Thursday, May 24, 2018
Books

Review: Julia Sweeney's poignant, skewed view of motherhood

Julia Sweeney writes in her new memoir that she assembled her family backward, "first a delightful daughter, then a beloved husband." She adopted that daughter, Mulan, as a toddler a decade ago, after a bout with cervical cancer left Sweeney unable to give birth.

She might have come to motherhood via the road less taken, but she certainly has one essential qualification for the job: a big sense of humor. If It's Not One Thing, It's Your Mother is a hilarious account of her journey from a glam show-business career that included several years in the cast of Saturday Night Live to her current role as happy minivan-driving mom in a Chicago suburb.

The book takes its title from an embroidered pillow Sweeney's own mother gave her years ago — one Sweeney didn't think was funny until she had a daughter of her own. Rather than a linear memoir, it's made up of a series of essays.

Most are about Sweeney's relationship with her daughter, like the sweetly funny account of her trip to China to adopt Mulan and why she decided to keep that first name, given to her daughter in the orphanage, even though she had been determined to avoid any name that sounded like "I'm-From-China Sweeney." One of Sweeney's best-known SNL characters comes back to haunt her when, interviewing nannies, she meets "the Chinese Pat."

Mulan quickly proves to be assertive — she's a bossy backseat driver by age 4 — and often her mother's match at comic repartee. The laugh-out-loud chapter about Sweeney being forced to improvise the birds-and-bees talk over dinner in a Thai restaurant is worth the price of the book. And Sweeney is refreshingly contrarian about common mom-entitlement stuff, including a rant about how much she hates "Hummer-like" strollers: "So I say to mothers and other caregivers: Pick up your damn kids. Carry them. Make them walk. Better yet, get them to carry stuff!"

A few chapters turn serious, especially one about the death of Sweeney's brother Bill. But most apply humor even to serious subjects, such as raising a child whose race is different from your own.

And some are outlandishly funny, like the account of how she met her husband (a process that began with an email from a total stranger, proposing that Sweeney marry his brother) and the ironic results of her heartfelt effort to get Mulan to believe in the tooth fairy.

As Sweeney says, the kids might not get it. But for every mother who could use a laugh — in other words, every mother — If It's Not One Thing, It's Your Mother offers a touch of wisdom and plenty of wit.

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Review: Family matters in David Sedaris’ ‘Calypso’

Review: Family matters in David Sedaris’ ‘Calypso’

David Sedaris gets right to the point in the opening of the first essay in his new book, Calypso: "Though there’s an industry built on telling you otherwise, there are few real joys to middle age. The only perk I can see is that, with luck, you’ll ac...
Published: 05/24/18
Review: Strait-laced writer Michael Pollan explores psychedelics, and leaves the door of perception ajar

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Published: 05/24/18
Bancroft: Philip Roth deftly explored male lust, Jewish identity, American history and politics

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Philip Roth, one of the most potent voices in American fiction, died Tuesday night of congestive heart failure in a New York City hospital. He was 85.Mr. Roth was the last man standing of a generation of fiction writers sometimes called "the great wh...
Published: 05/23/18

Events: Tarbell.org founder Wendell Potter to discuss, sign book

Book TalkTarbell.org founder Wendell Potter (Nation on the Take: How Big Money Corrupts Our Democracy and What We Can Do About It) will discuss and sign his book at 4 p.m. May 23 at the St. Petersburg Main Library, 3745 Ninth Ave. N.Applications are ...
Published: 05/21/18
The real stuff is how Tom Wolfe best used his write stuff

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Tom Wolfe’s best writing lifted real people into legend: car designers and astronauts and disciples of LSD. With that writing, Wolfe lifted himself into legend as well. The author of 16 books, including such bestsellers as The Right Stuff and ...
Published: 05/18/18
Review: In Stephen King’s ‘The Outsider,’ evil can’t be true but must be true

Review: In Stephen King’s ‘The Outsider,’ evil can’t be true but must be true

On a July day, Terry Maitland, one of the most popular men in Flint City, Okla. — high school English teacher, Little League coach, husband and father, recently named the town’s man of the year — attends a teachers convention in a city over an hour’s...
Published: 05/17/18

Events: Gilbert King to discuss ‘Beneath a Ruthless Sun’ at Inkwood in Tampa

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Published: 05/11/18
Notable: As Mother’s Day nears, these new books are timely

Notable: As Mother’s Day nears, these new books are timely

NotableMore about mothersFor Mother’s Day, three new books offer a range of takes on motherhood.Beauty in the Broken Places: A Memoir of Love, Faith, and Resilience (Random House) by Allison Pataki is a memoir by a novelist whose 30-year-old husband ...
Published: 05/11/18
Review: A criminal’s confession is just the beginning in Michael Koryta’s compelling ‘How It Happened’

Review: A criminal’s confession is just the beginning in Michael Koryta’s compelling ‘How It Happened’

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Published: 05/10/18
Anthony Award nominees include Tampa’s Michael Connelly, Down & Out Books

Anthony Award nominees include Tampa’s Michael Connelly, Down & Out Books

When the World Mystery Convention, a.k.a. Bouchercon, takes place in St. Petersburg in September and hands out its coveted Anthony Awards, the Tampa Bay Area will be well represented among the nominees.The award nominees, announced May 9, include Tam...
Published: 05/09/18
Updated: 05/10/18