Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Memory Palace

The Book: The Memory Palace

The Author: Mira Bartok (nee Myra Herr)

The Dealio: Bartok is one of two daughters, abandoned at a young age by their (alcoholic, genius, writer) father. Forced to live with their mother's parents, their gifted, schizophrenic mother begins a harrowing spiral of paranoia and combativeness, that ends, one night, with her attacking her daughters. In the aftermath of this violent, terrifying episode, (one of many such, but the mortal wound to the delicate balance the girls have created simply to be able to coexist with their increasingly irrational parent), both make an escape, a complete break which lasts for almost 17 years. Both women change their names, sever ties with their friends and remaining family, and communicate only through third party postal boxes in neutral cities.
Summoned back to their mother's side when she is 80 years old and dying (not a spoiler: this is clear within the first chapter of the story), Mira, who has become an artist and author of children's books, has, herself, suffered a brain injury due to a freak car accident. She now possesses a memory which is an Alencon lace-type affair: full of sumptuous, intricately woven designs, riddled through and through with minute gaps, gauzed-out recollections with several possible meanings ('That is what could have happened. Or...perhaps, what happened was this...'). As an antidote to the panic and uncertainty that envelopes her when she is faced with the smallest of tasks, (remembering appointments or how to get home from her grocery store), she adopts a device from the Renaissance:a palace of infinite rooms, into each of which she carefully situates a memory- in the form of a literal, mental picture. The memory is then safe, and can be visited again and again, reliably. Reassuringly.

The Grading Session: 4.851 pengies out of 5. This review is based upon an audio book rendering of the story. The reader is Hilary Huber, who is gifted and clearly moved and invested in the tale. However, the few debits that separate this story from a perfect score include some repetition ( I do understand the urgent and unrelenting weariness, guilt and agony of wondering where her mother is. Asking yourself if she, who has become homeless and traipsed in and out of institutions and programs for the best part of the intervening 17 years, is safe, warm, cared-for, must be a daily grief and scourge. Still, a bit of editing would have eased the narrative flow (look at the big brain on me, after reading one book about the editing skills of Jackie O!) considerably. The writing was lyrical, punctuated by meaningful- although obscure, sayings. Which makes them even more pungent. But there were three points at which I felt this books could have gracefully wound to a delicately couched landing...but then, suddenly, it didn't. This was still a hell of a read and I simply could not leave it alone. If you were caught up- often against your will- by the narrative of The Glass Castle, then you should check into the Memory Palace. Both powerful, made even more striking by the fact that these are both nonfiction.

Lessons Learned: There are people in the world who live extremely harrowing lives- and who manage to survive, even thrive. Also- the border between genius and mental illness appears, for some, to be crossed so many times, a passport has become a meaningless document. And finally, there is something to this notion that we are linked to those we have loved by that famous red string which binds us at the heart. So often in this story, Mira was traveling in some weird place (once, even, above the Arctic Circle), and leter discovered a notation from her mother's notebooks detailing the bird and animal life, or ritual and customs of the same places, written at the same time. It is that invisible, but very real thread which enables such a mighty mental connection. So, could we then believe that it is possible never to lose those who we love, and who love us, no matter the distance in actual miles? I would really love to believe this.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Life by Keith Richards vs Zero Regrets by Apolo Anton Ohno

Get ready to ruuuuuuummmmble!
The competitors: Life by Keith Richards and James Fox in this corner. Zero Regrets:Be Greater Than Yesterday by Apolo Anton Ohno, a worthy opponent. (NOTE #1: These reviews are based upon the audio book versions of both. Note#2: Having just completed Reading Jackie by William Kuhn, it is tempting to have her in as a wild card. And, in truth, I feel certain Jackie could swing an elbow with the best of them, but it just seemed a little unfair to Keith).
Ghost Written? Ohno : Do not believe so. Richards: Let's call it co-ghost-written, since Fox's name appears on the cover. However, let me just say that I am amazed and, OK, dazzled, by the fact that Richards actually appears to remember so much!

The Father-Son Connection: Ohno: Incredibly strong, forged in a series of very difficult situations. As a parent myself, it is remarkable to note the amount of forgiveness and nurturing tough-love that has always existed between these two. And, yes, there are tear-y eyed moments from time to time. Richards: His dad left the family when he was still young. He writes that he was violently scared to meet his dad years later- long after he was 'Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones'- when, in walked this shrunken, ancient little old mild-mannered man. Still, the Stone doesn't fall far from the mountain, and he also remarks that his father seemed to 'effortlessly charm women of all ages'.

Self-Narrated? Ohno: Oh, yes. And although he does a workmanlike job, there seems very little joy and sauce in the telling. Too bad. But I have often noticed that authors are really not the best choice to narrate their own stories. (John Le Carre was the absolute worse, with Frances Mayes coming in a tight second. Geeps!). Richards: For about 3 minutes at the very end. The rest of the time, we get Johhny Depp (yes...that Johnny Depp) and Joe Hurley (this Joe Hurley is no relation to me). Johnny voices the very beginning and about 2-3 other chapters, but, for a person who has donned a Brit accent numerous times in movies, it's rather a surprise that he only assumes one when he is delivering a direct quote. He also is not a natural to this particular medium. Witness awkward sentence breaks and flat recounting. Joe Hurley, on the other hand, takes on the spirit and soul- with extreme relish, might I say?- of every character he voices. Texan, New York African-American, South American, German female...doesn't seem to matter. Listening to Hurley is like listening to an old-fashioned radio drama.Lush listening- even if you are not a Stones fan.

Sex?: Ohno: Uh. No. This is a autobiography meant to inspire the reader to excel...just not in bed-hopping or drug-taking or musical output. But there is mention of the 'sexy-inspiration of his Dancing With The Stars partner Julianne Hough (You are a wild tiger! ROWLF!) Richards: Oh. Hello! Who am I talking about? Try hot and cold running girls and women.

Inspirational: Ohno: Absolutely. Although he can get bogged down in the nitty gritty of such absorbing topics as the road to 2% body fat and learning what to eat to maximise strength and minimise weight, over all, this is a call to action. Basically Ohno is challenging people of all ages who feel they are too...well, something: old, weak, disenfranchised, poor, unathletic, reset their thinking and plan themselves into success. One of his most often repeated sayings- and it doth bear repeating- is: I do not ask myself, at the end of the day, did I win a gold? Did I beat every other competitor? What I ask myself, as I am falling asleep, is simply this: did I do the very best that I could do today-and do I have zero regrets about my performance? There are many, many worse messages to put out there, and I have found myself adopting this ritual as my own. And I will sleep the better for knowing the answers to these questions.
Richards: Well. Depends: I found it inspirational that he was able to battle back against poverty and raw deals by finding some small thing: singing, writing, artwork, learning a musical instrument, gardening. And then kicking all buttocks equally in honing these skills and becoming an innovator in his endeavors. That, too, is inspiration. However, if you are looking for a more spiritual message- what the aitch are you doing with this book?! Go read Ohno's instead.

Drugs: Ohno: There are mentions of allegations of personal drug use(which were quickly and roundly dismissed as absolutely false), and the purported use of these among other athletes. Also, it is important to note that Ohno is a proponent of alternative- and Eastern- medicine. Even so, he maintains that he will not put any substance into his body blindly. He spends a great deal of time researching the alternatives and weighing all the issues of safety and side effects. Richards: This Keith Richards we're talking about, right? Lots and lots and lots of drugs. Although he maintains that he never mainlined heroin, he did inject it into the muscle. We'll sorta get back to that later.

