I loved, loved, loved Where the Past Begins by Amy Tan.  If you’re looking for a book that will tell you, Tan was born on this day, these things happened to her at these times, this is not that book.  Instead, it’s sort of a free flowing trip through Amy Tan’s mind.  Sadly, it did not teach me how to write novels, but it seems like Tan doesn’t really know how she does it exactly.

Tan and I have almost nothing in common, except that we both love reading, we were both early readers, we love dogs, and sadly we’re both part of the “I lost/am losing my mom to Alzheimer’s” club.  It’s a big, and shitty club.

The book reminded me to some extent of Sherman Alexie’s memoir, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.  Both are in a way memoirs motivated by the death of mothers with whom the authors had complicated relationships. Both break into poetry and other forms outside of narrative writing. I liked Tan’s book better, although both Tan and Alexie overcame horrible childhoods and became amazingly functional adults, Tan’s book contains more joy. Tan’s mother tried to kill her, threatened to kill herself thousands of times when Tan was much too small to know it wasn’t her fault, Tan’s father and brother both died before she turned 16, and yet.

You will find mostly in this book (1) the story of Tan’s childhood/life until age 18, and (2) sort of current musings, current habits. She writes about her imagination, how she experiences music, her relationship to reading, and her relationship to languages.  Although apparently Tan wrote another memoir in 2003 which I am now going to have to read.  Also, all of her fiction (she’s only written seven novels, that’s like a month of reading!).  Also, in googling her I discovered that she also took part in this book: Mid-Life Confidential: The Rock Bottom Remainders Tour America With Three Chords and an Attitude which is described on Amazon as, “A crazy chronicle, in words and mostly embarrassing pictures, describes a road trip with fifteen of America’s most popular writers, who leave their jobs to hit the road–on a bus–as a performing rock and roll band.”  Now, that’s a book to get you through February if it isn’t too over the top ridiculous.

What I love about this book is that, unlike Joe Biden in Promise Me, there’s no sense that Tan is hiding anything.  Her style makes me feel like we’re friends, really really close friends who have no secrets.  As she told the NYTimes“I wrote this in a fugue state, not realizing what I was writing … It wasn’t until I was done that I became a little distressed and thought, wait a minute, this is going to be published?”  I wanted to find some good excerpts, I marked a few places as I was reading it, but I can’t really give you a paragraph of this book and give you the feeling I’m talking about.  You’re just going to have to read it. 

Currently reading: Working my way through Lincoln in the Bardo, so far 50 pages in and still not in love. About to start Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Also… re-reading Outlander by Diana Gabaldon when the need to escape the real world overwhelms.