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Category Archives: Memoir / Biography

The Girl With The Crooked Nose by Ted Botha

The Girl With The Crooked NoseI watch a lot of NCIS, where 40 minutes and one amazingly talented forensic scientist are enough to solve even the most horrific of crimes.  Real life, however, takes longer and doesn’t always yield such clear-cut results.

Enter Frank Bender.  He came upon his calling as a forensic artist almost accidentally, when he attended an autopsy in lieu of taking an anatomy course to help with his sculpting.  In the storage room, there was a body of a woman who had not been identified – he was told, “We have no idea what she might have looked like.”  Looking at her skull, however, Bender realized that he did know what she looked like.  And he asked permission to sculpt a bust of her face.

Five months after he completed her bust, the woman was identified as Anna Duval, a missing persons case from Arizona.

With a successful ID came more skulls needing faces.  Bender learned more about forensic reconstruction and streamlined his technique.  He visited the Mütter Museum to study differences in skulls (and later exhibited some of his completed busts there – leading to the identification of yet another victim).  He set up a studio for his unusual hobby.  And when the Mexican government asked the U.S. for help in identifying some of the more than 400 women killed since 1993, Bender was a natural choice for the task at hand.

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Nerd Do Well by Simon Pegg

As I will tell most everyone, I’m not ‘up’ on a lot of celebrity gossip. While I am the first person in the room to point out a random appearance of a mildly obscure actor—be it Stephen Merchant or Faran Tahir—in whatever film we may be watching, I am the last person to find out when JLo and Marc Anthony have split up (though in that particular instance I was trying to figure out how Mark Anthony even knew JLo as he had died in 30 BC). I’ll scan an outdated People Magazine at the hair dresser’s or dentist office, but it takes a pretty special celebrity for me to openly gush. Please don’t ask anyone I went to high school with about me and Elijah Wood.

That being said, it takes an especially special celebrity for me to want to read their autobiography. Simon Pegg is one such celebrity.

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Guest Review: The Long Goodbye by Meghan O’Rourke

Jamie YatesToday we are excited to be joined by our first guest reviewer, fellow bookseller-in-exile Jamie Yates.  Not only does Jamie run his own review blog, Chicago Ex-Patriate, he is also associate editor and contributor to the newly-launched Instafiction.org, which features a new short story each weekday.  Plus, he’s fun to be around.

If you are a bookseller (past or present) or book blogger who would like to contribute a guest review, please contact us!

Le.Review: The Long Goodbye by Meghan O’Rourke (published April 2011)

by Jamie Yates

In my career as a bookseller, I had a tendency to disdain memoirs. Let me make a distinction—I’m not lumping biographies into this category, but rather clarifying a much needed division between the two. I generally enjoy biographies, even though supposedly “journalistic” accounts are sometimes revisionist histories, but that’s another topic altogether. Memoirs, however, are sometimes unabashedly biased or skewed towards an almost pornographic/voyeuristic look into private lives. Are you a long forgotten 1980s/1990s television co-star with a former co-dependency? Are you a non-famous person who endured unspeakable personal atrocities? If so, then your chances of selling a memoir to a publishing house are probably pretty high. I’m not trying to sound cold or unfeeling towards these sub-genres, but after awhile, there are only so many (likely ghostwritten) accounts that one can handle. The troubling subjects are explored with the stated goal of continuing the healing process, or reaching out to others with the same afflictions. Noble, yes, but after awhile, readers can become desensitized when so many similar titles have been released.

However, in my last days of corporate book selling, I excitedly came across a galley of The Long Goodbye, a memoir by poet/critic Meghan O’Rourke, a former editor with The New Yorker and The Paris Review, and The Long Goodbye by Meghan O'Rourkea current contributor to Slate magazine. My admiration for her writing stems back to 2010. When everyone in the literary community (myself included) was eagerly reading Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, O’Rourke wrote a stunning essay exploring the role of female authors in the goal of writing “The Great American Novel.” She wondered whether Freedom would have been as highly received had it been written by a woman, and almost immediately after, she was the recipient of several critiques herself, as well as a briefly altered Wikipedia page (“Despite her Yale education and privileged life, she believes she is at a great disadvantage as a writer because she is a not a (yawn) white male”). These attacks were utterly unfounded, and that single example of her writing hooked me. Her arguments were precise, but not attacking; rather, the overall atmosphere was that of someone seeking an honest, open discussion about an aspect of the literary community that needed to be out in the open. Plus, while I’m still a huge fan of Mr. Franzen, I agreed with her statements, and was bewildered that people would take her words as personal attacks. I made immediate mental notes to read more of her bibliography. While my hope was to catch up on her poetry, I found myself beginning to read more of her work with The Long Goodbye, an account of her mother’s cancer and imminent death, and their many personal implications.

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Bossypants by Tina Fey

BossypantsI was looking forward to this book like a person looks forward to things they look forward to. And there were parts of it that totally piqued my interest and made me “LOL” in the literal sense (and then explain myself to whoever was in the room). But for the most part this book was only mildly entertaining. I know! Sacrilegious.

The vague premise of the book is Miss Tina Fey teaching you how to rear your child to grow up like her: a confident, witty, feminist geek who doesn’t march to the beat of her own drummer only because she decided to play the triangle instead. And let’s be honest with ourselves: who wouldn’t want to be Tina right now? She writes great shows and movies, gets to star in said great shows and movies, has a great family, supportive parents, and counts Amy Poehler as one of her friends. Sign me up!

But the way she goes about teaching you is kind of an organized mess of anecdotes that show how Tina or someone she loves/admires responds to a given life experience. Which, okay, I guess you are the sum of your actions. But hearing about her honeymoon cruise debacle, how she discovered she liked white guys, and her inability to decide whether or not to have another kid is stuff that is interesting only to close friends. And although I’d like to consider myself and the great T.Fey besties, my lack of interest in such anecdotes proves that I’m not.

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Posted by on May 8, 2011 in Book Reviews, Humor, Memoir / Biography

 

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The Beauty in Every Inch

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

Most of us are too busy to spend a year watching a snail go about its business.  We might equate such activities with watching the grass grow or paint dry.  How fascinating could the daily exploits of a gastropod possibly be, after all?

Elisabeth Tova Bailey, however, found herself with little else to do.  Bedridden due to a mysterious autonomic ailment, Bailey found herself unable to even sit up or turn over without a major effort.  A friend visited her one day, bringing a pot of field violets from the nearby woods – and, as a bonus, a woodland snail.

With literally nothing else to do or watch, Bailey began to notice the habits of her new companion.  From its eating and sleeping habits to its methods of locomotion, her observations began to open a window into her tiny companion’s world.

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