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Category Archives: memoir

Burma Chronicles

Burma-ChroniclesAnother graphic memoir by Guy Delisle, Burma Chronicles presents the stories of what Delisle experienced when living for a year in Myanmar a.k.a. Burma while his wife was stationed there for Médecines sans Frontier.  He melts in the humidity, tries to see Nobel Peace Prize Winner Aung San Suu Kyi’s home, drinks too much at expat parties, visits historic temples, gets lost and confused, which is a normal part of living overseas.

Like his previous work Pyongyang, I got caught up in his stories and appreciated his self-deprecating, wry humor. His illustrations captured the place while expressing his style. When his air conditioning broke, I felt like sweating. When none of his animation students had done their homework, I nodded in complete understanding.19_burmacomic_1_lg

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Posted by on July 5, 2018 in book review, graphic memoir, memoir, postaweek

 

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How to Fail at Everything and Still Win Big

Screen Shot 2018-03-18 at 3.09.01 PMScott Adams’ book How to Fail at Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life feels like a friendly mentor sharing tips for success and life experiences. The tone is conversational and the content wise and helpful.

Adams describes how he formed habits that aided his success. He didn’t grow up with parents who had stellar professional careers. In fact, no one in his hometown did. He didn’t have a checklist of goals for year 5, 10, 15. Actually, Adams asserts that “goals are for losers.” Instead, he advocates systems. When you have a goal, most of the time you’re dissatisfied as you’re not there yet. For a short time you glory in achieving a goal or are bummed about failing. Then you’ll probably find a new goal and will return to feeling insufficient. Most of the time, you sure aren’t riding high.

With systems, like being active or learning as much as one can, most of the time you’re in the zone you want to be in. Eventually, this sort of broader challenge will result in the success a goal promises, but along the way, it’s easier to stay positive.

Adams did not have an easy way to the top. No nepotism was available and he wasn’t stellar at any of his corporate jobs. In fact, he admits, he isn’t an excellent artist or masterful writer, but he is good enough. He advises acquiring as many skills as you can because the more skills you have that put you in the competent range, the better. (You need to be able to do these things in a job, but you don’t have to be among the 1% of those in your field.)

I found Adams’ suggestions made sense and are something I’ll apply. Also, I thought the chapters where he chronicles how he had a rare voice condition that made conversation impossible and thereby hurt his speech-giving career, authentic and helpful as far as coping and searching for a solution to a problem that experts say has none was illustrative and heroic.

The book addresses diet and fitness as well as career success. If you’ve got no energy or are sick are you really that successful? Adams is clear that he’s not a doctor or dietician and that his approach to systems rather than goals worked for him. He doesn’t tell you what you should eat or what activities you need to do. Instead he offers new ways of thinking about your daily diet and fitness routines.

Whether you’re starting out or midway through your career, Scott Adam’s How to Fail at Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life is worth a read.

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2018 in book review, contemporary, memoir, non-fiction, postaweek

 

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Growing Up with a City

51NX1TX317L._SY291_BO1,204,203,200_QL40_It’s fitting that I publish my review of Louise de Koven Bowen’s Growing up with a City on International Women’s Day. Bowen was a natural leader and shaped civic life in the late 19th and early 20th century in Chicago. In fact she after women got the vote in the 20’s Republicans wanted Bowen to run for mayor, but she declined. (Remember that our parties’ philosophies have shifted through the decades.) I was blown away that back then having a woman run for a major office was even considered.

Bowen’s memoir begins with her family history. Her grandparents were some of Chicago’s first white settlers. Her courageous, wise grandmother frequently acted as a negotiator or peacekeeper with the native Americans near Fort Dearborn.

As a girl Bowen frequently had delusions of grandeur or desires for high social status. She competed with a visiting cousin from New York, whose lifestyle seemed more aristocratic.and fashionable. To make her family, which was plenty stylish and “couth” look better off, she used her own money to buy a smart uniform for her coachman and insisted on calling him Bernard rather than Barney, which he went by. Barney complied with most of the girl’s requests for finery but drew the line when 12 year old Louise suggested he call her Louise rather than her nick name Lulu.

Bowen was educated at a seminary in town, but upon completion felt her education incomplete. Thus the girl made a decision to read the encyclopedia to round out her knowledge base. She was wise enough to know that while that gave her a broad understanding, it didn’t offer much depth.

As an adult, Bowen was tapped to preside over hospital boards and civic organizations. Her book describes her successes and challenges in hospital management and affecting policy in the juvenile justice system and other causes. Bowen worked at Hull House with Jane Addams and offers insight into Addams’ leadership and beliefs.

Louise Dekoven Bown_courtesy Wkgn Park Dist P4353

With children attending her camp

Bowen saw the need for poor children to have an experience in the country and opened a summer camp for them. She pioneered social work and public policy. She spoke to massive crowds and compelled powerful men to do the right thing. She’s one of many civic leaders who’s gone unsung.

Reading Growing Up with a City, I learned a lot about philanthropy and life in the Gilded Age. I was impressed by how much more connected a philanthropist would be back then compared to now. Bowen would regularly walk through the impoverished neighborhoods to get a real feel for the hardships. When a woman , who’s husband had deserted her, came to a relief organization for help, immediate aid was given for the most pressing needs and then a search for the husband would take place. If at all possible the man was brought back to the family to make him take responsibility. I realize that’s not a cure-all, but we don’t even try such action. (We do try to find “deadbeat dads” and make them pay up, but that’s it.)

As is usually the case, reading a memoir written during an era rid me of silly notions our society projects on to the past. For example, I thought that surely after decades of fighting for the vote at least 50% if not a big majority of women would vote. That wasn’t the case at all. 

Growing Up with a City was a fascinating read that deepened my understanding not just of Chicago history but of the Gilded Age as a whole. I was amazed at all one woman could accomplish.

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2018 in 19th Century, book review, history, memoir

 

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Fetch

fetch

I want to know more about graphic novels and non-fiction, so I checked out Nichole George’s Fetch: How a Bad Dog Brought Me Home. Reading this story of George’s life with her ill behaved, but loyal and interesting dog, Beija. When she was a teen, Georges got Beija from a shelter. Beija had been abused and came with a lot of sensitivities. She’d bite people who bent down to pet her. She didn’t like men, and on and on. Originally, George’s bought the dog for a boyfriend, but his mother said “no” to this gift so Beija becomes George’s dog, sometimes shared with her boyfriend while they’re together.

The story is a chronicle of George’s life as she moves in with her boyfriend, finishes high school, moves out on her own with him and continues to move in search of a home where she and her dog can find peace and understanding.

I found the book interesting and Beija and Georges interesting and likable. I did think the ending dragged a bit, but the story was entertaining and endearing.

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2018 in book review, graphic memoir, memoir

 

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Hillbilly Elegy

hillbilly

J.D. Vance’s memoir Hillbilly Elegy takes readers to Kentucky and Southwest Ohio, home of the hillbillies, the real one’s who make the Clampetts look like straight-arrows. Vance explains his family history starting with his grandparents, Mamaw and Papaw, who like many in their hometown left Kentucky in search of a more stable life starting with a well-paying job in the steel industry. Economically, the family gains security.

However, alcoholism, verbal abuse and other destructive behavior held back Vance’s family. Papaw’s drinking and Mamaw’s outlandish responses to it caused their divorce. Though his grandparents always provided J.D. and his sister with the stability their mother, a single mom with a string of boyfriends and husbands, couldn’t provide.

He shows the hillbilly culture with all its highs and lows. The loyalty and chutzpah on the one hand and the lack of structure, financial and social capital on the other. Vance is candid about his mother’s drug use and series of boyfriends and husbands, about his grandmother’s temper and outbursts, about his sister’s responsibility and life choices. All along he explains how he thought about his family and his own successes and failures.

Vance also shares research that helped him understand the sociology and psychology which had been done about his culture. He shares his thoughts on what policies could help such at risk families and where personal responsibility or tough love are the only answers.

Vance now is a big success with a good marriage and good job in California. He struggled growing up so much so that it’s a miracle he didn’t wind up dropping out of school and dealing drugs. Many times when Vance was stuck with a bad situation he chose a great option, all things considered.

It’s a fascinating read and it belongs near the top of any policymaker’s To Be Read List. My only criticism was that the end could have moved more swiftly. The parts where he goes into statistics and research could be more concise and more graceful. These are minor points.

I just learned that Ron Howard is making a film based on Hillbilly Elegy. Vance’s life is getting better and better.

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2018 in fiction, memoir, non-fiction

 

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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 sauteéd 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.

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

 

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