|Huh. Go figure.
Although I don’t watch Parks and Recreation, the television show for which this comedic actor has become famous, I thought I would enjoy her memoir. For one thing, she’s a big woman, and I love it when well-padded women have the courage to go on stage for a purpose other than disparaging themselves. At least one reviewer on Goodreads hadn’t watched her program, yet loved this book. Thanks go to Net Galley and St. Martin’s Press for the DRC; I want to like this book too, but I don’t.
Retta is the child of Liberian immigrants who sacrificed a great deal so that she could receive a stellar education. They had no clue that life would lead her to show business instead of medical school. She began her career by doing stand-up routines, and so I went to YouTube and watched a clip from Comedy Central, and I thought it was pretty good. But much of the humor she uses is in the delivery. Without the pauses, without the facial expressions and other body language, things that cannot be conveyed in writing, that routine comes out flat. I watched her perform her signature line, and whereas I didn’t feel the magic, I suspect context would improve it.
If the memoir were simply a little dull, I could likely go with a third star here, but there are aspects that I found abrasive. I don’t need to know all about the many thousands of dollars apiece that go into her handbag collection, and I wonder why anyone would find that kind of self-indulgence amusing. How many good causes could use that money? I don’t need all the details of what she does on the toilet; ew. And why insert a chapter complaining about the gifts she has received from others? Was she raised to be so ungracious? So much of the collection includes her great love for booze that I found myself wanting to hire a skywriter to fly over Southern California to say, GET HELP.
On the other hand, I’m a member of the Boomer generation. I suspect that a lot of Retta’s fan base is younger than I am. So if you already a big fan, you may like this book, but unless your pockets are deep—not deep enough for fifteen thousand dollar purses, but deep—I suggest waiting until you can get It free or cheap. Others may want to read something else.
This one is a crushing disappointment. I seldom buy books anymore, but I was so pumped about this collection that I went all out and got a hard copy, expecting to love it enough to keep it in my home library forever. Sadly, this isn’t what I expected.
Obviously, no U.S. Supreme Court justice is going to have enough time to sit down and write his or her memoirs, let alone an octogenarian justice, but I had hoped to find a collection of her meaty and sometimes even audacious opinions, particularly her dissents. Instead, this slender volume is packed with filler. There are two co-authors whose names are written on the cover in miniscule print, and it is they that write sometimes windy introductions to just about everything; to make matters worse, they don’t tell us anything you cannot find in other biographies written about this feminist luminary.
And what of Ginsburg’s writing? I didn’t buy the book to see the precocious things she wrote as a child, as an adolescent, or in college. I just want to read her court opinions. That’s it. And that’s not what I got.
I can’t give anything that bears Ginsburg’s name a rating below four stars, but seriously, if your discretionary income forces you to buy books strategically, either skip this one or get it used. Surely at some point something more scholarly will be released, and then I’ll wish I still had the dollars that I spent here.
Devlin write this, her autobiography, when she was all of 23 years old. Had it been anyone else I would have considered it ridiculous, a juvenile pretention, but Bernadette Devlin was one of the primary fighters for Irish freedom during the tumultuous 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, and given how events played out, it is likely that she wrote this while fully anticipating that she’d be killed in the struggle fairly early on. Goodness knows, the British cops tried. Here’s a bit of background information from Wikipedia:
On 16 January 1981 she and her husband were shot by members of the Ulster Freedom Fighters, who broke into their home near Coalisland, County Tyrone. The gunmen shot Devlin fourteen times in front of her children. British soldiers were watching the McAliskey home at the time, but failed to prevent the assassination attempt, indeed it has been claimed that Devlin’s assassination was ordered by British authorities and that collusion was a factor. An army patrol of the 3rd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, entered the house and waited for half an hour. Bernadette Devlin McAliskey has claimed they were waiting for the couple to die. Another group of soldiers then arrived and transported her by helicopter to a nearby hospital. The paramilitaries had torn out the telephone and while the wounded couple were being given first aid by the newly arrived troops, a soldier ran to a neighbour’s house, commandeered a car, and drove to the home of a councillor to telephone for help. The couple were taken by helicopter to hospital in nearby Dungannon for emergency treatment and then to the Musgrave Park Hospital, Military Wing, in Belfast, under intensive care.
