Leaving Tinkertown by Tanya Ward Goodman

Leaving Tinkertown by Tanya Ward Goodman

tinkertownThis is Tanya Ward Goodman’s memoir about how she loses her father and grandmother- first through Alzheimer’s and then to death. Leaving Tinkertown is a powerful look at end-of-life issues and family love.

It is an incredibly raw and straight forward account of a period of unimaginable change in the author’s life.

Tanya handles the deterioration of her father very well. I suspect that this ability to quickly and seamlessly accustom herself to change probably evolved from her childhood experiences with her father at carnivals and on road trips. With the background changing continuously, she had to change too but hold on to some essential part of herself. This characteristic served her well during her adult years.

Tanya’s father was a prolific artist. Because of his extreme creativity, I think that she was exposed to his mercurial moods long before he began losing his battle with Alzheimer’s. Artistic types seem to walk a fine line between logical thinking and madness. Their families get to walk that journey with them. That doesn’t mean that his descent into darkness didn’t hurt Tanya, but that she was more able to cope with his moment to moment shifts in behavior because she had experienced them before.

Through this adversity, she grows closer to her brother, step-mom, and mother as they work together to care for her dad.

Tanya doesn’t gloss over her family’s shortcomings but comes to accept everything that each person brings to the table: “… I am starting to understand that doing all you can do, even if it doesn’t seem like very much, is enough.” pg 193.

When a strong, vital person in your life is no longer able to care for themselves, it’s heartbreaking.

My own grandfather, a force of nature, lost some of his heart when the family had to take the keys to the car away because he didn’t have the strength to drive safely anymore. This book was hard for me to read because Tanya knows what it feels like to cause that type of pain too.

It brought back so many small moments when I was in a care-taking position for him. You want to provide the best quality of life that you can, but when the person can no longer clean, feed, or clothe themselves, then the really difficult decision making begins. Tanya and her relatives seem to make the process relatively simple even though I know that it is anything but that.

We all know that we’re not going to live forever but when you’re dealing with loss of physical strength or mental capacity in your own life or the lives of those you love, you get very close to that idea. It’s like the difference between looking through a window and having your face smashed up against the glass. When it’s right there, you can’t look away.

I’d recommend this for anyone who is caring for an aging or ill family member and needs a reminder that it’s all going to turn out alright. As Tanya reminds us, we just need to do all that we can do even if it doesn’t seem like it is very much.

I received a free copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads program. Thanks for reading!

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Pigs Can’t Swim: A Memoir by Helen Peppe

Pigs Can’t Swim: A Memoir by Helen Peppe

pigscantswimPigs Can’t Swim is a collection of essays based on Helen Peppe’s childhood memories. Frankly, it is amazing that she managed to live to adulthood.

The youngest of nine children, she was by turns ignored or over-directed. Her family lived on a farm in Maine on a dead end road in the middle of nowhere.

Helen tells her tale, all of it, without flinching from what she perceives the truth to be: her family’s wild behavior, prejudices, poverty, dysfunction, and an episode with a child predator that was truly horrific.

I had to keep reminding myself that she made it out alive and, at least, managed to write a book because this memoir had some truly terrifying bits in it.

I think Pigs Can’t Swim is an amazing piece of non-fiction writing not only for its content but also for its execution.

Helen’s parents weren’t perfect but she doesn’t seem to blame or justify their behavior. In Pigs Can’t Swim, she just tells what happened and leaves a majority of the interpretation in the hands of the reader.

I couldn’t put this book down.

Its flowing narration reminded me of a much grittier version of Life Among the Savages.

Its personal and tell-all style reminded me of She Got Up Off the Couch: And Other Heroic Acts from Mooreland, Indiana. Similar to She Got Up Off the Couch, this book talks about overcoming poverty and adversity to become something more.

If you enjoyed either of these books, you’ll probably love Pigs Can’t Swim.

I received a free copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads program. Thanks for reading!

Stalking God: From Laughing Yoga to Burning Man, My Unorthodox Search for Something to Believe In by Anjali Kumar

Stalking God: From Laughing Yoga to Burning Man, My Unorthodox Search for Something to Believe In by Anjali Kumar

stalkinggodAnjali Kumar is a lawyer who is used to having all the answers. After she had a daughter, Anjali realized she knew very little about the big questions: why are we here? What is it all about? Is there a God?

“In 2010, when my daughter Zia was born, I decided that I needed to find God.” loc 24, ebook.

Anjali went on a quest to find out the answers, not only for the sake of her daughter, but also herself. She touches all the bases – from meditation to faith healing to Burning Man to yoni worship – Anjali leaves no stone unturned in her search to find what is real.

“Along the way, I learned to chant, to meditate, and to marvel. I wrestled with my own identity, from my ethnic and cultural roots in India, to my femininity, to my role as a woman, daughter, mother, and wife. … I fancied myself an explorer, no different really than Magellan or Columbus. I was looking for a new world.” locs 148-163.

It’s a fascinating memoir.

