Patti Smith and a life well-lived

smith.jpegI am late to the party on Patti Smith —rocker, reader, poet, artist, writer. In 2015, I read a glowing review of her book “M Train” and checked it out of the library., but never got around to reading it.

Flash forward to a couple months ago when I came across an audiobook of it, and thought I’d give it a try. One of my sons was exploring her old albums so her name must have been subliminally planted in the front of my mind. Plus, I was in a melancholy mood and, because this was a book about her grief over the death of husband, Fred Sonic Smith, I thought it would be just the ticket.

What I discovered is a remarkable person, a writer of depth and whimsey, and someone I wish I had known about years ago.

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Sherman Alexie writes a poetic memoir, and a moving study of grief

love.jpegA few years ago, during a trip out West, I discovered Sherman Alexie. An American Indian writer of verse, short stories, novels, screenplays and essays, his books were in just about every bookstore and souvenir shop west of the Mississippi. I saw his books so many times that I thought I’d better get one.

So glad I did. I bought “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven” and felt like I’d read it before, as the stories seemed familiar. It was probably because I’d seen “Smoke Signals,” a movie Alexie based on this series of interconnected stories of life on the reservation. I liked what I read, and did some research on Alexie, finding essays here and poems there, finding myself touched or enlightened by every one I read.

So when I saw he had a new book out, I jumped on it. “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” is a memoir, peppered with poems (see below), making it a unique book in more ways than one.

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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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