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.

Continue reading “Sherman Alexie writes a poetic memoir, and a moving study of grief”

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.

Continue reading “An elegy for a culture that’s killing itself”

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.

Continue reading “Words on words: Two odd little books I kind of think I liked”

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”

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”