Saturday, September 08, 2007


This book quest is pretty much out of control. This week I finished two memoirs.

One was Blue Highways, by William Least Heat Moon. It was a bestseller, like, 25 years ago and it's been my bedtime reading for the last several months. After the writer lost his job and his marriage fell apart, he packed up a truck and drove a loop around the country on minor roads. It took forever to read because it's just really dense. He went to a lot of places and had a lot of conversations with a lot of people in bars and stores and with cops who wanted to know why he was parked on a side street in the middle of the night. (Toward the end of the journey: "I'd traveled ten thousand miles and had not encountered a single hoodlum. But I'd been taken for one several times.")

Blue Highways is a really lovely portrait of small-town America circa 1980. And he spends very little time on his inner ruminations. He starts a brief early chapter like this: "A pledge: I give this chapter to myself. When done with it, I will shut up about that topic." And he basically does. Contrast this with Eat, Pray, Love, another memoir that I read this summer and loved but which is 100% about the writer and her thoughts.

Similarly, the one I just finished is all about the author. It is Acquainted With the Night: A Parent's Quest to Understand Depression and Bipolar Disorder in His Children. I started it about three years ago because I'd recently met Paul Raeburn, and an advance copy appeared in the free pile at work, so I thought I'd, yknow, learn about this near-stranger's dying marriage, innermost thoughts, and extraordinarily troubled kids. It's fascinating and infuriating and depressing all at once - his kids come out ok, but they had devoted middle-class parents with health insurance and the energy to fight the endless battles required to get care for a mentally ill child. A lot of kids are not so lucky. So, yay for Paul Raeburn writing a book about it. And yay for the relentless light he shines on his own lousy parenting moments and the crappy relationship between him and his wife.

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