Review: Life Itself

Life Itself

Life Itself 
By Roger Ebert
(Grand Central Publishing, Paperback, 9780446584968, September 2012, 448pp.)

The Short of It:

Written with humor and heart.

The Rest of It:

Everyone is familiar with Roger Ebert, right? His characteristic “thumbs-up” rating for movies he enjoyed, his battle with cancer that destroyed his face and took his voice forever, his antagonistic but often funny interactions with Gene Siskel? I grew up watching him. I spent hours in theaters watching the movies he recommended and he was probably one of the main reasons I entered college as a film major. But what I didn’t know and really didn’t begin to know, was the man behind the famous rating system. I didn’t really get to know him until his battle with cancer and I didn’t read this book until he passed away this past April. What a life.

Life Itself is a treat for anyone who enjoys small town life and nostalgia in general. Ebert’s small town of Urbana, Illinois provided a safe, comforting backdrop for his childhood. His trips to the local movie theater are written about with the care and gentle handling of a man in love with his childhood. He was always a wonderful writer, but the sense of place he conveys in this memoir will bring tears to your eyes for what once was. I loved these glimpses into Ebert’s life. His funny perspective, his awkwardness and his ability to break it all down into pleasant digestible bits.

There are some things I learned that I was not aware of before reading his book. I had no idea that he was a recovering alcoholic. The section on him joining Alcoholics Anonymous was told with such honestly, that I wanted to just reach through the pages and offer him a gentle, guiding hand. I also didn’t know that Gene Siskel, the critic that was forever (in my mind) arguing with Ebert over the movies they reviewed, was actually a very close friend and that their success on TV came quite accidentally. Additionally, I had no idea that Ebert was such a reader! Lots of book love in this one.

What I did expect and did not get was more insight into his battle with cancer. This part of his life is told in a very matter-of-fact way and details are kept to a minimum. He doesn’t dwell on what he lost. In fact, I’m not sure I expected him to be as optimistic as he was in the book, but in the end, I am glad that the cancer did not rule his life even though on the outside looking in, it certainly seemed that way.

I don’t read many memoirs but this book was a real treat. There’s quite a bit of humor and the stories from his youth are told with a lot of heart. I found myself yearning for simpler times and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the man is missed. I never look at movies quite the same way. His sense of wonder, his ability to appreciate the small, creative nuances that directors injected into their films and his knack for saying exactly what he means is what made him a favorite in my eye.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review, Tour & Giveaway: Because You Have To

Because You Have To
Because You Have To: A Writing Life

By Joan Frank
(University of Notre Dame Press, Paperback, 9780268028930, September 2012, 200pp.)

The Short of It:

Writers, true writers will appreciate the grit contained within these pages.

The Rest of It:

Sometimes you look for a book, and sometimes a book finds you. This is definitely one of those times where the book found me and the timing could not have been more perfect.

Is this a book about writing? Yes. Without a doubt, this is a book about writing but it’s not a “how to” and it doesn’t include useful tips on how to get your book published either. What it is, is a collection of essays about the act of writing. Specifically, the writing itself and what it means to be a writer.

Many writers struggle financially and although this is something that we immediately realize as fact, it’s not something that comes to mind when you think of becoming an accomplished writer. Yes, being able to pay the rent does affect your writing. The type of job you have affects your ability to write as well. Working a 9-5 job and then coming home to a family that needs you, also affects your ability to create. It’s obvious, but hearing Frank tell it like it is, is somehow refreshing and comforting. Hearing her admit it somehow makes it okay and yes, writers everywhere will feel validated and empowered that there are others out there working through the same challenges.

Frank also goes into the mechanics of writing and the need for stillness. Creating art in an age where technology is buzzing all around us is a distraction in and of itself. Her essay titled The Stillness of Birds speaks to this and while I was reading it, I was distracted no less than ten times by my daughter who happened to be watching The Brady Bunch while writhing around on the floor. Yes, I could relate.

Frank also admits, that writing can be a lonely life. It’s not something that you share with everyone. Some will want to critique you, others will want to commiserate with you but most of all, her fear of being a whiner is what keeps her from discussing the early stages of her work. The act of writing brings with it, a healthy dose of misery. Who knew?

Reading this book was like taking a much-needed time-out. I’ve longed for a career in writing and feel that I have stories to tell, but the act of actually writing them down has been a dark cloud hanging over my head for as long as I can remember. Marriage, family, work. These are the things that continue to throw me off-balance and they are the very same things that Frank talks about in this book. Granted, she does not offer advice really, but what she does is tell you that you write, because you have to, not because it’s something you dreamed of doing. You write because physically, you’d be sick if you didn’t. Writers write, whether they get paid for it or not. That is the distinction and it’s been a bit of an eye opener for me.

