Comedy & a Tragedy

Culley, Travis Hugh. A Comedy & a Tragedy: a Memoir of Learning How to Read and Write. New York: Ballantine Books, 2015.

Reason read: LibraryThing’s Early Review Program. These books are like the chocolate chips in my pancakes. Delicious and unexpected!

This is such a curious read. Culley wants this to be a book about the struggle of illiteracy and the power of literacy. I saw it as something much, much deeper. Yes, you can fly through this book in a day or two – it is short and seemingly very straightforward. But, it’s not. Not really. There is much more to it after you have reread it a second, or even a third time. There is lots to chew on and some of it was painful to swallow. Consider the family: father is abusive, mother is fragile and defensive (a terrible combination), and aggressive brother is older and outwardly brilliant. From his earliest memories Culley has trouble articulating his troubles. Without giving it away, I’m thinking of camp. This is a book about survival. Again, thinking about Culley’s experience at camp. Coming to terms with sexual abuse, negotiating mental illness, never trusting authority figures. What do you do when your own mother thinks you are psychotic? The misunderstandings multiply.
My only complaint? The inside flap describes Culley as “running away” from home. You probably cannot be classified as a runaway if your parents are even remotely aware of your departure and you most definitely cannot be classified as a runaway if they tell you to leave and help you pack.

Author fact: A Comedy & A Tragedy is not Culley’s first book. I kind of wished it was but have no idea why.

Book trivia: Culley used a picture from childhood for his bio. It’s really cute. On the flip side, there is a really disturbing page from his journal…



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