Category memoir

2013: #21 – Escape (Carolyn Jessop & Laura Palmer)


Title: Escape
Author: Carolyn Jessop & Laura Palmer
Format: Hardcover
Pages:  413
Release Date: October 16, 2007
Publisher: Broadway Books
Source: library

The dramatic first-person account of life inside an ultra-fundamentalist American religious sect, and one woman’s courageous flight to freedom with her eight children.

When she was eighteen years old, Carolyn Jessop was coerced into an arranged marriage with a total stranger: a man thirty-two years her senior. Merril Jessop already had three wives. But arranged plural marriages were an integral part of Carolyn’s heritage: She was born into and raised in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), the radical offshoot of the Mormon Church that had settled in small communities along the Arizona-Utah border. Over the next fifteen years, Carolyn had eight children and withstood her husband’s psychological abuse and the watchful eyes of his other wives who were locked in a constant battle for supremacy.

Carolyn’s every move was dictated by her husband’s whims. He decided where she lived and how her children would be treated. He controlled the money she earned as a school teacher. He chose when they had sex; Carolyn could only refuse—at her peril. For in the FLDS, a wife’s compliance with her husband determined how much status both she and her children held in the family. Carolyn was miserable for years and wanted out, but she knew that if she tried to leave and got caught, her children would be taken away from her. No woman in the country had ever escaped from the FLDS and managed to get her children out, too. But in 2003, Carolyn chose freedom over fear and fled her home with her eight children. She had $20 to her name.

Escape exposes a world tantamount to a prison camp, created by religious fanatics who, in the name of God, deprive their followers the right to make choices, force women to be totally subservient to men, and brainwash children in church-run schools. Against this background, Carolyn Jessop’s flight takes on an extraordinary, inspiring power. Not only did she manage a daring escape from a brutal environment, she became the first woman ever granted full custody of her children in a contested suit involving the FLDS. And in 2006, her reports to the Utah attorney general on church abuses formed a crucial part of the case that led to the arrest of their notorious leader, Warren Jeffs.

My thoughts:

I’ve read about FLDS communities before, specifically in Under the Banner of Heaven. But I’m not sure any FLDS community compares to the one that has been built by the Jeffs. Because of that, Carolyn Jessop’s story is certainly an interesting one. Through her eyes, you see the transition from a fairly standard FLDS community (with all of its many inherent faults) to one that is perverted for the sake of power, and to sate the lust of an elite group of men.

Unfortunately, this book was in dire need of an editor. Jessop had a co-writer, but you wouldn’t know it based on the organization of the story. There was an incredible amount of repetition, to the point that you wondered if she wrote each chapter entirely separately and therefore thought she had to explain things every time. For example, we are told multiple times that a woman’s worth is tied to whether or not her husband is willing to have sex with her, but explaining that concept to us once was more than enough. She should have then trusted the reader to realize that the wives Merril wasn’t sleeping with weren’t in favor, either in the family or in the community.

She also contradicts herself more than a few times, especially when it came to who was or wasn’t helping her take care of her children. All of these things could have been caught by a good editor, and fixed by a competent co-writer.

The other problem I had with the memoir is that despite it being titled Escape, very little of the book actually focuses on their lives after the escape. I would have much preferred it if several of the repetitious examples from earlier in the story had been cut in favor of a more in depth look at her life on the outside. It is basically glossed over, with very few details provided after the first few crucial weeks.

And please, understand, FLDS is not the same as Mormon. They may have started in the same place, but they are the same no longer.

Overall, I found her story compelling, and I certainly kept turning the pages. But I feel like I was sold a bill of goods that I did not receive.