I love that the collection is both honest, yet positive and hopeful. Clearly, Frank’s love of writing outweighs the misery that tends to go along with it. This is a book to pull out every time you are experiencing frustration of your own.

If this sounds like a book for you, enter my giveaway for a chance to win your own copy! Details below.

Joan Frank

Joan’s website.

Joan’s TLC tour stops.

TLC Book Tours

Source: Review and giveaway copy provided by the publisher via TLC Book Tours.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

GIVEAWAY INFORMATION

This giveaway is for one copy of Because You Have To and is open to the US and Canada. A winner will be chosen randomly by me. The book will come directly from the publisher. Only one entry per person. Giveaway closes on November 21, 2012 (pacific). I will contact the winner for his/her mailing address.

To enter the giveaway, please click here. (This giveaway is now closed!)

Review: The Longest Way Home

The Longest Way Honme

The Longest Way Home: One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down
By Andrew McCarthy (Yes! THAT Andrew McCarthy!)
(Free Press, Hardcover, 9781451667486, September 18, 2012, 288pp.)

The Short of It:

One man’s attempt to figure it all out. Except, this guy was an 80′s heartthrob which makes it all the more interesting.

The Rest of It:

Everyone remembers Andrew McCarthy, right? THE 80′s heartthrob we all got to know from such movies as Pretty in Pink, St. Elmo’s Fire and one of the silliest, yet most entertaining movies ever…Mannequin.

I’ve always like his work. He has an easy way about him and a likable face. What I didn’t know, is that in addition to acting and directing, he’s also added travel writer to his list of accomplishments. As an editor-at-large for National Geographic Traveler, You’d think I would have noticed his writing since I’ve read the magazine for years, but maybe I just didn’t realize it was the same guy. Needless to say, when this book came up for review, I jumped at the chance to read it.

McCarthy’s inability to commit to his long time partner, known as “D” in the book is what sends him into a tailspin. The wedding date has been set, but the details as far as when & where cause him anxiety that can only be controlled by hitting the road. So, that is what he does. He climbs Kilimanjaro, spends some time in Costa Rica, Patagonia and Spain and all the while, D is waiting at home, touching base with him when she can.

As much as I adore McCarthy, I was frustrated with his tendency to flee every time decisions needed to be made. It’s a classic case of cold feet but the book promises a “quest” and to me, that means that at some point, you put the hiking boots away and come back as a complete person. I’m not sure that happened here. He does a lot of soul-searching, but I don’t feel that he understood himself any better at the end of this adventure, than he did at the beginning.

As for the adventure, McCarthy is kind of a loner so there aren’t too many meaningful interactions with the people he encounters. It’s mostly him, and what he was thinking at the time. The armchair traveler in me wanted  more description, more humor and some meaningful moments so when those were few and far between, I’d gaze at the cover and then watch Pretty in Pink.

As a Brat Pack fan, my favorite parts of the book had to do with his movie career and how he came to play such iconic roles. These parts are interspersed throughout the book and then of course he touches on alcoholism and how it nearly got the best of him. Even here though, he only skims the surface.

Overall, I’d have to say that if his intent was to dig deep, he wasn’t successful. He only took things so far, and then just sort of gave in to them. BUT, for some reason, I still enjoyed the book. It was refreshing for a man to discuss his weakness and I appreciated the honesty in his writing.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Edelweiss.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Wild

Wild

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
By Cheryl Strayed
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780307592736, March 2012, 336pp.)

The Short of It:

Disappointing and at times utterly ridiculous. I had no idea that the adventure I’d get would include a sexcapade in the forest. Apparently “WILD” has multiple meanings.

The Rest of It:

This is not one of those times where the hype ruined it for me because I picked it up before Oprah selected it for her book club and I went into it with a completely open mind. BUT…it was a complete fail for me.

After losing her mother to cancer and divorcing what seemed like the most supportive husband ever, Strayed decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. The idea comes to her after seeing a book on the subject and since she doesn’t seem to have anything else going for her, why not? She is essentially homeless as she can’t figure out where she wants to settle down and without a job to tie her down, the decision is easy. She’s in her mid-twenties and healthy, it can’t possibly be that hard, right?

