Tag Archives: memoir

NOT DEAD YET by Phil Collins

phil-collins-not-dead-yet-photoPhil Collins came out with his memoir, Not Dead Yet, this fall, joining a crop of rock bios that have been getting a lot of attention recently. I was a big Genesis/Phil Collins fan back in the 80s, so I was excited to get my hands on the audio version of Not Dead Yet.

Collins narrates the audio version, which enhances the sense of intimacy the listener feels with him throughout the book. It opens with his early days in suburban London and tracks his family life and his childhood/early adulthood obsession with music. From there, the juggernaut of Collins’ career kicks in: joining Genesis, touring larger and larger venues, taking over frontman status from Peter Gabriel, more Genesis albums, his explosive solo career, more Genesis albums, Disney soundtracks, hit movie songs, and on and on. There is a reason Phil Collins seemed ubiquitous in the 80s and 90s – he was. He was also a workaholic who couldn’t say no to any opportunity – to sing, to compose, to produce, to collaborate. He would travel the globe while on world tours, and then return to his home base where he would jump immediately into the next project without stopping.

This lifestyle took a toll on his personal life, which Collins does not gloss over. Three marriages, three divorces, long distance relationships with his five kids – these all weigh on Collins, and he perseverates on them throughout the book. He takes the blame for the failure of his marriages, though he manages to make himself look OK at the same time. Collins was criticized by the media when all of this was going on, particularly his delivering his request for a divorce from wife #2 via fax, and his affair with a woman half his age while on tour. Collins takes the blows here, for sure, but it’s clear that he is relieved to finally be telling his story.

He also shines a light on some other personal stuff, like his obsession with the Alamo and the physical ailments that plagued his later career, like an ear stroke that caused him to lose his hearing in one ear and the hand and back issues that put an end to his prolific drumming. The toughest section comes at the end, when Collins describes in painstaking detail his slide into alcoholism in the early 2010s and the terrible toll it took on his body and his family.

I thoroughly enjoyed Not Dead Yet, especially the behind-the-scenes look at the music, the bands and the touring. On many occasions, I paused the audio to call up a song on Spotify or a video on YouTube, which definitely enhanced my enjoyment of the book. I am addicted to 80s nostalgia, and Not Dead Yet did not disappoint. If you were even a casual Genesis or Phil fan, I think you’ll enjoy this book.

Collins is apologetic about his ubiquity – almost overly so. He suggests that his transatlantic dual performances on Live Aid in 1985 were almost accidental, and he distances himself from the coincidence of having hit songs with two bands on the charts at the same time. He basically says, “I get it – I was sick of me too.” (Sometimes this is a little too much.)

Collins is clearly an emotional, complicated guy, and Not Dead Yet shows him in the most flattering light possible. I’m sure there are other sides to a lot of his stories (and in fact I heard a few of them at Thanksgiving dinner from someone who knows him), but I liked hearing (and believing) Phil’s version for 10 hours. I mean, that’s the point of a rock memoir, right? To clean up the reputation?

Collins’ albums have all been recently remastered, and if you listen to them on Spotify you get a new cover, a closeup of Phil’s sixtysomething face instead of the thirtysomething faces I remembered from the original covers. It’s kind of creepy, but it’s reality – our rock gods are aging. Not Dead Yet at least gave me glimpses of that younger guy, and for that I am grateful.

(And yes, I found out what “In The Air Tonight” is about. Not this:)

YES PLEASE by Amy Poehler

513gpyqm6bl-_sx324_bo1204203200_My family has been been on a Parks and Recreation binge over the last few months, so I’ve been watching a lot of Amy Poehler. I received an ARC of Yes Please when it came out last fall, but hadn’t gotten to it yet, so I decided to listen to it on audio a few weeks ago. Many hours of Amy Poehler in the car!

Yes Please is Poehler’s memoir about her childhood, her early years in comedy in Chicago, her time on SNL and (thankfully) her experience on Parks and Recreation. Along the way, Poehler shares her insights on being a working mom, her divorce (a little), her children, and some celebrity gossip from SNL and various awards shows. Yes Please is well-written and, if not chronological, at least loosely organized around themes and phases of Poehler’s life.

I read Tina Fey’s Bossypants 5 years ago (review here), and I just re-read my review of it. On the surface it sounds an awful lot like Yes Please. But I liked Poehler’s book better. I think there’s more substance, and more to take away from it. Maybe I identify more with Poehler, with her 80s childhood and her pop culture influences. Maybe it’s because it was narrated for me by Poehler. Regardless, I think it hangs together better as a book. Poehler is relatable and funny and imperfect. She is generous to others and grateful for their roles in her life. And part of her is Leslie Knope, and who doesn’t love Leslie Knope?

