Tag Archives: memoirs

Audiobook Love: Yes Please by Amy Poehler

yes please amy poehler

When I wrote yesterday’s post, I was still up in the air about my next audiobook. And then, for some reason, I decided to give Amy Poehler’s Yes Please a try.

And I’m really glad I did!

I finished it today, while I was working – my brain is a little too used to multi-tasking and there are certain, more mechanical parts of indexing during which I can listen to an audiobook or a podcast.

(I think those more mechanical parts of indexing are what drive me nuts, actually).

Honestly, I can’t imagine reading this book in print. It’s a book that’s meant to be in audio. I mean, really! In the audio version, there’s a star-studded line-up of guest narrators.

Carol Burnett. Seth Meyers. Michael Schur. Patrick Stewart. Kathleen Turner.

Yes.

Even Poehler’s mom and dad, Eileen and William Poehler, make a guest narration appearance.

So here’s the thing. I’m not really big on current pop culture. I like to wait until long after a hit show’s come and gone and, you know, binge watch all the seasons when it comes to Netflix (have you noticed how it’s far less time-consuming to binge watch a TV show than it is to binge read a book series?). So I’ve never even seen Poehler on Parks and Recreation. Or on Saturday Night Live, for that matter. No, not even the Palin rap.

And guess what? I still loved Yes Please. Because Poehler is funny, personable, nice (even when she’s not, if you know what I mean – we are talking comedy, after all) and ultimately there is a certain authenticity about her words that I really enjoyed.

My recommendation? It’s worth that Audible credit. And more.

[TSS] The Memoir Project, by Marion Roach Smith

Sunday SalonI was a bit puzzled when I found a copy of  The Memoir Project among the stack of books with my library card number on them on the Holds shelf at my library. Not puzzled as to why it was there – I had vague memories of a glorious Sunday a few weeks ago spent browsing through online bookstores, happily adding to the list of books I want to read that I keep on Evernote, and putting in requests for a handful of books at my library’s site. A handful of books which included The Memoir Project.

No, what puzzled me was why I’d decided to request the book from the library.

The Memoir Project, by Marion Roach Smith, is, as you can probably guess from the title, a book about writing memoirs. I am not, and have never been, interested in writing a memoir of my life. So why did I request this book?

The subtitle of the book gave me a clue: A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing & Life. Ah, yes. That might have been the spark that had prompted a desire in me to read the book.

Still, I hesitated a little before opening it. Did I really want to spend time reading about writing a memoir when I didn’t actually want to write a memoir?

And yet … there was that delicious subtitle.

So I sat down and began to read. And I was hooked.

I still have no desire to write a book-length memoir. But The Memoir Project opened my eyes to something. A memoir doesn’t have to be a book. It can be an essay or an article.

Or a blog post.

Roach, in fact, sees the 750-word piece as an ideal vehicle for a memoir.

750 words. Yes, that could definitely be a blog post.

My world kind of shifted there for a moment. Suddenly I realized I already have written pieces of memoir in some of the posts on this blog. Not that well, admittedly, but still, I have written memoir after all.

And everything Roach talks about can be applied to any type of memoir, from a book-length work, to a blog post. She covers so many things, the most important of which she’s put together in a Memoir Manifesto, which I found just now when I was looking through her blog, before settling down to write this post.

What were the most important things I learned from The Memoir Project? Go small and pack light. Ask myself, “what is this about?”  These also turned out to be three of the points in Roach’s Memoir Manifesto.

The entire book itself is a marvelous example of “show, don’t tell”. Parts of it left me a little teary-eyed, a first for me when it comes to reading a book about writing. Roach, you see, doesn’t just tell you what to do, she shows you with pieces of her own life and experiences.

I’d always thought people wrote memoir because they had done some big, beautiful, incredible thing that other people would want to read about, something that illuminated the big themes that drive our lives. That definitely wasn’t me; I don’t even understand any of these big themes very well, and most certainly wouldn’t be able to explain them based on my own personal experiences.

But that’s not Roach’s approach to memoir. To write memoir, you don’t need to understand the meaning of life:

People frequently tell me that they fully intend to write a piece of memoir just as soon as they understand the meaning of their lives. Longing to do so, these potential writers suffer needlessly, since the marvelous truth is that you can take on life in bits, at any age, under any circumstances. To write a compelling essay, you need merely to be amazed by how, when explaining intimacy to your adolescent child, you gained some quiet understanding of your own sexuality; or when it is you became comfortable with the fact that much of marriage is pantomime, where looking interested and making the gestures of engaged listening are good enough to get you both through to the next day. Wait to “understand” adolescents or marriage and you’ll never, ever write. Mere flashes are all the understanding you need to bring to the writing table.” (p. 33-34)

A mere flash of understanding. That’s all you need. Now that, I do occasionally have.

