Tag Archives: memoirs

A Review of The Three of Us

The Three of UsI often wish I could ask my mom about her love of memoirs. I want to know what it is that attracted her to so many of them. I like a memoir or two, but my mom’s list has been full of them. Did she just love reading about lives so different from her own? Did she not really intend to read them all? I will never know.

Personally, I need a memoir break. I think the combination of Baby Love and The Three of Us has just enforced this feeling. It’s been two memoirs about two terrible mothers too close together.

In The Three of Us, Julia Blackburn describes growing up with her abusive alcoholic father and selfish jealous mother. It’s a tough lot indeed but Julia writes of it all matter of factly.

I think it was the writing that bothered me the most. I prefer memoirs written more like stories whereas this one was more disjointed. And everything was “I think this is true but I don’t remember” or “According to my diary, this must be what happened” etc. Now, this does make sense, seeing as no one can clearly remember everything that was said and done years earlier. Still, I don’t want to see how the sausage is made. I just want to hear the story.

And it is an interesting story Blackburn has to tell – full of drama and sex and travel. One I most certainly cannot relate to, but then again my life is fairly boring (in a good way!) and would not make for a good book. Julia’s life is the thing movies, or clearly books, are made of.

I finished the book impressed with Blackburn. She has taken her tumultuous early years and seemed to become a stable successful adult. She even came to forgive her mother. Based on what I read, these are no easy feats.

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Next Up: Her Last Death

Her Last DeathAs I head back to my mom’s list, I’m also getting back on her memoir kick. This time it’s Her Last Death by Susanna Sonnenberg.

Sonnenberg’s website describes the book like this:

Her Last Death begins as the phone rings early one morning in the Montana house where Susanna Sonnenberg lives with her husband and two young sons. Her aunt is calling to tell Susanna her mother is in a coma after a car accident. She might not live. Any daughter would rush the thousands of miles to her mother’s bedside. But Susanna cannot bring herself to go. Her courageous memoir explains why.

Glamorous, charismatic and a compulsive liar, Susanna’s mother seduced everyone who entered her orbit. With outrageous behavior and judgment tinged by drug use, she taught her child the art of sex and the benefits of lying. Susanna struggled to break out of this compelling world, determined, as many daughters are, not to become her mother.

I will say I’m skeptical. I’ve read quite a few memoirs (I blame my mom for many of them) and it now takes a really good one to impress me. Some are over the top, some are repetitive, and some are too crazy to be believed. Her Last Death has the potential to be all three. However, it has been compared in some places to Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle, which I did really appreciate. So there is hope.

In addition, when googling Her Last Death, I noticed that a book blog I read, The Book Lady’s Blog, had reviewed and, seemingly, liked it. I didn’t read her whole post about it because I didn’t want to spoil anything, but I feel a little better knowing she approves.

Now let’s get to it.

A Review of Dark at the Roots (Sorta)

Dark at the RootsThe other day I noticed I hadn’t yet crossed Sarah Thyre’s Dark at the Roots off my mom’s list on the right side of this page. I could have sworn I’d written a review, which is when I typically cross them off and add a link. I did a search. No review.

I was so sure I’d written a review that I could almost remember what it said. Turns out I just wrote it in my head I guess. Unfortunately, I read the book more than a month ago so those words in my head are a little faded by now. Thus this “review” will be more a quick summary of the few thoughts and opinions I can recall.

So here goes…

Because of my mom’s list, I’ve read quite a bit of memoirs lately. Dark at the Roots does not rank as one of my favorites. Sarah and her family are certainly quirky. However, the stories about them ramble, and one does not necessarily lead naturally into the next. There is no cohesiveness or greater whole. By the end of the book, I had been amused by many of the tales, but I didn’t understand her family any better than when I had started.

Overall, a family I want to spend a few entertaining chapters with, but not an entire book.

Next Up: The Bill From My Father

The Bill From My FatherThroughout this project, it’s become glaringly clear that my mom had a soft spot for memoirs about quirky families. The latest example? My next pick from the list: Bernard Cooper’s The Bill From My Father.

The product description reads:

Edward Cooper is a hard man to know. Dour and exuberant by turns, his moods dictate the always uncertain climate of the Cooper household. Balding, octogenarian, and partial to a polyester jumpsuit, Edward Cooper makes an unlikely literary muse. But to his son he looms larger than life, an overwhelming and baffling presence.

Edward’s ambivalent regard for his son is the springboard from which this deeply intelligent memoir takes flight. By the time the author receives his inheritance (which includes a message his father taped to the underside of a safe deposit box), and sees the surprising epitaph inscribed on his father’s headstone, The Bill from My Father has become a penetrating meditation on both monetary and emotional indebtedness, and on the mysterious nature of memory and love.

So far I’ve found that some of the memoirs leave a lasting impression, but others start to blend together in one big blur of crazy families. You know the quote from Anna Karenina, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”? Well I feel like the opposite. The crazy family memoirs tend to meld in my mind. So, stay tuned to see if this one stands out.