I could have done without all the whining about how hard it is to write a book.

Yes Please isn’t the deepest or most satisfying book I’ve read recently, but it was a lot of fun and certainly made my commute go by faster. As for the audio narration – it’s really fun to hear it all in Poehler’s voice. She has a few guest narrators – Seth Meyers, her parents, the creator of Parks and Recreation – but I like her solo sections the best.

SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED by Anne Lamott

Writer Anne Lamott had a son, Sam, when she was 35-years old, and wrote a memoir of Sam’s first year of life called Operating Instructions: A Journal Of My Son’s First Year. When Sam turned 19, his girlfriend Amy got pregnant, and they decided to keep and raise the baby. Some Assembly Required: A Journal Of My Son’s First Son is Lamott’s memoir of Sam’s son Jax’s first year of life. I just finished Some Assembly Required on audio, my first foray into Lamott territory.

Lamott is clearly in love with her grandson, Jax. Despite her concerns about the situation before he was born, she becomes utterly besotted upon his arrival. But at the same time, she seems to forget that other people in the world have had babies and grandbabies, and that Jax’s learning to roll over and make sounds is something that pretty much all babies eventually do. After a while, her repeated descriptions of Jax as the most advanced, good-natured baby in the world get a little old.

Lamott can be funny and self-deprecating, but she’s also very self-absorbed. While she acknowledges that it’s unreasonable for her to expect to be the center of the universe, she does expect to be the center of the universe. She has a hard time putting herself into other people’s shoes and understanding their point of view. She understands in theory that Jax’s mother Amy is far from home and the people she loves, but she just cannot accept Amy’s moving away as a rational, defensible position. She frequently mentions her generosity toward Sam and Amy, such as buying them groceries and clothes or babysitting Jax, but she is also fairly critical of their relationship and Amy’s refusal to get a job.

There are also long forays when Lamott goes to India and Europe which are initially interesting but then tend to drag on. I also got a little bored with the sections about religion and Lamott’s church and the ashram she attended with her son.

In the end, Some Assembly Required was sort of a drag. Touching and funny at times, but also tedious and frustrating.

Lamott herself narrated the audio version, with her son Sam narrating his own portions. Neither is a good narrator. They both recite the words with little expression. I feel like they were each sort of bored with the whole thing before they got to the audio.

Some Assembly Required was disappointing in the end. Should I try any other Anne Lamott books?

Summer Reading: A Crowdsourced Recommendation List

Summer is already a few weeks in, so I am a little behind, but here is a list of summer reading suggestions collected from my Facebook friends and people who follow the EDIWTB Facebook page. There’s a mix of fiction and non-fiction, new and not-as-new, and even some YA and poetry thrown in. Wherever I’ve read the book that was recommended, I’ve linked to my review too.

Enjoy, and happy summer reading!

Fiction

All The Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr

Big Little Lies and The Hypnotist’s Love Story, Liane Moriarty (see my reviews of other Moriarty books What Alice Forgot and The Husband’s Secret)

The Circle, Dave Eggars

Attachments, Rainbow Rowell

A God In Ruins, Kate Atkinson

Elena Ferrante’s Naples series, starting with My Brilliant Friend

The Sound Of Glass, Karen White

The House of Hawthorne, Erika Robuck

Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel

The Shore, Sara Taylor

The Collected Stories, Breece D’J Pancake

The Sunlit Night, Rebecca Dinerstein

Movie Star By Lizzie Pepper, Hilary Liftin (on sale 7/21) 

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, Becky Albertalli 

The Storied Life Of A.J. Fikry, Gabrielle Zevin

Some Luck and Early Warning, Jane Smiley (reviewed here and here)

The Girl On The Train, Paula Hawkins (reviewed here)

The Children Act, Ian McEwan (reviewed here)

The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

The Narrow Road To The Deep North, Richard Flanagan

Euphoria, Lily King

The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey

Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel (reviewed here)

Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Redeployment, Phil Klay (reviewed here)

Fourth Of July Creek, Smith Henderson

Beach Town, Mary Kay Andrews

Summer Secrets, Jane Green

The Daddy Diaries, Joshua Braff

The Cake Therapist, Judith Fertig

Girl Of My Dreams, Peter Davis

The Secret Of Magic, Deborah Johnson

A Court Of Thorns And Roses, Sarah Maas

Star Craving Mad, Elise Miller (out 8/4)

Nonfiction

Destiny Of The Republic: A Tale Of Madness, Medicine And The Murder Of A President, Candice Millard

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing Of The Lusitania, Erik Larson

The Skies Belong To Us: Love And Terror In The Golden Age Of Hijacking, Brendan Koerner

All The Truth Is Out, Matt Bai

The Real Thing: Lessons On Love And Life From A Wedding Reporter’s Notebook, Ellen McCarthy

Paper Love: Searching For The Girl My Grandfather Left Behind: Sarah Wildman – non-fiction

An Invisible Thread: The True Story Of An 11-Year-Old Panhandler, A Busy Sales Executive, And An Unlikely Meeting with Destiny, Laura Schroff

The Wright Brothers, David McCullough

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo (reviewed here)

Devil In The Grove: Thurgood Marshall, The Groveland Boys, And The Dawn Of A New America, Gilbert King

Country Driving: A Chinese Road Trip, Peter Hessler

The Three-Day Promise, Donald Chung

Young Adult

I’ll Give You The Sun, Jandy Nelson

The Stellow Project – Shari Becker

One Thing Stolen, Beth Kephart

 

Poetry

The Robot Scientist’s Daughter, Jeannine Hall Gailey

Ohio Violence, Alison Stine

Banned For Life, Arlene Ang

Vessel, Parneshia Jones

Classics

To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee

Peyton Place, Grace Metalious

The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury

The Age Of Innocence, Edith Wharton

RARE BIRD: A MEMOIR OF LOVE AND LOSS by Anna Whiston-Donaldson

Anna Whiston-Donaldson and I run loosely in the same DC blogging circles. We’ve never met, but I learned about her and started reading her blog, An Inch of Gray, after her 12 year-old son Jack was killed in a freak drowning accident in September 2011. He was out playing in the rain with friends on a late summer afternoon and got caught in the current in a tiny neighborhood creek that had flooded due to a very unusual strong summer storm.

I soon learned of Jack’s death and started following Whiston-Donaldson’s blog, which quickly reoriented to focus on her family’s loss in the aftermath of that terrible September day. I was always struck by how honest she was about her anger and sadness about Jack’s death, as well as her strong Christian faith and how she could reconcile the two. She published a book this past September, Rare Bird: A Memoir of Love and Loss, which was my first read of 2015.

Rare Bird is an extremely sad book – how could it not be? The loss of this beautiful, sensitive, smart, sweet boy was a tragedy. And to learn about it from his mother’s perspective? Heartbreaking. It’s impossible to read Rare Bird and not put yourself in the author’s shoes, trying to imagine how you’d put one foot in front of other other if it happened to you. But it is not a depressing book, and that is an important difference. It is unflinchingly honest in every respect. Whiston-Donaldson holds nothing back as she relates the days leading up to Jack’s death and the year after. She talks about her marriage, her faith, her thoughts of ending her life, and the importance of staying present and capable for Jack’s younger sister, Margaret. She also talks about her grief and how she eventually emerged from that first, awful year. Perhaps that is why I didn’t find it depressing, even though it brought me to tears on many occasions.

Whiston-Donaldson is also a very good writer. Rare Bird is readable, clear, and even funny at times. Writing is definitely one of her talents, and I am grateful that she took the time to adapt her blog and memories into this longer format.

There is a fair amount in Rare Bird about Whiston-Donaldson’s Christian faith and how Jack’s loss tested it. I am Jewish and therefore couldn’t necessarily relate to some of what she wrote, but I still found it interesting and compelling.

Don’t be afraid to read Rare Bird. I had a hard time putting it down and I am so glad that I read it. I learned a lot from it, and I am grateful for Whiston-Donaldson’s honesty and analytical, challenging mind. I wish her and her family peace in the coming years and will always keep Jack in my mind.

BLOOM by Kelle Hampton

Bloom, by Kelle Hampton, is a memoir about the first year of the author’s daughter’s life. When Nella was born, Hampton and her husband were devastated to learn that their second daughter had Down Syndrome. They hadn’t tested her in utero, so the news came as a shock to them. In Bloom, Hampton, author of the blog Enjoying the Small Things, chronicles that first year of coming to terms with the fact that her expectations for Nella and Nella’s reality would be two very different things.

I am 36 weeks pregnant today, so this book naturally resonated with me. I found it moving – sad at times, but ultimately hopeful and affirming as Hampton learns to find the  joy in her daughter’s life. It must be incredibly difficult to imagine your child inside you being one way, and then having her turn out to be as beautiful and special as you’d hoped, but still different from what you’d imagined.

