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Posts Tagged ‘memoir’

  • The Shiniest Jewel: A Family Love Story by Marian Henley
  • Publisher: Springboard Press (September 15, 2008 )
  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • ISBN-10: 0446199311
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446199315
  • For the past few months I’ve been conducting an informal poll of my book-blogging friends; I hadn’t yet read a graphic novel, and wanted to get their recommendations of where to start.  It had to be a successful trial, or I was likely to continue to shun the genre.  Marian Henley’s graphic memoir, The Shiniest Jewel: A Family Love Story, was the perfect place to start, and I won’t hesitate to suggest it to anyone interested in trying the graphic format.

    The Shiniest Jewel is indeed a love story; to Henley’s adopted son, her husband, and her father.  The book begins as Henley approaches age 50, and follows her life for the next year or so.  In the opening pages, Henley realizes that although she is unsure about committing to marrying her long-term love interest (geographical distance and a 13-year age difference are her concerns), she is certain that she wishes to become a mother.

    In her memoir, Henley shares the joys and disappointments that she encounters along the way to the international adoption of her son, William.  She meets setbacks and stonewalls, yet she perseveres.  In tandem to the story of William’s adoption is the tale of the declining health of her father, Bill.  Henley recalls the sacrifices her father has made throughout his life, for his friends and for his family.  Bill is a man of few words, but “still waters run deep”, as deep as his love for Henley and her growing family.  Sitting by his sickbed, Henley recalls “We didn’t talk much, but then again … we never had.  It had taken me years to understand that his silence was not condemnation.”

    Henley shares her memoir in the graphic format with narration, dialogue bubbles and clever asides.  The accompanying drawings are sweet and poignant, illustrating the emotional rollercoaster Henley rode as she journeyed to complete her family.  I enjoyed my first foray into reading full-length graphic works!  The Shiniest Jewel is a jewel itself, and would be an appropriate and appreciated gift for an adoptive family.

    Marian Henley is the creator of the Maxine! syndicated weekly comic strips.  She previously published the graphic novel Maxine! and a collection of comic strips called Laughing Gas: The Best of Maxine.  More information about Henley and her work can be found at her website

    Springboard Press is part of the Hachette Book Group; their mission is “to publish quality prescriptive and narrative nonfiction books for … Baby Boomers who are in search of inspiration, entertainment, and reinvention in their lives. … [T]hese books … range from memoir and popular culture to beauty, well-being, inspiration, relationships, and career.”  General non-fiction appeals to me, I have a strong interest in personal memoir, and who can argue with well-being, inspiration and healthy relationships?!?  I’ll look forward to reading other quality books from Springboard (although I’ll stamp my feet and say I was born six months too late to be considered a baby boomer!)

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  • The Wishing Year by Noelle Oxenhandler
  • Publisher: Random House (July 8, 2008 )
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • ISBN-10: 1400064856
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400064854
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    • Be careful what you wish for
    • Wishful thinking
    • If wishes were horses, beggars would ride

     

    These expressions carry a sense of scorn toward the act of wishing, as if wishing is something that should be reserved for children blowing out birthday candles or tossing shiny pennies into a fountain.  But is wishing really limited to the realm of children?  Is there a particular way we can make a wish that will propel it toward fruition?  Can an educated adult make wishes, with any certainty that they will be fulfilled?

     

    Noelle Oxenhandler sets out to find the answers to these questions in The Wishing Year, her memoir of a calendar year in which she wished for three very specific things: a house, a significant love, and spiritual healing. 

     

    Oxenhandler states in the opening pages of the book that she is a skeptic about the power of wishing.  She overcomes her skepticism, and her skills as a researcher shine as she takes on the task of methodical reading, interviews, site visits and analysis of the methods of people who make earnest wishes.

     

    Being quite a skeptic myself, I was unwilling to engage in the various rituals of wishing that Oxenhandler experimented with, such as the belief that a wish of eight one-syllable words is most effective, or that a Sacagawea coin can make a wart disappear.  She, however, is successfully able to connect these rituals of today with the ceremonies of the ancient  people, showing the reader that the process of wishing has always been with us.

     

    Rather than engage in the research passages of the book, I was tremendously taken with personal narrative Oxenhandler shares.  She writes in the present tense, drawing us into her life, as we get to know her, her friends and colleagues, and various personalities she encounters on her quest.  She is forthcoming with her emotions as the year progresses, from the positive energy she feels as her wishes move forward, to the sadness that overcomes her as she watches helplessly as a friend becomes ill and her own mother’s health falters.

     

    At the end of The Wishing Year, Oxenhandler concludes that her experiment has been a success:  she has gained greater self knowledge and tapped the power of wishing to bring herself to a new stage in her life.  I found her life and lifestyle interesting and kept routing for her to attain her wishes.  I agree with Oxenhandler that no harm can come of believing in the power of wishing; a positive outlook combined with common sense will help you reach your goals, she has inspired me to project this into my own life. 

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  • Admit One:  A Journey Into Film by Emmett James
  • Publisher: Wheatmark (January 15, 2008 )
  • Hardcover: 220 pages
  • ISBN-10: 1587369141
  • ISBN-13: 978-1587369148
  • SheIsTooFondOfBooks Rating:  3 1/2 stars
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    Emmet James spent his childhood in a small town near London, creating mischief and pulling pranks while he fantasized about becoming a Hollywood actor.   In the introduction to his memoir Admit One: A Journey into Film, he explains that the “environment, mood, personal history and circumstances in which a person sees a film changes that film in a necessary, unique and exciting way.  It creates a whole new story – a living, breathing film.  The film of one’s life.” 

