It’s quite surprising given that Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks are my two favourite actors, that I hadn’t seen Catch Me If You Can. I saw it on Netflix, gave it a try, and loved it. Obviously. The next step was to read the book, which was equally as entertaining especially since I didn’t realize that Frank Abagnale was a real person who did pose as a Pan-Am pilot among other things.
There are some striking differences between Abagnale’s memoir and the movie, most notably Tom Hank’s character doesn’t actually chase Abagnale around the world and all of his mishaps don’t really happen. Abagnale is able to avoid capture by law enforcement in multiple countries but the Detective is much smarter than the bumbling Tom Hanks.
Overall the book is a great companion to the movie. Abagnale goes to great length detailing exactly how he accomplished his multiple cons including posing as a doctor, a lawyer, and most famously a Pan-Am pilot. A con like his would be impossible to pull off in today’s internet driven world, but it’s still fun to think about and quite unbelievable what Abagnale was able to actually get away with. This was a great read and well worth it.
Recommended Reading: This article in which Frank Abagnale talks about the demise of the con artist amid the rose of cybercrime.
“Spinster” is one of those terms that is not as commonly used as it once was. Having used to refer to a woman who remained unmarried whether a conscious decision or not, the term has fallen into disuse, or when used conjures up images of severe middle-aged “spinster librarian” types. (A stereotype that, as a librarian, I dislike). In her book, titled Spinster, Kate Bolick explores what it means to be single and seeks to reclaim the term.
In this book (an outgrowth of a 2011 Atlantic Article, “All the Single Ladies”) Bolick traces the lives of five great female writers (all of whom never married) and interlaces their lives with stories from her own personal journey. I’ve never read anything quite like this before, that blends memoir/autobiography with non-fiction. I was unsure at first, but as I kept reading I really began to like Bolick and drew my own inspiration from her.
Unlike Bolick’s article in the Atlantic, which was much more “fun” featuring one-night-stands and whirlwind romances, Spinster, is full of contemplative ponderings and the joys of solitude. I bought this book at a time when I too was trying to find joy in being alone after a tumultuous relationship and maybe that’s why it spoke to me so much. If anything it made me realize that I was going to be ok, and being alone, as much as I disliked it at the time did not make me a failure.
I feel like this book will split readers down the middle with some loving it and other hating it. It’s interesting and I fall on the side of those who loved it. Spinster is above all a product of Bolick’s long-term goal; a rejection of the traditional female role for something that she finds more fulfilling. Agree or disagree with Bolick, it is still an insightful and interesting read.
Recommended Reading: How to Be Alone from Thought Catalog. This is an older article but is still in my bookmarks, and I revisit it often.
Recommended Listening: A podacst episode on Self Care produced by Bitch Media for Valentine’s Day.
Continuing with my love of food writing I picked up Michael Gibney’s Sous Chef and liked it almost immediately. Gibney blends his journalistic style of writing into the Anthony Bourdain-world of being a chef that Gibney inhabits. This is by no means the first account of what it’s like to work in a kitchen of a restaurant, nor do I think it will be the last, but Gibney presents his story in a creative way telling the story in the form of “24-hours on the line.”
Gibney takes the reader through every stage of his day from ordering food to kitchen prep to staff tastings and finally closing and after work activities, giving a glimpse into the effect that the job can, and does have, on his personal life. Working such insane and unpredictable hours make it difficult to maintain friendships with people who don’t work in the industry. As Gibney writes however, he enjoys the people he does work with and the strong sense of camaraderie comes through in his writing.
The only complaint I have is the overuse of jargon. I can forgive this though, Gibney is a chef and writing with the terms he uses on a daily basis makes this an authentic experience. There’s also a glossary of terms at the back which was helpful. While this book isn’t a huge game changer it’s a quick paced and enjoyable look at the life of a sous chef.
It’s pretty well agreed upon that there is a sense of romanticism that settles around FDR, as well as his wife Eleanor. FDR managed to lead a country through wartime while battling debilitating illnesses and Eleanor has been an inspiration to generations of women. It should not be surprising that two such extraordinary individuals had an extraordinary marriage, but it does as a President’s private life is often treated as just that, private.
In her novel, Hazel Rowley provides an intimate look at Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s partnership from the day that they met to the day of his death. She details the number of affairs that both, either formally known or suspected, engaged in and how the pair made their marriage work. Franklin was a notorious flirt and enjoyed the company of young women, while Eleanor also had her fair share of “special companions.”
