Showing posts with label biography. Show all posts
Showing posts with label biography. Show all posts

Monday, September 2, 2019

Agatha Christie by Laura Thompson


Rating: WARTY!

Having read a few of her books - or more recently listened to them, and seen virtually her entire Poirot oeuvre on TV, I decided to take a look at Christie herself out of sheer curiosity, and I picked up two books: this one and Christie's own autobiography. My interest in these was not to read about her entire life, but to skim the books for references to Christie's own writing, to see if I could gain any insights into how she put the books together or where she got her inspiration. My goal was only partially met, I'm sorry to have to report. I don't envy anyone who actually plows through over a thousand pages for so little reward, so I wouldn't commend either book unless you are really, really, and I mean seriously really into Christie! Even then you may find yourself disappointed.

Subtitled "An English Mystery" for no apparent reason other than to sound dramatic, this book is well over five hundred pages and the author seems determined to link every single thing in Christie's life to every single thing in her murder mysteries, mostly with limited success. Obviously a writer puts herself into her books, but that doesn't mean everything has link and/or meaning. For me though, the worst part about this was Thompson's pure fiction in describing the week or two Christie 'disappeared' in a huff over her first husband's infidelity, and apparently with a petulant desire to make him pay for it by making it look like maybe he murdered the murder mystery writer. It was awful. Christie herself mentions not a thing about this in her own autobiography and never talked of it, so all of this here is pure speculation and guesswork even with the best of intentions. I'm not convinced this author has the best of intentions, or the most honest in her portrait.

The book really offers nothing new and reveals the answer to no mysteries including why Christie has been such a perennial and prolific seller of her books. I can't commend this as a worthy read.


Agatha by Anne Martinetti, Guillaume Lebeau, Alexandre Franc


Rating: WORTHY!

Written by Martinetti and Lebeau, illustrated by Franc, and translated from the original French into English by Edward Gauvin, this was a really good graphic introduction to Agatha Christie, which I encountered during a search of my local library's resources regarding Christie biographies.

It begins in what is often seen as the biggest mystery about this author, which is what happened to her during her short disappearance in December of 1926. Personally I think it can be quite adequately accounted for in precisely the way this book explains it - she was pissed-off with her husband, who had told her he wanted a divorce so he could continue seeing this woman he had met, named Nancy Neele, and apparently decided that he liked better than he did Christie. I also think her depression over this may have been exacerbated from her mother's death earlier that year.

But this graphic novel goes further, bringing in her literary creations, most especially Hercule Poirot, as characters in the story, seen and heard only by Christie, but who comment on her life and discuss things with her, annoying her as often as not. The story as told her is interesting, engaging, and moving, and tells a complete story, abbreviated as it necessarily is in this format. I commend it as a worthy read.


Agatha Christie by Isabel Sánchez Vegara, Elisa Munsó


Rating: WORTHY!

I've been following the 'Little People, Big Dreams' series in the form of advance review copies from Net Galley. This is the first I've encountered in the 'real world'! It's also the first print book and it was a much larger format than I had imagined from the ebooks I've been reading. This came as part of a library search for Agatha Christie biographies so I decided to give it a look and while it was not anything spectacular, it was a worthy read considering the age range it's aimed at. It's a nice introduction to the second best-selling author in the world after Shakespeare (I don't count religious fiction).

The book keeps it simple in both illustration and text, and lays out the bare bones of her life from her childhood to her death. For a simple and basic introduction of the so-called Queen of Crime thrillers (I've had a mixed bag of results from my reading of her work). This works well. Any child who has literary aspirations could benefit from reading this, so I commend it as a worthy read.


Saturday, July 6, 2019

Desert Exile by Yoshiko Uchida


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a depressing read, but never was there a better time since this travesty took place than now to read this account of one woman's experiences in the concentration camps set up by the racist hypocrite Franklin "Detain them" Roosevelt to intern Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor. Most of the well over 100,000 people imprisoned behind barbed wire were American citizens.

The constitution meant nothing to a clueless and panicked government back then. These people were incarcerated in shoddy, ill-finished - if even finished - barracks and everything they owned which they could not carry with them and which they could not entrust to reliable friends, was gone when they were finally set free two or three years later. They were released into destitution and had to start over from scratch; then this same government had the nerve to ask the young men they'd detained to show their loyalty by signing-up for the same military which had pointed machine guns at them for the previous few years.

Yoshiko Uchida was merely one of these, but that doesn't make her personal story less important. She, her sister, and her mom and dad were given ten days notice that they had to leave for a camp taking only what they could carry. The camp was a racetrack and they were 'housed' in the horse stables - a family of four in a large horse stall stinking of manure with no privacy and barely any facilities. Later they were moved to a specially-constructed - well half-constructed - camp in the middle of the Utah desert.

It was a couple of months before they got sheetrock installed inside their 'apartment' to keep the desert wind and the chalky desert sand out of their 'home'. It took equally long to get their stove installed - which until then had been a hole in the roof where the desert sand and chill got in. The list of abuses continues not only back then, but also today. Like I said it's a depressing but necessary read at a time when this government is doing the same thing to illegal immigrants - using euphemisms to describe the concentration camps. You don't make America great again by treating humans beings like cattle, and apparently that's a lesson we have a really hard time intern-alizing.

I commend this book as an important and worthy read.


Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Frida & Diego by Catherine Reef


Rating: WORTHY!

I've long been interested in Frida Kahlo and the life she was forced to live, so when I happened upon this larger format print book I saw in the library, I grabbed it up without thinking twice. It tells the individual stories of the childhood and youth of the two artists separately, and then of their life together, problematic as it was at times. It discusses their work and how events in their lives influenced it, and of Frida's struggle with health issues, beginning with polio, and then with a tramcar accident which resulted in a metal hand rail piercing her hip - a major and life-threatening injury from which she never fully-recovered and for which she was still having surgeries long after the accident.

As if that wasn't bad enough, she ended up falling for a serial philanderer which led to a codependent relationship that neither party could move on from, not even after they divorced. The book covers a lot of ground and contains a wealth of fascinating detail. The author has done her work without question.

The only thing about this book which bothered me was that so little of their art was depicted. There is a lot of imagery and quite a few of their paintings are included, but most of the pictures are photographs of them and their friends, so for me, too little of the art was on show. That aside though, I enjoyed reading this, and I commend it as a worthy read for anyone who is a fan of either artist, or even of art in general. Both the over-used phrases 'struggling artist' and 'tortured artist' apply quite literally to Frida Kahlo and she's always worth reading about.


Kick Kennedy by Barbara Leaming


Rating: WORTHY!

Kathleen Kennedy was nicknamed "Kick" which sounds stupid to us today, but which was right in line with kids for the era in which she grew up. She was a part of a very large Catholic family, sister to John F Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Edward Kennedy. This audiobook tells of her time from her first trip to Britain in the late 1930's and her eventual marriage to the Marquess of Hartington, heir apparent to the 10th Duke of Devonshire. She lost her husband to the war in Belgium in 1944, not long after the marriage, and died in Europe herself just a few years later, at the age of 28 in a plane crash.

