Saturday, March 23, 2013

Drinking with Men by Rosie Schaap

I heard Ms Schaap interviewed on NPR a few weeks ago and her take on life-- by the bars she frequents--seemed an interesting way to approach a memoir.  She takes readers through her life from the bar car on the train as a teenager, to an Irish bar, college bar, grad school bar and various dives she has known and loved throughout the years.

Drinking With Men (because she finds women are often uninterested in bar culture) is a valentine to bars.  She writes so poetically about what it means to be a regular patron of a bar in a city that I actually found myself envious that I have never been a regular in a bar.  I am not even sure I have ever been in the kind of bar she frequents and has written about.  Maybe, I thought, I should even consider opening my own bar.

So yes, I enjoyed this book.  It was fun to read and enjoy her observations of life in the bar and watch her grow up in bars and with their patrons.  I did observe early on, that she really did not seem like my kind of person.  That for all her romance about bars and drinking, I didn't really like her. (Although on NPR she sounded quite likable.) I feel torn: interesting book, good writing, unlikeable narrator.

The biggest criticism I have of her memoir is that she unfairly dodged, what I would consider the central question of the book.  About half way through the memoir, in a chapter about skipping all her classes in grad school to hang out at her current bar of choice, she is one day reading her roommate's journal and reads her roommate's observations that she, Rosie, is an alcoholic. It never occurred to her that she was an alcoholic, and she begins to consider the question.  It is a moment for me that the memoir began to quicken and picked up my interest.  I read it in rapt attention, how would this realization change her life?

But suddenly, she changes the subject, and meanders off to another topic, even though it seemed she was about to conclude she had a big problem. She never went back to the question again.  So, although I certainly loved her stories in bars and her love of even the divey-est of them, I wonder if she will ever consider the big question again.

A good book, worth the read, available at your public library.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

I want to lick this book I loved it so much

After Visiting Friends: A Son's Story by Michael Hainey, I found by accident when a friend posted a short article on fb about it. I requested my library purchase it. (I love doing that!)

Michael Hainey's father died when he was 6 and afterward he felt he could not talk about it.  His mother and family, in their grief, had a kind of conspiracy of silence about that night and about the man. So for years he lived with this wonder of who his father was and how he died that night in 1972.  When Michael finally begins to seek out answers, he delves deep into the Chicago newspaper world of the 1960's and 1970's: a fascinating time and a fascinating place.

His work takes him to hospitals and morgues and all over the city. It takes him back to his father's hometown in Nebraska and to a small town in Ohio.  It takes him to San Francisco and he even meets a few people in Kentucky, New York and Wisconsin.  He meets long forgotten family members and newspaper colleagues of his fathers. He meets the sadness of a life cut way too short.

It is beautiful writing and an amazing tribute to a time, a place, a family, and a person or rather several people. I loved everything about this book: the writer's pacing and sensibility. His honesty and his self-revelation. I loved how much he loved his mother and family and how much getting to know his father after all these years meant to him. All the passages about his childhood and adulthood and his unraveling the past felt poignant and purposeful.  He wove all the stories of his life and his parents' lives together quite skillfully. I read it in two days.  His last line in the book was the ultimate:  "I went searching for my father and I found my mother."

I am pretty sure I heard him interviewed on Fresh Air about this book as well, and here is the original article from the Chicago Reader that got me started.  I highly recommend this memoir.