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Friday, January 31, 2014

Cheese Doodles, Memoirs And That Voice

It's been a hit-and-miss month for books. Among other missteps, one of my newer book clubs selected a bestselling "page turner" (per the cover blurb). Though I did jam through 375 pages in two sittings, you've read books like this - zero nutritional value. As I finished, I was reminded of the last time I wolfed down a bag of cheese doodles only to ask myself seconds later - Why did I just eat that?

But the month is ending on a high note. "Five Finger Discount: A Crooked Family History" (2001) by Helene Stapinski is a touching but wholly unsentimental memoir of growing up in hardscrabble Jersey City, NJ. The author's background as a journalist serves her well; few metaphors, little dialogue, lots of texture. As a lifelong NJ resident, it's been difficult to escape the rampant political corruption of Hudson County. Even with this as her context, Stapinski manages not to sound cynical, bringing energy and humor to the tales of these swindlers & crooks. And some of them are members of her family, including her very unsavory Grandfather.  

There was, however, one downside to reading a memoir so well crafted this month. I've been working steadily on my own "memoir" - a 5000 word submission for an AARP/Huffington Post contest, deadline - February 15. Each time I toggled from reading Stapinski's book back to my own project, my inner critic got a little louder. What strategies have worked well for you when you hear that voice?        

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