Soon after her recovery, the author-activist went on a speaking tour, and this reviewer was able to hear her talk when she came to the University of Toledo in Toledo, Ohio. Her intelligence, eloquence, and fierce, courageous nationalism left me spellbound. And yet, it was only recently that I learned she’d written a memoir over a decade earlier. I was even more amazed to find that it was available for sale, albeit used and fairly banged up; all praise to the internet. And so this time, instead of heaping praise upon the publishers, I will thank my youngest son for securing a copy for me at Christmas. It was worth the wait.
Devlin was orphaned, along with her sisters and brothers, when she was still a teenager. She and her siblings had a conversation and decided that they would raise themselves, rather than be parceled out to relatives and neighbors, broken up like pieces of a candy bar to be distributed willy-nilly by the church. But her parents left her a legacy, one that said not to let anyone shove a Devlin around. One of my favorite moments in her engaging narrative is early on, when her mother is being attended by a physician for a fallen arch in one foot. The doctor’s solution is to tightly bind it in hopes it will grow back to its proper configuration, but instead it becomes desperately deformed. One day when the doctor is rebandaging it, her mother complains of pain, and the doctor replies that there is no real pain; he says her mother is merely neurotic. In response, her mother raises her good foot and kicks the man across the room.
A woman after my own heart.
But the best passages, as the reader might expect, are those detailing the struggle for civil rights in Northern Ireland, and in particular the struggle based on social class regardless of religion. She tells of the horrific events of Bloody Sunday, when a peaceful parade including small children and babies in their strollers is gunned down by cops. Devlin speaks of the “evil delight” she sees on the faces of violent cops as they beat people down at an earlier demonstration.
There are lessons to be learned here, and now is the time to learn them.
Remarkably enough, there are still copies of this historical treasure for sale, used. Anyone that is interested in the Irish freedom struggle; cop violence; or Irish history should find a copy now, while you can still get them cheaply.
I was browsing the pages of Net Galley and ran across this gem of a memoir. Often when someone that isn’t famous gets an autobiography published by a major publisher, it’s a hint to the reader that the story will be riveting. Such is the case here; my many thanks go to Net Galley and Atria for the DRC, which I read free in exchange for this honest review. You can order it now’ it comes out Tuesday, May 9.
It probably says a great deal, all by itself, that I had never heard of Booker Wright before this. I have a history degree and chose, at every possible opportunity, to take classes, both undergraduate and graduate level, that examined the Civil Rights Movement, right up until my retirement a few years ago. As a history teacher, I made a point of teaching about it even when it wasn’t part of my assigned curriculum, and I prided myself on reaching beyond what has become the standard list that most school children learned. I looked in nooks and crannies and did my best to pull down myths that cover up the heat and light of that critical time in American history, and I told my students that racism is an ongoing struggle, not something we can tidy away as a fait accompli.
But I had never heard of Booker.
Booker Wright, for those that (also) didn’t know, was the courageous Black Mississippian that stepped forward in 1965 and told his story on camera for documentary makers. He did it knowing that it was dangerous to do so, and knowing that it would probably cost him a very good job he’d had for 25 years. It was shown in a documentary that Johnson discusses, but if you want to see the clip of his remarks, here’s what he said. You may need to see it a couple of times, because he speaks rapidly and with an accent. Here is Booker, beginning with his well-known routine waiting tables at a swank local restaurant, and then saying more:
So it was Booker and his new-to-me story that made me want to read the DRC. Johnson opens with information from that time, but as she begins sharing her own story, discussing not only Booker but her family’s story and in particular, her own alienation from her mother, who is Booker’s daughter, I waited for the oh-no feeling. Perhaps you’ve felt it too, when reading a biography; it’s the sensation we sometimes feel when it appears that a writer is using a famous subject in order to talk about themselves, instead. I’ve had that feeling several times since I’ve been reading and reviewing, and I have news: it never happened here. Johnson’s own story is an eloquent one, and it makes Booker’s story more relevant today as we see how this violent time and place has bled through to color the lives of its descendants.
