Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created here at The Broke and the Bookish. This feature was created because we are particularly fond of lists here at The Broke and the Bookish. We’d love to share our lists with other bookish folks and would LOVE to see your top ten lists!
Top Ten Memoirs I Can’t Believe I Haven’t Read
1. Journey into the Whirlwindby Evgenia Ginzburg: A loyal Communist Party member in the late 1930s, Evegina was arrested on false charges and spent 18 years in Stalin labor camps, two of them in solitary confinement.
2. Wild Swans: Three Daughters of Chinaby Jung Chang: Chang tells the story of her grandmother, a war lord’s concubine, her mother, a member of the Communist elite during the Cultural Revolution, and herself.
3. A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor: The first in a trilogy, A Time of Gifts is a narration of the first part of a journey the author took as an 18-year-old in 1933, walking from Holland to Constantinople.
4. Tomorrow to Be Brave by Susan Travers: Susan Travers is the only woman to ever serve in the French Foreign Legion; the book takes us from her childhood in England, to her work in North Africa during World War II.
5. Hands of My Father by Myron Uhlberg: Myron Uhlberg recounts his childhood of being the hearing of son of death parents in 1940s Brooklyn.
6. Heart in the Right Place by Carolyn Jourdan: An attorney on Capital Hill, Jourdan returns home to the mountains of Tennessee when her mother has a heart attack and agrees to fill in as her father’s receptionist at his small private practice while her mother recovers.
7. Gweilo by Martin Booth: Booth writes of his childhood growing up in 1950s Hong Kong to American parents.
8. Swimming with Orca by Ingrid Visser: Visser relates her work experiences and the personal transformation she undergoes while studying wild orca.
9. The Parrot Who Owns Me by Joanna Burger: An ornithologist, Burger adopts a 30-year-old parrot named Tiko and embarks on a strange but ultimately rewarding relationship.
10. Little Heathens by Mildred Armstrong: Armstrong recounts growing up on her grandparents’ Iowa farm during the Great Depression.
Title:Ireland Unhinged: Encounters with a Wildly Changing Country
Author: David Monagan
In 2000, David and his family- his wife, Jamie, and three children, Laura, Harris, and Owen- are living in rural Connecticut. The winters are cold and the family doesn’t live near neighbors; they enjoy the rural lifestyle but they keenly feel a lack of community. As David and Jamie begin middle-age, the take stock of their family, their jobs, and their town and decide that they would like a change. Both descendant from Irish immigrants to America, they sell their home, say goodbye the America, and move to Cork, Ireland. The Monagans arrive in Ireland at a unique time; they arrive early enough to benefit from the Ireland’s economic boom- the Celtic Tiger explosion where high-rises and luxury health spas are springing up right and left and roads where every third car is an SUV- and stay long enough to be hit hard by country’s catastrophic collapse of the economic, caused in part by dishonest bankers, corrupt politicians, and an undiversified economy that relied almost completely on the investments of foreign property developers. As a foreigner who chose to make Ireland his home, Monagan offers a unique perspective of life there during the country’s current struggles.
This is another one of those books that I came across randomly at work. The cover was what made me pull this one off the shelves, which I know is technically not what you’re supposed to do, but come on, look at the cover! If walking by that doesn’t get your attention, then I don’t know what will. Anyway, I scanned the summary and grabbed it. But when it got time to settle down and actually read the book, I suddenly wasn’t so sure. I had never heard of Monagan and the contents of the inside flap didn’t fill me with confidence (which doesn’t necessarily mean anything, as I find I more often than not hate most books summaries). Luckily, I was quickly reassured by the second paragraph that I had made a good choice and that the cover did, in fact, match the inside when I came across this lovely gem:
“Other people came to Ireland for a week or two, unlimbered their bank cards, got drunk in a castle, bashed golf balls through the rain, then followed their post cards home to reality: the office, the landscaping business, the spreadsheets, the lawsuits in L.A. or London… not me.”
And then Monagan goes on to describe the afternoon he goes to an art exhibition in the Church of Ireland Cork Cathedral , gets roped into acting a bartender distributing the free wine, and gets thrown out with the rest when the bishop finally has enough of the rowdy, 200+, drunk Catholics- a surprisingly large portion of which belonged to the local homeless population- who had come more for the free drink then the free art.
And so Ireland Unhinged continues. Monagan chronicles daily family life in Cork: his writer’s block, his daughter’s troubles adjusting to her first year at Trinity, and his family’s new dream– a life in the Irish countryside which, when finally realized after a long search, brings its own set of troubles. Namely: slugs that completely destroy their newly inherited vegetable gardens and a dog that so fully abandons them on arriving in the country that they eventually see him being walked regularly in the morning around town by a neighbor.
