One-Minute Book Reviews

October 5, 2007

One-Sentence Reviews of Nonfiction Recently Featured on This Site

Filed under: Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:26 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

No time to plow through David Halberstam’s 736-page book the Korean War? Or even Alan Greenspan’s 544-page justification of his economic policies? Here are one-sentence reviews of other nonfiction books recently featured on this site. A link to the full review follows each description. Click on the “Books in a Sentence” category at right for one-line reviews of fiction and poetry.

Four Days to Glory: Wrestling With the Soul of the American Heartland. By Mark Kreidler. One of the year’s best sports books brings unexpected drama and poignancy to an Iowa state high school wrestling championship and its emotional impact on two favored competitors and their families, coaches, teammates and fans. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/08/07/.

Fowl Weather (Books I Didn’t Finish). By Bob Tarte. A Michigan writer’s memoir of life with 39 birds, ducks, geese, rabbits, cats, rabbits and other creatures, which didn’t live up to its billing as a book with a “Dave Barry on a farm” sensibility. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/08/28/.

Here’s the Bright Side: Of Failure, Fear, Cancer, Divorce, and Other Bum Raps. By Betty Rollin. Illustrations by Jules Feiffer. Saccharine-sweetened mush from a former NBC correspondent who argues that “within each form of misery” there is “a hidden prize waiting to be found” but draws so few distinctions between, say, the pain of someone rejected by Harvard and a fourth-degree burn victim that it would be cruel to give this book to some people who are in physical or emotional pain. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/08/21/.

How to Become Ridiculously Well-Read in One Evening: A Collection of Literary Encapsulations. Compiled and Edited by E.O. Parrott. Classic works of lit / Reduced quite a bit / In poems and prose / As fun overflows. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/08/20/.

Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith. By Barbara Brown Taylor. An Episcopal priest tells why she left the parish ministry in a book that offers a rare portrait of the day-to-day challenges the clergy (including, in this case, a request from a woman who called to say: “Martha is sitting on the toilet and we are out of toilet paper. If I came over right now, could you write me a check to the grocery store so she can get up?”). www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/09/10/.

Looking for Class: Days and Nights at Oxford and Cambridge. By Bruce Feiler. The host of the popular PBS series Walking the Bible remembers his jolly good time in graduate school at Cambridge University in the 1990s (which, despite his title, gets far more space than Oxford). (Briefly noted.) www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/08/22/.

Love You, Mean It. A True Story of Love, Loss, and Friendship. By Patricia Carrington, Julia Collins, Claudia Gerbasi, and Ann Haynes with Eve Charles. Sept. 11 anniversary re-post of an earlier review of a memoir by four 9/11 widows, who talk about the coping in the aftermath of tragedy. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/09/11/.

The Scorpion’s Sweet Venom: The Diary of a Brazilian Call Girl. By Bruna Surfistinha/Raquel Pacheco. Interviewed by Jorge Tarquini. Translated by Alison Entrekin. Raquel Pacheco writes about as well as Henry James would have run a brothel in this memoir of her experiences as teenage prostitute who became notorious for blogging about her clients. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/08/26/.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

August 6, 2007

Emily Rapp Writes in ‘Poster Child’ About Life After Her Foot Was Amputated

A former poster child for a March of Dimes chapter in Wyoming had a meltdown after years of trying to persuade herself that her disability made her no different from others

Poster Child: The Story of a Broken Girlhood. By Emily Rapp. Bloomsbury, 240 pp., $23.95.

By Janice Harayda

Emily Rapp was born with a birth defect that required the amputation of her left foot just before her fourth birthday. She adapted so well – in her own eyes and others’ – that at the age of six she was a poster child for her March of Dimes chapter in Wyoming.

But her view of her condition began to change in college, where she read a book of essays by women with disabilities. One contributor wrote that others tended to view people with disabilities “either as helpless things to be pitied or as Super Crips, gallantly fighting to overcome insurmountable odds.”

