TOMBOY SURVIVAL GUIDE

IVAN COYOTE imgres

Tomboy Survival Guide, by the Canadian writer, performer and musician Ivan Coyote, is of well-told tales about the author’s experiences growing up as a transgender person in the Yukon. Adapted from Coyote’s successful stage show of the same name, these stories are entertaining but also impart serious messages and offer the reader a window into the experiences of a transgender person who became a successful writer and performer. Like many transgendered people, Coyote prefers the pronouns they and them. Coyote describes grandmother Flo, a devout Catholic, as “not a cuddly woman” and as someone who was “far more likely to cuff the back of your head than she was to pat the top of it.” Yet Flo was perhaps the first person to reassure Coyote that, while they might not be just like everyone else, they was just fine the way they was. As Coyote remembers it, Flo said that “Some of us have hard roads, but the Lord never gives anyone a burden without also giving them a gift. Your job is to find out what that gift is and use it, y’hear me? God doesn’t make mistakes. Never forget that. You are exactly who God meant you to be.”Public bathrooms and change rooms for me have always been a choice between very uncomfortable and potentially unsafe, so I try to be polite about it because if I get angry it become so much easier for them to

Public bathrooms and change rooms for me have always been a choice between very uncomfortable and potentially unsafe, so I try to be polite about it because if I get angry it become so much easier for them to dismiss me, plus an angry someone who looks like a man in the ladies’ change room? Then I am seen as even more of a threat. Then it is even more all my fault.

coyote-tomboy-survival-guide-s650But my day-to-day struggles are not so much between me and my body. A am not trapped in the wrong body. I am trapped in sa world that  makes very little space for bodies like mine. I live in a world where public washrooms are a battleground where politicians can stand up and be applauded for putting forth an amendment barring me from choosing which gendered bathroom I belong in. I live in a world where my trans sisters are routinely murdered without consequence or justice. I live in a world where trans youth get kicked out onto the street by their parents who think their God is standing behind them as they close their front doors on their own children. Going  to the beach is an act of bravery for me. None of this is a battle between me and my own flesh. For me to be free, it is the world that has to change, not trans people.

BECOMING UNBECOMING

UNAurl

Una uses her own experiences with sexual assault and the background of the Yorkshire Ripper, in the 70’s to examine rape culture where women are made to feel guilty for being a victim. Through image and text Becoming, Unbecoming explores what it means to grow up in a culture where male violence goes unpunished and unquestioned. Una explores her experience, wonders if anything has really changed and challenges a global culture that demands that the victims of violence pay its cost. The police tried to justify the Ripper’s horrific crimes by publicly questioning why the women were out of their homes in the first place. Rather than following up on explicit physical descriptions and leads provided by one of the Ripper’s surviving victims, police instead chose to focus on gathering evidence that the murdered women were prostitutes or otherwise had “loose morals.”

This is a book all men and women should read.

YOU GOTTA GET BIGGER DREAMS: My Life in Stories and Pictures

29093006ALLEN CUMMING

CUMMING has given us another delightful memoir. DREAMS is a series of vignettes from his wild, fascinating and star filled life. Most of them delightful and hilarious. Many of them illustrated with photos. He is the king, or should that be queen of selfies. As well as day to day fun, he loves to write about meeting the big names like Elizabeth Taylor. He was nervous meeting Liz at Carrie Fisher’s birthday party and couldn’t think of anything to say. Carrie told him, “Do you know how many gay men wish they had your problem right now!” as she sent him back to converse with the star. So Cumming sits beside Liz on the bench in Carrie Fisher’s hallway. She tells him how she injured herself by falling in her dining room and hitting the floor, hard.  “‘Alan,’ she growled like the Cat on the Hot Tin Roof she still was. ‘You have never seen such a black ass.’ “My mouth gaped open in an involuntary gasp. I waited just a beat longer, then with the most saucy twinkle in my eye I had ever mustered, threw down my slam dunk. ‘Oh, Elizabeth,’ I said. ‘I bet I have!’  “Suddenly her hand unlocked from mine and slapped me across the chest. She cackled like a trucker who’d just heard a good fart joke.”

Cumming’s friend Eddie’s dream was to meet Oprah so when Allen got tickets to a dinner where she would be he took Eddie as his plus one. Only their table was far from centre near the bathrooms. But save the day Oprah is human after all and needed to pee. “Seizing the screen_shot_2016-09-13_at_4-42-30_pmmoment, Eddie says, “in a very endearing and choirboy-like voice, ‘Oprah! May I have a picture with you? It would be my dream.” “You gotta get bigger dreams,” Oprah opines as Cummin snaps the photo saving the words for the title of his book.

