Tuesday Teasers

Miz B and Teaser Tuesdays asks you to:
Grab your current read.
Let the book fall open to a random page.
Share with us two (2) sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

My teaser comes from page 131 of Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy.  This book is a memoir of the author’s childhood, in which she had a third of her jaw removed as a result of a disfiguring surgery due to Ewing’s Sarcoma, and later suffered the pain of rejection and cruel taunts by classmates.  

“Everybody, from my mother to the characters I read about in books (who were as actual and important as real people to me), was always looking at someone else’s life and envying it, wishing to occupy it.  I wanted them to stop, to see how much they had already, how they had their health and their strength.”  

I can really relate to that and remember feeling that way last spring, when we were dealing with a serious medical issue with my older daughter.  I remember being barely tolerant of friends whining about minor problems, and wanting to scream- stop it!  You have everything and you don’t even know it!  Thankfully my daughter is much better now, and my friends no longer annoy me quite so much!

What are YOU reading this week?

Guest Review: Without a Map by Meredith Hall

Meredith Hall’s “Without a Map” is a memoir about the life of a woman who, at 16, got pregnant and was shunned by her parents, friends and community.  She gives the baby up for adoption, and cannot return to her former life.  As a result, the course of her life and her inner struggles take on a sad and unique journey. 

While Hall tells a sad, interesting story, I found myself struggling to get through the book.  Undoubtedly, she was treated abysmally by her parents and friends when she became pregnant at 16 years old.  This family and community “shunning,” along with giving up her baby for adoption, stays with her through the course of her life.  Very sad, poignant stuff.  But, Hall reminds us, practically every paragraph, over and over, that she is in pain, sad, alone, detached, etc.  Hall needs to trust her readers more, that once she explains her pain, we “get it,” and that as she continues the course of her life, her actions tell us that she is dealing with something internal that drives her on her strange path.  We don’t need to be told over and over and over again. 

There are very interesting, meaty parts of the story.  She buys a fishing boat with a boyfriend and fishes through a storm, she walks through Europe to the Middle East with no money, and she cares for her mother through a terrible terminal disease.  But these moments are dragged down by the over emphasis of her feelings.  Meredith also chooses to ignore chronology again and again, and also leaves huge holes in her story – just when we are riveted by her story, she jumps to a whole new part of her life.  For instance, one chapter ends with her in the Middle East, broke, practically naked, when she decides to go home.  The next chapter starts and she has two children.  How did she get home?  How did she meet and fall in love with the father?  What changes in this empty person’s life to open up to another human and decide to create a new life?  It is a mystery. It is like she ignores her own story to tell us again and again how she feels.

While there is some good stuff here, and Hall is a talented writer, I found this to be a tedious attempt.  I needed more meat, less gravy.

Visit Meredith Hall’s website HERE

Blogger Bio:  Elaine Legere is stay-at-home mommy and part-time marketing consultant, after years of working for Disney, Palm (aka Palm Pilot), Los Angeles Times, and Details Magazine.  She received her BA at UCLA in English Literature and an MBA from University of Colorado. She is an avid reader, loves movies, and all things outdoors.

Note from Lisa/Books on the Brain:  Elaine is a friend from my real-life book club. Thanks, Elaine, for an insightful review!

Review: Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl

Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table by Ruth Reichl is a memoir of the editor of Gourmet magazine’s childhood. I love to read, and I love to eat, so this book, combining two of my favorite things, seemed like a natural choice for me. It’s about food, yes, but it’s more about growing up in a dysfunctional home and finding comfort wherever you can.

Ruth has a complicated relationship with her manic and delusional mother, aka The Queen of Mold (“I can make a meal out of anything”). Mom brings chaos to the family with culinary disasters that include poisoning the entire guest list of her son’s engagement party with soup made from crabmeat that was left out for two days to thaw. While it smelled iffy even to her, she just added more sherry to the soup and declared it fine. Later, when guests started calling to let them know how sick they were and wondered if it had been the food, she said, “Nonsense. We all feel fine. And we ate everything!” You had to have a strong stomach to grow up in the Reichl household!

Her dysfunctional parents leave young Ruth to her own devices much of the time. A lonely Ruth finds love and affection through food preparation with other people, picking up lessons and learning to care for others while expressing herself creatively in the kitchen.

