Between the Lines Book Club: Controversial Memoirs

between the lines book club logoThis month our book club pick is Bend Not Break, by Ping Fu. When it was first released, Bend Not Break received considerable critical acclaim and was popular with the public as well. However, Chinese readers noted several inconsistencies in the author’s timeline, and questioned a particular scene in which Fu claims to have witnessed an execution of a teacher. In response, Fu explained many discrepancies but admitted that the execution probably never happened. We will be discussing this book at Arden Dimick Library  on Sept 28, 2019 at 10:30AM.

Bend Not Break joins a long list of memoirs that are either completely or partially fictionalized. One of the most famous is A Million Little Pieces, by James Frey. Like Bend Not Break, this was marketed as a memoir and heavily publicized by Oprah Winfrey. Unlike Bend Not Break, which mostly alters logistical details,  A Million Little Pieces turned out to be almost completely fictionalized. Less famously, people who knew Madeline L’Engle, including her children and other family members, claim that her memoirs are almost complete fiction, especially her portrait of a happy marriage that never existed in Two Part Invention.

Some books market themselves as “fictionalized memoir.” While marketed as fiction, the Little House books fit into this category. Although the events come from author Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life, she picked and choose events and altered some events and characters so as to create a compelling story that wouldn’t be too dark. In A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, author David Egger includes fantasy sequences and points out sections to the reader that are fictionalized or otherwise different from reality.

Ping Fu claimed to write “the emotional truth.” Madeline L’Engle claimed that “there is no such thing as nonfiction.” Is it possible to write a truly truthful memoir? And at what point do deviations from fact make the entire piece untrustworthy? We will explore these questions on Sept 28 and below in the comments!

 

 

 

Revisiting Tarot For Yourself, by Mary K. Greer

cover of Tarot for Your Self
Tarot for Your Self
, by Mary K. Greer, is one of the first books about tarot that I picked up. It’s out in a 25th anniversary edition and I highly recommend it in any edition. Its suggestions can be interpreted equally well from a more spiritual/mystical/intuitive lens or a more psychological lens, and the book has practical tools to help you use the cards for yourself and for others.

I looked back through my old workbook today and realized that photocopied pages from this book form the majority of my notes in my mini-book-of-shadows ( a 3 by 5 size cobbled-together book of notes that I carry around with me). That’s because the pages are so clear and so concise and yet detailed. In addition to card meanings and correspondences, there are meditative exercises to help one form a personal connection to tarot, and practical exercises to help one with tough decisions or issues. If you are interested in things like astrology and crystals, the book has guidance for you, but a more skeptical practitioner might want to focus on exercises like meditations and suggested art exercises.

It’s fascinating to return to this and redo some of the exercises I did fifteen years ago. I’m still the hermit. Not a surprise. That first time around, I didn’t fill out the data for my Hidden Factor/Shadow/Teacher card, and now I’m ready to do so. Time to return to the exercises I didn’t get to before!

 

Care and Feeding of Newborn Kittens

week old kitten drinking from bottle
I’m helping bottle feed a week old kitten. I have nights. I am tired. The kitten is adorable but honestly to me he’s pretty much a blurry furry thing who gets milk all over me and pees on my shirt. I love him in a passionate but somewhat comatose way. I am REALLY tired.

With this in mind, here’s what to do if you find a newborn – 4 week old kitten:

1. LEAVE IT ALONE. Seriously. Mom is probably coming back. Just chill. The survival rate for newborn kittens separated from mom too early is awful. Just wait for the return of mom.

2.OH WOW MOM DID COME BACK – rejoice and leave it the hell alone for at least 5 weeks – 8 if you can. Then you can scoop them up and get them spayed or neutered and rehomed.

3. BUT WHAT ABOUT PREDATORS? Nature is red in tooth and claw and yet kittens are still better off risking being lunch than being taken away from mom too soon.

4. MOM HASN’T COME BACK. Wash it in warm water. Dawn dish soap helps get fleas off. They are too little for flea meds so let the water do its thing and then pick the rest off by hand, you lucky human.

5. HOW DO I FEED IT? Happily, there are videos to show you how, but basically you will buy kitten formula and fed it to your little infant about every 2 hours. You want their heads to be up, not reclined like a human baby, because if they recline while nursing they can aspirate the milk. If it’s asleep, wake it up. Around the clock. Enjoy.

6. I HAVE TO DO WHAT???? After every feeding you must lick the kitten’s butt. But since you are not a cat you can use a washcloth or tissue instead of your tongue. This stimulates the kitten’s muscles so it can pee and poop. It can’t do these things on its own.

7. Make sure it is warm. Kittens can’t regulate their own temperature.

dog sniffing kitten

Do not feed the kitten to your dog.

ABOVE ALL:

SPAY AND NEUTER YOUR PETS.

Seriously.

Happily, there are a lot of websites with charts and videos that show you all the details: how warm is warm enough, how much the kitten should eat, when you can stop bottle feeding, etc. Just don’t rescue kittens that don’t need rescuing! Here’s a good site:

Maddiesfund.org

Look at my little fluffy!

a very tired me with snuggly kitten

 

 

Between the Lines Book Club: Bend Not Break by Ping Fu

between the lines book club logoIt’s September, and that means a new Between the Lines Book Club book. This month we are reading the controversial memoir Bend not Break, by Ping Fu with MeiMei Fox. We will be meeting at Arden Dimick Library at 10:30AM on Sept 28, 2019 in person, and you can also leave comments here.

Here are some discussion questions to think about while you read the book. Future posts will address the controversies behind the memoir, so be sure to check in on Fridays. These questions will probably be revised and added to before our meeting.

  1. What did you think of Ping Fu’s writing style? Does she tell a good story? Did you keep turning pages? Was it literary or conversational? What about the flashback structure?
  2. How does this compare to other memoirs we’ve read, esp Lion and Born a Crime? Does it do what it attempts to do?
  3. Do you agree with Ping Fu that “If you don’t believe in the glass ceiling, it ceases to exist.”
  4. Let’s talk about the controversies surrounding the book. How true to life does a memoir have to be to be “valid”? Do you agree that she conveyed her “emotional truth?” Is the memoir worth reading even if it isn’t all true?
  5. Some memoirs are completely fabricated. Others are at least partially true but partially fabricated. Where do you draw the line between a “true” and “untrue” memoir? When are fabrications useful in creating a good story, and when and how are they harmful? 
  6. How did Ping Fu build resilience? How can this apply to our own children and to ourselves, regardless of the magnitude of the challenge?
  7. How did Ping Fu’s experiences help her in business? How did they hinder her?
  8. Did Ping Fu pull herself up by her own bootstraps? What social opportunities and personal connections helped her?
  9. How does Ping Fu’s search for a positive life connect to “The Geography of Bliss?” What things helped her survive emotionally in  both in her childhood and in her adult life?
  10. Would you recommend this book to others?