Tag Archive | memoir

Book Review: Never Call Me a Hero

Never Call Me a Hero: A Legendary American Dive-Bomber Pilot Remembers the Battle of Midway, by N. Jack “Dusty” Kleiss, and Timothy and Laura Orr

What can you say about this man, other than the fact that he is, indeed, a hero? Born Norman Kleiss, he went by Jack, until a mistake on a Hawaiian airfield earned him the nickname Dusty for the rest of his time in the service.

Never Call Me a Hero: A Legendary American Dive-Bomber Pilot Remembers the Battle of Midway

Jack Kleiss wanted to be an aviator early on and set his goal toward getting into the US Naval Academy. He then had the opportunity to attend flight school, where he was trained as a fighter pilot. The United States declaration of war after Pearl Harbor led to his being stationed on a naval aircraft carrier.

Kleiss’ most significant combat operation in the war was as a participant in the Battle of Midway, a battle between the US and Japanese naval forces. Three US and four Japanese aircraft carriers were involved, as well as numerous heavy and light cruisers and destroyers on both fleets. The US was still reeling from the attack on Pearl Harbor but was able to strike a decisive blow to the Japanese fleet. In all the Japanese lost all four of their aircraft carriers and a heavy cruiser, with another heavy cruiser sustaining damage. Over 3,000 Japanese sailors and aircrew lost their lives.

Kleiss’ book is written with the humble style so common among World War II veterans, the characteristic, “I was just doing my job,” deflections when someone points out the significance of the sacrifice he made for our country. He says a number of times that his fallen comrades are the real heroes, the men who were shot down as they bombed their targets, or worse, ran out of gas on their flight back to their carrier, because they were sent out knowing there wouldn’t be enough fuel for the return trip. And those men are truly heroes, but that doesn’t make Jack less so.

This poignant memoir relates his tale of the Battle of Midway, but also his long marriage to his wife Jean and his family, which he considers his real accomplishment. His simple style is relatable and easy to read, and he is honest enough to share his failings, as well as his frustrations with his superiors and colleagues. Jack had a long career in the Navy, training pilots after Midway, then moving into the private sector for a period before retirement.

Jack Kleiss lived to be 100 years old, another memorable accomplishment, but sadly died shortly before this memoir was published. We can’t tell him now, but he really was a hero.

4 stars.

Book Review: Talking as Fast as I Can

I love Lauren Graham. I mean, not really, but figuratively… If you don’t know her, she’s an actor in one of my favorite shows ever.  I fell in love with her during her seven year run as Lorelai Gilmore in the Gilmore Girls, where she is witty, charming and funny, as she tries to have a career, family and a relationship in a world that often seems stacked against us.

Her fast talking and wit became a hallmark of the show, along with her commitment-phobia, love of coffee and a good burger, and fierce commitment to her daughter. She was a teenage mom who went from high school dropout to manager of a boutique inn, and tried to mend her fractured relationship with her parents so her daughter could have the best opportunities in life.  I was enthralled, and sad when it ended.

This book is a memoir that discusses her career and rise to fame, and focuses quite a bit on Gilmore Girls and its impact on Graham’s life. She treats it as a bit of a tell-all, although according to Graham, there isn’t a lot of gossip to be had. The actors genuinely loved and cared for one another and it showed.

She explains her early acting career, how she got the Gilmore Girls part, and even dives into her personal life to a degree.  I don’t really follow celebrities, but Graham is a woman I could see myself going camping with.  It helps that she knows her way around an REI store.

The book is funny and insightful; and basically all the things you would expect a memoir by Lauren Graham to be. Graham reads the audio book version and I think she did a great job.

4 stars.

 

Book Review: Furiously Happy

Recently I listened to the audio-book version of Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson.  Lawson, aka The Bloggess, is hilarious. She is irreverent and crass, and has a very macabre sense of humor and interests. She brings her crazy sense of humor to her readers in writings that are laugh out loud funny.

She is generally inappropriate, loves animals and her people, and has a wonderful fascination with all things weird.  She likes visiting strange roadside attractions, collects taxidermied animals and creepy dolls, and dresses up her pets.  She also drops the f-bomb a lot.  I’m pretty sure she would take photos of historic toilets.  I feel like she’s my spirit animal, doing all the things I would love to do but often don’t because I’m a rule follower, and I have a job where a modicum of professionalism is required.

This book is a memoir of her adult life and her struggles with depression and anxiety. She is candid and raw and tells the reader about times when she is tempted to self-harm, times she does not want to get out of bed, times when her mental illness tells her the most insidious negative things about herself. She decided that instead of being embarrassed or ashamed, she would use her fame to bring light to the issue.

Lawson’s style isn’t for everyone, but if you can poke fun at your own self and make light of a difficult topic, you have my vote.

4 stars.

Book Review: Dharma Girl

When I picked up Dharma Girl, by Chelsea Cain, at the library book sale, I didn’t know that author Chelsea Cain had spent a portion of her childhood in my hometown.  In fact, although I knew I had heard of this memoir, I had no idea where or how.