I’ll be rereading this slim little book – it’s about 112 pages long – at least once before I have to return it to the library. But I’m adding it to my “To Buy” list, because it’s definitely a keeper.

Will it change the way I write here, on this blog? I don’t know. I’d like it to, though.

The Books-Lying-Around-Open Syndrome

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I’ve always cheerfully owned up to being one who bookmarks by dog-earring books.

But the other day, I realized something.

I usually only dog-ear novels. It’s a totally different story when it comes to nonfiction.

I was coming downstairs, groggily in search of my morning coffee, when I noticed I’d left a book I was reading on the dining room table. In order to save my place in it, I’d left it open and face down.

Then I turned my head, and saw that I’d left another book, opened and face down to save my place, on the pass-through from the kitchen to the sitting room.

Both books were nonfiction works. (I’ve been on a bit of a nonfiction kick lately).

Eventually, I got my coffee made, and took it with me into the office. And lo and behold! There were another two nonfiction books, both opened and face down on my desk.

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Intrigued, I went through the whole house. Yes. I apparently have this habit of leaving nonfiction books lying around opened and face down, so I won’t lose my place in them. This was actually news to me.

Here’s what I found lying around the house:

Dining room table: Happy for No Reason: 7 Steps to Being Happy from the Inside Out, by Marci Shimoff. I’ve only just started this book (even though it’s on its last renewal from the library) and it’s been a fun read so far. I think a spiritual practice that incorporates a whole lot of happiness is really the way to go, so occasionally I like to dip into books like this one.

Kitchen pass-through: Thinking Write: The Secret to Freeing Your Creative Mind, by Kelly L. Stone. I discovered this book over at Janel’s Jumble, and put it on my next online book shopping list, which happened the other day (it’s Ward’s birthday this weekend, so I had to go online to buy cookbooks. I had to. Right? Yes. It was an absolute must. So, since I happened to be there anyway, you know, buying books …)

Also on the kitchen pass-through: Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need, by Blake Snyder. I didn’t see this one the first time around, because I’d put Thinking Write on top of it. And no, I’m not making any plans to become a screenwriter (although I was very tempted to do Script Frenzy this month). But I’d heard this book recommended as a great book for novelists, too, so I bought it a while back.

I’ve been getting a lot out of it – it’s written in a very easy to read style, and there are a lot of writing gems in it that I’ll be applying to my own writing. As for the name, in case you were wondering what exactly is meant by the title, Save the Cat:

I call it the “Save the Cat” scene. They don’t put it into movies anymore. And it’s basic. It’s the scene where we meet the hero and the hero does something – like saving a cat – that defines who he is and makes us, the audience, like him.

Ever since I read that, I’ve been watching out for “Save the Cat” moments in every movie I watch!

On my desk (1): Live a Life You Love, by Susan Biali. I received this book from publicist Lisa Roe a while back, and recently took it down from my to-be-read bookshelf to glance over it. I was really glad I did! The steps outlined in the book are very much in tune with my own intentions for my life, and it’s nice to have an occasional refresher.

On my desk (2): What Should I Do with My Life?, by Po Bronson. A while back, my sister Dawn raved about What Should I Do with My Life? She’d lent it to a friend, so rather than wait for its return, I ended up buying my own copy. As is the way in my reading life, that was at least a year ago, and I only just recently saw it on my shelves and decided to read it. I’ve only just started, but it looks like it’s popping into my life with perfect timing.

On my nightstand (1): Admit One: My Life in Film, by Emmett James. Another thank you to Lisa Roe, who also sent me this memoir by actor Emmett James. James uses such a unique framework:

I wrote this book under the guise that the key to experiencing film, without losing relevance and meaning, is context. The environment, mood, personal history and circumstances in which a person sees a film changes that film in a necessary, unique, and exciting way. It creates a whole new story – a living, breathing film. The film of one’s life. That being said, I present to you my story. I hope you will in turn recount your own with similar reverence.

Actually, just reading that paragraph, which is in the introduction to the book, started me thinking about the role movies (as in going-to-the-theatre movies, not now-in-DVD movies) have played in my own life.

