Saturday, December 05, 2009

On My Wish List: Thorndike and Mallon

My blog isn't linked to my Amazon wish list because frankly none of my readers are the type to send me books. I know from their blogs that they're frantically paying off credit cards and vowing never to buy another book. (It's like a disease this time of year: even I proudly announced that I had spent zero on books over a period of three or four days.) My husband sarcastically suggested I add a PayPal donation button to my blog so I could get my readers to pay off my credit card. (But I'm not Julie of Julie and Julia, so what good would this do?)

No one is paying off my credit card and I'm not in the bookselling business, either, but let me urge you to consider two new books by John Thorndike and Thomas Mallon, over which I'm very excited, and the only two to have made my Wish List.

1. John Thorndike, a writer and farmer who lives in Athens, Ohio, has published his first book in 13 years, The Last of His Mind: A Year in the Shadow of Alzheimer's, a memoir of his father's struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. If you don't know the work of Thorndike, an underappreciated author who has written two very good novels and a memoir about fatherhood and mental illness, you can read an excerpt from the book at Thorndike's website. His father founded two magazines, Horizon and American Heritage, and Thorndike himself has had a fascinating life: working in the Peace Corps, farming, raising a son on his own, building houses, and writing. His clarity, sensitivity, and lyricism will undoubtedly reveal the character of his father in a fascinating light, as well as help those who are helping relatives with Alzheimer’s get on with their lives. There are at least two bases for readership of this book: fans of literature and readers of memoirs who are interested in the specific disease.

His other books are out of print, but I love Anna Delaney’s Child, a moving, lyrical novel about a divorced woman farmer struggling to recover from grief and devastation after the loss of her young child. This beautifully written and gripping novel mesmerized a group of us on AOL who read it together in the ‘90s.

His 1996 memoir, Another Way Home: A Single Father’s Story (published in paperback as Another Way Home: A Family’s Journey through Mental Illness) is a memoir of Thorndike’s raising his son, Janir, after his wife becomes ill with schizophrenia. Thorndike recounts the differences of the sixties and subsequent decades and his struggle to balance work, child care, and the occasional disruptive visits of his wife (whom we must pity, because the medications for schizophrenia make people feel so bad that they seldom stay on them, and this is the case with Clarissa). A sad, but powerful story.

2. NEXT ON THE LIST: Yours Ever: People and Their Letters, by Thomas Mallon, the author of A Book of One’s Own: People and Their Diaries. The history of letters is an important and fascinating subject: they have been the primary source of much historical research, particularly about daily life, and are an endangered art, with e-mail abbreviating and in many instances taking precedence over the personal writing. Hang onto your letters!

By the way, Mallon is also a good historical novelist: every vacation I read one of his books, my favorite being Dewey Defeats Truman, set in Dewey’s hometown, Owasso, Michigan, and consisting of the interrelated stories of several townspeople and their politics.

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