This book which sports, I have to say, some rather fanciful story-telling here and there it seems to me, recounts her life and death, surround by Lords and Dukes and Grand Dukes and Viscounts, and Marquises. It's really quite shameful how spoiled-rotten these people were, and how easy their life was, drifting from one event to another, from one function to another, from one party to another, never doing a lick of work because they were so rich, they didn't have to. Now that doesn't make it right that she died so young, but it does make it hard to sympathize with her when she lived a life most people who live into their eighties can't even imagine.

That said it makes for an interesting read, even if parts of it are so far from one's personal experience that it seems like reading fiction even when it's true. Having started to fall for the guy, she found herself torn away from him by her father's insistence that his entire family return to the USA as hostilities between Britain and Germany, via France and Czechoslovakia's travails. The Kennedys had been welcomed and even somewhat revered in Britain, and Kick was very popular with her own set, but when Joe Kennedy started talking, back in the USA, about leaving Britain to it when it came to fighting this war, his popularity plummeted in the UK and he saw this starkly on his return.

Meanwhile all Kick wanted to do was return to see Billy. She eventually got her wish and they married to opposition from her Catholic, but far from catholic parents, and this was despite her not giving up on Catholicism herself. All she had to do was agree to the children being raised Protestant, and she didn't protest about that at all. The thing was that her husband stuck his head up, either unaware that he was being fired on by a German machinegun, or not realizing it was dangerous, and was shot in that same head. It was a whole week before Kick learned her husband of only four months had died - only one month after Kick's own brother, Joe Kennedy Junior, also died in a plane crash.

The book moves a lot more quickly after this and it would seem that Kick had changed her view of life by then, so instead of seeking out someone she truly loved, now she was little more than a gold digger. Having lost her status since her husband's death and seeing the dukedom go then to his younger brother (who was married to one of the feisty Mitford sisters), it wasn't so very long before she began chasing after the married 8th Earl Fitzwilliam, who was even richer and had higher status than her late husband had.

Prior to reading this I had little idea of Kick Kennedy other than being intrigued that she was JFK's sister and had died young and was tied to the area of Britain where I had grown up (she's buried in my home county). Now I've read this (listened to it, more accurately) and learned plenty about her, and while I commend this book as a worthy read, I can't imagine I would ever have actually liked Kick Kennedy had I been alive in the era which she lived. In fact, our social circles would have been so divorced from one another that I would never have even met her at all, and that would have been fine with me because she disgusts me.


In Pieces by Sally Field


Rating: WORTHY!

This audiobook started out great, but went downhill quickly once Burt Reynolds came on the scene, and everything from that point on was annoying. I'd skipped almost nothing for the entire eighty percent or whatever prior to that point, but I skipped almost everything after it. That said, however, I consider this a worthy listen because it was heartfelt, informative, and beautifully read by the author, who has one of the best reading voices I've ever listened to.

The story is delicately told, but pulls no punches and hides no secrets. Of course it's one voice and no one the author talks about gets a chance to respond, but they can always write their own biography and address it that way. Talking of which, I'm really not a great fan of biographies, but I do read or listen to one now and then, and I like Sally Field as an actor.

I enjoyed her playing Spider-Man's aunt in The Amazing Spider-Man and the sequel, but prior to that I had seen her in Stay Hungry many years ago, and in Soapdish which I thought was hilarious and in which I really fell in love with her (along with Kevin Kline and several of the other cast members) as a comedy actor. I also loved her voice acting in Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey. She was great in Mrs Doubtfire and in Legally Blonde 2 too!

I have never seen her supposed masterpieces, Norma Rae or Places in the Heart for which she won academy awards so I cannot comment on those. They're not my kind of movie. I did take a look at Gidget and at The Flying Nun and was not at all impressed with those - not so much with her personally, but with the whole dumb-ass, tame, uninventive, unadventurous, moronic sit-com shtick, which frankly makes me barf, and which I suspect she might well feel the same way about, but at least it got her face and acting known. It did lead me to read Frederick Kohner's 1957 original novel, Gidget, the Little Girl with Big Ideas which he wrote based on his own daughter's anecdotes, and I found that really entertaining and which I also review positively, today.

This biography begins with Field's early and difficult childhood, her molestation by her stepfather, and her various unsatisfactory relationships. She doesn't blame everyone but herself when things went wrong, either, shouldering her fair share. I found the insights she gave into actors, and directors and into her own lifelong learning of her craft quite fascinating and this was the major reason I wanted to listen to this, but there are also disturbing and moving moments, and amazing descriptions of her giving birth to her first two children, which makes me think she would have made a great comedy writer had she chosen to do that instead of act. What impressed me most though was how whole and sane she has managed to stay despite what she went through.

So overall, I commend this as a worthy read and I'm glad I listened to it (except for that last 20%!).


Saturday, June 22, 2019

Dolly Parton by Isabel Sanchez Vegara, Daria Solak


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I've been following this series of biographies for a while and rarely does it take a misstep, so this was pretty much a guaranteed winner. Written by Vegara, and illustrated flamboyantly by Solak, this book takes a look at entertainer Dolly Parton's life. Parton has had 25 number ones on the Billboard Country Music chart, and just as many gold, platinum and multi-platinum awards, as well as a record number of top ten country albums.

She started out young and dirt poor, and her voice and talent carried her to stardom, which she did not let slip from her grasp, converting her fame into long-term business ideas that kept her comfortable (and more!) even when her popularity wasn't always what it had been. This book aimed at young children tells of her life in simple and straight-forward terms, always moving the story forwards. It's short and sweet and I commend it as a worthy read.


Friday, May 3, 2019

I am Amelia Earhart by Brad Metzler


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a very short book for young children which skipped a huge part of Earhart's life and harped a bit overmuch on her purportedly dedicated lifelong devotion to flight, which actually didn't happen in real life. She took something of a scattershot approach to her career, aiming vaguely toward medical service until she saw this guy fly an airplane at a show. He must have spotted her and her friend standing on the ground watching, and aimed the plane straight down at them before swooping by quite closely. It was at that point, when she was in her early twenties that she really decided she wanted to fly, not when she was a child, but it doesn't hurt to stir up kids' ambitions here and there, or encourage them to aim higher than they might otherwise do, so I wasn't too focused on that.

Other than that, the book was largely factual, amusingly and colorfully illustrated, and an enjoyable read, so I commend it as a worthy read for young children.


Saturday, February 2, 2019

Isadora Duncan a Graphic Biography by Sabrina Jones


Rating: WORTHY!

Before I read this I didn't know squat about Isadora Duncan - not even what she was famous for other than her death which is probably better known than her life by too many people - myself a prime case in point. I also remember her name from a Beatles movie, although I forger the specific movie tile. It's where Ringo chants at one point, "Isadora Duncan worked for Telefunken." He either got it from a song title by John Lennon, or Lennon titled his song after Ringo's chant. I don't know which came first, but I never could get that line out of my head! Telefunken was at the time a German electrical appliance manufacturer the name of which had perhaps amused the Beatles during their tenure in the country at the outset of their career.

I'd rather idly assumed that Duncan had been a writer, maybe a poet, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover from this biography that she'd been known pretty much solely for dance in her own time. I enjoyed the biography and it was packed and informative, but for me, Isadora Duncan came off as a bit of a flake, and probably not someone I would have taken to had I ever met her. Not that that's chronologically possible since she died in 1927.

Her dancing seems to me to have been the visual equivalent of jazz music - free-form and undisciplined. I can't say for sure since sadly, there's no film of her dancing, although there are photographs, but such static snapshots cannot possibly give a good picture of how she moved or what her dancing was truly like. I'm guessing I would not have liked it.

Regardless of my personal preference though, she impressed very many people with her dance in her lifetime, and attempted at one time or another, to start schools to teach others to be free and self-motivated in their dance rather than rigidly adhere to preset forms. In this regard she was the Bruce Lee of dance, for he advocated precisely this same thing except that it was in regard to martial arts in his case. Whether he knew anything of Isadora Duncan I can't say, but the two of them would have probably gotten along quite well had chronology been such that they could ever have met.

Her death, for anyone who has never heard of it, was the equivalent of a hanging, when her flowing scarf became caught in the open-spoked wheels and axle of the open-top car in which she was riding, resulting in her being pulled out of the car by the neck, which broke. Death was instantaneous, we're assured, although I doubt many deaths truly are. She was only fifty and still had so much to offer the world, which redoubles the tragedy.

The thing is that her life was equally ill-favored in many regards, including that of raising children. She was not an advocate of marriage, She was very progressive and feminist, and a pursuer of free love as it was called. Today she'd likely be cruelly dismissed as a slut, but she had two children with her lovers who both died when the car they were in ran off by itself into a river. She later had a third child which died shortly after it was born. So tragic a life.

She was so renowned in dance that she was able to support her several siblings and mother (father abandoned the family when Isadora was quite young), but then she would go off on a tangent and embark upon some project - such as starting a dancing school or proposing an idyllic retreat in the hills of Athens, none of which ever really took off.

After those, she would find herself in debt and would began dancing again to raise money before launching a new venture - another school or whatever. At one point she had a dancing troop of six girls who toured, and were known as the "Isadorables" which is an amusing and charming name. Her professional reputation and influence lasted a lot longer than her schools did. The last of her Isadorables died quite recently, in 1987.

The book in general, I think, does a good job of conveying her life, but from subsequent reading I've done, it appears to omit some details, such as her private life becoming less private and more scandalous in later life, her drunkenness and her waning ability to pay her bills, so it seems that this book set out only to paint a glossy and positive picture, but that said, I feel better for knowing more about her than I did before, and I commend this graphic novel for getting me there.


Saturday, January 19, 2019

Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller by Joseph Lambert


Rating: WARTY!
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I believe in giving credit where credit is due, but aside from the focus on Sullivan rather than Keller - and lets face it, without Sullivan there would be no Keller as we know her today - there really is very little due here.

This graphic novel is aimed at grades six through eight, but while I am far from those grades, I was not happy with it. The artwork is indifferent and appears in tiny panels (a rigid and plodding sixteen per page) such that the image is not only tiny, but the text is also small. I had a hard time reading it and an almost impossible time reading the narration, which is in script. There were parts I skipped rather than strain my eyes trying to read it. If the format of the book had been larger this would not have been such a problem, but as it was, it was really irritating to me and overwhelmed the story.

While the book does convey the magnitude of the task which faced a visually-impaired 20-year-old Sullivan trying to teach a willful and spoiled seven-year-old who was impaired in ways much greater than Anne herself was, it fails to make the impact it should because it is so choppy. An early flashback itself dissolves into an earlier flashback and this back-flashing keeps happening as we move back and forth between the 'present' where Anne is teaching Helen, and the past, where Anne had her own trials to go through, which were tough enough. Anne Sullivan was a strong woman.

This story is about Anne as opposed to Helen, which most stories are written about, and such a story is important and needs to be told, but I don't think this book gets it done. The 'Annie' of the title was better known as Anne, although her birth name was Johanna Mansfield Sullivan to which she added a 'Macy' when she married later in life. Her initial interactions with Helen were nightmarish because Helen was so spoiled and had no discipline. Anne was not only fighting her charge, but also Helen's parents who did not understand the huge amount of work which needed to be done to liberate Helen from the prison of her impaired senses.

Much as I'd like to recommend a book like this, I cannot. I've read other books about Helen Keller and the one I commend so far is Helen Keller by Jane Sutcliffe. This might not be quite as appealing as a graphic novel to children in this age range, but it isn't something they could not handle, and I'd prefer it to this graphic novel. However, if this novel gets kids interested enough to read something on this topic that's more grown up and less picture-y, then all well and good, but I have doubts it will do that.


Sunday, October 14, 2018

Pelé the King of Soccer by Eddy Simon, Vincent Brascaglia, Joe Johnson


Rating: WORTHY!

Written by Eddy Simon and translated by Joe Johnson, with illustrations by Vincent Brascaglia, this was an enjoyable graphic novel about the remarkable career of Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known to the world as Pelé, who was an outstanding Brazilian professional soccer player.

He played for a club team at the tender age of fifteen and for his national team at the age of sixteen; at seventeen, he put in a sterling performance at the 1958 World Cup, the first of three in which Brazil won with him on the team. He's the only player to have been on three world cup winning teams, and he scored 77 goals in 92 games during those competitions. He averaged almost a goal a game throughout his career, scoring some 650 in 694 professional club appearances.

There was a less stellar side to his life in his multiple marriages and multiple affairs outside of those marriages, some of which brought offspring. The story doesn't delve very much into those or his son's conviction for money laundering. It keeps the focus mostly on soccer, recounting his career almost game by game.

This graphic novel tells the story well, with lively, colorful, and well-crafted illustrations, from his barefoot, ball-made-of-rags street soccer days of his early age, to this triumphs as a professional (in soccer boots and with a real ball!). His hero was his father who was also a professional player until he got a bad leg injury and could play no more, but he encouraged his son to excel and Pelé did not let him down. I commend this novel as a worthy read and a piece of sports history that's well-worth learning.


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Ghetto Klown by John Leguizamo, Christa Cassano, Shamus Beyale


Rating: WARTY!

Written by Leguizamo based on his earlier one-man stage plays about his life, and illustrated really well by Cassano and Beyale, this graphic novel failed to impress me favorably.

The biggest impression was just the opposite: that the author was arrogant at best and a bit of a jerk at worst, and that he's really learning nothing from his life experiences. I could well be wrong on both those scores, but I can only gauge him by the impression his story leaves me with. It started out quite well, but the more I read, the less I liked the author.

No one is perfect, of course. We've all done dumb, regrettable, ill-advised things to one extent or another, and behaved improperly in one way or another. It's part for growing up, testing boundaries, learning rules and figuring out how to fit into a civilized society, but that's where the problem lay for me: in that he seems to learn nothing from his experiences, which are diverse and considerable.

Like Brett Kavanaugh (don't get me started!), he seems to be in a state of complete denial that he's ever done anything wrong. Yes, he had a lousy childhood and this haunted him throughout his life, so I can cut him (Leguizamo, not Kavanaugh!) slack for that. He deserves it, but for him to suggest this book might offer guidelines for others who might be going through what he did is stretching it, because it implies that he has some life lessons to offer, and none were in evidence as far as I could see.

Balanced against that are the amazingly lucky breaks he got that he squandered shamelessly. He's been spoiled, and I'm really tired of this implication that we should somehow idolize if not worship the bad boy made good, like they're some sort of gold standard of achievement. I want to see stories about the good boy making good because he was good, and hard-working, and grateful, and not abusive and intolerant. Why do those guys not get the credit they deserve? Because they're not as arrogant as some others? I think so. I can't recommend this novel.


