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March Book Club

March 31, 2011

I’m going to try and do another series here, where every month I’ll post about what I read.

The first was Downtown: My Manhattan by Pete Hamill. My dad recommended it to me because I’ve been playing with a few ideas about a family memoir framed around the history of New York, and he thought I could benefit from reading examples of how other writers have pulled it off. Pete Hamill focused a lot more on the history of downtown Manhattan, only occasionally slipping into more personal writing. I always love learning new tidbits about New York history, so I found it a mostly enjoyable read. There were some parts that I found dragged a little, or didn’t exactly strike my fancy, but the nice thing about books like these is I don’t feel so guilty skipping sections. Hamill made a name for himself as a newspaper journalist, so the strongest parts of the book were about this history of the newspaper business and journalism in New York as well as his personal experiences with the industry. His passion really shone through, and I found the subject made for the most gripping narrative. I also really enjoyed when he was talking about his life in the Village in the sixties and seventies, since that’s one of my favorite periods of New York history. Talking about the city’s downfall in the eighties was another good read. Hamill’s background as a journalist comes through in the book’s tone. It’s very well-reported and comes across as “just the facts ma’am.” I generally prefer a more literary approach, even when it’s straight nonfiction, but I don’t think this deterred too much from the book’s quality. (Some might even feel that this enhances it.) Also, as much as I like to avoid statements like this, I did feel like it was more of a boy’s book. I can’t remember too many details about why I was thinking this as I read it, but he did tend to focus on more manly subjects. (Architecture is the only one I can recall.) Overall, though, it was an enjoyable read. If you ❤ NY, you’ll be sure to find something of interest within these pages.

If you want to nit-pick, I didn’t read Sarah Silverman’s The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee. I listened to it. I figured out a way to trick the system of Audible’s free trial so that I ended up getting four free audiobooks. (Don’t worry, I got my comeuppance when I forgot to cancel my second free trial and ended up getting charged a month’s fee anyway.) I don’t remember exactly how I decided on getting The Bedwetter, but I know I was looking for something more light-hearted because I figured that would be easier to follow while listening to it than, say, Crime and Punishment. I didn’t go into it with high expectations, thinking it was going to be good for a few lowbrow laughs (I mean, just look at that title) but nothing too special. However, in a surprising turn of events, it ended up being really good. It had a surprising amount of heart and insight to it. The stories were entertaining on a deeper level that I had anticipated, and were often times very moving. There were rollicking stories of her early days as a broke comedian just starting out on the scene, sure, but she also discussed how, as a teen, her psychiatrist had her on sixteen Xanax a day for the mild depression she was suffering from. The stories about her early years that mainly revolved around her trouble with bedwetting, which lasted into her teens, were not the collection of pee jokes one would assume, but really got to the emotional core of dealing with the embarrassing and traumatic issue at hand. Two of her later chapters were especially strong when she was talking about the struggles she faced and observations she made for being a woman in the comedy world, and a Jew in the spotlight. There were also a number of times when she told her side of the story for some of the controversies she has been involved in throughout her career that ended up being very endearing. But don’t let this give you the impression that The Bedwetter is only a sap-fest. It is, unsurprisingly, ridiculously funny. Laugh-out-loud-while-waiting-at-the-bus-stop-even-though-you’re-freezing funny. By the time the book was over, I found myself liking Sarah much more than I had before “reading” it. I was disappointed that it was over.

I’m only about halfway through these next two books, but I’m going to pass judgement on them anyway.

 

I read Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacation last year and loved it, and I’ve been meaning to get around to her most famous book, The Wordy Shipmates since then. I love how I get to learn AND laugh while reading her books, so I assumed that even though I have little-to-no interest in the Puritans that Sarah, if anyone, could make them appealing to me. This was another one of my Audible downloads. I haven’t been digging it as much as I expected to, but I’m wondering if it’s suffering from being listened to rather than read. Since it’s not as compelling of a narrative as the other ones I’ve listened to, and has more of an educational slant, I’ve found myself letting my mind wander and haven’t really been paying attention. There have been a few passages that I’ve enjoyed, but I don’t think I could name any facts about the Puritans that I’ve learned from this book yet. I think I’m going to get a copy of the actual book afterwards if things continue on this way, though. One thing that is encouraging me to keep going is that she has guest readers doing the voices of the characters, and the cover of the audiobook promises me that John Hodgman, John Oliver, Catherine Keener, and John Slattery will be making appearances. I’m sure that’ll be fun. We’ll see.

 

Back to the traditional words-on-paper type of reading, I am currently tearing through Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach. I have previously raved about her first book, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, so I felt it was fitting to read her investigation into how science is studying the soul. I wasn’t as much of a fan of her book about the scientific studying of sex (Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex) so I was a little nervous about Spook, wondering if Stiff had been a one-hit-wonder. But it is equally awesome. I won’t get into my personal beliefs about the soul, ghosts, past lives, and mediums (all of which she discusses in the book), but this type of stuff has always fascinated me. The only thing I’m wary about with this book is that I’m assuming her conclusion will be disproving the existence of the soul, coming from a scientific perspective and all, and I don’t like to think that way. So, for the first time ever, I’m taking science with a grain of salt. But, it’s still a highly entertaining read. The experiments people have undertaken to test the paranormal are so interesting, and I love reading what they have come up with. There’s also an incredible cast of characters, from the man who suggested that the way to stop houses from being haunted is to have a pregnant woman hang around in there right at the point where a fetus gains a soul so the displaced one can enter the baby, to the mediums whose tricks to seem legitimate included stowing cheesecloth in their vaginas or down their throats and then pulling it out or regurgitating it mid-séance, claiming it was ectoplasm. Its stories like this that really make this book great. I should clarify that as “great so far,” but I’m pretty sure I’m going to continue enjoying it as much as I have been.

I’m also reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which I haven’t read in about a decade and have been meaning to reread since I moved to Brooklyn last year. It’s a fun time, but I’m assuming a book like that doesn’t need a review.

There was one other book…but it was really embarrassing and I think I only told my best friend about it. It was a YA novel that I simply had to read but I don’t think I can bring myself to discussing it here.

 

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