Archive for the ‘Adult Nonfiction’ Category

She Got Up Off the Couch:

And Other Heroic Acts from Mooreland, Indiana

by Haven Kimmel

Free Press, 2006

Source: personal copy

Reread it because . . . I reread A Girl Named Zippy recently, so this was the logical next step


After rereading A Girl Named Zippy last month, I simply had no choice but to reread Haven Kimmel’s follow-up memoir, She Got Up Off the Couch. Like Zippy, this is a great plane read; when I started reading it this time around I actually found an old boarding pass inside (my preferred bookmark when flying). I don’t usually leave bookmarks in books after I’ve finished reading them, so this was a pleasant surprise. No year on the boarding pass, though, so I’m not sure when it’s from. My guess is 2007 or 2008.

Anyway. On to the book!

Not being a huge fan of sequels, Kimmel never intended to write a follow-up to Zippy. When she was out on book tours promoting Zippy and her novels, she was, naturally, asked about the people she had written about in her memoir – where they were now, etc. But the question she was also repeatedly asked was whether or not her mother ever got up off the couch (where she had spent most of Kimmel’s childhood). In the preface, Kimmel writes:

The first time I heard the question a little bell rang on a faraway hill, and I knew if I ever did (and I wouldn’t) write a follow-up (which I absolutely would not do), that would be the subject and that would be the title.

Of course I gave in to the six or seven people clamoring for a sequel. In the beginning I didn’t intend to write anything but a continuing portrait of my family, in particular of my mother. Toward the end of Zippy my father and I watched Mom pedal away on my new bicycle, riding toward points unknown; we knew something was afoot but we didn’t know what. She Got Up Off the Couch begins at that point – it seemed an appropriate jumping-off place for a book about an individual woman in a very particular place. But when Rose read the final draft she pointed out that Mother’s evolution, personal as it was, is also the story of a generation of women who stood up and rocked the foundations of life in America. They didn’t know they were doing so – they were trying to save their own lives, I think – but in the process they took it on the chin for everyone who followed. I know my own mother did.

I will never do anything half so grand or important. I couldn’t tell this story any way except through my own eyes, but that doesn’t make me the star of the show. As Zippy was a bow to Mooreland, Indiana, this is a love letter, humbly conceived and even more modestly written, to my father, my brother, the sister who is my very breath of life, and most of all to the woman who stood up, brushed away the pork rind crumbs, and escaped by the skin of her teeth. It is a letter to all such women, wherever they may be. (xv-xvi)

In many ways, She Got Up Off the Couch is just like Zippy. It’s a collection of first-person narrated childhood anecdotes that sound like they’re coming straight from the mouth of a kid. Some of them, like the chapter, “A Short List of Records My Father Threatened to Break Over My Head If I Played Them One More Time,” are so side-splittingly funny I have been known to lose the power of speech, I’m laughing so hard.

But the underlying tone of She Got Up Off the Couch is heavier than that of Zippy, and in it there are just as many moments that make my heart splinter as there are that make me laugh. Kimmel tells her mother’s story the way most of us remember our childhoods: in bits and pieces. Within those fragmented memories is a growing understanding of the significance of the events unfolding around her. The child who told the stories in A Girl Named Zippy is still present in She Got Up Off the Couch, but she’s maturing, and so a serious tone cannot help but creep in amidst the hilarity. There are more reflections on family members and friends in this follow-up, too, and those chapters are told with such a raw tenderness and love I cannot help but love these people myself. And no matter how many times I read it, I still cannot get through the chapter about her brother without weeping.

At the heart of She Got Up Off the Couch is a woman who found the strength and courage to reclaim herself, and that is the reason why, as much as I love Zippy, I love this book even more. I will never do anything half so grand or important, either, but it is because of her – and all the other women who escaped by the skin of their teeth – that shooting for grandness is even an option. To all the women who got up off the couch: thank you.

Other reviews: Bookfoolery and Babble

Did you write a review?  Let me know and I’ll add it to the list!

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MWF Seeking BFF:

My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend

by Rachel Bertsche

Ballantine Books, 2011

Source: public library

Read it because . . . I read this review and it sounded interesting


Two years after moving to Chicago with her boyfriend, Rachel Bertsche realizes there is a gaping hole in her life: she has no local best friends. Seeking to remedy the situation, she decides to embark on a year of friend-dating – 52 first dates in all – hoping at least one of them will lead to a new BFF. In MWF Seeking BFF Bertsche recounts her experience, sprinkling her friend-date anecdotes with discussions on current research and studies on friendship.

MWF Seeking BFF was an entertaining read. Bertsche is a humorous, open writer, and I never stopped being impressed by her pro-active approach to solving her best friend dilemma. I was pleasantly surprised by her inclusion of friendship facts and studies, and was pleased that she inserts her friendship research findings in the middle of her anecdotes with relative ease. She cites studies that highlight the positive affect friendships have on both mental and physical health, the stigma attached to admitting loneliness, and the overall decline of adult friendships in our society. Her book brings to light a subject few people are willing to discuss for fear of sounding “pathetic”: that many adults have only a few (if any) really close friends, and that making friends is much more difficult once you grow up.

