Book Reviews

Six Degrees of Separation: Where Am I Now?




This month’s 6 Degrees of Separation book had me almost skip the meme. I had to research who the author was for starters. Then, after learning she was a celebrity, I had to talk myself into going forward witih it anyway.

Mara Wilson–According to Amazon

“A former child actor best known for her starring roles in Matilda and Mrs. Doubtfire, Mara Wilson has always felt a little young and out of place: as the only kid on a film set full of adults, the first daughter in a house full of boys, a Valley girl in New York and a neurotic in California, and a grown-up the world still remembers as a little girl. Tackling everything from what she learned about sex on the set of Melrose Place, to discovering in adolescence that she was no longer “cute” enough for Hollywood, these essays chart her journey from accidental fame to relative (but happy) obscurity. They also illuminate universal struggles, like navigating love and loss, and figuring out who you are and where you belong. Candid, insightful, moving, and hilarious, Where Am I Now? introduces Mara Wilson as a brilliant new chronicler of the experience that is growing up female.”

Now had the book been by or about (or both!) NPR’s Mara Liasson–well, let’s just say that would have perked me up a whole lot!


This Month’s Chain


Here’s how I developed this chain. I pulled phrases from the description above–and one phrase elsewhere on the Amazon page for the book.


A grown-up the world still remembers as a little girl



Before she was mother to CNN’s Anderson Cooper, and before she designed the jeans for a generation, Gloria Vanderbilt was the subject of a sensational custody war that made millions for the tabloids of the day. A same-sex affairs was among the most salacious and, in that day, damning, details of the case.

Gloria fascinates me because of her unusual ties to the Royal Family. After Gloria’s father, Reggie Vanderbilt, died, her mother was briefly engaged to Prince Gotfried of Hohenlohe-Langenburg. After they broke it off, Gotfried married Prince Philip’s oldest sister, Princess Margarita of Greece.  Gloria’s Mummy then went on to have an affair with Philip’s Aunt Nada (married to his Uncle George Mountbatten, the Marquess of Milford Haven). But wait, there’s more! Her mother’s twin sister was the “in between” mistress of The Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) arriving in his life at the end of his long-term relationship with Freda Dudley Ward. Thelma (Gloria’s aunt) then introudced “The Little Man,” as she discreetly called the Prince, to Wallis Simpson.  Poor Thelma, surely not so happy at last.  Little Gloria, Happy at Last is out-of-print but widely available used.


A little young and out of place




Ultimately, I chose Ruby Bridges–the first African American girl to attend an all-white school in New Orleans. Though she was not the first African American student to integrate a public school, she was one of the youngest and most memorable. Who hasn’t seen this photo and had at catch in their throat from it’s poignancy? I chose her memoir, Through My Eyes,  as the book selection.

This one was tough. My mind raced! Do I pick Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone? Harry was a little young and, though he clearly belonged he was out-of-place at first. I then thought of Princess Diana–like Harry she clearly belonged having been born to an Earl living on the Queen’s private estate, but she very out-of-place at first, too. Then I thought of poor Rosemary Kennedy when she and younger, perfect sister Kathleen “Kick” arrived in London and were presented to King George VI. I also pictured Amy Carter at age 10 or so reading a book at a White House State Dinner. Not much you could say but a little young and a little out-of-place. Probably Baron Trump feels that way some days, too.


[Not] “cute” enough



The summer I was 14 my grandmother took me to the U.K. Part of my coming up age was seeing A Chorus Line–then a smash hit–in London’s West End.  This verse in the  song, At The Ballet, was why–surely Marvin Hamlisch wrote it just for me, right?

Mother always said I’d be very attractive
When I grew up, when I grew up
“Different,” she said, “With a special something
And a very, very personal flair.”
And though I was eight or nine
Though I was eight or nine
Though I was eight or nine
I hated her

Now, “different” is nice, but it sure isn’t pretty
“Pretty” is what it’s about
I never met anyone who was “different”
Who couldn’t figure that out
So beautiful I’d never lived to see
But it was clear
If not to her
Well, then to me

Everyone is beautiful at the ballet
Every prince has got to have his swan
Yes, everyone is beautiful at the ballet

A Chorus Line book of the musical.  See the bottom of this post for the video of the song.

Figuring out who you are and where you belong


My first English class in college, sneakily picked for me by my mom because the whole course schedule completely overwhelmed me–and I’m so glad it did, for that class was magical. The perfect start to college. Stop Time has stayed with me. Frank’s journey to manhood was really something, but it was also beautifully told. That the author loved jazz didn’t hurt anything. Stop Time. Read it–it’s part Glass Castle, part Educated, part Catcher in the Rye. In fact, since Frank is the only man in this list, I considered using the Glass Castle or Educated instead. But Stop Time is a part of me in a way that the other two books just aren’t.


Growing up, I wanted to be Mara Wilson ________





I always said in high school that I wanted to be a writer like Herman Wouk and a diplomat of “Henry Kissinger’s status”.  Henry Kissinger was the only diplomat most people could name in those years. That was 40 years ago. So, I chose Madeline Albright’s memoir instead of Kissinger’s.

Sidebar: I also wanted to live in a cute apartment like Mary Tyler Moore had on TV or like author Helene Hanff probably lived in (my Mom found Helene’s books for me, too). I’d have my books on display as well as a few other things. See that cool little shelf of books? Love that.