Before each experience, Anjali puts in her research in an effort to find the science behind the beliefs. It’s not always as concrete as she would like it to be, but Anjali tries to engage her brain and her heart in her quest.

This is before she goes to her first “para-tan sounding”: “According to string theory, the entire universe is basically humming – all of it and all of us. Add that to the fact that the chanting of mantras has a long, compelling spiritual history, that cancer researchers are using sound- high-intensity focused ultrasound- to successfully destroy prostate cancer cells … and this whole Paramji thing starts to look like it might be grounded in a bit of hard science…” loc 500

Anjali tries to keep an open mind, even when things sound very strange: “One thing I had to be cognizant of… was how difficult it is as an outsider to come to terms with what are easy to perceive as the odd behaviors and strange beliefs of ‘other people.’ … as outsiders we have no idea what those behaviors and traditions stand for or mean.” loc 904.

She finds layers of meaning, even when particular experiences weren’t all that she hoped they would be. Anjali also experiences a few surprises along the way.

“I was looking for a theory of everything spiritual for Anjali and Zia. And yet, so far, just like those physicists had failed to find a theory of everything in the entire universe, I had failed to find a theory of everything for my own spirituality.” loc 1343.

And she never gives up because: “A spiritual home is something that we all have to find for ourselves.” loc 2853.

Recommended for seekers everywhere. Anjali’s discoveries may not be earth-shattering, but they’re real and worth the read.

Thank you to NetGalley and Seal Press for a free advance reader copy of this book. Reminder: the short quotations in this review may change or be omitted in the final printed version.

Thanks for reading!

Gnarr: How I Became the Mayor of a Large City in Iceland and Changed the World by Jón Gnarr

Gnarr: How I Became the Mayor of a Large City in Iceland and Changed the World by Jón Gnarr

gnarrJon Gnarr ran for mayor of the largest city in Iceland not because he had experience as a politician, but because he was a comic and was, at first, poking fun at the system. But then, he realized that politics as usual was getting his country no where. So, he took the election seriously. Imagine his surprise when he won.

“Leo Tolstoy once said, ‘Everyone wants to change the world, but no one wants to change himself.’ But I feel that I have changed myself. I’ve done my homework. And next I want to try- just try, mind you!- to change the world. pg 6-7, ebook.

Iceland is unique in that it has a very small population of around 330,000 people. That’s about the equivalent of Santa Ana, California, or Corpus Christi, Texas. In other words, it’s not that big of a place.

“The most famous Icelander is Bjork. … Abroad, she constantly has to flee from fans and journalists who pursue her into every little corner, while in Iceland you run into her in the pool, on the bus, or in the shops. In general, she’s left alone. In Iceland I was famous by the time I was fourteen. I was a fourteen-year-old with a Mohawk and a ring through his nose, and this too was news.” pg 13-14, ebook.

Here’s the scene: Iceland is quite small, the entire country was in an uproar because of the banking collapse, and the people were more than ready for change. But, Jon Gnarr was not ready for politics.

“Thanks to Dad, the newspapers, and the constant discussions broadcast on radio and television, I developed an aversion to politics. Politics was dumb, irritating, and boring. pg 23, ebook.

A self-described ‘peaceful anarchist’, Gnarr was a comic and showman. He created The Best Party as a joke. But, somewhere along the line, the joke became a reality.

“Do you have to understand something down to the last detail before you can contribute to it? Do you have to be a scientist to become interested in science? … No. And it’s no different with politics. You don’t need to be a politician to have the right to participate in political life.” pg 41, ebook.

Even though he started to take the race seriously, Gnarr never took himself too seriously. And it worked.

“Every time another party made any election promises, we sat down together and discussed how we could top them. The Left-Green Alliance promised children and teens free access to swimming pools- our response was to offer free admission for all- with free towels included.” pg 54, ebook.

By not playing politics as usual, Gnarr and The Best Party won. I think he shows what’s possible when people bring a sense of humor and a desire to do good to the table. I think we can accomplish great things.

It just takes someone with a smidgen of imagination and a willingness to try.

Recommended for anyone who’s tired with politics as usual and for all the peaceful anarchists of the world.

Thanks for reading!

It Was Me All Along by Andie Mitchell

It Was Me All Along by Andie Mitchell

itwasmeAndie Mitchell used food to entertain and provide comfort for herself during a childhood with an artistic but alcoholic father and absent (because she was working three or four jobs) mother. This is her journey through the rocky early years and realization that if she didn’t lose the weight, she was going to suffering serious health problems for the rest of her life.

“What begins as hating the cake for all its multiple layers of luscious temptation spirals quickly into hating myself and all my fat cells. I let myself down. I lament not having more control. pg 15, ebook.

Andie’s overeating starts during her childhood. Her mother went to work on the weekends and her father drank all night and slept most of the morning, leaving Andie to her own devices, which were mainly sugared cereal and cartoons.

I’d pull the box down and go about fetching a bow, a soup spoon, and the whole-milk carton from the fridge. I’d fill the bowl- cereal bobbing in milk to the rim- and make my way to the parlor. There I’d turn on the television and begin what would be hours of watching my favorite cartoons. One cereal bowl would empty without my noticing, and I’d replace it.” pg 27-28, ebook.

So, the loneliness was one of the reasons why she ate. The other was her father was emotionally abusive. She witnessed terrible scenes of him screaming at her mother and brother (Anthony). Andie internalized it and ate away her feelings.

If (my mother) fought back, (my father) roared louder. Or he’d throw something she loved across the room. But those were not the times my chubby body trembled. Those weren’t the times when my spirit split like the walls of our house. No, it was only when Anthony entered the room, when I heard his small voice try desperately to make itself bigger and less boyish, that the pit of my stomach twisted so violently, I couldn’t tell if I was hungry or about to be sick.” pg 36, ebook.

Andie’s mother loves her unconditionally, even when the doctor tells Andie that she needs to lose weight or things are going to get really bad for her. But, when Andie goes away to college, and her mother sees her again for the first time, she can’t hide her surprise at how large her daughter has become. And it is really painful for Andie.

“Until that day, that moment when I felt like a stranger in her eyes, she had been my sole source of comfort. She was the one who loved me unconditionally, who saw me as beautiful regardless. In the past when she noticed my weight, her worry seemed entirely empathetic, a way of loving me in my struggle. Now, it seemed grave.” pg 99, ebook.

Anyone who has struggled with their weight will find something to empathize with in Andie’s book. She wants to be fit, but she doesn’t know how to either eat or exercise in moderation.

Her journey may teach, encourage and cheer others on their way to a smaller size. Andie has been there and knows the daily struggles.

Thanks for reading!

Ali in Wonderland: And Other Tall Tales by Ali Wentworth

Ali in Wonderland: And Other Tall Tales  by Ali Wentworth

aliinwonderlandAli in Wonderland is Ali Wentworth’s collection of stories from her childhood in Washington D.C. with her mother and stepfather all the way to her marriage and becoming a mother herself.

Ali is at her best when she’s remembering teenage hi-jinks. Some of her memories with her sister and boarding school pals are hysterical.

Other stories are terrifying. Ali recounts walking to her car one night and being accosted by a gang. Or there was the time she hitched a ride with a man who was apparently very drunk.

But, once Ali moves from her childhood into adulthood, this memoir loses some of its luster.

The chapters about meeting her husband for the first time, barfing continuously during pregnancy and why her children are special don’t have the same draw as the rest of the tales.

Maybe she started to run out of ideas? I don’t know. But the last few chapters felt tacked on to me.

Only recommended for big fans of Ali Wentworth. Side note: the author reads the audiobook herself.

Thanks for reading!

#GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso

#GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso

girlboss#GIRLBOSS is Sophia Amoruso’s story about her wild childhood, unlikely and extraordinarily successful business venture and her treatise on how to be yourself and bring what is unique to you to your professional life.

I googled Sophia after I finished this book and was dismayed to discover she has declared bankruptcy.

It seems she still has a successful motivational speaker program going on, but, for whatever reason, her business hasn’t worked out.

I suspect, she will land on her feet and start again. That is a large part of the philosophy contained in #GIRLBOSS.

“In about eight years, I went from a broke, anarchist ‘freegan’ dead set on smashing the system to a millionaire businesswoman who today is as at home in the boardroom as she is in the dressing room. I never intended to be a role model, but there are parts of my story, and the lessons I’ve learned from it, that I want to share.” pg 23, ebook.

Sophia believes in being yourself. Let your freak flag fly. Embrace your weirdness- because that is what ultimately makes you great.

“#GIRLBOSS is a feminist book, and Nasty Gal is a feminist brand in the sense that I encourage you, as a girl, to be who you are and do what you want. Being a Girlboss is as much about being the boss of your career as it is of your home.” pg 29, ebook.

Between Sophia’s business tips and memoir, she includes quotations. Such as: “It was the straying that found the path direct – Austin Osman Spare.” pg 56

In her case, that was absolutely true. Sophia wanted a job where she didn’t have to work and could get paid for doing, essentially, nothing.

She found that job and surfed the internet most of the time. In doing so, she studied online communities like MySpace and eBay and concluded that she could network and sell items with the best of them.

And she did.

Sophia is a believer in creating your own reality: “… there’s also the everyday kind of magic that we make for ourselves. And that’s really not magic at all. It’s just recognizing the fact that we control our thoughts and our thoughts control our lives. This is an extremely simple, totally straightforward concept, but for a lot of people, it’s so alien that it might as well be magic.” ebook, pg 109.

Sophia, like Obi Wan Kenobi, does not believe in luck. She believes in hard work, action and selective focus.

“Focus on the positive things in your life and you’ll be shocked at how many more positive things start happening. But before you start to think you just got lucky, remember that it’s magic, and you made it yourself.” ebook, pg 115.

Come bankruptcies and whatever else, I believe Sophia Amoruso will be just fine. Don’t you? 🙂

Thanks for reading!