Available from: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | WorldCat

Other reviews:

  • “It’s a story of a strong woman, a strong mother, and what happens when one person takes on the entire system.”Book Maven’s Blog
  • Escape is a book you will read that will make you realize how lucky a life can be.”Reading in Winter
  • “While I can’t say I enjoyed it because of the difficult subject matter, I’m so glad I read it.”S. Krishna’s Books

2012: #55 – Everybody into the Pool (Beth Lisick)


Title: Everybody Into The Pool: True Tales
Author: Beth Lisick
Format: Paperback
Pages:  240
Release Date: 2005
Publisher: Avon
Source: personal copy

Beth Lisick started out as a homecoming princess with a Crisco-aided tan and a bad perm. And then everything changed. Plunging headlong into America’s deepest subcultures, while keeping both feet firmly planted in her parents’ Leave It to Beaver values, Lisick makes her adult home on the fringe of mainstream culture and finds it rich with paradox and humor. On the one hand, she lives in “Brokeley” with drug dealers and street gangs; on the other, she drives a station wagon with a baby seat in the back, makes her own chicken stock, and attends ladies’ luncheons. How exactly did this suburban girl-next-door end up as one of San Francisco’s foremost chroniclers of alternative culture? Lisick explains it all in her hilarious, irreverent, bestselling memoir, Everybody into the Pool.

Fans of David Sedaris and Sarah Vowell will relish Lisick’s scathingly funny, smart, very real take on the effluvia of daily living. No matter what community she’s exposing to the light, Lisick always hits the right chord.

My thoughts:

This book goes solidly into the “not for me” pile. I didn’t find Lisick’s alternative lifestyle interesting, or humorous, or in the least bit respectable or necessary. I’m sure it would appeal to some, hence the two stars instead of just one, but in my case, I’m just glad it’s off of my to-be-read shelf.

Available from: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | WorldCat

Other reviews:

  • “Lisick tackles topics such as adolescence, sexuality, race, and socio-economic class with ease, wit, and a sparkling sense of humor.”Bookslut
  • “While I would hardly call the book a must-read or anything near great literature, Everybody into the Pool did live up to its name and make good poolside reading.”Reading for Robin

2012: #14 – Sometimes I Feel Like a Nut (Jill Kargman)

Title: Sometimes I Feel Like A Nut: Essays And Observations
Author: Jill Kargman
Format: Hardback
Pages: 192 (2012 total – 3,619)
Approx. Word Count: 38,400 (2012 total – 984,225)
Release Date: January 24, 2011
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Categories: humor, memoir
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3 out of 5

Back of the book:

Jill Kargman is a mother, wife, and writer living the life in New York City . . . a life that includes camping out in a one-bedroom apartment with some unfortunate (and furry) roommates, battling the Momzillas of Manhattan, and coming to terms with her desire for gay men. In this entertaining collection of observations, Kargman offers her unique, wickedly funny perspective as she zips around Manhattan with three kids in tow.

Kargman tackles issues big and small with sharp wit and laugh-out-loud humor: her love of the smell of gasoline, her new names for nail polishes, her adventures in New York City real estate, and her fear of mimes, clowns, and other haunting things. Whether it’s surviving a family road trip or why she can’t stand Cirque du So Lame, living with a mommy vagina the size of the Holland Tunnel or surviving the hell that was her first job out of college, Kargman’s nutty self-triumphs, thanks to a wonderfully wise outlook and sense of fun that makes the best of everything that gets thrown her way. And if that’s not enough, Kargman illustrates her reflections with doodles that capture her refreshing voice.

My thoughts:

I didn’t particularly care for this, but it was short so it wasn’t too painful. It’s more a collection of essays than a memoir, but that’s not really its problem either. I think the tone was just a little too rough for me. Crudeness and profanity really don’t bother me, but this just felt like she was looking for attention. I wasn’t familiar with Kargman before this, so perhaps it’s not the best introduction to her voice. The book definitely had its funny moments, but the other stuff just overshadows it.

Available from: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | WorldCat

Other reviews:

  • “I enjoyed Sometimes I Feel Like a Nut and it made me curious to go back and read Kargman’s previous novels.”S. Krishna’s Books
  • “Kargman has had an interesting life and is a great writer, but her essays were peppered with profanity and slang and I found both off-putting after a while.”Bermudaonion’s Weblog
  • “I don’t know what I found more amusing: the stories, or the little doodles that accompanied them.”Luxury Reading

Past reviews:

2011: Diavolino (Steve Emmett)
2010: The Kitchen House (Kathleen Grissom)
2009: A Fistful of Charms (Kim Harrison)
2008: Sick Puppy (Carl Hiaasen)
2007: Judge & Jury (James Patterson)
2006: The Killing Dance (Laurell K. Hamilton)
2005: Rosemary’s Baby (Ira Levin)

2012: #10 – Half-Assed: A Weight-Loss Memoir (Jennette Fulda)

Title: Half-Assed: A Weight-Loss Memoir
Author: Jennette Fulda
Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 250 (2012 total – 2,720)
Approx. Word Count: 75,000 (2012 total – 770,504)
Release Date: May 10, 2008
Publisher: Seal Press
Categories: memoir
Source: personal copy
Rating: 5 out of 5

Back of the book:

After undergoing gall bladder surgery at age twenty-three, Jennette Fulda decided it was time to lose some weight. Actually, more like half her weight. At the time, Jennette weighed 372 pounds.

Jennette was not born fat. But, by fifth grade, her response to a school questionnaire asking “what would you change about your appearance” was “I would be thinner.” Sound familiar?

Half-Assed is the captivating and incredibly honest story of Jennette’s journey to get in shape, lose weight, and change her life. From the beginning—dusting off her never-used treadmill and steering clear of the donut shop—to the end with her goal weight in sight, Jennette wows readers with her determined persistence to shed pounds and the ability to maintain her ever-present sense of self.

My thoughts:

I have been following Jennette’s blog for years, which makes it even more ridiculous that this book sat on my shelf for at least two years before I picked it up and read it. I think I started reading her blog (it was back then) when she was roughly 3/4 of the way through her journey. I was immediately drawn to her dry wit and sarcasm, a welcome attribute in the world of weight-loss bloggers, which is overwhelmed by nauseatingly positive people.

As someone who has struggled with her weight since puberty, I can’t tell you how many times I nodded my head and dog-eared a page while reading this book. She is often blunt and to the point, and it just makes you say “Yes! It is just like that.”

“And even if I had been the laziest, weakest-willed person on the planet, being fat did not make me a bad person. Fat wasn’t good or bad. It wasn’t a scarlet F of shame written on my elbow. It was just fat. I deserved as much respect as any thin person and I shouldn’t have to live under a cloud of shame.”

But don’t pick up this book and expect a blue-print for success. Jennette isn’t very specific about what she eats (even on her blog), but if you read between the lines you can tell it was South Beach or something quite similar. I think she doesn’t specifically promote it because she’s smart enough to realize that just because that particular plan worked for her, it doesn’t mean it will work for everyone. She does talk about her exercise, and one thing she did a lot of is running. I am envious, because running is the easiest thing to do, but I hate it with the fire of a thousand suns.

I find Jennette’s story to be inspiring, even if it doesn’t have the fairytale happy ending. She doesn’t lose all her weight and then magically fall in love with Prince Charming and move into a house with a white picket fence and have babies. But I believe that reaching this one (giant) goal has given her the confidence to reach other goals in her life, specifically moving out of state and starting her own freelance business. I continue to follow Jennette at her new website, She has written a second book, which is (unfortunately) about her search for relief from a persistent headache. It’s already on my Kindle and waiting for me.

Available from: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | WorldCat

Other reviews:

  • “Fulda’s memoir is light-hearted, funny, and truly inspiring.”Story Circle Book Reviews
  • “Whether or not you have struggled with your weight, Fulda’s writing will give you a picture of a successful weight loss journey.”Malisa Price
  • “Another great thing about the book is that it’s not just a chronicle of weight loss; it’s about Jen’s changing attitudes as well.”Novel News

Past reviews:

2011: Deeper Than The Dead (Tami Hoag)
2010: What to Expect Before You’re Expecting (Heidi Murkoff)
2009: Claus: A Christmas Incarnation: Vol I (C. John Coombes)
2008: Dead Aim (Iris Johansen)
2007: Maisie Dobbs (Jacqueline Winspear)
2006: K is for Killer (Sue Grafton)
2005: Immortal in Death (J.D. Robb)

2012: #7 – Cruising Attitude (Heather Poole)

Title: Cruising Attitude
Author: Heather Poole
Format: Kindle
Pages: 272 (2012 total – 1,856)
Approx. Word Count: 68,000 (2012 total – 542,004)
Release Date: March 06, 2012
Publisher: Avon
Categories: memoir
Source: ARC from Publisher
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Back of the book:

Flying the not-so-friendly skies…

In her more than fifteen years as an airline flight attendant, Heather Poole has seen it all. She’s witnessed all manner of bad behavior at 35,000 feet and knows what it takes for a traveler to become the most hated passenger onboard. She’s slept in flight attendant crashpads in “Crew Gardens,” Queens—sharing small bedrooms crammed with bunk beds with a parade of attractive women who come and go at all hours, prompting suspicious neighbors to jump to the very worst conclusions. She’s watched passengers and coworkers alike escorted off the planes by police. She can tell you why it’s a bad idea to fall for a pilot but can be a very good one (in her case) to date a business-class passenger. Heather knows everything about flying in a post-9/11 world—and she knows what goes on behind the scenes, things the passengers would never dream.

Heather’s true stories in Cruising Attitude are surprising, hilarious, sometimes outrageously incredible—the very juiciest of “galley gossip” delightfully intermingled with the eye-opening, unforgettable chronicle of her fascinating life in the sky.

My thoughts:

For someone who “doesn’t read memoirs”, I’ve picked up more than a few this year. This one drew my eye because I enjoy flying, and had absolutely no idea what a flight attendant’s job was like.

After finishing the book, I’m fairly certain that I would never want to be a flight attendant. I never would have imagined a super-strict book camp, or the fact that for a long time, an attendant makes so little money they are lucky if they can afford to rent a room of their own, let alone an entire apartment. And we’re not talking about the 70s or the 80s here — when Poole became a flight attendant in 1995 she made $18,000. That number is even lower now, because attendants took a pay cut following 9/11.

And it was the lifestyle that I found most intriguing about this book. We also get plenty of stories of crazy behavior, by both passengers and crew, but most of them are nothing we haven’t already imagined for ourselves. The real meat is the life of the flight attendant. She does a pretty good job of explaining the system, but I’m still not sure I completely understand it. The concept of being “on reserve” is ridiculously complicated. Being a commuting flight attendant also seems a bit complex.

Overall, I found this to be not only interesting but very entertaining. Poole has a nice easy tone, and she seems like someone who would be fun to hang out with.  The one pick I have about the book is that I think it could have been a little better organized. She goes off on a lot of tangents. Entertaining as they are, I think sometimes the reader can lose the theme of the chapter.

If you like humorous memoirs, this is definitely one to pick up. I know I’ll never look at a flight attendant quite the same way again.

Available from: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | WorldCat

Other reviews:

Past reviews:

2011: Vows, Vendettas & a Little Black Dress (Kyra Davis)
2010: Pacific Vortex (Clive Cussler)
2009: Plum Spooky (Janet Evanovich)
2008: Gone (Lisa Gardner)
2007: The Dark Tower (Stephen King)
2006: Whiteout (Ken Follett)
2005: Twisted (Jonathan Kellerman)

2012: #5 – Stitches (David Small)

Title: Stitches
Author: David Small
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 336 (2012 total – 1,600)
Release Date: September 8, 2009
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
Categories: memoir, graphic novel, young adult
Source: personal copy
Rating: 4 out of 5

Back of the book:

Finalist for the 2009 National Book Award and finalist for two 2010 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards: the prize-winning children’s author depicts a childhood from hell in this searing yet redemptive graphic memoir.

One day David Small awoke from a supposedly harmless operation to discover that he had been transformed into a virtual mute. A vocal cord removed, his throat slashed and stitched together like a bloody boot, the fourteen-year-old boy had not been told that he had cancer and was expected to die.

In Stitches, Small, the award-winning children’s illustrator and author, re-creates this terrifying event in a life story that might have been imagined by Kafka. As the images painfully tumble out, one by one, we gain a ringside seat at a gothic family drama where David—a highly anxious yet supremely talented child—all too often became the unwitting object of his parents’ buried frustration and rage.

Believing that they were trying to do their best, David’s parents did just the reverse. Edward Small, a Detroit physician, who vented his own anger by hitting a punching bag, was convinced that he could cure his young son’s respiratory problems with heavy doses of radiation, possibly causing David’s cancer. Elizabeth, David’s mother, tyrannically stingy and excessively scolding, ran the Small household under a cone of silence where emotions, especially her own, were hidden.

Depicting this coming-of-age story with dazzling, kaleidoscopic images that turn nightmare into fairy tale, Small tells us of his journey from sickly child to cancer patient, to the troubled teen whose risky decision to run away from home at sixteen—with nothing more than the dream of becoming an artist—will resonate as the ultimate survival statement.

A silent movie masquerading as a book, Stitches renders a broken world suddenly seamless and beautiful again. Finalist for the 2009 National Book Award (Young Adult); finalist for two 2010 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards (Best Writer/Artist: Nonfiction; Best Reality-Based Work).

My thoughts:

I’ve been meaning to read this for a long time, and finally got around to it a few weeks ago. We were traveling, and it was a good book to read start-to-finish in the car — only took me about an hour. David Small’s story is rather sad. The second child of a pair of emotionally and physically distant parents, he spent much of his childhood entertaining himself and learning how to best maneuver with the least upset to anyone. When he develops a tumor on his neck, it becomes just one more thing to deal with silently. His parents seem barely concerned, leaving it for several years before finally having it removed when David is 14. Even then they don’t tell him what is going on, just that he’s having surgery. He wakes up with a giant scar and no voice with absolutely no preparation. It’s hard to tell which is worse, the physical scar or the mental one.

The pain that David remembers is evident in his artwork. Black and white and stark, he’s able to not only portray reality as he remembers it, through the eyes of a child, but his fantasies as well. The story may come off as a bit one-sided, but it is a memoir, after all, and is told through the point of view of himself as a child. There is an afterword of sorts, where he addresses his mother’s behavior with the wisdom of age and experience. He may even have managed to forgive his parents. I’m not sure I could.

Some may say they did the best they knew how, but sometimes your best just isn’t good enough.

Available from: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | WorldCat

Other reviews:

Past reviews:

2011: Bolt (Dick Francis)
2010: Bird by Bird (Anne Lamott)
2009: Five on a Treasure Island (Enid Blyton)
2008: I Heard That Song Before (Mary Higgins Clark)
2007: Up Island (Anne Rivers Siddons)
2006: The Big Love (Sarah Dunn)
2005: The Reptile Room (Lemony Snicket)

2009: #114 – The Year of Magical Thinking (Joan Didion)

magical Book #114 was The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. The back of the book reads:

From one of America’s iconic writers, a stunning book of electric honesty and passion. Joan Didion explores an intensely personal yet universal experience: a portrait of a marriage – and a life, in good times and bad – that will speak to anyone who has ever loved a husband or wife or child.

Several days before Christmas 2003, John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion saw their only daughter, Quintana, fall ill with what seemed at first flu, then pneumonia, then complete septic shock. She was put into an induced coma and placed on life support. Days later – the night before New Year’s Eve – the Dunnes were just sitting down to dinner after visiting the hospital when John Gregory Dunne suffered a massive and fatal coronary. In a second, this close, symbiotic partnership of forty years was over. Four weeks later, their daughter pulled through. Two months after that, arriving at LAX, she collapsed and underwent six hours of brain surgery at UCLA Medical Center to relieve a massive hematoma.

This powerful book is Didion’s attempt to make sense of the “weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I ever had about death, about illness . . . about marriage and children and memory . . . about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself.”

I didn’t dislike this book, but I didn’t really get anything out of it either.  It is a difficult subject matter – no one wants to think about their closest loved ones dying – but what makes Didion’s grief any different than anyone else’s?  There isn’t even any sort of insight into how one should deal with their grief and move on (or at least forward), because Didion didn’t deal with it, she wallowed in it, using it as an excuse to essentially check out of life. The only thing I found even a little insightful was at the beginning, when she talks about grief being a mental illness rather than some temporary condition. I think the book might have been more interesting if it had been written later and was about both the death of her husband and her daughter (who did eventually pass away in 2005).

As a side note, this was the selection for my book club this month, and it was universally disliked. Most of the women in the group are over 50, and I think their general thought was "Oh, just get over it already!"

Other reviews:

Review: The Year of Magical Thinking
The Year of Magical Thinking (reread) « Shelf Love
Joan Didion: The Year of Magical Thinking « Asylum

Page count: 227 | Approximate word count: 56,750

2007: Step on a Crack (James Patterson)

Used in these Challenges: A-Z 2009 Challenge; Read Your Own Books Challenge; Countdown Challenge 2010;

2009: #84 – The Girl With the White Flag (Tomiko Higa)

whiteflag Book #84 was The Girl With the White Flag by Tomiko Higa.  The back of the book reads:

New York Newsday called this memoir of a warhood childhood in Japan "one of the saddest and yet most uplifting books about childhood you will ever encounter."

Separated from her family in the confusion and horror of World War II, seven-year-old Tomiko Higa struggles to survive on the battlefield of Okinawa, Japan. There, as some of the fiercest fighting of the war rages around her, she must live alone, with nothing to fall back on but her own wits and daring. Fleeing from encroaching enemy forces, searching desperately for her lost sisters, taking scraps of food from the knapsacks of dead soldiers, risking death at every turn, Tomiko somehow finds the strength and courage to survive.

Many years later she decided to tell this story. Originally intended for juvenile readers, it is sure to move adults as well, because it is such a vivid portrait of the unintended civilian casualties of any war.

Tomiko’s story is sad and heartwarming at the same time.  She shows us a side of World War II that we rarely hear about… the plight of the Japanese people.  What’s most amazing is how she surived, mostly on her own, at only 7 years old. We often forget about how war affects the youngest among us. This is a quick read, and well worth the time.

Page count: 130 | Approximate word count: 32,500

2008: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (E.L. Konigsburg)
2007: In This Mountain (Jan Karon)
2006: N is for Noose (Sue Grafton)

Used in these Challenges: 100+ Reading Challenge 2009; Read Your Own Books Challenge;

2009: #69 – The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl (Belle de Jour)

callgirl Book #69 (ha! Not on purpose.) was The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl by Belle de Jour.  The back of the book reads:

Belle de Jour is the nom de plume of a high-class call girl working in London. This is her story. From debating the literary merits of the works of Martin Amis with naked clients, entering a hotel with two whips strapped to the lining of her coat, and juggling her love-life with her professional one, Belle’s no-holds-barred account of her experiences as a prostitute is frank, funny and completely compelling. Since the summer of 2003, Belle’s award-winning website has charted her day-to-day adventures on and off the field. In it, she has confessed her triumphs and disasters in the world of dating, introduced readers to her friends N and ‘the four As’ and chronicled the ins and outs of her working life. Now she elaborates on those diary entries, revealing how she became a working girl, what it feels like to do it for money – and why she can recommend it – and where to buy the best knickers for the job. Sometimes shocking, often hilarious, always thought-provoking, the ‘Intimate Adventures’ is the story of a 21st-century Moll Flanders, giving us an illuminating glimpse behind the scenes of the high-class sex-trade, and an insight into the secret life of an extraordinary, ordinary woman.

I first became interested in reading this book when I started watching Secret Diary of a Call Girl on Showtime.  I really like Belle’s voice.  She’s frank, and often funny, and not at all a bad writer.  Do I think all of her stories are true? Not hardly, but who cares?  This was a fun, escapist read.  But if you don’t enjoy detailed and explicit talk about all manners of sex, this book is not for you. If you’ve read this book and enjoyed it, I recommend the Showtime series.  They’ve managed to capture the voice and attitude perfectly.

Page count: 288 | Approximate word count: 79,053

2008: The Good, the Bad, and the Undead (Kim Harrison)
2007: Death on the Nile (Agatha Christie)
2006: The Deep (Peter Benchley)
2005: Charleston (John Jakes)

Used in these Challenges: 100+ Reading Challenge 2009; The 999 Challenge;

2007: #75 – The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid (Bill Bryson)

Book #75 was The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir by Bill Bryson. The back of the book reads:

From one of the most beloved and bestselling authors in the English language, a vivid, nostalgic, and utterly hilarious memoir of growing up in the 1950s

Bill Bryson was born in the middle of the American century—1951—in the middle of the United States—Des Moines, Iowa—in the middle of the largest generation in American history—the baby boomers. As one of the best and funniest writers alive, he is perfectly positioned to mine his memories of a totally all-American childhood for 24-carat memoir gold. Like millions of his generational peers, Bill Bryson grew up with a rich fantasy life as a superhero. In his case, he ran around his house and neighborhood with an old football jersey with a thunderbolt on it and a towel about his neck that served as his cape, leaping tall buildings in a single bound and vanquishing awful evildoers (and morons)—in his head—as “The Thunderbolt Kid.”

Using this persona as a springboard, Bill Bryson re-creates the life of his family and his native city in the 1950s in all its transcendent normality—a life at once completely familiar to us all and as far away and unreachable as another galaxy. It was, he reminds us, a happy time, when automobiles and televisions and appliances (not to mention nuclear weapons) grew larger and more numerous with each passing year, and DDT, cigarettes, and the fallout from atmospheric testing were considered harmless or even good for you. He brings us into the life of his loving but eccentric family, including affectionate portraits of his father, a gifted sportswriter for the local paper and dedicated practitioner of isometric exercises, and OF his mother, whose job as the home furnishing editor for the same paper left her little time for practicing the domestic arts at home. The many readers of Bill Bryson’s earlier classic, A Walk in the Woods, will greet the reappearance in these pages of the immortal Stephen Katz, seen hijacking literally boxcar loads of beer. He is joined in the Bryson gallery of immortal characters by the demonically clever Willoughby brothers, who apply their scientific skills and can-do attitude to gleefully destructive ends.

Warm and laugh-out-loud funny, and full of his inimitable, pitch-perfect observations, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid is as wondrous a book as Bill Bryson has ever written. It will enchant anyone who has ever been young.

This was a very entertaining listen, able to provoke nostalgia (and many laughs) even in someone born almost 3 decades later.