The family’s history is one of silences, and each of those estrangements and sometimes even physical disappearance is rooted in America’s racist heritage. Johnson chronicles her own privileged upbringing, the daughter of a professional football player. She went to well-funded schools where she was usually the only African-American student in class. She responded to her mother’s angry mistrust of Caucasians by pretending to herself that race was not even worth noticing.
But as children, she and her sister had played a game in which they were both white girls. They practiced tossing their tresses over their shoulders. Imagine it.
Johnson is a strong writer, and her story is mesmerizing. I had initially expected an academic treatment, something fairly dry, when I saw the title. I chose this to be the book I was going to read at bedtime because it would not excite me, expecting it to be linear and to primarily deal with aspects of the Civil Rights movement and the Jim Crow South that, while terrible, would be things that I had heard many times before. I was soon disabused of this notion. But there came a point when this story was not only moving and fascinating, but also one I didn’t want to put down. I suspect it will do the same for you.
YouTube has a number of clips regarding this topic and the documentary Johnson helped create, but here is an NPR spot on cop violence, and it contains an interview of Johnson herself from when the project was released. It’s about 20 minutes long, and I found it useful once I had read the book; reading it before you do so would likely work just as well:
Johnson tells Booker’s story and her own in a way that looks like effortless synthesis, and the pace never slackens. For anyone with a post-high-school literacy level, an interest in civil rights in the USA, and a beating heart, this is a must-read. Do it.
Jenny Lawson is well known as The Blogess (the blogger that came up with Beyonce, the metal chicken). She won awards for her previous memoir, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. The only DRC I saw for this title was for readers in UK and Australia, so I waited till I could scoop it cheaply and bought it digitally. Those that read my reviews often know I almost never do this. For the $3 it cost on an Amazon Prime daily deal, it was worth it to me.
Lawson is one of a handful of authors that talks candidly and often very humorously about her own struggle with mental illness and autoimmune disorders. Her capacity to create imaginary scenarios totally out of left field is her greatest strength, second only to the ability—sometimes—to find a way to laugh at the nest of spiders that occasionally takes over her brain. And sometimes she is painfully candid. Try this one on:
“Sometimes being crazy is a demon. And sometimes the demon is me…And some of us just carry around our tiny demon as he wreaks havoc in our mind, tearing open old dusty trunks of bad memories and leaving the remnants spread everywhere. Wearing the skins of people we’ve hurt. Wearing the skins of people we’ve loved. And sometimes, when it’s worst, wearing our own skins.”
She rants about the well intentioned but ignorant advice she’s received from clueless amateurs. At various times she’s been told to shake it off, to stop eating gluten, and to let Jesus into her heart in order to experience a full and immediate cure.
Her musings about flying, which her fame requires her to do a great deal of, though she is afraid both of flying and of leaving home, are brilliant. This reviewer crowed out loud from glee at Lawson’s suggestion that flight attendants be permitted “to whack one person per flight with a piñata stick for being the stupidest damn person on the plane.”
My favorite section is the one in which she details the horrors of remodeling in a way that makes me howl. And goodness knows we all need to do that.
Lawson inserts women’s reproductive anatomy into almost any sort of discussion, and whereas I applaud the feminist spirit that demands the word “vagina” no longer be treated like a dirty word, I confess it was a bit much for me. But then, I am probably older than you are; this may be a generational thing. And there may also be plenty of women from the Boomer generation that think her use of the word is great.
Now and then there’s an odd moment in which I stop reading and stare at the text. What? Did she proof read this, and did her editors? There are occasional remarks that strike me as racially insensitive. She spins a thread about the wild things in the out of doors, and cautions us that since bears don’t play, we should shoot one first and ask questions later. Assuming said bear is in one’s back yard or trying to fit through a window of one’s home, I can see the point, but it came out of left field and made me wonder. Really? Just shoot bears? And the thread further spins itself into a bison-and-Native-Americans discussion in which she assures us that it’s not great to have bison in one’s yard, but it would be awesome to keep a lot of Native Americans out there. My e-reader says, “?!?”
