Posts filed under ‘Memoir/Autobiography’

Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube by Blair Braverman

I found Blair Braverman on Twitter, of all places. She and her husband constantly post photos and videos of their pack of adorable sled dogs, so it was probably only a matter of time until my husky-obsessed self stumbled on her account. And once I found out she had a book, I needed to order it.

I had expected a Winterdance-type story, with lots of quirky dog personalities and feats of strength  (as Braverman informs us, four sled dogs can pull a truck out of a ditch). What I wasn’t expecting was Braverman’s gripping, deeply personal journey from being a scared teenager feeling at the mercy of the men in her life to a tough, scarred, but ultimately at peace, musher. The dogs are incidental to this story; it’s really about Braverman becoming herself.

It starts like this: Braverman lives in Norway for about a year as a child, then returns to study abroad as a teenager. While staying with her host family, she is sexually harassed, but not in a way she can convincingly report. It’s a feeling of being unsafe, a feeling that she is in danger, a vulnerability that, when she tries to explain it to others, is brushed off as a misunderstanding or homesickness. Though she’s ultimately not raped by her host father, this feeling pursues Braverman over the next decade or so and drives her desire to become a “tough girl.”  (more…)


October 30, 2017 at 12:48 am Leave a comment

The Pros and Cons of Commute Audiobooks

In preparation for a short roadtrip, I recently went to the library and got Amy Poehler’s Yes Please on CD. The day before the roadtrip was a bad news day and I didn’t want to be bombarded with it on NPR, so I popped the CD in and started the first of many days’ commutes with Amy Poehler.

For some reason, listening to audiobooks on my car ride to work has become addictive. It’s a nice way to start the day — a chapter here, a section there — and it is the closest I’ve come to replicating my former (and much-missed) practice of reading on the subway to work when I lived in New York.

But I’ve already realized there are pros and cons to this habit. The biggest and most obvious con is that I’m significantly less well-informed about the news of the day.

Unlike in New York, I pass no newsstands or AMNY hawkers on my drive or bike ride to work. Unlike in New York, I don’t see any news tickers wrapped around buildings and I am not faced with my fellow citizens reading a newspaper two inches from my face in a crowded subway car.

Without these reminders and without my morning NPR fix, I can spend an entire day oblivious to what’s happened anywhere outside of my office. And after only a few days of audiobooks on my commute, I already feel weirdly disconnected from the world around me. (more…)

April 25, 2017 at 12:17 pm Leave a comment

‘My Life in Middlemarch’ by Rebecca Mead


Reading is sometimes thought of as a form of escapism, and it’s a common turn of phrase to speak of getting lost in a book. But a book can also be where one finds oneself; and when a reader is grasped and held by a book, reading does not feel like an escape from life so much as it feels like an urgent, crucial dimension of life itself…. There are books that grow with the reader as the reader grows, like a graft to a tree. This kind of book becomes part of our experience.

— Rebecca Mead, My Life in Middlemarch (16)

One of my favorite authors, Anne Fadiman, edited a collection of essays some years ago called Rereadings where she asked various authors to revisit a book from their past and write down their impressions. The first time I read Rereadings, I hated it, plain and simple, and felt the essays “ruined” perfectly good stories with their intrusive dissections of literature. I shook my adolescent fist at literary criticism, grumbled about the book, and shelved it.

Inevitably given the title, I ended up rereading Rereadings over the years and, every time I did, I found the essays more thought-provoking (and significantly less ruinous) than I had in my previous reading of the book. How could that be? I started giving other books second chances and lavished long-held favorites with new attention. The very idea of rereading became a fascination for me — books don’t change, in theory, but somehow every time you read them, they’re different.


And, crucially as far as Rebecca Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch is concerned, you are different.

As I continue to read and think and reflect, I realize [George Eliot] has given me something else: a profound experience with a book, over time, that amounts to one of the frictions of my life. I have grown up with George Eliot. I think Middlemarch disciplined my character. I know it has become part of my own experience and my own endurance. (266)

Not to beat around the bush, I must now note that Rebecca Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch is terrific. It’s a memoir of the best possible kind. It’s a biography researched and presented with vigor, sympathy (in the most Eliotian sense*), and clarity. And it’s the most warmhearted form of literary criticism I’ve ever encountered. No sterile dissections here; no, instead we’re treated to a wonderful entwining of life, books, theory, relationships, and, of course, Middlemarch itself. (more…)

March 24, 2016 at 6:16 am 4 comments

‘Bossypants’ by Tina Fey

bossypantsAm I terrible person for not loving Bossypants? I feel like I’m a terrible person and probably a bad feminist and quite possibly not human since literally everyone I’ve met who read this book, adored it. Bossypants was pretty much universally lauded when it came out — “Hilarious!” “Feminist!” “And so self-effacing, too!” Everyone seemed to rally around this panacea of a book, so I probably should have expected some Toogoodtobetrueitis.