Monday, October 8, 2018

Cuba My Revolution by Inverna Lockpez, Dean Hapiel, José Villarrubia


Rating: WORTHY!

Told in stark red and black, this is a story based on the writer's own life. In the story, 17-year-old Sonya has ambitions to be an artist in Habana, Cuba, but ends up joining the Castro revolution and becoming a doctor where she encounters the horrors of war during the Bay of Pigs debacle, and ends up being imprisoned as a CIA spy by her own fellow soldiers. She's tortured brutally, but eventually is released. Despite all of this and the now constant feeling of stress and insecurity, and despite what she sees happening to her country on a daily basis, she continues to believe in the revolution, but as six years slip by and nothing improves - in fact things only progressively become worse - she finally reconciles herself to leaving, and finds the opportunity to move to the USA.

This is what the real life artist and medical trainee did, and she says that the events depicted here were real, but some changes were made to the story. The story serves to show that any radical ideology on a national level like this necessarily becomes a brutal dictatorship and a series of pogroms no matter how idealistic it maybe have been in embryonic form, and no matter how well-intentioned its supporters were. The story is a depressing read, but essentially a true story and I commend it because there are lessons to be learned here.


Saturday, September 1, 2018

Jane Goodall by Isabel Sanchez Vegara


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This is another in a series of books aimed at doing its part to redress the imbalance between genders when it comes to high achievers. This one shows young children that a determined young woman can do whatever she wants if she puts a mind to it.

The story simplifies Goodall's interesting and complex life considerably, but hopefully it will inspire children to read more about her as they mature. Her story is one of an abiding interest in animals ever since she was young, inspired in part by a plush toy she had as a child: a chimpanzee. From this simple beginning, she found her way to Africa and came into contact with famous human ancestry researcher Louis Leakey, who eventually dispatched her to work at Gombe, where Goodall's unorthodox research practices were at times criticized, but which nonetheless produced original and unexpected research results.

Goodall was one of three Leaky Ladies, so to speak, whom Leakey named 'The Trimates', the other two being Dian Fossey who died horribly at the hands of gorilla poachers, and Birutė Galdikas, who studied orangutans. Each of these has written one or more books on their studies. It would be nice to see a book in this series for each of the other two women. I commend this one as a great start.


Lucy Maud Montgomery by Isabel Sanchez Vegara


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This one covers the author of Anne of Green Gables who also authored many, many other books including sequels. Montgomery had a rather troubled childhood in that her mother died before Montgomery turned two, and her father felt incapable of raising a child. He immediately put her into the care of her maternal grandparents, who were rather cool towards Lucy. When she was seven, her father left to work elsewhere, making Lucy a very lonely child, so she made up imaginary friends and had a rich fantasy life to go with them.

It's this imagination which led her into writing, something she was very interested in from a young age despite some setbacks. When she had Anne of Green Gables published it was such a roaring success that she never looked back, focusing on fulltime writing, at which she was very prolific. This book does an admirable, if slightly fanciful job of depicting this writer's childhood and her determination to succeed, and I commend it as a worthy read for young children. We need serious writers and if this inspires more of them it can only be a good thing.


Aunt Branwell and the Brontë Legacy by Nick Holland


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This tells an unusual biography - not one of a writer, but one of someone who influenced a writer - or more accurately, four writers: the Brontës.

I've never actually been a fan of the Brontës' writing, but I am a fan of writing in general, and I'm always interested in the process: in how writers start out, where their inspiration comes from, how approach their work, and how they sit down day after day and write. I do have my own experiences, but it never hurts to learn of others'. Unfortunately for me, this book really didn't help in that regard. While Aunt Branwell's influence is touched upon, it's never really demonstrated, so for me, the book failed in its thesis.

The Brontës themselves (the surviving, writing Brontës that is) do not show up until forty percent into this book when Charlotte is born, so we get a long introduction to Elizabeth Branwell, her history, and her tenure in Penzance, Cornwall, on the very tip of England's west coast. I did not know until I read this that Cornwall had suffered a tsunami, caused by an earthquake in Lisbon, Portugal in 1755. This actually wasn't the first tsunami to strike the British coast (there was one in 6100BC that hit Scotland), but they are rare. There was one on the south coast in 1929, and a minor one as recently as 2011. It was on odd coincidence that simultaneously while reading this, I was also listening to an audiobook during my daily commute, which featured a tsunami.

But I digress! Elizabeth eventually left Penzance to stay with her sister in Yorkshire and was there at Charlotte's birth, and this is where I had some problems with the text. A major problem I had with this biography was in how it frequently leapt to conclusions and made unwarranted assumptions. For example, when Elizabeth gets the letter inviting her to visit her younger sister in Yorkshire, the author writes: "Tears welled in Elizabeth's eyes as she placed the letter carefully back into its envelope, but how should she respond?" How can this author possibly know what her emotions were? This kind of thing appeared more than once, and without any supporting reference, and it severely devalued the authenticity of the biography in my opinion.

Around this same event, I also read, "Elizabeth's intuitive response was to accept the invitation." The author knows what Elizabeth is intuiting at a specific moment how exactly? There is a reference at the end of this paragraph, but my intuitive response is that this reference relates to the difficulties of long distance travel in those days, and not to intuition and responses per se.

Later I read, "It was decided to call this third one Charlotte after her aunt in Cornwall, a move Elizabeth wholeheartedly approved of." And the author knows what Elizabeth wholeheartedly approves of how? If there had been a reference to a letter or a journal entry supporting this assumption, that would be one thing, but just to put this out there is meaningless when it's merely the author's evidently over-emotional opinion. It cheapens the whole work. It's possible to put heart and soul, into something without having to resort to pure invention which is what these comments felt like to me.

There were many instances of this, which had not seemed so prevalent before the Brontë children began showing up. It seemed like it was after that point that the story became rife with them as though the author had been lightning-struck by the arrival of the children and suddenly everything was ten times more dramatic. I read things like: " Ripping open the envelope, not standing on ceremony this time, she knew something was terribly wrong."

No, she really didn't. She merely got a letter in an unfamiliar hand! When she read the letter and learned that her younger sister was gravely ill, then she knew something was terribly wrong, but there is no foundation whatsoever for the blind assumption that she ripped the envelope open especially since, back then, the letter was the envelope as often as not, and 'ripping it open' would have actually torn the letter and made it harder to read!

I also read: "Elizabeth's mind raced as she slumped into a chair, letter clenched tightly in her hand." We don't know any of that! I can see how it would appeal to an author to imbue his writing with some emotional content, to leaven the dry facts, but there are limits to what's reasonable.

If you want to add that kind of dramatic flourish to it, then for goodness sake write it as fiction. This kind of intemperate invention does not belong in a biography! Another such instance was: "Branwell, just turned 4, looked on with a confident gaze, and a toddling Emily remained with shy suspicion in a corner." Really? And you know this how? It was the repeated influx of what can only be deemed to be pure fiction, which turned me off this biography and actually began to make me doubt some of the other things I'd already read.

With regard to their home education provided by Elizabeth Branwell, I read that the children "were, in general, able and eager students, although they also demonstrated a mischievous streak from time to time." Again, there's no reference for this, and no example given here of how they were mischievous, so why would the author say this? He adds later, "even though the lessons given by their Aunt Branwell were not always to their taste." How do we know this? Again, there's no reference. It doesn't matter how much of their history the author has read; if he or she cannot reference something, then it can be only opinion. It makes a big difference when opinion is substituted for actual evidence. It makes the whole biography untrustworthy.

In another instance, there was this:

When Elizabeth informed her nieces of her new subscription they were delighted, although Charlotte's announcement of it in a letter to her brother is characteristically muted: 'I am extremely glad that Aunt has consented to take in Fraser's Magazine for though I know from a description of its general contents that it will be rather uninteresting when compared with "Blackwood"

Blackwood was Charlotte's preferred magazine, so it hardly looks like she was "delighted" with her aunt's choice! Again, it leaches credibility from the account to have so much fanciful commentary added.

If the author had written, for example, that "Patrick's journal for that day reported that Elizabeth was slumped into a chair, letter clenched tightly in her hand," it would be one thing, even if some dramatic license had been taken with the verbs, but that's not what we read. If the author had reported, "according to some reports, the children demonstrated a mischievous streak from time to time," again, that would be another matter, especially if the reports had been referenced in the notes. If the author had reported, "When Elizabeth informed her nieces of her new subscription the children evidenced mixed feelings" and quoted Charlottes comments, that would have worked well, but this constant resorting to superlatives strongly suggests an overly emotional and unreliable reporting of events which is not what I want to be reading in a biography.

I read at one point about the children naming toy soldiers they had, which were characters in the various worlds they built in their evidently fertile imaginations:

Charlotte instantly named hers after her hero the Duke of Wellington, whereupon Branwell decided that his would be Napoleon Bonaparte. Even at this stage of his life - he was then aged eight - he delighted in being the anti-hero rather than the hero. We should also remember, however, that the twelve soldiers had been bought for Branwell, yet he willingly shared them with his sisters; this one early moment encapsulated the duality of his nature.

I'm sorry but I don't buy this. Charlotte instantly named hers? Maybe. Patrick deliberately chose an anti-hero rather than he just chose Napoleon because that man was the brain-dead option when his sister had chosen Wellington? Once again the author seems to be investing far too much fertile (if not fervid) imagination of his own into every action the children took.

Patrick was eight years old for goodness sake, yet already the author wants him to be well onto the downhill slide into addiction and intemperance which we know did not become part of his character until later in life. It's too much. The author fails to give us sufficient information for us to tell if Charlotte's naming was a one-time thing for a specific scenario they were playing out, and this is why Patrick chose Napoleon, or if Arthur Wellesley was the permanent name she gave him. In omitting this, he does the reader a disservice and to quote Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame, he rejects reality and substitutes his own.

The author can even read the thoughts of the dying! As a part of the description of Aunt Branwell's last hours, I read, "Her thoughts dwelt once again on her family in Cornwall, the beautiful coast she would see no more, and then upon her nieces." The problem with this was that she died of an apparent bowel obstruction and was in severe pain for four days. It seems to me a stretch to declare with such certainty where her thoughts were when pain was the foremost thing in her mind. It seems far more likely that her thoughts dwelled on wishing the pain to be over even if it meant her dying. I don't doubt that at times her mind was in other places, but to certify that we can read her thoughts with such confidence seemed disrespectful to me.

Their aunt never did know of her nieces' success. It was only after she died and the children received a very generous inheritance, that they embarked upon their 'professional' writing careers. The first effort was a book of poetry to which all three contributed quite a number of poems. They had to pay for the publication and it never did take off. It was this failure which far from stunting their growth, launched them into their prose careers. We're told that the poetry book was launched after Charlotte had discovered a book of poetry written by Emily. The poems were supposedly, "a key to Emily's soul, and she was furious when she learned Charlotte had found them. After days of silent, and not so silent, recriminations, Anne managed to persuade Emily of the opportunity the discovery had brought."

Given that Emily was widely known to be shy and retiring (even her signature was more restrained than that of her sisters!), this rage and several days of huffy silence felt like a lot of drama, too, especially since Charlotte herself went on record stating that "My sister Emily was not a person of demonstrative character"! The actual words Charlotte used in describing this particular incident were "It took hours to reconcile her to the discovery I had made, and days to persuade her that such poems merited publication."

While we must make allowances for Charlotte perhaps downplaying emotions here, there's nothing there about fury and days of silence! This is all imagination. We can, using imagination, convince ourselves that Emily would have been at least embarrassed that her secret writing had been read, but anger? Perhaps a little, but the fact is, we do not know. This 'days of silence' is pure fiction. It took days to persuade her to publicly reveal her private writing, but this does not mean she was off in a huff somewhere, perhaps stalking the moors wearing sackcloth and with ashes in her hair, for goodness sake!

It's well known among Brontë aficionados that each of the three sisters chose a masculine name that preserved their initials while masking their femininity. Charlotte adopted Currer Bell, as the author suggests, perhaps taken from Frances Richardson-Currer a family friend who may have helped her father out of dire straits at one point with an anonymous donation.

Emily adopted the name Ellis Bell. The author assumes this to be a shortened version of Elizabeth, but that seems a stretch. We honestly don't know where it came from, but it's also been suggested it might be a reference to George Ellis, a friend of Walter Scott's, who is referenced in Scott's poem Marmion, which itself is mentioned in Jane Eyre.

Anne's experiences at Blake Hall, which were given new life in Agnes Grey, could equally have played a part. Anne's employer at the hall was Mary Ingham, whose father was Ellis Lister, an MP who presided over the Brontë's electoral district. But to me these are also a stretch. I prefer to think it was taken from contemporary writer Sarah Ellis. This would fit in with the other two sisters also choosing a (to them) well-known last name as their first.

The author suggests that the inspiration for Anne's choice of 'Acton' may be the castle her aunt had told her about during many childhood stories, but it could also have been from the last name of a recipe book writer and poet named Eliza Acton. She's largely unknown to us today, but may well have been in the Brontë library and for all we know could have been a beloved author of Anne's.

Of the surname, the author speculates: "It is often conjectured that the surname Bell was inspired by the sound of bells from their father's church; this may be so, but it could also be a contraction of the family name B(ranw)ell." Or it could have been the middle name of the curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls, whom Charlotte later married? There are too many options to be sure, and in the end we cannot really know. It's all guess-work!

Tragedy struck when three family members all died within a few months of each other. The apparent cause was tuberculosis, and the author seems to think this came from the visit made to London by Charlotte and Anne (Emily was too retiring!) to prove to their publisher that they were women - and not one man - who wrote all of these novels! He says, "Could one or other of the sisters have picked up a further dose of tubercle bacilli which when they returned to Haworth they handed on to Branwell and to Emily? This seems a most likely supposition. Almost certainly one or other of them introduced a new pathogenic element into the closed community of Haworth Parsonage, which wreaked so much havoc so quickly."

We can't know now who patient zero truly was, but it seems far more likely to me, since Branwell was the first to get sick and die, that it was his dissolute lifestyle that doomed them all. He died in late September 1848, and was doubtlessly nursed by his sisters, in particular, Emily, who then died in late December that same year. Anne, who was so very close to Emily died in late may of the following year. To me this scenario makes more sense than blaming Charlotte.