Page count: 288 | Approximate word count: 87,488

2006 – Cruel and Unusual (Patricia Cornwell)
2005 – Under the Banner of Heaven (Jon Krakauer)

2006: #94 – A Child Called

it.gifBook #94 was A Child Called “It”, by Dave Pelzer. The back of the book reads:

This book chronicles the unforgettable account of one of the most severe child abuse cases in California history. It is the story of Dave Pelzer, who was brutally beaten and starved by his emotionally unstable, alcoholic mother: a mother who played tortuous, unpredictable games–games that left him nearly dead. He had to learn how to play his mother’s games in order to survive because she no longer considered him a son, but a slave; and no longer a boy, but an “it.” Dave’s bed was an old army cot in the basement, and his clothes were torn and raunchy. When his mother allowed him the luxury of food, it was nothing more than spoiled scraps that even the dogs refused to eat. The outside world knew nothing of his living nightmare. He had nothing or no one to turn to, but his dreams kept him alive–dreams of someone taking care of him, loving him and calling him their son.

lost.gifBook #95 was The Lost Boy, by Dave Pelzer. The back of the book reads:

Imagine a young boy who has never had a loving home. His only possesions are the old, torn clothes he carries in a paper bag. The only world he knows is one of isolation and fear. Although others had rescued this boy from his abusive alcoholic mother, his real hurt is just begining — he has no place to call home. This is Dave Pelzer’s long-awaited sequel to A Child Called “It”. In The Lost Boy, he answers questions and reveals new adventures through the compelling story of his life as an adolescent. Now considered an F-Child (Foster Child), Dave is moved in and out of five different homes. He suffers shame and experiences resentment from those who feel that all foster kids are trouble and unworthy of being loved just because they are not part of a “real” family. Tears, laughter, devastation and hope create the journey of this little lost boy who searches desperately for just one thing — the love of a family.

These books are fascinating and heartbreaking all at once. I read the first last night, and the second today in less than 2 hours. What I feel left with is not only amazement that this child survived and managed to grow up to be a contributing member of society, but amazement in the differences between the system then and now.

When you read what was done to this boy, you won’t be able to believe that his mother was 1) not punished in the slightest bit, 2) allowed contact with David after he was removed from her care and 3) able to keep her other children without a smidgen of oversight.

Anyway, I highly recommend these books, but be prepared to be horrified.

Book count: 94-95

Pages in book: 294
Page count: 39,904
Words in book: 90,230
Word count: 11,892,495

1,000,000 words surpassed — 2/2/06

2,000,000 words surpassed — 2/14/06
10,000 pages surpassed — 3/10/06
3,000,000 words surpassed — 3/16/06
4,000,000 words surpassed — 4/3/06
5,000,000 words surpassed — 5/30/06
50 books surpassed — 6/12/06
20,000 pages surpassed — 6/29/06
6,000,000 words surpassed — 6/29/06
7,000,000 words surpassed — 7/21/06
8,000,000 words surpassed — 8/18/06
30,000 pages surpassed — 9/3/06
9,000,000 words surpassed — 9/6/06

10,000,000 words surpassed — 9/27/06
11,000,000 words surpassed — 10/9/06

2005: #38 – I’m Not the New Me (Wendy McClure)


Title: I’m Not the New Me
Author: Wendy McClure
Format: 320

A hilarious and sometimes poignant look at the absurdities of weight-loss culture from an appealing and original new voice.

From the creator of the immensely popular websites Pound and Candyboots, this is the memoir of Wendy McClure’s odyssey-on-line and off-through the Valley of The Shadow of Her Really Big Ass. It’s about the universe she created for herself when she couldn’t see herself as a kicky Weight Loss Success Story, only she put it all on a website and became sort of an inspiration anyway.

I’m Not The New Me is about coming to terms with a family heritage of fat and drastic surgeries, and about self-esteem issues that are nobody’s business but your own. It’s wondering what’s left of yourself after you lose weight-and just who the hell you are if you gain it back. It’s about the absurdities of online identities and fat girl cliches, and the sheer terror of appearing live and in person in your very own life.

Book #38 was I’m Not the New Me, by Wendy McClure of Poundy blog fame.

This book was exactly what you’d expect after reading some of Wendy’s blog. I liked it!

Book count: 38/50 — 76%
Pages in book: 320
Page count: 13,257/15,000 — 88.38%

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