Dharma-Girl

Dharma Girl is the memoir of a girl growing up in Iowa, and years later decides to move home after living for years in the Pacific Northwest and California.  Her mother’s cancer diagnosis is a factor, as well as her desire to find her way home.  She and her mother road trip from Portland to Iowa, where they find what’s left of the “family” they left behind, a group of people who shared their home in a sort of hippie commune farm.

There was nothing earth shattering about this book.  I found it hard to relate to Cain.  Her upbringing, which on the surface seemed nothing like mine, clearly defined her, but aside from having hippie parents, there wasn’t a lot that made her life any different than millions of other kids.  The parents had hippie friends – check.  They had a lot of animals – check.  They grew their own vegetables and did odd jobs and hid out from the draft – ok.  Bu they also loved her, fed her and nurtured her.  On a deeper level, the only thing that seemed odd was that she didn’t seem to have any child friends, but I think she just didn’t write about that.

Her mom had cancer when she was a young adult – yep, I can relate to that.  But you make of it what you will.  You deal with it, you get through it, and you move on.  What other option is there?

The book wasn’t bad at all; I just found it – plain.  She is a good storyteller, but the elements of the story were lacking.  There was no defining moment, no climax, no real drama.  Just a vanilla childhood in a small town.  It was an easy, quick read, but otherwise it didn’t stand out for me at all.  Maybe others could get a lot more from this book than I did, but there you have it.

Book Review: Me: Stories of My Life

A few days ago I finished, Me: Stories of My Life, by Katharine Hepburn.  I wanted to like this memoir more than I did.  I have long admired Katharine Hepburn’s acting.  She is incredibly intelligent, and took Hollywood by storm in an era when female actors did not have a whole lot of control over their professional fates.

Her story is fascinating.  From her early career to her later roles, she tells her opinions on directors, producers, her personal assistants, and pretty much everything about the industry.  She talks about the roles she felt she was most successful in, the ones she felt were a flop, and the ones where she used her influence to have a movie made the way she wanted it made.

The support of her family and friends was incredible, and she is open about how much she received from them during her career.  She devotes a good portion of her book to her personal relationships, from her early career to her elderly years.  She talks about her marriage to her husband Luddy, a kind, supportive man who wanted nothing but the best for her, even if it wasn’t with him.  After their divorce, they remained friends until his death, with him attending family functions with her family even if she wasn’t there.

I have two gripes with the book.  First, her writing style is terrible, with choppy sentences, sentence fragments, and an odd train-of-thought style of flow.  It makes for a quick read, but it is pretty irritating.

My other gripe – let’s be honest, I wanted the dirt…  Hepburn dispatches her entire relationship with Spencer Tracy in a few short pages at the end of the book.  She was with him for 27 years, and he only gets a few short pages?  I wanted to know more about how they met, how they became a couple, why he decided to remain married, etc.  And nothing…

I can’t imagine that I’m the only curious one.  At the point the book was written, Tracy and his wife were both dead, so…  What’s the point of a memoir if you are going to leave out the most interesting part?

Anyway…  I still think Katharine Hepburn is fascinating, but I am glad I didn’t pay much for the book…  Some celebrities shouldn’t write books…

A Thing…

So… I decided to do a thing.  I have a bit of extra time right now, so what better opportunity is there?

I decided to write a book.  My thought right now is that it will be about my trip, commingled with the last couple years of my life.  The record of my experience; my emotions, my fears, my successes, my failures.  What the trip meant to me, and what the people in my life mean to me.  A memoir, I guess. There will likely be some overlap with this blog, but this blog has always been more about the things I do and see, rather than the emotional experience of it…

I have no idea if it will go anywhere, or be any good, or if it will just collect dust on my hard drive, but I will never know if I don’t write it.

I wrote some pages today.  You have to start somewhere.  Everybody starts somewhere.  Am I just crazy?

Book Review: West with the Night

I had never heard of Beryl Markham before, so when this audio-book popped up on the library website, I was intrigued.  Markham was the first female to do a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean from East to West – this flight was much harder than the other direction due to the strong headwinds.  She accomplished this feat on September 4, 1936, at the age of 31.

Markham’s life was amazing in many other ways.  Born in England, her family moved to Kenya when she was four years old, and she spent her childhood among lions and other African wildlife, hunting boar, and riding the racehorses her father trained.

As an adult, she moved into her father’s occupation of racehorse training, and became a celebrated trainer in Kenya.  She also learned to fly planes, and became the first female bush pilot in Africa, flying scouting missions for hunting parties as well as providing transportation around a country with few usable roads.

The book was published in 1942, and is a memoir of her life, from early childhood through her amazing solo flight.  Her writing evokes the images of life in rural Africa; you feel as if you are actually in that plane with her, looking down on the elephants and zebra below.  Her character development is superb – the cast from her life was a unique and motley crew.

Markham is a fantastic writer, but I do wish that she had spent a little more time on her Trans-Atlantic flight.  It is really only given a little bit of time at the very end of the book.  Beyond that, my only gripe would be that the audio-book reader had a bit of a monotone reading voice, which was a distraction at first.

I enjoyed this book thoroughly, learning about a strong woman and an important historical figure.  She broke barriers in a world that didn’t give women a lot of chances to do amazing things; she single-handedly did several.

If you have a chance to read it, I hope you will.  If you have already, please let me know what you thought!