I for one have always been a great admirer of Eleanor Roosevelt. She was a strong silent presence in Franklin’s life and always stood by him. While this may have caused her to have a bit of a martyr’s complex, having to play the role of a put-upon wife, she was always willing and ready to put the needs of others, especially her husband’s before her own. Franklin relied on Eleanor and in turn supported her causes where he could even when certain issues, such as Eleanor’s support for Civil Rights, could hurt Franklin’s popularity.
Even though the couple spent a great deal of time a part, especially during the later half of their marriage while Eleanor was traveling supporting her own causes and Franklin was constantly visiting other world leaders during the Second World War, their letters to one another show a level of tenderness and love. While they may have taken other lovers, it is very clear that Franklin and Eleanor were life partners and needed, and loved each other vey much.
I didn’t really know what to expect from this book, and even while reading, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Upon further reflection however, I decided that this book is quintessentially Steve Martin.
First off, Martin takes himself a bit more seriously in his writing than I was expecting him to. He starts with stories about his life growing up, and his tumultuous relationship with his father, and his sister. He began working at Disney world at a young age where he got a taste of performing (originally in a magic shop) and decided that he wanted to be a performer. In his typical style however, Martin will often be telling a seemingly very heartfelt and touching story only to add a sarcastic comment right at the very end leaving the reading guessing as to his intentions.
Overall I really liked the insights that Martin’s memoirs provided into his life and into the comedy scene at the time. While I growing up, I was only ever familiar with Steve Martin as a movie actor, my parents always talked about how funny his stand up was. It was only in recent years that I have watched, and re-watched footage of a very young Steve Martin performing in comedy clubs and on Saturday Night Live. He writes very fondly about performing on SNL, the people there, and the routines he came up with. It was interesting to see the roots of his comedy routines, and all the factors that contributed to Martin’s very unique sense of humour.
Hugette Clark is a name that I have come across a handful of times; a name used when talking about wealthy eccentric reclusive women. When I saw that this book was about the Gilded Age as well as the Clark family I was intrigued and excited to read it. Unfortunately I had much higher hopes that Dedman and Newell were unable to deliver on.
First off Paul Clark Newell is a distant relation of Hugette Clark, and so in this book she is portrayed in a very flattering light. I’m not saying that I think she’s a terrible person. There is no evidence to that, nor is there actually much about her out there. But I do think that the writers of this book are way more than willing to view Hugette as a victim, who has been taken advantage of by the people around her, most notably the hospitals in which she lived out the end of her days.
I was really hoping that the book would provide a bit more information about the Gilded Age, the great families living on 5th Avenue in Manhattan and the total displays of wealth that accompanied their lifestyles. There is a bit of this at the beginning of the book. In fact a menu from one of Hugette’s father’s dinner parties is included which I obviously found fascinating (I will be attempting to make something off of this menu in the coming weeks). Still, the last two thirds of the book were all about family history and trying to discern the kind of person Hugette was.
In short the book was mediocre for me. Nothing really stood out. I was expecting a grand narrative of New York in the Gilded Age and instead got a pieced together family history. Some of the anecdotes were amusing and there were some interesting facts strewn about, but overall the book just fell flat for me.
I’ve read a bit of Lesley Arfin’s Vice column as well as a number of her thought catalog articles, although she is not someone that I follow religiously. This is such an interesting project and it makes me wish I had kept a diary so I could do something similar.
Essentially Lesley Arfin includes entries from her diary beginning in middle school up until College graduation. She annotates her entries with updates, interviews with the people mentioned and expert hindsight regarding certain events. Her entries deal with everything from crushes to being bullied, first boyfriends to ugly breakups, as well as her descent into drug use and addiction. It’s a bold move to publish the things you wrote as an angsty teenager, but Lesley takes it in stride and provides a really insightful look at growing up.
While I cant’ really identify with a lot of Lesley’s experiences, I think that there are definitely some girls out there who do, and should read Dear Diary to know that their not alone. Arfin mentions that this is one of the propelling forces behind her deciding to publish this book, and it’s a good call. Throughout her diary entries Arfin often notes how alone she feels, and if there a girls going through the same things that Arfin struggled with, it would be reassuring to know that they’re not alone.
This is a good read if you need something to off set a really serious or tragic book. It is funny, light, and frivolous; easy to pick up and put down as needed. I know a lot of people who don’t exactly love Chelsea Handler’s humour, and I will admit in person, sometimes I find her to be a bit too much. That being said, I don’t hate her writing.
I actually love her writing style. She writes as if she’s performing stand-up and it translates really well to the page. She inserts witty comments and writes down the quick responses and insults to people’s questions, that in real life, would probably leave you stunned. It’s hard to explain, but she gets into this rhythm, and boy does it ever work for her.
I also however, don’t think she’s telling the whole truth. Sure many of the things that she writes about are probably somewhat true, but I have a hard time believing that she has really gotten herself into many of these situations. Especially when she writes about her family in such unflattering ways. I don’t think there’s a problem with this however, and authors often don’t tell the whole truth sacrificing it for entertainment value.
Her stories are entertaining, and I will probably continue to purchase and read her books. The first story in this collection, where Chelsea tells her teacher she didn’t do her homework because she is too busy staring in the new Goldie Hawn movie, made me laugh out loud. With school and so much serious reading to do, it’s nice to read something light that makes me laugh.
Doing the Rory Gilmore reading challenge means reading works that are almost impossible to read, or works that you may not have a great deal to write about. So here I have three short reviews of my experiences with books from the Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge.
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl (1947)
Another book that I had to read in middle school before I was mature enough to fully grasp the gravity of the Holocaust. The beauty of this novel however, is that it introduces the Holocaust to young readers in a way that is accessible and easier to take than a lot of other literature dealing with the subject. It’s written by a teenage girl, probably around the same age as many reading her diary. As a young person you understand the tragic circumstances surrounding Anne Frank, but are also sheltered from the more nightmarish aspects of the Holocaust. All that learning will come later. Anne always wanted to be a writer, and she clearly had a talent for it. The tragedy is that we will never know what she could have done had she lived.
S.E Hinton – The Outsiders (1967)
A timeless and classic coming of age story, if you didn’t read this on growing up, you missed out. Essentially a story about two rival gangs separated by socioeconimc status, the story focuses in on Ponyboy Curtis, the narrator, and his brother SodaPop. Hinton himself was only 15 when he started writing this book so the characters are very easy to identify with for teenagers. I also highly recommend watching the 1983 movie starring Emilio Estavez, Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise, and Patrick Swayse, and remember “Stay Gold Ponyboy…”
Stephen Chbosky – The Perks of Being a Wallflower (1999)
A book that was relatively unknown when I first read it, but is now being heralded as a classic coming of age story. It is a very well done coming of age story following the life of Charlie through a series of letters written to an anonymous stranger. I feel like its one of those books that is so amazing to read in high school, but loses its appeal upon graduation. Thats because it’s about high school and when you read things like this, everything feels so relatable. (This book totally gets me!). Its a great read, but if your high school days are long behind you, I’d leave this one off your list.
Think of this as kind of a really life Amy Tan novel; the true story of three generations of Chinese women living in China from the fall of Imperial Rule through to the death of Mao Ze Dong. Chang tells her family’s story in a beautiful and illuminated way.
Chang begins with her grandmother, who grew up poor but was taken as a concubine to a high-ranking warlord through the scheming of her father. Despite living in luxury and seeing her husband only every couple of years, her life was still tense and she was never allowed to visit her parents’ home, even after giving birth to her daughter. When the General fell ill, Chang’s grandmother realized that her daughter would be taken away from her by the General’s first wife and fled, sending false word that her daughter had died. She then married a much older doctor and settled into a simple life in Manchuria.
The story now moves to Chang’s mother, a strong willed independently minded woman who became completely drawn to working for the Communist Party of China. Chang’s father was also working for the Communist Party and the two fell in love, but still insisted on putting the needs of the party first. The Cultural Revolution started when Chang was a teenager and her part of the story deals with the tumultuous political landscape in China, including her parents fall from favour and the slander, gossip, and corruption that ran rampant throughout the nation. She details her experience being sent into the countryside and the pointlessness of many of Mao’s reforms, now with the benefit of hindsight. Chang ends with her decision to leave China to study in England and how her views have changed since leaving. She is still permitted to visit family in mainland China, although her book was banned in the People’s Republic of China.
The unique perspective and storytelling ability made this a joy to read. Chinese history is fascinating, and being narrated through the voices of three women provides a unique perspective. While Chang has the benefit of hindsight when writing, her experiences living in China under Mao are highly detailed and interesting to read.