Friday, May 29, 2009

Memoir triple header

I have been reading like a fiend again, maybe in anticipation of expecting to have less time for pleasurable reading in the near future.

The first book, Getting a Grip by Monica Seles just caught my eye in the biography section of the new books area in our library. I don't know diddly about tennis, except that my aunts used to play and teach it (it might have been how they met?) and that one exceptional day as a child they took my brother and I to a court and tried to teach us. I was not inclined toward athleticism even then, and the best thing I remember about the day was that the Gatorade we got after trying to hit an entire basket of balls back across the net was the best thing I had ever tasted in my life. I still have a fondness for Gatorade to this day.

Anyhow, Monica's book (I feel like we're on a first-name basis after reading her story) was wonderful. Did she really write it herself? Who knows, but who cares? It was well-written, compelling and surprisingly relevant for me. Not that I have ever faced pressure as intense as that to which a world-class athlete is subjected, but her struggle with weight wa the hook for me. I'm not giving anything away, the subtitle of the book is (On My Body, My Mind, My Self), and this line from the jacket: "'s hard to believe that spectacularly fit former tennis champion Monica Seles struggled with binge-eating and depression" pretty much give it away. I saw that and thought, huh, that sounds familiar. Not the spectacularly fit part, the other bit. So I read it. I really gained a lot from reading this book, and I would recommend it to anyone else for whom food is a favorite drug. I am glad that it sounds like she's found a purpose for her life now that she's retired from pro tennis, and it sounds like a wonderful one, at that. And I didn't see her on Dancing with the Stars, but that she was on it at all, I thought that was great. I can't even stand the anxiety of being surrounded by a simple jam circle, much less the eyes of the American television-viewing public.

The next book I read was Mornings with Barney: The True Story of an Extraordinary Beagle by Dick Wolfsie. Hilarious. A laugh-out-loud funny book about a morning newscaster from Indiana and the mischievous beagle (redundant, I know) stray who adopted him. I am a sucker for beagles, and the photo on the cover of this book was irresistable. Still, I've gotten a little quicker to ditch books that I'm not enjoying, but I picked this up on Wednesday evening and finished it Thursday morning before leaving for work. A quick read, very well-written, and so funny that I had tears streaming down my cheek more than once from laughing so hard. Want to laugh? Read this book. You will not regret it.

I stll needed more memoir, so I went back to new biographies and found Breakfast at Sally's: One Homeless Man's Inspirational Journey by Richard LeMieux. The writing was clearly only so-so from the very beginning, but I decided to give it a chance anyhow, mostly because The Professor and I had a heated debate about homelessness on our way home from a weekend away last month, and then not long after my illustrious father was spouting off on the phone to me about how the economy is tanking and the entire middle class will all be living under bridges before we know it. Uh, right. But I digress.

As a memoir, this book disappoints. Only the barest details about how his family abandoned him to his crippling depression after he went bankrupt and left him to live in his van are given, and he refers to his despair periodically, but having withheld enough of his story to help me decide whether or not I was sympathetic to his plight, it cast a rather fishy light on the situation to me, and I honestly spent too much of the book feeling suspicious of his motives for even writing the book. Memorializing the homeless people who have no voice in the mainstream world? Healing his own pain by coming to terms with his past? Just trying to make a buck? Of these possible reasons, only the last seems plausible, and well, that's not a motive that makes for a great read.

The glowing quotes from Salvation Army employees on the cover bring to mind that it's probably great PR for their organization, but still, this book left me feeling like I had been jerked around. Many of the stories he tells are quite moving, and it's hard not to be affected by the idea of a mom and her two young sons living in a storage unit, or runaway teens living in an ever-shrinking-to-development woods near a mental hospital, or two women whose so-called landlady steals their public assistance checks and locks up their shoes before leaving for work in the morning and lures homeless men with the promise of a free place to stay only to demand rent the next day after having "talked it over with her husband." But these stories are not LeMieux's, and his right to use them seems suspect to me, especially when his motive for telling them is so murky. I'm glad he's now off the street (yes, I'm ruining the book for you, but I'm not recommending it, and one rather suspects that having had a book published he's probably out of the van by now), but I don't think I'll be picking up his next book that his bio mentions he's writing. Don't bother with this one unless you've got a mad desire to read anything you can about homelessness, and even then, I'm sure you can find many better things to read first.


  1. You know, I'd been wondering what happened to Monica. It can't be easy, going from tennis pro to invalid to trying to make a comeback that doesn't work out that great.
    And while the rest of us are not star athletes, I do believe we face a lot of pressures -- pressure to do well in school, pressures to look a certain way, pressures to behave a certain way, pressures to perform at work...
    Everyone's life has these, but for some, they get really bad. I don't overeat, I tend to limit food intake to get at least a bit of control over things (and I stop as soon as I catch myself doing it). But it's tough. So, thank you for that recommendation, I think I really want to read this.

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