Growing up female



When I first begin to “grow up” [wink, wink] my Mom found this book for me. It may have been my gateway epistolary novel–a book told as a diary. This one was perfect for me at that moment. My idolized big brother was growing up and away from me and life was starting to change me from a tom boy into a young woman, a process made easier by many more books–lots from my Mom. (Which is why I’ve always been heartbroken that my daughter just won’t read).  I’m not sure if this one is still in print, but it is still worth it if you find it used. Diary of a Frantic Kid Sister.


You can enjoy all of this month’s Six Degrees of Separation chains at the host blog, Books Are My Favorite and Best.



At The Ballet

Book Reviews

Barefoot at the Lake: A time of innocence

A time it was, and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence
A time of confidences

Long ago it must be
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They’re all that’s left you

(Paul Simon, Bookends)


Bruce Fogle had the sort of summer vacations that every child today desperately needs. His family would pack up and leave Toronto for the Kawartha Lakes and the cottage his father had built for his family. Bruce, his mom and older brother would remain at the cottage for the summer, while his dad–and the other dads belonging to the cottages around theirs, came on Friday night and drove back to the city early Monday morning.

With the only car back in the city with Dad, the little trio were left to their own devices. Of course things were a bit different back then. A bread man came selling bread door-to-door. The dairy delivered milk. And other things could be had by taking the boat across the lake to a small town. Television wasn’t part of things at the lake. Nor were phones. The internet wasn’t around yet. The only game system was the Monopoly board. Swimming lessons were the only organized sport and those were taught in the lake.

One thing though marked the Fogle “trio” of Mom, Bruce and his brother, Robert. That was the fourth member of the all-summer-long family, Uncle Rueb. Over the course of this coming-of-age story, Bruce begins to understand that his Uncle–a doctor–has had a breakdown. It is Reub who is the guiding force in Bruce’s summer–not his elder brother. Bruce explains:

I never did anything with my big brother. If we played together we ended up fighting. We had the parents and lived in the same house but that was the extent of our shared togetherness. (p. 20).

But Uncle Reub was gentle and tells his nephew stories of Native American culture. A young Jewish boy, living in a Gentile world, is guided to manhood by stories of the first nations to live in North America. Reub is accepted by Bruce and Rob and their friends–almost as another boy. He goes to their forest hide-outs and helps keep tempers cool on long summer days.

Bruce prefers his friend Grace to many of the boys on the Lake. He and Grace have their own adventures. He begins to feel she is special. Don’t worry, there is no exploring of the kind mandatory to such stories today. It is a feeling, not a physical act here. Everything about this story conveys the morals and mores of that time–not of today.

For me Bruce’s story was sweet and gentle, but the parents appealed to me each in their own way.  It wasn’t just his mom packing peanut butter and banana sandwiches with a thermos of Kool-Aid or her lack of micro-managing (she didn’t micromanage except over water safety–a valuable lesson for today’s Moms) it was the way marriage worked for her and the other women. They ran their show (the house and kids) and the husband ran his. “Parenting” wasn’t yet a verb. This is how I grew up. The Dad’s were involved–they played catch, they cleaned the garage, they set an example of decent manners and generosity, the kept the yard and the trash cans immaculate. They washed and waxed the cars. The moms did the rest. On weekends they turned back into husbands and wives, lovers and companions with parties all their own.

Weekends were extra special. They didn’t just feel different, they looked different, too. …there was a car behind every cottage sometimes two….The mothers looked different, too, especially mine. During the week they dressed any old how. Grace’s mother did her gardening or hung out her laundry or just lay there on her lawn chair browning herself in the sun in her bra and shorts. During the week my mum only mentioned our dad when we misbehaved….On weekends the mothers looked prettier. Anyways, that’s what I thought. Each Friday morning my mother washed her hair…..She spent the rest of the morning in curlers then after lunch she put on her makeup and did her hair. On Fridays she changed the bed linen and in the afternoon ironed the dress she put on for my dad’s arrival… (p. 84-85)

This was my childhood. The men in my family traveled for work–my Grandfather, my father and my Uncle all were away from home up to four nights a week–my grandfather even for several weeks at a time. Like a short version of a Marine or Army family with Dad on a safe military deployment we’d grow slack eating dinners Dad couldn’t stand, spen evenings doing what we liked, watching what we liked and having Mom to ourselves. Then the house got picked up, round steak got cooked and quiet was the order of the day. I loved the passage above because I understood it to the core.

I also understood this passage which perfectly illustrated the men in my family–and many of the men of that time. Bruce was in a dreamy mood, waxing lyrical about preparing a garden:

“Did God make all the plants and flowers and seeds in the kitchen?” I asked.

“I got them from Canadian Tire,” [Dad] answered.

I could almost here the church key split open a can of Hamm’s with that remark. Men didn’t do “spiritual” in my family, regardless of what they believed inside.

By the time the summer ends, Bruce has his Intermediate Red Cross badge from the swimming lessons lady, Uncle Reub has guided him thru an important rite of passage and his father has given the only voice he can to his pride in his son by having a fish stuffed and mounted in memory of Bruce’s first real catch. The “Brucie” at the beginning of the story is gone and “Bruce” now moves forward into the life of a teen.

Don’t let the summer end without reading this quiet gem.

Barefoot at the Lake: A Boyhood Summer in Cottage Country by Bruce Fogle