[Catch-up review from Goodreads]

Rich spent a year in Udaipur (Rajasthan) studying Hindi; the book combines anecdotes from her stay with tons of information on the science of learning a second language.

It starts out strong, but the parts become increasingly less integrated and the memoir sections become increasingly disorganized as the book continues. There were a number of points where she referenced something as if she'd already told that story, only to explain it 50 pages later. The information was good and her prose, as in individual sentences, was good, but it probably would have worked better as nonfiction about second language acquisition with a few relevant anecdotes than as the awkward chimera it was.

Dreaming in Hindi: Coming Awake in Another Language
Recced by [personal profile] rydra_wong. Great rec, thanks!

Excellent, clearly written, honest memoir about the mind-body connection. My description is going to sound straightforward, but you really have to read the book to get what I got out of it. I've read a fair amount of memoirs and nonfiction about physical disability, mind-body issues, and even the type of paralysis Sanford has, and thought I understood much of what he discusses, at least on an intellectual level. After reading this book, I feel like I have a far, far better and more visceral understanding.

At age thirteen, Sanford was in a car accident which killed his father and sister, and paralyzed him from the chest down. He goes through puberty while still recovering from his injuries, which was fairly traumatic all by itself, and grows up seemingly doing fine, but inwardly suffering from being disconnected from his body. Well-meaning doctors told him that the sensations he had in the paralyzed parts were meaningless "phantom pains," and Sanford learned to dissociate himself from his body as a survival mechanism, to be able to endure otherwise unbearable pain.

Later in life, he begins studying yoga and learns that his entire body is still a part of him, and he does still have a perception of it and feelings from it. I already knew that people with spinal injuries do still have sensations below the point where the nerves are severed, but they're, essentially, transferred by indirect means and may be felt in other parts of the body or in different ways. Sanford explains not only what this actually feels like, but how important it is not only physically, but emotionally and even spiritually.

He is now a yoga teacher.

Fantastic book. Read it if you have any interest whatsoever in the subject matter, and by that I mean mind-body issues, not just physical disability or yoga.

Note that while Sanford doesn't get into tons of graphic details, there are fairly harrowing descriptions of injuries, medical procedures, and pain. The one that got to me the most was when he broke his neck a second time after the car crash, by tipping out of his wheelchair, and someone insisted on moving him despite his protests.

Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence
Craziness also runs in the family. I can trace manic depression back several generations. We have episodes of hearing voices, delusions, hyper-religiosity, and periods of not being able to eat or sleep. These episodes are remarkably similar across generations and between individuals. It's like an apocalyptic disintegration sequence that might be useful if the world really is ending, but if the world is not ending, you just end up in a nuthouse. If we're lucky enough to get better, we have to deal with people who seem unaware of our heroism and who treat us as if we are just mentally ill.

This is Mark Vonnegut's second memoir. (Kurt Vonnegut's son.) The first one explains how he had a psychotic break while a young man living on a commune. Due to the circumstances, everyone at the commune just thought he'd become spiritually advanced. Eventually, his parents stepped in to rescue him. It concluded with the note that he was diagnosed with schizophrenia but apparently "recovered," which is unusual, especially given that it all went down in the 1960s. I had wondered if he'd been misdiagnosed.

His second memoir picks up many years later. He became a successful doctor... who periodically had psychotic breaks, to go with his drinking problem and falling-apart family life. But it's not primarily a story about pain and problems, but about one man's particular life. Every life has problems. Usually they don't involve being put in a straightjacket every ten years or so. But that's Mark Vonnegut's particular issue, or one of them, anyway, and he treats it very much in the manner of "everyone's got problems."

The memoir is at least as much about being a doctor as it is about having a mental illness of a somewhat mysterious nature. (He gets diagnosed with bipolar disorder later, but that might not be it either. Whatever he has, it's atypical.) It's also about life, and art, and being a misfit in a screwed-up society, and also about being his father's son (Chapter title: "There is Nothing Quite So Final As A Dead Father"). And accidentally poisoning himself with his shiny new hobby of mushroom hunting.

It's all over the place and hard to describe, but enormously funny, enjoyable, quotable, and wise. Its humane, humorous, epigrammatic tone reminded me a bit of James Herriot, and I love James Herriot. Unless you're really squicked by medical stuff or triggered by mental illness, this is the sort of book I'd recommend to just about anyone.

Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness Only More So: A Memoir
Brief notes on books I read a while back but never got around to writing up.

A Taste of China: The Definitive Guide to Regional Cooking (Pavilion Classic Cookery), by Ken Hom. An evocative, hunger-inducing travelogue/memoir/cookbook/food history by a Chinese-American author. A bit of a period piece now, but much of it is historical anyway, and it's well worth reading if you have an interest in the topic.

The Gift of Fear, by Gavin de Becker. The classic nonfiction book on the value of intuition: specifically, that fear - especially women's fear of men - is often based on having subconsciously picked up subtle signals of very real danger. I've re-read this book a couple times before, and it continues to be valuable: honest, easy to read, thoughtful, and very usable. One thing I'd forgotten was that de Becker himself was a survivor of childhood abuse and trauma, and is writing not only from his experience as a security expert but from his experience as a scared little kid.

This would make an excellent paired reading with Malcolm Gladwell's Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, which is also about how intuition works, but approached from completely different angles. Both books discuss false intuition based on prejudice or pre-conceived ideas versus true intuition based on the situation at hand, and how to tell the difference. Gladwell's book is more sociological, and de Becker's is more of a how-to.

Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship. It's an old story: I had a friend and we shared everything, and then she died and we shared that, too.

Probably the best memoir I've read all year. I read it when it first came out, and then re-read it several months later. Though Knapp's death frames the memoir, it's not primarily about that, but about the intimate, twin-like friendship between two women. Writers Gail Caldwell and Caroline Knapp bonded over their careers, their alcoholism and sobriety, and most of all, their beloved dogs. The structure is complex but seamless. Caldwell traces her own life story and how it paralleled and diverged from Knapp's, weaves it back into the story of their friendship, and then continues her story without Knapp, but always with her memory. It's extremely well-written, intense, and engaging, and reminded me quite a bit of another favorite memoir of mine... Caroline Knapp's Drinking: A Love Story.

It also reminded me of Ann Patchett's Truth & Beauty: A Friendship, another intense and well-written memoir about female friendship, in this case with troubled author and cancer survivor Lucy Grealy. Though Let's Take the Long Way Home, despite Knapp's early death, is a lot less tragic, since Caroline Knapp sounds like she had a lot more happiness and satisfaction in her life than poor Lucy Grealy ever did. It's also got way more dogs. In fact, it has enough dog content that I would especially recommend it to anyone who loves dogs. it contains dog death by old age, but is much more about what it's like to live with and love and train dogs.

You can click on the author tags to get reviews of the books I mentioned in comparison.
Yet another memoir in which a short but compelling story of survival is padded out with flashback chapters about the memoirist's life before his plane crashed/he got kidnapped by terrorists/etc, to make sure the story is book-length.

In this case, the story everyone wants to read is about how 11-year-old Ollested, one of two survivors of a plane crash in the snowy California mountains that killed the pilot and his father, hiked down a mountain while trying to help the other survivor, his father's girlfriend. She's badly injured, and since the jacket copy gives it away, I will confirm that she doesn't make it. The flashbacks, which take up way more of the story, detail how Ollested lived with his mother and her abusive boyfriend, while his father periodically swooped in to demand that Ollested ski and surf with him. The young Ollested idolized his father, but was afraid of skiing and surfing - unsurprisingly, given that his father regularly demanded that he do what sounded like pretty dangerous stunts at a very young age.

You will be unsurprised to hear that I was interested in the survival story (about one-fourth of the total length, if that) and not so much in the endless series of surfing and skiing trips, described in impenetrable lingo and excruciating detail.

Incidentally, while individual moments can indeed be recalled with brilliant clarity twenty years later, especially if they were traumatic or otherwise memorable I don't believe that every single incident worth recounting includes vivid recollections of everyone's facial muscles. Having written a memoir myself, I frequently boggled at how Ollested would recount some trivial childhood incident jazzed up with detailed descriptions of the exact clothes everyone was wearing and the gestures they made as they uttered each word. No way. I also question the ethics of his depiction of Sondra, the girlfriend who dies on the mountain. She comes across as a horrific, shallow bitch. I'm sure that's indeed how Ollested remembered her, but given that she was a real person who died under pretty awful circumstances, to which he was the only witness, and there must be many people still living who loved her, a better balance of honesty with compassion might have been to give his recollections, but also talk to some people who knew her and so give a more rounded portrait.

