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Original Essays | September 30, 2014

Brian Doyle: IMG The Rude Burl of Our Masks



One day when I was 12 years old and setting off on my newspaper route after school my mom said will you stop at the doctor's and pick up something... Continue »
  1. $13.27 Sale Trade Paper add to wish list

    Children and Other Wild Animals

    Brian Doyle 9780870717543

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Customer Comments

Mara Lee has commented on (7) products.

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis
The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

Mara Lee, February 10, 2013

This book is more interconnected short stories than it is a novel, which left me wanting more, but I still highly recommend it. It's the story of a young woman who escapes the Jim Crow South in the 1920s, and her life in Philadelphia, married to a shiftless man, having more children than they can afford. (Nine live to adulthood.)
Hattie and those of her children who get a first-person chapter (with the exception of Franklin) are compelling, believable, broken people. Even the secondary characters, like Lawrence, August and Eudine, are three-dimensional.
The Los Angeles Times reviewer, who was reprinted in my local paper, gave an incredibly harsh review, calling this melodrama, pedestrian prose, etc. He's wrong.
In an interview with Salon, Ayana Mathis said: "Some of your responsibility in writing is to tell the truth about what it means to be a human, to tell the truth about what it means to have a soul. (It) is a kind of miraculous thing. And I don’t mean that in a religious sense, but it is a kind of miraculous thing to be sort of imbued with a reaching and intelligent and broad humanity. You can’t cut corners, you can’t cheat because it is a miraculous thing that we are this way."
She fulfills that responsibility.
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In Our Prime: The Invention of Middle Age by Patricia Cohen
In Our Prime: The Invention of Middle Age

Mara Lee, April 8, 2012

New York Times reporter Patricia Cohen explains how Americans, who once didn't think about middle age at all, later thought of it as a time of heightened power, freedom and allure, came to see it as a harbinger of decline and something to be feared and disguised, especially for women. It's not ground-breaking to reveal that life stages are a social construct, but this 40-year-old feminist still found it an excellent reminder that marketing is designed to heighten your insecurities to sell you the solution. The book also shares the sociological research of middle-age and older adults that reveals that how you frame your life's meaning is the best way of being happy. It's full of great tidbits, like the fact that before 1955, just 7 percent of women older than 40 dyed their hair, and now nearly 75 percent do.
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Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self by Danielle Evans
Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self

Mara Lee, September 4, 2011

I don't usually love short stories -- not enough time for the characters to feel real, I suppose -- but this book is bursting with people as real as those on the bus next to you.

Danielle Evans is very young, and so are nearly all her characters. Because teen and young 20s years are so full of confusion and self-discovery, that makes for interesting plots, even when the story only covers a summer, a semester, or just one night.

All the main characters in the stories are African American (or in one case, biracial), and while racial politics aren't relevant in every one, the ones where race take central stage are stunningly good. But so is the one about two kids in college whose family became dysfunctional after a car accident that killed children in the other car -- and the characters' blackness is not so central there.

I'm looking forward to her first novel.
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(1 of 2 readers found this comment helpful)



The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky
The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine

Mara Lee, August 4, 2011

Rosalinda, the narrator of this book, is a self-centered Soviet mother who's emotionally abusive to her grown daughter, manipulative of her granddaughter, and disdainful of her husband, her son-in-law, her neighbor... her two modes are haughtiness and grudging respect.

As dark as this sounds, it's not. It's actually lively, funny and sweet, in its own twisted way.

You may have never thought of 'Tartar' beyond tartar sauce, but after this novel, you'll think differently.
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(2 of 3 readers found this comment helpful)



Broke, USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc. -- How the Working Poor Became Big Business by Gary Rivlin
Broke, USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc. -- How the Working Poor Became Big Business

Mara Lee, February 7, 2011

Gary Rivlin is not the first to write a book about check cashing, rent-to-own, payday loans, subprime lending and all the other ways the poor pay a big price for living on the edge (and it must be said, for having poor self-regulation when it comes to wants vs. needs.) But the interviews with Poverty Inc. moguls and mogul-wannabes, and the crusaders against predatory lending make the topic seem fresh and newly outrageous.

This book is a page-turner, even though we all know how it turns out.

I lived in Mansfield, Ohio and Dayton, Ohio for 10 years, two of the places where a lot of the action in this book happens, and during many of the years he's writing about. He gets a detail or two wrong -- Wright-Patt mostly has professional, good paying jobs -- but for those of you who have never seen the Rust Belt up close, this could tell you a lot about what happens when manufacturing is hollowed out.
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