Friday, October 31, 2008

Teach With Your Heart by Erin Gruwell

Subtitled Lessons I Learned From the Freedom Writers.
Published in 2007. 265 pages.

Last year I read The Freedom Writer's Diary by The Freedom Writers with Erin Gruwell and also watched the movie based on the book, Freedom Writers. At that point I planned to read Erin Gruwell's memoir of that same experience - and I got to it this month.

I enjoyed this just as much as I did the first book, and it added some information about Gruwell's personal life (including her marriage), a run she made for Congress, and how the film came to be. I think it was good for me to wait for a while after reading The Freedom Writer's Diary before reading this book. That way I got to experience the emotions I felt all over again.

I'd recommend this book to teachers and parents and anyone else who enjoys a powerful story.

Cross-posted from my book blog.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Darkness Visible - 3M's Review

Darkness Visible
by William Styron

1990, 84 pp.
Rating: stars4.gif

In this short memoir chronicling the author's own bout with depression, Styron gives us a glimpse of the pain and madness of the disease. Styron not only provides us with details of his own illness, but also expounds on the suicides and/or depression of other authors. He also gives guidelines and suggestions for action to those who have a loved one suffering with the disease.

Styron was the author of Sophie's Choice and the Pulitzer Prize winning The Confessions of Nat Turner. He died in 2006 at the age of 81 from pneumonia.

Blankets - 3M's Review

There is a lot going on in Craig Thompson's autobiographical graphic novel Blankets. With a deeply personal touch, Thompson draws and writes about his childhood and teenage years and their hardships, joys, and discoveries. Writing about his brother, family, church camps, and first love, Thompson lays it all bare. He truly had some difficult things to deal with in his childhood that no child should have to face, and we see him struggle with his faith and family relationships as a result.

While I admire the book's artwork, story, and the author himself, it is difficult for me to write this review as I disagree with (but am mostly sad about) the book's conclusion. As I was reading the book, I was hoping for it to end a certain way when in fact it went the 180 degree opposite direction. Of course, this is the author's life so he has every right to write about and illustrate how he really feels, but... I was still very sad at the end. There's no denying he has a gift for writing and illustration, though, and I would definitely pick up another one of Thompson's graphic novels in the future.

The picture below is one of the illustrations dealing with the first night that he and his brother finally get their own rooms. After waiting so long for them after sharing a room for many years, it's not hard to imagine what happens that first night. I'll save that for you to read on your own, though! (This book has mature themes and I wouldn't recommend it for those under 16 or 17.)

592 pp., 2003
Rating: stars4.gif

The Only Road North - 3M's Review

The Only Road North by Erik Mirandette is a story of brotherly love — between actual brothers and also between the Mirandettes and their fellow ‘brothers’ in need. Erik Mirandette was attending the Air Force Academy when he decided to take a two year break to focus on humanitarian efforts in Morocco. After being instrumental in bringing food and medicine to refugees in that country, he decided to take one last trek through Africa beginning in South Africa and working his way north to Cairo. His brother Alex, along with two friends, Kris and Mike, were in on the once-in-a-lifetime trip. After getting through numerous dangers and threats along the way, terror strikes them in Cairo when a suicide bomber attacks. Will Erik keep his faith and trust in God, even when the unthinkable happens?

This was a moving and sad story, but it was also full of hope. Thanks, Joy, for introducing it to me!

2007, 300 pp.
Rating: 4.5

Monday, October 27, 2008

An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination - Wendy's Review

A child dies in this book: a baby. A baby is stillborn. You don’t have to tell me how sad that is: it happened to me and my husband, our baby, a son. -From An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, page 6-

Author Elizabeth McCracken lived briefly in France, with her husband, in her early thirties. It is there she conceives her first child - a son named Pudding - and begins to dream of his life and how it will enrich her life. And then the unthinkable happens. In her ninth month of pregnancy, the child she and her husband have been anticipating dies. An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination is the story of loss and how one woman moved through it.

Elizabeth McCracken has written a stunning memoir from the heart - a love letter of sorts to her first son and her husband. Her writing is never maudlin, yet is profoundly moving - and despite the bleak subject matter, it even manages to be funny at times. But it is McCracken’s honesty which makes the memoir powerful. She never pads the emotions or avoids the uncomfortable - instead she takes the reader through one of the most devastating years of her life with candor and grace. Lest the reader shy away from the book because a baby dies, it would be remiss of me not to mention that a child is also born and lives in this book…an event that is at the same time joyous, healing and bittersweet.

