Book Snap #56

Title: The Woo Woo: How I Survived Ice Hockey, Drug Raids, Demons and My Crazy Chinese Family

Author: Lindsay Wong

Date Read: July 16, 2019

Two snaps

Almost unbelievable. Like, when Oprah couldn’t seem to wrap her mind around James Frey’s memoir… but here it was, wildly incredible– but just grounded in enough legitimacy that you have to let go and trust Lindsay Wong as she recounts her wildly eccentric life with keen prose that is at once castigating of her parents and her upbringing and also graciously sympathetic to the mental illness that ran unchecked amongst them all.

In the prologue Wong sets us up for the ride. Finding herself in a neurologist’s office in Manhattan, she discovers that she has migraine-related vistibulopathy– an intense neurological disorder that plagues her with acute vertigo. This diagnosis is a relief to her, because it is not the Woo-Woo. The Woo-Woo are the ghosts that her Chinese family believed responsible for cancer, viruses, and psychological disturbances– and she and her family actively evade the Woo-Woo as best they can by camping out in Walmart parking lots, not sitting too long on the toilet, or living at the mall eating processed food and endless amounts of candy.

As a parent, my heart ached for Lindsay and her siblings and the disregard for their emotional and physical well-being as centuries-old beliefs kept her grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles from facing and treating the mental illnesses that made them unprepared and unable to cope with the needs of their generations of children. These disorienting relationships left Lindsay feeling crushingly alone, and often pushed her to react and retaliate with physical anger. A lot of her physical aggression was meted out as a goon in the hockey rink– and widely championed by her parents as they collected her medals and encouraged her high-sticking and brutal checking.

Wong offers an unflinching look at mental illness. Hers was a life filled with anxiety and uncertainty, where her needs were often neglected as she competed with the symptoms of her family’s crippling mental illnesses. Wong miraculously succeeds despite it all and shows a personal resiliency and fortitude beyond what could ever be expected.

It is a stunning memoir. Like a car crash in slow motion– you cannot look away. It is heart-breaking, candid, and somehow all at once funny, bitter and melancholy. It is a must-read. Wong’s bravery in telling this story makes her the real poster child for the Let’s Talk About Mental Illness campaign.

A 2019 Canada Reads contender.

Book Snap #55

Title: Shout

Author: Laurie Halse Anderson

Date Read: July 11, 2019

Two Snaps

Laurie Halse Anderson is well-versed in writing compelling novels for Young Adults. Her best-known novel, Speak, became a finalist for the National Book Award and won Anderson honours for its portrayal of a thirteen-year-old girl who becomes mute after a sexual assault.

Shout is an extension to her fiction, a poetic memoir written in free verse about her own life growing up as a teen, including details of her rape and the trauma she faced afterward. As she describes it, “The true story of a survivor who refused to be silenced.”

She writes about many pivotal moments throughout her life including how she came to love to read. This is a portion from the poem entitled, “lovebrarians”:

And so, with extra Leslie help and a chorus

of angels disguised as teachers and librarians

for years unstinting with love and hours

of practice, those ants finally marched

in straight lines for me

shaped words, danced sentences,

constructed worlds

for a girl finally learning how to read

I unlocked the treasure chest

and swallowed the key.

(Halse Anderson, p.26)

She writes about high school with prickling insight. I particularly liked the metaphor of lockers as “steel soldiers lined against the wall.” It made me recount those long girds running through my own high school. I could hear the metallic slamming and smell the rotten bananas inside. She is more condemning in “gauntlet, thrown” when she writes: “My high school was designed by an incarceration/ specialist to make the herding, the feeding/ and the slaughter proceed as efficiently as possible/ that’s what we thought,/ anyway…” (p.77)

Halse Anderson does not withdraw behind words, she uses them skillfully and without censor. Her voice is unapologetic. You echo in her anger, her frustration, her pain. She says she was “indoctrinated by magazine covers” (29). She tells us that: “the taste of shame smells/ like stubborn vomit in your hair” (32). Her father was “… a shitty driver/ and the booze sure didn’t help.” (127). When working as a court reporter during a rape trial, she watched the victim being re-victimized by the lawyer and then, “I saw myself crawling over the seats, leaping/ throwing punches, busting knuckles, breaking/ a chair over his head, the sweet sound of his teeth/ skittering across the floor/ my pencil snapped” (155).

Twenty years post publishing Speak, Halse Anderson puts up a memoir that rants. Using poetry, every word clamours for our attention. In the age of #metoo, it is an important read. Young Adult readers will resonate with this story, and will, hopefully, find comfort in it– and may be freed of the nightmares to tell their own stories too.

Book Snap #44

Title: Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike

Author: Phil Knight

Date read: February 13, 2019.

Two Snaps.

Quite simply, I loved this memoir.

Knight takes you chronologically from his parents’ suburban home in Oregon as a young shoe dog peddling sneakers from their living room to the pinnacle of his success as the CEO of a multi million dollar international company; and it’s not an easy ride.

As a trained track runner, Knight befriended, and ultimately hired, his college track coach who constantly tinkered with athlete’s shoes looking to get the fastest run. This partnership solidified the view that they would pursue the perfect shoe– at any cost. Indeed, there were more times than not that Nike was abysmally broke than it was successful. With a ragtag group of misfits that he trusted dearly, they worked diligently over decades to sell shoes they believed in.

He writes: “Starting my own business was the only thing that made life’s other risks—marriage, Vegas, alligator wrestling—seem like sure things. But my hope was that when I failed, if I failed, I’d fail quickly, so I’d have enough time, enough years, to implement all the hard-won lessons. I wasn’t much for setting goals, but this goal kept flashing through my mind every day, until it became my internal chant: Fail fast.”

Knight is a skillful storyteller. His writing is descriptive and engaging and his life is full of wisdom, humour and sadness. Knight takes you from the boardrooms of Japan, to the factories in India, and back to Oregon; from the follies of youth; the pain of parenthood and the success of hard work. You will thoroughly enjoy the ride. Just do it.

Check out my passage study from this novel, here.

Book Snap #43

Title: Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt with Family Addicition

Author: Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Date read: January 20, 2019

Two Snaps.

I didn’t mean to finish it in one go… but I couldn’t stop! A graphic memoir that had me riveted, engaged and in tears. A must read.

You have not read a memoir told like this. Krosoczka’s story telling is doubly powerful as you connect with the characters both through the text and his wonderful illustrations.

This book has been widely touted for YA audiences, but it is not to be dismissed as only for teens.

You will want to watch Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s TED Talk: How A Boy Became an Artist.

In his talk, Krosoczka tells his own back story and illuminates how powerful and life-changing it was to use the power of his words and drawing to tell his story. He describes some of his own first comics thusly: “…it was a story that was told with words and pictures, exactly what I do now for a living, and sometimes I let the words have the stage on their own, and sometimes I allowed the pictures to work on their own to tell the story.”

Watch the talk now:  

TED Talk: How a Boy Became an Artist

If you have young children and want some snappy choices for bedtime reads, take a look at the TED Blog, where Krosoczka recommends his favourite children’s books.

TED Blog: 10 Great Children’s Books That Will Become Classics.

If you liked Hey, Kiddo may I suggest:

Title: An Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life

Author: Amy Krouse Rosenthal

After reading Amy Krause Rosenthal’s heart wrenching NY Times piece: You May Want to Marry My Husband, I couldn’t wait to read her Autobiography– and it did not disappoint. This memoir is told in a wholly unconventional way, and I love her for it. Where Krosoczka adds illustrations to strengthen his story– Rosenthal approaches her memoir writing with an individual organizational structure. Using the format of an encyclopedia, Rosenthal retells snippets of her autobiography in short entries from A through Z. This unique episodic approach makes for an entirely marvellous exploration of what makes us tick. She details the moments, the emotions, and the observations of contemporary life. Great fun for the bedside table.

Book Snap #20:

Title: Educated              

Author: Tara Westover

Date read: July 24, 2018.

Two Snaps.

I was held captive by this memoir. It arrived from Amazon in the mail, I literally read it all day. Utterly fascinating. Unbelievable!