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Starting To Frame — Roger Gordon

1 Apr

startingtoframe

Publisher: Dogsbody Book
Released: November 14th, 2014
Genre: Memoir
Source: Paperback review copy from author

 

 

 

Marital infidelity, mental illness, and divorce. Some of the most taboo topics you could think of during the 50s and 60s, and Roger Gordon was forced to grow up among all of them.

It’s the late 1940s. You’re a child living in working-class Sheffield. The war has ended. Times are hard. But you’re happy. Your family takes joy in listening to radio programs together, taking trips to the seashore, going to football games and the local cinema (“Picture House”), and, of course, eating fish and chips wrapped in newspapers. You love spending time with your grandparents, which is easy to do because they live in the same house as your parents, your younger brother, and yourself. Your family is a close-knit one. There’s much pleasure to be found in the simple things.

As you grow older, though, your happy childhood turns into a tumultuous one. Your parents argue violently, and your mother often displays erratic behaviour. Even as a child, you sense that her punishments are mean-spirited and unfair.

Your parents’ marriage eventually ends in a bitter divorce, and you and your brother are thrown in the middle of their battle, being forced to take sides. Your mother soon acquires a new live-in boyfriend, and friends, family, and neighbours talk about your mother’s romantic affairs behind your back. You are made to feel like a freeloader, and you’re forced to move out during the time that you are studying at university..

During the years that follow, you must come to terms with not only the mental illness afflicting both of your parents, but your own bouts of depression that you suffer yourself.

Starting to Frame is the story of Roger Gordon’s life. It is a story about the futility of family feuding, the innate human desire to be accepted and loved, and the need to give more attention to mental illness. Above all, Starting to Frame carries with it an important message about reconciliation and how it is never too late to forgive.

From Goodreads

 

I am very picky about my memoirs and quite often have found myself abandoning them partway through. This was so not the case with Starting Frame. In fact it was quite the opposite! Once I started reading I had a hard time putting it down. I was drawn in from the first page and really felt like I was living the memories. The descriptions of places and people were so vivid that it really put me in each and every moment.

This wasn’t alway an easy book to read, and I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult parts of it must have been to write. When I say it wasn’t always easy to read, I’m referring to some of the material (not the writing!). The book deals with mental illness, an important but often difficult subject matter.

Gordon has an easy and engaging writing style that captivates the reader. I really enjoyed the balance between light-hearted and serious, something that is hard to accomplish. The Sheffield dialect was a hoot to read, but thank God there was a glossary at the back!

If you are looking for an extremely well-written memoir, then you NEED to read Starting To Frame. It will definitely be added to my “I must read again” bookshelf.

The Art of Asking — Amanda Palmer

13 Jan

Art of askingPublisher: Grand Central Publishing
Released: November 11th, 2014
Genre:Non-fiction, self-help, memoir
Source: Audio book purchased

 

 

 

Rock star, crowdfunding pioneer, and TED speaker Amanda Palmer knows all about asking. Performing as a living statue in a wedding dress, she wordlessly asked thousands of passersby for their dollars. When she became a singer, songwriter, and musician, she was not afraid to ask her audience to support her as she surfed the crowd (and slept on their couches while touring). And when she left her record label to strike out on her own, she asked her fans to support her in making an album, leading to the world’s most successful music Kickstarter.

Even while Amanda is both celebrated and attacked for her fearlessness in asking for help, she finds that there are important things she cannot ask for-as a musician, as a friend, and as a wife. She learns that she isn’t alone in this, that so many people are afraid to ask for help, and it paralyzes their lives and relationships. In this groundbreaking book, she explores these barriers in her own life and in the lives of those around her, and discovers the emotional, philosophical, and practical aspects of THE ART OF ASKING.

Part manifesto, part revelation, this is the story of an artist struggling with the new rules of exchange in the twenty-first century, both on and off the Internet. THE ART OF ASKING will inspire readers to rethink their own ideas about asking, giving, art, and love.

From Goodreads

 

Gah, I’m not even sure how to review this book. My love for it, and for Amanda Palmer, is so strong and so big that it’s really super hard to put into words. I know this book and its message will stick with me through life and help guide me. Yes, it sounds a bit cheesy and over the top, but that’s how much The Art of Asking resonated with me. And for this point in my life it was the exact book I needed.