Rehab: Ohno: mostly managed his own rehab- even when he was in a professional facility, under the care of therapists and doctors. Ohno is very strongly the 'take the bull by the horns myself' type. This is one man to whom you do NOT say, 'Well, you may never walk again.' What he is hearing is this: Blahblahblahblah, walk again. Save your breath. Richards: Routinely detoxed via cold turkey in preparation for tours, when he was unsure about the reliability of supply lines. Then, went back into it. Also took various recommended cures (including a highly unique one espoused by William Burroughs- who Keith was not entirely sure wasn't getting him back for something by recommending this specific cure). Finally kicked it for good right after meeting Patty Hanson, the love of his life. There are horrendous scenes of the rehabs/cold turkey episodes- as well as violent scenes of car wrecks and crashes- mental and physical- that preceeded these- that curdle the blood.

Funny/Touching/Nasty?: Ohno: a few humorous vignettes, mostly surrounding the earliest years with his dad and at the Olys. Anything that has to do with his dad and their tentative, scratchy, but always tender and caring relationship, is always moving and very touching. Nasty? I believe that Ohno feels being nasty is a waste: of time, talent and energy. Not really. Richards: Very, very funny, and I found myself laughing along at certain scenes, especially regarding his intense, convoluted and illogical plans to meet up with women. His story surrounding the death of his son Tara, (from what sounds like SIDS), moreover, was stunning, and I felt myself realising that such an occurance is the greatest equaliser- doesn't matter how famous or rich you are; you are 'touchable'. Nasty? Certainly, but usually, only when called for. His long-term relationship with Mick Jagger springs immediately to mind. Where once there was the old We Are Brothers anthem, now there is a vigilant detente.

The Dealio: Both books tell the life-stories of two quite public men. Ohno tells his story against the backdrop of the most important touchstones of his life: his feisty, take-no-excuses father, the Olys and, of course, his message of self-motivation, strength forged through stubborn persistence and the use of hope and hard work, in equal measures, to meet the goals you will set for yourself. Richards set his more straight-forward story against the backdrop of his life, moving from a WWII era lad in England up through his years as a musician, and finally as a founding member of the Rolling Stones, an actor and celebrity.

The Grading Session: Ohno: 4.61 pengies out of 5; Richards: 4.977 pengies out of 5 (he gets points off for calling various women in his life 'bitches' in a way that is both jarringly offhand and meanspirited in its casualness, both at the same time. He should be better than that- especially as he states that he never ends things badly, and that he loveslovesloves women of all sorts)

Lessons Learned: In both: you don't always get what you want; but, if you try try try, you just might find, you get what you need.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Trailer for Water For Elephants

Oh boy, oh boy! Just caught a trailer for Water For Elephants. I am trying hard to stay nuetral about Rob Pattinson in the lead...but otherwise, it looks fantabulous! Can hardly wait to see it. The trailer alone brought out so many of the strong emotions the book inspired in me. That's gotta be a good sign, no? Openopenopen.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

looking back and moving forward

Hello to all ye who have followed my blog this year.
Looking back, I must say that it has been fun and I have ended the year with two pretty great films. Many books, too, although I haven't blogged as much as I would like on them. New Years' resolution #1? More book blogging. I am halfway through Life by Keith Richards, so I promise to blog upon it, as soon as poss.
Would also like to thank those of you who have offered comments- or even just stolen a glance or two. It's almost as much fun as a book/film club, but with more distance and time- and far less wine and munchies- between the participants. Love that.
Any suggestions? Any critiques? I should say what I say to the peeps who come to my class and offer to write evals: I always welcome these. Aaaaand, if they are particularly mean...I will just shred 'em! (and thank you so much for vomiting toxins all over me and my words). One recommendation I will be taking for action is the occasional incorporation of TV series' into the blog. Waitwaitwait....I said 'occasional', and I promise to abide by that limitation. But, a eensy sneak peek? OK, you twisted my arm: the BBC series Sherlock Holmes. Oooh-la! I can scarcely wait!
Hope to see you back here right soon.
Happy 2011, y'all.