Archive for October, 2009

October 31st, 2009

Ambrose Bierce, Alone in Bad Company by Roy Morris, JR.

by Gwen

Ambrose Bierce, Alone in Bad Company by Roy Morris, JR.

Ambrose Bierce might best be described as the forgotten man these days, but in his time, he wielded an amazing amount of journalistic power. He lambasted one and all in his editorial columns, usually based in San Francisco, in the late 1800’s and his “Devil’s Dictionary” is still quoted often today.

Having served in the Union Army during the Civil War, many of his short stories were based on his experiences and viewpoints of the battles at Shiloh, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, and Kennesaw Mountain. While they were fiction, aspects of Bierce himself and his macabre view of humanity always shined though. (Many of his short stories are available online here.)

Cantankerous, cynical, morbid and just plain unhappy with how his life turned out, Ambrose Bierce disappeared in 1914 on a supposed trip to see what the deal was with the Mexican Revolution. One day he just stopped writing and no one heard from him again. Several searches were launched and scholars/investigators are still puzzled to where he ended up to this day. There is even speculation that the trip to Mexico was a hoax and he actually committed suicide in the Grand Canyon.

Back to the biography- Just 4 years of Bierce’s life was spent fighting the Civil War, yet Morris devoted over 100 pages of a 270 page book to his experiences in it. While I understand that Bierce’s talent was his short stories based on the war, so the time spent in it was important, slogging through 100 pages of battle history was really unnecessary to get a good idea of the man.
Especially since the author himself added at the end that Bierce was pretty much the same morbid guy that he was at the beginning of the war!

Other than that, the book left me with a better understanding of a man that was pretty much misunderstood in his time. Isn’t that what a biography is for?

Ambrose Bierce, Alone in Bad Company
by Roy Morris, JR.

Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (March 25, 1999)
ISBN-10: 0195126289
ISBN-13: 978-0195126280

October 28th, 2009

Lit: A Memoir by Mary Karr

by Gwen

Lit: A Memoir by Mary Karr

Mary Karr has proven my own personal idea that behind every alcoholic is a creative comedic genius just crying to get out. Lit is not only her story of getting sober, but of how she stumbled into writing memoirs.

If you have ever wondered what goes on inside the twisted mind of an alcoholic, but wanted to be laughing while learning, this is the book. Karr’s ability to laugh at her own insane antics while writing about her road to recovery had me, at times, laughing so hard that I was crying.

Let me just give you a taste….

”If you’d told me even a year before I start taking my son to church regular that I’d wind up whispering my sins in the confessional or on my knees saying the rosary, I would’ve laughed myself cockeyed. More likely pastime? Pole dancer. International spy. Drug mule. Assassin.”

I have read many memoirs about getting drunk, getting sober and just plain getting over a tough childhood, but seldom have I been treated to someone letting it all hang out with a wry wit, a touch or sarcasm, and such openness as Mary Karr gifted us all in Lit.

There are a few, I think unique, ways that I measure books and their worth. One way is when passages touch me so much that I follow Art around the house, constantly telling him, “(You have to hear this.” I have to give him a hug for putting up with me on this.)

The second, and most important, way that I judge a book is by how it changes me or my outlook when I am done reading. There are great books that entertain, fill time, or maybe make me wish that I had been a spy as opposed to what I do now, but very few are good enough to not only entertain you and give you a few lightning bolt moments.

Lit, gave me a few of those moments where I suddenly understood some things that have baffled me for years. I may not be as far along in my recovery as Mary Karr is, but I am further along thanks to reading her work.

Lit: A Memoir
By Mary Karr

Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher: Harper (November 3, 2009)
ISBN-10: 0060596988
ISBN-13: 978-0060596989

For more about Lit: A Memoir and Mary Karr check out Harper Collins