Monday, February 1, 2016

Memoirs: Love Them or Hate Them? Why We Write About Ourselves.

Memoirs. Love them or hate them?

If you love them you'll definitely want to check out this book. If you hate them...you  also may want to check this one out as it might help you appreciate memoirs (or, I suppose, it may solidify your hatred. Que sera, sera).
From the publisher: Everything an aspiring memoirist needs to know, in one readable volume, a follow-up to the acclaimed writers’ handbook Why We Write

For the many amateurs and professionals who write about themselves—bloggers, journal-keepers, aspiring essayists, and memoirists—this book offers inspiration, encouragement, and pithy, practical advice. Twenty of America’s bestselling memoirists share their innermost thoughts and hard-earned tips with veteran author Meredith Maran, revealing what drives them to tell their personal stories, and the nuts and bolts of how they do it. Speaking frankly about issues ranging from turning oneself into an authentic, compelling character to exposing hard truths, these successful authors disclose what keeps them going, what gets in their way, and what they love most—and least—about writing about themselves.
Although the publisher's blurb above is aimed toward writers, this book will also be of interest to readers of memoirs and an excellent resource for book groups that read memoirs.

When looking at a collection of essays featuring various writers, I tend to focus in on and enjoy those chapters by (or about) authors I already know and love. What was exciting for me about this book is that I was turned on to writers I haven't read or, in some cases, hadn't yet heard of.

There are twenty writers featured:
  1. Ishmael Beah
  2. Kate Christensen
  3. Pearl Cleage
  4. Pat Conroy
  5. Kelly Corrigan
  6. Edwidge Danticat
  7. Meghan Daum
  8. Nick Flynn
  9. A. M. Homes
  10. Sue Monk Kidd
  11. Anne Lamott
  12. Sandra Tsing Loh
  13. James McBride
  14. Dani Shapiro
  15. David Sheff
  16. Darin Strauss
  17. Cheryl Strayed
  18. Ayelet Waldman
  19. Jesmyn Ward
  20. Edmund White
Each chapter follows this format:
  • An opening quote from the writer's work
  • A short intro to the writer
  • A text box listing the writer's vitals (birthday, home, family, social media, etc)
  • A text box listing his or her collected works
  • Then comes the meat: the writer starts off by answering the question, "Why I write about myself"and takes of from there for a few or more pages, writing about their writing experience
  • The chapter ends with a bullet pointed list of advice for memoir writers
I really dig this format. It gives the reader a well-rounded and consistent introduction to each writer and then lets the writer say what he or she wants to say. I now want to read everything that all twenty writers wrote (Been there, done that only in the case of Pat Conroy). I must admit that there are some popular memoirs written by a few of these writers that I avoided because they were so popular. (Yes, I'm one of those readers who sometimes avoids popular books. When I eventually read them I tend to enjoy the hell out of them.) I will keep this book in my reference section. It will be helpful to re-read a writer's chapter either before or after I read their memoir. It certainly encouraged me to press on with my own memoir writing.

In a book filled with helpful advice and great insights on just about every page, here are two that resonated with me:
  • Favorite quote from an writer I'm familiar with: "Memoirs hurt people. Secrets hurt people. The question to ask yourself is, if you tell your story, will it do enough good to make it worth hurting people?" ~ Pat Conroy
  • Favorite quote from a writer I haven't yet read: "I firmly believe that there are things we already know and spend a lot of time resisting. You can try, but the amount of energy you spend trying not to know what you already know will be exhausting." ~ A.M. Homes

Title: Why We Write About Ourselves: Twenty Memoirists on Why They Expose Themselves (and Others) in the Name of Literature
Author: Meredith Maran (ed)
Publisher: Plume/Penguin Random House
Release date: January 26, 2016
Source: Advance reader copy from the publisher

Monday, January 25, 2016

Monday Check-in: One DNF, One Full of Hope, Two Thumbs Up


ONE DNF
Catch-22 was my current Classic Club spin book.

This was my third attempt at reading Catch-22.  According to my e-reader I read 23% of the book. It started out okay, but my enthusiasm waned. My inner cheerleader pumped me up several times and I recommitted to finishing the book about a dozen times.