She makes apple dumplings and potato salad with a grandmother (who isn’t really her grandmother) and was later sent to boarding school in Montreal where she meets a true gourmet. The book follows her through high school (where she makes devil’s food cake for a boy, again connecting food with affection) and college (learning to make coconut bread with her roommate’s Caribbean mother) and into young adulthood, where she works at a doomed French restaurant in Detroit. She later marries Doug and has adventures and wonderful meals, the best one being on a hill in Greece. She even becomes a cook in a commune in California, where on one memorable Thanksgiving the idealistic group makes dinner entirely from supermarket discards. I worried that this meal would poison others, completing the circle with Ruth’s mom and that fateful engagement party in the beginning of the book, but Ruth’s meal turns out fine.

It was interesting to see how much the people she met and cared for influenced the way she felt about food. Throughout we see how food and relationships shaped the life of the future famous restaurant critic and editor. Food is “a way of making sense of the world” according to Ruth.

Packed with colorful characters and recipes, this is a sweet and charming memoir of Reichl’s early life. I read and enjoyed Reichl’s Garlic and Sapphires a while back, which is a memoir of her days as a restaurant critic for the NY Times. Tender at the Bone was even better. I highly recommend it for foodies and non-foodies alike.

Review: The Wishing Year by Noelle Oxenhandler

The Wishing Year by Noelle Oxenhandler is the non fictional account of an experiment in desire. Oxenhandler takes one year to explore the act of wishing- think birthday candles, genies in a bottle, a wishing well.  She focuses her desires on 3 very different  wishes- a house (after years of house rental), a man (after the end of a long marriage), and spiritual healing (after a painful separation from her spiritual community).  She decides to try “putting it out there” to see what happens. 

She doesn’t flee the country in pursuit of these things, a la Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love.   Instead she attempts, through the mysterious power of wishful thinking, to attract the things she desires into her life rather than actively seeking them out.  

In the introduction she defines what she means by “wish”- a desire that takes aim, or hope with a point- not unlike an arrow.  Her year of wishing begins on New Years Day, and her fairy godmother-like friend Carole is her mentor in this endeavor.  The book is laid out month by month, January to December. 

Does she really believe in getting what she wants through wishing?  From the beginning she has to perform “a willing suspension of disbelief” and asks herself, “If I acted as though this were true [that wishing can make things happen], would it bring about a positive change in my life?” 

A spiritual person, she is conflicted over what is ok to wish for- her Catholic upbringing and her study of Zen Buddhism as a young adult makes it difficult and somewhat guilt laden for her to ask for material things.  Through her research into the ancient human art of wishing, she soon tweaks her way of thinking and chooses to be open to the blessings of the universe.  When she wishes in the mode of the ancestors, she says, she adopts “an attitude that is both confident and humble.  I commit to doing everything within my human power to make something happen-while also recognizing that my human power is limited.”  Wishing, apparently, takes over when human knowledge and effort can carry you no further. 

Do wishes attract allies and abundance?  Or do wishes make us vulnerable to disappointment?  That is the experiment behind The Wishing Year, an experiment that surpassed Oxenhandler’s expectations.  I found it inspiring and would recommend it to anyone who has ever wished upon a star.  

I received this book through the early reviewers group at Library Thing.  It will be released on July 8, 2008.

Here is the author’s biography from Random House:  Noelle Oxenhandler is the author of two previous nonfiction books, A Grief Out of Season and The Eros of Parenthood. Her essays have appeared in many national and literary magazines, including The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, San Francisco Chronicle Magazine, Vogue, Tricycle, Parabola, Utne Reader, and O: The Oprah Magazine. She has taught in the graduate writing program at Sarah Lawrence College and is a member of the creative writing faculty at Sonoma State University in California. A practicing Buddhist for more than thirty years, Oxenhandler is the mother of a grown daughter and lives in Northern California.

Review: Loose Girl by Kerry Cohen

Desperate for attention from “boys” to give some meaning to her life, Kerry Cohen turned to sex at a young age as a way to feel worthwhile. Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity is about Cohen’s addiction to sex and male attention.

She wanted to matter to someone (anyone). Abandoned by a mother who left to follow her own dreams of becoming a doctor, Kerry and her sister (both in their young teens) are left behind to live with their pot-smoking dad. Dad tries to be cool in front of the girls’ friends, smoking pot with them and acting inappropriately with his girlfriend. Unsupervised much of the time, and with no parental guidance to speak of, some kids might start drinking, some might turn to drugs. Kerry just wanted boys.