So evne to the end, this book felt like it was far too much authorial imagination, and not enough hard fact - or supported conjecture at least. I imagine when an author is writing a biography and researching endlessly, that they come to feel close to the subject of their research, but this is not the same thing as actually knowing them personally, and certainly not the same as actually having evidence for assertions that are made. For me, the author crossed that line too many times, and this is one of the two main reasons why I felt this book fell short.

The other is the fact that I think the underlying assertion, that Aunt Branwell was such an influence on these creative children, is not made convincingly. From all that I've read about the Brontes, and from this book too, it seems to me that while they were undoubtedly influenced by many things and people around them, including Aunt Branwell, these kids themselves were the biggest influence on their writing - their minds, their interaction with each other, and their wide reading, which made the perfect storm that became their oeuvre. While I wish the author all the best, I cannot commend this biography.


Friday, June 1, 2018

James Joyce Portrait of a Dubliner by Alfonso Zapico


Rating: WORTHY!

Erratum:
“...practicing law, or becoming as academic” = should be AN academic!

This graphic novel was interesting, not least of which because it paints James Augustine Aloysius Joyce in a very unflattering light. The man was a moocher, a womanizer, an alcoholic who was often abusive towards his wife, and he was extremely lazy. Based on how he was presented here, he was not a person I would like had I ever met him in real life. But my review isn't of him, it's of this graphic novel, and in that case, for the art and the story, I can recommend it.

if I had reservations, it would be over two things: some of the poses of characters in the panels - especially of people walking - seem very static, almost like they weren't walking at all, but were posing as though they were walking, or like their legs were copied from earlier pictures and repurposed. I can understand this from those of us who are lesser artists (if artists at all!). The temptation to reuse and modify is great, but this author/illustrator can draw, so it would have been nice to have seen some variation.

The other issue was with the high volume of text. It seemed to overshadow if not entirely defeat the purpose of the novel being graphic. Sometimes it felt more like an illustrated biography than a graphic novel! To be fair, it was a graphic novel with many panels on every page, but be warned there is a heck of a lot of narrative reading.

The story covers Joyce from childhood - actually from before - there is an introductory section which details the failed business exploits of his forebears. Joyce makes petulant and impulsive decisions, like going off to study medicine in Paris for no good reason and without a penny to his name. Consequently, he mooches money off everyone and then rather than spend it on his stated need, he spends it on living high on the hog until it runs out and he's kicked out of yet another boarding house.

He seduces and lives with Nora Barnacle, who turns out to be his lifelong partner and the real hero of the story in my opinion for what she put up with. Eventually they did get married, but why she stuck with a man like that I cannot imagine and the author of this novel, perhaps wisely, doesn't try to understand either. He doesn't even address the paradox. This is a judgment-free biography!

The story goes on to discuss Joyce's health, notably his recurring problems with his eyesight, and finally his work which he eventually got around to writing. We also learn of Joyce's two children, Giorgio, who died as recently as 1976, and sadly, of his daughter Lucia, who was a dancer and later in life suffered from schizophrenia, but she outlived all of them, dying in 1982 still in an institution - the very one that Joyce himself did not want her staying at 'among the English'!

So not a happy life for James Joyce at all, but he had his moments and was fortunately taken care of by a strong and inexplicably devoted woman. I recommend this as a worthy read for anyone interested in Joyce.


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Doll Parts by Amanda Lepore, Thomas Flannery


Rating: WARTY!

I bought this out of curiosity, but in the end I should have realized that if a person needs to have their 'memoir' ghost-written by a third party, then it's probably not going to be told from the best perspective. It wasn't. As it turned out, I can honestly say I have never in my life read a more self-obsessed, shallow, vindictive, and clueless memoir as this one. I was truly disappointed at the lost opportunity here to write a meaningful and helpful memoir about a very important topic. Instead of that, the book was wasted in welter narcissistic self-adulation.

I'm always interested in transition stories, and it's especially à propo during this month of gay pride (not that this is a gay story, be advised) to review a number of LGBTQIA books, but I couldn't get with this story because even though it is 'true', it didn't feel true-to-life to me. In the end it was far more a story of how much in love the author is with herself than ever it was a story of her migration from a young male to a mature female, although it did tell some of that story, albeit in a blinkered and self-obsessed manner.

In terms of it being a true story, I have to question that, also. Not that I think the author is lying, but we are treated here to a detailed history including verbatim conversations, and short of the handful of people with a true eidetic memory - which can entail other issues, and which this author doesn't claim - there is no way in hell anyone can remember this amount of detail and conversation unless they're making it up base don what have to be somewhat vague and modified memories after all these years (the author is almost fifty). I tried to keep that in mind while reading the three-quarters of this that I could actually stand to read.

The story seems far more devoted to self-worship and self-promotion, and to unhealthy sexual appetites, and talking tediously of "pussy" than ever it is talking from the soul or from the heart, and it felt like a tragic waste. Unless this flimsy veneer actually is her soul, which would be truly disappointing.

There's nothing wrong with a person taking pride in their appearance and feeling good about themselves, but the focus here on beauty and glamor was endless and obsessive, and it felt completely misplaced to me, given how shallow beauty is as a measure of a woman and how unimportant it is in the grand scheme of things when talking about the qualities a human being can or ought to have, and especially in this context, where there are far more important things to talk about.

Some of these things were talked about, but they were very effectively swamped by the shallow tide of self-indulgence which swept relentlessly across this narrative. Most disturbing of these matters was perhaps the abuse the author suffered a the hands of her husband, but this is so lightly and fleetingly dealt with that it loses all force and impact, and nowhere is any advice offered to others about how to get out of abusive relationships, or where to seek help. This was yet another appallingly wasted opportunity. This was especially sad given how often the author expressed a fear of being killed. This is not a joke because transsexuals are killed at an horrific rate for doing nothing more than being who they truly are - in every sense of that phrase.

Here are some resources:
http://www.thecentersd.org/programs/behavioral-health-services/warning-signs.html
https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/11/a-same-sex-domestic-violence-epidemic-is-silent/281131/
https://www.abuseandrelationships.org/Content/Resources/warning_signs.html
http://www.thehotline.org/is-this-abuse/lgbt-abuse/
http://stoprelationshipabuse.org/get-help/resources/
https://helpguide.org/articles/abuse/domestic-violence-and-abuse.htm
http://www.thehotline.org/2013/02/dating-abuse-resources-for-teens/
http://www.loveisrespect.org/resources/dating-violence-statistics/
http://www.loveisrespect.org/is-this-abuse/abusive-lgbtq-relationships/
http://www.teensagainstabuse.org/index.php
http://youth.gov/youth-topics/teen-dating-violence/resources
https://www.roomtobesafe.org/recognizing-unhealthy-relationships/
https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/lgbt/news/2011/06/14/9850/domestic-violence-in-the-lgbt-community/
I urge anyone in an abusive relationship to leave it and get help. It's not easy, but it sure-as-hell isn't going to improve if you stay there. Your abusive partner is not going to miraculously change. You need to protect yourself. There are people who can and will help you.