But then yesterday morning I awoke with the loud, clear voice of my conscience telling me to let it go. I won't even pretend that I'll give it another try in the future.

Yes, I laughed several times. Yes, Heller captures the ridiculousness of military life and bureaucratic systems.

However, the repetition and relentless absurdism made me start dreading reading time. It's one thing to push through a challenging book, but this was beyond that for me.

I also couldn't get into A Confederacy of Dunces.

So, while I like some satire, I think it's safe to say I am not a fan of absurdist fiction. Although I do adore Franz Kafka, whose writing often gets dumped in that camp, so go figure.

Goodbye, Joseph Heller, I don't think we shall meet again.

Here's hoping that my fellow Classic Clubbers enjoyed their spin books much, much more!


ONE FULL OF HOPE
I'm moving on to A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. Many people have not only praised this novel, but consider it among their favorites. As a former bookseller I am, of course, familiar with this popular novel and late last year saw it on a list of uplifting books, which is something I can use these days. Tomorrow will be exactly one month since we lost our beloved dog, Lola. While I love the 11" of snow that fell on us over the weekend here on the CT shoreline, I must say that there's nothing sadder for me to look at right now then our backyard covered in undisturbed snow.

A Prayer for Owen Meany will be my first read for the Reading New England challenge. The novel is set in New Hampshire and John Irving is also from New Hampshire. I just purchased it last week from a local indy, so it won't qualify for #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks.


TWO THUMBS UP
I'm also reading A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra) by Barbara Oakley. It is supplementary reading for the Coursera course I'm taking called Learning How to Learn: Powerful Mental Tools to Help You Master Tough Subjects. It's a fascinating and potentially life-changing course. I'm on week three of four and highly recommend both the course and the book.

There's one more book I've been reading around in, a review copy of Why We Write About Ourselves: Twenty Memoirists on Why They Expose Themselves (and Others) in the Name of Literature, edited by Meredith Maran. This book comes out tomorrow (1/26/16) and if you're into memoir as a reader or a writer you'll want to get your hands on it.

What are you reading this week? Tell me about the good, the bad, the ugly.
 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

WildmooBooks Turns Six! Celebrates with Edgar Nominees Giveaway

WildmooBooks turns six today!

How time flies. I still feel like such a newbie.

This is the first year I've made the connection that January 19th is also Edgar Allan Poe's birthday (he was born in 1809) and also the day that the Mystery Writers of America announces its annual nominees for The Edgar Awards (named, if you didn't know, after Edgar Allan Poe).

To celebrate these occasions and as a thank you to all who've connected with me here over the years, I thought it would be fun to offer a giveaway. 

Below is a list of nominees for five of the Edgar Award categories. The winner of this giveaway will get to choose one book from the list below, up to $25.

Price and availability to be established via bookdepository.com. At the time of this post going live there is only one title listed over $25 (Meanwhile There Are Letters: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and Ross Macdonald by Suzanne Marrs and Tom Nolan) and one that is not available (American Pain: How a Young Felon and his Ring of Doctors Unleashed America’s Deadliest Drug Epidemic by John Temple). Pricing and availability can change in a week.

Please enter below via Rafflecopter and leave a comment with which title(s) you're most excited to see on this list and/or which you'd most like to read.

BEST NOVEL

  • The Strangler Vine by M.J. Carter
  • The Lady From Zagreb by Philip Kerr
  • Life or Death by Michael Robotham
  • Let Me Die in His Footsteps by Lori Roy
  • Canary by Duane Swierczynski
  • Night Life by David C. Taylor


BEST FIRST NOVEL BY AN AMERICAN AUTHOR

  • Past Crimes by Glen Erik Hamilton
  • Where All Light Tends to Go by David Joy
  • Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
  • The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
  • Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm



BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL

  • The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney
  • The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter by Malcolm Mackay
  • What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan
  • Woman with a Blue Pencil by Gordon McAlpine
  • Gun Street Girl by Adrian McKinty
  • The Daughter by Jane Shemilt


