education, nonfiction, reading, reviews

Review: The Day I Became an Autodidact

698417The Day I Became an Autodidact: And the Advice, Adventures, and Acrimonies that Befell me Thereafter

Kendall Hailey

288 pages

Published in January 1989 by Delta

Source: Public library

A few days ago, I started reading The Day I Became an Autodidact by Kendall Hailey. Hailey, the daughter of a playwright and novelist, decided to graduate from high school a year early at the age of 16. Her turning point came when days after tenth grade ended, her school sent out a mandatory summer reading list. I don’t blame her. After being told what to read, what to write about, and what classes to take, the last thing anyone wants to do is slave away during the summer. I remember not wanting to do that during the school year.

So Hailey calls it quits with school and decides to become an autodidact, learning everything she needs to know through books. She reads Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina, Vile Bodies and Great Expectations. She takes trips with her family, reads, and takes more trips.

It’s great and all but I soon found myself wanting more. Part of the problem has to do with the fact that Hailey doesn’t do anything but read. Coming from a well-to-do family, the author doesn’t have to do anything she doesn’t want to but it doesn’t make for a good story. I DNFed the book after reading sixty pages, so I can’t tell you if she ever does anything out of her comfort zone. Within the pages I read, she doesn’t volunteer, search for others like herself, or anything. What’s the point of educating yourself if you’re going to stay in a bubble? Granted, the memoir was written in the late 1980s and Google wasn’t a click away.

Maybe the problem is that I’m not the right target for this book. I mean, I love reading. If I could, I would read all day long, except I can’t. That’s why read-a-thon days and various breaks are like Christmas to me. Even while writing this post, I had to stop and play Legos with one kid and make a snack for another one.

It doesn’t matter.

Hailey’s thoughts are insightful at times and I found a few paragraphs that I want to photocopy. That wasn’t enough for me to want to finish this book. My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars. It’s okay.

nonfiction, reviews

Review: The Year of Learning Dangerously by Quinn Cummings

cummingsThe Year of Learning Dangerously: Adventures in Homeschooling

Quinn Cummings

230 pages

Published in 2012 by Perigee Books, an imprint of Penguin

Source: Public Library

I was hiding in the laundry room fighting off a full-blown panic attack. If long division with remainders hadn’t been invented, this would not have been happening.

So begins Quinn Cummings’ memoir, The Year of Learning Dangerously, documenting her first year homeschooling her daughter, Alice. Alice is like any other kid: she loves cats, playing outside, and reading. When it comes to math, there’s this huge struggle every year. At the end of the school year, Alice usually doesn’t advance much in the subject. Cummings sees herself in Alice and knows that if she doesn’t intervene, the situation won’t change. What comes next is a hilarious and honest account of Quinn’s quest to homeschool her daughter, explore various homeschooling approaches, and just figure out what she’s doing.

Homeschooling has been going on for decades in the United States and one of the biggest reasons parents take their children out of school is for religious or moral instruction. That’s not always the reason why we decide to take our kids out of school. With Cummings, we know that she just wants Alice to love learning and to become willing to tackle things even when they’re not easy for her.

What makes the author’s story different from other memoirs about the same subject is the humor. Cummings is hilarious and honest about her shortcomings and her search to make Alice’s first year memorable. Or at least not traumatic. While tackling homeschooling, Cummings also finds the time to examine several approaches to homeschooling such as the classical method and unschooling, attend a Christian homeschooling prom, and learn as much as she can about the history of homeschooling. None of this is new to any veteran homeschooling parent. But if you’re curious about the subject or new to homeschooling, this book is really helpful.

While reading The Year of Learning Dangerously, readers see how privileged Cummings is. In her search to learn more about other homeschooling groups like Fundamentalists and Gohardites, she’s flying all over the country. Unless these same groups are living in my community, there’s no way I’m going to find out about them. These sections of the book are interesting because I had no idea what some of the groups think or believe, but it takes the focus away from Alice and her adjustment (which went well) to homeschooling. Some people may be offended by these sections since Cummings pretty much lied her way through most of these conventions. I wasn’t offended at all.

I found The Year of Learning Dangerously to be one woman’s hilarious take on her year of homeschooling and all that she’s learned. My rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Faced with a very foggy road ahead of us, we are probably best served by understanding there is just so much we can predict, and so much we can’t. We need to acknowledge that we’re all trying our best−homeschoolers and brick-and-mortar schoolers alike. After that, we need to embrace the uncertainty and just hope everything turns out better than bad. 

Graphic format, nonfiction

Book Review: Marbles by Ellen Forney


forneyMarbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo & Me

A Graphic Memoir by Ellen Forney

256 pages

Published in November 2012 by Gotham Books

Where did I get this?  Public Library

Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo & Me chronicles illustrator Ellen Forney’s years-long struggle to find balance with her bipolar disorder while maintaining her passion for art. Right before her thirtieth birthday, Ellen was diagnosed with biopolar 1 disorder. Highly manic at the time, she had tons of ideas on how to keep working creatively before her depression hits. When it does, things change. Through this chaotic time, Ellen seeks comfort from the fact that many gifted artists like Georgia O’Keefe, Sylvia Plath, and others have gone through similar mental challenges. She also explores the relationship between creativity and mental illness. Told with brutal honesty, Marbles is a book that will appeal to many people.

Marbles starts with Ellen getting a back tattoo. It was something she thought about and the many ideas for her tattoo are coming at her at once. She even kisses the tattoo artist (a stranger to her) after the tattoo is done. Readers see the mania of it. Throughout the book, the author brilliantly illustrates to readers what manic and depression looks and feels like. Readers watch as some of Ellen’s friends distance themselves because she’s so manic and others who help her when she’s depressed. Throughout this four-years struggle, it’s drawing, Ellen’s passion, that helps her.

If the name Ellen Forney sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because she’s the illustrator behind Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. In Marbles, Ellen has a similar drawing style. The black and white drawing adds to Ellen’s writing without bogging down the story in any way.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Something that stayed with me about this book is Ellen’s journey as she tries different medications in various combinations. The side effects for these pills range from anything like hair loss, low blood platelet levels, tremors, memory loss, to skin breakouts. It takes weeks for these pills to work and if they don’t, the person has to start over with a different pill in a different combination. I also learned that most health insurance companies don’t cover prescriptions for these types of medications. Ellen breaks down the costs of her pills while she’s going through this. It was shocking to find out that a month’s worth of one pill could cost her almost $1000. That is ridiculous. So not only is there a pretty good chance that this prescription won’t work, but it’s also so expensive. I would think that insurance companies would know that if a person can’t take care of their mental and emotional health, they won’t be able to take care of their physical health. You can’t have one without the other. I felt frustration about this, right along with Ellen.

With the right pills, her passion of art, and the support of family and friends, Ellen finds balance in the end.

Marbles is a fantastic read. It’s a book that will appeal to people who’ve had their own mental struggles, older teens, lovers of the graphic format, and anyone who likes a good story. My rating: 5 out of 5. I need this in my personal library.