In terms of the story told here, there was nothing new, which was the biggest disappointment of all, and this repeated self-worship from the author grew old very quickly. At one point we read of her doctor's office, "He liked me. The whole staff did. I was the office pet." Self-congratulate much? The book is larded with pictures of the author, but not a one of them is labeled to give it any context, and every one is a glamor shot or a shot with a celebrity.

We never see the real Amanda Lepore, unless, as I said, she really is all façade and no substance, but if that is so, then what price a memoir which contains nothing of its author? There were of course common elements true to every transgender story: the gender dysphoria appearing early in life, and being not a whim or a fad, but a deeply-rooted conviction that no amount of adversity can overturn, and the over-arching desire to change it, but she was never happy despite repeatedly assuring us she got everything she wanted; it was never enough.

Ultimately, the story became one not of a woman trying to escape a man's body, but something Michael Jackson might have written, which is in the end about turning a perfectly fine human being into a caricature of one. here I refer not to the author's gender reassignment, but to the endless tweaking afterwards, which did nothing to improve on what she started life as a woman with, and in my opinion, ruined it, just as Michael Jackson did. That said it's her body and she can do with it what she will. But in running to the extremes she did, she had better not try to turn around and make absurdist claims like all men love and lust after what she became: Just relax,” Michael said. “You look amazing; you’re every man’s fantasy of the ideal woman" No! Not even remotely.

There was nothing new in her desire to become the woman she was from the start. This is the root of all transgender stories. I was hoping for much more depth than that although that said, maybe it bears repeating, because some people simply don't seem to get how profound it is: that a male to female transgender person is a woman from the start, just as a ftm is a man from the beginning regardless of how they look on the outside.

The problem here seemed to be that all the author achieved was to change one false façade (that she was a male when she clearly was not in any meaningful sense) for another equally false one of glitz, glamor and shallowness. It would have been so nice to have got more of the person and less of this cheap veneer. I can't recommend this one at all, not even remotely.

One of the problems is that the author is not merely focused on herself to the exclusion of all others (her commendable devotion to her mom is the one exception here, but even that slipped as she grew older and ever-more intensely focused on her own life), but she is actively disparaging of others for no good reason.

One shameful example of this is what she says about a brave and generous trailblazer in gender reassignment: "Christine Jorgensen was the most famous case and we talked about her a lot, though I didn't relate to her so much. She wasn't that pretty." How appallingly insulting can you be? Christine Jorgensen was a US Army veteran who began her change in 1951, and fortunately for her health and welfare, became a celebrity in the USA, advocating for transgender people long before anyone else was, and yet this is the epitaph this girl gets from Amanda Lepore: she wasn't that pretty? WTF? How disgustingly shallow can you be?

Another issue is that the author has absolutely no interest in having - let alone promoting - safe sex. Her story opens with a gratuitous snippet about some guy flattering her with compliments and so getting an automatic in to her pants. She's thrilled with him because he has a large penis, but nowhere in any of this is safe sex mentioned. This is a continuing and disgusting theme throughout this book.

Her first boyfriend is Dylan, with whom she has underage sex and she says this about him: "Sex with Dylan was wonderful, but she was right. I knew he was fucking around." Yet again, there is no mention of safe sex. She apparently doesn't care that he's having sex with other people or that he has anal sex with her (this was before her surgery) with no condom. Even if we give her a bye here for being young and stupid to begin with, looking back on that more than thirty years later, she still has no comment to make on how foolish it was?

This same lack of a clue is apparent later, when she has sex with some truck driver who picks her up. She's pissed-off with her husband (and understandably so, it has to be said) so she starts an affair with this guy, having unprotected sex the same night he picks her up for the first time. This is supposed to be a role model?

She frequently talks about having a love relationship but she seems far more interested, if not obsessed with large male genitals than ever she is in a human connection. Here's a sad glimpse into her psyche:

Tina was a world-class tease. Her favorite thing to do was to lead guys on and then give them the boot. "Men are so gullible, they'll believe anything you tell them. They believe you when you tell them you're a girl, right?"
"I am a girl."
"You know what I mean," she said.
Tina had a great idea: we'd go out, find the most straitlaced guy in the bar, and trick him into thinking I was a regular girl. It was a new way for Tina to tease men. I willingly played along, since the prize for the game was a hot guy for me to make out with. When things started to get a little too hot and heavy, I'd tell my date I had my period to throw him off.

Has she never heard of transgender hate crime? Of rape? Obviously she had because she frequently talks about fear of being done harm to or killed. Yet never once does she consider that her behavior might be a contributing factor towards the poor attitude that some men - not all men as she implies here, but some men - have towards women - and that her behavior might serve to help provoke this behavior and make life worse for other women? How selfish can you be? Lest you think this is merely the adoption of an extravagant tone, this is what she says later: "And who the fuck cared about these guys? Tricking them was like paying back all the people who had made fun of me for being so feminine."

She repeatedly makes herself look clueless or ignorant or stupid. Here's one example when she's feeling down and tries to 'commit suicide': "I went into her bathroom, picked up the first bottle of pills I saw, and swallowed them all." Those pills were aspirin! Maybe she had a few shots of tequila afterwards to get over the complete absence of a headache?

Her enduring cluelessness is clear in this incident which she reports without any kind of analysis at all: "Everything went as planned with the new psychiatrist. I liked the way he described me in his report; he said I was very attractive with feminine features and that I'd make a pretty girl" Seriously? That's his medical diagnosis? That she finds nothing wrong with these inappropriate comments is the sad part. She has such absolute tunnel vision when it comes to anyone complimenting her. She sees nothing wrong in a medical professional talking about her like this.

At one point we learn that her father, who had left the family because of her mother's schizophrenia, had got married to another woman. Never at any point did we hear of a divorce from her mother! I thought that was weird. Presumably there was one, but why did she not mention it? Did it not impact upon her in any way at all? The only saving grace for her in this entire book is that she stood by her mother longer than her father or her brother did, and that might have counted for something if the author could count: "Women never came to our house. Maybe five total that I can think of, if the twins count as two." I guess twins are really the same so there's only one of any pair worth counting.

Her vaginoplasty, purportedly the most important thing to her, is discussed only cursorily. The most disturbing part of it is actually when she visits the surgery the morning of her operation.

I lay on the operating table, ready to go under, I could hear the nurses talking about me.
"This one's really beautiful."
"Her skin's like peaches and cream."
"This might be the prettiest girl we've ever had"
Even here. as you can see, her only thoughts are for her own shallow beauty. Right after I read this, I also read that the assistants were feeling up the patient's breasts as she was succumbing to the anesthesia. If that wasn't yet another self-complimentary fantasy, there was a case there for a lawsuit, but it's never pursued, because she never sees this abuse as a problem, not just for herself but for every patient who goes in there. Again, no thought whatsoever for anyone but herself.

On having sex with her husband for the first time after her vaginoplasty: "Now here I was, with a man on top of me who loved me and was ready to make a woman out of me" Oh? That's all that's required? You have sex, you're a woman? Have sex and you're a man? What a clueless philosophy that is, but she sees nothing wrong with it! Role model my ass.

