Archive for June, 2009

FAMILY: PHOTOGRAPHS BY LAUREN DUKOFF is Substantial

Dear Reader,

Family (june ’09) is beautifully produced; its layout is wonderful. The cover’s purples, greens, and reds are inviting and pleasing. The book’s endpapers seem to be inspired by loosely woven fabrics common in the 70s. The book’s dimensions and weight of paper say “substantial,” and it is.

The photographs are generous in that they fill the pages, exude intimacy, and, because there aren’t any captions, they encourage viewers to see what they may. I’m unqualified to comment on the quality of the photography, however.

Dukoff’s supporting text is integral to readers like me who are unfamiliar with the musician-subjects of her photos. Without it, I would have leafed through the book; recognized clothing, hair, and lifestyles from the 60s and 70s; and told myself I wasn’t seeing anything I hadn’t seen before. (I didn’t partake of these styles, but I was “sort of” there.) The text coaxed me to set aside impressions and learn from her book.

Dukoff’s introduction traces a bit of her background, shares how she became connected to the musicians, and describes what led her to produce this collection of photos. Writings by a few of the featured musical artists—Isabelle Albuquerque, Kevin Barker, Ariana Delawari, Ruthann Friedman, Matteah Baim, Devendra Banhart, and Vashti Bunyan—bring the subjects closer to the reader, and Biographies of all pictured reveals the depth of their experiences and connections. Dukoff’s List of Photographs includes thumbnails of the photos, who’s in them, location, and month and year.

To learn more about the musicians, there’s a link at the end of the book that takes readers to a site to download songs by some musicians in Family. Good idea.

Who will want to buy this book? Lauren Dukoff fans, photography buffs, folk(ish) music fans, Devendra Obi Banhart fans, fans of other featured musicians, people interested in hippy/indy style (for lack of a better word).

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ARE YOU HUNGRY, DEAR?: Marie Barone’s–oops, I meant to say DORIS ROBERTS’–Memoir

Dear Reader,

I read Are You Hungry, Dear? because I wanted to learn about the woman behind meddling Marie Barone in Everybody Loves Raymond, Doris Roberts. I learned:

  • Like Marie, Roberts “tells it like she sees it”
  • Doris’ father was a carousing schmuck
  • Her grandfather wasn’t much better
  • She grew up in the Bronx
  • Doris and Marie shared the same deep, sometimes overpowering, love for their son(s)
  • She loves cooking. LOVES cooking
  • She is quick witted
  • Her natural-seeming acting is a result of extensive preparation
  • She can be racy; I’d get a kick out of spending time with her as I imagine we’d share plenty of “naughty” laughs
  • Doris Roberts is someone I’d like to know.

Roberts and her co-author Danelle Morton split the memoir into 10 parts, each effectively focused on a facet of her life: Life with Raymond, Motherhood, Reminiscences, Advice, Travels, Losses, Turning Points, Warnings, The Love of My Life, and Aging. Within each part are 3 to 6 chapters, all which conclude with a recipe.

You don’t have to be a fan of Everyone Loves Raymond, or like to cook, to enjoy this book; you only have to be open to out-there observations of a woman in her early 70s who’s lived, laughed, cried, and learned a lot.

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THE LONGEST TRIP HOME: A Memoir Written in Chronological Order

Dear Reader,

The Longest Trip Home, written by John Grogan (Marley and Me) is a fine example of a well-done memoir told in chronological order, starting in the author’s early childhood and ending in his middle age with his father’s death. It is humorous (Grogan is good at self-deprecation), telling (lots of details about growing up in a devoutly Catholic household, typical of many other households at the time), and introspective (Grogan traces his separation from the church and how he comes to terms with how this affected his parents). I recommend anyone interested in writing an inspired chronological memoir read this book, written by a talented and skilled writer.

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LOOK ME IN THE EYE: MY LIFE WITH ASPERGER’S is a Fascinating Book

Dear Reader,

You gotta love the cover of the paperback edition of Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Aspergers. It features a photo of a geeky-eared boy, his eyes and mouth scrunched shut in a “you-can’t-make-me” way. It’s the reason I picked up the book. Author John Elder Robison has Asperger’s. He didn’t graduate from high school, didn’t go to college, but he did design “fire-breathing” guitars for KISS, solve problems as an electrical engineer, marry twice, and start a business called J E Robinson Service, which repairs and restores Rolls-Royces, Land Rovers, and Mercedes cars. He’s successful. Of course, Robinson learned a lot to enable himself to get where he is now, most importantly to work with his strengths and to practice introspection. (I think he would say he isn’t typical of someone who has Asperger’s; no one is typical.)

Robinson talks about the thing he’s always had for machines:

“Many people with Asperger’s have an affinity for machines. Sometimes I think I can relate better to a good machine than any kind of person. I’ve thought about why that is, and I’ve come up with a few ideas. One thought is that I control the machines. We don’t interact as equals. No matter how big the machine, I am in charge. Machines don’t talk back. They are predictable. They don’t trick me, and they’re never mean.