But Monagan doesn’t just stick to his family life. He also travels the country, detailing the frenzied days of Ireland’s economic renewal (who knew that the Irish suburban family’s must have’s in the early 2000s were a large trampoline in the backyard, a bouncy castle for First Communion celebrations, and of course the quintessential SUV?) and the aftermath of the total economic collapse. He tracks down the side of the family that didn’t immigrate to America, dines with a modern-day white witch, drinks in many, many pubs, tours Northern Ireland, and travels to Dublin in an effort to find out how the economy could have fallen so sharply, so quickly, and so disastrously. While I admit that I preferred the parts of the book that dealt with Monagan and his family, the entire read was engaging and lively. When exposing the bankers and politicians who doomed the economy through their unscrupulous, and frankly illegal, behavior he also parallels how his own life is affected by the downfall; life in the little village of Ballyduff goes from idyllic to depressing, with the local pub and hardware store, the cornerstones of the community, closing.
And while I believe that Monagan’s position of outsider gives him a unique and valuable perspective of modern Ireland, I also found it amusing just how Irish he had become after living there for over a decade. He went to so many pubs while traveling and while at home, that I found it almost a bit ridiculous- and this is from someone who lived in England for a year and was constantly going to pubs for a chat for an afternoon meal. His disgust and confusion on seeing the Saint Patrick Day’s celebrations in Chicago was also amusing and revealing. While life has certainly become more difficult for Monagan and his family with the economic downturn, they only very briefly think about moving back to New England. Ireland is the home they chose and they are staying, no matter which way the wind blows.
This was a very solid find for me. Although some of the people Monagan talked to I found more interesting than others, I was never bored. I think I enjoyed this book as much as I did because I went to Ireland for a bit four years ago. I knew the economy had stalled but at the time I hadn’t realized just how bad it was. And my God! The miles and miles and miles of suburban hell the bus went through to take us into Dublin from where we were staying was astounding. I never in my life saw such a huge expanse of suburbia, literally thousands upon thousands of houses, virtually identical and side by side with no end in sight. It was truly horrible and I hope I never see anything like that again.
Monagan has written two books previously about Ireland, but as I read this one, I don’t think I will read them; by reading Ireland Unhinged I already know the latest goings-on of his family in Ireland, at least up til 2010. If I come across a newer book of his in the future, I would be very happy to pick it up and see how he and his adopted home are faring.
Lucy Knisley grew up a daughter of two self-professed foodies. From her very early years in New York City, to her childhood in rural upstate New York, raising chickens and helping out at her mom’s catered events, to college in Chicago and travels abroad, Knisley’s life was shaped and enriched by food. Relish is a love letter not only to her favorite meals and recipes, but a love letter to the way food played a part in her most important and cherished memories.
I thought this graphic memoir was very cute. The style of the illustrations was colorful and fun but not so cartoony that I could forget that the book was a memoir. I also liked the way the book was structured; each chapter was a separate memory Knisley experienced where food played a major role. At the end of each chapter she gave us a drawn recipe, some of which sounded really good. As we went through the book and Knsiley’s life it was very easy to appreciate how central a part food played in the lives’ of her parents and hers’. With a mother who owns a catering business and a father whose hobby is eating at five-star restaurants, Knisley’s upbringing was influenced by food in a way and manner much different then my own. Although I have memories of special dinners and celebrations where food played a big role and although we have several ‘family’ recipes and meals that I am fond of and hold a special place in my heart, I can’t look back at my life and relate my most poignant memories through food. Knisely can and does to wonderful effect in this book. I thought it was interesting to see just how a certain lifestyle or manner of upbringing can shape the lens through which you view and think about the events of your life.
Some of the chapters in the book I did care for more than others- the Mexico trip and the chapter about her leaving home and attending college in Chicago were my favorites, I think. But I did enjoy the whole book and it made for a nice afternoon of reading. That being said, that’s all the book was for me: nice. I don’t read many graphic novels, much less graphic memoirs, and this was a nice change of pace and I’m happy to have read it. I would recommend to those looking to step into reading graphic memoirs or who enjoy reading about food but I won’t be singing its’ praises from the nearest cafe’s rooftop. Knisley wrote and had published a previous graphic memoir, French Milk, which is about six weeks she spent in Paris, along with a couple of other works. I had heard of French Milk before but I hadn’t realized it was by the same person as Relish. If I see it or any of her other works while browsing the shelves at the library I think I would be inclined to pick it up and save it for a rainy afternoon but I don’t think I will go out actively looking for them.
That said, I do want to read more graphic memoirs! I’ve read Maus which I thought was very powerful and Persepolis which I also enjoyed but that’s about it. I’ve heard good things about Stiches by David Small, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, and Can’t We Talk About Something a Little More Pleasant by Rox Chast, which people have been requesting at the library a lot and I’ve been sneaking a random page or two when discharging it. Oh, and Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh. But besides those, I don’t have anymore on my mental ‘Graphic Memoirs To Eventually Read List.’
Can anyone recommend me some good graphic memoirs? What’s your favorite graphic novel?
