Friday, March 22, 2013

Update And Review Of Wild by Cheryl Strayed

In between sending in proposal and manuscript submissions to various publishers, I was able to read Wild by Cheryl Strayed.  Now, I had been anxious to read this memoir because I was told my a VIP director of publishing that my memoir entitled The Courage Chronicles was too similar to Wild for her to make an objective evaluation.  After reading this memoir, I thought to myself, what in tarnation was she reading to come up with that kind of opinion?!  I even asked my closest girlfriend here in Georgia (who also read the memoir) and she said "There's no comparison.  You and Cheryl aren't on the same planet".  In my opinion, this memoir Wild is about a broken young woman whose mom has just died at the age of 45.  Her father disappeared from the scene when she was six and probably for the best.  She grew up moving to various places until finally she arrives in Minnesota on a rural stretch of land with a house that has no indoor plumbing.  This is also after her mother remarries.  She has two siblings.  They do not have close relations after the mother dies.  Additionally, Cheryl had married at a young age.  Because of her mother's early death and the lack of any real familial support during this time, you see a woman who spirals down into drugs, alcohol, and risky sex all in an effort, I believe, to sooth her wounds and escape.  Eventually, she divorces and decides to trek the Pacific Crest Trail to gather herself and process what has happened to her. 

 As a woman it's risky going out for four months to hike a trail by yourself.  I personally would have been toting a gun and ammo, but she doesn't really worry about it.  She's more concerned with surviving and healing the hole in her heart.  This author does a great job of description.  You are never at a loss of being able to visualize what she is experiencing and witnessing while on this trek.  Unfortunately, I got tired of the trail and its descriptions long before she reached her destination.  That's me, I prefer people drama and many readers may be able to get past what my girlfriend refers to as the dry parts of this memoir.  Here's the thing though:  I don't know too many people who have the time or money to go spend four months finding a personal peace in the wilderness.  And at the conclusion of the book, I kept wanting to say, hey, how did you do it?  How did you decide to live in Portland?  What happened with your brother and sister?  What did you decide to do for a living after the trek?  How did you finally meet "the one"?  Did you ever hear from your dad and did he pass away?  I mean, my memoir involves not just my personal drama, but also, that of my main family members and how it affects me.  There were a lot of questions left for me at the end, but mostly I think I prefer reading about family dynamics and the weaving together of interpersonal relationships that are tried and tested.  And I was also left wondering how this publisher ever thought my memoir and this one were even remotely alike?!!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Review: Don't Kill The Birthday Girl

Greetings fellow memoir devotees!  I am still waiting to hear from several publishers that currently have partials of my memoir manuscript.  I was able to at least format a Web page and interestingly also set up an email account for when my own memoir does get published.  In the midst of taking care of business as a writer I read the memoir Don't Kill The Birthday Girl by Sandra Beasley.  I found the cover art for this book interesting because it contains a yummy cupcake with a toothpick skeleton figurine protruding from the icing.  I had no idea a person with allergies to food could live in such complete fear and anxiety.  In this particular book, the author as allergies to several foods, not just one.  She recounts what it was like growing up with severe food allergies.  She constantly carries an inhaler, multiple Benadryl, and an epipen wherever she goes.  Occasionally she  has to report to a hospital emergency room while recovering from an allergic reaction to a food she ate.  I had to take a friend to the emergency room for migraines while in high school, but I didn't grow up having friends or knowing anyone with food allergies so this book was highly enlightening for me.

In this memoir you will see the challenges a person with multiple food allergies faces from childhood through adulthood.  You will also see how a mom copes with having a child who must be vigilant about avoiding foods that could cause all sorts of reactions.  I found it fascinating that the narrator carries her inhaler, multiple Benadryl, and an epipen everywhere she goes.  It's almost like the medications I must carry wherever I go for vertigo from Meniere's Disease.  I had never looked upon going out to eat as a simple act that might cause a death reaction until I read this book.  A person with food allergies is challenged when dining out:  Will there be anything on the menu I can eat?  Will the chef accomodate a special food preparation request?  Will a waiter take your allergy information seriously?  Traveling engenders its own problems as are well documented in this book.  Also, the author reflects on how she might mother a child of her own who has food allergies.  On the whole this is a book that functions like a medical journal, history book, and memoir all wound together.  The reader gets lessons in the history/recognition of food allergies, the challenges faced by those living with multiple food allergies, and even the latest information from the worlds of science regarding potential new ways to treat food allergy reactions.  What A Read!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Review: The Day My Brain Exploded: A True Story

