Category Archives: books

April Snow

It’s been snowing off and on this weekend in the greater Seattle area. When the snow isn’t coming down, it’s been sunny and mild. Pinwheeling between cold and hot all weekend long, I am reading Dinty Moore’s Between Panic and Desire. Good book.

Lousy weather.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , ,

Michael Pollan’s, In Defense of Food

Somehow all my Michael Pollan library requests came through at the same time. I just finished his most recent book, In Defense of Food.

Something about this book touches the part of me that naturally mistrusts doctors (and varying degrees of eggheads all over). I have only just recently learned some of the nutritionist lingo, but who hasn’t been skewered by some smug nutritionists at some point in their life? Pollan’s big idea is to steer clear of foods (what he would describe as pseudo-foods) more than five ingredients, long chemical names, and (especially) any food with a health claim on its label. Why? Because you’re better off. The whole process of getting food to your table is highly politicized, with big business looking out for shareholder interests, instead of yours or mine. Trans fats anyone?

So I was totally onboard with Pollan’s smackdown of the nutritionist until I came to the part where he suggest we should make our meals more of a social event. He wants us to engage with food in ways that foster community and ritual. Yeah, yeah.

Sounds good until I realize this means we can no longer eat meals at our desks. What? That’s where I draw the line.

It’s funny how you don’t realize how important something is to you until someone tries to take it away.

Tagged , ,

More Picking Favorites: 2007 Memoir Edition

obamasm.jpgshalomsm.jpg

Of all the memoir I read last year, here are my three favorites:

Dreams From My Father: I know this was available prior to 2007, but I read it last spring and was much impressed with Barack Obama’s willingness to tackle complex subjects in a deep and meaningful way. Everyone talks about his drug use in college, but what stood out for me were the heartfelt discussions about coming to terms with his mixed race background and his complex feelings for his father, an African living in Kenya.

I’m encouraged that Obama used memoir as a vehicle for opening a frank discussion of race in America. I’m delighted he felt comfortable enough with his modest drug use to discuss it openly (in stark contrast to Bill Clinton’s quasi-admission of not inhaling his drugs).  

Foreskin’s Lament: If I had to pick, this was probably my favorite memoir from 2007. Partly a discussion of fatherhood, partly a coming-of-age memoir, Shalom Auslander describes with great humor his attempts to break free from of the bonds of his Orthodox Jewish upbringing somewhere in upstate New York.

AlternaDad: Neal Pollack’s memoir about becoming a father convinced me that I should try to market some of my own essays about parenting. What I have noticed is that the best memoir always seems to inspires me to write my own. 

Tagged , , ,

Shoot the Buffalo

Although I rarely read fiction these days, I do read a little, especially if it’s good.

Shoot the Buffalo, Matt Briggs latest novel, is my kind of fiction. A coming of age story set in the dark woods of the Pacific Northwest, it features some of the saddest, yet most oddly compelling characters I’ve read in a long while.

I seek out coming of age stories. The best memoir is written to read like fiction, so all the coming of age stories I read actually count as research toward my own on-going memoir project. One of the inherent problems of writing this kind of story is that something big has to happen to your main character, but not so big as to prevent a minor from rising to the challenge and overcoming in a way that’s believable and (hopefully) compelling to read.

In American literature, this sort of story often presents itself as a Hero’s Quest, typically a redemptive story where the hero overcomes some great adversary. But it’s not always so cut and dry. In This Boy’s Life, Tobias Wolff’s well-known coming of age memoir, a no-account stepfather is young Wolff’s big challenge. In a stunning act of guile, Wolff manages to (literally) reinvent himself, escaping to a prep school in the Northeast. Wolff’s use of deceit to overcome his situation has always made the story stand out for me. There is nothing more poignant then a child trying to cope with grown up issues the best he can, especially if that child is saddled with lousy parents. For a boy in this situation, the most believable thing to do is make a poor choice.

Shoot the Buffalo deals with the guilt a boy feels after he leads his siblings into the woods in search of their parents and his little sister dies of exposure. What struck me was the clever way Briggs uses the story’s structure and setting to move the main character from childhood guilt and confusion to a believable resolution as a young man.

It’s fiction, but it feels real. It’s just a genuine story about a hard childhood.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Foreskin Tales

Shalom Auslander

Books I have read on how-to-write memoir occasionally suggest boiling down into the fewest words what your memoir is about. From Shalom Auslander’s new memoir, Foreskin’s Lament, here are a few words that do just that:

I believe in God.

It’s been a real problem for me.

I have very little sympathy for veal.

I find Mr. Auslander inventive, irreverent, and incredibly funny to read. Most of his stories center on his experience growing up in an Orthodox Jewish family in upstate New York. But his memoir is also an exploration of fatherhood: ambivalent memories of his father, feelings about his own role as a parent, but mostly he offers stories that feature the antagonistic relationship he has with his Heavenly Father. This is how to write memoir.

Earlier this year I read another memoir about fatherhood by Neal Pollack. For some reason, Jewish fathers who write memoir seem to fixate on the circumcision of their son’s penis. Everyone has a story. Even me! 

So what’s a nice Catholic boy like me doing with a circumcision story? No idea. Maybe I was adopted.

Tagged , , , ,

My Father’s Summers: A Daughter’s Memoir

 

Kathi Appelt created a memoir entirely of short, evocative word poems. Her theme is the loneliness and longing she felt for her father as a teenager. All of her poems build on this main theme and only rarely do some of the poems feel a little forced. Some of the poems are quite good, but I like this memoir mostly because it’s so different. Not all memoir has to be a straight story, and I applaud her for trying something so difficult and managing to pull it off so well.

Tagged ,
Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: