Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Speed Reader

By Julie Birnbaum, Todd Gibson, Valerie Yarberry, Nicolle Toth

APRIL 13, 1998: 

Paths and Walkways
by Hazel White (Chronicle, paper, $16.95)

The allure of a garden path: bright black-eyed susans against a mellowed brick walkway, thyme creeping over flagstone, roses drawing you around a crunchy gravel bend. Paths and Walkways includes enough inviting photographs and warmly poetic text to inspire even the least motivated of gardeners to think more closely about how to create outdoor space to dawdle in and enjoy, no matter the size or setting. And besides being a beautifully designed book, White's is a practical guide, with 24 "recipes" for building an enticing path with materials ranging from stone to sawdust to concrete. Planning a garden path takes some effort and commitment, but the directions in this book are clearly written and simple to follow, including suggestions based on climate (though I didn't see many water-conserving desert gardens). Now that spring has more or less sprung, Paths and Walkways may be just what you need to get off your butt, stop eyeing your neighbors' gardens enviously and make your own space to linger in. (JB)

The Bad Daughter
by Julie Hilden (Algonquin Books, cloth, $18.75)

An abusive mother subjects her daughter to such psychological torture that when the daughter leaves for college, she never returns home, not even when her mother is on her deathbed. Who could blame her? But what if the mother was suffering from early-onset Alzheimer's and may not have been responsible for her actions? Well, if you're Julie Hilden, you write a book arguing that, considering how much of her life was wasted in her mother's iron grip, she had every right to abandon her mother. A controversial stance, but Hilden presents her story with a dignity and conviction born of the many battles she's fought, avoiding the pitfalls of the talk-show discourse that entraps many confessionals nowadays. In her attempt to tell her side of the story, she confesses everything about her life--and her mother's effect on it--with an honesty and passion that, at times, is disconcerting. Occasionally too melodramatic for her own good, Hilden could have used a stronger editor to edit out some poorly written passages. But The Bad Daughter is nonetheless an intelligent, moving and important memoir, an impressive debut from a novice writer. (TG)

When Memory Speaks
by Jill Ker Conway (Knopf, cloth, $23)

What you don't know about yourself and how culture influences your behavior, When Memory Speaks can supply. By analyzing historical memoirs, Jill Ker Conway interprets the stories of pioneers, Greek heroes, missionaries, journalists and others who were compelled to narrate their life's plots. Consequently, Conway's focus rests on why we write and read autobiographies, as well as how to appreciate them.

Conway explains that how we view ourselves and how we relate that view to others are reflections of our culture's impact on us. She believes that there are specific patterns that male and female autobiographers follow, and she outlines the impetus behind each. After covering the gender differences, Conway also proves that the narrators are not static in composure and density; rather, they evolve from simple autobiographers into humans searching for greater meanings, including those of spiritual and ethnic identity. (VY)

Big Blondes
by Jean Echenoz (The New Press, paper, $12.95)

Here's a detective story written like a comic book, minus the cool pictures. The plot places the main character on the run from what turns out to be a parallel of her own fears and frustrations. With the amount of clichés the author chooses to use, presumably to make it seem like a "real" detective novel, one would imagine that there would hopefully be a plot filled with some action, adventure or intensity to keep the work from plunging head-first into banality. But not here. The authentic geographical placement of each character did impress me. The colorful description of every location from Brittany to Bombay did make me wish I had sensory recall for such places. I also have to admit that if I were a bit more obsessive-compulsive, I would have enjoyed Big Blondes to a greater extent. Alas, I do not have this in common with most, well actually all, of the characters you can meet between the pages of this detective novel.(NT)

--Julie Birnbaum, Todd Gibson, Valerie Yarberry and Nicolle Toth

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