    Thus, James shows us the film of his life, illustrating various events from childhood until the present, using a specific film as metaphor in each chapter.  Reminiscing about Star Wars Episode IV leads to a story about the must-have movie tie-in toy of the Christmas season, and how James responded to the department store Santa who disappointed him; he discovers that his mother shows an uncanny resemblance to Margaret Hamilton’s wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz; a viewing of ET leads James to rig up his bike to more efficiently transport aliens.  As James grows older, the connections become even more intriguing – after a particular distasteful brush with juvenile delinquency, his parents move the family to the country, to a haunted house straight out of The Amityville Horror.  The tales continue as James finally comes to America to pursue his acting dream.

     

    Admit One is a quick enjoyable read, within a unique framework.  Aside from a bit of unnecessary crass language and an oddly angry letter addressed to Steven Seagal, I found it pleasantly entertaining.  James neatly connects the various films to his personal narrative without stretching the relationship. The writing is witty and colorful, including many humorous anecdotes and descriptions.  I could imagine a narrator doing a voice-over in a 1930s gangster movie as I read “the only things on the girls were the eyes of every man around them.”

     

    It is a good selection for a reading group during the summer months when seeking a “lighter” book.  Aside from James’ personal story, it leads the way to discussion about our personal connections with movies, and the comparison of our childhood dreams to the reality of our adult lives.

    James concludes with another truth, illustrated within the pages of his book, “film holds the power to alter a person’s thinking, juxtaposing the huge world and one’s small place in it.”  It seems this talented actor and writer has found his place in the world.

     

     

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  • Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction by David Sheff
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Co (February 26, 2008 )
  • Hardcover: 326 pages
  • ISBN-10: 0618683356
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618683352
  • SheIsTooFondOfBooks Rating:  5 Stars
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    David Sheff’s memoir Beautiful Boy:  A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction is an honest first-person account of Sheff’s response to his son Nic, who has become addicted to methamphetamines.  The book chronicles the hopes and disappointments that Sheff experiences over a number of years as he discovers that Nic is using drugs, the extent to which he is using them, and the power with which they have taken over his life. 

     

     
    Sheff seamlessly moves between the present and the past.  In the present, as Nic journeys in and out of sobriety, Sheff struggles with guilt as he tries to balance his desire to help Nic with his need to keep the rest of his family safe.  There are parts of this narrative that are written in short staccato sentences; the reader feels the urgency and desperation in Sheff’s thoughts.  When Sheff revisits the past, we get a more complete picture of Sheff’s earlier years, Nic’s youth and their family life; the memories are for the most part happy and Sheff shares them with great detail. 

     

     

     
    Sheff seamlessly moves between the present and the past.  In the present, as Nic journeys in and out of sobriety, Sheff struggles with guilt as he tries to balance his desire to help Nic with his need to keep the rest of his family safe.  There are parts of this narrative that are written in short staccato sentences; the reader feels the urgency and desperation in Sheff’s thoughts.  When Sheff revisits the past, we get a more complete picture of Sheff’s earlier years, Nic’s youth and their family life; the memories are for the most part happy and Sheff shares them with great detail. 

     

     

     
    Sheff seamlessly moves between the present and the past.  In the present, as Nic journeys in and out of sobriety, Sheff struggles with guilt as he tries to balance his desire to help Nic with his need to keep the rest of his family safe.  There are parts of this narrative that are written in short staccato sentences; the reader feels the urgency and desperation in Sheff’s thoughts.  When Sheff revisits the past, we get a more complete picture of Sheff’s earlier years, Nic’s youth and their family life; the memories are for the most part happy and Sheff shares them with great detail. 

     

     

     
    Sheff seamlessly moves between the present and the past.  In the present, as Nic journeys in and out of sobriety, Sheff struggles with guilt as he tries to balance his desire to help Nic with his need to keep the rest of his family safe.  There are parts of this narrative that are written in short staccato sentences; the reader feels the urgency and desperation in Sheff’s thoughts.  When Sheff revisits the past, we get a more complete picture of Sheff’s earlier years, Nic’s youth and their family life; the memories are for the most part happy and Sheff shares them with great detail. 

     

     
    Sheff seamlessly moves between the present and the past.  In the present, as Nic journeys in and out of sobriety, Sheff struggles with guilt as he tries to balance his desire to help Nic with his need to keep the rest of his family safe.  There are parts of this narrative that are written in short staccato sentences; the reader feels the urgency and desperation in Sheff’s thoughts.  When Sheff revisits the past, we get a more complete picture of Sheff’s earlier years, Nic’s youth and their family life; the memories are for the most part happy and Sheff shares them with great detail. 

     

     

     

    Sheff’s skill as a researcher and journalist is apparent as he artfully weaves technical research, interviews and expert opinions within the story he tells.  The information about the biological basis for compulsive behavior and addiction is written in such a way that a layperson can understand it.  The genetic tendency toward addiction is not offered as an excuse, rather it is one component of Nic’s journey.

    David Sheff tells *his* story, respecting the line between his life and the addict’s; Beautiful Boy is a compelling read. 

    (Reading Beautiful Boy made me curious about Nic’s own perspective on his addiction.  Have you read his memoir, Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines?  Should I add it to my wishlist?  Please leave me a comment with your input

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