Thursday, July 31, 2008

wednesday night run

first time on pavement for awhile
sound of rubber hitting asphalt
dogs barking in dark corners
cats jumping out of gutters and slinking across the street
headlights shining in my eyes
skipping over potholes, speed bumps
turn corner onto e. ponce
whizzing past the post office
sweat dripping off arms onto hands onto pavement
cars passing to the left
bass pumping out of windows at the stop light
whizzing past taco mac, ruby tuesday
couples snuggling into each other behind windows
sharing food, conversation, lips
laptops open to powerpoint presentation on tables
sipping coffee, reading paper
whizzing past starbucks
man playing saxaphone on bench
lovely jazzy sound almost want to stop and lie in the grass
couples drinking and talking not 100 yards from jazz music
coming up to church street
man walking toward me with two huge incense sticks burning
saying something i can't understand
sure do like the smell of the musky incense
woman walking, looking all around, .. phone
workers taking out trash from tai me up
tired and ready to crawl into bed after feeding decatur
continue on toward avondale station
dark, dark, dark
people walking on other side of street
men sitting on wall laughing and talking
figuring out how to solve the world's problems
on a wall in downtown decatur with the faint sound of jazz music and the faint smell of incense in the air

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Laura's Review - Brother, I'm Dying

Brother, I'm Dying
Edwidge Danticat
270 pages

In Brother, I'm Dying Edwidge Danticat has written a book that is both a personal memoir and an homage to the two most significant male figures of her childhood: her father and uncle. Danticat was born in Haiti and raised primarily by her aunt and uncle after her parents left to start a new life in New York. At the age of twelve she and her brother were reuinted with their parents, and with two more brothers born in New York. Her memoir highlights the emotional impact of such an unusual childhood, but this is not a negative tell-all story. Rather, Danticat focuses more on Haiti's tumultuous political climate, its effect on her uncle and other relatives, her parents' struggle as immigrants, and the relationship between her father and uncle, which only develops when they are well into adulthood.

In 2004, just as Danticat was anticipating her first child, she also faced the responsibility of caring for aging parents. Her father had a life-threatening condition and was declining rapidly. Her uncle was still in reasonably good health, but was forced to leave Haiti during riots that same year. On arrival in the U.S., he became the victim of distressing acts of bigotry and prejudice, was held in a detention center, and died within days. Danticat matter-of-factly described the series of events that led to his death, in a way that made me feel simultaneously outraged and heart-broken.

Danticat is a talented writer; I enjoyed her novel Breath, Eyes, Memory (read my review), and look forward to reading more of her work. ( )
My original review can be found here.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Me Talk Pretty One Day

My fear and discomfort crept beyond the borders of the classroom and accompanied me out onto the wide boulevards. Stopping for a coffee, asking directions, depositing money in my bank account: these things were out of the question, as they involved having to speak [French]. Before beginning school, there'd be no shutting me up, but now I was convinced that everything I said was wrong. When the phone rang, I ignored it. If someone asked me a question, I pretended to be deaf. I knew my fear was getting the best of me when I started wondering why they don't sell cuts of meat in vending machines. (pp. 171-172)

My son was teasing me this past weekend while I was enjoying David Sedaris' book Me Talk Pretty One Day. He said, "There goes Mom again... giggling while she reads a book!" But there is no other way to describe this book other than a collection of funny yet simple essays about the life and times of David Sedaris as told by David Sedaris. The first section (one) recounts stories of Sedaris in the United States and the second section (deux) recounts stories of Sedaris in France. He covers many different topics during different times in his life, often times expressing or explaining the difficulties he has had in understanding people, things, and language. My favorite selections include Genetic Engineering, The Learning Curve, Today's Special,, The Tapeworm Is In, Make That A Double, and Smart Guy.

As a child I'd always harbored a sneaking suspicion that I might be a genius. The theory was completely my own, corroborated by no one, but so what? Being misunderstood was all part of the package. My father occasionally referred to me as "Smart Guy," but eventually I realized that when saying it, he usually meant just the opposite. (p. 241)

Me Talk Pretty One Day is a smart read, lots of fun, and a good introduction to David Sedaris, which is why it was recommended to me in the first place. I really enjoyed this book and pass along the recommendation to others.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

raidergirl3 list of books

I've been making a list of books that I'd like to read for this challenge. Some of these are from the Cardathon Challenge and some I own; some I just really want to read. I will probably add to this list, but I hope to read 8 memoirs/biographies/autobiographies next year for this challenge.

1. Never Have Your Dog Stuffed - Alan Alda
2. Running With Scissors - Augustus Burrows
3. Teacher Man - Frank McCourt
4. The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid - Bill Bryson
5. A Long Way Gone - Ishmael Beah
6. Reading Lolita in Tehran - Azzar Nafisi
7. Maus I and II - Art Spiegelman
8. I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This - Bob Newhart
9. Brainiac - Ken Jennings
10. Persepolis 1 and 2 - Marjane Satrapi

ETA: July 20, 2008: And that makes 8 books I've read, so I am finished this challenge. Yay me! A few got added after I started, and there are more I'd still like to read, but it's been great. Thanks for hosting Vasilly.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Mitford Girls by Mary S. Lovell

The six sisters collectively known as the Mitford Girls were not only very different and interesting characters of themselves, living in an interesting time in history, but the way their lives turned out, makes them even more fascinating.

So let me briefly introduce them. The oldest, Nancy, was born in 1904 and became a very successful writer, getting much of her inspiration from her own surroundings. Then there was Pam, one of the quieter, lesser known sisters. The two younger sisters Diana and Unity more than made up for that. Diana falls in love with and later marries Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Fascist Party, and becomes an ardent supporter of Fascism and Nazism. Unity gets acquainted with and becomes a personal friend of Adolf Hitler. In fact, Diana may have been one of the very few if not the only person who counted both Hitler and Winston Churchill (he married into the family when he married a cousin of the girls' father) among her personal friends. Decca's political preferences go in an entirely different direction: she becomes a communist, in the late 30s she runs off to the civil war against Franco in Spain and eventually ends up in the US. The youngest sister, Debo, was born in 1920. Like Pam, she is one of the "quieter" of the sisters, though in her own way she makes something remarkable of her life, becoming a business woman and successfully leading and expanding her husband's estate, making it one of the few profitable estates in the country. There is a fairly recent interview with her here.

I found Decca the most interesting of the sisters, because she was the only one who actually broke free of the life and conventions of her class and ended up leading a life different from what was expected of her. She was the most unconventional of the six. The others, no matter how "funky" their political opinions, still stayed within what was expected of them by their social background. Debo and Pam, in The Mitford Girls at least, stayed a bit in the background, probably because they were the most "ordinary" of the six. Relatively speaking that is. I would have loved to find out more about them. Though for that I suppose I'd have to read one of the numerous other books that have been written about one or more of the sisters.

The most interesting part of the book were the chapters dealing with the period from the late twenties until the end of the Second World War. Anyone who reads this book cannot but read that part with hindsight, knowing what Fascism and Nazism would lead to, knowing about the Holocaust.

In fact, the same goes for Decca's becoming a communist in the thirties. At this time Stalin's terror was pretty much at its top. This was one question I had that didn't get answered in this book: to what extent did Decca really believe in Communism as an ideal, a solution for economic and social problems or was Communism for her a way to combat Fascism. Or was she just some sort of fellow-traveler. Even more important, to what extent was she aware of what was happening in the Soviet Union, the Gulags, the executions and persecutions, the famines following the collectivization of the agricultural sector. This book at least doesn't say anything about her knowledge of and attitude towards all this.

Many more pages are dedicated to Unity's infatuation for Hitler an Diana's support for Nazism and Fascism. During her life, Diana actually never apologized for or repented her support for Fascism. I found Diana an interesting woman as well.

Apart from the six women's roaring lives, this book also gives a very interesting picture of upper class life in England and especially of the social mores and conventions that the girls had to cope with and adhere to in the first half of the twentieth century. One thing that struck me was how the different families were on the one hand continually selling their mansions, houses, and parts of their estates because they couldn't afford their upkeeping anymore, moving into smaller living places all the time, but on the other they were also continually traveling abroad, sending their children to finishing school abroad, and they kept buying land and houses as well. All these changes in property were sometimes hard to keep up with. To my 21st century mind it was sometimes hard to understand the logic behind not being able to afford one thing, but at the same time spending so much money on other luxuries.

Another thing that struck me is how seemingly common extramarital affairs were in the society in which the Mitfords lived. Don't get me wrong, I am not a prude and all this adultery going on didn't bother me as such, it was just one of the things I noticed while reading the book. Extramarital affairs seemed to have been acceptable for both men and women, but at the same time once a woman was divorced, her social status was gone. This became very clear when Diana's affair with Oswald Mosley was discussed in the book. When their relationship started, Diana was still married to someone else. She did push through a divorce, despite the objections of many, her own parents among them. Diana's mother even forbade some of the younger sisters to visit Diana after her divorce.

All in all, I enjoyed The Mitford Girls enormously. Mary S. Lovell wrote a fast-paced, seemingly well researched book, that gives an intriguing look into the lives of a family that was notorious and famous at the time and also into upper-class life in England in the first half of the twentieth century in general. I highly recommend this book as an introduction into the Mitford family.

As always, if you have reviewed this book on your blog, leave a comment with the link to your review or send me an email with the link, so I can include it in the post.

Friday, July 11, 2008


I SHOULDN'T EVEN BE DOING THIS! by Bob Newhart was read for the In Their Shoes Challenge.

