Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Once Upon a Secret by Mimi Alford

I needed some light reading before my trip home from Scotland.  I bought this book to keep me company, and it was so interesting I finished it before I even got onto the plane.

Mimi Beardsley, 19 years old, gets a job as an intern in the White House Press office. Within a few days of starting this prestigious job, she become JFK's lover. This affair lasts for over 18 months and ends when JFK is assassinated.

The story of Mimi's ringside seat to history is interesting enough, but the second half of the story, how she kept this secret for more than 30 years, is also very compelling.  It is testament again, to how telling our truth, our own story, is powerful and healing and of course how keeping secrets can nearly destroy us.

Writing is pretty good and it did keep my attention.  It is most likely available at the public library.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail by Cheryl Strayed

I chose this book to bring with me on my Scotland adventure this week.  There was something about reading a woman's travel adventure while I had my own adventure that was comforting and exciting.  My adventure involved hot baths and a good nights sleep and thankfully, no rattlesnakes.

I first read Strayed in her essay about grief that got published in an anthology of the best non-fiction.  Her essay was a memoir of her grieving over her mother's death by shooting up heroin and sleeping with as many men as she could.  Both activities led to her divorce from a man she loved very much.  In the essay,  she alludes
to deciding to hike the Pacific Coast Trail as an antidote to her grief. She saves money, plans, buys equipment, and heads out for a 100 day journey through California and Oregon--through the high sierras-- where she quickly learns that though she planned and packed she probably should have trained as well.

Strayed voice is honest and humbled. She goes from novice to seasoned hiker. She grieves, she parties, she experiences solitude and companionship on the trail, kindnesses, and the aforementioned rattlesnakes.  Never in my wildest dreams, even when I was young and fit, could I have ever dreamed of this sort of solo adventure.  I probably enjoyed it so much knowing that she did something that I could never hope to do.

I loved this book and read it quickly on the plane and within 4 days of starting the trip.  I found Strayed's voice to be truly compelling.  I cared about her and wanted to see her complete her magnificent journey.

As a side note, I took this in e-book format and felt sort of guilty and slovenly.  I would love to hand it to a fellow traveler to read or at least leave it in a B & B. But alas cannot.  Also, I discovered halfway through the trip that a fellow traveler is reading the exact same book.   I never would have known had she not mentioned it.  I guess I am realizing that books are a shared experience for me, and that e-readers, don't allow for the sharing of story or the discovering of other people's story journeys.

But you should discover this journey and an important new voice in literature.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Why be Happy When you Could be Normal?

Years ago I was captivated by Jeannette Winterson's second novel The Passion. I remember her being a magical story teller, so I was intrigued and excited that she had a memoir published this year.  Apparently, her first novel, the wildly popular Oranges are Not the Only Fruit was semi-autobiographical, so this memoir slightly resembles the early novel.  Winterson was adopted as a baby and raised by an evangelical Christian who had a hard time expressing love.  Winterson became estranged from her mother as a teen when she came out as a lesbian.

Jeannette Winterson has an amazing voice.  It feels utterly unique.  I can't compare her to anyone.  The narrative did not follow a normal chronological order.  There was a loose idea of time but mostly the memoir was organized on themes: church, literature, her home town.  Within each chapter she would tell a story about her childhood but also talk about art or religion or literature and how it changed or affected her.  I found a profound moment when she waxed philosophical about the necessity for poetry:  tough language for tough times.

The memoir is laced with Winterson's feelings of abandonment and loss and adoption, as well as, her struggles and inability to love that she blames on the childhood she had which was devoid of real love. We also see how literature and poetry in particular is what saves her.  During the last third of the book, Winterson makes her way through the British legal system to find out the name of her biological mother and finally, after 50 years, meet her.

If you like memoir or just want to read a different voice...Check this out.  Oh, and what  great title, eh?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Wilder Life

I picked up The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure on my birthday.  I, too, grew up reading and loving Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Little House books.  Ms. McClure has decided to follow Laura and go to her various homesteads around the country.  Who knew that this famous series of books would create a small cottage industry in tourism?

But the Wilder Life is more than just travel memoir, it is also social commentary on why we yearn for these simpler times. We meet fellow travelers who also share the fervor for Laura.  Some of whom have some pretty creepy reasons for learning homesteading skills.

McClure also takes a great portion of the book to talk about her own love of Laura and why she so desires to be part of her world.  Everywhere she goes, she lingers over artifacts and enjoys the sights and sounds that Laura and her family would have enjoyed.

I also loved the intellectual discussions of the fictional Laura versus the real Laura, and I learned a lot more about the role Rose Wilder had in bringing her mother's books to life.  At the time, Rose Wilder was every bit as famous as her mother.

I found this book to be insightful and funny. I enjoyed Ms Mclure's travels and insights and sense of humor.  Although I have not read those books in more than 30 years, it was fun to relive all the moments from the books that I could remember through the lens of a fellow Wilder fan and insightful writer.  I think anyone who loved Laura Ingalls as a girl would enjoy this fun look at her and her writing.