Reviews in 200 Words

Archive for the ‘Memoir’ Category

Hunger of Memory by Richard Rodriguez

In Memoir, Nonfiction on October 24, 2011 at 6:24 pm

One may initially be attracted to Richard Rodriguez’s memoir as the author’s face plastered on the asymmetrical cover looks not to the observer, but to the side, contemplative and anxious, as if wondering if such frank and private thoughts belong in the public sphere at all. Crack it open. Turn that doubting expression to the table. After all, Rodriguez seeks affirmation, whether through his family, his church, his race, his school, and most importantly, through himself. Only a scholarship boy, a term of no endearment for Rodriguez, can adequately and fairly handle a subject which fills even himself with great ambivalence—the mutability of the first generation immigrant. He is constantly torn between his roots and his trajectory in every capacity, and although his struggles as a Mexican boy in California in the middle of the 20th century are enlightening in their specificity, they remain even more so in their universality. Even his words are distinctly conflicted, his crystalline prose unable to dismiss the romanticism and importance of his own family’s language. Trapped between comfort and ambition, privacy and acceptance, the new and the old, Rodriguez finds fulfillment the only way an insecure academic can: writing. He corners his past and allows us to intrude.

-Chris Noel


Life by Keith Richards

In Fiction, Memoir, Nonfiction on February 2, 2011 at 6:30 pm

After over 40 years on the road with The Rolling Stones it’s expected that Keith Richards would have a lot of stories. But seriously, 500 pages? He must run out of steam, you think. But like the man himself – charting an upward trajectory (“Satisfaction,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” world tours, supermodel wives) with scant speed bumps along the way (“Harlem Shuffle,” heroin) – this is fascinating stuff. The highlights are many, even for readers with only a tangential interest in The Rolling Stones, rock and roll, or how to tune a guitar to open G. There are the essential stories: Keith’s take on Altamont, the making of “Exile on Main Street,” and a detailed chronicle of his on again and (mostly) off again relationship with Mick. There’s Keith’s tips on how to win a knife fight (cut their forehead and run while they bleed in their eyes) and his cold turkey remedy for kicking the junk. Giving it away here won’t ruin it. You’re cracking the cover because you want to hear Keith tell it – to hear that gravely voice blurring the words, recounting the years while the ice clinks in the whiskey glass. It’s all here, and it’s amazing.


-Jay Cullis

Bird Cloud by Annie Proulx

In Memoir on January 7, 2011 at 3:54 am

Meeting an author–especially one whom you admire–is more often than not, a huge disappointment: they’re fatter than you imagined, or shy when their writing’s not, or loud, or awkward, or annoying, or so full of themselves that you kind of wish they’d just pop. Authors are weird. Annie Proulx is weird; but also genuine. There’s something different about meeting Proulx–she’s in her stories. Meaning, everything is real: not true, but real. The land and the history, the animals and the smells and the harsh wind; they exist. She has the ability to put life into stories; and really, maybe that’s what fiction is: less invention and more construction. Proulx doesn’t have the most exciting story herself, but she’s met a lot of characters; she’s stayed herself, and sought out extreme conditions, and a little bit of crazy. These things all live in Wyoming. Knowing where this woman has come from–literally–helps to understand how she crafts the details of her stories. You don’t know what it’s like to dig a well until you’ve done it. You can’t imagine what winter really means until you’ve seen it on the Laramie plains.  

-Micah Ling

Support Locally Owned Bookstores 

Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain

In Memoir on August 19, 2010 at 2:43 am

Anthony Bourdain is the definition of cool: he’s old enough to be sexy and flawed, and he knows just how to use the word “fuck” without overdoing it. He’s a seasoned chef, traveler and storyteller; and, as it turns out, writer. He writes like he talks: matter-of-factly, bluntly. Like watching No Reservations, you just get the feeling that he’s telling the truth–that he’s got nothing to hide. And when he’s talking about food and cooking, he’s talking about life; “there’s a gulf the size of an ocean between adequate and finesse.” It’s true: food is art. He might convince you that pho in Hanoi is on par with sex, or, better than sex: unconditional love. He will convince you that the simplest things (spaghetti alla bottarga in Sardina matched with a local red) are what it’s all about. This is better than porn, “when you ask the proprietor where the wine comes from, he points to an old man sitting in the corner reading a soccer magazine, a cigarette dangling from his lips. ‘It came from him,’ he says.” Plus, he gives huge props to Jim Harrison: a man who admires food and wine almost as much as language. Yes, Tony, well done: you’ve learned so much, about food and life. 

