Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #175: Nobody Nowhere: The Remarkable Autobiography of an Autistic Girl by Donna Williams

Nobody-Nowhere1This book re-unleashed my inner cynic, the part of me that can only see the worst in humankind. I’d like to think we’ve evolved, so to speak, since Williams’ formative years, but I don’t know that we’ve had. We’ve gotten better at (formally) labeling the ones kids and similarly ignorant adults will undoubtedly call “retarded,” “crazy,” etc. and I think that’s about it. Perhaps I’m biased by my own upbringing, but it’s not often that someone’s parents truly puts in the effort to get to know their child. So often there’s a disconnect between child and parent, and not just because of the age or generation gap; they’re simply out of touch with one another and the parents, whose job it should be to bridge the gap, will rarely do anything to change that.

Nowadays, Williams’ teachers might’ve recognized the characteristics of autism, but that would’ve just given her parents something to pin all her problems on, and even more of a reason to ship her away somewhere else with people actually qualified to do something to help her. I think of them like the parents in Matilda, times a thousand. They never understood Donna and it’s because they never made an effort. She didn’t fit into their family picture, so they either pushed her out of it or tried to beat her into line. There are more kids these sorts of situations than I, or anyone, would care to admit.

On the flipside, though, that she managed not just to survive it all, but to thrive, and actually because of that same mistreatment, is an inspiration. I don’t know that I could’ve made it through what she did, and yet Donna Williams, who it seems actually has more difficulty coping than you or I, generally speaking, was able to. Making herself and her feelings understood was another seemingly insurmountable challenge of hers, yet in writing this book she succeeded at that as well, doing a better job of it than many, including myself.

If you want, then, to have the best and worst qualities of the human race reaffirmed, read Nobody Nowhere. It’ll make you simultaneously a cynic and a romantic.

Advertisements

loulamac’s #CBRV review #75: Alfred & Emily by Doris Lessing

alfred & emily

Alfred and Emily were Doris Lessing’s mum and dad, and like many of their generation, both were badly affected by the First World War. Alfred was injured by shrapnel, and lost his leg above the knee. For the rest of his life he refused to accept the limitations of his disability, and tried to live as an active, physical man. He was dead in his early 60s, his heart giving out after many years of battling diabetes. During the war, Emily was a well-respected nurse, tending to the broken young men coming back from Europe. What they saw and suffered during their wartime experiences hung over both of them for the rest of their lives.

Alfred & Emily is one of Lessing’s last books, and she is in contemplative mood. The book is split into two halves, with the first telling their alternative story. In it, they meet as young adults and become friends. The Great War doesn’t break out, they marry other people, and tread very different paths. Lessing’s memories of her parents become fantasies, with him a prosperous farmer and her a rich man’s widow who captivates children with her stories of the exploits of mice and uses her influence to open charity schools.

The second half shares anecdotes from their real existence. Although the war has shattered them, they are married with two children. Ex-pat life in Rhodesia is tough. Without advice or experience, they select land and build a house without shelter and far from water. Their dreams of a glamorous ex-pat lifestyle are shattered, and the evening dresses and cricket whites they packed expecting Kenya’s ‘Happy Valley’ moulder in their trunks. This is a life from which Doris and her brother escape as quickly as they can, although of course they never really leave it behind.

This approach is a really interesting idea, but it doesn’t quite come off. The writing style of each half is very different, but neither is satisfactory. It’s hard to explain, but I was left wishing there was more for me to sink my teeth into. The first part fails to create a convincing England in an alternative reality where a whole generation of men wasn’t decimated by the First World War. The second is a jumbled mix of events that just about hang together, but barely. Buried in there are Lessing’s musings on grief, disappointment, and children bearing the sorrows of their parents, which are as acute and raw as you would expect of her. But overall it saddens me to say that the book is patchy and disappointing.

Ashlie’s #CBR5 Review #32: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) By Mindy Kaling

“Mindy Kaling is my spirit animal.” This was my thought as the audiobook drew to a close. (More on that in a minute.)

I had been on the fence about this book for a while. I heard good things, enjoyed her on “The Office” and sporadically see “New Girl” but I wasn’t convinced. As I was packing for a long solo road trip, I found this in my library’s digital collection and figured it would pass the time.

I am SO glad I picked it out! I’m not sure if I would have enjoyed reading it as much as i did listening to it. It was basically like having a funny, interesting, authentic friend in the car for six and a half hours. Highly enjoyable, and a few laugh out loud moments.

