Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Two Journeys, Memoirs by Gabourey Sidibe and Rosamund Burton

Recently I read two books that were quite different; one was a memoir, the other a travel book and I was struck at how they each were accounts of a journey, one literally, the other interior. And both enjoyable.

This is Just My Face:Try Not to Stare by Gabourey Sidibe
This memoir, by the actress best known for playing the lead in the award winning “Precious” film, shows that one can have an eventful life at any age. Her unconventional childhood as the daughter of a mother who is a freelance professional singer, who actually made enough money performing in subway stations in NYC to support her two children(Gabourey has a younger brother with health issues) on a strict budget after divorce. Their father is a Senegalese immigrant who didn’t have much rapport with his daughter when she was a child, but she is closer to him as an adult.
The road to stardom wasn’t smooth or quick. At one point Gabourey had a job as a phone sex worker, that chapter is full of surprises. There was also the dichotomy of early fame, when she was being lauded as the star of “Precious”, but couldn’t afford a dress to wear to award shows. And the flip side of fame when she was inundated by people asking for loans and favors, followed by the ugliness of people when their expectations weren’t met.
There isn’t any showbiz gossip nor tall tales of lavish lifestyles, the focus is on Gabourey’s growth as a human being. She discusses her issues with body image, dating, depression and eating disorders, but not in a shallow celebrity manner. Her fears are told in a relatable and honest way and makes the reader feel concerned and protective. But don’t think it’s laden with doom and gloom, there is much humor; sarcastic, self-deprecating and sometimes silly. The author has a bubbly personality and a down-to-earth attitude.
Though she’s had quite a career already, including serious films, popular TV series and even directing, one gets the feeling that it’s just the beginning of a distinguished vocation. I hope that Ms. Sidibe continues her writing into the future, periodically updating her story for those of us who cheer her on.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2017 256 pp. ISBN-10: 0544786769

Castles, Follies and Four-Leaf Clovers by Rosamund Burton
The author, who was born in Ireland and spent portions of her younger years there, before moving to Australia, returns to undertake a pilgrimage on St. Declan’s Way from Cashel to Adrmore. Though the trip can be done in 3 or 4 days with energetic walking, the author took 3 weeks , often staying with friends for several days along the route.
The path mostly goes through fields and woods, but there is one area of rugged hills. She gets lost frequently, sometimes literally going in circles, instead of making progress, something I could relate to, as my sister does that too. Along the way she visits historical sites, including Bolton Library, which has books going back to Medieval times. She is determined to examine a rath, which is a fairy fortress where the “little people” gather. But repeatedly she finds them protected by fences or barriers. That is only one of the local stories that she conveys without judgement.
She has an immediacy in her descriptions of what she sees and experiences while walking that makes us feel as if we are there too.I especially enjoyed the details of the natural world, whether moss covered trees in a forest or a misty day on a mountain. In many ways, the trip was less about a religious pilgrimage, than a nature hike. She returns to some of the places she knew when younger and the comparisons to her memories were often quite moving and added a layer of meaning to some of the destinations. It made the book a combination of spirituality, nature jaunt and fond reminisces, adding up to a pleasing, thoughtful read.
Allen & Unwin 2011 270 pp. ISBN 9781741759525

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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