Posts Tagged ‘reread’

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

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Love Medicine

by Louise Erdrich

HarperPerennial, 1993; originally published in 1984

Source: purchased many years ago

Reread it because . . . it was time


Love Medicine was the first Louise Erdrich novel I ever read. My introduction to Erdrich’s work came via a Native American Literature course I took as an undergrad, taught by the university’s writer-in-residence, Janice Gould (who had fantastic taste in literature; I loved most of the reading she assigned). Over the next couple of years I devoured nearly everything Erdrich wrote. When I decided recently to finally reread some of her work, I knew I would start with Love Medicine since it was both the first Erdrich novel I ever read and the first she wrote.

Love Medicine was also one of the first novels I ever read with multiple narrators. This is a tough book to start with if you’ve had little experience with this literary technique. Not only does Erdrich switch narrators from one chapter to the next, but she moves back and forth in time and between first- and third-person narration. To add to the confusion, there are a plethora of characters, and you need a family tree just to keep track of who’s related to who and how.

Erdrich handles this deftly. She never info-dumps on the reader; instead, she introduces the characters organically and give them each an opportunity to tell their own story in their own time. In doing this she creates realistic, multi-dimensional characters more successfully than if she spent pages describing their histories and personalities.

Before rereading this, I really couldn’t remember anything about it other than the novel’s narrative style. Once I started reading, however, I was delighted to discover how familiar it felt. Yes, most of the book had escaped my memory, but more of it was lurking in my brain than I initially thought. As I was re-introduced to the characters the book started floating back. Marie’s name triggered a grin; Sister Leopolda’s name incited a shudder; Gordie’s name made me want to weep 200 pages before it should have.

There is one passage, however, that stuck with me even after I forgot all the others. Upon rereading it I find that it still moves now me as much as it did years ago. I don’t normally include large quotes in my reviews, but I’m sharing this one because it is a great example of why I love Erdrich’s writing. There is so much grief in her work but there is strength and light there, too.

Brief back story: Marie’s mother-in-law, the formidable Rushes Bear, has moved herself in with her son, Nector, and his family. There is no love lost between Marie and Rushes Bear; Rushes Bear is an extremely difficult person to get along with and it doesn’t help any that Marie is a Lazarre, which just gives Rushes Bear another excuse to despise her. (The Lazarres are on the lowest rung of the social ladder on the reservation.) Marie is pregnant when Rushes Bear moves in. When she goes into labor, Rushes Bear and Fleur Pillager deliver the baby. After the birth, Marie overhears this conversation in the next room:

“You take this,” said Nector. “The money’s yours.”

There was a clank as something hit the floor.

The door closed.

“If that Pillager won’t take it, you can,” said Nector.

“Not from your hands.”

“I’m your son,” he said.

“No more. I only have a daughter.”

“Her?” he said, almost laughing. “But she’s a Lazarre.”

“You shame me,” Rushes Bear said. “You never heard any wail out of her, any complaint. You never would know this birth was hard enough for her to die.”

I never saw this woman the same way I had before that day. Before that birth of the child, a son after all, Rushes Bear was a hot fire that I wanted to crush. After that, things were different. I never saw her without knowing that she was my own mother, my own blood. What she did went beyond the frailer connections. More than saving my life, she put the shape of it back in place. And even though her wild moods descended again, and again, with more violence until she was lost in those storms, sometimes for weeks, and even though sometimes she’d rise from her place behind the chair and bolt for home when we weren’t on guard, and even though she was more trouble to me than any child I ever had, I took care of the old woman every day of her life because we shared the loneliness that was one shape, because I knew that she was in that boat, where I had labored. She crested and sank in dark waves. Those waves were taking her onward, through night, through day, the water beating and slashing her unknown path. She struggled to continue. She was traveling hard, and death was her light. (104-105)

“More than saving my life, she put the shape of it back in place” – love it.


Other reviews: BookLust, Caribousmom, Regular Rumination, Shelf Love

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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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When I sat down a few days ago to catch up on my favorite book blogs I realized how much I miss this book blogging world.  I miss reading reviews, chatting with fellow book lovers, and planning and writing my own reviews and bookish thoughts.  I miss having a tiny corner of my life separate from work and school.  At first I was a little caught-off guard by this feeling, and then I felt a little sad, because unfortunately this is just the beginning. 

Sigh.  Drat being a responsible adult.

I want to apologize for my absence here, my delayed (or completely lack of) comments on your blogs, and all current and future whining about the intrusion of my thesis and work on my book blogging life.  I’m a little bundle of stress these days, but I’m trying really hard not to inflict that on anyone.  (I think I would be a little more successful at that if I moved to Antarctica.  But I hear it’s kinda cold there.)

Even though work, school and being sick (yes, I’ve been sick, too, which is just not fair, if you ask me) have kept me from blogging, I’ve managed to squeeze in quite a bit of “fun” reading.  (Mostly because I read while at work, but don’t tell on me!)  I don’t really have a review in me right now, so here’s a brief recap of some recent reads:

I did read one more Isabel Allende book last month – Daughter of Fortune.  Most of the novel takes place in California during the Gold Rush, and it was interesting to read an Allende novel about a time and place I’m familiar with.  She is such a vivid writer, though, that even if I wasn’t a native Californian I would still have felt like I was there.  I’ve never been to Chile, and yet after reading House of the Spirits I feel like I have.