“I have a lot of trouble reading other people. I am not very good at looking at people and knowing whether they like me, or they’re mad, or they’re just waiting for me to say something. I don’t have problems like that with machines.”

He also talks about “Looking people in the eye”:

“I was well into my teenage years before I figured out that I wasn’t a killer, or worse. By then, I knew I wasn’t being shifty or evasive when I failed to meet someone’s gaze, and I had started to wonder why so many adults equated that behavior with shiftiness and evasiveness. Also, by then I had met shifty and scummy people who did look me in the eye, making me think the people who complained about me were hypocrites.

“To this day, when I speak, I find visual input to be distracting. When I was younger, if I saw something interesting I might begin to watch it and stop speaking entirely. As a grown-up, I don’t usually come to a complete stop, but I may still pause if something catches my eye. That’s why I usually look somewhere neutral—at the ground or off into the distance—when I’m talking to someone. Because speaking while watching things has always been difficult for me, learning to drive a car and talk at the same time was tough one, but I mastered it.

“And now I know it is perfectly natural for me not to look at someone when I talk. Those of us with Asperger’s are just not comfortable doing it. In fact, I don’t really understand why it’s considered normal to stare at someone’s eyeballs.”

I’m glad I read this book, because it gave me some understanding about people like Robinson, whom I consider rude, clueless, or just plain weird. I’d like to think this understanding will help me think before I judge.

Note: John Elder Robison is Augusten Burroughs’ (Running with Scissors) older brother.

For other angles on Asperger’s and Autism Spectrum disorders, read:

Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant – Daniel Tammet

Thinking in Pictures – Temple Grandin

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – fiction by Mark Haddon

Autism and Me: Siblings Stories -Ouisie Shapiro and Steven Vote (See my 5-18-09 post)

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Both the Movie and Book THE SOLOIST are Great

Dear Reader,

I loved the movie The Soloist, but I left the theater with unanswered questions about Steve Lopez’s commitment to helping Nathaniel Ayers. So I was glad I went on to read the book, because in it Lopez asks why he insists on helping Ayers and, further, whether he has the right to help him–force him into treatment for his schizophrenia. Lopez asks if he wants to be Ayers’ friend or more like his guardian, and wonders if he doesn’t get Ayers permanently off the street, will he have failed him.

Lopez has a conversation about Ayers with Mark Ragins, author of A Road to Recovery, which changes his (and my) perception of what “helping” means:

“Let him find his way. Be patient. Be his friend.

“`Relationship is primary.” Ragins says. ‘It is possible to cause seemingly biochemical changes through human emotional involvement. You literally have changed his chemistry by being his friend.'”

Wow! I can live with this.

The movie provides Lopez with more angst and unrest than the book, but that creates interesting conflict. The movie portrays Ayers a lot nicer than he is, which is okay, because it makes the audience care for him more.

See the movie then read the book!  Read the book then see the movie!

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CRAZY FOR THE STORM: A MEMOIR OF SURVIVAL

Dear Reader,

When I finished reading Norman Ollestad’s memoir Crazy for the Storm, I thought “when it’s good it’s very good, when it’s bad . . . it’s really bad.” Ollestad pivots episodes from his childhood—time spent with extreme-sports-enthusiast dad who’s financially successful and a knocked-about mother who’s financially dependent—around a plane crash he survives when he’s 11 years old. The scenes around the crash and his trip down to safety are well written, descriptive, and suspenseful. He delivers blow by pain-staking blow of every rock and ledge he had to deal with.

The rest of the book? Painful to read, especially when he describes his dad’s girlfriend’s hair as silky one too many times or refers to his dad’s curls and bright blue eyes. It reads like he was told to add details, so he did. Too bad. I know the author wants to link his survival skills and instincts with his father’s actions, and he’s right to do so, but it just doesn’t work.

Men who haven’t grown up, like Ollestad’s dad never did, will appreciate all the sports events and adventures Ollestad is involved in. Men/women who lived the surfing life in the 70s will enjoy this book, as well as people who get a kick out of great action scenes and survival stories (but don’t mind the rest) will also enjoy this book.

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HOW TO MEET A MAN AFTER FORTY: A Book Review

Dear Reader,

How to Meet a Man After Forty and Other Midlife Dilemmas Solved is an entertaining, often humorous, and sometimes thought provoking book. I enjoyed author Shane Watson’s chapter entitled “Am I Turning into My Mother?” especially her lists of “Things That Your Mother Does That You Would Never Consider” and “Things You Do That Your Mother Never Would Have Considered.” I also enjoyed her rants about the torture women put themselves through to remain/become desirable (I’ve ranted plenty myself).

What’s disappointing, though, is chapters intended to fulfill the title’s promise—to advise women on how to meet a man—are well written but tepid and not informative. I fear women searching for a man will not learn anything new. Too bad.

Read for Watson’s commentary, not for man-catching advice.

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