Neither does she see anything foolish about mixing drugs and alcohol: "I had a few drinks, which I usually never do, and he gave me a Quaalude" This is her husband handing her the 'lude, so it's hardly surprising that later we learn he's having Amanda fake dental issues to get Demerol from the dentist which she then gives to her husband. That dentist should be struck off. Later she says "I don't know when I realized that Michael was addicted to painkillers" - how about the time he asks you to lie to your dentist to get meds to give to him? Again, clueless.

And self-obsessed. Did I mention that? After she's said repeatedly that she has everything she wanted, I read this: "I was too scared to talk to these women. But I took mental notes on what they were getting done, so I could figure out what I needed to have done myself." She has everything she ever wanted, but she still needs work?

Her passive acceptance of her husband's abusive ways is pathetic. Bemoaning her husband's switch-up from mental abuse to physical abuse, she says, "I was grateful, but there was no point in worrying about things I could never change." This is a role model? She can't do anything about a husband beats her, when she already has an offer to stay with someone who cares about her in order to get away from being abused? Clueless.

Her ridiculous side-panels are a sick joke. Here's a small selection of the things she says and you can clearly see how shallow and superficial it makes her look:

  • On women who do not manicure their nails: "This girl will try to come off as low maintenance, but in reality she is just too busy with her career and family to take care of herself. Seriously? If you don't fuss over your nails you're a loser because you're more focused on career and family? You don't want to know my response to that.
  • At another point in the book, her obsession with her nails is made even more clear: "I'd spend hours doing my nails (I've lost several friends who were sick of waiting for me to finish my nails), o plucking hairs, bleaching my pussy hair, or bejeweling a dress. That's all I wanted to do. It still is." How pathetic.
  • In a warning about exposure to the sun she says, "Think of the sun as Kryptonite. Bring a camisole with you everywhere you go."
    Camisole?? Does she mean parasol, maybe?! I really don't think camisole is going to do much to protect against the sun!
  • Along similar lines was this out-of-left-field comment: "Michael...picked up H like sheep jumping off a cliff." Does he mean lemmings maybe? And lemmings don't, as it happens.
  • On meeting Pamela Anderson's husband at the time:
    "Tommy Lee wanted to see my pussy at a party. We went to the bathroom, I sat on the sink, and he got a good look. Pam was pissed. Super jealous. He loved it."
So she has no qualms about possibly wrecking a marriage by stripping for some person she never met before?

Just how irresponsible is she about abusing others? You'd think she'd be sensitive to that after what she went through but no:

He loved to play tricks on people, tripping them on the dance floor, or pissing in a cup and dumping it out a window that overlooked the line of people waiting to get into his party. Other people would yell at him or call him an asshole. I’d just say, “Oh, Michael, you’re too much,” and leave it at that. It wasn’t my place to judge him. I think that’s what he liked about me.
Ri-ight! This woman makes me sick.

It's hardly surprising that this Michael was later arrested in connection with the murder, dismemberment, and disposal of a drug-dealer's body. Here's how she relates this:

They found Angel’s body,” she said. “Michael really did kill him.”
“Oh.” I just stared at her and Larry Tee. They stared right back. I didn’t know what to say. “Poor Michael.” “Yeah.” Sophia hugged me and I started crying.
“And Angel, of course.”
“Of course.”
“Will Michael be arrested now?"
It was at this point that I honestly began to wonder if there actually was no Amanda Lepore and I was reading a very well done and elaborate parody.

How dumb is she?

Just get bigger breasts,” Keni said. “Nobody will even notice a scar on your face if your tits are gigantic.”
Maybe he was kidding but that made a lot of sense to me.
Why isn't that a surprise?! Here's another example:
The Insider had just done a segment on me (they called me “one of the most extreme plastic surgery cases The Insider has ever uncovered”)

Here's how little she cares for those she become involved with: "Ricky didn’t like me going out naked and could be really possessive, like most men." If that's what you think, then you're A clueless, and B meeting entirely the wrong class of men. Try quitting your obsession with big dicks and look for a guy with a big heart instead! Then stay faithful to him and don't go out naked if it upsets him! It's not rocket science.

And what's with the dick obsession? It's so rife in this book that despite myself I couldn't help but wonder if it was some sort of subconscious compensation for giving up her own. I know, that's bad right? But it's not me publishing a book about nothing more than an obsession with her own looks and unsafe sex with big dicks.

One last example of dumb:

One of the logs in the fireplace rolled out onto the carpet, sending thick clouds of smoke into the air. Stoned and unsure of what to do, David and I fumbled our way to the back patio and watched as the room got cloudier and cloudier.
Seriously? Le stupide is strong with this one! She should have kept her mouth shut, dispensed with the book idea, and just looked pretty. That's what she was all about after all. Nothing more than that, but even there she went far too far over the top.

At one point, referring back to her mother's untimely death from cancer, the author says, "Mom had spent her life trapped inside her own mind. I refused to let that happen to me." I'm sorry sweetie, but you were stuck there long before your mother ever was.


Friday, October 21, 2016

Malala: Activist for Girls' Education by Raphaële Frier


Rating: WORTHY!

This is an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

On National Wonder Woman Day I'm not going to get into the dire gender politics and hypocrisy of a UN which proclaims a woman's day whilst rejecting a bunch of female candidates for secretary general, but it seems only right we should celebrate the spirit of this day by looking at a real-life wonder woman. Back in August of 2015 I positively reviewed I am Malala, and this version of her story, aimed at a much younger audience, is a worthy read, too. It zeroes in on the facts of her life, what she did, what happened to her, and how she survived, without going into exhausting detail. The images are colorful and enticing, and bring the reader into the story, which is an important one, and a potentially tragic one which fortunately had a happy ending.

This book even looked good on a smart phone, with the images large and the text legible. It tells of Malala's early childhood, and the conditions in which she lived, which deteriorated dramatically after an earthquake that idiotic religious flakes decided was some god's wrath! You’d have to be a complete and utter moron to worship a god which is as capricious and childish as that, and you would have to be criminally fraudulent to try to argue that this god generates cruel earthquakes, but this is the kind of extremists these people are, and this is what they were promoting. They take power not because they are right, or respected, or admired, or favored by the majority, but because they can get guns and threaten people. These are no disciples of any god of love.

Malala was lucky in having a family which supported educating girls, but the Taliban fears women, and detests equality. They're not the only whack-jobs who do so. There are many nations where women are treated in this same way, although 'treated' is a bad choice of word to describe it. Not all of these nations are condemned as they should be. Some are close allies of the USA. These people have no concept of fun and relaxation, and none of equality or parity. They are control freaks and bullies who fear women garnering any sort of power for themselves, and they started bullying everyone, not just women, but women in particular. People like this are so disempowered that they can only be 'men' when they have 'their women' as the phrase goes: barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen - and uneducated in order to keep them that way. This is something my wife joked about some years ago when she was actually barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen! It’s no joke when it’s real life though.

Malala started a blog to speak out about the problems they faced, and she soon became a local spokeswoman and representative. The Tailiban were pushed back but not far enough, and when they resurged, they cracked down just as hard, and they decided that this little girl was emasculating them. They proved this to be actually true when the only response they could engender was to shoot her three times, but she proved stronger than they, and she resurged herself to become a more effective opponent of their bruitality and cluelessness than ever she had been before. This is an important story which needs to be heard, and children are never too young to start hearing about female heroes. This little book is a great start. I recommend it.