My Life in France, by Julia Child, with Alex Prud’homme
After watching “Julie and Julia”, an movie with two plot lines – one about Julia Child’s life in France and how she wrote her cookbook, and one about a woman who decides gives herself one year to make every reciepe in the cookbook, and writes a blog about the project, I decided to read “My Life in France” for myself.
Its a charming book, telling the story of how Julia Child fell in love with French food, taught herself to cook, and then wrote the definitive cookbook. Full of cute antecdotes, it tracks many of the struggles she and Paul fought through, but never becomes depressing. Its a great read, and makes me want to learn more about Julia Child, who seems to have been a pretty amazing woman.
The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man’s Quest to Be a Better Husband, by David Finch (2012)
Peter Finch was having problems with his wife before he was diagnosed with Aspergers. Determined to fix his marriage and become a better husband, he began taking notes about the do’s and dont’s that seemed obvious to everyone else. In this book he talks about the experience and many of the challenges he faced. I first heard about this as part of a story on NPR, so I couldn’t resist when I came across it at the library. A good read, and an excellent follow up if you enjoyed “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.
Kook: What surfing taught me about love, life and catching the perfect wave. By Peter Heller (2010)
Peter Heller tried surfing as part of a vacation with a friend and immediately fell in love. Although he started as a “kook” – a novice who flails about unnecessarily, he set a goal for himself of going from novice to surfing a tube in 6 months, with the result being this book. He and his girlfriend Kim get an old VW van and set off for the coasts of California and Mexico in pursuit of the perfect waves.
To be honest, I found Mr. Heller came off seeming rather arrogant. He continues to claim “novice” status as an excuse for obnoxious behavior on the waves, but begins dropping surfer jargon as he describes waves which left the reader lost. The book at times felt like a half-hearted apology to his girlfriend – he often commented on his own mis-steps in the relationship, but failed to fix them. He constantly talks about surfing as a way of life, but takes it as something he attempts to cram into 6 months. And finally, which I found most upsetting, despite the excessive guidance he receives from more experienced surfers we don’t see him turning to help others who are learning. While it was exciting to read about someone learning to surf, Mr. Heller seems to have missed the ocean for the waves (to modify a saying) in really understanding surfing.
Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, by Alexandra Fuller (2002)
The Prequel to “Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness” (in which she focuses on her mother’s life), this is the story of Alexandra Fuller’s childhood growing up in Africa.
While it was interesting to see how the various revolutions and wars affected her family, my favorite parts of this book were about the day to day life of the family. As a child, Alexandra (known as Bobo to her family) took many things in stride that would send your average American reader (me) running for the first jet back to a first world country.
While I very much enjoyed this book, I made the mistake of reading “Cocktail Hour…” first, and, as I had already been acquainted with many of the major life events of the family, found myself constantly on the lookout for what I knew was coming next.* If you have not read either of these, I recommend them both (but I also recommend you read this one first!)
Alexandra writes of her love of Africa, but while she visits her parents (no small feat given the distance!), I believe she currently lives in America. I would love to hear more about her experiences coming to a new lifestyle, and how she made the decision to leave her homeland.
* One of the major events is the death of her siblings – the Fuller family lost more then one child. The next book I read, The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, also deals with the loss of a sibling.
Cocktail Hour under the Tree of Forgetfulness, by Alexandra Fuller (2011)
Alexandra Fuller presents the biography of her mother, Nicola Fuller of Central Africa in this charming book about life in Africa. Nicola was born on the Scottish Isle of Skye, but quickly escaped to Africa where she met her husband and began her life in Kenya. The couple moved through Rhodesia to Zambia (including a brief time in England), conquering the challenges of daily life, but surviving their share of loss, with a few precious possessions (including a set of orange le creuset cookware) that always makes the journey.
Nicola certainly has lead an unusual life, starting with her best friend as a toddler (Stephen Foster, a chimpanzee – see cover photo), and growing from there. She is a brave, adventurous woman not afraid to face a challenge, and Alexandra does a wonderful job of preseting the story of her mother in a book that is full of amusing anecdotes.
No Footprints in the Sand: A Memoir of Kalaupapa
By Henry Nalaielua and Sally-Jo Bowman (2006)
Henry Nalaielua was one of the patients diagnosed with Hansen’s disease (leprosy) in the 1930s. At that time, little was known about the disease. Henry was first sent to a hospital, but eventually was moved to Kalaupapa – a colony on a peninsula on the island of Molokai, one of the smaller islands in the Hawaiian archipelago. Although this was originally considered to be akin to a death sentence, and a place he would never leave, with medical advances his disease was brought under control. Henry was eventually allowed to leave the island, but returned whenever he suffered flare-ups of the disease and soon came to consider the island his home. In later days he became a bit of a historian for the island, and was persuaded by his co-author, Sally-Jo Bowman, to write his biography. In doing so, they have created a wonderful first-hand account of an important part of Hawaiian history.
The easy voice of this book does a wonderful job of presenting the life of Henry, and is a first-hand account of a life in Hawaii.
The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood, by Helene Cooper (2008)
Helene Cooper was born in Liberia, the descendant of two important Liberian families that go back to the founding of the very nation, they sailed on the first ship in 1820. As a young child, her family moved from their city home in Monrovia to a house on the ocean 11 miles outside of town (Sugar Beach). What is a family to do when their city-born daughter is afraid of the darkness and noises of the country? Bring in another sister! The family soon all-but-adopted Eunice, in the Liberian tradition of raising her as their own.
The first half of the book tells of growing up in Liberia in a delightful and amusing tone that conveys the feeling of the time by helpful background and amusing anecdotes (which reminded me of “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid”), but the book turns in the second half when rebellion and civil war drives Helene’s mother (Mommee) to take her daughters to America. As the family is torn apart, Helene grows up and follows her dream of becoming a reporter. Although she adopts America as her new home, she remains a child of Liberia.