Another Look at Still Writing by Dani Shapiro, a Book Review

Still Writing is both a writing textbook and a memoir. Though a text, it benefits from the lovely writing style of the author.

She says in her intro “…everything you need to know about life can be learned from a genuine and ongoing attempt to write.” The words certainly amplify the value of the writer’s work.

Writing is both her peace and her turmoil. She is driven to write but it is therapeutic. It is simple when she is in those transcendent moments but complex when she is not.

I like some humor interspersed amongst one’s serious writing. Anne Lamott does that. Dani Shapiro does not, at least in the now three memoirs I have read. However, she writes touching so many chords that she envelops the bookworm and even the occasional reader with her prose.

I recommend this book to even non-writers because Ms. Shapiro is a born storyteller. You may be a non-writer but many of us are storytellers. Don’t miss this one.

Paul Newman, the Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man, A Memoir, a Review

When I was in high school, I saw The Hustler, an excellent film about a pool hustler, about three times. I bought my pool cue and became an avid pool player. It was a magnificent film that introduced me to Paul Newman. 

Later on, I spent my sophomore year in college living in the fraternity house where Joanne Woodward’s aunt, Aunt Nancy, was the housemother. One evening she brought her sister, Joanne Woodward’s mother, to dinner and we all had time to meet her. 

For obvious reasons, I followed Paul Newman’s career carefully and enjoyed other films of his, including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting.

Before reading this book, I had already read Paul’s dear friend, A. E. Hotchner’s biography of Paul. The two books were very different. 

Hochner’s went slightly deep, but David Rosenthal’s, the editor, went much deeper. All the interviews and oral histories were completed by Newman’s late friend Stewart Stern, an excellent writer. They were recorded in Paul Newman’s early sixties, in the late eighties/early nineties. The interviews were found in a storage vault before the editing. The book was just published a few days ago.

It was enlightening to see how difficult this wealthy, sought-after, award-winning, good-looking actor had such severe difficulties during his life. As many of us know, he lost his drug-troubled son, Scott, early in Scott’s life, something Paul could never get past. He had a constant struggle to spend enough time with his many kids, given all the demands of the movies. He had problems with alcohol from the time he was in the U.S. Navy during the Second World War. His mother was highly critical and extremely difficult. Paul was not much of a student and even had occasional trouble memorizing his lines. He keeps reminding us in the interviews/memoirs that the actual Paul Newman is not the dashing man we saw in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid but a troubled human being.

He developed a burning desire to help handicapped and diseased youth in his camps, which he dubbed The Hole in the Wall Gang. He told the following story as he needed to borrow against his future earnings to support the venture: “And even that jeopardy disappeared when one day a young kid from Saudi Arabia comes to Connecticut and you play Ping-Pong with him. The kid tells you he happens to have a usually fatal blood disease and that he’s currently living in Washington, D.C. And that he also happens to have connections with the Saudi royal family whose crown prince just happens to be their ambassador to the US and lives in Washington, too. And as a Muslim and a Saudi, the kid happens to have the right to petition the king himself through the crown prince. Then all of a sudden you’re flying back to Connecticut from DC with a check for five million dollars for the camp and a letter that says the money is a gift from the king and the people of Saudi Arabia. 

He says later about the incident: “A mechanism that opens a door into myself and lets me see what actually might be lurking there. Then you simply change? The answer may just be: “It was time.” Suddenly, here I am, an atheist, a nonmetaphysicalist, who finds himself stuck right in the middle of God.”

It must be clear that the book is a fascinating read that I had trouble putting down.

“The Color of Water”by Richard McBride, a Review, and, Third Look

When he was small the author of this brilliant memoir, whose father was African-American, asked his Caucasian mother an important question. His mom was born an Orthodox Jew, but became a Christian. He asked, “What color is God?” She responded, “The color of water.”

And so one follows two remarkable journeys, that of the author and of his mother alternating through this beautiful work. She had been abused as a child, left home as soon as possible and was widowed consecutively by the deaths of her two African American husbands. She was left to raise twelve children, alone.

Mr. McBride has been an award winning composer and heralded author. All of his siblings have been remarkably successful.

This book in part is about the elements of humanity we all share. It’s specifically about a mother’s momentous effort to make her numerous children whole. To those who love the genre of memoir as I do, this is a read that should NOT be missed.

H. Robert Rubin, a best-selling, Amazon writer and author of Look Backward Angel, How Did I Get Through This? Please Save the Third Dance for Me (memoirs) and The Bloom is on the Rose (novelette), all available on Amazon.

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Uplift

“That’s the great thing about literature — it makes the world less lonely.” Robert Stone, the late Pulitzer Prize finalist. 

Let’s face it. Sometimes each one of us gets lonely. It even happens in our stadia with 100,000 people cheering their lungs out for the home team.

By the way, what’s that sport’s thing about? We just went to that college, a period that had its difficulties. Or we lived in that city for a short time. And yet, both experiences tug at our tribal heartstrings.

But getting back to that loneliness, one can just pick up a brilliant book. This brings to mind, Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air. Quoting from my now five-year-old review:

“His (This neurosurgeon’s) life of wonderful potential was struck down by a tumor at 37 in the organ by which we most deeply inspire the lungs. I have little doubt he gave enormous encouragement to the many needy and quite ill patients he treated.

Though knowing he was terminally ill, he and his spouse had a child. The letter he wrote to his infant daughter, presented in this work, is one of the most beautiful, tender pieces of prose I have ever read.”

That letter and that book fill one’s heart with the power of love, a gift from God through, a recipe to uplift, however brief.