Tag Archives: memoirs

Lean On Me

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Marrow: A Love Story by Elizabeth Lesser (Harper Wave, $25.99, 320 pages)

In this extraordinary – at times harrowing – memoir we see the Lesser family deal with the impending death of Maggie, the high-spirited hummingbird in the family. Maggie needs a bone marrow transplant and her older sister Liz is the perfect match. The other two sisters remain outliers (not by choice), intensifying the family conflict.

Intense, raw, and brutally honest, Liz and Maggie are forced to communicate in a way that had eluded them growing up. Things unsaid were embedded in the family’s core and, through acts of bravery, the “wounded healing” begins.

While “marrow” refers to the painful transplant Liz undergoes in an attempt to save Maggie’s life, “marrow” is more frequently and powerfully used as a metaphor for the core of the sisters’ relationship — where the “stem cells of life” originate and the sisters’ assumptions about each other are often distortions and lies. Each sister tells a different story of her childhood, viewing the family dynamics though a different lens.

“We will dig for our goodness and harvest the marrow of ourselves for each other…” the two sisters promise each other as they consent to therapy and spiritual approaches to death and dying. The author mingles Buddhist meditation, philosophy and literary allusions sometimes successfully (and sometimes not) in seeking meaning not only for Maggie’s premature and terminal illness but also for human connection. At the end there is only the feeling of being “helpless with love” and a lesson for us all in facing the death of loved ones – and our own death.

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Marrow is a deeply affecting trigger to the heart about love, family and learning to let go. This memoir is for those who can face a narrative about trauma in life without getting depressed or angry. I highly recommend it!

Diana Y. Paul

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was published on September 20, 2016.

Diana Y. Paul, a retired Stanford professor, is the author of three books on Buddhism and Things Unsaid: A Novel (She Writes Press). You can read her reviews of films and art at: http://www.unhealedwound.com/.

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Love Story

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Marrow: A Love Story by Elizabeth Lesser (Harper Wave, $25.99, 320 pages)

When a deadly disease strikes, it’s often not clear whether this is harder on the afflicted person or those who surround him/her. This is a point well made in the memoir Marrow: A Love Story by Elizabeth Lesser. Lesser’s sister Maggie battled lymphoma cancer which went into remission, only to return after seven years.

Maggie had one chance for survival, a bone marrow transplant from the perfect donor. That perfect donor happened to be her older sister, Elizabeth. If successful, Maggie would live on with her sister’s blood literally coursing through her veins. In a sense, the sisters would become one, the team known as Maggie-Liz. But the sisters had not gotten along superbly well in their five-plus decades of living, so they realized they would have to overcome the issues that had sadly separated them in the past.

Marrow is a fascinating look at how two people worked extremely hard to find love and forgiveness among the ruins of pain and suffering. Lesser makes clear, however, that what worked for her and Maggie might not work for others. (If there’s a flaw in the telling, it is that Lesser often gets caught up in the forest – the world, the universe, the meaning of Existence, instead of focusing on the trees – the lives of her and her sister.) And yet, this is an inspiring tale of courage. It’s also a reminder that love conquers all, even when death stands poised to strike.


Well recommended
.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

This book was released on September 20, 2016. Elizabeth Lesser also wrote Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow.

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After The Rain

The Mayor of MacDougal Street: A Memoir by Dave Van Ronk with Elijah Wald (DaCapo, $15.99, 272 pages)

“And so we’ll drink the final toast/That can never be spoken:/Here’s to the heart that’s wise enough/To know when it’s been broken.” Dave Van Ronk, “Last Call”

Mayor-of-MacDougal-Street-A-Memoir

Largely Unheralded Van Ronk Puts Interesting Life and Career on Paper with Ease and Authority

When a book begins like this, it’s a pretty good sign the reader is in for one helluva ride:

Back at Our Lady of Perpetual Bingo, where I went to school, along with the rack, thumbscrew, and bastinado, they had a curious custom of announcing grades in the final exams and then making everybody hang around for an extra week before turning us loose for summer vacation. Presumably they did this to reinforce our belief in Purgatory.

And so begins The Mayor of MacDougal Street, Dave Van Ronk’s outstanding first-person memoir (finished after his death by Elijah Wald).