Ollested ends up deciding that his father's maniacal effort to force him to learn great skiing techniques was probably what enabled him to survive. Twenty years later, he recounts how he nevertheless decided not to push his son as hard as his still-idolized father pushed him... and so he doesn't teach his son to ski until he's four.

I listened to this on audio while driving to Mariposa. The author's decision to read the entire book with extremely portentous intensity - appropriate for a desperate struggle for survival, not so much for dialogue like "Let's catch some killer swell, and maybe we can get back into that radical tube," - lent parts of the book a humor which it otherwise completely lacked.

Too much Daddy worship and totally tubular surfing jargon, not enough insight and wilderness survival.

Crazy for the Storm: A Memoir of Survival (P.S.)
I found this in my father’s library while visiting his house in Mariposa, near Yosemite. It’s an evocative and enlightening book which tells, in alternate chapters, the history of the Nim*, who are California Indians from the area I was staying in, and the personal history and experiences of the author, who grew up practicing many of their traditional ways. The non-historical chapters are arranged by seasons, beginning with spring and ending when winter begins to warm into another spring.

Lee’s style is alternately scholarly, poetic, personal, and frank. He wrote this, the first personal account of the Nim by a Nim, partly because the existing written material on them, compiled by white anthropologists, was misleading or outright wrong. Some information is left out because it’s “none of anybody’s business;” other material, mostly involving the medicinal or food use of local plants, is deliberately vague to prevent foolish and inexperienced people from accidentally killing themselves.

The history is the usual tale of stolen land and broken treaties, attempted cultural genocide and fighting back. (One of the lighter bits quotes John Muir’s horror at the incredible filthiness of some Indians he encounters while hiking in the woods; Lee points out that they were in a mosquito-infested area, and the Indians had sensibly covered themselves with a natural repellent – mud!) The personal narrative is written in a more intimate voice, sometimes earthy, sometimes funny, often moving. Lee’s love for his family shines through every page.

I liked this a lot, and I think anyone who likes memoirs or nature writing would enjoy it. My father, who doesn’t read much narrative non-fiction, was fascinated by it, and we had several long conversations about it as we hiked in Yosemite. If you have a particular interest in California history or California Indian culture, it ought to be essential reading.

*The I in Nim has a diacritical I can’t reproduce, but is pronounced like the u in put. Also, Lee explains that while the Nim and the Mono speak the same language and so have been lumped together by anthropologists, they do not consider themselves to be the same people. So the subtitle is a bit odd. Possibly it was added by the publisher.

Walking Where We Lived: Memoirs of a Mono Indian Family
I haven't finished reading this yet - I've been reading it off and on, on my Kindle - but I'm doing a mini-write-up before I utterly forget all that came before.

It's the autobiography of an American pioneer, full of lively and sometimes horripilating details. He starts out in the East, where life sounds fairly decent but the earth is hard to cultivate, and then his family moves to Wisconsin, where life sounds great. This part is full of excellent details on life, food, work, social mores, etc. Then they all hear that life is even better in California. Plus, there's gold! Uh-oh.

He and some buddies go ahead of the general party to scout. They run into some Indians, and despite the buddy's reluctance, Manly hauls them all to go have a chat. Neither party speaks the other's language, but they communicate pretty well with gestures and drawings. They trade food and horses, then Manly explains their intended route west. The conversation proceeds, more or less, as follows:

Indian: "WTF!!! Are you serious?! THAT way???"

Manly: "Um, yes. Is there a problem with that?"

Indian: "Oh hell yes. There's no water for BILLIONS OF MILES."

Manly (to buddy): "Let's try a different route."

Buddy: "You can't trust Indians! Ignore him. He's probably trying to lead us into a trap."

Manly: "I dunno. He's been friendly so far. Plus, he lives here and we don't. It's possible he knows the land better than we do."

Buddy: "Never trust an Indian!"

Indian: "BILLIONS OF MILES. NO WATER."

Manly: "Thanks for the horses!"

Buddy: "Onward to Death Valley!"