Hmmm, what else . . . I finished up the Stieg Larsson Millennium series a few weeks ago.  Not the all-time greatest books I’ve ever read, but still very good.  A coworker loaned me Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen last week, and I feel a little ho-hum about it.  I’ve definitely read better memoirs (A Girl Named Zippy comes to mind; wow, do I love that book!). 

I’ve had a good reading streak since then: I finished Bad Mother by Ayelet Waldman last night and lovedlovedloved it.  When I have available time and brain space I’m definitely going to review it here.  (In the meantime, check out Jenny’s review.  Wonderful.)  I’m on a mini Diana Wynne Jones kick, too.  I read Charmed Life the other day (good times, big fun) and am in the middle of Dogsbody, which is just fantastic.  I’m also in the middle of Among the Shadows by L. M. Montgomery, (recommended by Chandra), because frankly I could not resist reading a collection of spooky stories written by the author of Anne of Green Gables.

And on a totally unrelated note, autumn is finally getting rolling here, which just thrills me to pieces.  The leaves are blowing everywhere, there’s a chill in the air . . . I would be totally okay with it staying like this until spring 🙂

What are you up to?  Any great reads?  How’s autumn treating you?

P.S. In more unrelated news, I just discovered that Gail Carriger (author of Soulless, which I reviewed back in July) quoted my review on her blog!  A real, live author quoted me!  Wow.  I’m getting all giddy and starry-eyed over here.

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My Invented Country
by Isabel Allende
Perennial, 2003
Source: personal copy

I moved to Virginia four years ago, making it the third state I’d lived in since I graduated from high school.  Thanks to my transient existence my definition of “home” had become somewhat vague.  I had yet to come up with a satisfactory answer to the “So, where are you from?” question; even though I had lived there until I left for college, to say simply, “California” seemed dismissive of the places I’d lived in the meantime.  That this part of my identity remained nebulous didn’t bother me very much; it was just who I was.

Then, ten months later, a young man opened fire on the Virginia Tech campus, killing thirty-three people including himself.  Beneath the crushing weight of shock and grief an unsought answer shone with absolute clarity: here.  My home is here.

Because this wasn’t just a tabloid story or a distant tragedy or a reason to debate gun laws.  He murdered our own that day.  Even after the headlines moved on our wounded still lay in hospitals, we were still trying to figure out how to breathe again, how to mend the irreparable damage in our hearts.  He had ripped the sun out of the sky and it didn’t seem as though we would ever get it back.

Months later I read My Invented Country.  Just a few pages into the introduction I came to this passage:

Until only a short time ago, if someone had asked me where I’m from, I would have answered, without much thought, Nowhere; or, Latin America; or, maybe, In my heart I’m Chilean.  Today, however, I say I’m an American, not simply because that’s what my passport verifies, or because that word includes all of America from north to south, or because my husband, my son, my grandchildren, most of my friends, my books, and my home are in northern California; but because a terrorist attack destroyed the twin towers of the World Trade Center, and starting with that instant, many things have changed.  We can’t be neutral in moments of crisis. (xi)

It was like reading my own heart.  I read, and reread, those lines over and over, comforted that someone else in the world knew exactly how I felt.  Calling Virginia home is not a matter of disloyalty; I am not seeking to hurt those friends and family back West or deny the huge part of myself that is, and always will be, Californian and everything else.  However.  We can’t be neutral in times of crisis.  I never could have kept my heart from breaking that day, never could have turned away from the community I loved.

Allende closes with, “This book has helped me understand that I am not obligated to make a decision: I can have one foot in Chile and another here, that’s why we have planes . . . For the moment California is my home and Chile is the land of my nostalgia.  My heart isn’t divided, it has merely grown larger” (197).

This book helped me understand the exact same thing, and for that I am grateful.  Thank you, Allende.

Other reviews:

A Striped Armchair
Shelf Love
things mean a lot

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

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The House of the Spirits
by Isabel Allende
Bantam Books, 1982
Source: personal copy

It’s only fitting that I kick off Isabel Allende month with her first work, (and the first Allende novel I’ve ever read), The House of the Spirits.  This is the third time I’ve read the book.  My aunt and uncle gave it to me for Christmas when I was 13 (and I read it shortly after that), and then I read it again four and half years ago when I went on a mini Isabel Allende kick.  In reading it for the third time I’ve discovered why my 13 year old self didn’t quite know what to make of the book.

Esteban Trueba is a character I would dearly love to hate.  Many times I do, like when he’s raping the women of Tres Marías or when he hits Clara so hard he knocks out her teeth.  I despise his violent, explosive temper, his politics, his views on women and the lower class, his behavior toward his children and everyone else he disagrees with. 

There are a hundred reasons to completely loathe Esteban Trueba, but Allende writes his character in such a way that makes this impossible.  It’s not that she presents him in a sympathetic light, it’s more that she writes him simply as he is, including every facet of his being, every minute of his life.  By the end of the novel I knew him as well as I know myself; he was a living, breathing human being and I simply could not hate him.

Small wonder, then, that 13 year old Emily did not know what to do with this book.  It’s probably the first book I read that presented the characters, all of them, so realistically and thoroughly that they elicited a myriad of complicated reactions from the reader.  What an incredible writer.

Next stop on the Isabel Allende tour: My Invented Country.

Other reviews:

Shelf Love

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

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