Category Archives: memoir

Some Girls: My Life in a Harem

some girlsJillian Lauren‘s memoir, Some Girls: My Life in a Harem takes readers from the world of starving artists/escorts in New York to the palace and yachts of Brunei. A fascinating, witty read, Some Girls chronicles Lauren’s life through the before, during and after of her time as a party girl/concubine for Prince Robin (that’s his English name).

Lauren candidly shares her feelings and background with objectivity admitting when she’s conned herself vis-a-vis her family, birth mother, drinking, neuroses, boyfriends, jobs and time in the surreal world of royals in Brunei. Smart and funny, the book is more than a tell all though it doesn’t shy away from relating the seamy side of the machinations and competition between the girls from America, Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore as they vie for a handsome Prince, who’s married (with 2 wives), cold, manipulative and far from charming.

FYI – It all starts with an offer of $20,000 for two weeks of partying, smiling and pleasing.

Thanks to whoever left this book in the teachers’ book collection.

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Posted by on September 22, 2013 in contemporary, memoir


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Lost on Planet China

lost china

After reading J. Maarten Troost’s Lost on Planet China: The Strange and True Story of One Man’s Attempt to Understand the World’s Most Mystifying Nation Or How He Became Comfortable Eating Live Squid, I’m putting his earlier books at the top of my “to read list.”

When Troost and his wife outgrow their home in California, they consider moving to China. But first Troost feels the need to investigate. Would China be the place to bring up his two boys? Thus he sets off on what must have been months of travel all around the Middle Kingdom.

Soon after arriving in polluted Beijing, it’s clear that Troost isn’t exposing his sons to the PM 2.5 laced smog that passes for air in China. No. He’s a good father.

Yet he’s also a traveler and he wants to see what makes this empire tick. So he travels through China stopping in Tai an, Qingdao, Nanjing, Shanghai, Tibet, Chengdu and many other exotic, perplexing, fascinating, crowded, polluted (and less so in a few, a very few instances) cities. All the while Troost delights with his wit, perception and insight. Here’s a sample of his prose describing a trip to a traditional market;

And then, as if we were lost in some grim Humane Society nightmare, we began to wander past stalls selling frogs, chickens, eels, turtles, cats, scorpions –big and small- – dogs in cages, ducks in bags, and snakes in bowls. There were 2,000 stalls in this market, and this, apparently, was where Noah’s Ark unloaded its cargo. If you were planning a dinner party and looking to tickle your guests’ palate with a delicately prepared Cobra heart, perhaps followed by some bunny soup and saute├ęd puppy, the Qingping Market is for you.

Now there is some wit and exaggeration, so if you’re looking for a literary journey with a stodgy, politically correct anthropologist, this book isn’t for you, but I’d rather travel with Troost than a disciple of Margaret Mead.

Troost experiences the full China – the majesty of the Forbidden City, come ons from the prostitutes, the cute pandas, the karaoke on the Yangste River Cruise, the constant haggling, the bandit taxi drivers, the expat pot heads in Yunnan, the cheerful Tibetans, and the hordes who’ll knock down their great grandmother to get to their assigned train seat.

He weaves in history and politics with a light touch that makes it memorable and interesting. You’ll learn a lot about bargaining and patience on the road from Troost.


Posted by on March 14, 2013 in contemporary, memoir, Travel Writing


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Beyond Ricci, a Terrific Digital Library

Boston College has put together an outstanding digital library for scholars and curious Sinophiles consisting of information on Jesuits in China from the 15th century to the 18th. Beyond Ricci contains slide shows and background information to acquaint readers with the knowledge, key people and their perceptions of the places they experienced in China and Thibet (sic).

To dig deeper you can view, scans of the actual rare book collection. They have atlases, narratives, history books and technical books, which you can view in a variety of options. The text can be searched but as the site points out the searches aren’t perfect since the project lacked the fortune it would cost to code every word so that the old S’s read as S’s rather than F’s and such.

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Posted by on September 25, 2012 in book lovers, Christianity, history, memoir, Religion


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What a difference

From the ethernet archives:

Well, I think I’m in love. I have been impressed with Barack Obama since he ran for Senator of Illinois. Reading “Audacity of Hope” convinced me of his character, intelligence, perspicacity, eloquence and his ability to look at several sides of a problem. His background living in the US and Indonesia, working in grassroots community development, attending law school, and balancing a family are described in a reflective, intelligent, occasionally witty manner. He owns up to shortcomings, personal and national. He seems to be able to address the concerns of some conservative citizens, such as the breakdown of the family, and to debate with respect and intelligence. I think he can win in 2008. At least that’s my hope.