Memoirs, Memoirs, Memoirs… Part 2

The Bill From My FatherThe other day I was casually looking over the list when I noticed a commonality among the books that are left. There are so many memoirs!

I called this post “Memoirs, Memoirs, Memoirs… Part 2” because I wrote a post titled “Memoirs, Memoirs, Memoirs” in April. Back then, I had just come back from a talk on memoirs and they were on my mind. I go through phases where I read a lot of memoirs and my mom recommended many to me, including Mindy Karr’s which I mentioned in that post.

Turns out she’s still recommending them to me. There is actually a memoir block right in the middle of my mom’s list. From The Tender Bar to Baby Love, it’s all memoirs. That’s 8 straight memoirs in a row. On top of those, I’ve already read a handful from elsewhere on the list. I guess I didn’t realize quite how much my mom liked the genre.

Looks like as the list gets whittled down things are going to get really real in my reading. I feel like I’m on The Real World here where people stop being polite and start getting real.

(Also, is this some kind of record for how many times the word “memoir” can be used in one blog post?)

A Review of Beautiful Boy

Beautiful BoySo, where were we? Oh yes, Beautiful Boy.

I always feel a little weird reviewing someone’s memoir. It’s like I’m judging their life. But oh well, that’s why they pay me the big bucks for this blog.

Much as the subtitle indicates, Beautiful Boy is David Sheff’s journey through his son’s meth addiction. However, the book begins well before the meth addiction does. The reader gets to watch Nic Sheff grow up, from the product of a long distance divorce to a funny, caring, movie-obsessed kid.

I liked seeing this other side of Nic, or should I say the early side. Of course, knowing what the book was about, this sense of dread loomed over me even as I read about his love of music and close relationship with his much younger brother and sister. In fact, it made it even harder to read about his drug addiction knowing what I did about what the of person Nic was when he wasn’t on drugs.

Despite the horror and destruction that comes with a drug addiction in the family, David Sheff does his best to share it all clearly. He shows the pain Nic’s stepmother, little brother and little sister feel, the damage Nic does to his own body, and the never-ending worry and stress that overcomes David during this time. As a professional writer, David is able to write about these hard to write about times, and does it compassionately. Personally, I could have done with less of the scientific explanation behind addiction, but that’s just because I read books for the stories of people. This is why I am not a big non-fiction person.

The only other part of the book that I didn’t always enjoy was the repetitiveness. Nic is sober, charming, and a loving part of his family. Nic is on drugs, losing his apartment and his job, and robbing his family. Nic is sober again, and again getting his life together and bringing hope to his family. Nic is on drugs again, disappearing for days at a time and causing panic to his family. Nic is sober again again, having completed rehab and making amends with his family. Nic is on drugs again, Nic is sober again, Nic is on drugs again. So goes addiction.

It may not make the best arc for a novel, but it is real life. And David Sheff portrays it all honestly.

Next Up: The Tender Bar

The Tender BarI recently showed a friend this blog for the first time and the title that popped out at her from the list was The Tender Bar, a memoir by J.R. Moehringer. She told me she’d heard it was good. Well, that was a good enough reason for me to make it next in the queue.

At this point, my selection process for which books to read when has gotten more and more random. At first, I looked for the books that interested me the most, but now my attitude is that I’m going to read them all eventually so it doesn’t really matter the order. I didn’t even read The Tender Bar’s description before downloading it to my Kindle. In fact, I didn’t even really read the description until just now when I decided to post it here. So, we can read it together:

A moving, vividly told memoir full of heart, drama, and exquisite comic timing, about a boy striving to become a man, and his romance with a bar. J .R. Moehringer grew up listening for a voice: It was the sound of his missing father, a disc jockey who disappeared before J.R. spoke his first words. As a boy, J.R. would press his ear to a clock radio, straining to hear in that resonant voice the secrets of masculinity, and the keys to his own identity. J.R.’s mother was his world, his anchor, but he needed something else, something more, something he couldn’t name. So he turned to the bar on the corner, a grand old New York saloon that was a sanctuary for all types of men-cops and poets, actors and lawyers, gamblers and stumblebums. The flamboyant characters along the bar-including J.R.’s Uncle Charlie, a Humphrey Bogart look-alike; Colt, a Yogi Bear sound-alike; Joey D, a soft-hearted brawler; and Cager, a war hero who raised handicapping horses to an art-taught J.R., tended him, and provided a kind of fatherhood by committee. When the time came for J.R. to leave home, the bar became a way station-from his entrance to Yale, where he floundered as a scholarship student way out of his element; to his introduction to tragic romance with a woman way out of his league; to his stint as a copy boy at the New York Times, where he was a faulty cog in a vast machine way out of his control. Through it all, the bar offered shelter from failure, from rejection, and eventually from reality-until at last the bar turned J.R. away. Riveting, moving, and achingly funny, The Tender Bar is at once an evocative portrait of one boy+s struggle to become a man, and a touching depiction of how some men remain lost boys.

I started it on the plane this past weekend and I’m already hooked.