Beer Money: A Memoir of Privilege and Loss, & The Decline of a Detroit Dynasty by Frances Stroh (Harper, $25.99, 336 pages)
“The house (my father had purchased in New York City when I was six) and most of its contents would soon be gone, just as the brewery was. We’d somehow allowed ourselves to be pinned into place by these things; and in our search for freedom, some of us had self-destructed.”
Despite the title, this poor little rich girl memoir offers no insight into the brewing industry. That’s because Frances Stroh, a one-time partial heir to billions of Stroh Brewery dollars – all of which vanished into thin air, was far removed from the family’s management (and mismanagement) of the company. As with most of these memoirs, Frances did not realize early on how rich her family was. In her bored teen and early adult years she carelessly used and abused alcohol and drugs. And as a grown-up she learned to mourn the fortune she would never acquire.
However, the rich are different. Even as Frances writes about Stroh’s going down the drain, she makes sure to inform the reader that she flies first class; she lives in a fine abode in San Francisco. And when her spendthrift brother came to visit her in The City, he’d rent out entire floors of swank hotels for parties and feast on the best food and drink from room service.
Stroh’s was a “beer giant… in the eighties and nineties…” But Frances has no explanation for the Detroit company’s rapid downfall other than to admit, “we’d simply blown it.” Indeed.
Beer Money is a pointless, meaningless tale of privileged denial.
A review copy was provided by the publisher. Note: According to Forbes magazine, the Stroh Brewery Company blew through $9 billion in profits. That’s a lot of beer money.
My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop, edited by Ronald Rice (Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, $23.95, 384 pages)
In My Bookstore, edited by Ronald Rice, numerous authors pay tribute to their favored bookstores, which are usually, but not always, the ones located near their homes. Eighty-one bookstores are examined, including three of the best, essential bookstores — Powell’s Books of Portland, Vroman’s Bookstore of Pasadena, and the University Book Store in Seattle (across from the University of Washington). Chuck Palahnuik explains that the city-block sized Powell’s is divided into color-coded rooms and “…each of these rooms is the size of most independent bookstores.”
Californians will be pleased to see that ten of the state’s bookstores, including two in San Francisco, are lovingly described here. (But San Franciscans will be shocked to find that both City Lights Books and Dog Eared Books are excluded.) Only 3 of these “favorite places to browse, read, and shop” happen to be in southern California. The underlying message of these accounts is that one-on-one service counts. These private businesses have thrived and survived the onslaughts of Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and now-departed mega-chains.
This collection of essays will no doubt cause some to visit bookstores that they were previously unaware of. And perhaps at some point Mr. Rice will ask book reviewers to write about their favorite places, and this reader will shed a light on Orinda Books and Lyon Books of Chico.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.
Note: City Lights Books is located at 261 Columbus Avenue at Broadway in San Francisco. Dog Eared Books is located at 900 Valencia Street in the Mission District of The City. Both are worth paying a visit to.
Trail of the Spellmans: Document #5 by Lisa Lutz (Simon and Schuster, $25.00, 373 pages)
I decided that sitting in a stairwell all night eavesdropping on a conversation in my own home was undignified, so I searched the office for a recording device that I could plant just outside the door. Then I could listen from the luxury of the office. Much more dignified.
Wacky, ironic, self-aware and irreverent are adjectives that sum up Isabel Spellman who is the narrator of the rather rambling and highly-entertaining journal of her family’s detective agency activities. Their headquarters at 1799 Clay Street in San Francisco, California, also happens to be the family home. Although this address is not really that of a home in San Francisco (a check of Google Earth confirms this fact), there are ample real locations in The City to validate Ms. Lutz’ familiarity with the locale. She even goes so far as to disguise the name of a bakery in the Mission that has long lines in the hope that its fame will not be expanded by disclosure in the book. My bet is that she’s referring to Tartine Bakery & Cafe at 600 Guerrero Street.
A family business like the Spellman’s presents opportunities to create intrigue and internal clashes. The mix is enlivened by the presence of Demetrius Merriweather, a recently-released and wrongfully-convicted 43-year-old man, whose freedom after 20 years of incarceration is attributed to the efforts of the Spellmans. When Grammy Spellman moves in, the family dynamics are tweaked beyond their usual passive-aggressiveness.
Lisa Lutz has enhanced the charm of this, her fifth book of the Spellman series, with illustrations and an appendix that includes background information on the characters, as well as documents referenced in the body of the story.
This reviewer caught herself laughing out loud on numerous occasions while reading this book. Perhaps it’s time to read the rest of the series. Hearty laughter is always a welcome accompaniment to a clever tale.
A review copy was provided by the publisher. The full title of the single from R.E.M.’s Document: R.E.M. No. 5 album is “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine).” Another hit from that album was “The One I Love.”