Back to the spirit animal observation. I have some great girl friends, but I don’t always fit well in an all female dynamic, so I was surprised at how well I identified with this book, and with Mindy. As a single woman in the south, it’s easy to let that define you (since other people do) but her attitude reminds me to be the sassy, hopeful, independent woman I am.

reginadelmar’s #CBR5 review #36 I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron

If you’re a certain age, birthdays are always days of mixed emotions. Personally, I find it annoying that people often say “consider the alternative.” Sure we’d all rather be alive than dead, assuming that we’re not in severe physical or mental pain. Nevertheless, those words are hardly comforting. Ephron sums it up pretty well:  “There are all sorts of books written for older women. They are, as far as I can tell, uniformly upbeat and full of bromides and homilies about how pleasant life ca be once one is free from all the nagging obligations of children, monthly periods and . . full-time jobs.  . . . Why do people write books that say it’s better to be older than to be younger? It’s not better.”

Fortunately, Ephron was funnier than most folks, so this short little gem covers a lot of middle-late age ground with good humor. It is also a short autobiography in which she covers a number of chapters in her life: interning at the White House, becoming a writer, marriages and parenting and renting in New York. In addition, she covers the challenges of wrinkling skin, bad hair, poor economic decisions, parental advice that was all wrong, the pleasure of a good book, and yes, the frustration of being a certain age when friends are more likely to be passing away than getting married. My favorite chapter was titled “My Life in 3,500 Words or Less.”

Aging takes courage, aging requires humor, it’s not for sissies and Ephron was no sissy. She was a great observer of life. Ephron also recognized the little things that can drive you nuts.  For example this: “Reading is bliss. But my ability to pick something up and read it — which has gone unchecked all my life up until now — is now entirely dependent on the whereabouts of my reading glasses.” Amen to that.

Malin’s #CBR5 Review #129: Adventures with the Wife in Space: Living with Doctor Who by Neil Perryman

Disclaimer! I was given an ARC from Faber & Faber via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and impartial review. I was absolutely delighted to get to read it before the release date (it’s out now), but the husband and I had already pre-ordered a copy, which will hopefully be arriving in the post any day now.

Neil loves Sue. He also loves Doctor WhoBut can he bring his two great loves together? And does he have the right?

Adventures with the Wife in Space is, at its heart, the story of Doctor Who, and its fans, seen through the eyes of two people – one who knows almost nothing about the programme and another who knows way too much. 

If you don’t want to read a long review, just trust me, this book is excellent. If you’ve ever been a big fan of anything for a long time, or you’re with someone who’s a big fan of anything, get this book. You will like it, because it’s funny and touching and sweet and full of cool Doctor Who anecdotes. To read full my review of this book, which turned out to focus a lot my own relationship with the show Doctor Who, not to mention my husband’s deep and abiding love for it – go to my blog. 

 

Marya’s #CBR5 Review #1: Untied by Meredith Baxter

Untied: A Memoir of Family, Fame, and Floundering
Meredith Baxter

I read this autobiography for work (long story), and the good news is that I was able to blow through it in about 48 hours. The name Meredith Baxter did not ring a bell for me, nor did I recognize the attractive older blonde woman on the cover, although her sassy blonde mom-hair and super white, super straight teeth reminded me of Katie Couric.

As it turns out, Meredith Baxter is, among other things, the mom from Family Ties. I guess I am about 3 years too young to be the target demo for this memoir, because I don’t remember much about that show except that Michael J. Fox was a Republican.

The book is…not embarrassing. But there is nothing in it to recommend it. Baxter had a rough childhood, a series of bad relationships (one abusive), five children, and a long and varied TV career during which she worked with a number of very famous people, then got sober AND came out as a lesbian. That sounds exciting, right?!

Nope. You would think all of that could make for a juicy memoir, but Baxter only has nice, bland things to say about her coworkers, and her analysis of her relationships with family, spouses and children feels like just that – analysis.  She takes responsibility for her bad decisions and tries to forgive and understand those who did her wrong. The entire book reads like an epic AA meeting.

I’m glad Baxter is happy and healthy these days. It seems like this book was probably therapeutic for her, and bully for her for getting someone to pay her to write it. But as a work of literature, it’s a waste of wood pulp.

Rating: If you are on vacation and it’s pouring rain, and this is the only book in the hotel lending library, this is not too painful to read. (Additional 10 points off the final score  because the subtitle reminds me of my freshman English papers. Something like “Heroines in the works of Charles Dickens: Piety, Poverty, and Perseverance.”)