It’s not unheard of for a non-hiker to hike a trail like this one. Lots of people find closure and peace of mind on the trail. Stripping yourself down to the bare essentials, pain and hunger all have their place in clearing away the cobwebs so Strayed’s decision to hike the trail, was not that unusual. However, I expected her story to be about her coming to terms with her mother’s death. After all, that is why she set out for the trail in the first place. Instead, what I got is a silly book about a woman who is just a little too full of herself.

Here are just a few reasons why this book falls into the ridiculous category:

  • The contents of her pack included an entire package of condoms. Really?
  • Her decision to hike alone. Really not safe and in fact, stupid.
  • Her care packages to herself  included sexy lingerie for her potential hook-ups with strange men. Okay, she said it was for her to feel good but when you pack an entire box of condoms you’ve got to to wonder.
  • The possibility of sex on the trail is of great concern to her. Not her shredded feet or the lack of boots that fit.
  • The actual sex that takes place and her getting a kick out of being able to attract smelly men on the trail. Ick.
  • Ahem, the drug use. She was a hard-core heroin user before the trip and if my memory is correct, manages to find drugs at least once while taking a break from the trail.

Clearly, there was not enough hiking and true self discovery for me to take this book seriously. It veered off into numerous directions and although I felt for her at the beginning of her story, I had lost all respect for her by the end of the book. The writing is choppy and I didn’t care for her self-absorbed nature. Every thought seemed to turn towards sex or the possibility of sex or had something to do with her looks. I got tired of it. You are hiking and haven’t showered in days. How can you be concerned with your looks? Seems like more important things should have been a concern.

I can’t recommend this one. It’s not what it’s described to be. I don’t feel that she really got the closure she needed and it angers me to see it flying off the shelves just because Oprah picked it for her club.

Trust me, it’s not all that.

Note from Ti: I checked out some of the interview footage on Oprah’s site and Strayed is not at all the person she appears to be in the book. Maybe it’s just hard to write about yourself. Maybe it’s a case of horrible editing. Needless to say, if she stumbles across this review I hope she doesn’t throw a boot at me.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Then Again (Audio)

Then Again (Audio)


Then Again
By Diane Keaton (read by Diane Keaton)
(Random House Audio, Compact Disc, 9780307934017, November 2011)

The Short of It:

Warm, witty and touching. Absolutely loved it.

The Rest of It:

I am a huge Diane Keaton fan. Years ago when I was in film school, I took a series of classes on Woody Allen. I adored Woody Allen and I couldn’t help but get to know Keaton’s work as well since she appeared in so many of his films. What I didn’t know, is that they sort of had a “thing” for each other. Yes, I know…it seems so obvious but it wasn’t until I listened to her memoir that I actually believed it. Of course, her years with Woody were extremely interesting to me, but what I found most interesting was her childhood. Then Again is Keaton’s memoir, but it also functions a tribute to Keaton’s mother Dorothy Hall, who suffered from, and later died of Alzheimer’s disease.

Listening to this on audio was such a treat! It’s read by Diane herself and every time I plugged into my iPod I was taken to another time and place. She talks of her childhood and the wonderful relationship she had with her mother. She also mentions her other siblings and her father, but the real focus here is her mother, Dorothy Hall who pretty much taught Diane everything she needed to know about life and more. Here was a bright, educated woman who gave up her career to raise a family. Did she regret it? According to her journal entries which are shared by Diane, not really. She loved her family and her family was everything to her. Did she make a sacrifice? Of course, but she was a positive woman who tried to make the best of things. A trait that Diane appreciated and modeled with her own children.

As wonderful as walking down Memory Lane can be, there is a darkness that emerges as well. Dorothy Hall was a woman of many talents, but constantly struggling to find her niche.  All in all, the Halls appeared to be a happy family and that was mostly due to her mother making it so. Something that Diane appreciates now, but also regrets when she realizes how lonely her mother must have been, trying to constantly re-invent herself at every turn. Diane shares in this self-doubt. Always wondering if she is good enough, pretty enough, or smart enough for anyone to want her.

In between these thoughtful moments, Diane shares stories from her career. How she met Woody, how she came to know Warren Beatty and her first impression of Jack Nicholson and Al Pacino. She talks of that famous outfit from Annie Hall and how she originally turned down the part of Erica Barry in Something’s Gotta Give. Can you imagine?

This was a wonderful memoir to listen to. I loved hearing Diane tell her own story but the parts where she discusses her mom, well… those parts brought a tear to my eye. The only downside to listening to this on audio is that I probably missed out on some great family photos. That’s okay, because it was wonderfully done and anyone who enjoys her work, loves hearing about mother/daughter relationships or anyone who has lost someone to Alzheimer’s, will enjoy and find comfort in this book.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

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