On my nightstand (2): An American Childhood, by Annie Dillard. I seem to have a thing for memoirs on my nightstand! Dillard’s beautiful memories of her childhood make for such a wonderful read. This copy came to me courtesy of Bookmooch, where I’ve recently had a nice run of luck in terms of getting titles placed on my wish list.

On the living room coffee table: Life-Changing Weight Loss, by Kent Sasse. Because, you see, it’s April, which means shorts season will be upon us shortly. Some of you might remember I tried, unsuccessfully, to do a fitness challenge last winter (do NOT look over to the sidebar because at this moment, I see I’ve forgotten to take down the little badge and very sad-looking update bar). The lovely Joanne McCall had sent me a review copy of this book a while back, and I’m very pleased to have the inspiration.

Next to the treadmill: And speaking of inspiration, I recently, rather ingenuously, if I do say so myself, set up one of my desktop art easels on my treadmill, so now I have the option to read as well as listen to an audiobook when I do my daily 30 minutes of walking. (It’s been raining here, or I’d be outside doing those 30 minutes). X-treme Parenting: A Baby Blues Treasury, by Jerry Scott and Rick Kirkman is now lying open on the shelf next to the treadmill – I discovered I got through the 30 minutes much more easily while reading this (not to mention laughing out loud occasionally).

I’m not sure why it is that I prefer to keep my place in nonfiction books by leaving them face down and open, but there you have it. These books were lying all around the house. And then what happens? Ward cleans up, and he, being a bookmarker, closes them all, marking my place by sticking a scrap of paper between the pages.

How do you keep track of the page you’re on? Do you dog-ear, lay open or bookmark? And have you read any of these books? What did you think of them?

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Audiobook Appreciation

I’m done with this most recent clump of deadlines! I don’t think I’ve worked at quite a pace like this for a long while – it’s been three to four weeks of fourteen hour days. I am very, very thankful for my audiobooks – I think they kept me sane in the midst of all those deadlines.

Audiobook Treasure Trove

headphones I was lucky enough to come down with a head cold for Christmas and Boxing Day, so I had a grand time those two days: I got to loll around while everyone took care of me, and to top it off, on Christmas Day, I discovered a virtual audiobook treasure chest! I spent most of Christmas Day and Boxing Day lying on the couch, listening to some great audiobooks and snacking on the most delicious foods.

If you live in Ontario, you might be able to take advantage of this audiobook treasure chest yourself. The Ontario Library Service Download Centre is available to all library patrons of participating Ontario libraries, and it is just wonderful. There are loads of audiobooks available for download, much like you would for Audible. The files are deleted at the end of your checkout period, but you can checkout each audiobook for one or two weeks, which is nice.

So far, in the past two weeks, I’ve listened to Bill Bryson’s The Lost Continent, Ellen Degeneres’ The Funny Thing Is, The Green Witch and The Grey King from Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series, and The Bunnicula Collection by James and Deborah Howe.

Other Listens

The Price of Butcher's Meat

Over the past three weeks, I also enjoyed the audio versions of Reginald Hill’s The Price of Butcher’s Meat (I listened to the British version, which is called A Cure for All Diseases) and Exit Lines. I’d already read A Cure for All Diseases earlier last year and loved it (my review is here) – it translated superbly into audio.

I also played several Agatha Christie audios while I was working – I find I can do “rereads” in audio, as well as memoirs and nonfiction, while I’m working; I somehow have the ability to follow along while getting my work done at the same time. Audiobooks don’t work well for work if they’re audios of books I haven’t read yet, though.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Murder on the Links, Poirot Investigates and The Big Four helped me get through a lot of otherwise tedious work, so I’m very thankful for them!

Curtains for ThreeAnd finally, I listened to Rex Stout’s Curtains for Three, a trilogy of three Nero Wolfe novellas. I must admit, the first few times I listened to audiobook renditions of Nero Wolfe novels, I had a hard time getting used to the narrator, Michael Pritchard, because he didn’t sound quite like I always imagined Archie Goodwin would sound. But Pritchard’s voice has grown on me, and now my idea of Archie Goodwin sounds exactly like him! I like the way that worked out.

Coming Up

Thanks to the Ontario Library Service Download Centre, I have some more goodies waiting for my hearing pleasure this coming week:

About Face

About Face, by Donna Leon. I’ve been wanting to read a Commissario Guido Brunetti book for a while, and since this one was available for checkout, I decided to give it a try. I only just started listening to it last night, and it promises to be a good story.

Silver on the Tree

Silver on the Tree, by Susan Cooper. This is the final book in The Dark is Rising series. The version I have is narrated by Alex Jennings, and I started listening to a bit of it yesterday as well. I’m looking forward to finishing my reread of the series in audio.

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So Long as You Both Shall Live, by Ed McBain. This is my first 87th Precinct mystery; it’s a little bit challenging keeping track of all the names in audio, and the story line behind this one isn’t quite to my taste, but I will definitely be looking into reading more of the 87th Precinct series.

Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, by Bill Bryson. I’ve had Bryson’s memoir on my shelf for ages; when I saw it was available at the OLS Download Centre, I decided to check it out, as I really enjoy listening to memoirs in audio.

And from my local library:

The Thirteenth Tale

The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield. The audio version of The Thirteenth Tale came highly recommended – I seem to recall lots of people recommending it on Google Wave. So I thought I’d take the plunge and give it a first read in audio instead of in print.

I recently bought the following, which are waiting for me to get to them:

The Eye of the World

The Eye of the World, by Robert Jordan. This is Book 1 of the Wheel of Time series – I began reading the series ages ago, but stopped at around Book 6 or 7. I recently received a review copy of the final book in the series, The Gathering Storm, which is written by Brandon Sanderson based on Robert Jordan’s extensive notes, so I thought it would be a good thing to reread the series. I’ve had so much luck with rereads in audio, I decided to give the audio version a try.

Dead Until Dark

Dead Until Dark, by Charlaine Harris. I have the first seven books in paperback, but haven’t read the Sookie Stackhouse series at all; a while back, I decided to give the first book a try in audio. I haven’t found myself in the mood for it yet, but I know I will soon – from what everyone’s been telling me, I’ll probably be hooked once I give it a try!

I also have two Audible credits to spend, and I’m thinking I’ll probably splurge on more Rex Stout and Reginald Hill.

So there you have it – audiobooks have managed to keep me on the reading track even while I was submerged up to my neck in deadlines! And yes, I’ve been feeling like a kid in a candy store …

Coming up this week: my giveaway winners! No, I haven’t forgotten about my giveaway. The winners post will be coming soon.

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A Parisian Holiday: French Milk, by Lucy Knisley

French MilkI moved on from reading Eye of the Crow to something completely different: French Milk, by Lucy Knisley is a memoir, written in graphic novel format, of a month-long holiday the author took with her mother in Paris, France.

I came across this novel when I was reading around the blogosphere (when I do this kind of surfing around, it’s extremely dangerous for my TBR list, which grows at an astronomical rate); I immediately put in a hold request for it from the library (I’m not sure whether my librarians actually like me all that much anymore, because I’m always putting things on hold).

This was a lovely, quick read; what I liked most about it were all the descriptions of the food that Knisley and her mother ate, accompanied by Knisley’s charming illustrations.

Interspersed throughout are black and white photographs from the trip; the photos are a nice accompaniment to Knisley’s drawings.

The preface to the book talks about the self-discoveries Knisley made during the trip, as well as similar revelations about her relationship with her mother, but I didn’t feel this to be the book’s strong point; it’s not so much about the author’s fully coming into adulthood while in Paris, as it is about all the wonderful sights and experiences she had while there. Her mother accompanied her, true, but I didn’t get much insight into their relationship. If anything, I got more of a feel for the author’s relationship with her father, who joined them for a few days of the trip.

French Milk is at its heart a wonderful and charming travel memoir – a fun, quick read that will leave you dreaming of leaving regular life behind for a few lovely weeks in Paris.

Want to buy French Milk? Support MsBookish by purchasing through one of these links: Amazon.com) | Indiebound | Chapters Indigo | Amazon.co.uk

Incoming! The Memoirs Edition

Incoming! is a regular feature at Ms. Bookish that chronicles some of the recent new book arrivals at the Ms. Bookish household.

Initially I had planned these posts to focus on one book at a time, but have just realized that writing up individual posts for each book was just too overwhelming – in some cases, by the time I got to the Incoming! post for a book I’d either already read it, or had to return it to the library (in the case of library books)!

So I’ve decided to group books related in some sort of way together for each of my Incoming! posts. Today, I bring you: memoirs!