But then she drops and is off onto another stream-of-consciousness spiel before I can fully digest what’s been said. She does it a couple of other times also. And it occurs to me that she has perhaps the ultimate excuse, having said up front that she has known for most of her life that she is “not right” in the head, but I still wonder that her editors didn’t look at that and say, “Umm…Jenny? This part right here…?” There are no overt racial slams or this review would have a lot of empty stars, but there are small moments where I wonder if she understands how others may read what she’s said.
Many of her entries if not all of them are drawn from her blog, and it’s possible that if you’ve read her blog faithfully, you won’t want to pay for this book. As for me, I found it worth the three bucks to be able to get everything at once in a well organized format—known as a book—that I could read comfortably. I confess I would not have paid full jacket price for it now that I get most books free and also have less money to spend on them than when I was working, but for others it may well be worth it.
On the whole, this is a courageous and often eloquent, fall-down-funny memoir, and with the small reservations mentioned above, I recommend it to you.
Plum Johnson is gathered, together with her siblings and other family members, at the family manse following the death of her mother. This memoir focuses on the things she’s learned and the insights she gains over the course of the year it takes to empty and sell the property. Thank you to Net Galley and Putnam Penguin for the DRC, which I received free in exchange for this honest review.
I knew when I requested this story that I was stretching my comfort zone. It paid off big time a couple of times recently–one of them was The Goldfinch—and since there seemed to be a lot of buzz generated around this title, I thought I’d go for it. And I have to admit, this time it was not a good fit. But I am confident that there are readers out there that will enjoy it. Different strokes and all that.
The first thing that jarred me was right up front, and it was a small thing, yet a big thing. The pet the author remembers so fondly—the one that’s buried on the property—was named Sambo. I felt like I’d been slapped, to be honest. If that was the pet’s name, I’d think an author today would have had the sensitivity to change it for purposes of publication.
Enough; let’s get on with the meat of the story. The author has spent years under the domineering gaze of her dying mother. The woman didn’t go fast, and she didn’t go out a pleasant person. In some ways it makes it harder to grieve when someone goes out ugly, because it sends all sorts of conflicting emotions rocketing through one’s senses, which are already jumbled sufficiently at the loss of a family member. And it is in taking time to go through her mother’s things, the more personal ones apart from the things that have resale value, the letters, the journals, the things she saved for so many years, that the author feels as if she really knows who her mother used to be.
I think there are a lot of us out here, Boomer-era adults that have said goodbye to parents or are still doing so, that can relate to this. Often it takes a fair amount of experience to appreciate our parents’ better moments, to realize that some of the things they did for us that we took for granted were not the same things everyone’s parents did. Plum’s musings made me think of my own mother, a woman that died disappointed with life and darned cranky about it, but who told me about the internment of Japanese Americans and made me use standard English by the time I was five. Like Plum, I find myself wishing my mom could return for a visit to give me one more chance to thank her for the things she did right.
We get a glimpse of the author’s life, the choices she made and what her mother had to say about them. But it was difficult for me to relate to them, not only because of the level of affluence that is demonstrated here, but also because it’s depicted as being part of the everyday landscape. Plum doesn’t feel more fortunate than others, but rather this is what her normal looks like, and while I understand that for some people that is reality, I found it alienating. Art versus tennis? That’s the controversy? In addition, for most of the book we also assume that people are white, because that’s what normal looks like to Plum. There are a few places that break this up a little bit, and it is for that reason, together with the fluency with which the memoir is written, that I rated this 3 stars rather than 2.5.
Figure out who you are, and that will tell you whether this book is your book. It’s for sale to the public July 19, 2016.
I decided to read and review this title because I anticipated that it would be, by and large, a depiction and critique of the American prison system and Homeland Security. As it happens, that is really only a small part of this memoir, which focuses more on the couple’s relationship and the way that addiction warps and undermines trust and affection. Nevertheless, I found it really compelling, and so thank you Net Galley and Random House Ballantine for the opportunity to read and review free and ahead of the public in exchange for this honest review. The memoir will be available to the public June 7, 2016.
Susan met Graham at a beach getaway where they were two of the people sharing a large house over the course of a vacation. Later, when she needed an author photo done for a book she had written, she remembered that he was a photographer that had worked for the Guardian, and she called him to see if he was interested.
That’s when everything began.
The memoir was originally going to be Susan’s alone, but eventually it occurred to her that Graham could contribute a lot in sharing his experiences with addiction and the point of view from which he saw the world when he was in that condition.
Imagine using heroin because it is easier to hide than alcoholism. From the frying pan into the fire! And hide it he did through the first stages of their relationship. He did romance like nobody’s business and she tried to remain objective, but there’s nothing all that objective about falling in love. And so although he made some highly questionable decisions, it took her awhile to find out about the heroin, which he had told her was behind him. But the heroin wasn’t behind him, and neither was the crack. And before she knows it, she is drawn partially down his rabbit hole while keeping one foot in that of mainstream journalism. It’s a strange place to be.
This reviewer has never minced words about my dislike for cops in general and the punitive, demoralizing, racist, class-based system that is the so-called American Justice System; yet Macindoe didn’t earn much sympathy from me. His narrative is in turns puling, angry with no justification, whiny and full of self pity, up until the end when he has finally shucked the monkey from his back as he reaches his golden years.
Macindoe had climbed from his early impoverished years as a child of a Scottish miner to the middle class world of photo-journalism. He was in the USA by preference and because his son from an earlier marriage was here; thus it was hard to feel the kind of solidarity with him that automatically comes to me regarding Third World citizens that are in the US as the only means by which they can feed their families. He owned a brownstone in New York City and had published photos internationally, garnering praise and a certain level of renown. And so…seriously? Heroin?
It was Stellin that kept me turning the pages. Every time she decided to step back from the relationship I wanted to yank her into the nearest lady’s room and tell her one woman to another to lose this guy entirely. Even her former husband, now in a gay relationship, advised her to “cut bait”. And every time she decided she could offer him some assistance even though they were no longer romantically involved, every time she wondered what their relationship could be like if only he were off the smack, I wanted to howl. After all, the relationship might be interesting if one of them grew a second head or a third eye in the middle of the forehead, but what were the chances?
“Chancers” turns out to be a Scottish expression, and I will leave the reader to find out what it means.
I found this story had an addictive quality of its own, a romantic drama not unlike the soap operas that were the only adult voices I heard most days when I was a stay-at-home mother in the 1980’s. Graham was full of shit, I figured, but I still had to know what happened next.
In the course of hearing Susan and Graham’s story, I did learn a number of things about Homeland Security that I had not known before. Imagine feeling nostalgic for Riker’s Island because it was so much more compassionate than the one for potential deportees!
And so I have to say this is a good read, an ideal book to take on vacation and flop on the beach with; just don’t get so absorbed that you scorch your tender skin, because it’s mighty distracting regardless of what is happening around you.
Fascinating and recommended to those that like compelling memoirs or are interested in addiction issues and the US penal system.
I loved this memoir. I read it in 2014 through the Goodreads First Reads program when I first began writing reviews, a few months before I began my blog. This is a memoir intended for general audiences, disarmingly funny and engaging. I recommend it to everyone.
I’ve been through physical therapy for things like whiplash from car accidents–yes, some folks really do get whiplash–but nothing like the scale experienced by the veterans and soldiers that Levine treats. And so the first sign of expertise is in the title, where she wisely excluded any reference to amputations.
Ask yourself: is there a tasteful way to laugh about amputations and amputees, as well as the people who work with and visit them?
Amazingly, there is. She’s found it.
And at first I could not accept that this was Levine’s first book, because the amount of synthesis and development of characters is not in any way rookie writing, and I don’t care how brilliant the writer might be. The blurb says “experienced writer”. Everything clicked into place when I noted that she had been writing a weekly humor column for a local news source.
I didn’t set out to learn anything here–it’s not as if I am considering becoming a PT. And as stated, this should not be viewed as a niche book just for medical folk or military types, but for the general book-loving public. It would even make a good beach read.