While the book was certainly funny at some times and feminist at all times, it was also very chatty. It felt more like a transcribed autobiographical monologue than a thoughtfully crafted memoir. And maybe that’s my own problem — I went in genuinely excited to learn about Tina Fey and her story, not to read a narrative joke book. Thus, by the end of it, I was left mostly disappointed. (more…)

October 15, 2015 at 2:44 am 1 comment

Coming Clean by Kimberly Rae Miller

16218778The only thing I could feel when I finished Kimberly Rae Miller’s Coming Clean was a sense of profound gratitude and awe. Really and truly, this brought home to me the resilience of children and humans in general in a way that books about outright abuse and violence often don’t.

Miller’s work, which was released to much fanfare, is a memoir about her childhood as the offspring of a hoarder. She describes in great detail how her father collected papers, electronics, odds and ends, surrounded himself with news and information in a way that, if all of this information had been electronic, might have been a precursor to the Internet. As it was, it just created a ton of clutter. To the point where Kim felt, sometimes, like she was living in a dumpster.

The memoir is quite short, but packed full of experiences; Kim recounts moving from an apartment to a house to another house to college, recounting each time her attempts to try to make her parents shape up and her parents’ further decline into hoarding. She has dogs that died because of her father’s hoarding.

This is pretty much my worst nightmare. (more…)

May 26, 2015 at 12:28 am Leave a comment

‘An Age of License’ by Lucy Knisley

age-of-licenseI’ve decided to start a new genre I’m calling “Odyssey Years Reads.” This genre will feature books that deal with the evidently timeless problem facing twentysomethings of what to do with your life, where to focus your energies, and what is really imporant. If in the midst of a twentysomething Life Crisis, Odyssey Years Reads will make you feel better since, even if everything seems to be all at sea for you, at least others in the recent and distant past have felt exactly the same way.

My list of Odyssey Years Reads includes Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise, The Twelve Rooms of the Nile by Enid Shomer, The Odyssey itself, and, my newest entrant, Lucy Knisley’s marvelous An Age of License.

An Age of License is a particularly aspirational entry in my new Odyssey Years Reads category. It is a “follow your passions and see where things take you” book. It is a “give it a try, what’s the worst that could happen?” book. It is an “overthink everything” book. It is, quite simply, a great book.

In it, Lucy Knisley continues her travelogue series with a jaunt through Europe as she seeks to reconcile her career (comics artist) with her hopes for the future (stability, love, family). Along the way, she attends a comics convention and sees visions of her future as a professional artist, has a fling with a Dutch philosopher and recognizes what she doesn’t want in her future, and spends some time in France with her mother and various friends. Throughout, Knisley tries on different futures through the lens of the people she encounters and constantly questions what she wants for herself.

Coming from such a whimsical artist with such a clear and witty sense of humor, An Age of License is a fairly serious and thoughtful book. But that’s the best kind of Odyssey Years Read: one that manages to tackle the big issues while keeping a sane head. Knisley never goes too far down the twentysomething rabbit hole and tackles big questions with grace, intent, and humor. (more…)

April 9, 2015 at 7:36 am 3 comments

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

lean-in-bookI’m about a million years behind everyone on this one, but can I add my voice to the chorus of women who felt kind of “meh” about Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg?

The book was given to me by someone with the best of intentions following a recommendation from someone else. This book apparently “changed” this person’s whole life, so that was a ringing endorsement. I dug in.

However, unless you are a woman who is actively leaning out, there might not be a lot in this book for you. Are you a woman who actively thinks about the amount of maternity leave you might get when taking any given job? Great! Are you a woman attended an Ivy League School and are therefore particularly well-connected, but you are wasting your education? Awesome! Read this book. It’s going to tell you to stop dicking around and make the most of the opportunities with which God has seen fit to bless you.

Conversely, are you a woman whose financial situation means you can’t afford to pay for child care, and you therefore must leave your job to take care of your kids for a few years? Then this book is not for you. Sorry.

Are you a woman not at risk of leaning out because you are not having children? Not for you, unless you needed the message to work harder (did you?).

Are you a woman who is working her heart out, but opportunities don’t seem to come for whatever reason? Maybe because you are a minority? Again, not for you. (You’re already leaning in, kiddo, but careful — you might fall off the cliff.)

In short, there are some poignant bits of wisdom in this book, a few one-liners you want to print out on note cards and tape to your computer monitor at work. But I was already a woman who didn’t need to learn to balance children and career, already a woman determined to succeed and already a woman ready to leap at every chance I got. According to Sandberg, I should be working at Google by now.

But I don’t know, what did you think? Did you read it? Do you feel like you are changed for the better?

March 17, 2015 at 11:55 pm 8 comments

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