Telling the story of a man who inexplicably and uncontrollably walks, The Unnamed by Joshua Farris, is one of the more original narratives I’ve read in a while. At it’s heart, it’s a love story about coping with illness in a family. The difference in this story is that the main character’s illness cannot be explained by a physical or a psychological ailment. He simply walks and cannot stop until his body becomes so exhausted he collapses into a deep sleep.
How his wife and daughter deal with this phenomenon, shows a great amount of patience, faith and love. And how the main character eventually deals with his illness shows more of the same, although it may not be as obvious that the route he takes is ultimately meant to help his family move on. It’s a sad story and it’s a meaningful one.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, through the tears and the heartache it took to read it. The frustrations felt by the reader and the characters in the book are very realistic. The “what if’s” that we all feel from time to time are fully expressed in a way that’s compelling and heartbreaking. But perseverance, once again, prevails because of the love that exists between this family. I highly recommend checking this book out as well as Joshua Ferris’s other novel “Then we Came to the End.”
Blood River by Tim Butcher is a true account of the authors journey through Africa via the Congo River in 2004. Butcher’s goal is to take the same path a fellow Telegraph writer, Stanley, took nearly 100 years earlier to see what’s become of the Congo River and neighboring towns since. Once bustling towns in the 1950’s and 60’s, they have become 3rd world communities with no running water or electricity since civil wars broke out in the 60’s.
The journey Butcher takes is filled with the constant danger of being attacked by rebels, yet his desire to complete this quest keeps him moving forward despite everyone warning him that he will never make it out in the bush. He encounters many interesting people along the way, from tribal chiefs to Catholic priests, all helping him piece together what exactly happened to the bustling towns that could be reached by train or port in the 50’s.
No one seems to be able to explain where it all went wrong and the future looks even more bleak as there is absolutely no control over the people in the region. Nothing to stop the rebels from entering towns time and time again, causing the people to flee to the bush, while they ransack their goods. The townspeople simply wait for the rebels to leave and rebuild time and time again. It definitely makes you appreciate their tenacity to keep going, despite these constant setbacks. I was left feeling the hopelessness of it all after reading the book and definitely wouldn’t say it’s a “light” read.
Donald Miller’s book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is a story about stories. Miller realizes while working on a movie based on his life story and book, Blue Like Jazz, that his life isn’t really all that interesting or cinematic. He then goes on a quest to make his life into a great story; he doesn’t just want to write great stories, he wants to live one. He goes about this using the structure of the proper way to write a good story and the book is divided into sections based on this: exposition, a character, a character who wants something, a character who wants something and overcomes conflict, and finally, a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it.
The first half of the book was hard to get through because it consisted mostly of the author wondering why his story weren’t better and attending writing classes about storytelling. Once he realizes that he can’t just sit around thinking about what would make his story interesting and actually needs to get out into the world and start living, the book becomes much better.
Even better than the author finally getting out of the house and out into the world, are the stories of some of the people he meets along the way. Miller writes them with such love and compassion, you feel like you know them. One of the other great stories of the book is about his cross country bicycle ride to raise money for a charity. Yet we only get bits and pieces of the journey. I found myself wishing the book were solely about that bicycle trip and what he learned about the kindness of strangers and tenacity of the human spirit along the way.
It’s an interesting take on telling a story but some of the effort of breaking the book into parts to fit the theme took away from the overall message of the story: be selfless and honestly engaged in life and people, and the great stories will come.
A book of short stories, Like Life by Lorrie Moore has a fitting title. Each story is just a little off from the real world. Each character a bit of a dreamer, wanting more from their lives.
I hate to say that although I typically love Lorrie Moore’s writing, particularly her book of stories, Birds of America, this one just didn’t quite do it for me. I found myself getting lost more than once and completely forgetting or just not really understanding what the story I was reading was about. This is never a good sign.
