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My Family and Other Hazards Hardcover – 8 Jul 2014
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"A wonderful, witty account of growing up on a mini-golf course...In a droll, understated voice that recalls Dorothy Parker, Melby writes of the years her family owned and operated Tom Thumb . . . The book is packed with self-contained vignettes that have the shapeliness of a well-told joke." --The Christian Science Monitor
"Charming . . . This book is a ball . . .[Melby's] descriptions of this close-knit crew endear and amuse." --Bust
"Melby scores a hole-in-one with her hilarious and heartwarming tale of her childhood summers spent working on her family's miniature-golf course and her bittersweet final visit during its last season in business." --American Way
"[A] charming--and moving--debut work . . . It's all here: humorous memories of mishaps, adventure, as well as teenage frustrations and sibling rivalries, all told in Melby's amazingly deadpan voice." --Cedar Rapids Gazette
"A nostalgic, hilarious look at [Melby's] Midwestern upbringing." --Popsugar
"Wickedly funny . . . A warm and refreshing summer read, one that explores the meaning of family and the emotional significance of losing a childhood home." --Bustle
"A summer delight . . . Melby's ode to Wisconsin is rich with detail." --Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Nerdily, I most enjoyed the passages of the book that focused on running the course and how the family coped with a routine as daily as farming, only with more night hours... Middle children may relish June's accounts of sibling rivalry and envy...[Melby] has recaptured a family's life among the Windmills, putters and sno-cone machine." --Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"With every laugh, Melby's wise and warm and loving memoir delivers something else: something that will make us think, and smile, after we've dried our eyes and thought about our own lives and loves, in the way the best-told stories will tend to do." --The Decorah Journal
"Clever, outrageously funny . . . My Family and Other Hazards is a nostalgic look back at Melby's experiences and the inevitability of letting go of one's childhood." --Express Milwaukee
"Enchanting . . . An outpouring of tender, witty memories . . . Melby showcases her corny, unaffected Midwestern humor in this inspired work." --Publishers Weekly
"Witty . . . A lot of fun and enjoyable to navigate." --Kirkus
"[A] nostalgic read for those who want to travel back to bug-bitten summer days when nothing seemed more wondrous than a perfectly frothy puff of cotton candy after a hard-fought game of miniature golf." --Booklist
"My Family and Other Hazards is a winning, charming memoir about summers spent at a family-owned mini-golf course in Wisconsin. I would have loved this even if I wasn't the former Junior Putt-Putt Champion of Chautauqua, New York. Funny and nostalgic without being sentimental, Melby deftly captures her family's seemingly endless lakeside summers and the inevitable letting go of childhood. A perfect summer book." --Rob Spillman, editor of Tin House
"I bet you've never picked up a memoir about miniature golf before now. Neither had I! But June Melby's deeply funny and endearing book goes far beyond novelty to tell an evocative story about memory, family, and the perfection of Midwestern summers." --Wendy McClure, author of The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie.
"Thanks to June's witty and poetic recollections, you don't just read this book -- you become part of the Melby family. And that's a helluva ride, because besides being wildly funny, the Melbys have a lot to teach us all about the meaning of the word 'success.'" --Mishna Wolff, author of I'm Down
"In this utterly hilarious and deeply moving memoir, June Melby recounts her unusual childhood growing up in a family who ran a miniature golf course. Impossible to put down for its witty and conversational style, you'll turn the last page reminded that the places we call home are often carved from the times we feel the farthest from it. An impressive debut from a deserving writer." --Claire Bidwell Smith, author of The Rules of Inheritance
"My Family and Other Hazards is a perfect balance of wit and warmth: you start off laughing at a perfectly executed running joke about the forgotten youngest child or the portrait of a family's competitive, compulsive generosity, but by the end you realize June Melby has been building a rich, generous, and loving portrait of her parents all along." --Michelle Wildgen, author of Bread and Butter
About the Author
June Melby's work has appeared in McSweeney's, LA Weekly, and National Lampoon Magazine, among other places. In 2011 she was a Writing Fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and in 2003 received the International Artist Award and residency from the City of Hamburg Kulturbehorde (Cultural Affairs Department). In 2002 she was the winner of the Children's Poetry Award at the Edinburgh International Poetry Festival. She lives in Decorah, Iowa.
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
The structure of this book is quite well done: the hook is each chapter is a hole, with the hole being tied very explicitly to a chapter theme, but the author goes forward and backward in time a little, and backfills about both daily life and the circumstances of how that particular family came to be on that particular mini-golf course at that time. "Americana" seems like a bland way of describing this, much as saying the same thing about the Tom Thumb mini-golf course doesn't really describe the fun you have while playing a good game of this weird sport. We may be a little too accustomed to seeking grotesque drama in the lives of memoirists; this is a "quiet" book by contrast, but is about so much more than just the author's own life, in the end, and I think the layering structure is what really makes this a lovely read.
I almost hesitate to say this, since it might imply excessive sentiment or treacle, but it would make a great Disney-style family movie; it's almost a pity it wasn't written as a YA novel, since I doubt the Hollywood execs will notice, but I've hardly read or seen anything in recent years that was as decent and honest as this book. In any event I'm grateful for it as is.
If you don't know anything about the real Tom Thumb mini-golf course or the author, I urge you to refrain from reading up on them before reading this book. There's a bit of suspense in seeing how it comes out, as it were, (even down to what hole is going to be next!) which helps understand the heart of the book.
It is funny, poignant and nostalgic. Her childhood summers at Tom Thumb make for a rollicking chronicle of life with two sisters, a religiously devout and super-competent mother, and a father who is a dreamer, an inventor and a teacher in the winter months. I liked him best. He has scads of knowledge, a good share of wisdom and only a glancing acquaintance with the real world. He spent hours devising a way to make golf balls roll into a clown's nostril.
Melby, whose career included seven years as a stand-up comic, knows exactly how to tell this story. Her narrative is perfectly paced with adroit punchlines. Her descriptions are colorful, detailed and always funny. We hear about tourists, and her father hurrying get the windmill working when the season begins: "If the windmill isn't turning, the public will think we are closed!" Each chapter is a hole number and includes a detailed description of the "hazard" or obstacle that challenges the player. (The descriptions lend a mounting comic effect that had me shaking with laughter.) Meanwhile, the girls are reaching their teen years with all the complications that entails.
You learn how to make pink cotton candy and, my favorite: bright yellow popcorn infused with a dozen ghastly-sounding artificial ingredients that Melby lists with a straight face. Left-over popcorn is a staple of the girls' diet, the dog's treats, and part of the next day's batch. Please -- there are too many amusing details to enumerate, and you should read them yourself.
I thank Veronica Francis for recommending this book and echo her endorsement tenfold.