Tag Archives: non-fiction

Free Reading Friday: The Pornographer’s Daughter

the pornographer's daughterI picked up The Pornographer’s Daughter by Kristin Battista-Frazee as part of my on going search to find interesting non-fiction that might engage my students. Granted, I was pretty sure that a memoir with a title like: The Pornographer’s Daughter, was probably not one I was going to be able to take into my classroom, but it definitely had a catching title that I know my students would think twice about reading.

Although I was not alive when Deep Throat was released, I have seen Lovelace and have done a bit of reading about the original movie. It peaked my interest when I learned about the Watergate connection while studying journalism in college. I have never actually seen the movie itself, not because I have objections to pornography, but more because it was so before my time and no one I know has ever had a copy of it. I’m not opposed to pornography on any moral level, but I’m also not much of a consumer of it either. I know a bit about the adult entertainment business, and I thought this book might give me a bit more insight into it.

What I didn’t realize when I picked up this book was that Battista-Frazee’s father was not directly involved with the making of the movie. When she called herself the pornographer’s daughter, I thought her father might have been one of the director’s or producers of the movie. I thought her dad was going to be a big name in the industry. I had no idea he was simply a stockbroker who wanted to make a bit of extra money by distributing the movie to theaters around the country. I also had no idea the scandal that distribution caused.

Battista-Frazee’s book is an interesting look at the obscenity case that surrounded the movie. While I know a variety of pornography has come under fire over the years for being obscene (as have a variety of art forms that are not categorized as porn), I did not realize that for merely getting a copy of a movie to a theater that wanted to show it, anyone would be followed by the FBI, arrested and indicted. I guess I understand how taking illegal materials over state lines is an issue for the FBI, it just seems so strange to me that taking a pornographic movie to a theater where consenting adults viewed it quite publicly would be viewed as illegal.

Battista-Frazee does a good job of recreating her family’s struggle as her father got entwined not only in the Deep Throat court cases, but through the loss of his stockbroker’s license and his acquisition of further porn businesses. She gives a pretty straightforward account of the pain it caused her mother when her father opened strip clubs and then later pornography shops. She also details some of the additional legal battles he had as a result of becoming a full-time club, video store and sex toy warehouse owner.

Although she had very limited exposure to any of his legal battles or his actual business dealings until after completing her masters’ degree, it is interesting to see how she pieced together information from family interviews and old newspaper and magazine articles about the case. She makes it very clear that she was never in one of his clubs and never even visited one of his adult stores until she was well into her 20’s. Never once does she stray from painting the relationship she had with her dad as perfectly loving and healthy. Her parental relationship issues came from her mother, who was struggling with depression.

This was an interesting read. It’s not a book I will end up taking into my classroom, more to avoid any potential parental complaints than because of any actual lewd or obscene content. I would have no problem telling my students I read the book, but don’t think I need to actually promote it to them. They can discover books like this one when they go to college.

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Free Reading Friday: Look Me In the Eye

look me in the eyeOne of my students lent me Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s by John Elder Robison to read. She wanted to read it for a non-fiction project in my AP Language class and my rule is that I have to read the book first before students can read/use a book for their project. Thanks to this rule, I’ve read some really interesting non-fiction works I would not have picked up on my own. I’ve also read a few books I really did not enjoy and still won’t let students live down.

I was not initially thrilled about this book. I read The Journal of Best Practices by David Finch last year and while I found it fairly enlightening considering I am married to a man who has only recently been diagnosed, it was a lot to take. And I was worried this book might be similar. While Finch’s book was interesting and informative, it didn’t quite have me hooked and there were definitely moments that I felt the book was a slog to get through.

Robison’s book was completely different! When I was only a few pages in, I was hooked. I’m not sure if this is because he begins by discussing his childhood, well before he was diagnosed, and I am currently waiting to have my daughter evaluated because she shares an awful lot of traits with her dad, OR because Robison’s writing was just so compelling. My guess is that both are true.