BEST FACT CRIME

  • Operation Nemesis: The Assassination Plot that Avenged the Armenian Genocide by Eric Bogosian
  • Where The Bodies Were Buried: Whitey Bulger and the World That Made Him by T.J. English
  • Whipping Boy: The Forty-Year Search for My Twelve-Year-Old Bully by Allen Kurzweil
  • Forensics: What Bugs, Burns, Prints, DNA and More Tell Us About Crime by Val McDermid
  • American Pain: How a Young Felon and his Ring of Doctors Unleashed America’s Deadliest Drug Epidemic by John Temple


BEST CRITICAL/BIOGRAPHICAL

  • The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards
  • The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue by Frederick Forsyth
  • Meanwhile There Are Letters: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and Ross Macdonald by Suzanne Marrs and Tom Nolan
  • Goldeneye: Where Bond Was Born: Ian Fleming’s Jamaica by Matthew Parker
  • The Lost Detective: Becoming Dashiell Hammett by Nathan Ward

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Congratulations to all the nominees! Thank you as always for visiting WildmooBooks and good luck to you if you entered to win! 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Reading New England



I absolutely, positively could not resist this challenge! Reading more books set in New England has been my intention since I moved to Connecticut in December 2013 and this challenge will help give me some structure. Chances are good I'll slant my reading choices toward the mystery genre as that's one of my favorite reading and writing categories. I'll even try some children's books, poetry, and drama to broaden my reading horizons.

Reading New England has twelve monthly categories: the six states that make up New England, five genres, and a readalong or free choice to cap off the year.

January: New Hampshire  
February: Fiction (A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving)
March: Maine (The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett)
On my TBR
April: Poetry and Drama (Re-read some Bradstreet and Rich, try a new poet)
May: Vermont (The Secret History by Donna Tartt)
June: Nonfiction (Stone by Stone: The Magnificent History in New England's Stone Walls by Robert Thorson)
July: Massachusetts (Mystic River by Dennis Lehane, The Bostonians by Henry James)
August: Children’s Books
September: Rhode Island (The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by HP Lovecraft)
October: Speculative Fiction and Mystery
November: Connecticut (A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain), Wally Lamb
December: Readalong or free choice

I'm aiming for the Roots and Branches Level: Read at least 3-6 books from any of the challenge categories.

Head over to Emerald City Book Review to learn more about the challenge and sign up yourself.

Thanks to Lory for creating this fantastic challenge!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Bel Canto. The Book, The Opera.

Civic Opera House Lobby
 Anne Patchett's Bel Canto is one of those books that I planned to read for a long time but never got around to it. I don't know how long I've owned the paperback copy that sat on my shelf. But then sometime in the fall my Mom, who lives in Chicago, called and told me about the upcoming world premier production of Bel Canto at the Lyric Opera. She read the book when it first came out and loved it. I had been planning to visit Mom in January, so we purchased opera tickets and planned my trip around the show. I took the book of the shelf and put it on my TBR pile.


The Book
Bel Canto was my first read of 2016. (One down for #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks!) I adore this novel and it has set a high standard for this year's reading. It is a life- and humanity-affirming story, full of characters that find passion and new potential for their lives in the most unlikely of circumstances. It's a book that makes you want to be more compassionate, both to others as well as to yourself. I enjoyed how the book poked and prodded all sorts of stereotypes to reveal our shared humanity.

When I first heard about the novel I thought the premise sounded ridiculous: a group of important people are held hostage by guerrillas in a VP's mansion somewhere in Latin America. These people "find themselves" and/or fall in love due to an opera singer in their midst? For real? Don't let the description deter you. It's a brilliant novel. Beautifully written. I already want to read it again.


The Opera
I've seen several operas, but am in no way an opera aficionado. Musicals are more my bag, but I do enjoy all sorts of live theatre. My mother has experienced many more operas than I. To say we were excited about seeing this opera was an understatement.  Our phone conversations leading up to my trip to Chicago pulsed with an underlying chant of Bel Canto, Bel Canto each time we talked. Needless to say, on the designated day we settled into our seats with Great Expectations. The theatre was abuzz with anticipatory energy. And I'm not talking about the usual pre-show chatter. This was a buzz created by a bunch of book lovers who were about to see a beloved novel come to life. "I loved the book," were words that rose above the fray from every direction.

