Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Review: H is for Hawk

H is for Hawk H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This memoir is a heartfelt and beautifully written account of how Cambridge professor Helen Macdonald used her experience with falconry to help her cope with her grief over the sudden death of her father.

In remembering her childhood dreams and her love of books where animals were the primary characters, she pulls “The Goshawk” from the shelf. The author, T. H. White, also wrote “The Sword and the Stone.”

Throughout her memoir, Macdonald reverts to White, his troubled life, and his taming of a hawk. White was not always successful. Macdonald connects his mistakes in training his goshawk with the mistakes and troubles in his own life. These revelations are all part of her ultimate success in training Mabel, her goshawk.

A book about nature is not something I normally gravitate to. But the high praise for this book about Mabel and her trainer, drew me in. I admired McDonald’s writing and her sentiments throughout this memoir. Macdonald’s undertakings force the reader to admire her tenacity. So the book is a wonder for those who appreciate determination while soaking in the wonders of her English countryside. Yes, this is a book to admire.





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Saturday, December 19, 2015

Review: The Night of the Gun

The Night of the Gun The Night of the Gun by David Carr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(Because this review contained information that Goodreads considers a "spoiler alert," I have edited my review. I wrote my former review in a manner that people who suffer from addiction might find hope even when recovery takes a long time.}

Edited Review: David Carr gives new meaning to the words “brutally honest” in this memoir tracing his years of addiction to alcohol and drugs and his path to sobriety. Carr makes no excuses for his behaviors or decisions, both personal and professional.

Recognizing the unreliability of memory, Carr wanted to assure the accuracy of the events in his life, so he returned to Minnesota where he set up a camera and recorder and interviewed a cast of characters in his life: family, co-workers, friends, addicts, counselors, therapists, lawyers, editors, writers, and more.

He says, “Memories may be based on what happened to begin with, but they are reconstituted each time they are recalled-with the most-remembered events frequently the least accurate. And memory uses the building blocks of fiction-physical detail, arc, character, and consequence-to help us explain ourselves to ourselves and to others. As such, remembering is an act if assertion as much as recollection.”

This addiction memoir is an accurate picture of Carr’s dependency and recovery. It covers his years as an active alcoholic and drug addict, his experience smoking crack cocaine, his time in flop houses, going to meetings to maintain his recovery, meanwhile maintaining a life as a reporter in several Minnesota newspapers.

Ultimately, Carr left Minnesota for a job in Washington, D.C. and then the New York Times summoned. His skill as an excellent writer and journalist is evident on every page of this memoir.

For readers who have not experienced addiction themselves or known the powers of addiction through family members or friends, Carr explains all too well the harm and devastation of the slippery slope caused by just one drink.



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Friday, December 18, 2015

Review: The Night of the Gun

The Night of the Gun The Night of the Gun by David Carr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


David Carr gives new meaning to the words “brutally honest” in this memoir tracing his years of addiction to alcohol and drugs, his path to sobriety, and his relapse after fourteen years. Carr makes no excuses for his behaviors or decisions, both personal and professional.

Recognizing the unreliability of memory, Carr wanted to assure the accuracy of the events in his life, so he returned to Minnesota where he set up a camera and recorder and interviewed a cast of characters in his life: family, co-workers, friends, addicts, counselors, therapists, lawyers, editors, writers, and more.

He says, “Memories may be based on what happened to begin with, but they are reconstituted each time they are recalled-with the most-remembered events frequently the least accurate. And memory uses the building blocks of fiction-physical detail, arc, character, and consequence-to help us explain ourselves to ourselves and to others. As such, remembering is an act if assertion as much as recollection.”

This addiction memoir is an accurate picture of Carr’s dependency and recovery. It covers his years as an active alcoholic and drug addict, his experience smoking crack cocaine, his time in flop houses, going to meetings to maintain his recovery, meanwhile maintaining a life as a reporter in several Minnesota newspapers. A major heartbreak in Carr’s life was the realization that his twin daughters were conceived while both he and his wife were using.

Ultimately, Carr left Minnesota for a job in Washington, D.C. and then the New York Times summoned. His skill as an excellent writer and journalist is evident on every page of this memoir.

For readers who have not experienced addiction themselves or known the powers of addiction through family members or friends, Carr explains all too well the harm and devastation of the slippery slope caused by just one drink.



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Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Review: The Trip: Andy Warhol's Plastic Fantastic Cross-Country Adventure

The Trip: Andy Warhol's Plastic Fantastic Cross-Country Adventure The Trip: Andy Warhol's Plastic Fantastic Cross-Country Adventure by Deborah Davis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The trip described in the title is just one part of this book that is actually a biography of the Pop artist. Having previously known only the bare facts of Warhol and his art, I found this book very interesting and informative, a comprehensive look at all the elements of the various movements in New York during the 1960s and 1970s.

Although I'd never call myself a fan of Pop art or of some the artists during that time, I learned why their visions and their techniques are considered so important.

For those who love art in all its manifestations, this is a book to read. May I also suggest another of Deborah Davis's books, "Strapless," which is the story of John Singer Sargent and the woman who became known as Madame X. Davis is an exceptional writer.