A great virtue of Poster Child is that it avoids those extremes. In this lucid memoir, Rapp gives a much more complex view of what it meant to walk first with braces, then with a wooden leg and finally with a Flex-Foot, “a prosthetic limb that featured a suction socket and a hydraulic knee unit.”

Poster Child is not a perfect book, partly because Rapp’s effort to understand her disability seems to be a work-in-progress. After years of pretending to be just like anybody else, Rapp developed undiagnosed anorexia in high school. But she did not seek counseling until she had a meltdown, including severe panic attacks, as a Fulbright Scholar in Korea. And in her final pages she at times sounds as though she has traded her earlier beliefs for the new jargon she absorbed in therapy. In the next-to-last chapter, she writes:

“I realized that if I did not break free of my faulty logic, I might spin forever in a destructive trap of my own making, and then I would never be whole.”

That is pretty much the party line for cognitive behavioral therapy, the standard treatment for panic attacks: If you’re having attacks, it’s because you need to fix your “incorrect” thinking. But much of the evidence in this book suggests that Rapp’s problems were caused not by her “faulty logic” but by others’ cruelty and insensitivity. Rapp also doesn’t make clear whether she overcame her anorexia, which once caused her to stop menstruating and carry only 98 pounds on her 5’6″ frame. This is the equivalent of an unresolved subplot in a novel, and the lapse isn’t irrelevant to the story. Anorexia is generally regarded as a condition that involves a desire for control, and some research suggests that it commonly reflects anger with the opposite-sex parent. Rapp says little enough about her father, a Lutheran minister, that you wonder if he had more to do with this story than she lets on.

Such inconsistencies in the last 50 or so pages rob Poster Child of the unity of such as memoirs as Autobiography of Face. But it is still a very good book, maybe the best we have about growing up as an amputee. It also has a powerful message for parents, teachers, health-care workers and others who repeatedly tell children with disabilities, as Rapp’s mother did, “You are just like everybody else.” The question that lingers is: If you tell children with disabilities that they’re exactly the same as others, what happens when they figure out that they’re not?

Best line: Born with one leg shorter than the other, Rapp attracted stares long before her amputation. She says the questions began soon after she took her first steps: “Whenever she was asked, ‘What happened to your baby?’ Mom replied, ‘Oh, she is okay. She just has one leg shorter than the other, and the brace helps her walk.’ She became comfortable with this standard response. It didn’t bother her when children asked her what was wrong with me; she felt that their curiosity was innocent and natural. She got annoyed only when adults asked or, worse, expressed condolences (‘I’m so sorry; it must be so hard’) or dispensed useless medical advice like ‘There are medical advances every single day’ or ‘God works in mysterious ways; at least she looks happy.’ And according to my mother, I was.”

Worst line: Rapp writes that on “a pleasant summer afternoon” in Colorado, “The smell of dry sagebrush and lilacs hung in the air.” A post by the Colorado State University Extension Service says that in Colorado lilacs bloom, as elsewhere in the U.S., in the spring – specifically, in May.

Editor: Annik La Farge

Published: January 2007

Recommendation? An excellent book for reading groups, not just because it’s so well-written but because it has implications for how Americans respond to many kinds disabilities, not just to amputees. Poster Child may especially interest reading groups at houses of worship that have ministries to or programs for people with disabilities.

Caveat lector: This review was based on an advance reading copy. Some material in the finished book may differ.

Links: www.emilyrapp.com and www.bloomsburyusa.com

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

August 2, 2007

One of the Best Memoirs of 2006 Arrives in Paperback

One of the best memoirs of 2006, Alexander Masters’s Stuart: A Life Backwards (Delta, $12), has arrived in paperback, not long after becoming a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award. If you don’t think anybody could tell a charming story of the life an “ex-homeless, ex-junkie psychopath,” this book could change your mind. This link will take you to a review that has a reading group guide posted just below it: www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/03/22/. The readers’ guide is also saved with the March posts and in the “Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides” category.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 24, 2007

David Matthews Looks Back on Straddling a Racial Divide in ‘Ace of Spaces’

The son of a black father and white mother writes of the confusion he felt while growing up in Baltimore in the late 20th century

Ace of Spades: A Memoir. By David Matthews. Holt, 302 pp., $24.