Passeggiata: Strolling Through Italy, by G. G. Husak

Passeggiata: Strolling Through ItalySynopsis (from the back cover):

Ms. Husak’s memoir of travels to Italy with her husband will appeal to those who love travel in general and Italy in particular. Their journeys are both personal and universal. From their first shared trip to Italy in 1993, which marked the first of their empty nest years, their annual passeggiata reflects the shift in their lives through the next decade.

On their spring pilgrimages to major tourist centers, Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan, Naples, they develop appreciation for Italy’s art, music and architecture. Wandering together along out of the way paths in tiny hill towns and seacoast villages, they explore breathtaking scenery. By traveling light and learning the vagaries of Italian life, they have become Italian in spirit. The book provides many practical hints on how to travel like the locals, reminding us that even novice travelers can learn valuable lessons from immersion in another way of life, and that one’s companion can be an essential part of the pleasure of a journey.

First line(s): We left Houston on a sunny spring day in March. Al had been working long hours, which was nothing new, and I was ready for a break from teaching. Although pulled between the excitement of visiting one daughter and the worry of leaving our younger one behind, we were energized by the anticipation of our Italian adventure.

Where I got this book: Sent to me by the author.

Format & Pages: Trade paperback, 355

Ms. Bookish says: Travel memoirs are among my favorite types of memoirs. In Passeggiata, I’m looking forward to exploring more of Italy; I’m hoping there will be a lot of talk about food, too!

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Time to Be in Earnest: A Fragment of Autobiography, by P. D. James

Time to Be in Earnest: A Fragment of AutobiographySynopsis (from the back cover):

Taking to heart Samuel Johnson’s advice that at age seventy-seven it is “time to be in earnest,” the much-loved and internationally acclaimed author of mysteries undertook a book unlike anything she had written before. Beginning on her 77th birthday in August 1997 and ending in August 1998, P.D. James engaged the daily events and reflections of the present as a springboard into her extraordinary, sometimes painful and sometimes joyful, past.

Here are vivid accounts of school days in 1920s and 1930s Cambridge, of the war, of the tragedy of her husband’s mental illness, and of her determined struggle to support a family alone. Along the way, with insight and warmth, she offers views on everything from author tours to the problems of television adaptations, from book reviewing to her obsession with Jane Austen.

First line(s): I am writing this sitting in an almost empty first-class compartment of the 3:32 train from Newton Abbot to Paddington, and staring out at the red Devon Countryside, now blurred and seeming to dissolve in rain; even the eagerly awaited stretch of coast at Dawlish and Teignmouth failed in its usual magic.

Where I got this book: Library

Format & Pages: Trade paperback, 259 pages

Ms. Bookish says: Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while will know that P.D. James is one of my favorite mystery authors. I’m really looking forward to sitting down with this one!

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Don’t Call Me a Crook!: A Scotsman’s Tale of World Travel, Whisky and Crime, by Bob Moore

rook!: A Scotsman's Tale of World Travel, Whisky and CrimeSynopsis (from the back cover):

In your hands is a lost literary treasure and a tribute to one man’s triumph over the police, morals, and sobriety.

The 1920s didn’t roar for this Glaswegian: They exploded. Sailing around the world seven times as a marine engineer (among other, less honorable vocations), Bob Moore was in the thick of high-society orgies, ship disasters, and pitched battles with bandits on the Yangtze. Cheeky, charming and larcenous, Moore “swiped” (but not stole) whatever he wanted, drank like a fish, and always kept one step ahead of the law, Prohibition, and the women he conned. Clearly, he loved life.

Originally published three-quarters of a century ago, Don’t Call Me a Crook! is an overlooked gem. Just a few seem to have known of it. What became of its author after its release is uncertain. Don’t Call Me a Crook! is a lost confession of a youth lawlessly lived that will be crowned a classic.

First line(s): It is a pity there are getting to be so many places that I can never go back to, but all the same, I do not think it is much fun a man being respectable all his life.

Where I got this book: Sent to me by the publisher.

Format & Pages: Trade paperback, 255 pages

Ms. Bookish says: Moore sounds like quite the conman charmer, doesn’t he? This will be an interesting read, I think.

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French Milk, by Lucy Knisley

French MilkSynopsis (from the back cover):

Through delightful drawings, photographs, and musings, twenty-three-year-old Lucy Knisley documents a six-week trip she and her mother took to Paris when each was facing a milestone birthday. With a quirky flat in the fifth arrondissement as their home base, they set out to explore all the city has to offer, watching fireworks over the Eiffel Tower on New Year’s Eve, visiting Oscar Wilde’s grave, loafing at cafés, and, of course, drinking delicious French milk. What results is not only a sweet and savory journey through the City of Light but a moving, personal look at a mother-daughter relationship.

First line(s): During January of 2007, my mother and I lived in a small rental apartment in Paris to celebrate my mother’s turning fifty (and my turning twenty-two). The following is the Drawn journal that I kept in the course of the trip.

Where I got this book: Library

Format & Pages: Trade paperback, 193 pages

Ms. Bookish says: A travel memoir, in graphic novel format! I discovered this gem recently on another blog (I can’t remember whose – I really must start keeping track) and knew I just had to read it. I was in luck – my library had a copy, so I put in a request for it right there on the spot. Now that I have it in my hands, I have a feeling I might want to buy myself a copy, too. For those of you in the States who are interested in this book, it looks like Amazon has it on right now as a bargain book!

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Confessions of a Bad Mother, by Stephanie Calman

Confessions of a Bad MotherSynopsis (from the back cover):

Read Confessions of a Bad Mother … You have nothing to lose but your guilt. Are you a super-duper, totally fulfilled mother 24 hours a day? Do you give your children home-made risotto, help them with their homework, read them a fairy tale and sing them to sleep? Or do you give them chicken nuggets in front of the telly, herd them into bed and slump down exhausted with a drink?

Do you feel that other mothers are Doing It Properly while you’re getting it All Wrong? Do you wish there could just, please, be a little less pressure? If you try your best but frequently feel a failure, if you – or your children – are in any way imperfect, then join the club: the Bad Mothers Club. Stephanie Calman has broken every rule and done it All Wrong. From giving birth with her pants on to making her kids watch more telly, she has persistently defied all accepted wisdom and professional advice. Outrageous, funny, and hideously true, Confessions of a Bad Mother is her story. Read it, and know – at least – that you are Normal.

First line(s): I wasn’t going to have children. I was too frightened to have them, and I was sure I was physically and emotionally incapable of looking after them. Following the terrifying assault of birth, it would be one long, ever-repeating loop between the A&E department and the washing machine. And anyway, I wasn’t the Maternal Type.

Where I got this book: Bought this one at Costco.

Format & Pages: Trade paperback, 306 pages

Ms. Bookish says: I ask you, how could I resist?? Obviously, I couldn’t. And in case anyone is wondering, Costco also sneakily had a copy of Confessions of a Failed Grown-Up, the sequel, right next to the copies of Confessions of a Bad Mother, and yes, I picked that one up, too.

Reading: The Opposite of Fate, by Amy Tan

The Opposite of FateI am in the midst of getting the house tidied up, as we’re having friends over for dinner tonight – I love the end result of this process of cleaning and tidying, because it means not only a nice clean space in which to entertain, but also a nice clean house for at least a day or two after tonight as well.

That’s a rather rare event so I’m all for celebrating it when it does happen.

It’s funny the efforts we’ll go to for others, when in retrospect, we can see how beneficial it is for ourselves as well. As to why I don’t just keep the house clean on a regular basis, I don’t have a clue. Except that I don’t like cleaning, and it takes the threat of friends seeing the mess in which we live to move me enough to do something about it.

All of which leads me to The Opposite of Fate, by Amy Tan. No, this is not a book about cleaning. It’s a book of musings by Amy Tan on her life and on her writing. And the reason why I’m currently reading this right now is because I’ve spent the morning cleaning up, there’s still a little bit more to do, but I was hungry, and since I found myself eating lunch by myself (my husband is out doing the shopping for tonight’s dinner, and the kids have all gotten their own various versions of lunch), I did what I always do when I’m dining solo: I reached for a book.

I didn’t feel in the mood for fiction, so I decided to dip into The Opposite of Fate. And I’m very glad I did. It’s wonderful so far, and since it’s been a while since I’ve read an Amy Tan novel, it feels good to luxuriate in her words again:

In gathering these pieces for the book, I made a new realization, so obvious that I was stunned I had not seen the pattern a hundred times before. In all of my writings, both fiction and nonfiction, directly or obliquely but always obsessively, I return to questions of fate and its alternatives. I saw that these musings about fate express my idiosyncratic and evolving philosophy, and this in turn is my “voice,” the one that determines the kinds of stories I want to tell, the characters I choose, the details I decide are relevant. In my fictional stories, I have chosen characters who question what they should believe at different moments in their lives, often in times of loss. And while I never intended for the pieces in this current nonfiction book to explain my fiction, they do.

Rereading: I, Asimov: A Memoir, by Isaac Asimov

I, AsimovYesterday, after reading this review of The God Themselves by Isaac Asimov at Rhapsodyinbooks, I succumbed to a very insistent urge to dig out my copy of I, Asimov, Isaac Asimov’s memoir.

I didn’t actually have to dig it out. I have a bookshelf devoted to favorite authors’ autobiographies. So it was really easy to give in to the urge.

I read a lot of Asimov when I was growing up. I enjoyed his science fiction, but I’ve always been nuts for mysteries, so one of my favorite books was Murder at the ABA; I have always loved witty little footnotes in novels ever since. If you’ve never read Murder at the ABA, and you enjoy mysteries as well as humor, I highly recommend you check your library for a copy. (And now I’m feeling an insistent urge to dig out my copy of Murder at the ABA …)

Asimov influenced me greatly when I was young. He was my favorite science fiction writer. I was an avid short story reader back then, and whenever I had any money on me, I would be off to the store to grab copies of Analog and The Magazine of Science Fiction & Fantasy (and, of course, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine). I wrote scores of short stories during this period in my life, and at least half of them were science fiction.

It’s funny, but these days I very rarely read science fiction.

Anyway, I am now rereading I, Asimov, and enjoying once again the glimpses into this great author’s life.

From the introduction:

In 1977, I wrote my autobiography. Since I was dealing with my favorite subject, I wrote at length and I ended with 640,000 words. Since Doubleday is always overwhelmingly kind to me, they published it all – but in two volumes. The first was In Memory Yet Green (1979), the second In Joy Still Felt (1980). Together, they described the first fifty-seven years of my life in considerable detail.

It had been a quiet life and there was no great excitement in it, so even though I made up for that by what I considered a charming literary style (I never bother with false modesty, as you will quickly discover), the publication was not a world-shaking event. However, some thousands of people found pleasure in reading it, and I am periodically asked if I will continue the tale.

My answer always is: “I have to live it first”

So what I intend to do is describe my whole life as a way of presenting my thoughts and make it an independent autobiography standing on its own feet. I won’t go into the kind of detail I went into in the first two volumes. What I intend to do is to break the book into numerous sections, each dealing with some different phase of my life or some different person who affected me, and follow it as far as necessary – to the very present, if need be.

I trust and hope that, in this way, you will get to know me really well, and who knows, you may even get to like me. I would like that.

And yes, I did like him, the first time I read I, Asimov. Of course, I already knew I would.

Incoming! Audition, by Barbara Walters

Incoming! is a feature at Ms. Bookish that chronicles new books that have arrived in the Ms. Bookish household. Here’s the latest new arrival:

Audition, by Barbara Walters

AuditionAbout the Book:

Barbara Walters, arguably the most important woman in the history of television, has had an amazingly full life. In the bestselling Audition, she describes her extraordinary public and private journey.

Initial thoughts:

I picked this up at Costco – I confess, I make the bulk of my impulse book purchases at Costco. We go weekly (we live in the suburbs, and shopping is just about the only form of entertainment around here – it’s a good thing I’m bookish), and the book tables are always so enticing.

I have this thing about memoirs and autobiographies – I love reading them, but it often takes me a while to get through one. I’ve learned that it’s better for me to just get my own copy rather than borrow it from the library. I’m not exactly stellar about remembering due dates and when I should be renewing, so to be honest, I end up racking up nearly enough late fees to have purchased a book in the first place!

This is a memoir I’ve had on my TBR list for a while now. Barbara Walters is an intriguing woman, and I know I will enjoy this book. Glancing through the chapter titles only serves to confirm this: “A very normal girl”, “Don’t let the bastards get your down”, “Heads of State: The Good, the Bad, and the Mad” – they make me want to pop straight into various chapters.

Related Links and other Fun Stuff

Here’s Barbara Walters talking about Audition:

Where to buy Audition:

U.S. (Amazon.com)

Canada (Chapters)

UK (Amazon.co.uk)

Review: Up Till Now, by William Shatner

Up Till NowUsually when I finish reading a memoir or an autobiography, I come away with a sense of connection of sorts with the author, a feeling that I’ve shared in some of the personal details of his or her life. This wasn’t quite the feeling I got with Up Till Now, William Shatner’s autobiography; however, the book is uproariously funny and highly entertaining, with occasional flashes of something deeper.

