A Paper Life – Tatum O’Neal, 2004

Paper Moon was one of my very favorite movies as a child, partly because Addie Pray represented something I wanted to be–the opposite of the shy, goody-goody kid I was. (Also it’s a great con-artist movie, a genre I’ve always liked, and Madeline Kahn is hysterically funny in it.) Tatum–what a great name–seemed in that movie, and later even more so in the Bad News Bears preview (never actually saw the movie) and International Velvet, like the ideal combination of tomboy toughness and comfort in her own skin. But man, what a screwed-up life she’s had. This autobiography details a horrible childhood with uncaring, troubled parents, and the subsequent trainwrecks of adolescence and young adulthood. Alas, it’s not particularly compelling, aside from my (not unusual, but somewhat shameful) morbid fascination with the travails of celebrities, nor is it insightful. O’Neal says she’s doing OK now and says she finds solace in her children, but one doesn’t really get a sense of how exactly she rose out of the pit. Good for her, but I’m sort of sorry I took the time to read the book. When will I get over this pull to the junk food of literature, which I gulp quickly but leaves nothing solid behind?

Departures & Arrivals – Eric Newby, 1999

The only reason I checked this book out is that it’s large print but under 1 inch thick. I wanted something to read on the elliptical trainer, whose motion makes normal print impossible to focus on but whose acrylic slot for reading material is designed for thin things (magazines, presumably). I’ve now worked something out that will let me read normal large print books (usually a couple of inches thick), but I did read all 272 pages of this hodgepodge of travel essays. I predict that not too many of our large print patrons at the library will, however, even the ones who check it out. (We did not select it for our collection individually–it came in an assortment of titles we get automatically, and that annoys me because Thorndike is supposed to be choosing stuff that has wide appeal.) It’s not a bad book by any means, just a comically poor fit for an elderly rural American audience. The essays are individually interesting and well-written, but don’t really fit together and assume quite a lot of knowledge that most people don’t have–starting with who Eric Newby is. The sequencing is disorienting, as we jump from place to place and time to time in no particular order–Beijing in 1992, then Swanage in 1927 (I think they’re arranged by date of publication, but there’s no background information given. It would help to know where they first appeared at least). I don’t normally read large print, so I was also disoriented by the lack of white space between different essays–they’re run together to save paper, with little titles that look more like section headings than even like chapters. But there are good evocations of sights, sounds, and tastes of exotic places, and humorous descriptions (“… boys were playing basketball, so tall some of them that in their white gear they looked as if they had been extruded from a giant toothpaste tube”). He refers twice to “muffin-colored” houses–a silly image if you think of American muffins, but presumably he means English ones!