While there are the tales of the boozing and other types of mildly unseemly behavior that one might expect, the book is first and foremost about the musician and the music. Van Ronk tells of his complete disinterest in school; how he started out as a jazz guitarist; was coaxed into singing; became a ringleader of the folk scene in Greenwich Village in the late 50s and early 60s; his migration out West because that’s where there were more, higher paying gigs; a short-lived attempt at a rock band in the late 60s; and his continued singing and song writing career that slipped largely under the radar from the 70s on.

Along the way, there’s some interesting political commentary, but don’t be fooled into thinking that the book is about the politics of the folk era. The book is about the music.

Mayor McDougal

There are stories of late night guitar sessions, his love of literature, and a few shenanigans and narrow escapes, but what is most interesting is the context in which other great musicians are discussed as Van Ronk’s tale unfolds. You get just about everybody: Odetta, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Harry Belafonte, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Leonard Cohen, Woody Guthrie, Joni Mitchell, Leadbelly, Mike Porco, Izzy Young, Bob Dylan – of course – and many, many more. You get places: Cafe Wha?, Gerde’s Folk City, Gaslight Cafe, White Horse Tavern, Kettle of Fish, and more. You get songs: some more obscure such as “Duncan and Brady” and “Dink’s Song,” and others that one might expect such as “This Land Is Your Land” and “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.”

The cover of the book states, “The life story that inspired the Coen Brothers movie Inside Llewyn Davis.” For modern movie goers who might not otherwise know about Greenwich Village and many of the seminal performing artists referred to in these pages, that might be a hook, but for any serious music lover, this book is a must read, movie or no movie.

The last chapter brings much of the scene into perspective. Of “Hard Rain,” Van Ronk writes, “The tune was borrowed from ‘Lord Randall,’ and it was in the same question-and-response form, but the imagery was right out of the symbolist school. It was not a flawless work – the ‘clown who cried in the alley’ always sounded to me like the verbal equivalent of a painting on velvet – but the overall effect was incredible. I heard him (Dylan) sing it for the first time during one of the hoot nights at the Gaslight, and I could not even talk about it; I just had to leave the club and walk around for a while. It was unlike anything that had come before it, and it was clearly the beginning of a revolution.”

For those who were envious when Dylan hit it big, Van Ronk simply states, “All you had to do was write ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ – for the first time.” And, of himself, he states acceptingly, “I have never made a fortune – as a matter of fact, I have often been deeply in debt – but dammit, this is what I wanted to do, and I have been able to do it for almost fifty years, and I haven’t been able to do anything else, and what more can I ask? I wanted to be a musician, and I am a musician, and that’s what it’s all about.”

Yes, Dave, it is.

Highly recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher. Dave Moyer is an educator, drummer, and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

“Dave was the man on MacDougal Street when I arrived in the Village over forty years ago, and he is once more raucously ruling the street in these pages.” Tom Paxton

“Brilliant writing.” Christine Lavin

“In Greenwich Village, Van Ronk was king of the street, he reigned supreme.” Bob Dylan

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Up Around the Bend

The Authors: Four Women and One Man

A Woman of Interest by Cindy Zimmerman (WIS Global, $24.95, 230 pages)

Sometimes a memoir can be so personal that the reader senses the author’s self-absorption on every page. A book that is not much more than a monologue begs the question, who is the intended reader?

Ken Rotcop, a Hollywood screenwriter pitchman, opens the book with his advice to Cindy Zimmerman to write her own story rather than use him as a biographer. Cindy’s ex-husband was murdered on the day their contentious divorce was finalized. She was, of course, considered a person of interest in the Phoenix, Arizona police investigation of Paul Zimmerman’s murder. Ken’s advice to Cindy is to write her side of the story in longhand, 20 pages at a time and send them along to him for compilation.

While there is a sensational aspect to Cindy’s story, she is not alone. A messy divorce from a controlling, competitive man who doesn’t like to work for others plays out pretty much the way hers does. Countless others will relate to her, but why re-live pain and suffering? There’s no payoff.

Fear in the Sunlight: A New Mystery Featuring Josephine Tey and Alfred Hitchcock (Bourbon Street Books, $14.99, 412 pages)

Clearly, Nicola Upson has strong ties to the theater and the mystery genre. Ms. Upson is a regular contributor to BBC radio, has reviewed crime novels and has years of theater experience as well. Her writing style combines traditional theater and motion picture cinematic techniques to draw the reader into a period with ties to the present day.

