A son finds himself in hunting down his father’s secret

friends.jpgIn 1970 when his father died, Michael Hainey was six years old and too young to ask questions.

His father, Bob, 35, had dropped dead of an apparent heart attack on the street on the way home from his night shift at the Chicago Sun-Times where he was the night slot on the copy desk. He left behind a wife, Barbara, Michael and his older brother, and a secret.

It wasn’t until many years later, still feeling a loss he couldn’t explain, that Michael began looking into his father’s sudden death and didn’t like what he found. He writes his story in a sometimes moving, sometimes frustrating but straight-up honest memoir, “After Visiting Friends.”

Continue reading “A son finds himself in hunting down his father’s secret”


These pictures are worth more than words

marvels.jpgThough he had a long career as an illustrator of children’s books, Brian Selznick first came to my attention with “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” his huge, beautiful novel in pictures for children.

With that book, he seemed to have reinvented both the picture book and the novel by telling his true(ish) story of a boy who, despite his bleak existence living in the walls of a train station, created something beautiful. Despite its 533 pages, the story isn’t told in many words. Instead, vivid, intimate pictures put the readers at the center of this fanciful, though slightly unfulfilling story.

Continue reading “These pictures are worth more than words”

SPOILER: An amazing tale of survival


438.jpgSome stories are too astonishing to be true, and that’s the case with “438 Days: An Extraordinary True Story of Survival At Sea” by Jonathan Franklin.

How do you get so many spoilers in one title? But that’s OK, because you might be familiar with the story. Not too long ago, Salvador Alvarenga was an international sensation, and his face and story, if not his name, were known around the world.

Alvarenga is the shark fisherman who survived 14 months  on his fishing boat, drifting from the coast of Mexico to the Marshall Islands north and east of Australia. That’s more than 5,500 miles, and he did it mostly alone. That he survived at all is amazing, but that he survived with a brain that hadn’t turned to mush is a miracle. That’s why his story was doubted by so many people when he found land. Franklin, a journalist for the Guardian newspaper, spent months researching the story and came away convinced of its veracity. That’s why he wrote this book.

Continue reading “SPOILER: An amazing tale of survival”

‘Brooklyn’ is better seen than read

images.jpegIn honor of St. Patrick’s Day, a book about an Irish immigrant.

Book lovers say it so often it’s almost one word: “yeahbutthebookwasbetter.”

It’s what you say when someone asks you if you saw a particular movie and you want to show what a snob you are. But there’s a lot of truth in that statement. Books usually allow for more internal dialogue, more shades of gray, more ways to understand characters and their actions.

Sometimes it works the other way, though, and the movie is better than the book, able to illuminate motivations and bring charters to life in a way that didn’t happen on the page. A short list of this includes “The Godfather” (what a dreadful book), “The Bridges of Madison County” (dreck both on the page and onscreen, but at least in the movie you don’t have to wade through so much horrid prose) and, now, I add “Brooklyn” to that list.

Continue reading “‘Brooklyn’ is better seen than read”

She’s funny, sure…but someone needs better meds

pretend.jpgJenny Lawson worked in HR and wrote a blog about her crazy life which led to a book deal and a sequel and a lot of money. (I’m not about to criticize this book because I’m jealous, really. Some day someone will read this blog and sponsor it and pay me to review books. Hell, I’d even take payment in free books. It could happen.)

“Let’s Pretend This Never Happened” is undeniably funny and she benefits from having great material. She grew up in rural Texas, poor-ish and raised by two crazy-in-a-good-way parents. Her dad, in particular, is a free spirit who seems to just plow through life with little concern for safety, hygiene and even common sense. Her stories about him bringing home crazy things, like animals—some dead, some alive—can only be related with a wry sense of humor. If she didn’t learn to laugh, she’d be a quivering mess in a padded room.

Continue reading “She’s funny, sure…but someone needs better meds”

Rosemary Kennedy’s sad story

Rosemary.jpegThere is usually good to be found in the worst of situations, and that is the lesson of “Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter,” Kate Clifford Larson’s biography of Rosemary, one of the few Kennedy’s who hasn’t been the subject—for better or worse—of much attention.

It’s a shocking story that ends with an interesting thesis by Larson, though the book as a whole feels over researched and too long. There’s only enough information for a long magazine article, not a full-length book. After all, it is about a woman who spent most of her life in a sanitarium thanks to a botched lobotomy.

Continue reading “Rosemary Kennedy’s sad story”

In ‘Lucy Barton,” a woman tries to figure herself out

So, for those who have been following along, I’ve spent almost two months now reading “Bleak House” as part of my 2016 Classics Challenge. I like it, and it’s coming along, sort of, but it’s a book I have no trouble putting aside to read something else, or play 2048 on my phone (thanks a lot, kids), or making myself apoplectic over the state of the presidential race.

barton.jpgSo, in my breaks from Dickens’ masterpiece (or so everyone says, and it is, truly, extremely enjoyable), I’ve been reading other things. Every day for the next week, I will postone review of a book I’ve read or listened to since the start of this year. You’ll see I haven’t been slacking.

First up: “My Name Is Lucy Barton.”

Continue reading “In ‘Lucy Barton,” a woman tries to figure herself out”