May 5, 2008


Finally, as in I'm finally back here with another post after almost a month. How did that happen? How are there only 6 weeks left in the school year? We've been so busy, and I've written many a post -- in my head. But I'm here now. Since I last checked in, I've been to Laguna Beach twice in the same week -- the first time was to spend the night in a too-cute-to-live 50s-era cottage overlooking the Pacific, a girls getaway to an insanely darling house, belonging to the father of a local friend. The second time, some days later, was to attend a reading and celebrate the publication of the first book by a writer-acquaintance. These were both fun and very different getaways. The first fed my need to soak in the sun, away from the kids for more than just two or three hours at a time. The second fed my need to soak up the presence of other writer-types, and be able to revel in the fact that I could refer to a book as a memoir, and not need to stop to explain that yes, "memoir" means it's a true story. (And yes, I AM a snooty, snotty book-bitch.)

Finally also refers to another recent event -- finally, finally, I found a book which fed my soul and was "that book" that I needed to read right now. I'm a firm believer in literary kismet, that sometimes the right book lands in your hands at just the right time and nourishes and enriches, and for me, also makes me learn something and prick up my little eager writer-ears as I take in both the language and the insight.

That book, pictured above, was, The Florist's Daughter, by Patricia Hampl. A quiet, nothing-much-happens kind of memoir, about Hampl's life in her role as a dutiful daughter to her much-beloved Midwestern parents. Beginning as Hampl sits holding her dying mother's hand in a hospital late at night with one hand (and writing the obituary on a yellow legal pad with the other, drawing judgmental looks from the nurse), it traces her parent's life stories, which, because of their very "smallness" and modesty, are just as rich and full of deep feelings as any life can be.

I don't think I would have appreciated the jewel-like words and images of Hampl's book quite as much if I hadn't first read The Glass Castle a couple of weeks earlier. Where The Florist's Daughter is full of much mulling and dwelling on motive and the interior life, Jeannette Walls' memoir is....action-packed, to say the least. It's the kind of shocking, tabloid sort of reveal that usually gets picked to be on Oprah, or made into a movie, or both. It's not that I didn't like the was definitely a page-turner, if only to see what those wacky, outrageously self-centered parents of hers would do or say next. It's the kind of book that you can describe to a friend like this: and then THIS happened, and then THIS happened, and oh my god, can you stand it...then they did THIS and said THAT, but she lived to tell it all and now is just dandy and very happily married and wrote this mega-bestseller and even got to be on The Colbert Report. The End. Whew. To be fair, I should note that, like Hampl's book, The Glass Castle also received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly. It's a good read -- just not "that" read, that I needed at this point in my life.

It's late and I'm getting tired and I can never find that happy balance between describing a book "in general" vs. doing a grad-studentesque literary review. So I'll let these 2 reviews for the Patricia Hampl book speak for me:

Debra Dean, author of The Madonnas of Leningrad:
"In this age of tabloid tell-alls and sloppy hyperbole, The Florist''s Daughter is a cool tonic: a memoir that sings the quiet anthem of good daughters everywhere. In Patricia Hampl's hands, supposedly ordinary people in allegedly ordinary lives are rendered with luminous grace and quiet beauty."

Kristin Ohlson, author of Stalking the Divine: "All of us eventually become orphans and lose not only our parents' physical presence but also the opportunity to keep asking, over and over, for their stories. Patricia Hampl''s lovely bruising book takes us to that final rupture between mother and daughter. Hampl offers the bloom of meditation on the mysteries between parents and children, between the past and the present, and between those old adversaries, beauty and truth."
Yeah. That's just what I was gonna say. Or, to quote Hampl herself: "Nothing is harder to grasp than the relentlessly modest life."

For me, this was THAT book that I was needing, longing for and I'm so glad it finally fell into my hands. I have a big interest in the memoir these days -- and am looking with great interest upon those books that tell a life the way I hope to (someday) tell my own -- quietly, thoughtfully, artfully sketching a life as a daughter, a person who has for the most part stayed in the same geography & landscape that shaped her, as someone hoping to tap into the mysteries of all those untold stories.

There is another book that's come my way recently which is also one of "those" special books. This one is so special I can hardly stand to turn the pages and is so remarkable that I can't bring myself to finish it yet. More on THAT very soon, I hope.

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