent grist for the creation of art.”

After leaving college, Molly continues to scrape away painting murals in nightclubs and posing nude. She also begins to evaluate what’s important to her. Burnt out at 22, she starts a “live-drawing workshop where models would be muses” called Dr. Sketchy. It became extremely popular and now runs in other states and countries [not by Molly but by others using the same format.] She spent time at Occupy Wallstreet, sketching people and talking to people and hanging out. From there she starts writing for various publications and finds herself at Syrian refugee camps and Gitmo. Finally art and politics merge for Molly Crabapple.

You can be a feminist and pose nude, work as a stripper or escort, or do burlesque. It’s about maintaining control over your body and your image. Molly comprehends this better than many. She worked for the well-known web site Suicide Girls until it imploded. She explains: “When I thought of every proposition or threat that I got just walking down the street in my girl body, I decided I might as well get paid for the trouble.” It’s standing strong, owning one’s sexually and using it as one wants. That’s all about feminism as much as women’s reproductive issues and fair pay. After an abortion Molly writes: “Lying in bed, I promised myself two things: I would do my best to help anyone as powerless as I was at that moment. And I would never be that powerless again.”

The memoir maintains a perfect tone. Molly assumes nothing. She’s not arrogant or condescending but genuine and earnest. She describes events just enough to remind us of what happened and provides us with insight from her perspective. Just what a memoirist should do. These pages burst with stunning moments, pure honesty, inspiration, scrappiness, art and politics. Just read it already! It’s truly perfect and riveting.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Harper Collins.

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book review: The Art of Memoir

art of memoir

The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr. Harper.| September 2015| 256 pages | $24.99| ISBN: 9780062223067

RATING: ****/5*

If you ever wondered what it would be like to take a class on memoir writing or a class with Mary Karr, this book is for you. It’s based upon a class syllabus. I’ll admit I’ve yet to read LIT for some reason though I own a copy. I did immensely enjoy Cherry and The Liar’s Club. I also went to hear Karr speak and she’s wonderful. I imagine her being a thorough and thoughtful teacher.

The Art of Memoir reminds me of The Republic of Imagination by Azar Nafisi, who writes about three novels as they relate to America and the immigrant (and her immigrant experience)—Huckleberry Finn by Tom Sawyer, Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. The last is a favorite novel of mine. I’ve read Huckleberry Finn and have yet to read Babbitt. Karr discusses many memoirs which she teaches in class, some I’ve read, some I haven’t and many I’ve added to my to-be-read list. Karr provides an impressive required reading at the end. Some of Karr’s favorite memoirs include: Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov [“Part of his singular skill—manifested in his voice—is translating philosophical ideas into physical or carnal metaphors; in this way he is not until Babel and Batuman. He’ll somehow smoosh ideas into unforgettable images.”] and Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston [“The two prongs of her massive talent mirror the two sides of the story’s conflict—her truth-hungry, feminist, Americanized self does battle with her mother’s repressive notions of Chinese ladylikeness and humility.”

She explains what makes each memoir special, what makes each stand-out and what makes each writer successful in writing memoir. It’s not a how-to-write book. Karr makes that quite clear. She writes: “No one elected me the boss of memoir. I speak for no one but myself. Every writer worth her salt is sui generic.” It’s a survey course in memoir writing. Here’s how Karr beautifully describes the heart of memoir, one’s memory: “Memory is a pinball in a machine—it messily ricochets around between image, idea, fragments of sense, stories you’ve heard. Then the machine goes tilt and snaps off. But most of the time, we keep memories packed away. I sometimes liken that moment of sudden unpacking to circus clowns pouring out of a miniature car trunk—how did so much fit into such a small space?” Karr includes an important chapter on why NOT to write a memoir—revenge, writing about those you vehemently despise and writing that will negatively affect a group of people.

In explaining the importance of voice, Karr states: “Voice isn’t just a manner of talking. It’s an operative mindset and way of perceiving that naturally stems from feeling oneself alive inside the past. That’s why self-awareness is so key. The writer who’s lived a fairly unexamined life– someone who has a hard time reconsidering a conflict from another point of view– may not excel at fashioning a voice because her defensiveness stands between her and what she has to say.” The point is: “Great memoirs sound like distinct persons and also cover a broad range of feelings,” Karr writes. Anyone who enjoys reading memoir can generally distinguish the good from the bad and it’s often based on voice. If you can get into a memoir whether it’s about drug dealing or being in prison or a hiking trip or mental illness or adopting a cat, there’s usually a distinguishing voice and emotions throughout, you’re going to keep reading. If it’s flat you’re likely to put it aside.