As I read, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own friendships. Like Bertsche when she began her search, all of my best friends live rather far away. (Most live in a completely different time zone.) I have friends here, but no one I would feel comfortable calling at 2 am (which, in my mind, is one of the differences between a friend and a best friend). I’m not complaining, mind you. I have amazing friends and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. And I am, overall, pretty content with my life. But Bertsche did get me thinking about my local friendships and whether or not it’s time to expand my friendship horizons a bit.

My only quibble with the book are the repeated declarations concerning the Inherent Differences in the Friendship Needs of Men and Women. I am rather uncomfortable with absolutes and so I cringed every time Bertsche said something about men needing one kind of friendship and women needing another. I don’t think the issue is quite that black and white.

Overall, an interesting read. I recommend it.

P. S. This all started as a blog, which you can find here. (Confession: I haven’t looked at it yet.)

Other reviews: Book Addiction, Curled Up With a Good Book and a Cup of Tea, S. Krishna’s Books, The Written World

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Apples (review)

written and illustrated by Roger Yepsen
W. W. Norton & Co, 1994
Source: purchased at a used book store
It’s a lovely Sunday afternoon and I have a freshly baked apple pie cooling in the kitchen, so I thought I’d pull out the book Apples by Roger Yepsen for a quick review.  I found this book at a used book store last year and bought it, I confess, for purely aesthetic reasons.  It’s one of those small, beautifully illustrated books that makes for a great gift or coffee table garnish.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it is a rather informative book as well.
Yepsen gives an overview of the history of the apple, discussing the disturbing lack of variety found in most grocery stores and the recent emergence of what he calls an “apple revival”: the growing interest in the United States and Great Britain in buying locally grown apples and rescuing near-extinct apple varieties.  He gives tips on apple buying, growing and cooking, and then follows it all up with the best part of the book: descriptions and illustrations of ninety-two different kinds of apples.
Salivating yet?
I am fortunate enough to live near a fantastic farmer’s market, and the variety of produce found there is pretty impressive.  In the last couple of years I’ve become more adventurous in my apple-buying, motivated in part by Yepsen’s book.  When I bought apples yesterday for my pie I picked out one or two of everything there: Stayman, Golden Delicious, York, Empire, Honey Crisp, Granny Smith, Fuji, and Gala.  Gala has been my favorite apple for years, but last year I branched out a little when I discovered that Golden Delicious are, in fact, delicious.  I know that sounds dumb, but I had always assumed that Golden Delicious taste like Red Delicious, which I don’t like, so I stayed away from them for years.  
Staymans are a great apple, too.  They’re a little tart, but very crisp and keep well.  I’m not a fan of Granny Smiths (too sour!) but it’s good to throw one of them into a pie to add a little variety.  I had forgotten what I thought of Fuji, York, Empire and Honey Crisp, so I, naturally, had to test taste them as I prepared the pie.  Fuji and Honey Crisp are okay, although I probably won’t buy them again.  I remembered as soon as I bit into it that I do not like York apples; they taste too much like apple juice.*  But Empires!  I think they just became my new favorite munching apple (sorry, Gala).  They’re amazing.
I better stop before I drool all over the keyboard.  The smell of the pie isn’t helping any, either.  And I don’t get to eat any until tomorrow!  Argh!  The torture!
Any other apple fans out there?  What are your favorites?
Stop torturing me, pie . . .
* I love everything apple – pie, cider, fritters, sauce, etc. – but I can’t stand apple juice.  I have no idea why.

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At Large and At Small: Familiar Essays

by Anne Fadiman
Farrar, Straus andGiroux, 2007
Source: purchasedused at Powell’s
Every time I triedmentally composing this review I realized I was writing it as though you werealready familiar with Anne Fadiman’s essays. Why wouldn’t you be?  Surely everyreader out there knows and loves Ex Libris!  Even though I’ve reminded myself numeroustimes that just because I have pulled that little book off theshelf many, many times does not mean that everyone else has, too, I continually fell back into (mentally) chattingabout Anne Fadiman’s AtLarge and At Small as thoughshe is a mutual friend. 
Perhaps this stemsfrom Fadiman’s writing style.  She is awitty and knowledgeable writer, and reading her essays reminds me of my favorite courses when I was a student. These were the courses where the discussion flowed easily, filled withinsightful, yet personal, comments peppered with just the right amount ofhumor.  Classes like those were myfavorite part of being a student, which is probably why I love Fadiman somuch.  Her writing is a blending of thepersonal and the critical, and the end result warms my little nerdy heart to noend.
While Ex Libris is a collection of book-themed essays, At Large and At Small encompasses a wider range oftopics.  They are a genre of essay knownas the “familiar” essay.  The familiaressay is equal parts personal and critical, equal parts heart and brain.  Fadiman explains that the familiar essayistspoke to one, not millions, of readers:
The familiar essayistdidn’t speak to the millions; he spoke to one reader, as if the two of them weresitting side by side in front of a crackling fire with their cravats loosened,their favorite stimulants at hand, and a long evening of conversationstretching out before them.  Hisviewpoint was subjective, his frame of reference concrete, his styledigressive, his eccentricities conspicuous, and his laughter usually at his ownexpense.  And though he wrote abouthimself, he also wrote about a subject, something with which he was sofamiliar, and about which he was often so enthusiastic, that his words weresuffused with a lover’s intimacy. (x)
This genre, Fadimanlaments, is fading away.  At Large and At Small is her “contribution to the war effort”in the battle to save the familiar essay, and I hope many more contributionsfollow.  It is certainly a genre worthsaving.

Other reviews:

P. S. After readingthis I discovered that it fits the “size” category for the What’s in a Name? Challenge.  Hurray for me!  One book down, five to go.

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A River Runs Through It
by Norman Maclean
Pocket Books, 1976
Source: personal copy
I read this book for the first time in high school.  When I left for college I “borrowed” my dad’s copy, and since then it has moved with me, from dorm room to dorm room, from house to house, from one side of the country to the next.  Once it resided on a measly book shelf assembled out of bricks and a few warped boards; now it lives on a proper bookshelf in a house just a few short blocks from a small, meandering East coast river. 
So how do I review this book?  It’s one of those books that has so permeated my being that just looking at it conjures up images of the Big Blackfoot River, and I can hear the river rushing past me even though I’ve never actually stood on its banks.  Passages from the story are etched in my brain; I am as haunted by waters as I am that book.  If I moved today, and for some reason could only take with me one book, that would be the one I would take.  It is the piece of the West I carry with me no matter where I live, so that even when I do not have mountains, big skies and wild rivers, I at least have the words.
In lieu of a “proper” review, here instead are a few of my favorite passages:

“My mother turned and went to her bedroom where, in a house full of men and rods and rifles, she had faced most of her great problems alone.  She never was to ask me a question about the man she loved most and understood least.  Perhaps she knew enough to know that for her it was enough to have loved him.  He was probably the only man in the world who had held her in his arms and leaned back and laughed” (111).

“It is those we live with and love and should know who elude us” (113).

“Of course, now I am too old to be much of a fisherman, and now of course I usually fish the big waters alone, although some friends think I shouldn’t.  Like many fly fisherman in western Montana where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening.  Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.
    “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.  The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time.  On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops.  Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.
    “I am haunted by waters” (113).

I love this book.

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So my latest insane book moment (explanation here) was a bit more out there than my usual insane moments.  (Wait, what?  A “usual” insane moment?  Never mind.  I’m not even going to try to figure that out.  It’s making my brain hurt.)  My fits of hysterical giggles came while reading . . . a vegan cookie cookbook.
Yes, you read that correctly.  Vegan cookie cookbook.  I’m not vegan, by the way.  I also don’t usually sit down and read cookbooks cover to cover, either.  In fact, I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve done that (twice).  So . . . why?

I bake occasionally.  Okay, more than occasionally.  More like every time one of my coworkers has a birthday and for various events in between.  Recently one of my dear friends (who has been very supportive of my baking endeavors) lamented the lack of vegan options in my repertoire, so I thought, “Hey, I should give that whole vegan baking thing a shot!”  (Because, you see, I don’t have a thesis to write and don’t spend nineteen thousand hours a day teaching preschool.  So I totally have all the time in the world to putter around the kitchen.)

So I emailed my cousin (a vegan baker), who recommended Vegan with a Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, which led me to Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, which is how I ended up giggling my head off while reading a vegan cookie cookbook.  (I really like the way that sounds.  Vegan cookie cookbook.  Vegan cookie cookbook.  Yes, it’s been a long day.  Why do you ask?)  Most of the funny lines are funnier in context, (calm down!  I’m not going to quote the entire book!), but I just have to share this one.  It’s my favorite, not just because I wasn’t expecting any humor while reading about sugar but because it allayed my fear that Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero were going to make these cookies all healthy and stuff:

You can use evaporated cane juice whenever we call for sugar.  It acts exactly the same in recipes, but it is processed a bit less and retains some of its vitamins.  Because when you’re eating cookies what you’re really thinking about is vitamins (10).

Tee hee hee 🙂

P.S.  I didn’t just read the book, I actually made a few of the cookies, too.  I made the Peanut Butter Blondies, Citrus Glitters and Mexican Chocolate Snickerdoodles.  All were delicious, although I had to tone down the cheyenne in the Mexican Chocolate Snickerdoodles.  When I made that first batch – yow!  I thought my mouth was going to catch on fire!  So I mailed them to my brother, muhahahahaha.  Oddly enough, he never called to thank me . . .

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