April Read: King of the Hill, A Memoir
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We will begin discussing this book on April 1! Please avoid spoilers until then! See you soon!
Looking forward to it. I picked up my ILL copy today and have it til 4/9. I probably won't start it til the week before we discuss.
Mine also has the second (shorter) part in it, as well.
Today is the day! I finished King of the Hill: A Memoir last night, and I had some time so I also finished Looking for Miracles. If you didn't have a chance to read both, I'd recommend it. I enjoyed King of the Hill:A Memoir for its interesting take on what life was really like in the Depression. Can you imagine leaving an 11 year-old boy alone in a hotel to fend mostly for himself? Of course not. Not today. But Hotchner talks about it like it was no big deal, and I suspect it wasn't back then. I was fascinated how he worked around the things he had to work around. But what really impressed me was that he wrote it when he was living "in luxury in Paris" years later, but he wrote it in the voice of an 11 year-old boy. Then, in the second half, when he was sixteen, he wrote it in the voice of a 16 year-old. I was in awe. KOTH was written in more of a memoir style; LFM was written in more of a story style. I really enjoyed both of them!
I was very surprised that I finished KOTH last night - I expected the book to be a slog for me and that it would take a couple of weeks or longer to finish, but not so. It was very easy and enjoyable to read, and I also liked it very much. Not sure whether I'll go on to read LFM.
The section that had the biggest impact on me was when he was left alone in the hotel and received the lock-out notice. The chapter that lists all the "mud slides" that occured. Last evening, when I was right in the middle of that section, we were dealing with a real-life situation that was too close to this for comfort.
We own a duplex in Springfield - our 2 sons live in one side and we rent out the other side to a very nice young man (late 20's). He's lived there ever since we bought the property a little over a year ago, and has always been a slow payer on his rent. It wasn't a big problem until his roommate moved out last summer and he decided to stay there by himself. He works at Dillard's, does not have a bank account anywere (they pay him on a stored-value card - similar to a gift card), and pays child support for his young daughter that surely eats up most of his income. Ever since the other guy left last August, this guy has had one thing after another come up: his car broke down and needed expensive repairs, he had a friend staying with him for several weeks who tore the place up and left the doors unlocked and then he was robbed, he was arrested for DUI (I think) and spent the weekend in jail and had to pay $$$ in fines, his utilities were turned off in December (I kept them on in our name to keep heat on in the place to protect our plumbing, in violation of the landlord agreement we have with Springfield city utilities). He fell farther and farther behind in his rent - owing us more than 4 months' worth. A month ago, we gave him notice to pay up or move out and he promised that he'd pay. We did get a payment from him last week - but less than half of what he owed us. He said he'd like to stay and will pay an extra $100 per month until the balance is paid off, but that will take an entire year. So last night, right in the middle of reading the mud slide chapter, I set my book aside and we were working on a stern letter to him (the next-time-the-rent-is-late-we're-changing-the-locks kind of letter), followed by a new lease agreement, and a phone call to both him and our son who acts as property manager for us. He told our son that he would have paid us more last week, but he had to make a payment to the bank to keep his car from being repossessed - the same car that isn't running right now because it's broken down again. My husband suggested that he appeal to his parents for help, but he said that they are on the brink of bankruptcy themselves and cannot help him. Our son told us last week that he had gotten a second job, so we were hopeful that he might work his way out of it, but last night we learned that he has been let go by Dillard's. A whole series of mud slides for this guy, just like in the book. I can't tell you how bad I felt being on the other side of the problem after reading about the impact it had on Aaron.
It's sad, but I can see the landlord side of the question also. It was a rough time for just about everyone then (and it's a rough time for a lot now), and you can't make exceptions or you'd be taken advantage of. I was kind of impressed with how Aaron handled it, though. I can't imagine my boys (or any boys) at that age having the wherewithal to provide for themselves in the ways that he did. I'm not sure if that's a good or a bad thing. That's one of the things I think about now. Is it good that we are so "protective" or are we just spoiling kids?
I haven't gotten that far yet, but I kinda figured it was coming. I'm really enjoying the book so far - at first the writing style grated on me a little bit, but then I realized that it was the voice of an 11 yo kid, and came around. I jut finished the part where he had to tell the other kid, the one who insulted his clothes at the graduation party, to take his crush to the dance because he couldn't afford to bring a flower or buy a milkshake. It is a really interesting look at life during the Depression.
My absolute favorite thing about the book, though, is that it is set right by where I used to live when I was a St. Louisan. I lived in Skinker-Debaliviere (probably a couple blocks north of where he stole the white pants - and those are some big houses), and a lot of my friends lived on Pershing just off Union. So I can see the action in my head, which is a lot of fun.
I agree with Terri and Sandy that this is an easy read. Like Terri, I went ahead and read Looking for Miracles because I wanted to see what happened to Aaron and his brother Sullivan. If you're undecided about reading Part 2, Sandy and Jennifer, I urge you to do so. The part where A. reenacts The Pit and the Pendulum is hilarious. There isn't much resolution to the story, but it is more lighthearted (for the most part).