-Micah Ling

Crazy for the Storm by Norman Ollestad

In Memoir on July 27, 2009 at 5:27 pm

There are facts: It was February 19, 1979, Norman Ollestad was 11-years-old, his father—a former FBI agent—was 43 and Sandra, his father’s girlfriend was 30. Norman had just won a junior slalom championship. Their plane crashed at 8,693 feet in the San Gabriel Mountains. But there is much more than an impressive, heroic survival tale: those are great; they make great movies—but this is bigger. This is a boy saving his own life by reliving the ways that his father had saved it in the past. Ollestad’s father taught him (forced him) to surf and ski until it became his religion. This boy was eleven going on twenty-five: Boy Wonder. He trained with the masters of both extremes; he learned to ski ice and surf tubes. In his time of survival—utter utilization of every muscle—he returned to his afternoons at Topanga and in the mountains of Taos. All I care about is that you keep going, Boy Wonder. Ollestad does keep going: he becomes a twelve-year-old, a teenager, has a first-kiss, picks fights, and continues to create new ways to save his own life.

The Film Club by David Gilmour

In Memoir on July 13, 2009 at 10:32 pm

Make your own list. The Shining, Stand By Me, Rain Man, Psycho, The Three Amigos, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Groundhog Day, Fried Green Tomatoes, Driving Miss Daisy, Hoosiers, Rocky, Oh Brother Where Art Thou? Fight Club, Schindler’s List, The Black Stallion, Karate Kid, American Beauty, A River Runs Through it, Tootsie, The Shawshank Redemption, The Silence of the Lambs… Agree with Gilmour on his list, or don’t—he backs them up. There is no denying that a strategic list of movies can educate a person better than traditional schooling. David Gilmour not only allows (sometimes forces) his 15-year-old son to watch movies (three a week) as an alternative to failing out of school (an offering of education on a new level), he joins his son: re-lives the greatest moments in (perhaps) the greatest form of art: film. Gilmour starts talking like lines from movies: “Love affairs that start in blood tend to end up in blood.” And his son (Jesse) starts seeing the great moments—picking them out himself. What more can you ask of a teenaged boy (or anyone) than to see real life in art, and to learn from it?

Born Standing Up: a Comic’s Life by Steve Martin

In Memoir on May 29, 2009 at 12:38 am

People have always thought Steve Martin was odd, even before odd was hip. Before crazy was cool (think Joaquin Phoenix), Martin was experimenting. The man made the arrow-through-the-head-prop mean something more than a morbid suggestion. What if a man actually had an arrow through his head and didn’t know it? Would it be funny? Martin confesses to the unfunny: panic attacks and sleepless nightmare reactions to pot. He traces his trip through comedy by way of magic, poetry and philosophy; comedy is a combination: a balance of wit and compromise. Slowly (painfully so), Martin grew a following. He started out (literally) performing to an empty room, booked as an opener to attract people in from the street, so the actual act would have an audience. Eventually he had his own audiences, and they wouldn’t let his show end. He would leave his venue and they’d follow–so he’d manipulate them into empty swimming pools and then “swim” over them. Was it funny? Maybe, but it was outrageous and by the early 80’s, outrageous ruled. If pre-Martin stand-up was “A guy walked into a bar…” then post-Martin comedy was “Follow me down the street to McDonald’s and watch me order 300 cheeseburgers and then quickly change my order to a small-fry.” Is it funny?