Some readers may find Bloom a little over-the top. Hampton spends a lot of time talking about her friends, and all that her friends did for her in the days and months after Nella’s delivery, from parties and sleepovers to long, indulgent crying sessions. She certainly has a remarkable support network that clearly helped her through those times. But the end result is that the book is pretty self-centered, focusing almost entirely on Hampton’s own sadness and how she coped. I’d have liked to have learned more about how her husband and older daughter fared during those 12 months, and less about the girlfriends who came to her rescue. I’d also have liked to have learned more about Nella and what it’s really like to have Down Syndrome – as an infant, at least. I am assuming that the book is an adaptation from her blog, which explains its self-centered nature. After all, that’s what blogging is. I write two blogs myself – I get it.

At one point, Hampton even acknowledges her selfishness. She says, “We’re all in some way selfish beings, and the good of the world depends on that fact – that someone, somewhere will wonder what it might feel like to be in someone else’s shoes, to feel their pain and, in doing so, attempt to do something about it. Our selfishness is ultimately what transforms us to be altruistic. And so, in the end, I accepted that that my need to change how the world perceives my child is what fueled me to take the next step – to want to change the outcome of how the world perceives every child.”

I’ve actually found Hampton’s more recent blog posts more rewarding than Bloom, probably because Hampton is now fully accepting of the diagnosis, and Nella is older and doing more things. Hampton’s photography is beautiful, which shines through in both Bloom and her blog. And, I have to say, Hampton makes living in Florida sound really amazing.

I am not sure that I’d have picked up Bloom if I weren’t pregnant or perhaps a new mom, but it was definitely a compelling read that I enjoyed over the last week of sleepless, third-trimester nights. I recommend it with the caveats noted above.

Thank you to William Morrow for the review copy.

LUCKY CHILD by Loung Ung


Today, I am participating in a TLC book blogger tour for Loung Ung’s Lucky Child, which is the second in a trilogy of books that Ung has written about her life. Ung was born in Cambodia, one of six children, and when she was six, her family suffered terribly at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. Her father was killed first, then a sister died, and then her mother and youngest sister were taken away and killed. Loung spent her childhood as a child soldier, enduring horrible deprivation and violence, until her eldest brother was able to take her away from Cambodia and move her to America.

The first of her trilogy – First They Killed My Father – is about her experience during wartime. The second (the one that I read) is Lucky Child, which tells the alternating stories of Loung’s experience immigrating to America and her beloved older sister Chou’s life back in Cambodia. Her third book, Lulu in the Sky, came out this month, and focuses on her experience at college and her marriage, as well as her life of activism on behalf of victims of land mine injuries and human rights violations in Cambodia, a country to which she has returned 30 times since she left.

Lucky Child is a deeply affecting story about parallel lives made even more poignant by the stark opposition of Loung and Chou’s life. Loung faces the challenges of being a refugee in Vermont – not fitting in, not speaking the language, being constrained by her older brother’s overprotectiveness. But Loung’s life is the lap of luxury compared to what Chou is experiencing at home in Cambodia – hard labor deprivation, and the constant threat of violence by the Khmer Rouge.  Loung is an angry girl who carries her history with her at all times and bears the deep scars of someone who has seen unspeakable horrors; Chou is gentle and modest, despite her ongoing struggles living in her troubled native land. The bond between the two survives 15 years of absence and the wide chasm that separates their lives, and the memories of their parents both haunt and comfort the two women as they mature.

I had the great privilege of hearing Loung Ung speak tonight at a bookstore right by my house (perfect timing!). She read from Lulu in the Sky and talked about writing the three books. Here are some of the things she said:

  • When Ung wrote First They Killed My Father, she expected 10 people to read it. Instead, it has been read by many, many more, and she found that readers wanted to know more about her and how she was, which spurred her to write the sequels.
  • She basically “vomited out” her first book. It wasn’t her dream to write a book about herself (not to mention three). She didn’t know anything about writing – she studied political science in college – but she was passionate about wanting the story of the Cambodian genocide to be heard.
  • First They Killed My Father is about what it’s like to survive a war; to work to live through it. Lucky Child is about surviving peace, what it took to live when people stopped writing and caring about what had happened.
  • She thought her story was over after Lucky Child – she got married and wrote fiction.
  • Two years ago, while living her “nice balanced life”, Ung suffered a period of depression. She realized that she had been suppressing the trauma that she had outlived the age when her mother had died. Ung had become the wise, older, strong woman that she envisioned her mother to be. She didn’t want to lose her mother again – not just her story, but her energy and spirit.
  • Lulu in the Sky also focuses on love – something Ung was afraid of, was always afraid she would lose.

I am very grateful to have had the opportunity both to meet Ung and to have read Lucky Girl. Her story is one I won’t forget for a long time.