So it’s now officially more than halfway through the first month of 2015 and I still have a backlog of reviews from the old year. This is just a short post of the last seven books of the year I read and some very quick thoughts on them. This lot was a bit of a mixed bag, some great and some not-so-great. Here, have some pictures of the book covers:
Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble by Marilyn Johnson: I read this book all the way back towards to end of November and I loved it! Johnson travels to the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, and within the US, and attends archaeological conventions as she seeks to understand just what it is about archaeology that so fascinates us. Johnson is enthusiastic, a great writer, and just so interested in everything! She threw herself into it all; whether she’s on a college campus discussing prehistoric archaeology, volunteering on an archaeological dig, or in cold, upstate New York walking over what was once a Revolutionary War supply depot, Johnson was curious about everything and everything. Her enthusiasm for the subject, and the way she wrote about the archaeologists themselves and the current state of field, were what really impressed me in this book. This book has been pretty popular with a lot of bloggers since it was published last year and I can see why. It really is that good!
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay: I read this book, along with Lives in Ruins, way back for Nonfiction November. Going into the month I had mentioned how in the last few years I had read very few books that were nonfiction essays, this book was suggested to me by someone and I had seen a couple of very positive reviews so I got it and gave it a go. For me, Bad Feminist ended up being just ok. Some of the essays were wonderful, and some of them not so much. In terms of quality, I felt that it was fairly easy to spot which ones had been previously published in other places and which ones were written solely for inclusion in this book. I think Gay is a very strong and inspiring woman, but not all of collections in this piece worked for me.
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins: I started this one in the fall and read it somewhat leisurely; I finished it in December. I really liked this one! Reading it, I was consistently reminded of Dickens’ Bleak House, which is a good thing as Bleak House is one of my favorite books, but it’s also not such a good thing for The Woman in White because when you compare the two it comes off the lesser. This book was fun and very suspenseful; some of the cliff hangers made me so angry! And I really enjoyed the change of POV’s as well, although of course I liked some better than others. I will say that I did think what was eventually found out about the Count was a bit out of the blue and random, but otherwise this was a really really good book, probably one of the best I read all year, which I’m especially happy with as I don’t really read suspenseful-like novels. Also, this is one of the books on my Classics Club list so yay! In conclusions: a very very good book that I will reread sometime in the future, although not as good as Bleak House.
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Euxpery: This is another title on my Classics Club list that I recently finished. I know a ton of people who really love this little book and, while it was enjoyable enough, I don’t think it quite ‘got it.’ The story was cute and the drawings a delight but other than that I wasn’t much moved by it. Maybe this is one of those books that you have to read first as a child to really appreciate? I don’t know, but this one was a nice enough but otherwise unremarkable read for me.
The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasure of Obituaries by Marilyn Johnson: After loving Lives in Ruins, I tracked down the first of Johnson’s books to read. The Dead Beat is a unique little book about obituaries and the people who write them. She tells us the history of obituaries and about the revival of them in the 80’s and the differences of the form in England and in America. She also talks to several prominent obituary writers and obituarists of small, local papers. I liked this book and found a lot of what she told us fascinating, but it didn’t hold the same charm for me that Lives in Ruins did.
A Christmas Carol and Other Writings by Charles Dickens: I finally got around to reading A Christmas Carol this past year as part of Brona’s Books read-along. Although I knew the story, had seen it as a movie and even as a play, I still loved it! It was very charming and feel-good and just what one would want around Christmastime. I also enjoyed most of the other writings included in the collection, although I didn’t much care for The Haunted Man, which is a shame as it was actually the longest piece of them all. I did however very much enjoy “The Story of a Goblin who Stole a Sexton” and “A Christmas Tree.” I read the collection over a week and it really put me in the Christmas spirit. I might even read it again this Christmas, maybe this time without The Haunted Man.
Le Morte d’Arthur: King Arthur and the Legneds of the Round Table by Sir Thomas Malory: I read, or at least tried to read, this one as part of Howling Frog’s read-along, but it took me to literally the last day of the year to finish it. I’ve had a copy of this on my shelves for years, but it wasn’t until I opened it and began that I realized that the version I actually own is not how Malory wrote it; it was rendered into more modern-like speech by Keith Baines in the late 50’s. There was no Middle English in my edition and the spellings were standardized. While I’m sure this helped with my reading of the text, I think it is likely to say that something was lost; in the introduction Baines says that he intends for the book to be used as a supplement to the original, which I don’t have. The original work was meant to be read-aloud, not quite a poem, not quite an epic; the version I read more resembled short, loosely connected short stories. To be frank, having read this rendition, I’m not sure if I will ever go back and reread it Malory’s own words. There was so much jousting and fighting and mistaken identity which became very tedious after a while. Some of it I did find funny in an odd way; characters challenging and fighting each other for the pettiest reason or for no reason at all. Some of it seemed kind of ridiculous, how one knight would be in a forest in a random part of the kingdom and yet somehow meet knight after knight of the Round Table in the woods to joust with. At parts this was really a slog I’m afraid, and I finished way past the end of the read-along. But I finished it, so there’s another one to cross off the list, I guess.
Whew! That’s it, I’m now caught up with what I read last year! Finally.