Dreams is a quick fun read.

SUCH A LOVELY LITTLE WAR: Saigon 1961-63

MARCELINO TRUONG978-1-55152-647-8_suchalovelylittlewar-1

Both a memoir and a history, War is an informative window to what we call the Vietnam War; in Vietnam it is called the American War. Truong’s father was a Vietnamese diplomat in Washington, his mother a French woman with bipolar disease.During his early childhood in Washington, DC, the Truongs enjoyed a peaceful life in “a quiet middle-class suburb, something Norman Rockwell might imagine.” Truong describes this period as nothing short of idyllic: jazz on the car stereo, picnics by the water, white Christmases. When the father was called home, he became interpreter to Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem. His mother had not wanted to leave the US and was unsettled in her new home. In Saigon, the children live a sheltered existence, punctuated by the war. When the Americans escalate the conflict by sending more weapons and troops, the Truong boys become increasingly more enthralled by the grandiose machines of destruction. They are disturbed more by their mother’s emotional outbursts and irrationalities than the war in the background. We also have the unique perspective of his father who had extraordinary access to the inner workings of power thanks to his role as President Ngô Dinh Diêm’s interpreter.

DARLING DAYS

imgres-1iO TILLETT WRIGHT

At age 6, Wright declared: “My name is Ricky. And I’m not your daughter anymore. I’m your son.” Days is iO’s exploration of his tumultuous upbringing and struggles with identity and sexuality. Wright grew up in a chaotic downtown Manhattan apartment, a place that “stood out for the refinement of its violence, for its kaleidoscopic intensity.” What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. “Sleep doesn’t happen much in the house, what with the plays and things late at night, plus Ma is in a real bad way. It’s like she has a night personality and a day personality.” As time passes her Mother’s mental illness worsens. The building they live in is crazy too. “Our building repels ‘normal’ people. They’d have to love cockroaches, scalding radiators and thin walls . . . they would have to establish their own niche in the zoo and defend it.”

Darling Days is one wild ride. “I don’t want to wear my tragedies on my skin, in my teeth, in my walk. I want something different than what I’m inheriting, but I’m going to have to make that happen for myself.”

THE DESERTER’S TALE: The Story of an Ordinary Soldier Who Walked Away from the War in Iraq

JOSHUA KEY as told to LAWRENCE HILLdeserter's

Key thought joining the U.S. military was a way to escape the poverty of his youth and get a decent-paying, secure job, perhaps even an education, to support his growing family. In many ways, Key was an ideal recruit: he had a childhood fascination with guns, he was a bit of a fighter but still followed orders, and he was good with his hands. He even enjoyed boot camp where they were taught all Iraqis were terrorist, even the babies. In Iraq, Key took part in acts of cruel and vindictive violence. His squad’s nightly tasks become a routine of violence and the abuse of power: raiding civilian homes, brutalizing the inhabitants, destroying the contents, stealing the valuables and taking the men and boy five feet tall away, never to be seen again. Key does not know where these men, who were not arrested for any crime, were sent: perhaps to Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay. joshua keyThey never found any terrorists, caches of weapons or weapons of mass destruction. Yet they were ordered to do the same thing night after night. At first there was no resistance. Then gradually resistance began to build. Key commented that if a foreign power landed in the US and terrorized the citizens the same way there would be hell to pay.

“We claimed to be bringing democracy and good order to the people of Iraq, but all we brought were hate and destruction. The only thing gave to the people of Iraq was a reason to despise us–for generations to come.”

When home for a two week break Key realized he could not return. He was already suffering from PTSD. Eventually, he made it to Canada where he applied for asylum.

“I will never apologize for deserting the American army. I deserted an injustice and leaving was the only right thing to do. I owe one apology and one apology only and that is to the people of Iraq.”

lawrence-hill_584During the 60’s and 70’s Canada’s door were open to anti-war protestors. I hope that will happen again with our recent change of government. Canada benefited from the creative and entrepreneurial spirit those immigrants brought. One name that comes to mind is the Canadian author Robert Munsch.

THE REASON YOU WALK

WAB KINEW

“To be hurt, yet forgive. To do wrong, but forgive yourself. To depart from this world leaving only love. This is the reason you walk.” Deeply spiritual,
Wabwab2walk is a combination of biography of Kinew’s father and memoir of  his own spiritual journey. Much healing takes place in this history. It is a must read for anyone interested in First Nations issues. Kinew’s description of the Sun Dance ceremonies is particularly powerful. “I could feel the peg push through [ my pectoral muscles] and spun. I felt the blood dripping down. I sensed the air in the cuts; I could taste it. The elders say that when you are cut you are fresh and open to everything around you, vulnerable to the spirit world.”

Reconciliation on an individual level and the national level is an important theme. “Reconciliation is not something realized on a grand level, something that happens when a prime minister and a national chief shake hands. It takes place at a much more individual level. Reconciliation is realized when two people come together and understand that what they share unites them and that what is different between them needs to be respected.”

“More than any inheritance, more than any sacred item, more than any title, the legacy [my father] left behind is this: as on that day in the sundance circle when he lifted me from the depths, he taught us that our time on earth we ought to love one another, and that when our hearts are broken, we ought to work hard to make them whole again. This is at the centre of sacred ceremonies practised by Indigenous people. This is what so many of us seek, no matter where we begin life. This is the reason you walk.”

Read this book!

 

BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

TA-NEHISI COATES

Between is both a treatise on racism in the US and a memoir. Coates wrote itcoates as a  letter to his son, who he is assisting to make sense of blatant racial injustice and come to grips with his place in a world that refuses to guarantee for him the freedoms that so many others take for granted. “I write you in your 15th year, and you know now, if you did not before, that the police departments of your country have been endowed with the authority to destroy your body. . . . I tell you now that the question of how one should live within a black body, within a country lost in the Dream, is the question of my life, and the pursuit of this question, I have found, ultimately answers itself.”  With all the young black men who have been killed recently, with little or nothing being done to the perpetrators, Coates tells his son: “Here is what I would like for you to know: In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body — it is heritage.” “We are captured, brother, surrounded by the majoritarian bandits of America. And this has happened here, in our only home, and the terrible truth is that we cannot will ourselves to an escape on our own.” “The destroyers will rarely be held accountable. Mostly they will receive pensions.”

It is a bleak view. “But all our phrasing—race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy—serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body.”

“To be black in the Baltimore of my youth was to be naked before the elements of the world, before all the guns, fists, knives, crack, rape, and disease. The nakedness is not an error, nor pathology. The nakedness is the correct and intended result of policy, the predictable upshot of people forced for centuries to live under fear.”

It is a powerful book. As I read it I often compared the racism in the US to the racism here in Canada against First Nations people. We too have a long way to go.

FATHERLAND

fatherlandNINA BUNJEVAC

As the title suggests Fatherland is more of a history of the Serbs and Croats, and of the author’s family than a memoir. The beautiful artwork in this graphic history is done in a photorealistic style that adds credence to her writing. She uses her writing to come to terms with her father’s shadowy, violent past, the national schisms that shaped him, and the scars that both fatherhood and fatherland leave on her family, and they are many. When she was just 2 years old, her mother, Sally, fled her father, taking Nina and her sister from their adopted home of Ontario, Canada, back to their grandparents in the former Yugoslavia. Sally Bunjevac was driven in part by Peter Bunjevac’s emotional abuse and alcoholism, but there was more: She’d become aware that he was involved in a Serbian nationalist terrorist group, one that was manufacturing bombs. Every night Sally barricaded the windows with tall furniture, afraid someone would throw a bomb in and blow them up in their beds.

Fatherland is a quick read. Recommended for anyone interested in the conflict in the former Yugoslavia.

 

 

LAUGHING ALL THE WAY TO THE MOSQUE

narqaZARQA NAWAZ

Laughing is a hilarious memoir by the creator of Little Mosque on the Prairie which was a hit tv show that ran for six seasons. It chronicles Nawaz’s own misadventures inside her community. When an Iman from Saudi Arabia came to her local mosque he insisted there be a barrier between the men and the women who were praying. A shower curtain was quickly hung but Zarqa and a few other women refused to be treated like second class muslims and would go in front of the curtain to pray with the men.  Wanting to be helpful Zarqa joined the DBWC — the Dead Body Washing Committee — at her Regina mosque. Attempting to heave a deceased woman onto her side so she could wash her back, Zarqa exclaimed, “Now we know where the term ‘dead weight’ comes from.” “Jokes will not be tolerated at this time,” responded Auntie Nadia. “I wasn’t joking, I was just commenting about how heavy the body is.” “We don’t comment about the body. Ever.” “Perhaps the DBWC isn’t the best place for you.” “But why?” “Because you say very inappropriate things during a very solemn occasion.” “I just have a bad habit of blurting out stuff that I’m thinking.” “And that’s exactly the kind of person we don’t need.”

Another riotous episode is when Zarqa is explaining to the construction worker why she needs to reach the sink from the toilet. She needs to be able to fill a teapot for washing. After the toilet paper comes washing.

When she first heard about the planes hitting the World Trade Center, she thought, “Please don’t let it be us.” But, of course, it was, and that evening she told her husband, “Life as we know it is over.” Other muslims had this same reaction to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Jian Gomeshi recounted that his father had the same reaction, “Please don’t let it be muslims.” This book helps us see muslims in a much different light. In Asia they have a saying, “Same, same but different.”

Read Laughing. You’ll laugh out loud.

KNOCKING ON HEAVEN’S DOOR: The Path to a Better Way of Death

KATY BUTLERknocking

Part memoir of her father’s dementia and evential death, and treatise on how we came to the situation of people dying in Intensive Care Units being kept alive at extreme costs for a few extra days or months. At 79 Butler’s father was active and enjoying retirement when he suffered a stroke. Soon after hospitalization a “discharge planner” told the family that Jeffrey had to be immediately transferred to a neurological rehabilitation facility. “Only later would I understand the rush,” Butler writes. “The hospital was losing money on him with every passing day. Out of $20,228 in services performed and billed, Medicare would reimburse Middlesex Memorial only $6,559, a lump sum based on the severity of my father’s stroke diagnosis.” A year later he recieved a pacemaker. It was a rushed decision. The heart specialist was concerned only with keeping her father’s heart pumping to keep him alive. Butler’s mother wasn’t given all the information to make an informed decision, nor was she given the time to think and consult other professionals. A team approach would have been much better. The device would keep his heart functioning even as he descended into dementia and almost total physical helplessness over the next five years. With out the pacemaker he likely would have died peacefully in his sleep after a couple of years. “On the phone with my brothers and me that winter, she cried. She loved my father. She’d vowed to be with him in sickness and in health, she told us — and who was she to think they’d escape the sickness part? He’d taken care of her for 50 years, and now it was her turn. But in ways we were only beginning to fathom, my father was no longer her husband, and she was no longer his wife.” “At 77, she had become one of 29 million unpaid, politically powerless and culturally invisible family caregivers — 9 percent of the United States population — who help take care of someone over 74.”

Butler is an excellent writer and researcher which makes this book a must read for all people who are aging or who’s parents are aging. Another excellent book on aging and death is Final Gifts.

 

MEN WE REAPED

menJESMYN WARD

“Life is a hurricane,” states Ward, for African-American people living in the south, especially the men. There is a lack of the options available, industry is in its death throes – almost one in 10 young black men are in jail and murder is the greatest killer of black men under the age of 24. When a reporter came to interview people in the building where an 18 year old man was shot in the head, one woman told the journalist she “was happy that her 14-year-old son was locked up because it was safer for him to be incarcerated than to live in the neighbourhood”. Jesmyn Ward attempts to give both humanity and context in her memoir, in which she relates the unconnected deaths in the space of just four years of five young men who were close to her. “By all the official records,” she writes, “here at the confluence of history, of racism, of poverty, and economic power, this is what our lives are worth: nothing.” “That’s a brutal list in its immediacy and its relentlessness, and it’s a list that silences people. It silenced me for a long time.”

Reaped is really a story of what it is like to grow up smart, poor, black and female in America’s deep south, Ward memories are somber and introspective. She watched her mother be both protective and disappointed in her father.  “[As a child] I saw the tight line of my mother’s mouth when my father was absent and couldn’t be accounted for … To an impressionable nine-year-old trouble for the black men of my family meant police. It was easier and harder to be male; men were given more freedom but threatened with less freedom.”

“Life is a hurricane, and we board up to save what we can and bow low to the earth to crouch in that small space above the dirt where the wind will not reach. We honor anniversaries of deaths by cleaning graves and sitting next to them before fires, sharing food with those who will not eat again. We raise children and tell them other things about who they can be and what they are worth: to us, everything. We love each other fiercely, while we live and after we die. We survive; we are savages.”

“We tried to outpace the thing that chased us, that said: You are nothing. We tried to ignore it, but sometimes we caught ourselves repeating what history said, mumbling along, brainwashed: I am nothing. We drank too much, smoked too much, were abusive to ourselves, to each other. We were bewildered. There is a great darkness bearing down on our lives, and no one acknowledges it.”

“Because we trusted nothing, we endeavored to protect ourselves, boys becoming misogynistic and violent, girls turning duplicitous, all of us hopeless.”

A must read. I thought about the First Nations experience here in Canada, although different there are many similarities.

HOW ABOUT NEVER – IS NEVER GOOD FOR YOU? My Life In Cartoons

neverBOB MANKOFF

When I first ordered this book I thought it would be mostly cartoons instead it is a musing on the nature of humour mixed with a mass of cartoons. It is also a memoir of Mankoff’s development of cartooning skills and style.  Mankoff submitted hundreds of cartoons to The New Yorker before selling one. He was a freelancer for the magazine for 20 years before stepping into the cartoon editor’s shoes. Like most of the New Yorker cartoons the humour is dry but there are many that are laugh out loud funny. His motto is  “Anything worth saying is worth saying funny.” A great motto.never2

IN THE SANCTUARY OF OUTCASTS: A Memoir

outcastsNEIL WHITE

Daddy is going to camp. That’s what I told my children. But it wasn’t camp. . . .

Neil White wanted only the best for those he loved and was willing to go to any lengths to provide it—which is how he ended up in a federal prison in rural Louisiana, serving eighteen months for bank fraud. But it was no ordinary prison. The beautiful, isolated colony in Carville, Louisiana, was also home to the last people in the continental United States disfigured by leprosy (now known as Hansen’s disease)—a small circle of outcasts who had forged a tenacious, clandestine community, a fortress to repel the cruelty of the outside world. White was able to relate to both inmates and patients alike. In this place rich with history, amid an unlikely mix of leprosy patients, nuns, and criminals, White’s strange and compelling new life journey began. He had an entire year to reset his his moral compass. Even though the memoir was not well written, I was sorry when it ended. I wanted to know more about the next stage of White’s journey.

A HOUSE IN THE SKY

houseAMANDA LINDHOUT & SARA CORBETT

In 2008, when she decided to go to Somalia, Lindhout was an aspiring journalist. She had travelled the Americas, Asia and Africa. She had spent seven months in Baghdad working for Iran’s Press TV, sending freelance files to France 24, six months in Afghanistan as her first and unsuccessful correspondent bid, and had a column in her small hometown newspaper, the Red Deer Advocate, all funded by tips saved from her Calgary job as a waitress.

amandaTwo days after flying to Mogadishu with Australian fellow adventurer and photographer Nigel Brennan, the former couple were kidnapped. Their kidnappers confessed that they hadn’t even been their target. They had been after the National Geographic team who were staying at the same hotel as Lindhout and Brennan. The kidnapping was based completely on money. The captors wanted $2 million for their release. But neither family had much money.  Amanda quickly took lead of the two captives, appeasing the kidnappers as much as possible. At her urging they both converted to Islam and began to pray and study the Koran. But as time wore on patience failed also. There is a passage in the Koran that says it is alright for men to use women who are captive in times of war. But there were other forms of abuse that Lindhout was subjected to that Brennan wasn’t. While she was being kept in a totally dark cell she notice that Brennen was sitting in sunlight and reading in his cell.

(The photo on the right

shows Amanda and Nigel on the day of their release in Somalia.)ama2

A positive ending, Lindhout has set up a foundation to enhance the lives of Somalian women through education. It is a difficult read but worth the time. The book is uneven: the first half needs quite a bit of skimming, while the second half is page turning.

CONFESSIONS OF A FAIRY’S DAUGHTER: Growing Up with a Gay Dad

fairy

ALISON WEARING

It must have taken a lot of courage for Wearing’s father to come out in the late 70’s when attitudes were much different than today. He was a university professor which would be have a liberal atmosphere. He travelled for work which gave him room to explore. Wearing describes her father as always being eccentric: hands waving as he talked, listening to opera as he cooked elaborate meals and skipping down the street. Being a child when he came out Wearing was most accepting. Though she never discussed the issue with her brothers, she did have a close friend to confess. Her friend whose parents are constantly fighting points out, “So your father’s a faggot, big whoop. At least he’s not a lying, cheating, son-of-a-bitch, drunken asshole.” As her father meets other gay fathers and realizes he isn’t the only man who married a woman in order to conform to social norms.  Both her parents are very loving and have always taken care of her and her siblings.  Still, Wearing’s father’s homosexuality does cause the end of his marriage, and Wearing deals with the experience of coming from a broken home with sensitivity and honesty. “It never occurred to me to hate Dad for being gay. What I did hate was the Greyhound bus, that long sprint on the dog’s back to and from Toronto. I hated the shame my mother wore in her eyes. But more than anything else, I hated all the stories I needed to invent about my life, the dancing pink elephant in the room that I spent my adolescence trying to conceal.”

fatherThe book has an interesting structure in that it is told from four points of view: the author’s is the majority of the book, for her father’s he provided her with a box of letters and a journal, for her mother’s she interviewed her and lastly “The Way We See It Now” thirty years later.