I had no idea that Robison was the brother of Augusten Burroughs who wrote Running With Scissors, a book (and movie) I enjoyed. I was caught off guard when Robison mentioned his brother and the craziness that surrounded his life for a brief time being treated by Dr. Finch. I found it fascinating though.

In general, I found the story of Robison’s life compelling. There are definitely connections I see between his experiences and ones my husband has shared with me, and more importantly now, ones my daughter is going through. One of the most profound moments for me was when Robison mentioned that all his life people had said he preferred to play alone, but in reality he never wanted to play by himself. He wanted to play with others but didn’t know how. This is something I have worried about with my own daughter.

I think this is a great book for anyone who has someone on the spectrum in their lives. It was eye opening and encouraging to me. And more importantly, well-written and interesting. It gave me a lot of hope for my daughter and her future.

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Free Reading Friday: The Glass Castle

The Glass CastleIt’s very hard to read memoirs of absolute deprivation, especially when they involve children. Even before I became a mother I found it hard not to cringe when reading stories of abused, neglected or forgotten children. Now that I am a mother, I find it even harder. I cannot imagine anything that could induce me to allow my children to suffer. I would give up everything I have in order to keep them from experience true hunger or pain. When parents are not willing to do the same, I find it hard to understand.

I knew nothing about Jeannette Walls’ life when I bought The Glass Castle. In fact, other than the fact that her memoir had been turned into a movie (which I have not yet seen), I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I picked her book off the shelf in the airport bookstore. However, I was getting ready to board a flight to South Carolina to spend a long weekend on the beach with friends and I knew I’d need something to read. I also knew that my Pop Sugar book challenge for 2017 included a book bought on a trip, so I purposely did not bring a book with me on the trip so I could buy one. Ok, I’ll admit I brought my Kindle, but I didn’t bring any paper bound books with me, so I would be more inclined to read whatever I picked up at the bookstore.

Since I am always on the lookout for interesting non-fiction books to bring back to my AP Language and Composition students and since I knew some of them might see this movie and want to read the story behind it, I picked this book over several other interesting looking fiction works.

I’m glad I did.

While stories of abuse and neglect are hard to read, I think they are important to read. I think it is vital that we read stories like Walls’ so that we develop better empathy for our fellow man. Stories like the ones Walls tells help to make it harder to dismiss the homeless woman we see digging through the dumpster, or the children who come to school dirty and without food. Stories like these remind us that small acts of kindness toward those who may be in need go a long way.

Of course, those lessons don’t make Walls’ stories any easier to read. Her tales of her parent’s complete abdication of their parental responsibilities are cringe worthy. Like Walls, my children were also very precocious, however, the thought of allowing either of my children at age three to operate the stove, let alone cook their own meals is appalling. The idea of allowing my children to sleep in cardboard beds under roofs that are caved in and allow rain and snow to fall into their bedrooms is hideous. The mere thought of taking my children into a bar to help me swindle people out of money at pool and then allowing grown men to take my teenage daughter upstairs is disgusting.

But there are parents who do these things and as a teacher I am thankful to memoirs like Walls’ because it makes me look harder and with more compassion toward many of my students. Because of books like these, I find myself listening more intently to students I think may be being neglected or abused. I check in with those I know have difficult home lives.

Although a great many tragic events happen in Walls’ life and in the book, she manages to keep her memoir from being too dark. She does fill it with lighter moments. And while she clearly sees the neglect and abuse her parents committed against her, she also shows a sort of understanding for them and a deep love for them.

How she managed to write so kind a memoir after finding out what her mother’s land in Texas was worth is beyond me.

This is an engaging and well-written account of Walls’ life that I am glad I read.