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Monday, November 23, 2015

Review: Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard

Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard by Laura Bates
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If this book were fiction you'd call the premise far-fetched: impossible that an uneducated criminal, behind bars since the age of seventeen and serving a life sentence for murder, would become an authority on Shakespeare. How could he probe the language to understand the motivations and justifications of Macbeth, Hamlet, Richard the Third, and others and compare them to himself and others?

Laura Bates, the innovative professor who designs the Shakespeare curriculum for her in-prison classes, has written a memoir of her ten years behind bars. Among the many incarcerated students is Larry Newton. The reader has to wonder at his intellect and what he might have achieved outside the concrete walls of the Indiana prison system.

Not only is this a wonderful story, it demonstrates the power of education to reach the hearts and souls of so many. Bates ultimately uses the knowledge she gained in prison to educate her students who wish to become teachers. It is a powerful book and a testament not to Shakespeare as much as it is to one prisoner's motivation to understand himself and others. Highly recommended.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Review: Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932

Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 by Francine Prose
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A gallery of characters brings to life the days just before and during World War II in Paris. The Chameleon Club nightclub patrons and the entertainers introduce the reader to what many considered decadent times. It is the story of Louisanne "Lou" Villars, a lesbian athlete who yearns to enter the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Her career as a race car driver connects her with the characters: artists, writers, wealthy industrialists, and, eventually, members of the Third Reich.

Although this is a novel, Francine Prose's research into those days draws the reader into the terrifying advent of the Nazis into France. The character of Villars is based on the true story of Violette Morris who was a French professional athlete who worked for the Gestapo during the German occupation of Paris.

The book is divided by several voices - a photographer, a writer, a wealthy woman married to an industrialist, and others. Together they paint a vivid picture of the times from the 1930s to the mid 1940s. This book is a picture of how it was to live in France during those horrifying days.

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Saturday, October 10, 2015

Review: The House on Mango Street

The House on Mango Street The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It is no wonder this book is suggested for grade school students. Sandra Cisneros tells in a series of vignettes about her life and her family and friends in her inner city Chicago neighborhood. No text book could reveal as well the lives and the emotions of the under-privileged immigrant.

I'd noticed this book on bookstore tables for a long time but didn't think I would find it enjoyable or satisfying. I was wrong. The writing is poetic.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Review: Fates and Furies

Fates and Furies Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I decide to write a review I usually do not include a plot synopsis. What I consider is the story and how the writer conveys her ideas. To describe this novel as simply the story of a marriage undermines the intensity with which Lauren Groff tells the story of Lotto and Mathilde.

First we read about the husband. The second half concerns the wife. And woven in between their stories are the lives that lie hidden. It's an amazing work and I applaud Lauren Groff for maintaining its intensity throughout the book.

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Saturday, September 5, 2015

Review: Dancing Fish and Ammonites: A Memoir

Dancing Fish and Ammonites: A Memoir Dancing Fish and Ammonites: A Memoir by Penelope Lively
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In this memoir written by the wonderful novelist Penelope Lively, she describes so accurately the aspects of growing old. She was born only four years before me, so it was especially meaningful to me to read her views on living in these times and reflecting on the past. "The point here is that age may sideline, but it also confers a sort of neutrality; you are no longer out there in the thick of things, but able to stand back, observe, consider."

Lively also delves into memory, her childhood in Egypt, her love of gardens, books she admires and how she chooses topics for her own novels.

What I enjoyed most in Lively's memoir is her life-long love of books and how old age cannot diminish that aspect of her life. "Reading in old age is doing for me what it has always done - it frees me from the closet of my own mind. Reading fiction, I see through the prism of another person's understanding; reading everything else I am traveling - I am traveling in the way that I still can: new sights, new experiences."

"My point here is to do with the needs of old age; there is what you can'do, there is what you no longer want to do, and there is what has become of central importance. Others may have a game of bowls, or baing cakes, or carpentry, or macrame, or watercolors. I have reading."

Amen.

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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A Walk in the Dentist's Chair


I’ve developed a simple way to endure the poking and prodding and drilling and filling as your dentist hovers above your face. Take a walk through the years.  I beam myself back to Brooklyn and the days when I walked to school, to stores, to movie theatres, and to the library.

Try it.  As soon as you picture yourself leaving your house, walk familiar streets while recalling where your friends lived and the hours you spent together.  The other day I walked down East 37th Street where my best friend Carolyn lived and where four of my other classmates lived in what were known then as the Trump homes.  (Built by the father, not the Donald.) These brick attached homes with a garage and a basement were considered a fine addition to my Flatbush neighborhood. 

Or your walk may take you past your church. Perhaps you stop in to say a prayer and light a candle, or look up at the choir loft where you sang Latin hymns.  And, if you’re old enough and if your thoughts reach deep enough, when you reach your local shopping area you may recall the local bakery where you first saw a bread-slicing machine or the sawdust on the floor of the local supermarket.

My dentist trick has worked for years, ever since I was a child. I developed it - it was the only way I had to endure Dr. DiGangi’s novocaine-less dentistry.  Now I no longer dread my annual visits with a more humane dentist.  I encourage you to try it. Long buried memories will emerge and when the dentist tells you to rinse, you may not want to end your reverie.