It’s a good read.

ODDLY NORMAL:One Family’s Struggle to Help Their Teenage Son Come to Terms with His Sexuality

oddly oddly coverJOHN SCHWARTZ

NORMAL is an important book. It tells the story of the difficulties he and his wife faced while trying to help their son, Joe, accept his homosexuality. There were signs that Joe was gay came early: the desire to play with Barbie dolls, the need for a pink feather boa and pink light-up shoes, the love of glitter and costume jewelry and the lack of interest in sports. Joe had other special needs; when he started school, though, behavioral problems developed. Specialist and teachers suggested ADHD, Asperger’s syndrome, sensory disorders and autism. The parents had to learn to advocate with the school system for appropriate education and help for their son. I know what that is like trying to get schools to challenge my bright son. It can be extremely frustrating. When he came out at school one spring day in 2009, rode the bus home, shut himself in his bathroom, and downed way too many capsules of Benadryl. What a horrible situation for his parents who were so supportive of their differently normal son. The final chapter, written by Joseph, is the entirety of a children’s book he wrote for class called “Leo, the Oddly Normal Boy,” which is about a boy who likes a boy.

Normal makes me think of the blog Raising My Rainbow.   Adventures in raising a fabulously gender  creative son.  How wonderful that these special children have such understanding parents.

 

BANGKOK DAYS: A Sojourn in the Capital of Pleasure

bangkok daysLAWRENCE OSBORNE

AKA: Bar Bouncing in Bangkok

DAYS awoke in me my longing for the exotic East. In 1990 I spent a couple of weeks in Bangkok exploring the temples, the side streets, the canals and the erotic. DAYS makes me want to return. Osborne walks the streets of Bangkok, sometimes exploring the culture, but mostly going to bars. Which makes this book uneven at best. It is best when describing cultural Thailand. He has interesting insights into the Buddhist interpretation of transgender ‘kathoeys‘ or girly-boys. He muses on how easy it is for Westerners to remake themselves in the East, as did the 19th-century English schoolteacher Anna Leonowens did when she tutored the royal children of Siam and fashioned herself into a literary figure of the King and I. Bangkok serves as an existential crossroads for a cast of British, Australian and Spanish expatriates who are haphazardly searching for and running away from responsibilities trying to find themselves and have pleasure.

bangkok2

THE LITTLE RED GUARD: A Family Memoir

WENGUANG HUANG

AKA: Portrait of a Coffin

What I enjoyed most about this memoir was that it followed China into the modern era. I’ve read so many novels and memoirs that stay in China’s schizophrenic past so it was enlightening to learn about the the changes that led to the China of the present.

“At the age of 10, I slept next to a coffin that Father had made for Grandma.” Grandma wanted to go against the Maoist orders and forgo cremation and be buried. This puts tremendous strain on the family. What if others found out? They could be exposed and loose even the little they had. Wenguang was the keeper of his grandmother’s “shou mu,” or “longevity wood,” a Chinese euphemism for coffin. Huang describes a family saga unfolding against the backdrop of the upheavals and fluctuations of 20th century China. Grandma is certainly a paragon of virtue and devotion. She stayed at home carring for Wenguang so his mother could work. Neighbors and friends worship her; they line up to pay tribute to her early in the morning on New Year’s Day, hoping that some of her good luck and longevity might rub off on them. Though she fought ruthlessly with the mother.

MY YEAR WITH ELEANOR

NOELLE HANCOCK

After loosing her fast-pased celebrity blog job Noelle was in a serious rut. A slump of extreme proportions. Until one day she notices a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, “Do one thing every day that scares you.”   This becomes her raison d’etre for the next year using Eleanor Roosevelt’s writings as a guide. Another guide is her psychiatrist — does everyone who lives in New York see a psychiatrist? She does tries all manner of challenges from trapeze and tap lessons to parachuting and climbing Mount  Kilimanjaro. The funniest scene is when she describes doing standup comedy at a New York Comedy Club fundraiser.

This book reminded me of the book  Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers.

A touching must read. On the lines of Julie and Julia. Needed a better cover.