Jennifer, I do think it adds immensely to a story if you have a personal or geographic connection. Sandy, what a sad and interesting connection you have with your rental conundrum. That's why we employ a property manager for our rental properties! I'd be way too softhearted and susceptible to any story they handed me. And we did hear a few before we moved away and were forced to hire a manager. I would hate to be the one to have to put the new lock on the door, but if you have to, please let him take his possessions with him. :-)
I stayed up late last night finishing the book. Now I need to add it to my library and write a short review. I'm thinking of giving it 3.5 stars which to me means "bordering on good, but I had some reservations about it."
Okay, I think it's impossible for me to write a short review of a book. After much cogitating, I upgraded my rating to 4 stars. I think this is a story that will stay with me. Thanks, J, for the great suggestion.
I'm only about one-quarter to one-third of the way through it s I won't comment on much yet. I am enjoying it though.
Also, I understand that there is a movie for this book. I tried to get it on netflix but it's not there. I think it's a 1993 movie from Steven Soderbergh. I will have to check the library and ILL.
I was wondering whether anyone read the other memoir in the volume. I've renewed the book from the library and so hope to read the second memoir sometime soon, too.
I just finished reading both of them - they're so quick and easy and enjoyable. It's almost hard to think of them as being nonfiction. I can't believe anyone managed to experience all that Hotchner did by the time he was 16! He must be one heck of a charmer in real life, considering all that he managed to talk his way into.
The constant thought I had throughout the book was "No matter how bad you have it, somebody has it a lot worse." My husband and I both have steady employment, a roof over our heads and I'm able to put food on the table. True, we have a second house we are trying to get rid of, but nothing can compare Aaron's story. My niece is 13 (almost) and I can't imagine her being by herself for an hour let alone weeks! (I'm talking about Kelsea, Aunt Terri)
I'm looking forward to reading Looking for Miracles.
And I think that brings up a good point, Trisha. We can't imagine Kelsea being alone for an hour because we aren't sure we could trust her (at least in my case). But putting that aside, how would she function? Would she be able to fend for herself for food and clothes and transportation if her parents just left her? I'm not even sure how Keith would function if I was gone (okay, we live a block from his grandma. That's probably a bad example).
Jennifer, I was working at Cardinal Glennon this past week, and on the way home, I pulled onto Kingshighway & drove it to the corner of Kingshighway & Delmar. That was fun! And I also kept losing sight of the fact that they were non-fiction. I'm thinking about looking up his biography of Ernest Hemingway--bet that would be an interesting story!
Donna, I agree with you about The Pit and the Pendulum. I laughed out loud! It took me an hour to read Looking for Miracles, so it's very short and I'd recommend it to everyone, too.
Terri, let us know if you read the Hemingway bio. I thought Paul and Me about *swoon* Paul Newman looked intriguing. I love how one book can lead to another.
I finished this late last night and was amazed that one kid could go through so much.
This was actually a fitting book to read at these tough times. As someone said, no matter how bad you think things are, someone else has it worse. That's a good lesson to remember.
Lots of memorable scenes in this book for me, such as the time he and his friend tried to be caddies.
Incidentally, I find that my library can get me the movie on ILL. It seems to be on VHS but perhaps not on DVD, which would explain why it's not on Netflix. I think I'd like to see it.
I think the question of whether any of the children we know (even the 20-something variety!) would be able to function on their own is an interesting one. I think that a huge part of a kid's ability to fend for himself is a result of what they've been taught to do. I began teaching my kids to cook from the time they were about 2 years old and could stand on a stool to reach the counter. As a result, by they time they were in middle school, they could quite easily feed themselves if left alone in the house - and even prepare an adequate meal for the entire family. Likewise, kids who are taught and expected to do other chores grow up being able to do them. Aaron would have learned how to negeotiate the public transportation system with his parents and so was able to do it alone at age 11 or 12. If kids are expected to solve their own problems, they learn to do it.
I think we do our kids a huge disservice by not allowing them to experience anything unpleasant or uncomfortable - or letting them figure their own way out of a problem. When we make all their decisions for them - how will they ever learn to do for themselves?
I think it's also a sign of the times. There are things that I could do, as an 8-year old girl living in Chicago in the late 1960s, that I cannot imagine my 9-year old suburban niece doing now.
Even later, as an 11 or 12-year old in the suburbs, I'd be pretty much off on my own all day. I'd let my mom know if I planned to stay close by or go across town and play with those friends. I'd get on my bike and then be gone all day long and "have adventures." Sometimes, my sister, who is six years younger, would tag along.
I did much the same thing - taking off on my bike and riding all over Wichita, where I grew up, packing a sack lunch and being gone all day. My husband, who grew up in a small farming community, had even more freedom. Still, the time I gave permission on the first day of summer vacation for my new 5th-grade graduate to invite his friends to ride their bikes up to the Pizza Hut, just a mile away, to eat lunch alone, I couldn't believe the response from the other moms demanding to know if I really thought that was a good idea! (Of course it was a good idea - the kids had a great time.)
You're right - times are different. Kids today face dangers that we didn't. But still, I'm afraid that too many parents are over-protective and don't allow their kids to take even the smallest risk.
Very different times. I'd have my bike, a dollar or two to buy a hot dog and a root beer at the Dog n Suds, and some combination of my baseball glove, my tennis racket, or my bathing suit and just go around and play.
Of course, being me, many times I'd toss in a book, too, and just go somewhere quiet and read.
Back to the book, though. All this talk about the freedom that Aaron had as a child, and how shocking it seems to us reminds me that, although he managed to get by, he was very angry at his dad for placing him in that situation. And even though he was probably (justly) proud of himself for what he'd accomplished, it was only after the whole family was back home again that he was happy.
I was surprised that there was no lingering bitterness toward his father for leaving him with 50 cents and a platitude. Oh sure, Aaron was angry toward him while he was starving behind a locked door protecting the family's possessions, but it seemed like all was forgiven when they got back together.
Sullivan was the one who likely had emotional scars. Can you imagine being farmed out to relatives only to be considered a nuisance and eventually put on a bus back to the family that couldn't provide for you?
Donna, congrats on your "Hot Review" for this book. Very nice job. I like the cover of your book a lot better than mine. Sorry I didn't join in with the book this time--I didn't juggle my time right to get it fit in. My fault.
Everything seemed so matter of fact. It was odd to me that he didn't talk about the things he saw with anyone else, such as the one neighbor being beaten. It seemed like more of a "grin and bear it" kind of time.
I got to thinking about the "Home Alone" movies and how being left alone, for a kid, was portrayed as more fun there. I can't imagine that a kid would be left home alone like this without more bitterness.
To be fair to the father though, if that's possible, he did arrange for the sandwiches etc. It was unfortunate circumstances that made some of the kid's usual supports disappear exactly when he needed them.
>22: Becky, it's never too late to read the book. It's light reading about a heavy topic that goes quickly but stays with you. If you read it in the summer, be sure you're near the A/C 'cause there are lots of "hot" descriptions.
>23: Linda, do you suppose he didn't talk about his plight with others because they were more or less in the same situation? I'd forgotten that his dad had made those provisions for him. Again, it was a do-what-you-gotta-do time in our history. I'm just glad he came back. I was afraid the family would never get together again.
Did those of you who read both books notice that King had only numbers for the chapters while Miracles had those long descriptive titles? My favorite was a little on the short side: "Chin Up, Pants Down, and the Mosquitoes Be Damned!" Good stuff.
I did notice that, Donna, and meant to remark on it. My favorite was "I'll Bet When I'm Dead and Gone, I Still Can't Do the Dead Man's Float." I liked the titles almost as much as the stories!
Becky, I agree with Donna. It really took no time to read it!
And Donna, back to #21. I think those of us who read the second book can see some of the ways Sullivan was affected by this. I wonder what became of him? Something else I'll have to look up...
I thought, after reading the second book, that Sullivan had some pretty clear emotional scars - which even he mentioned. The thing about the second book that shocked me a bit what how Aaron emphasized how very, very self-centered he was, and how he really didn't care all that much about his brother. Of course, he then went and showed how untrue that statement was by getting his brother sent to the camp.
And this is a spoiler for the second book (warning!), but it broke my heart when Aaron got the letter from WashU saying that there wasn't actually enough money for his scholarship, so they were taking it away. Poor Aaron! Plus, that is such a WashU thing to do (says the disgruntled graduate who received one too many letters announcing stipend cuts, or lack-of-raises).
Sullivan must have come out all right in the end, because he's in his eighties now & living with his wife in the Central West End (as Selwyn--I guess that's his real name). I'd love to be able to find out what his career choice was!
Another thought provoking book. I'm so glad to be able to read another Missouri author. My father grew up in the Depression in St. Louis so I thought much on the comparision of Aaron and my father's life.
One thing that struck me was that children in poverty today face the same problem Aaron faced in the 1930's--the frequent moving and changing of schools. Somethings never change! My preconceived notion that "back then" people were less transient was certainly in error. Aaron was unbelievable resourceful, determined and bright to be successful academic against such overwhelming odds.
It was also fascinating to read about the rabbi and the circumcision. In the story it related how the baby boy was given wad of cotton soaked in sugar water. When an infant, in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit, undergoes a procedure a nurse will give the infant some glucose first. The rabbi had it right!(and long before NICU's were invented)
PatriciaJN, this actually reminds me of another point. Nowadays, the "poor" sometimes live in motels. I saw a parallel to the 1930s with the family living in a hotel.
I can't remember what they'd call them but they'd get preferential treatment at first, before their terms got going. That is still done, I believe.
Like you, I thought that people were not as transient back then. Maybe they didn't move city to city as much as now but I bet they did move around plenty of times within the same geographic locale.
I know that my father's family moved frequently. There were 9 kids eventually, and they'd move in with my great-aunt when times were tough, or move to Defiance or Moscow Mills--seems like every time we go for a long drive, Dad finds a place he used to live! And that was St. Louis in the 30s.
Patricia, that's great about the glucose/sugar water. Sometimes, they were more on the mark than we give them credit for!
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