Tag Archives: Memoir

Florence King – Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady

ConfessionsofaFailedSouthernLadyFor some reason reading this felt kind of like reading Are You There God It’s Me Margaret, if that book had been written for adults and if Margaret had turned out to be a lesbian later in life. This was a great read in which Florence King details her life growing up in Washington DC under the tutelage of her Grandmother, determined to make Florence a lady despite failing with her own daughter, Florence’s mother.

While this book is Florence King’s memoir and tells the story of her life from growing up in the 1950s in Washington to her pursuit of higher education before falling in love with professional writing, Florence’s grandmother is by far the best part of this book. Her grandmother’s obsession with feminine weakness, even to the point of competition with other women over whether nervous breakdowns, or “female troubles,” were the true marker of femininity, is the most hilarious part of Florence’s story and becomes a reoccurring theme throughout the whole book.

Even though King writes about her grandmother with a sense of humour, she still maintains a great deal of respect for her and it becomes clear how much of an impact having such a strong willed grandmother, and mother, albeit in a different sense, had on her life. King writes beautifully which makes her memoirs a treat to read and enjoy.

Steve Almond – Candyfreak (2004)

CandyfreakAs someone who loves Candy, I was excited to read Steve Almond’s book about his journey to the chocolate underbelly of America. While I love chocolate and candy, I do not think that anyone is as much of a self proclaimed freak as Steve Almond.

In this book that is part autobiography, part inside look at the small-scale candy industry, Almond takes the reader on a journey to the lesser known candy factories throughout the United States, a part of American culture which is often forgotten. Almond tours factory after factory sampling regional candy bars such as the Clark Bar, the Caravelle, Haviland Thin Mints, the Twin Bing, Valomilks and the Idaho Spud to name a few, detailing each the history, manufacturing process, and taste of each bar for the reader.

I liked this book, but found that Almond was sometimes trying too hard to engage with the reader with his self-deprecating view of himself. I also often found myself bitter and jealous anytime Almond mentioned the cases of free candy he received after all his visits. One thing I did find interesting however is how the industry favours the big companies so much. This should not come as a surprise, but often time these smaller companies cannot pay the shelf fee to have a presence in grocery stores or national chains like wal-mart and thus are resigned to producing chocolate bars for regional/local consumers. If you’ve ever looked at the knock-off chocolate bars next to the cash register at Dollerama, chances are they were produced by one of these factories.

It’s and interesting book and definitely a must read for anyone interested in the industry, or obsessed with candy in general.

Steve Martin – Born Standing Up (2007)

BornstandingupI 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.

Pattie Boyd – Wonderful Tonight (2007)

WonderfulTonightFor those unfamiliar with Pattie Boyd, she is most famous for being both the wife of George Harrison and Eric Clapton, inspiring a slew of famous songs in her wake (Something, Layla, Wonderful Tonight). In her memoirs she tells of her experiences with both men in her own words.

Obviously there are always different sides to different stories regarding what actually transpired. Pattie Boyd was probably slammed in the media for leaving George Harrison for Eric Clapton, and here in her own writing, Boyd has the chance to justify her actions, not that they need justification to begin with.

While Boyd is writing in a way that puts her in a slightly better light, I think that everyone has to acknowledge that being in a relationship with such creative people would not be an easy task. She details how difficult life was married to George, a member of the most influential rock band, and then with Eric Clapton. While sometimes the book can be a little too “woe is me,” I don’t think that Boyd is overstating the challenges she faced in her relationship with both these men.

What I liked the most about this book was the fact that even though Pattie Boyd was the inspiration behind so many famous songs, she does not take the credit for them and states quite openly that the songs were only written due to the immense talent that both these men possessed.

Overall I liked her writing and it provides a good insight into the world of the 1960s-1970s British rock scene.

Hillary Clinton – Hard Choices (2014)

hard-choicesI finished reading this just as Hillary Clinton announced her bid for the 2016 Presidential election. While I am thrilled with Hillary’s announcement and wish her all the best, her book, published last year, was clearly meant as a means to this end.

I hate political memoirs, I just find that there is something so disingenuous about them. They lack the passion that I hope to find in my reading and I normally avoid them at all costs. I made the exception here because A) I do admire Hillary Clinton a great deal, and B) She was doing a book signing at the Indigo around the corner so I had to buy the book.

Essentially the book serves as a way for Hillary to talk about, and justify, all the Hard Choices she had to make while Secretary of State. There were parts where her humour and passion come out, such as when talking about her friendships with various European leaders, (she talks about Nikolai Sarkozy as though he is her gay best friend), and the close bond she established with Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese opposition politician and human rights activist.

