Lakota Woman (CBR13 #70)

Lakota Woman

Like many, my formal education didn’t contain much indigenous history, and certainly almost none about modern indigenous history. Reading Women task 8 was read a memoir by an Indigenous, First Nations, Native, or Aboriginal Woman which helped move Lakota Woman up my TBR (I had added it in 2015 for a similar Read Harder task but I read Rabbit-Proof Fence instead). It certainly didn’t hurt that it was also the Indigenous Reading Circle’s choice for November (the group that inspired the Reading Women task).

Lakota Woman was published in 1990 and discusses Mary Crow Dog’s experiences in the 1970s as a member of the American Indian Movement (AIM). It is a searing autobiography that is at various times audacious, heartfelt, and expressive. It is also a tough read for a variety of reasons. The book opens with Crow Dog’s description of the difficulty of her life as a young Sioux girl, growing up in poverty, suffering at Catholic boarding school, and quitting school to drink, shoplift and rebel. Its at this point that her path crosses AIM’s and she would eventually give birth to a son in 1973 at Wounded Knee while it was under siege by the federal government.

The narrative reminds me of an oral history. The book is written in one person’s lived experiences told in a stream-of-consciousness style and Mary Crow Dog was present at many of the significant events of this civil rights movement in the early 1970s. She writes of AIM’s infiltration by FBI agents and of helping her husband endure prison following his unjust arrest. The book ends with a brief synopsis of events after Leonard was freed and his work on reclaiming the sacred rites and practices of their people.

“I read somewhere in an anthropology book that we Sioux ‘thrive on a culture of excitement.’ During the years from 1973 to 1975 we had more than enough excitement for even the most macho warrior, more than we could handle.” p. 192

American Like Me (CBR11 #17)

Badkittyuno reviewed this one and I immediately put it on my to read, and then picked it up at my first chance from Audible. American Like Me is a collection of 32 stories about what being American, whether they call themselves American enthusiastically, reluctantly, or not at all. Some of the authors have written previously, others have not, but America Ferrera gathered a wide variety of voices to capture a breadth of experiences. This book is full of the stories about life between cultures. The authors are actors, athletes, politicians, and artists. They are also immigrants themselves or the children and grandchildren of immigrants, indigenous people, regardless they are people who grew up with personal connections to more than one culture.

I listened to this quickly, and then reviewed it slowly – I suggest you do the opposite. There is a lot of similarity amongst the stories, not in tone or delivery but in their hearts, and for me some stories blurred together because of it. There were a few stand-outs, that I remember now a month later: Issa Rae and Randall Park especially. They bring both a personal warmth and their natural comedic natures to their chapters, but they also dig deeply into their personal stories even if it doesn’t necessarily feel that way at first glance. Park in particular approaches his in such a light-hearted manner that its more serious undertones take time develop.

The most important part for me in this was that each story had some component that rang true to my own lived experience, my own times along the boundaries of what make me American, and it is always going to come back to the variety of components that make up this life.  

This book was read and (eventually) reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won’t) (CBR7 #59)

I have a summertime tradition of reading autobiographies. I tend to stick with ones by comedians of various stripes, but that’s more happenstance than plan. I have had If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won’t) on my to read list since sometime in the winter of 2012. Well, I finally got my act together and here we are. I’m happy to report that if you love Betty White (and seriously, if you don’t how do you even live with yourself?) and are in need of a quick, fun, lighthearted read to take a break from your own life and peer into hers for a bit, then this is a book for you.

I read this book in one sitting. I hardly ever do that. While clocking in at 250+ pages, lots and lots of them are photographs of Betty through the years and the typeface is large and well-spaced on the page. If this book was formatted more like the novels I read it would probably clock in closer to 100 pages. But separate from that the nuggets of stories that Betty is telling, primarily focused on her life 2009-2011, and are quick and to the point. There isn’t much extra stuffing, but that doesn’t take away from the fluffy feeling of having an octogenarian (this was written before her 90th birthday in 2012) tell you things. I kept imagining sitting down with her for a cup of tea. Or some gin.

It was of no surprise to me that some of my favorite chapters focused around her time with Craig Ferguson or on the set of The Proposal (a role she almost passed on because it would require her to be away from her dog too much). But there were also interesting chapters on her marriage to Allen Ludden whom she lost to cancer, her choice to not have children, and her life as a child and how it influenced her work with animals. A good read, for sure.   

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, fighting cancer one book at a time.

Not My Father’s Son (CBR7 #51)

I love Alan Cumming. I don’t know exactly when or where he entered my life but I have always had affection for the Scotsman. When I discovered that he had written a memoir and that it was well received I decided to add it to my list of summer reads memoirs. Summer is officially underway (I just finished working my first week of summer camp) and I have listened to Mr. Cumming tell us a series of stories about his life.

Cumming does not aim to tell the whole of his life story, or even the story of his fame. Instead, he recounts the events of the summer of 2010 while he was filming an episode for the British version of the television show Who Do You Think You Are. I admit, I’m a sucker for this show, but have only seen its American cousin. He agrees to be a part of the show in order to answer a question for his mother whom he simply adores. You see, her father died under suspicious circumstances in Malaysia when he was 35 years old. In the lead up to his taking part in the show, Alan’s own estranged father, fearing what might be uncovered about his own connection to Alan, hits him with news that is completely unexpected and must be dealt with immediately.

Interspersed with the stories of Alan’s relationship with his father and his hunt for information about his maternal grandfather he takes us back and forth along the timeline of his life from growing up in Scotland to his early career, his first marriage, and his life with his husband. There is a lot that Cumming is working through and we’re better for taking the time to listen.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Stories I Only Tell My Friends (CBR4 #19)

You see celebrities of various stripes telling you about the latest book they’ve written on television or hear them on radio or see the advertisements as you bounce around the internet. Generally I think to myself, well I’m sure that’ll be interesting to someone and decide to leave it alone. For instance, this happened just the other night when Billy Bob Thornton was on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson shilling for his new book. This conversely was not the case when I saw Rob Lowe talking about his own memoir Stories I Only Tell My Friends. For a reason I have not yet been able to identify this time I thought, hey that looks intriguing.

And  honestly, it was.

Stories I Only Tell My Friends covers Lowe’s life from its beginnings in Virginia and Ohio to about the time he leaves The West Wing in 2003. Admittedly there’s a throw away paragraph outlining how he feels about being able to do dramatic and comedic work simultaneously in the post West Wing years (Brothers & Sisters and Parks and Rec respectively). While Lowe’s is an entertaining tale with the usual missteps I think the thing that caught me perhaps the most off guard was how much the public figure of ‘Rob Lowe the movie star’ did not line up with Rob Lowe saw himself, particularly in the 1980s.

The beginning of the autobiography tends to bounce around a little as far as chronology, generally hitting the memories that stand out to Rob about how he grew into the person he is and the memories and early experiences of an actor. It had not occurred to me that someone could feel so compelled to act at such a young age as Lowe did. I guess I always thought child actors enjoyed what they did because in some ways it’s the best game of make-believe ever, but I simply didn’t assign the idea of a professional drive to someone so young. Maybe I was wrong (completely possible) or maybe Lowe is remembering the way he wants. Either can be true, and either can be valid.

As far as tone this is a very open memoir in most ways. Lowe published this book after the death of his mother and he is very frank about his relationship with her and her ongoing health issues. He is less frank about his relationships with his brothers, but as they are alive and well and generally not part of his acting career it makes sense that they be excused the spotlight. Lowe talks honestly about how he felt during the ‘Brat Pack’ article’s publication and being perhaps the first celebrity with a sex tape and speaks openly about what led to his alcoholism and subsequent sobriety. But perhaps the most interesting thread woven throughout the memoir is that of the experiences along the way – the people, the work, the politics both Washington D.C. and California-based that inform who Rob Lowe ultimately is.

Much of the book is a trip down the IMDb page as he remembers it. The great part of this for me was the introduction to movies or projects I had missed (I was too young to see most of the movies Lowe starred in during his early career as they were released) as well as realizing that Lowe’s tone is a nice cross between two of my favorite characters of his – Sam Seaborn and Robert McCallister. This one’s worth a read if you are a Lowe fan generally speaking or a consumer of pop culture autobiographies.