As I mentioned a few posts ago, I recently finished reading Mary Karr’s Lit. I discovered Mary Karr in an introductory non fiction class that I took as an undergraduate. I had never really thought much about non fiction but when I read Cherry, I was struck by how much poetry and non fiction have in common. The vivid imagery, the lyricism of her lines, and the raw emotion really struck me. I read the Liar’s Club and when she came to a local university a few years ago with Franz Wright, I listened to her read from her poetry collection Sinner’s Welcome.

I think the dangers in writing a memoir are many. They can come off as too precious, too much like a self help manual, especially of you’re writing about overcoming addiction through a spiritual journey, which is essentially what Karr is doing in Lit. I have to admit that about halfway through the book, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to finish. The prose was gripping, the tone seemed genuine, but it seemed lofty to me that Karr was going to claim that God had saved her. My athesist boyfriend dismissed the book before even reading it because of these spiritual revelations. However, he was mistaken and so was I. Karr is not shoving religion down our throats in this memoir, and whether you believe or not, you can take something away from the gritty prose that fills this book. It is heartbreaking but it is also relatable and I think that’s what drew me in and kept me reading (I finished the book in one day). There were a lot of places where she could have fallen into cliche. I mean she’s a writer, a poet, and an alcoholic. It doesn’t get more formulaic then that, but I believe her joy, her pain, her struggle, and her small triumphs. She draws you into her life and somehow makes it yours.

Her relationships with her family are documented in brutally honest words, but there is also tenderness. When she describes the moment when she has to move her dying father to a nursing home is devastating, made worse by the fact that a stroke has rendered him almost speechless. When moving her mother from her disintegrating house towards the end of the book, it is a reenactmentof her father’s pain. Her mother feels stripped and naked in the new, stark white condo and that vulnerability results in a painful argument between mother and daughter. Family is a central theme in this memoir and is closely related to alienation, so much so that they almost become symbols for each other throughout the text.

This memoir is not a mantra and it does not deliver some lofty message. It is a real account of a life that is still being lived. The verdict is still out on how this story will end.

Monday Musings

I’m back!

This past week was a bit ridiculous with grading and my propensity to over schedule myself…but I think I have things well under control. I still have a mountain of papers to grade, but I feel a little less scattered.

My sister will be in town this week. She has a job interview at Butler, so we’re both hoping that goes well. It will be good to see her and hang out for a few days.

This weekend RJ and I volunteered at Camp Rover Romp for the Humane Society. It was a lot of fun. We ran the water relay and I think we were a hit. The weather was beautiful.
The baby pools were a big hit 🙂


Mary Karr pays tribute to David Foster Wallace in the Washington Post.

The National Book Festival takes place this Saturday.

More than 70 authors will be in attendance including Salman Rushdie, Bob Schieffer, Michelle Singletary, R.L. Stine, Paul Theroux, Neil Gaiman, Philippa Gregory, Kimberly Dozier and more.

Robert Olin Butler waxes poetic in the Washington Post:

Every morning when I sit down at my desk to write, I feel I am called upon to try to give voice to something true about the human condition. From the place where I dream, I have learned that I must see this not as an act of judgment but as an exploration of our shared humanity. ·


Your fall poem for this week:

After Apple Picking

My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.

And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.

Robert Frost


This hits home for me. Big time. This is very true:

The benefits have proved appealing enough to draw thousands of writers into the university fold, and while a couple of generations ago it might have been a surprise to find a writer who taught at a college, now it’s a surprise to find one who doesn’t.