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Tag: Memoir

My Favourite Book of 2014, Mark Penney

by Dan
Graphica / December 10, 2014

If you’ve seen Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line you’ll be well-prepared for what you’re getting into with Showa 1944-1953. The anti-war tone and island imagery are very similar; both tales also revolve around a central character whose positive experiences with native islanders contrast sharply with what they’re forced to endure fighting a short distance away.

I think that, like me, you too will be surprised when Shigeru Mizuki makes it out of the war alive (forgetting for a moment that there is a fourth volume coming that deals with events into the 1980s). It’s surprising that he survives not only physically, but also emotionally. If you’ve read the first two volumes, you know that Shigeru Mizuki’s possesses a unique sense of humour that is often expressed through his ravenous appetite and staggering capacity for punishment. That he didn’t lose his sense of humour or his life despite the severe mental and physical trials he went through is deeply affecting.
Mizuki’s escape from the war isn’t an escape from suffering. Postwar Japan was a hard place, and although Mizkui seems finally to have escaped regular beatings, his prodigious hunger rarely gets a break amid regular food shortages and frequent unemployment. Fishmongery will not contain Mizuki’s energies; running a boarding house merely provides an insecure launch pad into the world of professional art. We leave volume three with Mizuki poised for great accomplishment.

Showa 1953-1989 will be coming soon, but I really feel that Showa 1944-1953 is the heart of the story.

Mark Penney, Ampersand Inc

My Favourite Book of 2014, Dan Wagstaff

by Dan
Biography & Memoir / December 05, 2014

"There have been many books and articles that revel in describing exactly how grotesque and shameful the behaviour of alcoholic writers can be. That wasn't my intention. What I wanted was to discover how each of these men — and, along the way, some of the many others who'd suffered from the disease — experienced and thought about their addiction. If anything, it was an expression of my faith in literature and its power to map the more difficult regions of human experience and knowledge." 

Olivia Laing, The Trip to Echo Spring


As I spend almost every day with books and authors, I think I’m probably predisposed to find stories about writers and alcohol fascinating—it rather comes with the territory. But you don’t have to work in publishing to be hooked by The Trip to Echo Spring by Olivia Laing, you just have to love great writing. 

F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman, John Cheever, and Raymond Carver were some of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. They were friends, allies, students, mentors and inspirations. They were also alcoholics. Booze defined their work and their everyday lives.

In The Trip to Echo Spring, Laing—who grew up in an alcoholic family herself—tries to get to grips with these men and their troubled relationship with alcohol by visiting the places they were closely associated with. As she criss-crosses the United States, slowly connecting the dots between them, it becomes a quest of sorts:

“I thought it might be possible to build a kind of topographical map of alcoholism, tracing its developing contours from the pleasures of intoxication through the gruelling realities of the drying-out process. As I worked across the country, passing back and forth between books and lives, I hoped I might come closer to understanding what alcohol addiction means, or at least to finding out what those who struggled with and were sometimes destroyed by it thought alcohol had meant to them.”

The result is a lyrical and introspective attempt to better understand these writers, and an poignant examination of addiction's parasitic connection to creativity—how is that alcohol can inspire writers even as it gnaws away at them? There are no easy answers here. But reading Laing's book is like floating slowly down a meandering river. It's best if you just let yourself be carried along.

(PS: if you’re curious about the title, it comes from a line in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. ‘Echo Spring’ is a nickname for a liquor cabinet.)

New Releases: February 2014 Highlights

by Dan
Biography & Memoir + Fiction + Kids + YA Fiction / January 23, 2014


Lunar Chronicles Book #3

Marisa Meyer

In this third book in Marissa Meyer's bestselling Lunar Chronicles series, Cinder and Captain Thorne are fugitives on the run, now with Scarlet and Wolf in tow. Together, they're plotting to overthrow Queen Levana and prevent her army from invading Earth. Their best hope lies with Cress, a girl trapped on a satellite since childhood.

Ages 12+

Available February 4


The Wily O'Reilly 

Irish Country Stories

Patrick Taylor

Long before Dr. Fingal Flahertie O'Reilly made most readers' acquaintance in Patrick Taylor's bestselling novel An Irish Country Doctor, he appeared in a series of humorous columns originally published in Stitches: The Journal of Medical Humour. Now those seminal columns have been collected in one convenient volume.

Available February 4

Confessions of a Wild Child

Jackie Collins

Lucky Santangelo. A fifteen-year-old wild child ready to discover life, love and independence. Daughter of the notorious Gino, Lucky discovers her mother's murdered body floating in the family swimming pool at the tender age of four. Since then Gino has kept her protected from life closeted in their Bel Air mansion. But in Jackie Collins' Confessions of a Wild Child, Lucky finally breaks free, and running away from boarding school the adventures begin. 