From the book jacket:

Most comedians are committable. People say I'm the most normal of all comedians - and I'm still certifiable. - from Chapter One

That stammer. Those basset-hound eyes. That bone-dry wit. There has never been another comedian like Bob Newhart. In this, his first book ever, Newhart gives his brilliant and bemused twist on a multitude of topics, including flying, the trials of a family holiday in a Winnebago, and more serious subjects, such as golf. And, of course, there are side-splittingly funny stories from his life and career. Who else has a drinking game named after him? ("Hi, Bob!")

He writes of his few years as an accountant (he routinely grew so frustrated trying to reconcile petty cash that he would round up and down using his own pocket change). He describes his surprise at the groundbreaking success of his albums, starting with The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart, which was the first comedy album ever to hit #1 on the charts and won the Grammy for Album of the Year (beating Sinatra). There are stories from the legendary television shows, which spent fifteen years on prime time, and tales of other comedy greats. Ans as counterpoint throughout, he provides excerpts from some of his classic routines, which revolutionized comedy.

This isn't a memoir like most memoirs. It's a book only Bob Newhart could have written, with his unique worldview and irrepressibly wry humor on every page. Oh, and there's a fair bit of plain silliness, too.

I love Bob Newhart. Back when I was a teenager, my friend Tina and I would listen to an album of his, The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back. He did a bit about computers and automation that included the line "Sit down, machine" done in a computer-type voice that cracked me up. (I guess you had to be there!)

Saturday nights, we always watched The Bob Newhart Show with Bob as Dr. Hartley and Suzanne Pleshette as his wife Emily. Then later, Newhart on Monday nights with Bob as Vermont-inn-owner Dick Louden and Mary Frann as his wife. Do you remember Larry and his brothers Darrell and Darrell? And the fantastic ending to that show?

So it's hard for me to say that I didn't really enjoy this book that much. There were parts that were very good, such as the texts of various comedy routines. Reading those, I could picture Bob and hear his voice. But other parts of the book dragged for me.

I guess I was looking for more Bob Newhart as Dr. Hartley and Dick Louden than Bob Newhart as Bob Newhart.


Wednesday, July 9, 2008


ROOTS by Alex Haley was read for the In Their Shoes Challenge and the Chunkster Challenge.

From the book flap:

"Early in the spring of 1750, in the village of Juffure, four days upriver from the coast of The Gambia, West Africa, a man-child was born to Omoro and Binta Kente."

So begins ROOTS, one of the most important and influential books of our time. When originally published thirty years ago, it galvanized the nation and created an extraordinary political, racial, social, and cultural dialogue that had not been seen in this country since the pulication of UNCLE TOM'S CABIN.

ROOTS has lost none of its emotional power and drama, and its message for today's and future generations is even more vital and relevant than it was thirty years ago.

When he was a boy in Henning, Tennessee, Alex Haley's grandmother used to tell him stories about their family - stories that went back to her grandparents, and their grandparents, down through the generations all the way to a man she called "the African." She said he had lived across the ocean near what he called the "Kamby Bolongy" and had been out in the forest one day chopping wood to make a drum when he was set upon by four men, beaten, chained and dragged aboard a slave ship bound for Colonial America.

Still vividly remembering the stories after he grew up and became a writer, Haley began to search for documentation that might authenticate the narrative. It took ten years and a half a million miles of travel across continents to find it, but finally, in an astonishing feat of genealogical detective work, he discovered not only the name of "the African" - Kunta Kinte - but the precise location of Juffure, the very village in The Gambia, West Africa, from which he was abducted in 1767 at the age of sixteen and taken on the Lord Ligonier to Maryland and sold to a Virginia planter.

Haley has talked in Juffure with his own African sixth cousins. On September 29, 1967, he stood on the dock in Annapolis where is great-great-great-great-grandfather was taken ashore on September 29, 1767. Now he has written the monumental two-century drama of Kunta Kinte and the six generations who came after him - slaves and freedmen, farmers and blacksmiths, lumber mill workers and Pullman porters, lawyers and architects - and one author.

I had seen the TV mini-series of ROOTS a long time ago. So when looking for a book for the In Their Shoes Challenge, this one jumped out at me. I enjoyed the mini-series and wanted to learn more about this family.

One thing I did learn that was unexpected was the fact that Alex Haley had been sued for plagiarism by Harold Courlander who wrote the book THE AFRICAN. Mr. Haley settled out of court and admitted that some parts of the book were taken from THE AFRICAN. This fact led me to question the book as a whole - was it to be considered fact or fiction? Mr. Haley answered that question:

"To the best of my knowledge and of my effort, every lineage statement within ROOTS is from either my African or American families' carefully preserved oral history, much of which I have been able conventionally to corroborate with documents. Those documents, along with the myriad textural details of what were contemporary indigenous lifestyles, cultural history, and such that give ROOTS flesh have come from years of intensive research in fifty-odd libraries, archives, and other repositories on three continents.

