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The Toaster Oven Mocks Me

This delightful book about coping with a disorder delivers important lessons for parents and educators as well as younger...

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A debut memoir focuses on a rare condition involving the senses.

Early in this work, Margolis provides the following definition of his affliction: “Synesthesia is a condition where one sense is stimulated, but two senses respond.” Specific manifestations may vary, but the author first addresses his perception that each letter or number has a specific color. He then prints an entire page of text in color, as he sees it, and the effect is definitely disorienting. In the prologue, when young Margolis was tasked with unscrambling letters on a chalkboard in front of the class, he encountered an additional difficulty because the letters began to argue with one another. Thus, the author adds another layer to the story, reflected in the title, as he sometimes perceives voices or sounds emanating from inanimate objects. Margolis later explains: “I don’t hear their voices per se. They don’t have faces or mouths. I hear them as thoughts or impressions.” During his college years, a chance encounter with a poster featuring the curious word “synesthetic” led him to discover that he was not entirely alone. As fascinating as this situation may seem, there is much more to the story that makes his case even more unusual, including an ironic twist whereby the coping mechanisms and compensation strategies he had developed on his own and came to rely upon no longer worked properly. Still, through all of this turmoil, Margolis only shared his secret with one other person; even his wife remained in the dark. The act of publishing this book is his big reveal, although he admits that he considered using a pseudonym. (If it’s a safe assumption that Margolis eventually opened up to his wife, one wonders why he omits that potentially dramatic moment from the text.) Overall, the author writes in an easily accessible style with a pleasant combination of self-deprecating humor and vivid descriptions of key incidents. The organization of the text into four main sections—Discovery, Concealment, Education, and Acceptance—reflects a journey that many will likely recognize and embrace. Margolis’ memoir should certainly resonate with readers who have ever felt somehow outside of the norm in any number of different contexts.

This delightful book about coping with a disorder delivers important lessons for parents and educators as well as younger audiences.

Pub Date: Oct. 29, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5176-1345-7

Page Count: 156

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 1, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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