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Debra Hamel is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.


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THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
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THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
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SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
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Jamison, Dirk: Perishable

  Amazon  

4.5 stars

The title of Dirk Jamison's slender memoir Perishable is a reference to the most striking oddity of the author's childhood, that his father--a  man for whom the notion of responsibility was anathema--undertook to feed his family of five for a number of years by "trashing," taking recently discarded food prised from dumpsters home to the family dinner table. This was a lifestyle choice rather than necessity. Able-bodied but unwilling to waste his time on a paying job, the author's father saw eating trash as a means of gaining free time: "More trash means less work. Less work means more time." But his enthusiasm for jars of expired pickled eggs and the like was not shared by the rest of the family. The elder Jamison's bizarre take on life was coupled with a selfish abdication of parental responsibility. But his father's instability, if perhaps the worst of what the author endured growing up, was not the whole of it. Jamison's mother was the better parent of the two, but she brought her own problems to the familial mix. Now "slinking off to cry with slabs of chocolate," now refusing a knee operation because she was sure it implied temporary amputation of the affected limb, Jamison's mother, the author explains, was not so much crazy as stupid: "'Ma'am, are you insane?' is the question that nobody ever asks. But I can see that question in their eyes, and it's a misdiagnosis I'm always grateful for. Much preferable to the actual problem, which appears to be staggering stupidity." There were also the regular abuses of Jamison's Mengele-esque older sister and, in the author's adolescence, the in-retrospect-inappropriate attention of "Scoutmaster Gary," the Mormon overseer of a series of Church-sponsored activities in which Jamison took part. In short, the author's home life was unstable, and his father's mode of parenting arguably a form of abuse. Jamison and his siblings lacked dependable adult figures who were capable of making rational decisions on behalf of the family.

Jamison tells the story of his unusual childhood in spare, unflinching prose. Neither sentimental nor self-pitying, the author approaches his subject with something like journalistic dispassion. He is startlingly frank. This is most admirable not when he is detailing his family's failures but rather when he confesses to poor behavior of his own during the period. In the end Jamison's remarkable account of his peculiar upbringing is probably more universal in its scope than he intended. My guess is that a lot of readers will find much that's familiar in the book, their own imperfect familial relationships here writ more extreme. Thus Perishable isn't merely a good read. It may help you laugh at your own crazy relatives.

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