But I learned some things, nevertheless. I didn’t know that anyone who loses both legs ever has a shot at walking on two prostheses, for example; and indeed, some don’t, but the possibility is strong. I didn’t know some prostheses have computers. And I groaned at the obstacles put in place by the fishbowl environment where she worked: deliberately limited computer access so that anyone, celebrities, congressional staff, or John Q. Public, will see the therapists ONLY working with patients, and then therapists have to stay after work in order to enter notes about progress registered, because people who come to see the circus don’t want to see more than two people using a computer at a time. The banning of coffee for the same reason; nobody wants to see your cup! And I loved reading about the guerilla response to said ban.
Levine uses either real people with changed names, or patients and colleagues that are an amalgamation of more than one person. Characters Cosmo and Major Dumont were favorites of mine. And I loved the Jim-quote and how it is used at a party full of insufferable assholes that think that they are really something because they went to Walter Reed and WATCHED the patients and therapists for awhile. The punch line is awesome, and I won’t ruin it by telling it here.
And I really loved the Miracle reference.
I was on my third day with this book when someone in my family died. It was a total fluke, someone younger than me whose time should not have been up yet, and it hit all of us in the solar plexus. The writer’s chapter on the bone marrow transplant proved really cathartic. It wasn’t written for that purpose; I just had the right book at the right time, and so I sat with the book in my hand and cried awhile. Thanks; I needed that.
Sometimes I recommend getting a book free or cheap, but this one is worth the jacket price. Funny, absorbing, and informative.
I read this memoir, one of the most important of our era, before I was writing reviews. I bought it in the hard cover edition, because I knew I would want it to last a long time and be available to my children and their children. It was worth every nickel. It’s lengthy and requires strong literacy skills and stamina, but if you care about social justice and are going to pull out all the stops for just one hefty volume in your lifetime, make it this one.
The first two or three chapters flow like molasses on a hot day. Mandela is laying his ground work, but it’s tedious at the start. Fight your way through it, because the story to follow–and we’re talking about the huge majority of the book here–is absolutely riveting, and in many ways is a tremendous lesson in struggle as well.
Mandela is gone, but he is still a luminary figure in world history. In writing his memoir, some of which he did in prison, he was not following any publishing house’s advice about grabbing the reader right at the get-go. He didn’t need to toss in the usual teasers or follow a blueprint, because he was Mandela. An immensely articulate individual, an attorney before he devoted his life purely to the downfall of Apartheid South Africa, he was capable of telling his story brilliantly in many languages, and he did it.
This autobiography chronicles Mandela’s life, first as the son of a tribal chief, then as an educated Black man under apartheid (a dangerous thing to be), then the journey, both outward and inward, from attorney to the leader of a revolution. You will read about his time on Riecher’s Island, the notorious prison, and the various experiences he had in the courtroom and in captivity. He tells of the cunning ways those who were jailed for political reasons created to communicate and to an extent, continue to lead from inside prison. And he breaks up the horror with an occasional vignette of a surprisingly kindly jailor or other authority figure who does small, decent things when no one is looking.
If you are interested in the history of South Africa and the defeat of Apartheid, this is a must-read. If you ever, as I did, had a “Free Nelson Mandela” poster in your living room…read this, and celebrate.
Huge thanks go to Net Galley and University of California Press, who provided me with a DRC in exchange for an honest review. It has taken me some time to read and rate it because once I had the DRC for Volume 3, I decided I should hunt down volumes 1 and 2 and read those first. Now I am finally finished, and it was well worth the effort.
First let’s talk about the obvious thing: how dare I rate Twain four stars rather than five? I considered the matter and reflected that if Twain himself were to rate it, he might say the same. The reason is that, as he plainly states more than once in his narrative, he is writing not for posterity, but for bulk. An unfair copyright law that was present at the time he began his autobiography permitted a copyright to stand for only 42 years, after which the work entered the public domain. Twain hired a lobbyist to attempt to gain an amendment offering the author the option to renew the copyright, and ultimately he won. But when he started the autobiography, his plan was to write 500,000 words and then republish each of his books with a portion of the autobiography attached so that it could be called a new work and thereby merit a brand new copyright. Twain’s wealth had been considerably depleted by dishonest people in his employ, not once but three times. He had made a fortune, but much of it was gone, partially due to an unscrupulous publishing agent and then later to two household employees he regarded as close to him as family. The double blow of losing so much money and learning of the duplicity of people he had loved and thought loved him was a bitter pill indeed.
