Saturday, June 13, 2009

When Skateboards Will Be Free

I used to think my parents were weird and embarrassing, but they've got nothing on Said Sayrafiezadeh's parents.
In "When Skateboards Will Be Free", Said describes growing up as the child of ardent members of the Socialist Workers Party. What happens to a boy who spends his childhood sitting under tables stacked with "The Militant" while his mother tries to tell passers-by about the coming worker's revolution? Whose father moves back to Iran to run for president as the socialist candidate? Of course, Said grows up to work for Martha Stewart.
In between one extreme environment and the other is a very enjoyable, well-written story.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Know-It-All

I love "stunt" memoirs, books about a person trying something weird or crazy and then writing a book about how it went. Many readers love biographies which describe in detail the fascinating lives of great leaders or famous personalities. Unfortunately I usually give up at about page 150, before the person even starts doing great and worthy things. No matter how well written the biography, I just can't seem to stick with it.
However, if someone decides to go a year without shopping (Not Buying It, by Judith Levine) or cooks her way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a tiny New York apartment kitchen (Julie and Julia, by Julie Powell) and then writes about it, I'm happy to read it. I don't know what I find so fascinating about these books, but I love them.
A.J. Jacobs has been kind enough to write two of these books for my reading pleasure. His first is the one that I read most recently, "The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World", about Mr. Jacob's experiences reading the entire Encyclopædia Britannica. The book is written as a series of alphabetical entries in which he shares the weird and wonderful things he is learning, but also describes his family, his marriage, and his mostly unsuccessful attempts to impress his brilliant brother-in-law with his new-found knowledge. The book is very funny, very interesting, and a great read.
Mr. Jacobs went on to write another great stunt memoir, "The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible". This book is even funnier, as might be expected. But while he plays the weirdness of many things in the bible for laughs, he is respectful towards the many religious people he meets during his quest. He also openly acknowledges how annnoying all of this is to his wife. I can only hope that he's made enough money off this book to make it up to her.
If I had to rank some of the stunt memoirs I have enjoyed, it would probably go like this:
1. The Year of Living Biblically
2. The Know-It-All
3. Not Buying It
4. Eat, Pray Love
5. Julie and Julia