Category Archives: True story

*** Hourglass by Dani Shapiro

Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage is a memoir that’s really a reflection about time and is full of wonderfully observed details. How minute body language changes tells her that her husband is rattled by a surprise encounter, how her aunt’s china symbolizes her happy engagement, how successful people may have amassed truly awful report cards, how we can wonder about a path not taken. It will make you wonder about your own choices.

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* The Man Who Knew by Sebastian Mallaby

I suspect that most people who boast of  having read The Man Who Knew: The Life and Times of Alan Greenspan have not, in fact, persevered through 800 pages. (I did, but quickly…)  It’s too bad, since we should probably all know a little more about the Federal Reserve Bank and how financial policy is set but a book this long and this detailed will comfort us in the thought that all this stuff is just too complicated and too tedious.

My favorite part of the book, as is often the case, was Greenspan personal history, a math prodigy raised by a single mother who was utterly devoted to him, and who saw himself at a pure libertarian and statistician — quite at odds with his later political career as a regulator!

The book focuses on his not seeing the 2008 bubble coming, which is a little too easy to say in hindsight — but certainly it was no secret that the real-estate market was bubbling. And to fill the 800 pages we get abundant details about Ayn Rand’s lovers, White House parties, how Greenspan proposed to his second wife, and of course who said what to whom at various Oval Office meetings. Where are the Cliff Notes?

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*** The Long Haul by Finn Murphy

 

I loved The Long Haul: A Trucker’s Tales of Life on the Road. Written (well! unlike many bios) by a truck driver who specializes in so-called executive moves that can involve Chinese antiques and demanding owners, it takes us behind the scenes of the trucking industry. It starts with a terrifying descent from a Rockies pass (did you ever wonder about those runaway truck ramps? they don’t do much, apparently) but he also talks about truck stops, truckers’ finances, and the funny rivalries between sub-specialties (for some reason movers are despised).

The best parts of the book for me were his personal history and the complex processes that run the moving business. He describes how he got into trucking in the first place (dropping out of a fine college) and how each long-distance move, even in the rarefied executive realm, places the hauler in the center of a complex web of dispatchers, packers, loaders, and unloaders. A very satisfying look at an industry and a lifestyle I did not know much about.

 

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** Called to Rise by David Brown

The life story told in Called to Rise: A Life in Faithful Service to the Community That Made Me is fascinating, as we follow David Brown from a childhood with a single (and fierce!) mother all the way to the head of the Dallas police department. The personal story, complete with the tragic, drug-related deaths of a brother and his son , is haunting and inspiring at the same time.

The book is also interesting when it discusses policing approaches in large cities, although the language swarms with clichés and expressions that sound like they are coming straight from a (not so enlightened) soft skills training session. And overall the writing could use a good editing assist.

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*** The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs

A memoir by a young woman (and mother of two) who died of breast cancer may not be the most appealing book to add to your summer reading list — but The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying is so accomplished, so funny (really), and so grounded in reality that you really should read it. Prepare a tissue or ten — her mother is also herself dying, of cancer, during that time — but the general tone is not depressing. What I liked most about the book, aside from her son’s lovely comments and questions, is the way she describes the juxtaposition of the mundane and the profound, the dying and the living, the traumatic and the casual insults of everyday life. It’s a perfect example of the power of showing rather than telling.

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** My Life with Bob by Pamela Paul

My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues starts with a delicious premise: the author has kept a journal of all the books she has read since her teenager days. It makes me feel good that I’m not the only eccentric who keeps a record of everything she reads. (She reports she has heard from many others who thought they were the only ones to keep track!)

This book is not Bob (book of books); it is a memoir of the author, and while parts of it were delightful to me, others were not. In the delightful category: the description of her childhood with books, with adults unhelpfully suggesting that she was going to ruin her eyes by reading, her dad feeding her book habit, and an extensive knowledge of words she cannot pronounce, having discovered them solely by reading. Also delightful: the conflict between her choices of books suitable to interest her children, and what they thought was suitable. The description of her young adult travels and the long commentaries about books the reader may not have read, or cannot remember reading: not so delightful.

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** Between Them by Richard Ford

Between Them is a sweet remembrance of the author’s parents, who had him late in their marriage, after many years of driving all over the South, visiting his father’s clients. They were regular folks, so this is not a name-dropping memoir, and they loved each other and him, so no drama, although sometimes their bond seems so strong as to exclude all others, even their son.

The book is written in two parts, one about his father and the other about his mother, so there are repeats that may have been avoided but the book is short enough that it’s not a serious annoyance. It’s refreshing to read about normal people.

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