Since I wasn't around when most of the story occurred, by far most of the dialogue and most of the incidents are of necessity a novelized amalgam of what I know took place together with what any researching let me to plausibly feel took place."

So - a mixture of fact and fiction. Still a terrific book. Reading this, I could picture scenes from the mini-series. I could see LaVar Burton as the young Kunta Kinte in chains on the slave ship. John Amos as the older Kunte - now named Toby - and Madge Sinclair as Bell jumping the broom. Leslie Uggams as their daughter Kizzy, and Ben Vereen as the wonderful Chicken George.

My one complaint with this book was the fact that as the story moved from generation to generation, lives were just dropped. The story of Toby and Bell abruptly ended when the focus turned to Kizzy as she was sold to a new owner. Perhaps Mr. Haley couldn't find any documentation of what happened to them after that time, but it was a let-down after following Kunta Kinte for 546 pages. I was hoping to find out what life was like for them without their daughter.

I'm going to either rent or buy this mini-series on DVD along with the sequel "Roots: The Next Generation" which was based on the follow-up book by Mr. Haley.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson's memoir of growing up in 1950s Iowa. I have liked Bryson's writing for many years and have devoured most of his travel writing. He is always funny, candid, and incredibly observant and insightful. He seems to do a good deal to research his books as well. While this is a memoir, there is commentary on the 1950s as a whole particularly in the US. Bryson admits that he his childhood was not particularly unique or traumatic and yet, as I usually do, he takes simple subjects and revels in the day to day life of being a child in a relatively prosperous and peaceful time. I enjoyed this quick memoir even if I did not live in the 1950s, but there are many moments that remind me of childhood in general. He captures the idiosyncratic nature of the whole time of our lives with his usual writing of his memories. A nice, light read.

Crossposted from

Monday, July 7, 2008

Pyongyang by Guy Delisle

Pyongyang: A journey in North Korea is Guy Delisle (a Quebecois, now living in France) graphuc memoir of two months spent working in the North Korean capital for a French animation company outsourcing work to the North Koreans. It is a fascinating look at North Korea and its regime. While he is not in NK for very long, Delisle observes the expat community of NK, and the dictatorial regime's forceful propaganda machine. All foreigners seem to be kept in a very closed bubble constantly watched by their assigned guides. The author takes a copy of Orwell's 1984 and observes the parallel. It is apt because the regime seems to permeate in all aspects. It is the most closed country in the world, and it is rather frightening the extent in which the whole population seems to live in a bubble themselves. Without any outside media and severe limited ability to travel and educate themselves, many seem to genuinely believe the personal cult and god-like presence of the Kims even if one of them is dead. The cult of personality is rather creepy. Though there is little choice, but to pretend to believe because the dictatorship has some of the worse human rights violations globally. A lot of what the memoir describes is not creepy. Nothing can last forever, and the NK regime certainly won't. It will be interesting when that happens since the country is in a time warp. It's like how people go to Cuba and say it looks the 1950s, but North Korea and its population seem to be still in the 50s since they are limited in communications, food security, electricity, industrialisation and manufacturing. Since the culture is protected is by the government, art is monitored. This is especially significant in that all its neighbours are accelerating at a very fast rate in the globalisation. Having read on North Korea a bit from my studies, I would recommend further reading of the subject if you are intrigued after this short, but interesting read.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Challenge Completed!

I completed my personal goal (no specified number required for the challenge) at the end of June by reading 10 memoirs. Memoirs is one of my favorite genres, so this challenge fit nicely into my desired reading choices. As I was making up my possibilities list, I discovered many others that I have added on my TBR list and look forward to reading them.

Thank you N. Vasillis from In Their Shoes for hosting this challenge!

In Their Shoes Challenge Reads:

The Birthday Party: A Memoir of Survival (Alpert)
The Nazi Officer's Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust (Beer)
If I Am Missing or Dead: A Sister's Story of Love, Murder, and Liberation (Latus)
A Child Called "It": One Child's Courage to Survive (Pelzer)
My Life as a Furry Red Monster: What Being Elmo Has Taught Me About Life, Love and Laughing Out Loud (Clash)
Blankets (Thompson)
Maus I: A Survivor's Tale (Spiegelman)
A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail (Bryson)
The Lost Boy (Pelzer)
Maus II: A Survivor's Tale (Spiegelman)

Here's my original list of books with links to my thoughts.

The Nazi Officer's Wife (Beer)
A Child Called "It" (Pelzer)
Maus II: A Survivor's Tale (Spiegelman)

Least Favorites:
(these were still okay/good reads)
The Birthday Party (Alpert)
If I Am Missing or Dead (Latus)
My Life as a Furry Red Monster (Clash)