I realize that the conversation as depicted in the book may have been informed by hindsight, but it remains one of the best bits of ironic foreshadowing I've come across, whether or not it actually happened. (And no, it was not actually named Death Valley until after most of their party died there.)

I've just gotten to the part where Manly and a different buddy have left most of the party behind in Death Valley, and pressed on by themselves in the hope of bringing back help. The descriptions of the desert and its privations are marvelous: great cubes of rock salt like blocks of ice, wine-red alkaline lakes, dirt soft as flour. They brought dried beef from the oxen they had to slaughter, but despite their hunger, their mouths are so dry that they can't swallow, and they finally spit out their mouthfuls of jerky and lie down for the night, wondering if they'll wake up.

Free on Kindle: Death Valley in '49

Hard copy: Death Valley in '49: The Autobiography of a Pioneer
A childhood/teenage memoir of growing up in Harlem during the 1940s and 1950s, focusing on Myers’ family and neighborhood, his early attempts at writing, and the pervasive racism that slowly poisons his life and dreams.

Myers’ relaxed, warm style and deadpan humor make this easy reading, though I suspect that the episodic structure and lack of emphasis on the moments of conventional action would appeal more to adults than to teenagers.

View on Amazon: Bad Boy: A Memoir
A childhood/teenage memoir of growing up in Harlem during the 1940s and 1950s, focusing on Myers’ family and neighborhood, his early attempts at writing, and the pervasive racism that slowly poisons his life and dreams.

Myers’ relaxed, warm style and deadpan humor make this easy reading, though I suspect that the episodic structure and lack of emphasis on the moments of conventional action would appeal more to adults than to teenagers.

View on Amazon: Bad Boy: A Memoir
[livejournal.com profile] rushthatspeaks recommended this to me ages ago as one of her favorite memoirs. It’s excellent.

Braestrup’s husband, a cop, was killed in a car crash before he could retire and become a Unitarian Universalist minister. Braestrup decided to become a minister herself, and ended up as the chaplain for the game wardens in her small Maine town.

This is a hard book to describe and make it sound as good as it actually is. It’s written in that deceptively simple manner which is so easy to read and so hard to write. It’s religious without being self-righteous, full of compelling stories of searches for missing people, loving descriptions of the Maine wilderness and wildlife, and an intimate portrait of a family. Braestrup’s brief dips into comparative religion, which she says herself were not thoroughly researched, probably should have been left out. But when it comes to her own faith, her writing struck me, a Jewish atheist with some serious bones to pick with organized religion, as accessible, unsentimental, and often wise.

Here If You Need Me: A True Story

This book was of particular interest to me as next month I will begin training as a volunteer crisis counselor, in association with CERT (Community Emergency Response Team,) and if I manage to make it through the training, which will no doubt include many instance of roleplaying (my least favorite thing ever,) will be on call four hours per month to assist people in various post-emergency situations.
[livejournal.com profile] rushthatspeaks recommended this to me ages ago as one of her favorite memoirs. It’s excellent.

Braestrup’s husband, a cop, was killed in a car crash before he could retire and become a Unitarian Universalist minister. Braestrup decided to become a minister herself, and ended up as the chaplain for the game wardens in her small Maine town.

This is a hard book to describe and make it sound as good as it actually is. It’s written in that deceptively simple manner which is so easy to read and so hard to write. It’s religious without being self-righteous, full of compelling stories of searches for missing people, loving descriptions of the Maine wilderness and wildlife, and an intimate portrait of a family. Braestrup’s brief dips into comparative religion, which she says herself were not thoroughly researched, probably should have been left out. But when it comes to her own faith, her writing struck me, a Jewish atheist with some serious bones to pick with organized religion, as accessible, unsentimental, and often wise.

Here If You Need Me: A True Story

This book was of particular interest to me as next month I will begin training as a volunteer crisis counselor, in association with CERT (Community Emergency Response Team,) and if I manage to make it through the training, which will no doubt include many instance of roleplaying (my least favorite thing ever,) will be on call four hours per month to assist people in various post-emergency situations.
A memoir of the author’s teenage years in India during WWII. Rau and her older sister grew up in London, but returned to Bombay with their mother when their diplomat father was stationed in South Africa. (They tried living in South Africa, but her mother packed them up when she went to a movie theatre and found a sign reading “Indians, natives, and dogs are not allowed.”)