Karr stresses: “The best voices include a writer’s insides. Watching her mind feel around to concoct or figure out events, you never lose sight of the ego’s shape, its blind spots, dislikes, wants.” Some of the elements Karr writes about include choosing details to include, knowing how to edit, lying/ stretching the truth, finding your talent, dealing with loved ones both on and off the page and structure. This book includes tips for writers at every level. It’s much more academic than I expected. Although knowing it’s based on her Syracuse University class syllabus makes sense. However I’m ill-prepared because I have yet to read many works discussed. You might want to check the recommended reading list, read a few memoirs then read Karr’s The Art of the Memoir.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Harper Collins.

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book review: How to Be a Man

how to be a man

How to Be a Man By Duff McKagan.
Da Capo Press| May 2015|304 pages |$25.99| ISBN: 978-0-306-82387-9

Rating: ***/5*

–review by Amy Steele

Easy read that I often found tiresome. I get it. You’re a wealthy rock-star with a model wife and enviable life. I never really liked rock bands in the 80s. Sure I liked some of Guns and Roses hits but I wasn’t all into them. I’m an altgirl. Always was. Always will be. I am not the target audience for this book. I’m a single GenX music critic who likes alternative music. Duff McKagan expresses his disdain for music journalists quite a few times. Don’t expect a tell-all filled with rock and roll debauchery. Duff McKagan is now 50, sober and married with two teenage daughters. McKagan writes: “I don’t remember the 80s. I remember being in a band. I remember my family. I remember the friends I lost to addiction. I am fully aware that I am lucky to have emerged.” Now McKagan writes columns for Seattle Weekly, and

This is the calm family-man rocker advice book. He works out and does yoga. He prefers perusing books stores to heading to a strip club. He likes to take in the culture of a city he’s touring if he’s allowed the time. He uses a Blackberry because he believes in loyalty and probably didn’t want to learn how to use an iPhone because people on iPhones do as much business on their phones as those on Blackberries. It’s true. He provides advice based on his decades of traveling whether in a van and staying in motels or in a streamline tour bus and staying at high-end hotels– don’t roam on your data plan; use conditioner for shaving; be kind.

In a chapter entitled “Don’t Burn Any Bridges,” he writes: “Lazy journalists love to put tags on things to sum up a whole genre or moment with a one- or two-word phrase that will make their job easier. IF the tag can take a little backhanded swipe at a band—even better. We’ve seen this a million times: “stoner rock,” “grunge,” “indie,” “hair metal.” Okay McKagan but when you refer to Death Cab for Cutie’s Benjamin Gibbard you call him “one of Seattle’s illustrious and beloved indie-rock front men” Okay. There goes your great advice/theory. In that chapter he was discussing with Gibbard the Bon Jovi song “Wanted Dead or Alive” with the lyric: “I’ve seen a million faces, and I’ve rocked them all.” McKagan doesn’t think you possibly can “rock” or entertain EVERYONE you play for. Gibbard agrees.

He tells you the 100+ albums you need to hear—including Adam and the Ants, Kings of the Wild Frontier; Aerosmith, Aerosmith (only time I saw GNR was opening for Aerosmith in 1987); Alice in Chains, Dirt; The Beastie Boys, Paul’s Boutique; The Clash, The Clash; Death Cab for Cutie, Something About Airplanes; P.J Harvey, To Bring You My Love; Jimi Hendrix, Axis: Bold as Love; Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, I Love Rock and Roll; Joy Division, Closer; Jack White, Blunderbuss; The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Fever to Tell. He also recommends some favorite books including A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan [fantastic read]; Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson; The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald; Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand; Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro [a favorite of mine]; War by Sebastian Unger and Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer.

McKagan opens up about depression and how he deals with the dark moments. He exercises it out. He pushes it away. “Depression wants you to stay still. It wants you to lie in bed. That’s when you have to get up and run. If I am having black thoughts, I force myself up, and then I go and break a personal best record—or at least try. This has been my secret and savior. I run through it. I hot yoga with weights through it. I jump rope through it and life weights through it. I write when I don’t want to and ask my kids how school was and actually listen back through it. I make love through it and climb steep hills with a pack on my back through it.”

This book isn’t for everyone but many will find something in it that appeals to them.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Da Capo Press.

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purchase at Amazon: How to Be a Man: (and other illusions)

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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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