Reading Matters: March

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Two new books to review this month:

  • Patricia Bosworth’s beautifully written memoir: The Men in my Life – a memoir of love and art in the 1950s Manhattan

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  • A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of the Columbine Tragedy by Sue Klebold, mother of shooter Dylan Klebold – a book described by the Guardian as “gripping, troubling and compelling”
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The Men in My Life by Patricia Bosworth

I couldn’t stop reading this one.

It’s terrific.

I thought about it on my way to work, at work and on my way home from work; whilst cooking tea for my family, washing up, tidying round and finally sitting down to enjoy huge satisfying chunks of read every evening til I was done.

It’s the unsettling combination of pampered childhood, show biz glitz, 1950’s glamour and raw, terrible loss that caught me: the book blurb intrigues with a tale of family, marriage, tragedy, Broadway and featuring a rich cast of well-known literary and theatrical figures from a golden era New York in the 1950s and 1960s.

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Overshadowing all these memories however, is the hopeless suicides of Bosworth’s father, Bartley Crum and brother – who Patricia describes in the book as her soul mate, Bart Jr, aged 18.

These were the men in her life.

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These were the men that drove her and shaped her as a woman.

“It was a catharsis,” Bosworth says of writing “The Men in My Life.” “I never mentioned the suicides to anybody — no one had known at the time. I was living by my instincts. I didn’t know how to think very well. [But] this for me remains the most vivid period in my life.”

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And what makes this a life worth sharing? Tales of life at the Actor’s Studio in New York in the 1950s, bumping into Steve McQueen, acting with Audrey Hepburn, love affairs, disappointment, a disastrous marriage to an impoverished artist -which is compelling reading -a botched abortion, its all here, told in detail by a gifted writer.

“Living by my instincts” – may be that’s what I find so compelling – for Bosworth is a survivor and this is ultimately a survivor’s tale, a journey into self awareness – indeed for such a large part of the book it feels as it the writer has become so detached from her life that she writes as an observer, the recorder, present but the disconnection for me in some parts is raw and vivid.

Is this what survival does?

Disconnect? Or “by instinct” does that drive a deeper harder connection to life?

Bosworth’s instinctive drive to re-connect with life following her devastation is visceral and central to the book with a heavy emphasis on longing and loneliness.

The book reminds me of the Women’s Room by Marilyn French, the wonderful Braided Lives by Marge Piercey and two fantastic books I have reviewed previously Minor Charactores by Joyce Johnson and Off the Road by Carolyn Cassady featuring ballsy women from the 1950s and 60s.

There’s a great companion piece by socialite Liz Smith (who knew Patti in the 50s) writing on Love and Art in the New York diary here

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For all my deeper musings this book remains a vivid, beautifully written tale “refreshingly frank about sex” as one reviewer wrote – highly recommended.

A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold

Sue Klebold’s son was Dylan Klebold. Sue writes:

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This was an immensely powerful read.

I hadn’t looked at any of the clippings or content around Columbine before I read this book but the scant images I caught online of Dylan at Columbine shocked me. The photographs captured a demented teen, his baseball cap turned backwards on his high forehead, a shock of hair billowing out around it – a crazed mess of anger and vile, seething hatred – such a shocking contrast to the photographs re produced in this book: of a teenage Dylan playing cards with his family, getting dressed for Prom, smiling up at the camera: a gentle boy by all accounts, normal.

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Which makes what happened so much the more shocking in the every sense of the word. But you must have known. You must have, people shout at Sue Klebold. You must have witnessed the evil in your home. You lived with him day in day out. How could you not know? But the brutal truth is that Sue did not. And every day of her life that is her pain. Every day. How do you survive that?

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I read the book wanting to know how it felt to survive. How do we survive, how do we make a life, go on with a life when the unthinkable happens and the unthinkable was perpetrated by our child and our child was a stranger to us? And yet we brought him into the world and raised him. How then could this not be our fault? How do we survive events so our of our control yet so deeply connected to our very being?

It is a brutally honest account of an unimaginable horror. Raw and unsparing.

As a companion piece, view this TED talk by Sue Klebold the introduction to which reads:

Since the massacre, Sue has spent years excavating every detail of her family life, and trying to understand what she could have done to prevent it. In 2016, after years of evading public scrutiny, Klebold published A Mother’s Reckoning: Living In the Aftermath of Tragedy, a powerful memoir in which she explores the crucial intersection between mental health and violence. As a passionate advocate for brain health awareness and intervention, she is donating any profits from the book to mental health charities, research and suicide prevention, hoping for solutions that will help parents and professionals spot and thwart signs of trouble.

Every parent will learn from reading this book.

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In their own way, each book this month has spoken of re-building a life following devastation wrought by others.

Observation on Conditioning

It is not the same but in some tiny way so small that it makes me ache to write it, I cannot escape the nuance in my own life of surviving adoption and the devastating event that pre-defined a future completely out of my control.

Perhaps that’s why I was so taken with the content and authenticity displayed in each book?

Interesting too tracking the thoughts that spring up around this for me: am I even entitled to write this; I feel guilty exploring this notion; I am ungrateful to even have this thought, who am I?

Adoption Story

Once when my mother called unexpected to my house (and I had not prepared for the visit) as the conversation stuttered and came to a halt, I tried to explain that Steve Jobs was right in his description of being out of control right at the moment of destiny and why that was true for me.

But as before, the words failed me and the more I tried to explain the less sense I made. I blundered and muddled on unsure of how to progress until I caught a glimpse of her sad, hard face and look of total incomprehension and wondered again how on earth we were connected and how we could ever claim to be part of the same birth whole?

Later, rain came and I sat and tried to figure it out again.

The sad hard truth of the matter is that for all my child hood longing for re-union, for all my full on fantasies that my mother was the woman in the flake advert eating chocolate in a corn field (growing up I knew my mother had corn coloured hair but nothing else) there was nothing there.

No charmed life.

No invisible thread connecting golden mother to beautiful daughter.

No fairy Godmother of re-union.

No Nicky Campbell

No Davina Macall.

Nothing.

de Nada.

And then the reality began to hit me.

I wasn’t planned and was never wanted.

I am the product of a “rather forceful” meeting outside the back door of the Town and Country nightclub Bradford circe July 1964.

Worse still, my father was a muslim, an immigrant, she says.

Was it a hot balmy night? Were you scared? Ashamed?

She doesn’t actually want to be near me or reminded of that night.

Who would?

Christ how do we make peace with that?

The strange thing is that it really is OK.

Its OK.

I write this and I am still here.

And I am still here.

And I am still here.

Still here.

Here.

Here.

Here.

I exist through her – they gave me life.

But I am, through me.

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