Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Flying Close to the Sun

I could not put Cathy Wilkerson’s Flying Close to the Sun: My Life and Times as a Weatherman down. I carried it with me everywhere. It is no secret that I thoroughly enjoy women’s memoirs. This one was especially enticing, since it covers the turbulent times of the 1960s and 1970s.

Wilkerson, who is now an educator, was an active member in Students for a Democratic Society, which eventually led to her involvement with the Weatherman organization and later the Weather Underground. In 1970, Wilkerson was staying at her father’s townhouse in New York City while he was away. Several members of the Weatherman group were at the townhouse with her. As she cleaned, in anticipation of her father’s return, a member of the group was in the basement assembling a bomb. The bomb exploded, completing destroying the townhouse and killing three members of the radical group. Wilkerson and another woman, Kathy Boudin, escaped. After the explosion, Wilkerson went underground.

Wilkerson questions her decisions and the activities of the organizations she was involved with throughout her memoir. At times, although she was politically and philosophically aligned with the organizations, she characterizes her younger self as someone floating along and kept in the dark about some of the group's activities. Is this true? It is hard to know. I also wish more was said about her underground years and her current life.

Regardless of these issues, the memoir is an intriguing read into one woman's journey during historic times. Wilkerson's discussion of how women's issues were often deemed insignificant and counter-productive to the anti-war movement is an aspect that is often not approached. This alone makes the memoir valuable. Highly recommended!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

How Starbucks Saved My Life

I discovered Michael Gates Gill's memoir, How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else in a book display at a librarians' conference. I was immediately intrigued by it. Not only was the title interesting, but the back cover provided a strong endorsement by Thomas Moore, one of my favorite authors.

Gill, a child of wealth who attended Yale and earned a large salary as a creative director at an advertising company, was laid off from his job as he approached retirement age. Not having much success at his attempts to be a consultant, Gill accepted a barista job at Starbucks.

I imagined Gill's memoir would provide profound insights into how he found enjoyment serving others. I thought the memoir would be Zen-like in its approach. Unfortunately, I was never convinced by Gill and his near worship of Starbucks. There was no depth. I found his constant reminiscing to a time long ago, where he interacted with such notables as Ernest Hemingway and Robert Frost, more important to him than his present work at Starbucks.

I wanted to believe enlightenment was reached, but came away from this feeling like I was reading a long advertisement for Starbucks. I read today that the memoir is being made into a film. Perhaps the film adaptation will be more moving and less contrived.

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Best Day the Worst Day

Poet Donald Hall’s The Best Day the Worst Day: Life with Jane Kenyon chronicles his twenty-three year marriage to the poet Jane Kenyon. The book has a pattern of a chapter on a period of their marriage followed by a chapter of Jane’s struggle with leukemia, which ultimately takes her life. This pattern continues throughout the book, so you are going back and forth in time. It is beautifully executed.

At times, however, I asked myself, “Why am I reading this?” The discussion of Jane’s leukemia is told with meticulous detail. We hear about operations, hospital visits, medications, and treatments. The book even followed me into my sleep. One night I woke up from a nightmare where I was telling my husband I had leukemia. After that experience, I considered no longer reading it, but I continued on.

Although this is a difficult book to get through, it is also a work of art. From reading it, we discover love in its purest form. We see compassion, service, companionship, and a desire to live. We are also permitted to view the inner workings of a marriage between two poets, which is something of a fairytale.

Highly recommended!