Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Sort of a Memoir

I've known Judy Mangan vaguely for many years, more in the last few through email and some professional dealings--TCU Press, when I was director, reprinted some Mangan Books titles and Judy and I had quite a bit of correspondence. But I didn't really "know" her until I read her memoir which does exactly what a well written memoir should do: it brings the writer alive on the page for us. Judy eschews the traditional narrative for a series of anecdotes--and she really has an ear for telling the attention-getting story. Some of these anecdotes are no more than a paragraph but they go together like the pieces of a quilt so that when you've finished reading, you have a picture or pattern.
The book is divided into chronological chapters--childhood, high school, college, marriage, and so on. There's a chapter on Mangan Books and one called "Lest We Forget" which neatly encompasses the geneaological material. And unusual for many small-press memoirs, this book has an index--the mark of a true professional.
Judy--or Jude as she asked her children to call her--has the disconcerting habit of throwing characters into the story before we're aware they exist. She does that with Frank, her husband of many years, now gone, and with her children--we have no idea that she has children until she tells a story from their childhood. None of this "On such-and-such a date I gave birth" stuff for her. You catch on pretty quickly. And she is refreshingly frank about some things most of us would skirt in a memoir.
Much of this book is directed at El Pasoans--she's pretty specific about people, places,and events, so that it's the quintessential memoir for family and friends. But the rest of us will find gems to remember and savor. If you're old enough, you'll remember the loops and circles of the Palmer method of handwriting, and I was absolutely delighted to come across the complete text of 'Little Nell," a melodrama I remember from Girl Scout days: "Twas a  year ago today/That my Nellie went away" and so on until the bitter end when Little Nell comes home with her baby, having been abandoned by the lothario she ran away with. There's mention of one of my favorite people--the late C. L. "Doc" Sonnichsen, and a neat final chapter on "My Philosophy" with such treasures as: "You're not sinning unless you're enjoying it," [Baptist philosohy according to Wally Shied]' or "From that time (1593) healthy interest in gold and jewels had to be played down while a passion for making worried Christians out of satisfied savages had to be played up," [C. L. Sonnichsen, Pass of the North]. Perhaps my favorite is a quote from Katherine  Jefferts Shori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. when asked if Jesus is the only way to get to heaven: "We who practice the Christian tradition understand him as our vehicle to the divine. But for us to assume that God could not act in other ways is, I think, to put God in an awfully small box."
Get to know Judy Mangan. You'll like her. Unfortunately the book is not listed on Amazon, but you can send a check for $16 to Mangan Books, 4855 N. Mesa, Suite 120, El Paso TX 79912.

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