So the book contains filler, and this he unabashedly admits. And at times I had found myself wondering why he included all of the letters he had received from cute children he had met onboard a ship, but until I found the bald statement that he needed 500,000 words, I had attributed it to his eccentricity. No, not so much. There is gold in this memoir, and if you like Twain, or history, or both, you should buy it and read it. He says things nobody else has said, and so even once you realize you have entered into a portion of the memoir that is just plain filler and you skim till that section ends, the next things you read will be worth your time and money.
Twain stipulated that the autobiography in its entirety must not be published until he had been dead 100 years. He did this because if he wanted to say someone was a rotten scoundrel and then give details that might well draw a lawsuit, he could go ahead and say it; he also said he didn’t want to hurt the feelings of said people’s children or grandchildren. I’d say he succeeded. Some of those he consigns to the flames are individuals contemporary readers won’t recognize. However, he hated President Theodore Roosevelt with a fiery passion, and he doesn’t mince words where he is concerned.
Most of the memoir is not angry in tone, however; there are places where I laughed out loud. The way he talks about Carnegie, who mentally catalogued every compliment ever paid him and then went through the entire litany when one visited, adding new ones but never removing or abbreviating the old ones, just cracked me up.
Most of all, I loved his explanation of the privileges conferred upon us by old age, one of which was the right to pitch a fit if one felt like it:
“But indeed the older you grow, the less secure becomes the furniture. When I throw chairs through the window I have a sufficient reason to back it. But you–you are but a creature of passion.”
Toward the end I wanted to sit down and cry with him. He lived a long life, but the outcome was that he outlived three of his four children—a little boy that died shortly after birth, as well as two of his three daughters—and also his lovely wife, whom he adored, and his best friends. The autobiography was to provide support for the two daughters that he feared would not see a nickel from his earlier works because of the copyright laws.
Then two things happened almost simultaneously: the law was changed, with the amendment he had fought for added so that his copyrights could be extended; and the daughter that still needed his financial support, a woman that had spent much of her life in an institution because of epilepsy but now had medication that made it possible for her to be at home with a private nurse, died in the night.
It was right before Christmas, and she had been planning a surprise for her father, a Christmas tree decorated in an unusual, very artistic and tasteful manner, as he discovered when he entered her private sanctuary after her death. There were over fifty Christmas gifts there in various stages of wrap, many of them for people Twain says he would not have even thought of shopping for, and so he just sits in that room with his memoir, and he sobs. His other daughter, Clara, has married an affluent man and is very happily married; she won’t need his money. And now Jean is gone. Twain records the fact that the purpose the autobiography was to serve no longer exists…and he stops writing.
It’s enough to break your heart.
And so it ends, but it is an epic work.
For those planning to get this memoir, I give two crucial bits of advice: first, look at the title of the book carefully. Make sure it is this exact title. If it’s turned around—if for example the title becomes “Mark Twain’s Autobiography”—that’s not the one you want; it’s a knock-off and it’s not really even readable. It’s cheaper, but it is a false economy. The Twain Project took painstaking care in sorting and assembling what amounted to two whole file drawers full (or ten feet of files) of Twain material, some of it duplicated, some of it in his own handwriting, and some of it dictated, then typed by someone else. It was a huge job, and UC did it right.
The second bit of advice is not to worry too much about reading volume 2, or if you do, purchase the book that includes volumes 1 and 2 together. For some reason, even after all the effort that was expended into the organization of this hefty memoir, there is some duplication that renders most of volume 2 the same as portions of volume 1. Maybe it was Twain’s intention to duplicate it and so the Twain Project did so to honor his wishes; I can’t say. But everything you need in order to read this memoir in its entirety can be found in volumes 1 and 3.
Even with the filler, it is amazing work, and I highly recommend it to those that love Twain; those that love history; and those that love great memoirs.