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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Lunatic Heroes by C Anthony Martignetti

It was a strange road that led me to this book. An author I very much admire married a musician I'd never heard of. Upon listening to her music I found out that (1) I had wasted years of my life not listening to her (her music is a part of my daily life now) and that (2) she was an excellent source of suggestions for really good art of all kinds. So when admired author and beloved musician both said "you should check this book out" I decided it was probably a good idea.

I don't like memoirs. I've been known to read the odd memoir from a Hollywood writer/actor I enjoy, but really only the funny ones. (So I've read memoirs by Alan Alda, Bob Newhart, Charles Grodin and the sort-of memoir from Tina Fey and that's about it) If there's soul searching, pain, truth or anything approaching real feelings (I'm looking at you Alda, how dare you make me cry about your dog???) I move on. And since most memoirs have a heaping dose of adversity and life-pain, I skip the whole genre.

My opinion on memoirs hasn't changed, but Lunatic Heroes was worth the bending of my personal reading policy.  Instead of the more traditional format of vignettes that work together to form a cohesive timeline, Martignetti is simply telling you some stories. They feature some of the same characters and a few recurring themes, but this is really a collection of stories that also just happen to be true, and happen to be about Martignetti's childhood and family.

I loved this book. I loved that it's very intimately written, as if the author was sitting across from you in a bar, fiddling with his beer and saying "...that reminds me of this time...". I love that Martignetti is able to share these stories full of love and fear and pain (often all three at once) without a shred of judgement. Not that the child whose eyes took all these people and stories in didn't have an opinion on the world around him, but that he, the adult, isn't trying to force the reader to draw a final conclusion on any of it. Martignetti's stories, his childhood, and life in general is messy. Sloppy and complicated and smelly and sometimes very, very unpleasant  But every single story in the book is suffused with love: love of family, love of books, love of life. Fair warning, it's at minimum, a 3-hanky book. The pain, and the fear sensitive children go through is so present, so close to the surface in this book, it's hard not to look away. But it's gorgeous, messy life, and in that aspect, this book is perfect.

If you like memoirs, you'll absolutely have to check this one out, and if you don't like memoirs, I think you'll be doing yourself a favor to check it out anyway.

You can also head over to Anthony's Facebook page to leave him comments when you're done reading: https://www.facebook.com/camstories?fref=ts

As always, thanks for reading and have a happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Jon Clinch's The Thief of Auschwitz

If you know me in real life you know I'm a huge fan of Jon Clinch's books. If you've never read him before, do yourself a favor and pick up Finn and Kings of The Earth, both fantastic, dark and atmospheric reads.

The Thief of Auschwitz is another success for Clinch. The story of a husband, wife and son all barely living in the Auschwitz camp moves back and forth from the stories of all three during the war to the more contemporary voice of the son as he prepares to launch a retrospective of his paintings in New York.  Their stories will not teach you anything new about the horrors of concentrations camp life (unless you've never read a Holocaust account of any kind) but Clinch's special gift of showing the humanity of even the most inhuman of people is once again the strongest part of his work. It's easy to sympathize with the prisoners (and indeed Clinch writes some lines for these characters that will utterly break your heart, I cried my way through several chapters) but Clinch also shows the humanity of the guards and the capos. You won't like these people but there's certainly a sense of "there but for the grace of God..." that will leave readers wondering what they would really do if beating and terrorizing fellow prisoners would save their own loved ones or themselves from the gas chamber.

There's a trick to reviewing Jon Clinch's books that I have never been able to master, and so I don't think my reviews ever do justice to his writing. Of course the plot is strong. Of course the characters feel so real, the danger immediate. Jon Clinch's technical ability to write a story is not in question ever. But that's not why you should read this book.  The beauty of his work is hard to express in a book review, because it's that almost ineffable quality some books have, resisting trite commentary on good plot mechanics and filled-out characters. You read the last page and then you just sit quietly, lest you break their spell. They change you inside, and make you more aware of the humanity around you, all of it, good and bad. And then you want to buy copies for every person you know and make them read the book too.

Just take my word for it and get yourself a copy when the book comes out on 1/15/13. In the meantime, read the other two titles, and enjoy them.