September 20, 2011 · 12:26 pm
Bobblehead Dad: 25 Life Lessons I Forgot I Knew by Jim Higley (Greenleaf Book Group; $14.95; 201 pages)
There is something about cancer that strikes a chord with nearly everyone. Whether it is the fear that it could happen to anyone at anytime, the fact that nearly everyone knows somebody who has suffered through the dreaded disease, or some other mysterious quality that separates this affliction from others, there is no disputing the fact that the mere mention of cancer quickly gets people’s attention.
In his early forties, Jim Higley, a single dad with three young children was diagnosed with prostate cancer. The prognosis was particularly ominous due to his family’s history of cancer and the fact that he had lost his brother to brain cancer just a few years earlier.
Bobblehead Dad: 25 Life Lessons I Forgot I Knew is his story. The term bobblehead refers to the sports replica figurines whose heads bobble. Early in the book, Higley recalls his fondness for them as a child and realizes that he has taken on that characteristic as a dad by routinely bobbing his head dismissively when he returns home from work and listens to his children’s stories of their days.
That is the beginning of the format of the book in which the author pairs childhood memories with his real-time cancer experiences to craft a series of 25 lessons focused on choices that allow for happiness and healthy relationships.
The writing is excellent. The lessons initially appear to be a bit simplistic or quaint, but in the context of the author’s battle with cancer, the reader is much more inclined to internalize the inherent wisdom of many of them. My personal favorite is Lesson 12: Rest. Some other examples include “Embrace Who You Are” and “Lessons Happen Every Day.” Again, out of context, they might appear too unsophisticated for 21st Century America, but that appears to be exactly the point – they are not. In fact, they are presented as foundational building blocks for life.
Due to consistency in voice and presentation, the book flows seamlessly from page to page. The reader can easily relate to the anecdotes, topics, and relationships that permeate the true tale. In no way is the book’s audience limited to males, cancer survivors, or other types of age ranges or subgroups. It can be read quickly in a few settings or in short segments as time allows. Overall, Bobblehead Dad is a gem.
A review copy was provided by the author. Dave Moyer is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel. Note: Readers who relate to this book might also be interested in The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin and/or Stumbling On Happiness by Daniel Gilbert.
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Tagged as 25 Life Lessons, a novel, baseball, Bobblehead Dad, bobblehead figurines, book review, cancer, cancer survivors, contentment, Daniel Gilbert, Dave Moyer, disease, Embrace Who You Are, excellent writing, family life, fear, Greenleaf Book Group Press, Gretchen Rubin, happiness, illness, Jim Higley, Joseph's Reviews, Kindle Edition, Lessons Happen Every Day, Lessons I Forgot I Knew, Life and Life Only, life lessons, male adults, mortality, mourning, nonfiction, Nook Book, prostate cancer, recommended books, rest, Stumbling On Happiness, survival, The Happiness Project
February 19, 2011 · 7:15 pm
Good Times, Bad Times in the Book Trade
The New York Times created a dust-up recently by posting an article about what was said to be the current glut of memoirs. The writer seemed to think that everyone and his dog and cat were writing their book of memories, and that there should be some type of pre-publication test of worthiness. Most did not meet his standards. Of course, that was but one person’s opinion, one which I happen not to share. If there’s one area in which the publishing industry seems to have shone brightly in 2010-2011, it’s in the publication of some fine memoirs.
Five memoirs are on my recommended list: The Memory Palace by Mira Bartok (nothing short of brilliant), The Foremost Good Fortune by Susan Conley (a cancer survivor), Between Me and the River by Carrie Host (another cancer survivor), No Place Like Home: A Memoir in 39 Apartments by Brooke Berman (about being nearly homeless in New York City), and Perfection by Julie Metz (sometimes frustrating but ultimately satisfying). It also appears that new and worthwhile releases are on the way, including The Long Goodbye by Meghan O’Rourke (about a daughter’s crushing grief following her mother’s death) and History of a Suicide by Jill Bialosky (an examination into the causes of a sister’s self-destruction).
But then there are a couple of negative trends that I will touch upon here. When it comes to popular fiction, tight editing seems to have been relegated to the sidelines. More and more I run across novels that seem to have no beginning; they meander on and ramble for dozens of seemingly unstructured pages. And some make things worse by incorporating non-chronological structures that veer back and forth between the present and past, past and present until it becomes dizzying. Every now and then I’m reminded of the frustrating quick-cut and overly trendy music videos of the 70s.
Are there no longer any editors who will tell a writer, “Look, you need to be very clear about the storyline at the start and quickly hook the reader. Confusion has its costs!” Who has the patience to read a hundred or two hundred pages just to figure out what story is being told? Sigh… Well, I guess some people do.
Then there’s the release of what I call the non-biographical biography. These are the ones that decide to be clever by telling us everything about the subject except precisely what it is they’re supposed to be known for! If the subject is an actor, we’re told about his sex life, his animals, his apartments and homes, marriages and divorces, where he went on vacations, what he liked to eat, and how much he tipped the servers. Yes, we come to learn about everything in his life except his acting and the films he made.
The same rule seems to apply to politicians – the cool author writing a bio of Ronald Reagan using this style would cover everything except Reagan’s acting career and his terms as governor of California and president of the U.S. If you prefer, substitute the name Robert F. (Bobby) Kennedy or Edward M. (Ted) Kennedy and the same strange rule will apply – there are sideways bios on them out there on the book store shelves. I won’t name names but they’re not that hard to find.
So, despite the view from Manhattan when it comes to memoirs the state of the publishing industry seems to be strong. When it comes to editing today’s novels, improvements may be in order. And when it comes to biographies, readers should hold out for the old-fashioned substantive kind, even if it requires a journey over to Powell’s Books to find a used one.
Pictured: The Long Goodbye: A Memoir by Meghan O’Rourke, which will be released by Riverhead Books on April 14, 2011.
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Tagged as 2010, 2011, A Memoir, A Memoir in 39 Apartments, actors, article, Bad Times, Between Me and the River, biography, Bobby Kennedy, book editors, book previews, book publishing, book trade, books, brilliant memoir, Brooke Berman, cancer survivors, Carrie Host, confusion, divorces, dizzying storylines, Edward M. Kennedy, forthcoming books, Good Times, grief, History of a Suicide, Jill Bialosky, Joseph Arellno, Joseph's Reviews, Julie Metz, Led Zeppelin, Manhattan, marriages, Meghan O'Rourke, memoirs, Mira Bartok, nearly homeless, new releases, New York City, No Place Like Home, non-biographical biography, non-chronological stories, opinion article, opinions, Oregon, Perfection, politicians, poor editing, Portland, Powell's Books, private sex lives, public figures, retrospective, RFK, Riverhead Books, Robert F. Kennedy, suicide, Susan Conley, Ted Kennedy, The Foremost Good Fortune, The Memory Palace, The New York Times, the view from here, unstructured plots, used books