Available February 4

Real Mermaids

Real Mermaids Don't Sell Seashells 

Hélène Boudreau

A tropical vacation sounds like the perfect way to spend fall break-even for an aqua-phobic mer-girl like Jade. She can't wait to enjoy the warm sunshine and all-you-can-eat buffet with her best friend Cori and boyfriend Luke. (That's right. Boyfriend. It's official.) But when a body splashes into the water as a cruise ship enters the harbour, Jade realizes there might be trouble in paradise. 

Ages 9-12

Available February 4

The Sixth Extinction

An Unnatural History

Elizabeth Kolbert

Two-time winner of the National Magazine Award and New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert draws on the work of scores of researchers in half a dozen disciplines, accompanying many of them into the field: geologists who study deep ocean cores, botanists who follow the tree line as it climbs up the Andes, marine biologists who dive off the Great Barrier Reef. She introduces us to a dozen species, some already gone, others facing extinction, including the Panamian golden frog, staghorn coral, the great auk, and the Sumatran rhino. Through these stories, Kolbert provides a moving account of the disappearances occurring all around us and traces the evolution of extinction as concept, from its first articulation by Georges Cuvier in revolutionary Paris up through the present day. 

Available February 11

Shlepping the Exile 

Michael Wex

Confronted with dying people, an ailing culture, the perils of near-orphanhood and the allures of Sabina Mandelbroit, whose family doesn't keep the Sabbath, Yoine Levkes can no longer tell whether he's a human being or a loot-bag of conflicting traditions. He's too religious to be 'normal,' too 'normal' not to realize this, and too much of akid to be able to make any sense of it. Shlepping the Exile is Michael Wex's inside portrait of orthodox, post-Holocaust Judaism in a place that it never expected to be.


Available February 18

I Can See Clearly Now 

Dr. Wayne W. Dyer

In this revealing and engaging memoir, Wayne shares dozens of events from his life, from the time he was a little boy in Detroit up to present day. In unflinching detail, he relates his vivid impressions of encountering many forks in the road, taking readers with him into these formative experiences. Yet then he views the events from his current perspective, noting what lessons he ultimately learned, as well as how he has made the resulting wisdom available to millions via his lifelong dedication to service.


Available February 25

Tin Star 

Cecil Castellucci

Relying on your wits can only get you so far when you are light years away from Earth.

Beaten and left for dead, sixteen-year-old Tula Bane finds herself abandoned on a remote space station with aliens she must work to understand. When three humans crash-land onto the station, Tula’s desire for companionship becomes unavoidable and romantic sparks fly between her and one of the new arrivals. But just as Tula begins to concoct a plan to get off the space station and kill the man responsible for her situation, everything goes awry, and suddenly romance is the furthest thing for her mind.

Ages 12+

Available February 25

Olivia Laing on Writers and Drinking

by Dan
Biography & Memoir / December 17, 2013

A Trip to Exile Spring

In her forthcoming book The Trip to Echo Spring (published later this month by Picador), Olivia Laing examines the link between writing and drinking through the lives of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman, John Cheever, and Raymond Carver. 

All six of these writers were alcoholics and not only did they drink together, the subject of drinking surfaces in some of their finest work. 

Having grown up in an alcoholic family herself, Laing travelled from Cheever's New York to Williams's New Orleans, and from Hemingway's Key West to Carver's Port Angeles, trying to make sense of this ferocious, entangling disease, and to unravel the high price of creativity:


My Favourite Book of 2013, Larisa Sviridova

by Dan
Biography & Memoir / December 12, 2013

The Book of My Lives

You think you know who you are. You have a degree or two. You have a job and a family. Perhaps you even have an expensive car, a house and a dog. Imagine one day finding yourself not having any of the above. You are thousands of miles away from what you thought was your home and you have nothing. Who are you? An alien.

The ingenious German social psychologist and philosopher Erich Fromm said: "If I am what I have and if I lose what I have who then am I?”  A collection of essays written by Aleksandar Hemon, an American writer of Bosnian descent, The Book of my Lives is about who we are, how we become what we think we are and how we lose ourselves by losing what we had. This book caught me off-guard. It made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me suffer. I didn't read it—I lived through it.

Hemon writes about his childhood in socialist Yugoslavia, and I have a feeling that I played on the same playground. “… we were all Pioneers and we all loved socialism, our country, and it’s greatest son…”. He remembers his family's borscht and I can feel the taste of it in my mouth. “… the food needs to be prepared on the low but steady fire of love and consumed in a ritual of indelible togetherness.” He tells about his first months in America, “… my displacement was metaphysical to the precisely same extent to which it was physical.”Still is for me. 

What if you lose someone you truly love? Suddenly all you have is solely pain.

My favorite book of the year, The Book of my Lives written by Alexandar Hemon.