I listed this as self-help, memoir, but those categories don’t 100% fit the book. It was more like sitting in a pub with Amanda and just having a chat with her about everything: her life, life in general, art, crowdfunding, love. These are all things that she weaves into the general topic of being open and asking for help when you need it. And she talks about art, and how as artists, as creative people, we have to accept that what we do has value, something that I know a lot of creative people struggle with. That whole “How the hell can I ask for money for my picture/jewellery/book/play/song etc.?” thing.

The telling isn’t really linear. She bounces back and force to different points in her life. But instead of feeling disconnected and confusing it works and it was really easy to follow the different threads.

This book was beyond uplifting and enlightening for me. It really felt like being enveloped in a big hug and being told “It’s okay, you matter, your art and your work matter, your LIFE matters.” I had several moments where I was so overcome with emotion that I had to stop listening for a bit.

Since this is an audiobook I have to talk a bit about the narrator. Amanda narrates the book herself, which is PERFECT. Her voice is soothing and her narration really added to the feeling of intimacy. She also interspersed the book with various songs, most by her and The Dresden Dolls. I didn’t really know Amanda’s music that much but in the last few days I have been listening to pretty much nothing else.

I love that she included music in the audiobook, songs that fit in with what she was talking about. I was listening to it in my car when one of the songs came on. “In My Mind” felt like a hit to my core. I actually had to pull the car over once I realized I was crying my eyes out. I’m an emotional person anyway and feel strong connections to certain songs, but holy shit this one. It was like Amanda looked into my head and my heart and wrote the song that I needed to hear right now, at this moment in my life.

And that’s kind of what the whole book felt like. Like it was exactly what I needed right now. But I have a feeling that if I were to go back and listen to it again in a year, five years, ten years, I may get something different from it, but it will still be exactly what I need.

My husband also listened to and loved The Art of Asking. He’s started drawing again and we’re starting up a business to sell the amazing chainmaille jewellery that he makes. All because of Amanda and her words.

If I could buy every single creative person this book, I would.

 

Falling Backwards – Jann Arden

1 Nov

Oh, Jann. When I think of people I’d love to sit down with over a pot of tea and shoot the shit, you’re always on the list. And after reading Falling Backwards, you have the #1 spot.

Falling Backwards was such an amazing look into Jann’s life and she is so candid about events in her past that I felt like I was getting to know Jann the wonderful person, not Jann the wonderful singer. I actually felt like I WAS sitting down with her. I think the best way to describe Falling Backwards is honest. It was a super honest book.

While there were hilarious moments and descriptions ( as you would expect from Jann) there were also moments of, well, not quite darkness, but of sadness. For me, it was these moments that really made the book so absorbing and addicting. Jann talks about some difficult experiences and times in her life and I really appreciated her opening up.

I don’t read a lot of memoirs but Falling Backwards makes me want to change that.

And if you’re ever in PEI, Jann, let me know. I’ll put on a pot of tea. :)

One Bird’s Choice by Iain Reid

30 Nov

Publisher: House of Anansi Press
Released: August 23, 2010
Genre: Memoir, non-fiction, humour
For review from author via publisher

Meet Iain Reid: an overeducated, underemployed twenty-something, living in the big city in a bug-filled basement apartment and struggling to make ends meet. When Iain lands a job at a radio station near his childhood home, he decides to take it. But the work is only part time, so he is forced to move back in with his lovable but eccentric parents on their hobby farm. What starts out as a temporary arrangement turns into a year-long extended stay, in which Iain finds himself fighting with the farm fowl, taking fashion advice from the elderly, fattening up on a gluttonous fare of home-cooked food, and ultimately easing (perhaps a little too comfortably) into the semiretired lifestyle.

A hilarious and heartwarming comic memoir about food, family, and finally growing up, One Bird’s Choice marks the arrival of a funny, original, and fresh new voice.

From publisher’s website.

 

As a book blogger I sometimes get emails from authors and publicists asking if I would be interested in reviewing a certain book. This is fine with me. If fact, I’m at the stage where it doesn’t happen a lot, so I usually end up giggling like a twit when it does. The emails are almost always polite and it’s always a bonus when the pitch is one that actually fits my blog.

I probably would never have heard of One Bird’s Choice if not for the fact that the author emailed me and said that he thought it would be a good fit for my blog. No it isn’t YA. And it isn’t paranormal or urban fantasy. But Iain was right: it was the perfect fit for me and my blog. Because it was a book I could relate to. And it was funny. Oh, and it was well written. VERY well written. In short I loved it.

It’s a memoir, a genre I tend to steer clear of. I read a couple of memoirs that were very boo-hoo it’s so hard being me even though I’m a privileged upper classer. There wasn’t a purpose or a story to those memoirs, and it turned me off the genre completely. Well, One Bird’s Choice has done the opposite.  It’s reconfirmed my new belief that I’ll enjoy reading in any genre as long as the book is good.

I loved this book. Really. As someone who did a return stint at home in her early 30s, I could totally identify with Iain and what he was going through. It’s not an easy thing to do, but my generation seems to be the “boomerang kids”. (Yes, Iain is younger than me and not quite my generation, but you know what I mean.)

There’s a lot of humor in this book, particular in the scenes where he deals with his parents. The great thing is, never once did I feel that that he was taking any cheap shots at them. Sure, his interactions with them were often snort out loud funny, but they were never the butt end of the jokes. He portrayed them as loving and caring, if sometimes overbearing and nosy (but in that good way that parents are overbearing and nosy).

This is more than just a funny look at Iain’s life: there is a thread of desperation and despair running underneath. After all, he’s back home, somewhere he never thought he’d end up again. And he’s clearly floundering, unsure really where his life is headed. But he doesn’t get all woe is me angsty about it. In fact, he shows us his state of mind through his actions (or sometimes inactions) rather than coming out and saying exactly how he’s feeling, which is great. I got the distinct feeling that sometimes he wasn’t even aware that he was a bit depressed and feeling “meh” about where his life was. For me, it made the book, and his story, much more enjoyable than if he had been hitting me over the head with the “my-life-sucks-so-I-wrote-about-it” stick.

The only thing I thought was weird about One Bird’s Choice was that it was written in the present tense. Since it’s a memoir, I thought it odd that I was reading about things as if they were currently happening. But in all honestly I was only aware of this for the first chapter or so. After that Iain’s story and writing style drew me in and I forgot about the fact that it was written in present tense. Now that I think about it, it’s really a matter of preference: I generally prefer books written in the past tense than the present tense. But like I said, it wasn’t a biggie and didn’t distract me from enjoying the book.

I also enjoyed all the animals and the interactions Iain had with them. I don’t want to give anything away, but there’s one scene involving a chicken that had me laughing my ass off.

This was a great read and a pretty quick one too. It flowed easily and when I was done I was left with a smile on my face and the desire to know the next chapter in Ian’s life. Both signs of a successful memoir in my books.

 

Review: After the Falls by Catherine Gildiner

8 Feb

Random House Canada, 2009

I’m not normally a fan of memoirs. Quite often I find then self indulgent and more than a little whiny. But when I had the chance to read Catherine Gildiner’s memoir After the Falls as part of an online book club started by Marci at Serendipitous Readings, I thought, What the heck? I’ll give it a go. I started reading it one evening and after staying up until 5 am finishing it, I’m awfully glad I did.

I unfortunately wasn’t around for the 60s, but through the author’s description of the era, I felt like I was there. I was pulled not only into the personal aspects of the book, but the time period as a whole.

While After the Falls is essentially Gildiner’s story, there were plenty of other people weaving in and out of her life. I loved the fact that she would introduce a person and rather than simply let their story end when they were no longer part of her life, she fills the reader in on what happened to them later on. And the switching back and forth from the 60s to other times was done so fluently that it didn’t jar me out of the story at all.

I really, really enjoyed After the Falls. In fact, I enjoyed it so much I just may have to rethink my opinion on memoirs.

Thanks to Marci and the folks at Random House for the review copy.

Browse inside After the Falls.

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