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review 2018-01-17 11:53
A poignant and lovingly written ode to an unsung hero. Beautiful and heart-wrenching.
Fred's Funeral - Sandy Feldstein

This is a short book, but it punches well above its weight. The book, written mostly from the point of view of Fred Sadler, a Canadian veteran of WWI who never quite recovered from the war and spent years in and out of mental institutions (such as they were at the time), takes its readers on a journey through Fred’s memories (he has just died, so I guess I should say his ghost’s memories, but, in many ways, Fred had been a ghost of his former self for many years already) and those of the relatives who attend his funeral. We have brief hints at times of what other characters are thinking or feeling (as Fred’s consciousness becomes all-encompassing), but mostly we remain with Fred. We share in his opinions and his own remembrances of the facts his family members (mostly his sister-in-law, Viola, who is the only one left with first-hand-knowledge of his circumstances, at least some of them) are discussing.

Fred’s story — based on the life of a relative of the author and on documents and letters he left behind— will be familiar to readers interested in the history of the period, and in the terrible consequences the war had on the lives and mental health of many of the young men who fought and suffered in the war. Shell-shock (now known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD) was little understood at the time and psychiatry (that is not a hard science at its best) was pretty limited in its resources at the time. Even nowadays, delayed onset PTSD is rarely diagnosed and not well-understood, and the condition results sometimes in permanent changes in the personality of the sufferer, who might end up with all kinds of other diagnoses and are often misunderstood and mistreated.

Sandy Day’s beautifully descriptive and, at times, lyrical writing —the author had previously published a poetry book— captures both strands of the story: the terrible disintegration of the life of such a promising young man, and the changes in his family and the society around him, which he was only a spectator of (and was never allowed to take an active role in). His brother married and had children, his parents died; the family property, so dear to him, was split up and eventually sold, and he was only the weird uncle nobody knew much about.

The novel (as it is a fictionalization of the events) succeeds in giving Fred a voice, in bringing forth the fear, the thrashed hopes, the puzzlement, the resignation, the confusion, of this man who put his life on the line and got only pain in return. It is a poignant and beautiful memorial to the lives of many soldiers whose trauma was misunderstood and whose lives were destroyed. The writing is compelling and gets the readers inside of Fred’s head, making us share in his horrifying experiences. The book can be hard to read at times, not so much because of graphic content (although the few descriptions are vivid), but because it is impossible not to empathise and imagine what he must have gone through. But there is also a hopeful note in the interest of the new generations and the fact of the book itself.

There are time-shifts, and some changes in point of view (because Fred’s ghost can at times become the equivalent of an omniscient narrator), but past events follow a chronological order and are clearly demarcated and easy to follow, and the device of the funeral helps anchor the story and provide a frame and a background that give it a more personal and intimate dimension. The Canadian landscape and setting also add a touch of realism and singularity to the story.

Although the book is very short, I could not resist sharing at least a tiny sample of the beautiful writing with you:

He looks down half-blindly as his old Canadian Expeditionary Force Uniform dissolves into a constellation of colourful snowflakes, twirling away from him in a trail. Beneath the uniform he is nothing. He has no name or age. He is at once as old as a flickering blue base at the wick of a candle and as young as a flame surging into brilliance.

This is a poignant and lovingly written ode to a man who returned from WWI (at least in body) but was as lost as many of the men who never came back. A story about an unsung hero that should be cherished and its lessons learnt. I cannot recommend it enough.

 

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review 2018-01-15 18:45
Seriously, I'm Kidding written and read by Ellen DeGeneres
Seriously... I'm Kidding - Ellen DeGeneres

SERIOUSLY, I'M KIDDING was disappointing. 

 

It was funny and entertaining at times, but I didn't learn much about Ellen, other than she is allergic to penicillin. While I enjoy being entertained and I enjoy Ellen's sense of humor, I wanted to learn more about her. This is not the book for that.

 

I'll have to look into her previous books.