In Up Till Now, Shatner covers all of his acting career, from his start in theatre in Montreal to his most current role on Boston Legal. Shatner’s in his 70s now, so it’s been a very long career, and for many years, even with all the television parts he was getting, it was very much about working to pay the next lot of bills. Despite this, though, it’s clear that Shatner has enjoyed his career thoroughly.

He adroitly handles various criticisms that have been aimed at him by gently poking fun at himself. For example, on his well-known tendency to pause when he’s saying his lines:

Part of the reason I was becoming better known was what people perceived to be an unusual. Speech. Pattern. Apparently I was becoming known for. Pausing, between words, in. Unusual places. People have commented that it calls attention to the. Words, I’m saying. It provides a different kind of emphasis on a line. I have no idea where that. Came from. Possibly it came from the fact I was working so often in so many different types of plays and television program and movies that at times I did need to hesitate to remember my next words. Possibly, that’s just an assumption, but the reality is that I don’t even hear it. I can mock the idea. I understand people hear me speaking. That way. They’ve even put a name to it, calling it Shatnerian. As in, ah yes, the character spoke with true Shatnerian eloquence.

Shatner only touches on certain things that might have provided more of an insight into who he is. For example, he mentions that many of the Star Trek cast members disliked him, but he really doesn’t seem to know why. About his previous marriages, he admits that he didn’t know how to be married, but he doesn’t explore his relationships much beyond this.

For much of his career, Shatner did not consider himself to be a star, although everyone was always promising to make him a star. It’s apparent that his rise to stardom, through his role of Kirk on Star Trek, came as a complete surprise to him; it wasn’t until he accepted the first invitation to a Star Trek convention that he realized what an impact the series had had on people. To him, Kirk had been just a role, and he was a seasoned television actor who had played many, many roles.

It was impossible to truly grasp what was happening, because nothing like it had ever happened before. A failed television show was becoming a cultural phenomenon. While we were making the series I had often been recognized, but suddenly it started happening all the time and in strange places. People would come up to me in airports and recite ten pages of dialogue word-for-word from a specific episode they loved – and I would have absolutely no concept of what they were doing.

One thing I really took away from the book was the rigor involved in the filming of a television series; despite Shatner’s often very humorous look at his television career, it’s clear that being on a television show isn’t all glamour and roses. It’s hard work – and hard work and a disciplined work ethic is one thing Shatner definitely seems to have.

Stylistically, I could have done without the first chapter of false starts. I didn’t like muddling through any of that, but once all the fun was wrung out of that, the real fun began in earnest. I also didn’t really enjoy the little cliffhangers that occurred, when Shatner would discuss a particular anecdote and then break off right in the middle to go off on a very deliberate tangent. The “commercial breaks”, on the other hand, were quite funny; I couldn’t help but laugh at the plugs for his online store, for example. And the various sections where he pauses to list all the types of Star Trek memorabilia one can buy had me grinning.

He admits near the beginning of the book that he loves to make things up; this colored my perception of the rest of the book somewhat. I was never too sure when he was pulling the reader’s leg …

Mostly, though, there is an exuberance to the writing that made this a very fun book to read. What I came away with most of all was an overall view of Shatner the entertainer. It’s not that there’s no ego involved; in fact, there’s quite a bit of ego involved! But he is, after all, in show business. And while Up Till Now doesn’t illuminate the soul of the man for readers, neither do I think that to be its intention. Up Till Now sets out to entertain us, and it does its job very, very well. I laughed out loud frequently while reading the book, and I was still smiling when I closed the book. Deep and complex? Not at all. But definitely a very fun read.

Related Links and Fun Stuff

Shatner talks about his performance of “Rocket Man” on the Science-Fiction Movie Awards in 1978:

For two decades stories about this performance have been passed down from father to son and rare bootleg copies of the video were passed around. Men boasted of owning a first-generation copy and invited women home to see it. Parodies of my performance have been done on several shows, including Family Guy and Futurama. But now several dozen versions of it can routinely be accessed on the Internet, particularly on YouTube – and with more than a million people a year still mystified by it. And about that, I am not kidding.

Really, how could I resist? I’m not much of a pop culture kind of person, so I for one hadn’t heard about “the best-known performance of the song “Rocket Man” ever done”. Here it is:

Where to buy Up Till Now:

U.S. (Amazon.com)

Canada (Chapters)

UK (Amazon.co.uk)

Review copy details: published by Thomas Dunne Books, 2008, hardcover, 342 pages