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Free Reading Friday: The Big Tiny: A Built-it-Myself Memoir

big tinyI have a student who is absolutely obsessed with tiny houses. As long as I have known her, which has been two years now, she has talked about her desire to live in a tiny house. When she first told me about this, I thought she was a little bit crazy. After all, she was talking about having cardboard furniture and all I could think about was her either getting a ton of paper cuts all over her backside or sitting down to watch some TV and having her “chair” collapse.

After she showed me what her dream cardboard furniture looks like, I felt a bit less worried for her. However, I still didn’t think it looked even remotely comfortable, even with pillows and blankets piled on it. But, to each his own, right?

This student is in my AP Language and Composition class and as part of the class, students are required to pick 4 books off of a rather extensive non-fiction book list. Each book has a different project that goes along with it. The first book, which they read over the summer merely has to be annotated. The second book, which they read during the second quarter, gets an essay over the author’s bias. The third book, which they read during the third quarter, also gets an essay, this time over the theme. The final book, which they read during their final quarter of high school requires a creative project which explores both bias and theme.

Although the list I provide has a wide variety of books to suit just about every reading interest, I also allow students to suggest books for me to read and then approve for their essays/project. Due to her love of all things tiny house, she asked me to read The Big Tiny: A Built-it-Myself memoir by Dee Williams.

Unlike some of the books my kids suggest, I was intrigued by this one. I wanted to understand the tiny house craze and what would drive someone to give up a perfectly nice sized house for something smaller than my bedroom.

Williams’ journey from slightly hippy Washington homeowner to full-fledged, living off the grid hippy Washington tiny house owner began after a near fatal illness, which made her re-evaluate her life and her priorities.

Slowly, she began downsizing all of her possessions and building her tiny house. The book chronicles here entire journey from her life before her illness, through her sickness, through building her tiny house (almost completely on her own), to actually living in her house (which she parked in friend’s backyards). It was interesting to see Williams go through the planning process to see what was absolutely vital to her.

It turns out that in order to have the size of house that would fit on the trailer she was having custom built, everything would have to fit in a 6X11 area. This meant that there was really no way for her to have even a shower in her tiny home. She also made a rather large measuring mistake and could not fit the small fridge she had intended to use in her new pad. So, she decided she could get by with a cooler. After all, she only has one hot plate burner, so it’s not like she was planning gourmet meals. Since any sort of space heater would be an insane fire hazard in the house, heat was also out. Instead, she invested in thermal underwear, lots of think socks and warm blankets for her sleeping loft. She tells stories of the frost and snow right above her head as she wakes up seeing her breath each morning.

Luckily for Williams, she’s not completely alone in her tiny house. For the majority of the book she has her beloved dog with her. A dog she carries up into the sleeping loft every night and then back down each morning. This leads to more than one slip, one of which does some real damage. Williams was also fortunate not to have to buy any land for her tiny house. Two good friends of hers allowed her to “park” her house in their backyard. While technically illegal for her to live in someone else’s backyard, as long as she claimed to be the caregiver to her friend’s aging aunt, she could live in her house with no interference. Which is exactly what she did.

Living in her friends’ backyard solves a few issues for her. First, she actually has access to a power source if she needs it. Although she uses solar panels to charge the rather large battery which she uses to power her burner and laptop, if need be, she can also plug her tiny house into her friends’ power source. In addition, she had an easy place to shower, negating her original plan to shower at truck stops. This arrangement also gave her access to safer food storage and an extended ability to cook. Since she had not only befriended Rita, the aunt, but was also helping to care for her, she had daily trips into full-sized homes.

The access to some of these amenities makes it easier to understand how she can survive in only 84 square feet.

Although the book is interesting, I think at times Williams comes off as a bit sanctimonious. While I cannot, and would not want her lifestyle, I did like looking into a life so very different than my own.

For anyone interested in seeing inside her home, here is a video she made not long after the book came out. Amazingly enough, since the book has come out, Williams has actually downsized even further, giving up her palatial 84 square feet for just 54. This time she does have a shower–it’s just outdoors. Check out her new house here.

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