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text 2018-01-15 05:35
Boy Erased: A Memoir - Garrard Conley

Given the subject matter, I knew this was going to piss me off in certain ways but have gotten so frustrated about at least five or so times and I am only 15% into the freaking book!

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review 2018-01-12 20:31
A Memoir that maybe should have waited
The Beautiful Struggle: A Memoir Reprint edition by Coates, Ta-Nehisi (2009) Paperback - Ta-Nehisi Coates
I had high expectations. Perhaps audio wasn't the way to "read" this. Perhaps I waited too long, after reading all of Coates' journalism and his beautiful Between the World and Me. It just didn't wow me the way I'd hoped. What it DID do is make me want him to wait a decade and write another memoir. Perhaps I'll come back to this after letting it digest, or perhaps I'll pick up the written word and read it properly someday.
 
Being a Baltimorean who lived in and knows the neighborhoods, it was easy to imagine everything he mentions. He's also very close to my age. Both of these things make it hard for me to understand why I wasn't more affected by this book.

 

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review 2018-01-12 19:44
Memoir-ish
Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman - Lindy West

It seems like every woman I know has read this book, which automatically made me suspicious. (I still haven't forgiven my fellow females for The Bridges of Madison County.) I finally trundled forth on my own.

 

I'm glad I did. It just took me a while to get there. I wasn't sure what I was headed into. I figured "feminist, fat-positive, intersectionality" and that's all true. But are these essays? Not exactly. What was I reading? I finally settled on memoir-ish. It took me a while to finish this because I ended up with a ton of notes scribbled on my notebook, and I spent a lot of time reading about the surrounding circumstances. I honestly didn't have to. She explained these things well and even quotes huge chunks of some pieces. (One thing I learned: Leonard Nimoy is a photographer!)

 

The reason I'm going on about this is that the beginning of the book is witty. It's written like essays, even if it's about being a child, a fat child, a fantasist child... This doesn't feel like a true memoir until the very final few chapters, and those are beautiful chapters -- written with a vulnerability that I found very relatable and touching. There is true wisdom in the final handful of chapters that don't feel like I'm being Taught A Lesson because she shows us her experience and her vulnerability as she learns.

 

Earlier chapters are hilarious. The end of the book still has laugh aloud moments, but it's on a much deeper level. She's finally let the reader in. I wish she could've found a way to let me in earlier. Much of the fat-positive stuff felt very defensive. (Full disclosure: I, too, am overweight, and I can attest to the different way society at large treats fat people because I was pretty thin until I hit 40.) Despite my sympathetic ear, it still came off to me as defensive. The "lessons" she tries to impart early about the way we treat fat people finally get an "aha" moment in the latter chapters when she describes her marriage and the circumstances around her engagement. Here, she's open and honest. We get to see behind the activist into the real woman.

 

Interestingly, I found something at odds between her feminism and her fat positivity in these latter chapters. It's not glaring, and I certainly don't fault her for wanting to be desirable to her husband and show the world that he desires her, but the tension of being a woman shows up here. It brings up an even deeper set of issues for women that she doesn't touch. I don't fault her at all for that -- this is not an academic study.

 

It's hard being a woman. I know this. And I don't even have an army of trolls attacking me on a daily basis (see https://jezebel.com/if-comedy-has-no-lady-problem-why-am-i-getting-so-many-511214385 )

 

I'm slightly older than Lindy West. I grew up a decade or so before her. When I was growing up, it was assumed that because the world now said the "right" things, all was now fine, much like the "post-racial" nonsense that went around in 2008. It's bullshit, but I believed it as a girl, and that's brought me some real anger in adulthood. It's made me a pretty ardent feminist. This is where I've learned from women like Lindy West - how to be unapologetic about my feminism, including my anger.

 

This book didn't change my life, and I doubt it will change anyone else's. Nonetheless, West has a real point about chipping away at the old truisms and making the world a little better with our every interaction.

It's hard to be cold or cruel when you remember it's hard to be a person.

This is a pretty wise young woman, and it'll be great fun to watch her and read her in the future. Rumor has it that she has two more books in the works.

 

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