I will admit that this book hit me like a sledgehammer. It sent me reeling. I felt blindsided by the intense emotions it stirred up for me…because I lost a child too. No, I have never been pregnant. My loss arrived through infertility. And McCracken’s prose resonated with me. She writes about other women’s pregnancies after her unbearable loss:

Still, I wouldn’t have minded a pause in the whole business. A sudden harmless moratorium on babies being born. Doctors would have to tell the unfortunate pregnant, “I’m sorry. It happens sometimes. Tidal, we think. For everyone else, nine months, but for you, eleven months, maybe a year, maybe more. Don’t go outside. Don’t leave your house. Stroke your stomach, fine, but only in your own living room. Keep your lullabies to yourself. We’ll let you know when it’s time.” -From An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, page 43-


No, I insist: other people’s children did not make me sad. But pregnant women did. -From An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, page 111-

She writes of that horribly destructive behavior called Blame which threatens to stand in the way of moving forward through grief:

Blame is a compulsive behavior, the emotional version of obsessive hand washing, until all you can do is hold your palms out till your hands are full of it, and rub, and rub, and accomplish nothing at all. And so we grieved but looked straight ahead. -From An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, page 143-

I found myself nodding in agreement when McCracken spoke of the pain of answering those innnocent questions about children posed by unsuspecting strangers. She wishes for a stack of cards she can hand out which say ‘My first child was stillborn‘ whenever a person coos over her second son and asks, “is this your first?” How I wish I had a similar stack of cards reading “I am infertile” for every time someone asks if I have children.

McCracken writes:

I want people to know but I don’t want to say it aloud. people don’t like to hear it but I think they might not mind reading it on a card. -From An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, page 73-

Yes. I agree.

McCracken’s great gift is that she reveals to her reader her deepest sadness, and her greatest hope. And in the end, she leaves us with a message which can sustain those who have experienced intolerable loss:

It’s a happy life, but someone is missing. It’s a happy life, and someone is missing. -From An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, page 184-

This memoir is highly recommended, but with a cautionary note. I believed I had accepted my childlessness until I began reading McCracken’s words. I found myself closing the book often to weep, and yet I kept going back to read again. For women who have either lost a child or have never been able to conceive, this is a difficult book to read - but, it is also a hopeful book and one which reminds us we are not alone in our grief.

Wendy's Challenge List

UPDATED: October 24, 2008 - This challenge is COMPLETE! Yay! Thank you Vasilly for hosting … I read some fantastic books. My favorite of the challenge was Elizabeth McCracken’s memoir: An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination - stunning and emotional with amazing writing. I’ll have to read one of her novels now!


I have a number of books that fit the criteria for this challenge. Some of them were on my alternates list for the Non Fiction Five Challenge - but I didn’t get to them, so I’ve moved them to this challenge instead! I am committing to at least FOUR books from this list:

1. Tender at the Bone, by Ruth Rechl

2. The Zookeeper’s Wife, by Diane Ackerman (COMPLETED May 12, 2008; rated 4/5; read my review)

3. Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi

4. Laughing Without An Accent, by Firoozeh Dumas (COMPLETED May 18, 2008; rated 4/5; read my review)

5. A Thousand Days in Tuscany, by Marlena de Blasi

6. Angela’s Ashes, by Frank McCourt

7. Steinbeck: A Life in Letters, by John Steinbeck (edited by Elaine Steinbeck and Robert Wallsten)

8. Have You Found Her: A Memoir, by Janice Erlbaum (COMPLETED January 14, 2008; rated 4/5; read my review)

9. An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, by Elizabeth McCracken (COMPLETED October 24, 2008; rated 5/5; read my review)

Sunday, October 12, 2008


DEATH BE NOT PROUD by John Gunther

From the back of the book:

Johnny Gunther was only seventeen years old when he died of a brain tumor. During the months of his illness, everyone near him was unforgettably impressed by his level-headed courage, his wit and quiet friendliness, and, above all, his unfaltering patience through times of despair. This deeply moving book is a father's memoir of a brave, intelligent, and spirited boy.

