This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff (1989)

I often play with myself on starting a book a game where I spot the exact point the author hooks me in and I know I’m going to read on.

Actually, if I’ve acquired the book myself the chances are I’ll be reading on anyways, but it’s fun to see where that point is as if I was coming to the book cold.

I often think of the author walking ahead of the reader on the start of the path that is their story. Suddenly they pause, turn, and hold out their hand to the reader. If they hook the reader with what they’re saying, the reader takes their hand and the author takes them on a journey.

That’s the point I love spotting.

That’s the point I often say out loud, “I’m in.”

This memoir’s got a good I’m in moment.

Let’s watch Wolff setting the scene from the first line.

Our car boiled over again just after my mother and I crossed the Continental Divide.

So. What we got here. They’re not made of money if they’ve a crap car that keeps boiling over. They’re in the middle of nowhere, which can be a bit disconcerting. They might be feeling a bit small and insignificant surrounded by ginormous mountains.

Wolff ratchets up all these elements in the next few lines. The following three sentences emphasise mother and son’s smallness and adds danger.

While we were waiting for it to cool we heard, from somewhere above us, the bawling on an airhorn. The sound got louder and then a big truck came round the corner and shot past us into the next curb, it’s trailer shimmying wildly. We stared after it. “Oh Toby,” my mother said, “he’s lost his brakes.”

On the road again, they come across the point where the truck went over the edge and fell hundreds of feet to the river below, where it lay on its back among boulders. It looked pitifully small. A stream of thick black smoke rose from the cab, feathering out in the wind… My mother put her arm round my shoulder.

See Wolff still niggling with that sense of scale and danger? Big truck made small, exposed on its back, dead. This is serious shit. It’s a big wild world out there.

For the rest of the day she kept looking over at me, touching me, brushing back my hair. I saw that the time was right to make a play for souvenirs.

I’m in.

Thanks for being here.

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Heartburn by Nora Ephron (1983)

Love this lady and this funny book.

It’s Ephron’s story of finding out her husband is cheating on her while she’s pregnant. No, seriously, it really is very funny – Ephron has an amazing ability to laugh at herself and her life.

Love her mum Phoebe, too.

Famously, mum used to say to daughter Everything is copy. She was right: just say what happened.

Here’s a fine example.

[It’s just before Christmas. Their New York apartment has been ‘burglarized’ and the police arrive. Nora’s recounting…]

Continue reading Heartburn by Nora Ephron (1983)

Macbeth by William Shakespeare (1606)

Your favourite bit, aside from unsex me here and Show his eyes and grieve his heart; come like shadows so depart?

Mine’s got to be Macbeth’s glum it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Which reminds me, I must get on with my memoirs.

But Hold enough! There is a hidden not often referred to gem that haunts. Can’t really call it a ‘favourite bit’ as it’s pretty grim. Powerful in its wrenching.

Continue reading Macbeth by William Shakespeare (1606)

The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare (1623)

Your favourite bit, apart from A sad tale’s best for winter and she is the queen of curds and cream?

Mine’s got to be either let’s be red with mirth or If I might die within this hour, I have lived to die when I desire.

But for now let’s to a favourite theme of Willy’s showing angry middle-aged men as complete oafs. Sit back and listen to one proving it again and again.

Continue reading The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare (1623)

John Thomas and Lady Jane by D H Lawrence (1927)

Aha, gotcha! Expecting saucy bits, eh? Like, then he took her and laid her down, wasting no time, breaking her underclothing in his urgency… or She was like a volcano. At moments she surged with desire, with passion, like a stream of white-hot lava. Eh?

Well tough titties. We’re going to look at Connie with the wide blue eyes and her bored life and broken marriage instead – before she loses her knickers.

Continue reading John Thomas and Lady Jane by D H Lawrence (1927)

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (1947)

This book makes me giddy. On weak days, I couldn’t even pick it up.

It’s the pain. The anxiety. Of watching Anne coping and hoping. And the dread of knowing what happens.

We know. She didn’t.

Continue reading The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (1947)