A Heartbreaking Work of What Remains At The End Of Normal, i.e. I'm Not Myself These Days

Read a memoir and you're guaranteed a few laughs, some heartache, a history lesson or all of the above. Here are some of my favorites and one, not so much.

A while ago, after finishing the book I was reading at 4 am, I wrote to the author. I had 2 questions for him. #1 How are you still alive? #2 Am I homophobic?

Josh wrote me back that morning and we had a nice chat by email. I was horrified reading his memoir, I'm Not Myself These Days.  His actions were so reckless and
dangerous. The memoir has a happy ending which leads to his next one which I also highly recommend, The Bucolic Plague. Love the title.

Josh Kilmer Purcell tells of his years in NYC. Advertising exec by day, Drag Queen by night. He drank heavily and took any drug that came his way. Its a great book and he is a fantastic writer so I hesitate to say I lost track of how many times he woke up in a strange apartment and/or had the crap beat out of him. Which led to me seeking out an email address to contact him at 4 am. Did I mention his roommate was a drug dealer? Read the book.

If I were you, reading this, I wouldn't read it but I promise there
is more to it than what I'm depicting.

I was relieved he survived. Question #1 was kind of rhetorical because at this point season one of The Fabulous Beekman Boys had already aired on Planet Green channel. Josh is one Fabulous Beekman along with his longtime partner Brent Ridge. The Bucolic Plague chronicles how they ended up renovating a historic home in upstate New York built by a Beekman in 1802. There are a lot of great memoirs out about city folk starting farms. This is one of them.

I was very grateful to Josh that morning because he reassured me I was not homophobic. I never thought I was but I was having such a horrified reaction to his nights as a drag queen I questioned myself for the first time ever. In the end I realized (and Josh agreed) that it wasn't the fact that he was a drag queen, or gay. He could have gone home safely every night by choice. I was really reacting to his drug use, staggering around the city etc. Please remember, its a great book, happy ending leading to second book, even happier and funny too (minus the drag queen, he packed her away in a trunk). He traded Aquadisiac  for a llama and lots of goats. (Aquadisiac, his drag queen persona had 2 goldfish bowls on her chest, very creative.)

Memoirs are one of my favorite type of books to read. I've read so many but have an endless list still to read. They are fairly quick, easy reads while also having some kind of lesson. You may identify with parts of the author's life. They are sometimes good reflections of the times.  While I don't expect anything out of them other than a good read I usually get some things to think about.

One gave me great comfort back in 2000. Dave Egger's A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius (once again, great title) is a fantastic book. Honestly it is a heartbreaking book written with endless genius and irreverence up the wing wang. It starts on his mother's death bed. She's dying a painful death from stomach cancer. I will always be grateful to him for this book because it put my mind at ease, once and for all, that it was fortunate my mother had only lived 30 days after her diagnosis. She was spared all the suffering that he wrote about.

Some are just funny. I liked Mindy Kaling's book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? Mindy plays Kelly Kapoor on The Office but also writes, directs and produces. Her book chronicles the early years struggling as an artist (writer) which is common. Patti Smith's Just Kids gives new meaning to “starving artist”.

I loved Ali Wentworth's Ali In Wonderland. Ali is married to George Stephanopolis. She had a really interesting/funny upbringing in D.C. She grew up with great wealth but she is the least pretentious person on planet Earth. I'm her age so I loved her references to styles of the late 70's, games we played, music we liked. We had those things in common but I never had Henry Kissinger longing around in my family's backyard pool. While Ali and I both made prank phone calls with friends for fun, I wasn't pranking the White House and the CIA.

Carole Radziwill combined humor, political connections , tragedy and wisdom in her down to earth memoir. Carole too started small in NYC. She worked her way up to producer for ABC news legends like Sam Donaldson. She met her future husband and prince covering the Menedez brother's murder trial. She claims she didn't know Anthony Radziwill was a prince. Not only was he a prince, he was John Kennedy Jr's cousin and good buddy. Anthony's mother was Lee Radziwill, Jackie O's sister.

I really enjoyed Carole's book because she was down to earth,telling a bit about the news business and what it was like to “summer” with the Kennedy's. What Remains refers too some huge losses she suffers. And the timing of her losses is unbelievable. Truly tragic but she writes with wisdom and optimism.

So we have humor, lack of pretension, close proximity to greatness, career struggles starting from nothing,history, tragedy, cancer, comedy writing and drag queens. I highly recommend all the books I mentioned for entertainment value and a little take away. I am very hesitant to say the same about the one I just finished. There is a great website Goodreads, which is a Facebook-like forum for reviewing books. Many people agreed with my thoughts on The End Of Normal. Because I am a bookseller I will honestly say that it is an easy, entertaining read. There is definitely tragedy involved and history. Recent history.

The end of normal for Stephanie Madoff Mack came in 2008 when her father in law was arrested. Stephanie's husband Mark, along with his brother Andrew turned their father in for his multi billion dollar Ponzi scheme. The problem is her normal was so enviable that it is hard to feel too sympathetic for her. She makes a convincing case for her husband being innocent and their lives became incredibly stressful. Lives were destroyed and she is angry. She was angry, got angrier and will forever be angry. I think this book would be good for a discussion on wealth and family ties, stress management etc. I just couldn't get past her anger.

So many good memoirs and so many reasons to read them. Joan Didion, Nora Ephron etc. I didn't even mention all the international memoirs. Maybe next time......

If Carole Radziwill's name seems extra familiar to you, yes, she is on The Real Housewives of NYC this season. I've watched it a bit and I have no idea why she agreed to it. She is as funny and witty as her writing is and way more classy than the other wives. I really hope the Fabulous Beekman Boys are familiar. Their “reality” show was what reality shows should be. They had a cult following and I drank the kool aid. There was drama but not manufactured drama. Seriously, I'm not kidding. Josh and Brent are a wonderful couple. They give farming and homosexuality a good name. (Did I just write that? ) :)

Check out their website at Beekman1802.com.

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Gillian Pieper August 13, 2012 at 08:48 PM
Great review! My "to read" list just doubled! Thanks Sue!
sally anderson August 13, 2012 at 08:54 PM
I have a few books to add to my reading list.
Sue Roegge August 13, 2012 at 09:28 PM
No, thank you Gillian :), skip the Madoff one unless you're really interested. What happened wasn't her fault but at the same time its hard to feel sorry for an extremely privileged life reduced to privileged. Thanks again, I appreciate the comment.
Sue Roegge August 13, 2012 at 09:28 PM
Have you sold Stephanie Madoff's book? I don't think I'll be able to recommend it.


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