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Monday, August 7, 2017

Andrea Avery, SONATA: A MEMOIR OF PAIN AND THE PIANO

I haven't been this touched by a book since I read LIT, the memoir by Mary Carr. Avery's SONATA is at once deeply felt and light on its poetic feet, even playful, and I found myself putting little ticks in the margin for the lines that sang to me. I found myself in tears at parts; but this book is not a melodramatic tale of her disease; nor is it a cerebral meditation; nor an example of how to "make the best of a rotten situation." Far from any of these genres, it is a woman's deeply personal account of how she learned to create, build, rebuild, start over, and stay open and vulnerable and soft in the face of a cruel and unpredictable disease. I'm in awe, not just of her ability to craft a deeply meaningful life but to craft a book that I will probably push at everyone I know for the next month.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Nicola Phillips, THE PROFLIGATE SON: OR, A TRUE STORY OF FAMILY CONFLICT, FASHIONABLE VICE AND FINANCIAL RUIN IN REGENCY BRITAIN

An incredibly well-researched historical account of a young man in Regency England who grew up in privilege but slid into debt, depravity, crime, and eventually the penal colony in Australia. One review I read said the book made the reader want to shake William--and I had to agree. Nowadays, he'd probably be diagnosed with narcissistic or borderline personality disorder. He seemed to have no ability to understand that his actions brought about consequences, with an attitude of "Well, yes, I bought eighteen shirts on my father's credit and then pawned them for ready money so I could get drunk and visit a prostitute, but it's my father's fault because he doesn't give me enough allowance!" As a parent, I found it a bit terrifying to contemplate. My one gripe is that William's repeated errors and crimes are precisely that--repeated--and I found myself skimming at points in the narrative because it was just another incident of his bad judgment. But as a researcher, I greatly admired Nicola Phillips's ability to make this individual story a lens into the historical period, illuminating many of the prevailing social and legal issues. I would recommend for anyone interested in early- to mid-1800s England.