First a summary:  A first generation Indian American man suffers a brain hemorrhage on his brother's wedding day in D.C.  He survives (barely) only to have to relearn how to walk, talk, and rediscover who he was before this tragedy as well as discover who he is following the traumatic brain injury. The repercussions he experiences following brain surgey include seizures, tongue gnashings, mood changes, forgetfulness, and visual distortions.  He never goes back to enjoying his original career in public relations, but also doesn't return to a life of alcoholism either.  There is a vivid depiction of his mother's devotion, his dad's catastrophic thinking and thriftiness, and his brother attempting to be the lind that holds this family together.  At times I found this narrator to be cynical and judgmental.  And it's hard to know at the book's end where his future lies.  Better yet, does he really appreciate and comprehend the extraordinary circumstances he survived?  Worse still, there were times while reading this book I'm not sure he's entirely glad to have recovered so dramatically or glad to be a survivor.

Also, I feel for the narrator's mother throughout this tragic ordeal because she blames herself for his traumatic brain injury because the type he suffered is generally congenital in nature and most likely formed while he was still in the womb.   There's no way she could have prevented this from happening.  The son eventually gets hostile with his mother and starts playing the blame game.  I just want to shake him and say "Deal With It Kiddo.  And Chill The Hell Out".  Most southern moms that I know wouldn't have put up with this type of behavior, and my dad, well, he would have drop-kicked this guy right on his behind for being so disrespectful of his mom.

 Also, the guy seems to let his dad's actions during and after the traumatic brain injury just slide.  The dad basically decides to pack up his son's apartment, vacate it without the son's knowledge, have all his belongings placed in boxes and then stored in a garage.  I found the penny-pinching dad's behavior throughout this book to be a lot like my ex-husband:  TOO FRUGAL FOR HIS OWN GOOD!

Also, as a former rural teacher I understand this guy's difficulty acclimating to a small, rural town in Illinois.  He's a first generation Indian American.  My question is why did his parents not make more of an effort to locate their home in a metropolitan area?  The author complains quite candidly about the bullying and discrimination he faces in small town America, but my feeling is:  Buddy, if you plant a rose among a patch of weeds, it's gonna stand out tremendously.  To be quite frank I endured more blunt and traumatizing forms of bullying and I grew up in a small town in my own country.  And no I am in no way belittling what he witnessed but, hey, I went through it too and I wasn't living in a foreign country!

The one part of this memoir I did identify with was the narrator's disappointing experience with the medical establishment in this country.  A nurse is abusive toward him, his surgeon refuses to explain the surgery to him and tells him to read the surgical report (good luck),  and some of the doctors appear to be randomly guessing at diagnoses for the side effects and treatments following a massive brain bleed.  I was left with the question of why there was no resolution for the grotesque visual distortions he experienced following the traumatic brain injury.  There's no way I would have accepted a doctor telling me "Well son, you just have to learn to live with it". 

Again, I am a critical memoir reviewer.  You really have to win me over not just with the drama you experienced, but with an empathetic voice and I found that lacking in this memoir.  So, you take your chances with reading this one and make up your own mind.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Review: Memoir of the Sunday Brunch

 This is one of the best memoirs I've read this year and is one of the few I will endorse and recommend that you buy.  It is entitled Memoir of the Sunday Brunch by Julia Pandl.  Initially, I ordered this book because it was produced by Algonquin Books.  I would like Algonquin Books to seriously consider publishing my own family memoir so I wanted to discover the type of memoirs the house publishes.  First, I though this book would be about a family that owns a restaurant that is known for its Sunday brunch feature.  And it is a book about that written by the youngest girl in a family of nine kids!  And I thought my grandmother deserved a noble peace prize for raising 11 kids! I did learn quite a bit about the restaurant business through this book because each of the nine children at one time or another works at the restaurant and in particular, the Sunday brunch.  I mean you start to realize the team work it takes to run a successful business, how important food aesthetics is, and the importance of timeliness and cleanliness. 

This memoir is about more than the restaurant business though.  It's about what we inherit from our parents and how much they influence us as adults even though as kids, our parents quirks drove us crazy.  I mean most teenagers don't even want to be seen with their parents.  Eventually, there comes a time when your parents no longer take of you; it becomes your turn to take care of them while you also take care of yourself.  The book is also about how we become similar to our parents, but also different because of our time and experiences with them.  Ultimately, you will ask yourself, what will I remember most about my mom and dad when they are gone?  What relics will they leave behind to trigger my most vivid memories of them?  And more importantly, what ideas, habits, and values have I adopted as a result of these particular two people bringing me into this world and spending an extraordinary amount of time raising me.  This memoir is what I expected and so much more which is why I highly recommend it.