Fear in the Sunlight is one of Ms. Upson’s mystery series featuring real-life 1930s writer Josephine Tey. The story centers on a seemingly-idyllic weekend in Portmeirion, Wales. The location is a real place; however, the resort is the re-creation of a Mediterranean seaside resort created by a famous architect. Ms. Upson uses Alfred Hitchcock’s proclivity for playing tricks on his minions as the catalyst for several gruesome murders that take place during his resort party weekend.

Desire is the undercurrent – Josephine’s for Marta, a woman already in a relationship with a model/actress; a villager’s ex-husband for his ex-wife; Archie’s, a police chief inspector, for Josephine. Each of these characters has made choices based on their inability to step up and declare true feelings. Mr. Hitchcock’s desire for control and the admiration of his wife adds to the messiness. And to further muddy the plot, a seemingly-pivotal character, artist Bridget, connects Archie to his past.

Sadly, the layout of the book is confusing with gestures and observations inserted within paragraphs of dialogue. This has the unsettling effect of forcing the reader to reread to determine just who is doing the talking. There’s too much effort required for this reviewer to relax and enjoy the mystery.

A Medal for Murder: A Kate Shackleton Mystery by Frances Brody (Minotaur Books, $14.99, 424 pages)

The setting of A Medal for Murder is England in the 1920s, an idyllic time for crime solving. The right mix of mobility (motor cars) and technology (telephone and telegraph) keeps the story moving along at a pleasant place. Our detective, Kate Shackleton, is a well-bred lady who is a sleuth, complete with an ex-policeman assistant named Jim Sykes.

Women in the 1920s were beginning to emerge from their past roles as homebodies. To be sure some women had already moved in that direction, actresses in particular. Author Brody makes good use of the contrasts between ladies, gentlemen and other types. Mrs. Shackleton, who narrates this tale, drives her motor car while Sykes holds on for dear life.

A pawnshop burglary leads to a sleuthing job for Mrs. Shackleton. She meets a wide variety of people whose pawned items were stolen as she tracks them down for the pawnshop owner. The story line is enhanced by quips, fashion and social commentary and generally charming banter among the characters. Mystery fans not familiar with Ms. Brody’s mystery series are encouraged to catch up post haste!

Highly recommended.

A Medal for Murder (nook book)

Miss Dimple Suspects, A Mystery by Mignon F. Ballard (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 260 pages)

The World War II era and the sacrifices made by Americans form the backdrop of this tale. Miss Dimple, a small town school teacher of indeterminate age, appears in this, the third book in a series by prolific mystery writer Mignon Ballard. Author Ballard keeps it real by setting her story in rural Georgia where she grew up during the war. The local colloquialisms (like nattering) and culinary oddities (like piccalilli) remind the reader that we’re not in the big city.

Miss Dimple is a liberal character in an otherwise deeply-engrained closed community of southerners. The impact of the war is felt in the limitations of gasoline and sugar rationing when a young student of Miss Dimple’s goes missing. Xenophobia is woven throughout the story as are offensive attitudes held by the townspeople.

The story is quite engaging and holds the reader’s attention. What are confusing are the odd naming conventions used by author Ballard. (Miss Dimple is variously referred to as Dimple K, Miss Dimple and Dimple.)

Fans of small town drama and mystery will enjoy this cautionary tale.

Recommended.

Grandad, There’s a Head on the Beach: A Jimm Juree Mystery by Colin Cotterill (Minotaur Books, $15.99, 324 pages)

A failing resort named Gulf Bay Lovely Resort and Restaurant in Maprao, Thailand might as well be the main character in this highly-unusual mystery. The plot is based on a BBC article regarding the treatment of Burmese immigrants in Thailand. The narrator, Jimm Juree, is an investigative journalist whose loyalty to family and the loss of her newspaper job brings her to the resort owned by her mother.

Family, nationalism, corruption and man’s inhumanity to man propel Jimm into countless situations that a wiser woman in her mid-thirties would avoid at all cost. The story unfolds slowly and once the general theme is established, the reader is tossed to and fro like the flotsam on the beach where the resort perches precariously at the whim of violent storms.

Author Cotterill dances up to ugly visions like beheaded Burmese workers, oceanic erosion and police corruption while holding the reader hostage. For contrast and comic relief, he pulls back with outrageous quips and ridiculously funny double entendres. The scene shifts are well-executed and provide the reader with a sense of drama. Jimm Juree is both smart and reckless as she orchestrates the rescue of helpless Burmese workers.