In addition the chapters spent talking about human rights, specifically for women and girls around the world were the most enjoyable as these are clearly causes that Clinton cares about. While the book had its shining moments, overall it was quite boring; just another political memoir to add in a candidate’s bid for Presidency.

Lesley Arfin – Dear Diary (2007)

DearDiaryI’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.

Julie Klausner – I Don’t Care About Your Band (2010)

IDontCareAboutYourBandAnyone who reads this blog knows that I am a huge fan of funny books written by funny women. In her memoir, Julie Klausner shares what she has learned from dating her fair share of Indie Rockers, Trust Funders, Pornographers, Faux-Sensitive Hipsters, Felons, and Other Guys.

My favourite chapter of hers is about how to handle dating a musician. I pulled two quotes that I thought were so brilliant.They show just how bitter and cynical she is, while also passing on some much needed wisdom.

“Your man will always love his bandmates in a way you can’t touch because they are the guys who help him create music. You can only help him create a living human being with your dumb uterus”

“Don’t you know that a musician who writes a song for you is like a baker your dating making you a cake? Aim higher” 

Klausner writes a bit like Chelsea Handler in detailing her outrageous escapades, but there is something a bit more subtle in her writing compared to Handler’s. Klausner is far more open and honest about her true feelings, she was genuinely hurt and heartbroken by a number of the guys she was involved with and lets the reader know it. It’s great, and there were so many times throughout this book where I identified with her. We’ve all been there, had our hearts broken by people who didn’t always deserve us, and its just always so reassuring to know that now matter what you’re feeling at the time, it will get better. Julie Klausner got through it and went on to write a fantastic book about it.

David Sedaris – Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim (2004)

DressYourFamilyInCorduroyAndDenimCoverI love David Sedaris so much, but I just don’t think any collection will ever be able to top Me Talk Pretty One Day. I’m moving chronologically through his publications, and so far, that one is such a stand out collection. These stories however are still hilarious and I especially love when he talks about his relationship with his sisters. I wish he wrote more about Amy, I’d love to know more about what she was like growing up and as a teenager. My favourite story in this collection was definitely when David Sedaris is working as a house cleaner and is accidentally hired by someone looking for an “erotic housekeeping” service. His stories are funny, but he also exposes the frailty of emotional connections and has some poignant moments, especially when he writes about his partner Hugh. Overall, it’s a collection of short stories by David Sedaris. If you like his other works you’ll like this one also.

Chelsea Handler – Are You There Vodka? It’s Me Chelsea (2008)

Are_you_there_vodka_book_coverThis 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.

Piper Kerman – Orange is the New Black (2010)

OrangeistheNewBlackSome of my friends told me that they didn’t really like reading this book since they already watch the show and it’s basically the exact same thing. After reading it, I disagree, the show and the book are very different from one another and while some of the characters on the show draw inspiration from the book, they are by no means the same people. There are some things the T.V show does better, and some things the book excels at.

First off the T.V show does a better job with the ensemble characters. This makes sense, as Orange is the New Black is Piper’s memoir of prison life so she is naturally the focus of the book. The reason I love the T.V show so much is because of the flashbacks and the way to get the stories, sometime tragic, sometimes humorous, of all the women locked up in prison. Kerman mentions these women but cannot flush out their stories as much as the T.V show can.

The book however makes Piper a much more likeable character, which isn’t that surprising since, again, it was written by her. In the T.V show Piper is very self-centered and self-absorbed in her own problems. While she makes friends with women around her, she is still consistent in putting herself first, which makes her annoying and sometimes cringe-worthy to watch. In the book however (and I guess real life), Piper is this strong woman, who is, at least in hindsight, able to recognize her privilege as a white middle class woman. She has a support system on the outside, which she constantly appreciates and values through her writing.

Most of all however, Piper Kerman, as opposed to Piper Chapman, feels remorse for her actions. The book is a critique on the Bureaucracy of Prisons, but it still helps Piper come to terms with her sentence. Even though she was arrested on a 10-year-old drug charge for transporting drug money, after being surrounded by women who’s lives have been torn apart by drugs, be they addicts, recovering addicts, or involved in the drug world in some way, Piper realizes that she is complacent in these women’s situations. She feels true remorse for her actions; at least that’s how it comes across in her writing.

Overall Piper writes honestly and openly about her prison experience, leading to the carrying of a much more likeable person than the one portrayed on T.V. The Piper in the book however doesn’t make for great television watching, and so it’s clear why the writers took such artistic license with the show. Kerman’s prison experience is a very singular one, and many other women of different races would have a very different telling of their experience with the BOP. I still think the book has its merits however, and hopefully fans of the show will agree.