Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Let Me Tell You a Story

Two or Three Things I Know For Sure by Dorothy Allison
Reviewed by Diane K.M.
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is one of the best memoirs I have ever read. I was so blown away by Dorothy Allison's writing that it felt like she had lobbed a grenade into the room, exploding with beautiful and haunting language.

The memoir tells the story of Dorothy's family and her childhood in rural South Carolina. The title comes from something her Aunt Dot used to say: "Lord, girl, there's only two or three things I know for sure ... Only two or three things. That's right. Of course it's never the same things, and I'm never as sure as I'd like to be."

This is how the memoir begins:

"'Let me tell you a story,' I used to whisper to my sisters, hiding with them behind the red-dirt bean hills and row on row of strawberries. My sisters' faces were thin and sharp, with high cheekbones and restless eyes, like my mama's face, my aunt Dot's, my own. Peasants, that's what we are and always have been. Call us the lower orders, the great unwashed, the working class, the poor, proletariat, trash, lowlife and scum. I can make a story out of it, out of us. Make it pretty or sad, laughable or haunting. Dress it up with legend and aura and romance. 'Let me tell you a story,' I'd begin, and start another one. When we were small, I could catch my sisters the way they caught butterflies, capture their attention and almost make them believe that all I said was true."

Isn't that a fantastic opening? This memoir is slim, only 94 pages, but it was so powerful that I had to set the book down a few times to ponder it, or I would stop and reread a page to fully appreciate a lovely phrasing. While there is a lot of sadness in this book, especially when she writes about her mother or the abuse Dorothy suffered as a child, overall her voice was confident and inspiring. The book includes photographs of Dorothy and her family, and those black-and-white pictures added even more depth to the stories.

Throughout the memoir, Dorothy ends a section with something she's learned. These morals were always well-written, and I could imagine this piece being incredibly moving if performed live, with the repetition and the beats of those sayings. These were some of my favorites:

"Two or three things I know for sure, and one of them is that no one is as hard as my uncles had to pretend to be."

"Two or three things I know for sure, and one is that I would rather go naked than wear the coat the world has made for me."

"Two or three things I know for sure, and one of them is that if we are not beautiful to each other, we cannot know beauty in any form."

Besides being a good memoir about the American South, I also appreciated that it was about a writer finding herself, and how she tried to make peace with her unhappy past. I may only know two or three things, but one of them is that I cannot wait to read more of Dorothy Allison's books.

Favorite Quote
"Women lose their lives not knowing they can do something different. Men eat themselves up believing they have to be the thing they have been made. Children go crazy. Really, even children go crazy, believing the shape of the life they must live is as small and mean and broken as they are told. Oh, I could tell you stories that would darken the sky and stop the blood. The stories I could tell no one would believe. I would have to pour blood on the floor to convince anyone that every word I say is true. And then? Whose blood would speak for me?"

A Short History of Nearly Everything

A Short History of Nearly EverythingA Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Short History of Nearly Everything is Bill Bryson's summation of life, the universe, and everything, a nice little easy-reading science book containing an overview of things every earthling should be aware of.

As I've repeatedly mentioned over the years, every time one of the casual-readers tells me I have to read something, like Harry Potter or the DaVinci Code, I dig my feet in deeper and resolve to never read it. This is one of the occasions I should have shaved a decade off of my stubbornness and caved in right away.

Bryson covers a wide range of topics, from the formation of the universe to the evolution of man for our apelike forebears, and all points in between. Atoms? Cells? These are just stops along the enlightenment highway that Bill Bryson has paved! He touches upon quantum physics, geology, the size of our solar system, the year without a summer, and other topics innumerable.

The writing style is so accessible that I have to think I'd be some kind of scientists if my high school and college text books were written by Bill Bryson. His easy, breezy style makes even the most complicated topics easier to digest.

It's not often that I come away from a book having felt like I learned something new, criminal techniques from my usual reads excepted. Bryson has succeeded where many have failed before him. He has tricked me into learning and enjoying myself while doing it. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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