It’s hard to review this in a way that differentiates it from the many other books about people grappling with cultural identity and loyalty during a return to their homeland after a long separation. I did particularly like this one, though. It’s not primarily a comedy, but there are many funny bits, often involving her deadpan sister and a grandfather who reinvents Descartes via musings on the existence or nonexistence of the Indian sweet on his plate. Rau’s ear for dialogue is as sharp as her observation of a country and cultures she’s more or less encountering as a newcomer, as she had left India when she was six.

Unsurprisingly, she gets involved in the political scene. Her mother is a friend of the politician and poet Sarojini Naidu, who comes across particularly vividly, reigning over a dinner party in a blouse printed with the cover of her favorite book! She also meets Nehru a couple of times. Rau captures the excitement of the political scene, as friends often call up to apologize in advance for missing dinner parties, as they’ve decided to get arrested for civil disobedience instead.

The book was published in 1944, when Rau was about 21. It feels very immediate, with little mediation by hindsight. Her thoughts on politics and identity are honest and serious: you can see her growing up intellectually as the book progresses.

But though the content is weighty, the touch is light. It’s a quick, easy, enjoyable read. I was not surprised to learn that Rau became quite a successful writer, author of a number of books and the film version of A Passage To India.

View on Amazon: Home to India (Perennial library)
A memoir of the author’s teenage years in India during WWII. Rau and her older sister grew up in London, but returned to Bombay with their mother when their diplomat father was stationed in South Africa. (They tried living in South Africa, but her mother packed them up when she went to a movie theatre and found a sign reading “Indians, natives, and dogs are not allowed.”)

It’s hard to review this in a way that differentiates it from the many other books about people grappling with cultural identity and loyalty during a return to their homeland after a long separation. I did particularly like this one, though. It’s not primarily a comedy, but there are many funny bits, often involving her deadpan sister and a grandfather who reinvents Descartes via musings on the existence or nonexistence of the Indian sweet on his plate. Rau’s ear for dialogue is as sharp as her observation of a country and cultures she’s more or less encountering as a newcomer, as she had left India when she was six.

Unsurprisingly, she gets involved in the political scene. Her mother is a friend of the politician and poet Sarojini Naidu, who comes across particularly vividly, reigning over a dinner party in a blouse printed with the cover of her favorite book! She also meets Nehru a couple of times. Rau captures the excitement of the political scene, as friends often call up to apologize in advance for missing dinner parties, as they’ve decided to get arrested for civil disobedience instead.

The book was published in 1944, when Rau was about 21. It feels very immediate, with little mediation by hindsight. Her thoughts on politics and identity are honest and serious: you can see her growing up intellectually as the book progresses.

But though the content is weighty, the touch is light. It’s a quick, easy, enjoyable read. I was not surprised to learn that Rau became quite a successful writer, author of a number of books and the film version of A Passage To India.

View on Amazon: Home to India (Perennial library)
A collection of essays, many autobiographical. If you’re interested in Amy Tan and writing, this is a must-read. If you dislike her fiction, I hesitate to recommend this; the style and most of the topics not focused on writing are quite similar. I do generally like her fiction and I am interested in writing, so I enjoyed this.

A number of the most powerful and poignant stories focus on her remarkably eventful and often traumatic life, the equally eventful and traumatic life of her mother, and their difficult relationship. (Difficult is putting it mildly: when Tan was a teenager, her mother, who was frequently suicidal, held a cleaver to Tan’s throat.) I hadn’t realized quite how autobiographical some of her fiction was until I read this book.

I also enjoyed most of the pieces on writing. Tan is quite funny about detailing the neurosis-beset life of the writer. In more serious matters, she has several essays about the expectations put on her as a Chinese-American writer (she dislikes the term “writer of color”), both from white people and from people of color. Her essays on the matter are heartfelt and worth reading even if you totally disagree with some or all of her opinions, which are too complex to summarize here.

The last essay, about a mysterious chronic illness she develops which causes a cascade of horrifying symptoms which eventually include hallucinations, is both a compelling medical detective story and a good conclusion to the book, though I was not fond of her attempt to pull in 9/11, which occurred at the same time. (Moral: if no one knows what’s wrong with you and you have bizarre symptoms, online research is the next best thing to Dr. House.)

Like most essay collections, there’s some randomness and a couple of pieces that could have been dropped with no harm to the book. But it’s a strong collection overall.
A collection of essays, many autobiographical. If you’re interested in Amy Tan and writing, this is a must-read. If you dislike her fiction, I hesitate to recommend this; the style and most of the topics not focused on writing are quite similar. I do generally like her fiction and I am interested in writing, so I enjoyed this.

A number of the most powerful and poignant stories focus on her remarkably eventful and often traumatic life, the equally eventful and traumatic life of her mother, and their difficult relationship. (Difficult is putting it mildly: when Tan was a teenager, her mother, who was frequently suicidal, held a cleaver to Tan’s throat.) I hadn’t realized quite how autobiographical some of her fiction was until I read this book.

I also enjoyed most of the pieces on writing. Tan is quite funny about detailing the neurosis-beset life of the writer. In more serious matters, she has several essays about the expectations put on her as a Chinese-American writer (she dislikes the term “writer of color”), both from white people and from people of color. Her essays on the matter are heartfelt and worth reading even if you totally disagree with some or all of her opinions, which are too complex to summarize here.

The last essay, about a mysterious chronic illness she develops which causes a cascade of horrifying symptoms which eventually include hallucinations, is both a compelling medical detective story and a good conclusion to the book, though I was not fond of her attempt to pull in 9/11, which occurred at the same time. (Moral: if no one knows what’s wrong with you and you have bizarre symptoms, online research is the next best thing to Dr. House.)

Like most essay collections, there’s some randomness and a couple of pieces that could have been dropped with no harm to the book. But it’s a strong collection overall.
A memoir about Japanese-American author Mori’s visit to her hometown of Kobe and other parts of Japan many years after her family was shattered by her mother’s suicide. Mori spends time with her dysfunctional family, tries to understand her long-dead mother, and grapples with her own cultural identity.

Well-written and thoughtful, but also a bit emotionally distant and with little variety of tone. I wasn’t bowled over, but my taste tends more toward brightly colored passions and humor than to delicate understatement. If you are more inclined to the latter, you would probably like it more. It did get rave reviews.

Check it out on Amazon: The Dream of Water
A memoir about Japanese-American author Mori’s visit to her hometown of Kobe and other parts of Japan many years after her family was shattered by her mother’s suicide. Mori spends time with her dysfunctional family, tries to understand her long-dead mother, and grapples with her own cultural identity.

Well-written and thoughtful, but also a bit emotionally distant and with little variety of tone. I wasn’t bowled over, but my taste tends more toward brightly colored passions and humor than to delicate understatement. If you are more inclined to the latter, you would probably like it more. It did get rave reviews.

Check it out on Amazon: The Dream of Water
A food-centric memoir of growing up in a huge Indian family in and around Delhi. Jaffrey became a teenager when India got its independence - a time of joy and horror, as the country gained its freedom and then tore itself apart in the violence that came with Partition.

But Jaffrey's childhood was more happy than not, despite the presence of a low-key but appalling family rift caused by an uncle's emotional abuse of his own children and favoritism of some of his nieces and nephews. There's not a lot of drama but a great deal of humor, well-observed family dynamics, and a wonderful sense of place and time.

Jaffrey grew up to a famous food writer, and her memories are full of the scents and tastes and family rituals surrounding food. It's impossible to read without getting hungry. And by relating the food to its role in culture, family history, and personality, the food itself becomes the story.

Though she mentions some horrifying accidents and tragedies, albeit in an understated way, the overall mood of the story is one of nostalgia for a flavorful and largely fondly-recalled childhood. Though Jaffrey was something of a misfit, by the end of the book she's beginning to find her own voice and destiny. Amusingly, she never cooks anything good in the entire book - but she eats well, and remembers well. The rest, we know, is history.

Click here to buy it from Amazon: Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India (Vintage)
rachelmanija: (Book Fix)
( Oct. 7th, 2006 03:53 pm)
I abandon all hope of writing long reviews of any of the books I've read recently, except maybe Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

Soul Kitchen, by Poppy Z. Brite.

A gripping installment of her series about Rickey and G-Man, New Orleans chefs and soulmates. Rickey injures his back, suffers chronic pain, and ends up hooked on Vicodin thanks to a doctor involved in some shady dealings; he also hires a chef who was unjustly imprisoned for murder for ten years, and ends up under the thumb of the man who actually committed the crime. For once, the crime element is integrated into rest of the plot rather than an add-on, and is also integral to the themes of racism and corruption in New Orleans. The writing is excellent, but I felt that the ending was overly cheerful considering how badly some of the characters other than Rickey and G-Man ended up.

Campus Sexpot, by David Carkeet.

A memoir about how a high school teacher in his home town wrote a steamy pulp novel based on actual town characters, then fled to Mexico, and how the locals reacted. This starts out well, with hilarious excerpts from the novel, but gradually loses steam. At the end it becomes a portrait of the author's father, which has absolutely nothing to do with anything that's been set up earlier. About the fiftieth memoir I've read which would have made an excellent long essay. Also, I am very curious as to how he got permission to do such extensive excerpts from the pulp novel, which is not listed where one normally lists permissions. Unless maybe the whole thing is fiction? But if so, you'd think he'd have made it more dramatic.

Scruffy, by Paul Gallico

Gallico used to be quite popular and is now pretty much forgotten. He wrote The Poseidon Adventure, but I think his best writing was in his portraits of animals: the cat who gets amnesia and believes she's a goddess in Thomasina, the street-smart and compassionate Jennie in The Abandoned, and the clever, vicious, utterly unredeemable eponymous Barbary ape of Scruffy, whose keepers love him precisely because he's so aggressively unlovable.

Scruffy is based on the legend that the British would be kicked off Gibraltar if its colony of imported macaques ever died out. It's set in WWII, when the apes are indeed dying out, and this is seized upon by Nazi propagandists. A crew of hapless officers must find a mate for Scruffy, the nastiest and ugliest ape ever to (literally) bite the hands that feed him. Dated, somewhat sexist, and colonialist, yet quite funny if you can get past that: re-reading revealed that it was not only a lack of mature judgement that made me like it when I was eleven.
rachelmanija: (Book Fix)
( Oct. 7th, 2006 03:53 pm)
I abandon all hope of writing long reviews of any of the books I've read recently, except maybe Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

Soul Kitchen, by Poppy Z. Brite.

A gripping installment of her series about Rickey and G-Man, New Orleans chefs and soulmates. Rickey injures his back, suffers chronic pain, and ends up hooked on Vicodin thanks to a doctor involved in some shady dealings; he also hires a chef who was unjustly imprisoned for murder for ten years, and ends up under the thumb of the man who actually committed the crime. For once, the crime element is integrated into rest of the plot rather than an add-on, and is also integral to the themes of racism and corruption in New Orleans. The writing is excellent, but I felt that the ending was overly cheerful considering how badly some of the characters other than Rickey and G-Man ended up.

Campus Sexpot, by David Carkeet.

A memoir about how a high school teacher in his home town wrote a steamy pulp novel based on actual town characters, then fled to Mexico, and how the locals reacted. This starts out well, with hilarious excerpts from the novel, but gradually loses steam. At the end it becomes a portrait of the author's father, which has absolutely nothing to do with anything that's been set up earlier. About the fiftieth memoir I've read which would have made an excellent long essay. Also, I am very curious as to how he got permission to do such extensive excerpts from the pulp novel, which is not listed where one normally lists permissions. Unless maybe the whole thing is fiction? But if so, you'd think he'd have made it more dramatic.

Scruffy, by Paul Gallico

Gallico used to be quite popular and is now pretty much forgotten. He wrote The Poseidon Adventure, but I think his best writing was in his portraits of animals: the cat who gets amnesia and believes she's a goddess in Thomasina, the street-smart and compassionate Jennie in The Abandoned, and the clever, vicious, utterly unredeemable eponymous Barbary ape of Scruffy, whose keepers love him precisely because he's so aggressively unlovable.

Scruffy is based on the legend that the British would be kicked off Gibraltar if its colony of imported macaques ever died out. It's set in WWII, when the apes are indeed dying out, and this is seized upon by Nazi propagandists. A crew of hapless officers must find a mate for Scruffy, the nastiest and ugliest ape ever to (literally) bite the hands that feed him. Dated, somewhat sexist, and colonialist, yet quite funny if you can get past that: re-reading revealed that it was not only a lack of mature judgement that made me like it when I was eleven.
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