Larisa Sviridova, Data Specialist

My Favourite Books of 2012, Larisa Sviridova

by Dan
December 10, 2012

As long as I can remember, I was always interested in other people's life stories. There is something almost mystical in being able to learn who was the woman that inspired a famous writer/artist/composer or what psychological childhood trauma formed the personality of a cruel dictator. Not only famous people have something to say. You can find magic in everyday life of ordinary people. While reading memoirs you can be hit by the fact that your own experience might not be completely unique, you are not alone, you are not lonely.


My favourite memoir of 2012 was Poser: My Life in Twenty-three Yoga Poses by Claire Dederer published by Picador. Don't judge too fast—this is not the book about yoga, or not only about yoga. You don't have to be a yogee or even know anything about ityou will still enjoy the book. At some point of author's life yoga helps her look inside herself, realize who she actually was and get strength to tell us about what she found out. Every time introducing a new yoga posture she tells us a new story. A story of her mother and other women in early 70th, of relationship between children and divorced parents, of different approaches to family, job and parenting, of struggles to find a healthy balance between all that. Is yoga able to help find the balance? The answer is “yes”.

The Dog Lived

There is another biography book I want to tell you about – Teresa Rhyne’s Dog Lived (and So Will I) from Sourcebooks. First Teresa’s beloved dog, the spoiled and cheerful beagle Seamus and then the author herself are being diagnosed with cancer. They need a lot of temper and courage to go through all pain and frustration caused by this deadly disease. With a great sense of humour Teresa tells us what cancer patients need from us healthy people, and what we should probably avoid in our striving for being supportive. Teresa also explains what her dog means to her and what she is ready to sacrifice for her pet. Do you also wonder why some people are ready to spend thousands of dollars for their dogs when others prefer expensive cars, vacations and exclusive club memberships? Read the book!

Suddenly A Knock on the Door

Every morning I drive my kid to school, then I head to the office and back home after work. I spend hours in traffic as many other people do. Does the fact that I can't read while driving mean I must listen to endless annoying advertising on the radio all the time? Not at all! Thanks to a smart person, who invented audiobooks, whose name is unknown to me (I say thank you every time I push the "on" button on the player.) Suddenly, a Knock on the Door, a great collection of short stories written by Etgar Keret, had been accompanying me in audio format a few weeks this summer. Unlike two previous books of my choice, this is nothing close to biography. The world of Keret’s stories is fantastic and ordinary at the same time, partly absurd and partly ironic. In his stories you will meet characters from your childhood lies, catch a golden fish and struggle for a right wish again and again, talk to animals, and despite all your life experience, deeply believe in a power of wish.

Street lights, please stay red, I have another story to listen to.

Larissa, Data Specialist  

Minka: Now a Beautiful Documentary Short

by Dan
Architecture / February 29, 2012

Way back in 2010, I mentioned that John Roderick's charming architectural memoir Minka: My Farmhouse in Japan was being adapted into a film

Almost 2 years later, the award-winning domentary short is now available in its entirety onlineFilmed just following his death at 93, Roderick's adopted son Yoshihiro Takishita talks about the house they acquired together in 1967 (while Roderick was working as journalist for the Associated Press in Japan) and muses about the meaning of home: 


Paying For It

by Dan
Graphica / May 02, 2011

paying for it

Chester Brown's controversial new book Paying For It — both a contemporary defence of prostitution and a memoir of his personal experiences  is out this week, and the Toronto author was profiled in both the Globe and Mail and the National Post this weekend. Brad Mackay also reviewed the book for the Globe:

As is the case in most of his other autobiographical comics, Brown sets himself up as the target of the jokes. Joe Matt, a good friend and recurring character in Brown’s work, gets the lion’s share of the yucks here. I especially liked Matt’s reaction after he learns Brown has visited a prostitute: “This is disturbing, but it’s also good gossip.”

Of course, the art is as idiosyncratic as ever. Brown forgoes the six-panel grid and turns down the cross-hatching that he used in Louis Riel for a small, rectangular eight-panel layout inspired in part by the comics of Carl Barks. These oblong panels house some of the year’s most effective cartooning, capable of lending dignity to even the most awkward sex scenes.

You can also read reviews in The Walrus magazine, and at the Comics Reporter and Robot 6

Chester will be at the Toronto Comics Art Festival this coming weekend and at the Vancouver Public Library on May 18th. 

Minka Documentary

by Dan
Architecture + Film / November 30, 2010


Minka: My Farmhouse in Japan

In Fall 2007, our friends at Princeton Architectural Press published Minka: My Farmhouse In Japan, the memoir of retired AP foreign correspondent John Roderick. Inspired by the story of this remarkable house and the memories it contained, and with seed funding from the Graham Foundation, Birdlings Films began work on a documentary film about John, his adopted son architect Yoshihiro Takishita, and the 250-year old house they shared. 

The film is still a work in progress, but you can watch the trailer now and help support the completion of the documentary at the fund-raising site Kickstarter: