Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Coming of Age

I picked up two different books both of which were fast easy reads--one fiction and one memoir that had a shared theme of "Coming of Age in the New Millenium".

I glanced at Girls in Trucks by Katie Crouch in the bookstore and picked it up because I thought it was a memoir of a debutante from Charleston, South Caroline gone bad. Instead, it was a novel about a debutante in Charleston, South Carolina gone bad. This book would probably fall into the category of chick lit. It was a funny look at a quirky culture and perfect for a day at the beach or being stranded in an airport terminal. I would still like to read a memoir of a southern debutante. Any recommendations?

Someone (I can't remember who) recommended The Mighty Queens of Freeville to me. Amy Dickinson, the advice columnist for the Chicago Tribune (aka Ask Amy), wrote this memoir about her hometown and the women who raised her. The only problem with this book is that is not really what it is about. Ms Dickinson mentions these women and even visits them now and then, but the main focus of the book is how she gets through a painful divorce and raises her daughter alone. There a few stories of the women she loves bouncing around in the background, but given the title of the memoir, I would expect a much more careful consideration of all the aunts, sisters and her mother and all they did for her. The longest chapter, in fact, was dedicated to a story about her father who abandoned her as a child.

This is not to say that the The Mighty Queens of Freeville is not an interesting memoir. It has a sweet and happy ending and is a compelling story of one woman's story of survival as a single parent, but if you are looking for quirky stories about elders passing on their wisdom, it is not this book.

Any other good stories out there about women finding thier way? Please recommend...

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A Final Arc of The Sky by Jennifer Culkin

One of the reason's I love to read memoir is the ability to glimpse into a life I do not or will not have. Reading of other careers or childhood experiences that are not like my own helps me to understand the way the world hums. So when I received A Final Arc of Sky from the publisher as part of the Early Reviewer program, I looked forward to reading it. Being a critical care nurse on a helicopter in the Pacific Northwest is pretty far from where I am both physically and psychically.

In fact, these are the parts of the memoir that were the best written and the most compelling to read. When she is flying in the air with her partners and working on saving a life or looking at her parents graves from the window of the helicopter, this is when the narrative really compels. She is a beautiful writer and I think the prose is snappy and downright interesting.

I lost momentum and focus the minute she got into the sick bed with her mother and then her father. It felt like these parts took up half the book and I kept putting it down to go to other books. I had to really drag through it. It felt like these chapters were simply a recounting of detail by detail two people's last days and all the gory familial antics that go on when someone is dying (her own included). I was not impressed.

The last part of the memoir which was a discussion of the deaths of follow critical care nurses in helicopter crashes and her own illness got a bit better but I felt like many of these reviewers did that it was disjointed and choppy. She jumped around a lot and it was hard to figure out where in time she was and what she was doing. I think in fact, there may have been 4 different helicopter crashes that she talked about--flashback upon flashback. Oh my.

I think perhaps her illness might require a whole second memoir which I might like to read. The part of the book where she describes not being able to go back to work because of her MS was terribly sad. She loved her job and was very good at it.

Ms Culkin is a very good writer. There are phrases and metaphors and ways of describing things (especially at the beginning) which are quite poetic. She does have a tale to tell and the parts of the book dedicated to her flights and career as a nurse are fascinating to read.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Getting Something for Nothing

A few years ago I read a great book, written by a 60 something woman, about her memories of her mother who was an expert at winning contests. Back in the 50's and early 60's contesting was a big deal and lots of women entered contests which required skill in order to win. Sponsoring companies would ask people to compose poems or jingles, solve word problems or guess totals of product sales and win interesting, fabulous prizes: everything from basketballs to bikes to shopping sprees or new cars. The author, Terry Ryan, wrote about growing up poor with 9 brothers and sisters and an alcoholic father and a mother who was clever and witty enough to make ends meet by contesting. This book: The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio was also made into a movie starring Julianne Moore. Sadly, contests slowly fell out of favor for drawings of chance.

Move to 2009--Sam Pocker is a self described stand up economist and has written the book Retail Anarchy. He writes about the economy from a consumers point of view. He is especially fond of what I will call "stunt shopping". Triangulating coupons, with in-store deals with cash back on products--all legal, all ethical if not stretching the intent of the deals a bit. He has a self-righteous I-am-entitled-to-this attitude as well. Several people have commented on what a jerk this guy appears to be and he probably is a jerk, but I gotta say his stunts and his lifestyle are fascinating and I think make avery good story. Sam Pocker's methods of getting something for nothing are very different than Terry Ryan's mother's but that doesn't make them any less interesting or important. Sam Pocker is exactly the kind of bargain shopper you would expect for the new millenium. (Is it still new?)

His book is divided into several sections: The first section is a rant about customer service which is the least interesting. Maybe service in NYC is is ALL uniformly bad, but here in the midwest we do have some good service. He writes off every service person with one pen: all bad. The second section is the most interesting where he talks about all his stunts and deals. I kept turning the pages of this section. Section three was about rebating and refunding which again was mildly interesting--especially his riff on his extended stay at Staples.

He excoriates anyone who isn't pulling all the same stuff he is and getting discounts and rebates and paying nothing for our merchandise the way he is, but he forgets two things: most of us have full time jobs and in our spare time have other things we like to do than hunt for coupons and triangulate deals--all of that takes real time. Second, his model of buying up every bottle of soy sauce in the store is NOT sustainable. Only one person can buy every single bottle of soy sauce in a store and get the rebates to make enough money to feed a family of 4.

So yes, Retail Anarchy was a good book in a voyeuristic way. Here are the lurid stories of a coupon clipper and super shopper. I do not think I could do that, but it is the kind of story that makes for lively reading.

Retail Anarchy was a website first which is worth checking out. I could not find his book in my local public library so I ordered it off the internet. Let me know if you would like to borrow it.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Collections of Nothing by William Davies King

I was quietly surprised by this memoir. I found the title interesting when someone posted it on a list serve, so I called it up at the library. At first, I thought the guy was a little too academic-y, and I would lose interest. (Published by University of Chicago Press!) But really, he wrote a rather touching account about collecting and why he collects and intersperses the story of his own collecting with the story of his life.

He collects--well, he literally collects nothing and has for his whole life. By nothing he means anything that has no value. Nothing he collects can be bought on e-bay or at an auction. No one would possibly place any value on the things he has accumulated: cereal boxes, stickers off fruits and vegetables, business cards, bottle caps, cream cheese boxes. You name it, if it is worthless, he saves it. His collections seem to be meticulously organized, and he devotes a good deal of care and attention to his monumental collection of all that is worthless in his life. The memoir alternates between funny:

"Labels that have been in direct contact with sticky
or greasy foods (like chocolate milk cartons or Crisco
wrappers) I usually don’t save, but some, such as
bacon boxes, are so appealing I can’t resist, even at
the risk of a little grease stain. The prospect of
having a binder filled with bacon boxes was one of my
early dreams and one of the justifications I offered
when people asked why I was collecting the stuff.
Wouldn’t it be amazing to have a book of bacon? Then,
a few years later, I more or less stopped eating bacon.
Even so, I have thirty-five different bacon boxes.”

And sweet:

"I can look at my label collection as a first-class
achievement or I can look at it as a river of pain.
I can view the collection as a marvelous fantasy or
as a mental block, breakthrough or disaster. I can
cling to it and also wish to throw it the hell out.
I deserve much more than a mountain of aging labels,
and at the same time I am enormously blessed to have
even that."

King is a professor of Theater and Drama at UCSB. His writing is honest and forthright. His personal tale of sorrow coupled with his facsinating and idiosyncratic collections reflected against oberservations about collecting of all kinds, really makes a nice rainy day read.

The picture on the front of the book is King's collection of envelope liners. You know, the envelope insides that are meant to keep nosy mail carriers from knowing how much the check your grandma sent you for your birthday is for. He cuts them out and mounts them on paper to the tune of 800 different liners. Who knew?

What do you collect? Does it take over your life? Could you ever part with it?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Birthday Old Friend

April is birthday month for me and many friends. One old former friend of mine celebrated her birthday yesterday, and I meant to post this for her then. This poem was generated by a picture prompt of swings. In honor of m old friend's birthday and National Poetry Month here is a tribute to swinging.

Tribute to Swinging

In college my roommate had a rocking chair.
She rocked so passionately that sometimes her rocking chair fell a part.
It was not uncommon for her to re-glue her special chair over winter break.
When her rocking chair was in the shop,
she found a swing set in the park across the street and swung--higher and higher over the water that it looked out upon.
I tried rocking too and swinging, but it makes me queasy.
Motion sickness comes over me easily.
A quiet disease caused by imbalance in your inner ear.
Rocking, swinging, riding, sailing, looking at microfilm in the public library
--any inorganic motion makes me uncomfortable.
I feel it start to tingle in my hands and feet,
and the dizziness and nausea comes over me instantly,
until I stop what I am doing.
But it is a wave across time from me to you when this happens.
I know you are out there whenever I rock or swing.
I think of you. Leaving me alone. As I have thought of you so many times.
Funny how this swing always brings us back together.

Friday, April 10, 2009

great title for a poem!

I have been working diligently every day on writing poetry. I am not going to share most of it. I would rather let you wonder if I can write poetry than prove to you I cannot.

Here is a title from a poem on Day 6. I love the title:

"An Elegy for Dagmar"

I am working on today's poem now. The them for day 10 is "Found Poetry".

Thursday, April 2, 2009

First Poem for April

Mysteries of Grammar

“Too many words,” I say,
“at 5:00 when I pick you up I have too many words.
Can I give you some?”
“You mean, like a run-on sentence?” he asks.
“Kind of,” I say. “Do you ever have days like that?”
“Days like a run-on sentence?” he asks
“um..hmmm,” I nod.
“My days,” he said, “are more like when the subject and verb don’t agree, and the teacher puts a circle around it and writes in big red letters. AGREEMENT. And I don’t know what she’s talking about.”
Later, we pour ourselves fancy glasses of sparkling apple juice to celebrate.
“To the comma splice,” I say clinking glasses.
“Long live the sentence fragment,” he adds.
Always space for a few more words.