I wasn't impressed by this book. Johnny Gunther was 17 but seemed more like 40 (he died in 1947). He was a middle-aged man in a teenager's body. I didn't get any feeling of youth in his father's depiction of him at all. Maybe it was because Johnny was so intelligent and consumed with school and science. I read very little of him having friends his own age.

I also didn't get any feeling on his father's part in this book. I'm sure Mr. Gunter was devastated by his only son's death, and this book was to be a testament to his son's life. But I didn't perceive any warmth in either Mr. Gunter, his wife, or Johnny. I never felt that I learned anything about Johnny or his relationship with his parents.

This book was the last book for the In Their Shoes Challenge. Thanks for hosting this fun challenge. I'd like to do this one again next year.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Myrthe's roundup

It's been a while already since I finished this challenge, but I never got around to writing round-ups. But here we go:

I read all the titles that were on my original list plus on extra. These are the books I read (links go to the reviews on my own blog):
* Simon Sebag Montefiore - Young Stalin
* Peter Balakian - Black Dog of Fate
* Shirin Ebadi - Iran Awakening
* Azar Nafisi - Reading Lolita in Tehran
* Mary S. Lovell - The Mitford Girls

All these authors were new to me. There was no major dud among these five books, I actually enjoyed them all, but the one I liked least was Reading Lolita in Tehran. My favorite was Black Dog of Fate.

Friday, October 3, 2008


HUSTLE: THE MYTH, LIFE, AND LIES OF PETE ROSE by Michael Y. Sokolove was read for the In Their Shoes Challenge.

From the back of the book:

For months Pete Rose's name was everywhere. His story was played out on the evening news and in banner headlines across the country. There were details about his sleazy associates, him gambling, and his legal battles. But what was missed, what nobody adequately answered was, Who was Pete Rose? and How could this have happened?

HUSTLE answers these questions by showing us the real Pete Rose. It cuts through the myths surrounding Charlie Hustle and explains how Rose could be both the All-American kid who got the most out of his talent and the bloated ex-athlete who broke baseball's one absolute taboo. Based on interviews with Rose's teammates, team owners, sportswriters, police, investigators, even members of Rose's own family, HUSTLE tells the full story of how a man who made himself an American hero ended up on American tragedy.

Let me preface this by telling you a little about me and baseball. My father once played semi-pro ball and knew all about the game, teaching me and passing his love of the game on to me. Daddy knew the owners of the Philadelphia Phillies and we always had first-base seats waiting for us. Spring and summer meant one thing in our house - baseball.

We lived in Cincinnati at the height of the "Big Red Machine" when the Cincinnati Reds, led by Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, and Pete Rose, were the ultimate baseball team. Pete was known as Charlie Hustle because of his approach to the game - give it all you have all the time.

But Pete Rose had problems. He was a gambler and surrounded himself with unsavory characters. He bet on the horses, football and basketball - and baseball itself.

This book tells all about Pete Rose - the good and the bad. Was he a good - great - baseball player? Absolutely. He played hard and gave his all. Was he a team player? No, he played for himself and the record books. Did he have problems? Most definitely. Did he know the rules about gambling? Of course he did. Did he care? No, he thought he was above the rules and could do whatever he wanted. And baseball officials fed into this by not holding him accountable when they had a good idea of what was happening.

I always felt that Pete Rose was an arrogant S.O.B. This book does nothing to change my opinion of him; in fact it greatly affirms my feelings. He might have been a good player but he wasn't a nice person.

Pete Rose finally admitted that he bet on baseball - on his own team. And he feels he should be reinstated into baseball (he was given a lifetime ban) and admitted to the Hall of Fame.

"I bet on my team every night. I didn't bet on my team 4 nights a week."

"I bet on my team to win every night because I love my team, I believe in my team. I did everything in my power every night to win that game."

Rose thinks he should be reinstated because "I'm the best ambassador baseball has."

(From an interview on the Dan Patrick ESPN radio show March 2007)

I really enjoyed this book. Mr. Sokolove knows baseball and admires Pete Rose for his accomplishments on the baseball field. Yet he pulled no punches, and wrote an honest appraisal of Pete Rose the man.