The book is filled with sex, sex, sex, but is in no way sexy. It is one empty encounter after another. The girl had no shame; she’d sleep with anyone. She contracted crabs, genital warts, and had countless pregnancy scares. None of that really mattered, because sex allowed Kerry to feel in control momentarily. Unfortunately the feeling didn’t last long. Believing she was unworthy and incapable of any real relationship, she constantly and unsuccessfully tried to fill a bottomless pit of need.

Finally, in college, she discovered she cared about writing and enrolled in some workshops and programs that kept her engaged. She was still on the prowl for boys, but at least there was something more to her life. Her journey continued until she ultimately found love, trust and acceptance with a man. Trusting herself was more difficult.

Loose Girl will resonate with many readers. Many will feel compassion for Cohen. Many will recognize themselves or someone they are close to in Cohen’s story and perhaps learn from her experiences.

You can find Kerry Cohen’s website HERE

Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity comes out June 3, 2008.

Cohen is also the author of the YA novel, Easy.

Thanks to Trish for sending me this ARC.

What I Don’t Remember

Andilit has a wonderful blog. In a recent post she talked about the book Old Friend from Far Away by Natalie Goldberg. Goldberg is a writing teacher, and this book is about how to write memoir.

She states that first we must know how to remember, a skill I need to develop as my memory is as hole-y as swiss cheese. She gives exercises and writing prompts on how to discover forgotten memories. One such prompt is to write for 10 minutes about what you don’t remember.

What I don’t remember?? Hmmm. It’s odd how trying to think of things you don’t remember brings up a plethora of things you do. But perhaps that’s the point. Here are just a handful of things I don’t remember.

1. I don’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday, I guess because it was unimportant and I was distracted by worry over a medical procedure my daughter was having.
2. I don’t remember learning to read, although I have vivid memories of learning to write (with a purple crayon, on the walls of my bedroom).
3. I don’t remember learning to swim.. it seems I’ve always been able to do that.
4. Junior high is a blur.
5. I don’t remember the first time I held hands with a boy, but I do know who the boy was.
6. I don’t remember watching the sun rise or set for the first time ever.
7. I don’t remember the first time I smoked a cigarette, although I do remember the last time, even after many years.
8. I don’t remember the first time I held my baby brother (I was 12) but I do remember my sister coming home from the hospital (I was 2).

Memory is so random! Why do certain, often meaningless trivial things, leave an indelible impression, while other much more important memories are lost? And are they truly lost, or is memory like a computer hard drive.. the info is there even though we may no longer be able to access it (at least not without some technical assistance)?

I invite you to try this exercise and tell us what you don’t remember. Leave a link in the comments. I would especially like to tag a few favorite bloggers: Chartroose, Trish, Bookbabie, Lyndsey, and Kim. There are a couple real writers in that crowd, so the answers should be interesting.

6 Word Memoir Meme

Bookbabie tagged me for an interesting meme that is not as easy as it sounds. I had to give it quite a bit of thought. She writes:

As I read yet another book review of a memoir this weekend, my husband told me that I should write one. I said that my story would be much too short and rather boring so when I ran across the following book I decided it was just my speed. A six word memoir! Written by Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser, Not Quite What I was Expecting: Six Word Memoirs by Famous and Obscure is a compilation based on the story that Hemingway once bet ten dollars that he could sum up his life in six words. His words were- For Sale: baby shoes, never worn. There’s a video on Amazon with examples from the book, it sounds like a fun read! I’d like to start a six word memoir meme and here are the rules:

1. Write your own six word memoir

2. Post it on your blog and include a visual illustration if you’d like

3. Link to the person that tagged you in your post and to this original post if possible so we can track it as it travels across the blogosphere

4 .Tag five more blogs with links

5. And don’t forget to leave a comment on the tagged blogs with an invitation to play


Ok, I toyed with several possible answers to this. Some of the rejects are:

1. Busy mom barely holding things together.

2. Four decades went by too quickly.

3. Where the hell are my keys?

4. Stop crying and do your homework!

5. My brain functioned better before kids.

6. You want me to do WHAT?

After much thought, I landed on the following (drumroll, please):

Searching for happiness in ordinary moments.

That about sums up my life, at least the last 10 years of it as a stay at home parent.

I’m going to tag: SoftdrinkTrishStephaniePatti, and Care.

I would also be interested in knowing YOUR 6 Word Memoir, so consider yourself tagged!