last of the summer memoirs

I'm sure these won't be the last memoirs I read, but they are for this summer, because school is starting!  With a fresh year before me, I'm planning to be back at semi-weekly meetings for the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books.  It's the first time back in several years, and I'm looking forward to being once again immersed in rowdy and highly informed (and opinionated!) conversations with my colleagues in academia and children's librarianship.  I first came to the Bulletin in 1997, so those review meetings at the big long tables are sort of like family dinners to me, with people who have become my dear friends as well as aunts I'm fond of and a new crop of cousins every year.  So all this is to say that, after the last of the summer memoirs, I expect I'll be back to full-on children's and young adult lit for many months to come. 

The memoir I'm Proud of You:  My Friendship with Mr. Rogers by Tim Madigan, Mr. Rogers makes a point that sounds a lot like my previous post about Brene Brown's work:  "anything mentionable is manageable."  When life is moving at breakneck speed, during times of crisis or transition, it can seem like there will never be time enough to manage it all nor even to mention it all.  Madigan shares a traditional Arabian proverb that Fred Rogers shared with him as their friendship developed in correspondence:
A friend is one to whom one may pour
Out all the contents of one's heart,
Chaff and grain together,
Knowing that the gentlest of hands
Will take and sift it,
Keep what is worth keeping and,
With a breath of kindness,
Blow the rest away. (p. 82)
That's what Madigan and Rogers create, as the real-life Mr. Rogers coaches and supports Madigan through a nearly devastating crisis in his marriage.  This is a tender story of a grown man coming to be in touch with his feelings.  It's also the story of the later years of Mr. Rogers, whose kindness was the real deal.

This next book is both silly and searingly honest.  I'm the One That I Want by Margaret Cho is her memoir of coming to be a successful comic, forged in the fires of painful stand-up flops and a failed t.v. show.  It's comedy, yes, but Cho's life has had its bleak moments.  She finds ways to laugh, and so the reader does as well, but it's an intensely emotional ride.  And I love this kind of raw honesty. She tells the story of failing out of high school twice.  She talks about the joys of being a "fag hag" and the gay men she has loved, in addition to harrowing tales of dungeons, drag queens, and a whole lotta drugs.  Cho also gets deep into struggles with Korean journalists whom she in equal parts expects to support her and despises when they don't, all through a lens of hard-won understanding that neither she nor they could be expected to "represent" an entire people to each other.  Favorite quotes include...

When she finally ditches the boyfriend who was just no good to her:
"I had, for once, stood up for myself and stuck to what I knew was best for me, even though I wanted to please Bob and not be the bad guy.  I did not stop laughing for a long time." (p. 62)

On trying to find love and acceptance outside of yourself first:
"I thought if I could get the job, get noticed, maybe even become a star, then I would stop hating myself, and adore me just like the rest of the world.  Self-love doesn't work like that.  Life doesn't work like that.  [...]  I think we all have our own messages, the tapes that play over and over in our minds, that weaken us, that desecrate the holines sof our lives, that come disguised as a way to motivate ourselves, when really they are all about self-sabotage. [...] Let's not hate ourselves.  We are all we have.  We cannot change anything until we accept that." (p. 90-91)

On people being stupid:
"People are stupid and will say what they say.  It's not just [physical] weight [issues] either.  It's everything.  The challenge is learning not to give them the power to dictate how I will feel about myself.  Learning how to love myself from within, to make my opinion count the most, knowing that no one and nothing is going to save me except myself--these are the lessons I have been forced to learn.  That is what my life now is all about." (p. 207)

Those are my favorites, but believe me when I tell you that much of the joy is in the more raw moments that the ones I've quoted here.  Strong women with fierce voices occupying the celebrity stage are still a rarity in our odd entertainment culture.  I hope Cho takes the stage over and over again.

The last couple of years I haven't posted as much as I before that stressful time.  But these days the reading energy and creativity are back!  Stay tuned for posts about recent articles related to gender issues in children's literature, the history of children as readers, great new resources for youth services librarians, and a smattering of general-interest LIS-related pieces.  It's going to be a great year.  Best wishes to all those who go back to school, as students or otherwise, in the next few weeks!

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