At the end of Act I Mom and I turned to each other with looks of surprised dismay. The first Act seemed a hot mess. There were so many people on the stage that sometimes we couldn't at first tell who was singing. Perhaps this was intentional? This opera was performed in eight languages (reflecting the novel) with projected English subtitles. There was a lot of chaos and confusion and that is part of the story, but I think that there could have been a stronger emotional impact and attachment for the audience with better blocking and stronger character identities. The music was repetitious and the lyrics too often seemed trite. The over-use of dissonant sounds came to seem self-indulgent.

The operatic character of Roxanne failed to come across as a world class performer with a presence and a voice that would make people stop and listen. There was no way this stage Roxanne could pull off what the novel Roxanne did. She was a frumpy non-entity. Her songs were weak. The manner in which this operatic character was both written and directed did not come close to replicating the character in the novel.

The guerrillas were meaner and more violent than in the book. The male characters all seemed rather similar. The stand out character for me was Carmen, powerfully performed by J'nai Bridges, but she didn't really come into her own until Act II.


During intermission Mom and I wondered what others thought, so I Googled a review. I was quietly reading the review to Mom so as not to annoy our neighbors when the woman next to her leaned over and asked if I was reading a review.

"Yes," I said, "I'm sorry to have disturbed you."
"No, no," she shook her head, "I'm curious what it says."

So we got to talking. It was her first opera. She was there with her teenage daughter--they both LOVED the book--and were feeling that perhaps they didn't know how to appreciate opera. My mom assured them that this was not what opera was normally like. It was a nice bonding moment for two sets of mothers and daughters, four women generations apart, all of whom loved the same book.

J'nai Bridges
Act II was a bit more focused due to two story lines coming into focus. As in the book, these are the relationships of Roxanne & Mr. Hosokowa and Carmen & Gen. The music seemed more mature in Act II.  J'nai Bridges (Carmen) and Anthony Roth Costanzo (Cesar) had powerful solos that they sang beautifully. These songs had pathos and felt more substantial and developed than others. Their solos were the musical highlights of the opera as was a humorous song sung in deep bass by Runi Brattaberg (Fyodorov).
Fyodorov

One good thing about this show was the set, which was dramatic and dynamic. It evolved to effectively convey both shifting moods and the passage of time. The set is mainly a large room with the front door of the mansion set upstage and two grand staircases flanking to the left and right. In once scene smaller rooms slide from the wings onto the stage to highlight the two love stories: Carmen and Gen in the kitchen to the lower left and Roxanne and Hosokowa in the bedroom to the upper right. The physical placement of these rooms was effective, but the scenes themselves, showing the couples getting it on, were a little too sappy. It also annoyed me that both women were partially undressed during the scene. I'm no prude. What bothered me was the blatant set up of women for the male gaze. In the book the relationships seemed more mutual and equal. Also, the song sang in the kitchen included a line that they were there among the knives--knives were a big deal in the book, so I thought this was a poor oversight. Did people who hadn't read the book wonder why the captives didn't take those knives and put up a fight? But I digress.

I think the weakness of the opera was that it attempted to follow the novel too closely. Some of the
Jimmy Lopez
main points were hit, but all the subtleties and nuances--the stuff that give the novel its soul--were missing. Overall, I am happy to have seen this production. Kudos to the Lyric for trying something different. And I will keep my radar on for future projects of composer Jimmy Lopez whose music is bold and interesting.

Least you think I'm too harsh, at the end of the show, standing in line for the woman's room, not one person said they loved the opera. No one was rehashing a favorite scene or song. Everyone was politely talking about how they loved the book. One woman, who knew people connected with the show, avoided giving her opinion by simply commenting on how hard everyone worked. I wonder if people who hadn't read the book enjoyed the opera more.

The performance we saw was recorded for PBS, so keep an eye out for it if you're interested. No air dates have been listed at this time. Some good video editing might bring out all the best moments of this production.

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