An elegy for a culture that’s killing itself

hillbilly.jpgI read J.D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” about a month ago, and still don’t know what to think about it.

Looking at it one way, the book is an engrossing first-hand story about the life of the rural poor—particularly those in Appalachia—and how one man got out, into the Marines, Ohio State University and into Yale Law School. Now, though Vance’s website says he’s a principal at a leading Silicon Valley investment firm, he is better known as a talking head on cable news channels.

But “Elegy” is also a loving sepia-toned remembrance of a life that no one in America should be living and the people who live it.

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‘Groucho and Me:’ Light on details, but not on laughs

groucho and me 2.jpegReaders shouldn’t turn to “Groucho and Me” funnyman Groucho Marx’s 1959 memoir to learn anything substantial about him or his famous brothers. He even acknowledges that a couple of times. Do pick up the book if you want to laugh. It’s the funniest book I’ve read in a long time.

I chose this book from among several options on my bookshelf to fulfill the Memoir or Biography category for the 2016/17 Classics Challenge. Surprisingly, there were several options on my shelves. I thought it might just be the time to dive into Moss Hart’s “Act One,” (and finally finish) or Sheilah Graham’s “Beloved Infidel,” her take on her relationship with F. Scott Fitzgerald. Oddly, I had even others that could fill the bill, too, but decided humor was the way to go. There’s so little to laugh at these days.

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Words on words: Two odd little books I kind of think I liked

The greatest thing about being curious is that you explore things many others would dismiss out of hand. That is also the worst thing about being curious.

That’s how I came across two recent books that were intriguing, touching and, I think, ultimately rewarding. I must confess, though, I’m not sure that I completely liked either of them.

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No hate, just a lesson in gratitude and moving forward

hate.jpegOn a Friday night in November, 2015, French journalist Antoine Leiris kissed his wife Helene goodbye on her way out the door for a concert. He was watching their 17-month-old son, Melvil. It was the last time he would see her alive.

Helene was one of more than 90 people killed by terrorists at the Bataclan concert house that night in what was the deadliest attack on France since World War II. Two days after the attacks, while still trying to understand what had happened to him, his child, his country, Leiris wrote an open letter to the terrorists in a Facebook post (ah, modern life) that went viral.

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My summer of reading crap: Part 1—Memoirs

It’s been more than three months since I’ve posted, but I’ve been reading. And I’ve begun to lose faith in my ability to choose readable books.

This summer I read some serious crap. With a few exceptions, everything I have read since I posted on June 10 about “Peyton Place,” (and was pleasantly surprise that it wasn’t crap) has been on the crap spectrum.

I read novels that were highly praised and were crap-like, but not complete turds; novels that sounded good in theory but were crap-ish; good stories ruined by crappy writing; crappy stories told crappily and one of the worst books I’ve ever been encouraged to read. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here, in short form, are reviews of four memoirs I read that all could have been much better.

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‘My Father, the Pornographer:’ Great title, better memoir

my-father-the-pornographer-9781501112461_lg.jpgI’d never heard of Chris Offutt before I saw the title of his newest book, but I had been familiar with some of his work.

A writer with credits on two TV shows I watched for a while, (“True Blood” and “Weeds”) I had likely been intrigued by the characters Offutt created and laughed at his dark, twisted humor.

Both are present in spades in “My Father, The Pornographer,” his new memoir of his childhood growing up in the hills of Kentucky, the son of a man who made his living writing pornography.

It’s the kind of honest memoir, like “The Glass Castle,” “Angela’s Ashes” and, well, um, hmmmm… are there others? that makes you wonder how some people make it through.

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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.”

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