Before I get to the subject of this post, can I just tell you what is so great about Chicago in January? This city is ready for winter. It's totally acceptable to walk around completely bundled up and there are coat racks at every restaurant you go to. One thing that Chicago has and I miss here are coat checks. I love coat checks! Who wants to walk around a museum for 3 hours carrying your huge down coat? Not me, and I'm happy to pay a dollar or two so I don't have to. Also, you can take your kids to Ed Debevic's for the first time and stun them with loud music, rude waiters, and dancing.
So, single motherhood. When the two books I'm about to talk about were sitting in my pile of ARCs to be read, I never thought I'd review them in the same post. I read Asha Bandele's memoir Something Like Beautiful first. This book, not quite 200 pages long, took me ages to read. A little bit about Bandlele - she married a convicted murderer who was incarcerated at the time after meeting him through a college program. Bandele wrote about this part of her life in her memoir The Prisoner's Wife which I have not read. Something Like Beautiful deals primarily with her journey as a single mother but she muses on a variety of topics. I enjoyed the middle section of this book the most. This part was more about how she dealt with everyday life and frustrations, her struggle with depression, and her struggle with an abusive relationship. This part is bookended with sections that I would describe as lyrical and poetic, yet also melodramatic and repetitive. I think books can create an atmosphere as you read them, one of terror or suspense, one of laughter or sadness. Every time I picked up this book I felt as though I were sinking into the depths of melancholy. I think a big problem I had and this is, I'm sure, prejudice on my part, is that I couldn't get past the fact that this woman married a convicted murderer serving time. My feeling is that if you're considering doing this, you have issues. Along with that, I couldn't help but wonder why prisoners should get conjugal visits, and get to spend nearly 2 days in a trailer with someone and the opportunity to create children. But that's just me.
I literally put Something Like Beautiful down and picked up The Mighty Queens of Freeville by Amy Dickinson. What a breath of fresh air! I went from melancholy to laughter as I read her self-deprecating account of the failure of her marriage and her journey as a single mother. Dickinson writes the column 'Ask Amy' and appears on radio shows. I hadn't heard of her myself before reading this book which is warm and chatty and real. Dickinson comes from the small town of Freeville, where pretty much all the women in her life have raised families on their own, together. This memoir covers a vast period of the author's life and her story is told in vignettes, each chapter detailing a different period or subject. Dickinson has a conversational and funny writing style that makes for quick reading.
I wondered if I would have liked Dickinson's book as much if I hadn't read Bandele's right before it. It's hard to say as these women are so different.