Category Archives: Memoir

Review: My Korean Deli: Risking It All for a Convenience Store by Ben Ryder Howe

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I’ve never thought about what it might be like to own a convenient store in Manhattan. Me? I just want to get in and out of there as quickly as possible. Without getting shot. Or leered at. So this book was an important read. Turns out, owning a convenient store is hard and stressful and risky. Who knew lottery tickets could single-handedly keep a store alive? Or those gruff delivery men could wield so much power?

The most entertaining part of this book is the author’s dealings with his in-laws. Howe’s recounts of living in the basement of his in-law’s house is a perfect mixture of hilarious and pathetic. He is ever respectful, however, regardless of the strain his in-laws place on his marriage – and this makes his readers love him even more. Plus, he works for George Plimpton at The Paris Review and generously offers up the inside skinny on this eclectic and privileged man.

The book might be a little bit longer than it needed to be, but don’t let that deter you. It’s still a great, fun read.

Review: Confessions of A Male Nurse by Michael Alexander

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Confessions of a Male Nurse is not what I thought it would be. For some reason, I expected this book to be funny, light and occasionally hilarious. That was my pre-conceived notion of a male nurse rearing its ugly head and I’m happy to say I got it all wrong. Michael Alexander as nurse, may have been a novelty a decade or so ago, but that didn’t mean he capitalized on it. Breaking into the formerly women-dominated vocation was frightening and bewildering at times, and the author does a good job showing us why. By now, most of us understand how hard it was for women to break into the male-dominated work force and it’s refreshing to see the tables turned.

Then, there is the down and dirty side of hospitals. People’s toes falling off and morphine addicted heart-transplant patients are just two of the medical stories Alexander delivers. Not having a stone stomach about bodies and their flaws in general, I had to skip a few of these stories. If I was hesitant of hospitals before, I’m now petrified. Happily, however, after reading Alexander’s book I’m a bit more respectful of nurses. It behooves anyone who is about to have a syringe shoved into their butt to show a bit of respect, does it not?

Covers are tricky and subjective in general. But I wish this one had better reflected the book. The cartoonish picture just doesn’t accurately express the contents. On the other hand, it may be smart marketing. After all, it was that pre-concieved notion of hilariousness that got me, a major non-fan of medical pain, to read a book about male nurses in the first place.

Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality

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Forget The Bible, this is the book that should be in every drawer of ever bedside table in every hotel room. Heads in Beds by Jacob Tomsky is just about the most horrifying (in a good way) book I’ve ever read. I had no idea that doing the “crinkly handshake” could get you a better room.  Or scarfing down the entire mini-bar just before demanding a room change (too smoky, too loud, too pink, whatever) would get you free grub. And more sadly, I was not aware of just how many housekeepers/heads of housekeeping may have had sex in my room just minutes before my initial entry.

And then there’s the dialogue.

“Imma take these five twenties and get myself a bobo.” (Pg. um, well location 2033).

You might not know what “bobo” means, but I do and I’m never calling a hundred dollar bill anything else. I’m also never not using a doorman. You’d be smarter to defriend someone on Facebook. No bag you say? Let him carry your iPhone. Your kid. Anything. But use him. Give him the crinkly handshake and your every wish will be his command. Unless he simply doesn’t like you (you screamed at your kid, cut a little old lady in line – they see it all) and then you’re pretty much doomed and housekeeping might very well do something unsanitary to your toothbrush.

Not only will this book make you laugh, it will make you smarter. Let the other yahoos suffer the consequences of calling the Front by their first name at check-in. And try not to break into chokes of laughter while watching that guy march up to the desk, throw down a Ziploc bag with a small black dot in it (raisin?), and try to swindle a bed bug room rate. Do, however, record it. And put it on YouTube.

Were it merely fiction, this book might not be one of the most entertaining books to grace my kindle. But being a memoir, it is. And the author didn’t even have to slide me a baby brick to say that.

Review: Klonopin Lunch

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From the beginning, this author does a very smart thing. Before the reader has a chance to condemn her for her behavior, she takes care of that herself. Never defensive about her poor choices, Jones instead makes it very clear that her biggest critic is herself, which immediately takes her readers off the hook. We don’t have to decide whether we like her or not, because she’s already told us that we don’t. And this gives us the freedom to read her story without judgment. (Almost.)

The author’s exploits are wild, dangerous, sometimes hilarious, and always expertly told. Jones is a master with words, able to at once use some pretty big language while keeping her writing conversational. Which makes us wonder: How can this well-educated and articulate person keep company with such low-lives? It isn’t drug addiction, because Jones never gets to that point. So what is it? The initial answer is good sex, but the ultimate one is the freedom to fail. Successful, responsible, and miserable, the author’s path to finding herself is to lose herself first and start from there.

This may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and it does seem incredible that her husband allows her this very long leash without once confronting her, but this is a memoir so we have to take it at face value. Cup of tea or not, however, there is no arguing the fact that Jones is a very very good writer. She could probably spin a list of ingredients into a good read.

Review: Dead End Gene Pool by Wendy Burden

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For generations the Burdens were one of the wealthiest families in New York, thanks to the inherited fortune of Cornelius “The Commodore” Vanderbilt. By 1955, the year of Wendy’s birth, the Burden’s had become a clan of overfunded, quirky and brainy, steadfastly chauvinistic, and ultimately doomed bluebloods on the verge of financial and moral decline-and were rarely seen not holding a drink. In Dead End Gene Pool, Wendy invites readers to meet her tragically flawed family, including an uncle with a fondness for Hitler, a grandfather who believes you can never have enough household staff, and a remarkably flatulent grandmother. — goodreads

Ok, now here’s a book that is hard to believe is not fiction. Anyone who has ever had weird, alcoholic, self-absorbed parents may feel like they are reading their own diary. If, that is, they were brave enough to keep one. Wendy Burden gets braver still by letting the world see what is essentially her family diary. She is a master of conjuring up the deepest of emotion with the driest of humor. Exactly like her parents.

All the while, the great great (ect.) granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt, and the great great (ect.) writer of this book, manages to keep the reader in a constant state of, um, confused envy. One the one had, look what she has! But on the other hand, look what she has. Psychotic parents, creepy adults and zero work ethic abound in this memoir. And it’s all deliciously intoxicating to read.

Review: Ninety Days by Bill Clegg

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Review for Ninety Days.

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The goal is ninety. Just ninety clean and sober days to loosen the hold of the addiction that caused Bill Clegg to lose everything. With seventy-three days in rehab behind him he returns to New York and attends two or three meetings each day. It is in these refuges that he befriends essential allies including the seemingly unshakably sober Asa and Polly, who struggles daily with her own cycle of recovery and relapse. 

At first, the support is not enough: Clegg relapses for the first time with only three days left. Written with uncompromised immediacy, NINETY DAYS begins where Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man ends — and tells the wrenching story Clegg’s battle to reclaim his life. As any recovering addict knows, hitting rock bottom is just the beginning. — From Net Galley

 

Ninety Days is the sequel to Clegg’s first memoir, Portrait of a Young Man as an Addict. Both books will bring you to your knees for Clegg. Because what the author has to say about life as an addict isn’t just painful for him, its painful for his readers too. And that’s great writing.

The story takes place in New York City, in both the grimiest neighborhoods and the most posh. Clegg knows the city like the back of his hand, which gives his readers a virtual telescope into the big apple. Some of the characters from Clegg’s first book are brought back for this one. Although not imperative to have read Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man, the continuing storyline – particularly the one with Clegg’s long-time partner – will probably mean more if you have.

Ninety Days often reads like Clegg is speaking directly to his fellow addicts, and it’s hard to imagine that his words won’t help. The final scenes of the book are shocking and depressing and yet hopeful at the same time. And that’s because the author’s experiences are huge, but his compassion is yet bigger.