Briggs, Raymond. Ethel and Ernest: a True Story. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999.
Reason read: May is Graphic Novel month. I read that somewhere.
This is Raymond Brigg’s story of his parents as a couple from the moment they met until death did them part. Simplistic in graphic novel form but powerful in message. What started off as an accidental communication for the couple kicked off a poignant romance that lasted fifty years. Brigg’s loving tribute continues through his parents’s courtship and marriage, his mom giving birth to him at 38 years old (their only child), the war and the political aftermath, the ravages of aging, and finally each of their deaths. What makes the retelling so heartwarming is Brigg’s ability to communicate parental emotion. Every fear, hope, happiness and expectation they felt towards their son was delivered and exposed in loving detail.
Author fact: Briggs was removed from his parents (evacuated during the war for safety) when he was five years old.
Book trivia: Ethel and Ernest is a graphic novel.
Nancy said: Pearl called Ethel and Ernest a “touching story” (Book Lust p 103).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Graphic Novels” (p 103). Interestingly enough, the title Ethel and Ernest and author Raymond Briggs are missing from the index.
Rhodes, Richard. A Hole in the World: an American Boyhood. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990.
Have you ever walked across really, really hot sand in your bare feet? There you are, stinging and ouching all the way across the incredibly hot terrain. But! It’s a pain you don’t want to give up because of where you are and where you going. Your destination is that blissful blanket by the sea and it will be lovely (why else are you there?). You know the pain will only last as long as you as are hot-stepping across the sand. That brief agony is the way I felt about Hole in the World by Richard Rhodes. It was unpleasant reading, even hurtful reading but I couldn’t put it down. I wanted to get to the good part, that blanket, if you will. It’s the story of Richard Rhodes growing up in an abusive household. I know he heals from his traumatic childhood. I know the abuses he suffered didn’t last forever. There is light at the end of the dark tunnel of boyhood. But, it is a book worth reading. His words haunted my heart long after I put it down.
Favorite dangerous line, “I was tickling a dragon’s tail” (p 170).
Reason read: April is National Child Abuse Prevention month.
Author fact: Richard Rhodes went on to write The Making of the Atom Bomb for which he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize.
Book trivia: Heads up vegetarians and animals lovers! There is a decent-sized section dedicated to the description of the slaughter of farm animals. It’s graphic and detailed but nothing disturbed me more than when Rhodes is forced to kill a cat.
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “A Holiday Shopping List” (p 116).
Smith, Tara Bray. West of Then: a Mother, a Daughter, and a Journey Past Paradise. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004.
Tara Bray Smith’s story is haunting. Her childhood and subsequent adult relationship with her mother is tragic. What unfolds before you is a young woman’s story about an almost always drug-addicted and sometimes homeless mother who was constantly abandoning her children. Karen had four children with four different men. Luckily for her second oldest, Tara grew up with some sort of stability with her pot-smoking father and his second wife, Debbie. Tara spends most of the book looking and finding and looking again for her mother. What is especially hard to take is that after you have gotten through the 319 pages you realize nothing has really changed. I am not ruining the end of the story by saying nothing gets resolved. There is no ending. Interspersed are stories of Hawaii, past and present, cultural and historical. It’s this writing that makes the entire book come alive.
As an aside – I don’t know if this was intentional or not but Bray does a good job of making her mother out to be an absolute whore and not in the literal sense but in the derogatory sense. She subtly names no less than 14 different men Karen was having some sort of revolving door romantic relationship with throughout the book. Neil, Ron, Owen, Kirk, Eric, Stan, Terry, Ray…and so on. I found it distracting.
The drawbacks to reading a book with no set chronological order or apparent plot is it is really easy to lose your place. I don’t use bookmarks because usually, I can remember what’s going on in the story enough to pick up where I left off. With the chronology as jumbled as it was I found the search for her mother disorientating. Maybe that was the point.
Lines I liked: “He has his studies; I have my missing mother” (p 117) and “The desire for something sweet makes you stupid” (p 243).
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Hawaii: memoirs” (p 94).
Hewitt, Robert G. No Instructions Needed: An American Boyhood in the 1050s.
Okay. I have to get this off my chest. I was curious about the publisher for No Instructions Needed so I did a simple Google search. On my first run-through I found an ArbeitenZeit Media website with design and content credit going to Robert G. Hewitt. On my second attempt to find other authors published through ArbeitenZeit Media I found Gail Hewitt and L.G. Hewitt. Did I stumble across a family-run vanity publication? Am I writing a review as a vehicle for marketing purposes? Does that mean no one else would publish their work? That bothers me because when a writer finds someone who is willing to publish his or her words it’s as if that publisher is saying, “I believe in your craft.”
Robert G. Hewitt learned of the demise of his high school and was flooded with memories from his boyhood. As a salute to his youth he wrote No Instructions Needed, a collection of remembrances of the 1950s complete with cute illustrations. Everything from Christmas to Hewitt’s first car is covered with great nostalgic fondness. As mentioned by other reviewers, nothing really happens in No Instructions Needed. The memory lane is not paved with problems and the end result is a simple, yet pleasant read.
Truth be known I am always itching for October 1st. My Halloween has 31 days. My thrill time lasts all month. Better than Christmas. Don’t ask me why. I think it started when I was a kid. Mom would make these outrageous costumes (extremely elaborate, creative, funky…but on a frayed shoestring budget – we’re talking tinfoil and spray paint). My all-time favorite was a gigantic pumpkin made out of coat hangers, a bed sheet and lots of paint. I barely fit through doors, couldn’t sit down all that well and my face itched for days on end, but man! it was a cool costume. Another time sis and I were Miss Piggy and Kermit the frog. I remember being embarrassed by the ginormous breasts and blue eye shadow. We were a sight to see! Us kids would pile into the back of a pickup truck and bounce all over the island looking for treats while the older boys played tricks. Scary all the time they were worse on Halloween. Dusk brought eerie shadows to our faces as we tried to peer into plastic bags for goodies. Whoopie pies spilled from my mother’s kitchen as big as your fist. Apple cider simmering on the wood stove.
These days I don’t run around wearing orange and green paint pretending to be a vegetable from the patch. If I’m lucky I will get my kisa to take a walk among the trick or treaters so I can count the goblins. Every year someone on my block plays Nightmare Before Christmas on the side of his house. Candles glow from jack-o-lanterns on every stoop. Leaves crunch beneath our feet. There is some sort of magic in the air. I can’t really explain it. The sugar shacks start up their boils and put on breakfast feasts.
What I need to do now is find my way to the basement, locate the big box marked “Halloween”, drag it up to the living room, and unpack my spooky friends. Who cares if it’s still September? Who cares if I’m in the wrong month. It’s time to get back to the right state of mind.
Bettelheim, Bruno. A Good Enough Parent. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987.
It’s funny that this was written in the year I graduated from high school and went onto college. I consider 1987 one of the biggest “brink” years – standing on the brink of something bigger. However, reading this 21 years later reminds me of something else: homework!
Maybe it’s because I don’t have kids (and the fact I’ll never have kids) that I didn’t find A Good Enough Parent all that interesting. Instead it was rather dry and psychological. Nancy Pearl says this book is a must for any new parent. I honestly do not know when any new parent would have the time! Pearl also goes on to say, “Be forewarned: Bettelheim’s perspective is very psychoanalytical” (Book Lust p 30). He does make the text a little easier (interesting) by including personal anecdotes and compelling stories to punctuate his point.
Lines I like: “None of this holds true for what happens between a parent and child. Anything that occurs in their relationship is heir to a long and complicated history” (p 5).
“I feel that a parent’s most important task is to get a feeling for what things may mean to his child” (p 14).
“Parental anxiety makes life very difficult for parent and child, since the child responds to the anxiety of the parents with even more severe anxiety” (p 41).
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Babies: A Readers Guide” (p 30).
This is the time of morning I wait for. The air is still. The harbor rolls gently, causing the moored boats to nod to one another solemnly. One or two people wander by quietly. Somewhere, a truck starts up and birds mutter to themselves. There is quiet activity, a gentle buzz. The island is alive but at the same time it feels as though everything is barely stirring. Muted almost as though under water.
When I was a kid, no more than five or six, I used to sit on the top step leading up to our apartment. I would listen for the early morning coo of the mourning doves, watch the early bird birders with binoculars slung around their necks. The light was magical at that time of day. I remember waiting for something. Even now I couldn’t tell you what.
My husband can sit in front “Sunrise Earth” all day. Have you seen it? I don’t know who thought up this programming, but more importantly I’d like to meet the person he or she sold the idea to. It has got to be one patient person. I can just imagine the sales pitch: “I’ve got this great idea for a television show! Cameras record the sunrise…in real time. No soundtrack, no narration. Just the sun rising from different angles. We’ll capture bugs stirring, birds chirping…maybe the sound of water if it’s in the shot.”
Really, that’s all the show is about. Watching the sun rise. A bug may land on a twig for a few minutes. A bird might buzz a camera. A nearby brook may be gurgling away. That’s about it. For some (many?) it’s the equivalent of watching paint dry.
Me, I would like to see an episode filmed from my tippy top stair. Bring me back to the beginning – before the beginning of another busy day.