The real issue though was that I didn’t identify with any of her characters. Each lost in their own ways, not satisfied with their lives, should be easy enough to identify with. However, there was a selfishness and complacency to each of them that simply made me want to tell them to get off their ass and quite whining….to do SOMETHING about it. But they never do. Each story ending pretty much where it began. And therein lies the problem I had with this book, there seems to be no moral to the stories. That may not be an issue for some, but it’s not my cup of tea.
If you have never read any David Sedaris I urge you to go out and get a copy of Naked or Me Talk Pretty One Day immediately. Better yet, get the audio versions, as that’s how I consumed his most recent book of stories and essays, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls. Listening to the audio version, read by David Sedaris himself, adds even more humor to his already funny writing. This particular book featured some true stories and a few fiction. I personally have never liked his fiction as much as the true accounts of his family, his friends and his everyday life. He has a knack for taking something as mundane as standing in line at the airport and spinning it into a hilarious story about how judgmental we all are as human beings.
This book, though not my favorite of his (mainly due to the fiction pieces at the end), did not disappoint. My favorite stories were “Dentists Without Borders” and “The Happy Place.” The first discussing his obsession with going to the dentist, particularly his French dentist. The second, a hilarious account of his first colonoscopy after being urged by his father to get one for years and finally giving in after his sister tells him how much she enjoyed her own. Seriously, it’s not to be missed. The title track is also fantastic, going from purchasing a gift for his partner, to how people collect things, to a bit of information about taxidermy you never thought you wanted to know in one story.
I can’t plug David Sedaris enough as an author and a performer so I’ll end by saying, read him, listen to him, and go watch him speak. You won’t be disappointed.
The Glass Castle, a memoir by Jeannette Walls, tells the story of Walls’ childhood, growing up with a mom and a dad who refused to live ordinary lives. Moving from place to place they somehow managed to scrape by as a family despite neither of the parents working for a living. It’s a bit like reading what I imagine to be a very, very disturbing child welfare case. The fact that the Walls children, for the most part, all came out okay in the end is a testament to the strength of the human spirit if ever there was one. You want to hate her parents for neglecting their children and basically forcing them to fend for themselves, but Walls writes them with such love that you can’t help but feel that, despite everything, this is a family that took care of each other when it mattered most.
Reading the memoir, it’s almost hard to believe the stories could be true. It begins with a fire, literally, and ends with a flickering candle representing both the calm and the chaos of Walls’ life. I became engrossed with the families journey across the U.S. as they traveled from town to town, wreaking havoc and bailing when things got tough. They finally settle in West Virginia for a while and it’s there that the children begin to see that their upbringing was unusual to say the least. As they try to fit in at school, they realize that other kids don’t need to worry about where their food is coming from or how they’re going to heat their homes in the winter. It’s here that the kids begin to see that they don’t have to live the way that they do; however, getting out isn’t easy and they suffer several setbacks along the way.
Just when you think they’re free, the parents show up again, deciding to live homeless in New York City, so they can be near their children. I will definitely never look at a homeless person the same after reading this memoir. This is a story about strength and individuality. It’s a story about what it means to be a family without conforming to societies idea of what that means. You have to read it to believe it and I highly recommend that you do!
Whip Smart is a memoir detailing the years the author spent as a dominatrix in New York City. Beyond the graphic descriptions of her sessions with clients, Melissa Febos delves into how her addiction to drugs and control led her into the profession. And it was only after realizing and accepting in some way that she enjoyed the power of being a dom, that she was eventually able to leave it behind.
The memoir is extremely well written and a quick read. Divided into parts it begins with the fantasy of how glamorous and financially rewarding it can be to work as a dominatrix, then moves into her drug abuse and acceptance that she has a problem, to her working as a sober dominatrix and, finally, to her life after she quits the profession . Power and control are the underlying themes throughout each section of the book.
I thoroughly enjoyed it and appreciated that the author didn’t hold back on getting into the psychological aspect of not only what brought her into becoming a dom, but what brought her clients there. The idea that these submissive/masochistic sessions are a type of therapy for people to work out issues with their exes, their mother’s, their bosses…makes it all quite fascinating for anyone interested in why people do the things they do.