By Janice Harayda

Ace of Spades has a blurb on its back cover from Paula Fox, and its coolly detached prose in some ways resembles that of her Borrowed Finery. But you wish that the book had more in common with the work of such an elegant writer.

David Matthews affects the elevated diction of a Victorian triple-decker in this memoir of the racial confusion he felt while being reared in a Baltimore ghetto by his black father after his white mother abandoned him in infancy. His words clash repeatedly with his stories of living in a rat-infested house and carrying a Beretta when a friend needed backup on a drug deal – “perforce,” “peradventure,” “vouchsafed,” “surfeiture,” “temerarious.” The problem isn’t that he’s sending people to the dictionary – something I’m all for — but that his mandarin prose makes no sense in context. If he’s trying to show that he was once, as he puts it, “the shallowest sort of aesthete,” why keep it up after that phase passed?

You get the sense that, through such language, he’s less interested in telling the truth straight up than in creating a “character” who will interest readers or movie producers. This impression becomes especially troublesome near the end of the book when he searches for facts about his mother, who he learns died after abandoning him. He gets the name of a psychiatrist who treated her for schizophrenia and finds that — “miraculously,” he says – the doctor is still alive and living, as he is, in New York. The psychiatrist agrees promptly to meet with him, then pours out the details of his mother’s personal and medical history. Far stranger stories have appeared in memoirs, and everything in Ace of Spades could be factual, apart from the few “names and identifying characteristics” that Matthews says he has changed. Still, you wish that Matthews had, as he might have put it, “vouchsafed” the proof.

Best line: Matthews says that in college he developed an “intellectual anorexia” common among black men when he saw any display of intellect as “uncool, which is the definition of white.”

Worst lines: “… he aimed his fifteen-year-old phallic trebuchet at the college coed/divorcée/cocktail waitress set.” Matthews also writes that in middle school he had “an incipient though feckless concernment with the opposite sex.” Yes, “concernment.”

Editor: Vanessa Mobley

Published: February 2007

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 17, 2007

Nigel Marsh’s ‘Fat, Forty, and Fired,’ a Memoir of Unemployment

An English advertising executive in Australia discovers that – surprise – caring for his children is harder than he thought

Fat, Forty, and Fired: One Man’s Frank, Funny and Inspiring Account of Leaving His Job and Finding His Life. By Nigel Marsh. Andrews McMeel, 288 pp., $19.95.

By Janice Harayda

A couple of decades ago, American newspapers regularly published articles by men who had decided to stay home with their children and realized – to their amazement – that the work their wives did was actually hard. These gee-whiz accounts became a journalistic cliché fast enough that they have pretty well played themselves out here.

But apparently the trend still has life in Australia, where Nigel Marsh’s memoir of nine months at home with his family earned him spot next to Dan Brown and John Grisham on the bestseller lists. Not that Marsh signed on for the project as willingly as some of those former American “househusbands” who have since been recast as “stay-at-home dads.” Born and raised in England, he was the CEO of an advertising agency when a merger left him jobless. Instead of going right back to work, he decided that he wanted to stop being “a bit player in my own family” and spend more time with his wife, Kate, and four children under the age of 9.

Fat, Forty, and Fired is a breezy account of this experience that reads at times like a book fished out of an American time capsule from the 1980s, or a treatment for an offbeat Australian version of The Simple Life with the author alternately playing the roles of Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie and one of their hosts. Marsh pats himself on the back when his stint as a school cafeteria volunteer goes well, and he’s irritated when his wife doesn’t “thank” him for dressing his twin daughters. Fortunately, Kate sets him straight quickly: “Why should I thank you when you do the basic things that you should be doing anyway?” And his book becomes more interesting as he flings himself other goals – to lose 30 pounds, train for an ocean swimming race, and conquer the alcoholism that he’d been denying even while knocking back six beers a night after work.

By the end of the nine months, Marsh has achieved several of his aims. But his hope of achieving “a more balanced life” is another matter. Recidivism sets in almost as soon as he takes a new job as CEO of Leo Burnett Australia. And he concludes that all the books and articles that tell men how to achieve “work-life balance” are not only misguided but part of the problem, because men can’t “have it all” any more than women can. That may be true, you have the sense that he’s known that all along. So what did he really gain from his experience?

In his time off, he quit drinking, lost weight and had many lyrical moments with his children, who play amusing and at times poignant roles in the book. And such gains, he suggests, were enough. “I may be struggling,” he admits, “but the struggle is slightly more enjoyable less damaging to those around me than it was a year ago.”

Best line: One of the strongest chapters deals with how people reacted after learning that Marsh had quit drinking. One group insisted bizarrely that he’d never had a problem with alcohol: “I was somehow offending these people’s sense of what a ‘real’ drunk’s story should be. I wasn’t a professional drunk – I was merely third division. Pathetic. My life hadn’t gone off the rails enough for them. If only I could have an affair, lose my job, or maim someone in an accident, I’d be a first-class guy. It just didn’t impress these people that I stopped before a dramatic disaster befell me.”

Worst line: Marsh’s treatment of most subjects is skin deep and sinks into psychobabble when he tries to sum up what he learned from his time off. He says the hiatus “started me on a personal journey” and that “I’m basically working on the habit of counting my blessings, not whining about the challenges.”

Reading group guide: A readers’ guide to Fat, Forty, and Fired was posted, before this review, on May 17, 2007, and is archived in the Totally Authorized Reading Group Guides category. This is guide is not just for book clubs but is also for individual readers who would like to learn more about the book.

Caveat lector: This review was based on the advance readers’ edition. Some material in the finished book may differ.

Published: April 2007

Links: www.fatfortyandfired.com

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

A Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide to Nigel Marsh’s ‘Fat, Forty, and Fired’

10 Discussion Questions for Book Clubs and Others
Fat, Forty, and Fired:

One Man’s Frank, Funny and Inspiring Account of Losing His Job and Finding His Life

This reading group was not authorized or approved by the author, publisher or agent for the book. It is copyrighted by Janice Harayda and only for your personal use. The sale or reproduction of this guide is illegal except by public libraries that many copy it for use in their in-house reading groups. Other groups that wish to use this guide should link to this site or use “Contact” page on One-Minute Book Reviews to learn how to request permission to reproduce it.

After losing his job as the CEO of an Australian advertising agency, Nigel Marsh realized he wanted to stop being “a bit player” in his family. So instead of going right back to work, he decided to spend more time with his wife and four children under the age of 9. Fat, Forty, and Fired is a breezy account of the nine months he spent pursuing that and other goals he set for himself – to lose 30 pounds, compete in an ocean swimming race, and conquer his alcoholism. Since achieving some of his goals, Marsh has returned to work and is chairman of the Leo Burnett agency in Australia, where his book was a bestseller.

Questions for Discussion
[All quotations and page numbers are based on the advance readers’ edition and may differ in the finished book.]

1. Marsh talks with a friend about wanting “a more balanced life” while they are exploring Tasmania early in the book. [Page 78] Do you think he really wanted this or thought he was supposed to want it? Does he achieve his definition of “a more balanced life”? Does he achieve yours?

2. In the chapter called Winegums,” Marsh concludes that books and articles that tell men how to achieve “work-life balance” are not only misguided but part of the problem, because the idea of “having it all” doesn’t work for men any better than it does for women. He writes [Page 266]:

“Stressed executives all over the developed world now have the added stress of trying to do it all. All our striving for balance is making us less balanced, not more. The bar has been set at a completely unrealistic level. Many men try desperately hard to do it all – and then beat up on themselves when they aren’t home for their kids’ suppers. When they finally do get home, they feel like failures and deal with their frustration by being morose and shouting at the wife and kids.”

What evidence does he offer for this besides his experience? How strong is the case he makes for his point of view? Do you agree or disagree with him?

3. Fat, Forty, and Fired tells us little about the work that Marsh did at the Darcy agency before his job was merged out of existence, except for saying that he had to fire people when the shop closed. He doesn’t talk about any of the advertising campaigns he worked on or their rewards and frustrations. Would this kind of information have added to or detracted from his story? Why?

4. Born and raised in England, Marsh was living in Australia when he lost his job. To what degree do you think his background influenced his views? How might Fat, Forty, and Fired have been different if an American had written it?

5. Marsh says that when he was five years old, his parents sent him a boarding school in the west of England. He calls such institutions “soul-destroying quasiprisons.” [Page 43] How might this experience have affected his views?

6. At one point Marsh is annoyed that his wife doesn’t thank him for dressing his twin daughters. [Page 64] Kate puts him in his place. “When do I get thanked?” she asks. “I dress the girls all the time and you never thank me. Why should I thank you when you do the basic things that you should be doing anyway?” [Page 64]

How does this passage relate to your life? Some people might call Marsh a sexist for expecting to be thanked for dressing his daughters. Would you agree or disagree?

7. Did you sense that there was a subtext to Marsh’s relationship with his wife that he couldn’t discuss without violating her privacy? What was the subtext?

8. Marsh speaks vaguely of his financial worries, such as when he writes about letting the nanny go and moving. But in Fat, Forty, and Fired, he seems mostly unconcerned with finding work. He describes no serious efforts to look for a job and, when he gets one, it seems to arrive out of the blue, almost as a deus ex machina. Nor does he cast unemployment as the crushing assault on the ego that it is for many men. Why do you think this is so? Do you think his feelings were too painful to write about? That he was confident he could get another job? That something else was going on?

9. Fat, Forty, and Fired includes bits of Marsh’s philosophy of life. Which do you remember best? Which do you think he was or wasn’t able to live by?

10. Marsh never explains how he came to write Fat, Forty, and Fired – specifically, whether he knew he was going to write a book when he began his time off. Some critics would say that if he knew this, he had an ethical obligation to say so, because it makes a difference to the story. We might see his money worries differently if we knew he had received a book advance that wasn’t an option for other men. Or we might suspect him of having sought out some experiences because they would make “good copy” or believe he had extra motivation to achieve some goals because a book advance was riding on them. Would it make a difference to you if you knew Marsh had received or not received a book contract before starting what he calls a “personal journey”? Or does the book justify itself? Note: Since this guide appeared, Nigel Marsh has posted a response to this question in the “Comments” section. Thanks, Nigel! His response follows. Jan

Hi Janice,

Subject: ‘Fat, Forty and Fired’

A friend just showed me this and I wanted to provide some answers regarding question 10.

I didn’t decide to write a book about my experiences until 4 months into my time off work, moreover I didn’t get a book deal until well over a year after I had returned to work.

Hope this helps provides some useful context for your book club readers.

Thank you for taking an interest in ‘Fat, Forty and Fired’.

Best wishes from Down Under

Nigel Marsh

Vital Statistics:
Fat, Forty, and Fired: One Man’s Frank, Funny and Inspiring Account of Leaving His Job and Finding His Life. By Nigel Marsh. Andrews McMeel, 288 pp., $19.95. www.fatfortyandfired.com Published: April 2007

A review of Fat, Forty, and Fired appeared on One-Minute Book Reviews, http://www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com on May 17, 2007, and is archived with the May posts and in the “Memoirs” category.

If you found this guide helpful, please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed to avoid missing others. The guides are posted frequently but not on a regular schedule.

© 2007 By Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

« Previous Page

The Rubric Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 377 other followers

%d bloggers like this: