Friday, July 17, 2015

Book Review: 'Tis

Title: 'Tis

Author: Frank McCourt

Publisher: Scribner

Date: 1999

Length: 367 pages

Quote: “When the MS Irish Oak sailed from Cork in October 1949, we expected to be in New York City in a week. Instead, after two days at sea, we were told we were going to Montreal.”

Nevertheless, Frank McCourt found his way to New York City. This is, by and large, a factual memoir, although details have been changed. It's the classic immigrant story: clueless penniless youth comes to America, gets hard work for low pay, suffers, gets breaks, gets better jobs, becomes able to support his family, and eventually becomes at least semi-rich and semi-famous as an author.

McCourt's better known book, Angela's Ashes, was sometimes criticized for being too rough and raw. There's some coarseness in 'Tis, too, although nothing likely to bother anybody who grew up reading Judy Blume: “for once in my life I resist the sin and turn on my side and go to sleep,” “The great Boss presses the button for the elevator and while he's waiting he shoves a finger up his nose,” “a man sitting next to me...slips part of his raincoat over my lap and lets his hand wander under it,” “The glug I drank is making my stomach turn and I try to rush to the street but the door has three locks,” “what we're gonna do when we get out of the **** army,” are five less than tasteful bits that pop up as I open the book not even five but four times at random. Two of them appear on facing pages. This is not an erotic book but it is gritty, sparing no possible quotation of a rude word or reference to a tasteless detail; it's gritty in the peculiar way people write when they've been given permission to mention things somebody once told them not to mention, and so those things stand out more vividly in their minds than the things a writer of my generation would be likely to notice while observing the same scene. Let's just say that, of the two, I'd be more interested in the style of dress Billie Holiday wore during one of her last performances, not even to mention the songs she sang, than in the profanities somebody used to critique the performance. By and large it was the generation before my own that found it “liberating” to quote profanities and describe vulgarities. McCourt was one of the last of that generation, so perhaps we should forgive him.

Maybe it's because I don't have that kind of potty-conscious memory that, on the whole, I read 'Tis as a cheerful, inspirational story. The boy who grew up to be Frank McCourt was ill, recovered, served in the U.S. Army, worked his way up to teaching and then writing. After I finished the book and laid it down what stood out in my mind was not the icky little details so much as the ultimate success of McCourt and his family.

So, if you either are sufficiently “liberated” from taboos that your only reaction to the naughty thoughts in 'Tis will be “Why is he telling us this when some other detail would be more interesting,” or are still working to break through the emotions associated with “Ohhh, he shouldn't have mentioned that” and feeling a bit more liberated because he did, you will probably enjoy 'Tis. Just hide it from any children you know who might be going through that stage where it still seems terrific fun to recount a gross-out--"But it's in that book by that famous writer!"--at dinner.

McCourt no longer needs a dollar, so 'Tis is not a Fair Trade Book, but if we can ship it together with a Fair Trade Book in one package we can consolidate the cost of shipping. $5 per book, $5 per package, to either address in the little box at the very bottom of this page.

This is a blog, so I'd like to take this opportunity to get bloggy and thank a customer (from the hack writing site) for mentioning that every single page on a web site that sells things ought to contain the seller's contact information. And, if it changes, the contact information should be updated throughout the site. A lot of things that should be on a commercial web site just aren't on this site. Paypal buttons, e.g. I tried putting them here, then realized that they weren't going to work from public-access computers or computers like the Sickly Snail, which is most of the computers I've used and very likely most of the ones readers use too. Botheration. But I checked and found that Blogspot does offer a free widget that puts the contact information on every single page and allows it to be updated across the whole site. Lovely. I hope this information can be useful to the other Blogspot bloggers who, according to the computer, really are surfing around Blogspot, apparently to see how or whether this system is working for other people since their last posts to their own Blogspot blogs were made in 2013.