Karbo’s wit even in the worst of times brightens what could have been just another dreary disease drama.

THE STUFF OF LIFE

A DAUGHTER’S MEMOIR

Wrenchingly sad and remarkably funny account of one woman’s attempt to ease her stiff-upper-lip father through his final illness.

Novelist and nonfiction author Karbo (Generation Ex, 2001, etc.), whose journalism assignments take her diving off Venezuela and to the White House pressroom, is nearly flummoxed by the caregiver role. Having been largely absent as a teenager when her mother was dying of brain cancer, the writer is determined when she learns that her father has lung cancer that things will be different this time. Commuting from her home in Oregon, where she is principal breadwinner for a patchwork family, to his trailer near Boulder City, Nevada, means crossing not just miles but a huge culture gap. Dubbed the Palace of the Golden Sofa by Karbo, her father’s desert home is a triple-wide stocked with Tupperware and guns, including an AK-47. With grit and humor, the author describes the usual maddening encounters with uncommunicative doctors as her extraordinarily stoical father undergoes surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy; she also vividly chronicles his gradual physical decline and, as the cancer reaches his brain, his mental deterioration. Most impressive, though, is Karbo’s willingness to share her feelings, including doubt and guilt: Should she be buying him the cigarettes he still demands? When she prays that his pain will go away, does this mean she really just wants everything to be over and soon? Between stays in the desert, her own hectic life goes on at home as she faces deadlines for magazine assignments, promotes her latest novel, and cares for her own young daughter and her two stepchildren by her husband’s two ex-wives. The contrast between the messy business of living in one household and quiet, slow dying in the other gives this a fine tension.

Karbo’s wit even in the worst of times brightens what could have been just another dreary disease drama.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2003

ISBN: 1-58234-183-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2003

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.

DAD'S MAYBE BOOK

Ruminations and reminiscences of an author—now in his 70s—about fatherhood, writing, and death.

O’Brien (July, July, 2002, etc.), who achieved considerable literary fame with both Going After Cacciato (1978) and The Things They Carried (1990), returns with an eclectic assembly of pieces that grow increasingly valedictory as the idea of mortality creeps in. (The title comes from the author’s uncertainty about his ability to assemble these pieces in a single volume.) He begins and ends with a letter: The initial one is to his first son (from 2003); the terminal one, to his two sons, both of whom are now teens (the present). Throughout the book, there are a number of recurring sections: “Home School” (lessons for his sons to accomplish), “The Magic Show” (about his long interest in magic), and “Pride” (about his feelings for his sons’ accomplishments). O’Brien also writes often about his own father. One literary figure emerges as almost a member of the family: Ernest Hemingway. The author loves Hemingway’s work (except when he doesn’t) and often gives his sons some of Papa’s most celebrated stories to read and think and write about. Near the end is a kind of stand-alone essay about Hemingway’s writings about war and death, which O’Brien realizes is Hemingway’s real subject. Other celebrated literary figures pop up in the text, including Elizabeth Bishop, Andrew Marvell, George Orwell, and Flannery O’Connor. Although O’Brien’s strong anti-war feelings are prominent throughout, his principal interest is fatherhood—specifically, at becoming a father later in his life and realizing that he will miss so much of his sons’ lives. He includes touching and amusing stories about his toddler sons, about the sadness he felt when his older son became a teen and began to distance himself, and about his anguish when his sons failed at something.

A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-618-03970-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

Mostly conservative in its stance and choices but common-sensical and current.

HOW TO RAISE A READER

Savvy counsel and starter lists for fretting parents.

New York Times Book Review editor Paul (My Life With Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues, 2017, etc.) and Russo, the children’s book editor for that publication, provide standard-issue but deftly noninvasive strategies for making books and reading integral elements in children’s lives. Some of it is easier said than done, but all is intended to promote “the natural, timeless, time-stopping joys of reading” for pleasure. Mediumwise, print reigns supreme, with mild approval for audio and video books but discouraging words about reading apps and the hazards of children becoming “slaves to the screen.” In a series of chapters keyed to stages of childhood, infancy to the teen years, the authors supplement their advice with short lists of developmentally appropriate titles—by their lights, anyway: Ellen Raskin’s Westing Game on a list for teens?—all kitted out with enticing annotations. The authors enlarge their offerings with thematic lists, from “Books That Made Us Laugh” to “Historical Fiction.” In each set, the authors go for a mix of recent and perennially popular favorites, leaving off mention of publication dates so that hoary classics like Janice May Udry’s A Tree Is Nice seem as fresh as David Wiesner’s Flotsam and Carson Ellis’ Du Iz Tak? and sidestepping controversial titles and themes in the sections for younger and middle-grade readers—with a few exceptions, such as a cautionary note that some grown-ups see “relentless overparenting” in Margaret Wise Brown’s Runaway Bunny. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series doesn’t make the cut except for a passing reference to its “troubling treatment of Indians.” The teen lists tend to be edgier, salted with the provocative likes of Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, and a nod to current demands for more LGBTQ and other #ownvoices books casts at least a glance beyond the mainstream. Yaccarino leads a quartet of illustrators who supplement the occasional book cover thumbnails with vignettes and larger views of children happily absorbed in reading.

Mostly conservative in its stance and choices but common-sensical and current.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5235-0530-2

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Workman

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

more