The behind-the-scenes look at Thailand and its political climate was shocking to this reviewer. My experiences in Bangkok, Thailand were nothing like the ones brought out of the shadow in this mystery.

Recommended.

Grandad, there's a head

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publishers.

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Coming Up Next…

A very Young

We take another look at Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream by Neil Young.

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The Days That Used to Be

Waging Heavy Peace (audio large)

‘Cause there are very few of us left my friend/ From the days that used to be Neil Young, “The Days That Used to Be” from 1990’s Ragged Glory album

Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream by Neil Young (Blue Rider Press, $30.00, 502 pages)

Where to begin. Let’s try with Neil’s own words. How about we work backward from page 409?

“About twenty years later, in the mid-nineties, Briggs and I were making an album. I still call it an album because that is what I make. I don’t make CDs or iTunes tracks. I make albums. That is just what I do. Call it what you like. I remember how I hated the shuffle feature on iTunes because it f—– up the running order I spent hours laboring over. Having tracks available independently and having the shuffle factor sucks as far as I am concerned. Call me old-fashioned. I make albums and I want the songs to go together to create a feeling. I do those things on purpose. I don’t want people cherry-picking the albums. I like to choose the singles. After all, it’s my s—.”

That, in a nutshell is Neil Young’s amazing autobiography, Waging Heavy Peace.

The title comes from a query directed at Neil in which he was asked if he was waging war with Apple. He replied, “No, I’m waging heavy peace.”

Neil has been working on starting a company (originally PureTone, now Pono due to an alleged copyright infringement) – Neil is always in the middle of some project or another – to restore digital music to something resembling its original sound. In what I will call a companion release, whether accurate or not, the album sans CD Psychedelic Pill, a project with Crazy Horse, now leads with the song “Driftin’ Back”. A key verse starts off, “When you hear my song now/You only get 5%”. His web page contains a message touting that in 2012 record companies will release High Resolution Audio. Neil is nothing if not passionate, and he is overtly committed to doing all he can to ensure the next generation does not forget what music is supposed to sound like.

This book is as close to honesty as one can get without it becoming too uncomfortable. Yes, Neil likes cars and trains. He loves his wife, Pegi. But, how about finding out he needs brain surgery only to go to Nashville to record one of his finest works, Prairie Wind, while waiting for surgery on the aneurysm because he can’t sit still? How about vacillating between being a young guy who strands a woman in New Mexico to find her own way home because she is grating on his nerves, matter-of-factly describing incidents and leaving compatriots dead in the manuscript due to various indiscretions, and describing incidents such as David Crosby visiting with a yacht disguised as a meth lab, and yet revisits such scenes with candor, honesty, tenderness, love, and loyalty, that he comes across as eminently noble and likeable?

This is some book. Neil has two children with handicaps. Many people know this. Throughout the book, he continues to refer to his son Ben as Ben Young. Always Ben Young. At first this seems as quirky as Neil himself, until the reader eventually discovers the respect behind the moniker.

Neil tells you he’s writing the book as he writes it. He confides that he is attempting to produce art sober for the first time in his life. He has tremendous allegiance and affinity for fellow musicians, explains why Buffalo Springfield could never continue in its burst of brilliance, and admires Jimmy Fallon for doing a better Neil than Neil.

Some have compared this book to Bob Dylan’s Chronicles. Understandable, I guess, but Bob is Bob, and Neil is Neil, and this book is so captivating and fascinating that I cannot compare it to anything.

I rarely lapse into first person in any formal writing, but this book moved me. It hit me in the gut and remains stuck with me somehow, like Neil’s music. I could refer to Neil as Young, or Mr. Young, like The Wall Street Journal would. But I cannot. Neil is too personal to me. I’ll never meet the man, but if he goes first, I’ll never forget him.

Thanks, Neil, for staying true to your art in good times and bad, and creating such moving and unique tales of humanity that will last forever – and for writing one helluva book.

Highly recommended.

Dave Moyer

Dave Moyer is an educator and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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Waging Heavy Peace (an excerpt)

waging-heavy-peace

Click here to read an excerpt from Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream by Neil Young:

http://www.neilyoung.com/NeilYoungWagingHeavyPeaceExcerpt.pdf

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