Stitches: A Memoir

August 3, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

stitchesStitches: A Memoir by David Small

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I stumbled across this book while browsing Goodreads one day. That’s nothing of note (a lot of the books that wind up on my to-read list come from there), but that particular day, I happened to be browsing the site after installing a browser extension that linked to my library. The summary and artwork both looked promising, and my local branch had a copy, so I gave it a test run, and what do you know? It works!

Stitches is a memoir of David Small’s early life. It’s a heavy story. Small’s parents were cold and distant, more interested in their own well-being than his own, and they often saw him as a burden more than anything else. His father, a radiographer, tries to cure Small’s pulmonary problems by dosing him with X-rays, so when he’s in his early teens and develops cancer, it’s not much of a surprise. Well, it’s not much of a surprise to his parents. It is to Small, because he goes into surgery expecting the doctors to remove what he’s been told is a sebaceous cyst, but when he wakes, he’s missing his thyroid and one of his vocal cords, and is effectively mute. It’s only then that he discovers he had cancer.

Dysfunctional families are the subject of many a memoir, so the memoir itself isn’t anything new, nor does it provide any particular insights into why families can be dysfunctional. What drew me to the story was the anecdote about his surgery and his ignorance of his own health, and once that point is passed in the story, it ceases to be as interesting. Small carries the story through to its conclusion, offering some small explanations for why his parents were like they were, and offering some small bit of closure to the relationship with his mother, but it doesn’t feel engaging. The story is compelling enough, and Small’s illustrations are evocative (there’s a break in the middle of the story where the style changes, and that change is used to great effect), but in the end, I couldn’t feel much more than pity for the author and his family, and I don’t feel that’s the appropriate emotional response for what happened to him.

Memoirs aren’t really my thing, but every so often a graphic memoir catches my attention enough to make me want to read it. Fun Home was another one I read and only just barely enjoyed, and Stitches is about the same for me. Part of it is they’re so one-sided; family dynamics, even in the healthiest families, are complicated, and it’s impossible to get the entire story of a family just by listening to one member. In his afterword, Small suggests that he did a lot of research into his family when writing the book, but it’s still a story told entirely from his viewpoint. I can’t help but feel we’re not getting the entire story, but maybe that’s the point of any memoir. Again, they’re not a genre I typically read.

I wasn’t impressed with Stitches, but I admit I’m not the target audience. I liked Maus, but most other memoirs I’ve read have felt pointless and self-indulgent. Fans of memoirs, or fans of stories about terrible families, might enjoy it (is “enjoy” even the right word here?), but for the most part I didn’t get it.

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As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride

December 22, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

wishAs You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes, et al.

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The Princess Bride is among a lot of people’s favorite movies. I think it’s safe to say that one can judge the worthiness of a friend by asking them what they think of the movie; if they don’t say that it’s one of the best stories ever, they’re probably not worth the time.

As You Wish is Cary Elwes’ autobiography about making the film. He gives the reader a lot of information about the production itself, including some of the pre-production details that he learned while making the movie. He speaks of how wonderful Rob Reiner is as a director, how wonderful Robin Wright is as an actor, how wonderful Andre the Giant was as a person, how wonderful William Goldman is as an author and screenwriter … he pretty much talks about how wonderful it was to make the movie. Based on this book, one can only wish they had been a part of the movie, just to get to know all of the people involved.

Aside from Cary’s insights, the book includes a lot of thoughts from other actors and principles in the movie, so we get more than just Cary’s take on things. Everyone involved seems to agree, though, that it was a wonderful experience to make this movie. The people involved all seem to be good-hearted, warm individuals, which is no surprise, since the movie gives off a similar vibe. I listened to this as an audiobook, and the production brings in the individuals to tell their own parts of the story (save for a few people, who have a stand-in to read those parts).

The book does have a lot of repetition, which is its only downside. On top of that, Elwes covers a lot of the story of The Princess Bride, and one point explains the entire plot from start to finish. I’m not sure why he felt the need to go into that much detail; surely the only people reading this book are the ones who already know and love the story, right? I can overlook his repeating some of the most famous lines from the story, since that part of the book is where he’s highlighting Goldman’s writing talents, but the rest of it seemed to be there just to pad out the page length of the book. Myself, I would have preferred to know more about what went on behind the camera.

To his credit, Elwes covers the behind-the-scenes details I wanted to know (the background behind the sword fight is lengthy, and is the running teaser throughout the book), and how much one will enjoy the book is probably contingent on how much one likes to know behind-the-scenes trivia. Myself, I love it; as soon as I see a movie, I bring up IMDB and check the trivia for it to see what kinds of neat details I can learn. Others, though … well, what are they doing reading this book if they don’t like that sort of thing? It tells us right there in the title — Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride.

The book is a joy to read, and even more of a joy to listen to, and it makes me want to re-read the book and re-watch the movie. I already know that both are wonderful stories, but Elwes’ excitement about both, and his pride in having been involved with making the movie, is contagious enough to make me want to revisit them both. His recollections make me wish I could be involved with something as memorable and important as The Princess Bride.

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