By the way, my cousin Meaghan quit her job at the DCCC to work for him in Chicago. I’ll have to track her down and find out what she’s doing.

Now I feel the biggest change was to my opinion of Obama. I still see him as an eloquent, intelligent man, but I also see him as a tepid leader. I’m disappointed because he has prioritized politics over leadership. I hoped for more, for better.

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Posted by on November 20, 2011 in memoir, non-fiction


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The Glass Castle

Bridget’s review of this book impressed me and then when I got home in June my mother was praising it so I had to read it.


I vaguely remember seeing the author on a talk show describing her shame of having homeless parents who were impossible to help. Reading The Glass Castle filled in the picture of dysfunctional, crazy (literally-IMHO), whimsical parents, and resourceful, brave kids.

Jeannette Walls was one of four children. Her parents were drifters, who flouted conventions to the extreme and to the detriment and danger of their family. (Really they’re lucky all the kids survived.) The father believes he’ll invent a way to extract gold from rocks or invent something that’ll make coal burning more effective and cheap. The mother has a teaching certificate, but really wants to paint. If the world could just appreciate their hidden “genius” seems to be their hope.

I try to reconcile or juggle idealism and pragmatics. This pair had no concept of the practical. Thus the family lives in one dilapidated home after another complete with leaks, bugs, mold, rotting wood, you name it. Sometimes there’s food, often not, so the kids have to forage through garbage cans to eat. Occasionally the mother ate food that she’d secretively hidden from the kids.

The father’s drinking, gambling and visits to brothels further hurt the family. He constantly took money from them to carouse, money the kids earned from odd jobs and babysitting that they tried to save so they could one day escape.

All suggestions Jeanette and her siblings made to better things were rejected. All complaints about the lack of heat or food or clothing were met with ridiculous urgings to be more positive or creative.

Early in the book I thought this family was like Paul ‘s of Mountain over Mountain. His father sold their house and moved the family into a school bus (parents and four kids). Wrong. Those parents were just colorful. The kids always had food and some stability.

Here the parents are a constant “challenge” (what a euphemism) for the children. The one thing they gave them was a love for reading and respect for knowledge so that the three oldest were able to use that to succeed.

As I read I soon went from just thinking “what a crazy family” to “how can people do this to their children?” I felt real indignation. The mother brushed off Jeannette’s report of how her uncle tried to molest her and the father used her sexuality to gain a gambling advantage. When confronted by Jeannette after that episode, he shrugged it off saying he knew she could handle herself with the scumbag gambler. Jeanette was still in middle school at the time. I often had to ask myself as I read, “Isn’t she just 10? or 12?”

While this is a chronicle of abuse, it also shows the strength and determination of the three oldest kids who could band together and survive this horrid parenting that was often wrapped in a free-spirited joy of life by people who believed their own PR.

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Posted by on July 12, 2011 in contemporary, memoir


The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

Bridget’s Review

Wow! Read this book!

My mom recommended this book to me a few months ago and a woman on a plane next to me told me that she had just finished it and could not get it out of her mind.

I read it in two days.

In a remarkably matter of fact yet connected voice, Jeannette Walls details her childhood. As the child of a brilliant alcoholic father and an artistic irresponsible mother, Walls suffered extreme deprivation. But for all that, she never whines or blames and she emerges with a remarkable lack of anger.

I was often angry with Walls’ parents but I was left marveling at the love this family felt for each other through it all.

While the book itself does not include a reading group guide, I think it would stimulate a lively book club discussion.

Try the Book Browse reading group guide.

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Posted by on July 9, 2011 in contemporary, memoir, non-fiction


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Jean Fritz’ Homesick describes her childhood in China during the 20’s around the time of the first revolution. It’s funny, perceptive and touching. She’s a spirited girl of 9 or 10 years old who likes some aspects of life in China, but not all. I loved how honest and real her writing was. This book is geared to young readers, but appeals to all because she doesn’t sugarcoat things or spare her readers from the hardship life can throw at us. She weaves the history in so that it doesn’t come across as pendantic, rather it’s just natural.

I wanted to read more. That’s the sign of a good book.

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Posted by on March 28, 2011 in memoir