Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Other peoples' lives

One of the necessities of my life is having something to read. I love good books. I cannot fall asleep without reading for 20 or 30 minutes at night. I can't travel by air without a book into which I can escape. I always have a book going. I carry them around the house, hoping for a few minutes here or there.  My daughter and son-in-law gave me a Kindle for Christmas last year. I never knew I wanted one. But, oh, I love it. I discovered I could download a Kindle app for my phone and sync it to my Kindle. Now I can read my current book on my phone while waiting for the Novocaine to kick in at the dentist's office or standing in line at the Post Office.

Somehow this year I have been on a memoir jag. Other peoples' lives. Why are they so fascinating? I don't know, but they are. I started with last year's National Book Award winner, Just Kids by Patti Smith.

Patti Smith, the iconic songwriter/singer/poet was born the same year I was. She did what I would never have had the courage or confidence to do, though it was what all us art majors of the '60s talked about doing. And perhaps that is why I was so sucked into this beautiful book. She went to New York to become an artist. There she met Robert Mapplethorpe who would become first her lover and then lifelong friend. It was a connection that lasted until Mapplethorpe's death from AIDS, but the book is really about the early years when they were "just kids" living a Bohemian life, an artist's life among the likes of Bob Dylan and Andy Warhol and Allen Ginsburg. This was before they were all famous. But it is not just an account of famous names and big adventure. It is a journey of love and struggle and passionate ideals and deep sadness at times. Told by a poet, it is a story of a time that seems almost mythic. I loved this book. I did not want it to end.

Then I read Reading my Father by Alexandra Styron.

She is the daughter of William Styron, author of The Confessions of Nat Turner and Sophie's Choice among other books. One of the most honored authors of the 20th century, Styron was the victim of crippling, devastating depression and a difficult man to live with. His daughter says, “At times querulous and taciturn, cutting and remote, melancholy when he was sober and rageful when in his cups, he inspired fear and loathing in us a good deal more often than it feels comfortable to admit.”  After his death his daughter read through all his papers, writings, letters and book drafts in an effort to better understand her father. The resulting memoir is a fascinating insight into the literary world of the 1960's and a brutal, but ultimately loving and forgiving portrait of a complex man. Beautifully written. I liked this book very much.

I got caught up in reading food memoirs. I read all of Ruth Reichl's books, which are quite good, as well as Julia Child's My Life in France, which I quite enjoyed. Then I came across Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton.

This is a wonderful book! Gabrielle Hamilton is a beautiful writer and her story is tragic and funny and at times infuriating. This is why other peoples' lives are so fascinating—because they are, well, stranger than fiction, completely unexpected and painfully human.

Right now I am reading Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. Not a memoir, but so far very engaging.

Have you read anything good lately?


  1. I loved Blood Bones and Butter but would never have picked it up (hate the title) except that it was required for a book club. But the discussion was too short!! all over in an hour - so much to say. She was enormously honest, and the book was choppy, but the images and the descriptions, and so on, were wonderful.

    I'm now reading the latest Booker prizewinner by Julian Barnes - I love his writing, and this is just superb.

    I got a Kindle a year ago and I'm a huge fan, even though I also read and buy "regular" books...but of course I'll never catch up with everything I want to read!!

  2. I am great fan of your blog.Every time i come here i see something very new.Thanks for sharing the information

  3. Loved Gabrielle Hamilton's book. Here are my latest

    "Let's take the long way home" by Gail Caldwell- exquisite story of friendship

    "Heat" by Bill Buford. Average guy gets to apprentice in Mario Batali's kitchen

    "The Devil in the Kitchen" Marco Pierre White- Life of the super star bad boy who trained many famous chefs with fear and perfection.

    Hope you enjoy...

  4. Mary Kay8:23 AM

    I have read Cutting for Stone and did enjoyed. It was a very good read. I also have a kindle and love it..never with out reading material wherever I am. I enjoy Historical fiction with out getting into ancient history.
    on another note I enjoy your blog as I am quilting/sewer too. Loved following the planning and building of the studio

  5. Not sure you can get it on Kindle but my favourite book this year has been 'The Hare with Amber Eyes' By Edmund De Waal.

  6. I loved Patti Smith's book, too. I saw her last summer in Denmark at a concert where she spoke about her relationship with Maplethorpe, and knew I had to read her book. It made me cry in several places, and made me understand how all artists share so much in passion and desire.

    I am reading another memior now - The Dirty Life - about passion for farming and organic living. I also loved Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle which is similar. Good reads, both of them.

  7. Good books! Excellent - now I have a new list to peruse. Thanks! My escapism stories are often Science Fiction/Fantasy. I'm on an L.E.Modesitt kick right now - the Imager series. I love a well-told story of any sort and sometimes (if the author is really good) will feel a bit disoriented when I put the book down. That little transition back to the world.

  8. I am traveling to Tudor England with a hunchback lawyer and now, because I like reading things of the same time period, I have the Other Boleyn Girl.

    After this I have a modern thriller and then some Scandavian mystery. I have added your picks to my list. Thank you.

  9. My goal is to read all the Pulitzer Prize novels. I recommend Gideon by Marilynne Robinson. My absolute favorite was Lonesome Dove. I dreaded reading it since I am not a fan of Westerns, but I fell in love with Augustus and cried buckets when he died.

  10. Jessica G.8:53 AM

    I have recently read "The Glass Castle" (I don't remember the author off the top of my head). It is a true story of a woman (now a journalist in NYC) who grew up with migrant, mostly homeless, dysfunctional parents. I pitch isn't sounding great, but it was rewarding, infuriating, saddening and hopeful. I highly recommend it.

  11. I've read most of the books mentioned and highly recommend "Cutting for Stone". I listen to recorded books when I sew and have several memoirs that I re-"read" with pleasure.
    "Letters of a Woman Homesteader" by Elinore Pruitt Stewart - another time, another place,a different outlook.
    "Time to be in Earnest" which covers a year in the life of (Baroness) P.D. James, author of the Adam Dalgliesh mysteries - some of my favorites.

  12. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Caleb's Crossing, Unbroken,
    A widower's Tale, Cloud Atlas, People of the Book are a few of my recent reads and favs.