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on July 29, 1996
Calvin Trillin is like a tall glass of iced tea after a hot day. His reporting style, perfected across
the years in the pages of TIME and the NEW YORKER, is unlike any other in the field. A native Kansas
City boy, he gives creedence to the idea of Mid-Western taciturnity, eschewing flowery prose or even artful
structure to simply tell what he has to tell. In the case of his weekly column for TIME, that brevity of
word only makes what he has to say even funnier. For proof, check out his collections (the recent "Too
Soon To Tell") to remember that intelligence, humility and wit usually went hand in hand in the old
days of reportage. Cross Edward R. Murrow with Garrison Keillor, and you've found Trillin. But even he
has developed a beauty of style all his own.
Now he turns his attention to that most painful and mushy of topics, the parent, in his superb new memoir
"Messages From My Father," an observation from a grown son to his deceased patriarch. The memoir business
has been burgeoning lately, with moving evocations of the past produced from such disparate writers as white-
knuckled reporter Pete Hamill (A Drinking Life) to poet Mary Karr (The Liar's Club) but Trillin never calls
attention to a plight or condition, never once opens up his family secrets for triage but instead pulls off
the hat trick of talking about his father and his family while growing up in post-war America without a trace
of false notes or cheap sentiment. Abe Trillin emerges from the book as a decent believer in the American Dream
and its unbiased blessing on all the children of immigrants. Son Calvin looks at him honestly, his quirks
(always wearing yellow ties, "swearing off" coffee without ever drinking it to begin with) his stubbornness
and his enduring hope for his young boy; all topics of great drama, but rendered with good humor and genuine,
clear-eyed honesty. Fathers and Sons have rarely been prodded in such a way to expose true feeling, instead of
simple sentiment. Trillin, as always, reminds his readers to cut through the myths that cloud our judgments
of our blood and ourselves and laugh. Maybe then, he hopes, we'll understand the myth of fatherhood a little
more.
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VINE VOICEon July 12, 2004
Humorist, journalist, food maven, the author of numerous books and a writer for The New Yorker, Trillin brings his blend of self-deprecating humor and thoughtful observation to this affectionate memoir of his father.
Abram Trilinsky emigrated to St. Joseph, Missouri, from Russia at the age of two. When his wife hinted at a trip to Europe, his terse response was, "I've been." He was resolutely a mid-western American, a man who changed his name to Abe Trillin, and at the end of his life exhibitted the only prejudice his son ever observed - an impatience with "refugees," by which he meant people who clung to the language and customs of their country of origin.
He was a stubborn man, like most of his family, described by his wife as "Mules!" "I sometimes imagined my father as swearing off things just to keep in practice," his son observes.
He never swore although he collected colorful curses - "May you have an injury that's not covered by workman's compensation." His honesty was absolute - when a child turned 12 he paid full price at the movies even if he looked 9.
He was unassuming. When Calvin was in high school, his father opened a restaurant and took to wearing yellow ties. "He said something about how most people don't stand out from the crowd, and how it helped to have a sort of signature." This seemed embarrasing to his adolescent son. "What was so great about having someone say, 'Oh, yes, Abe Trillin - the guy with the yellow ties'?" But years later at Abe's funeral, he's touched by how many friends asked for a yellow tie as a remembrance.
His father was not a talker. One of his favorite jokes concerned a Jewish actor who finally gets a real part playing a Jewish father. The actor asks his father why he seems disappointed. " 'Of course I'm proud of you son,' " the father says, " 'But we were hoping you'd get a speaking part.' "
Calvin writes, "What strikes me as odd now is how much my father managed to get across without those heart-to-hearts that I've read about fathers and sons having." Without it being talked about, Calvin knew his father was ambitious for him. "It was a given in our family that my father was a grocer so that I wouldn't have to be."
One of their biggest arguments concerned Calvin's joining the Boy Scouts. He hated Boy Scouts but Abe regarded it as essential to American boyhood, a necessary step on the way to Yale, Trillin senior's university of choice, an idea he'd gotten from a novel read as a boy - Stover At Yale.

Calvin went to Yale. Yale launched him out of Kansas City, never to return (also as Abe expected). The grocer's son would never be a grocer.
In one (somewhat unrealistically) ingenuous chapter Trillin goes to a dinner of prominent writers and realizes that they all went to Ivy League schools as he did. Was there a connection? (Puleeeeze). "For the first time, I realized that my father's vision of how all of this was supposed to work out might not have been as simplistic as I had always assumed."
This slim volume is deeply captivating and affecting. His father emerges as a man of indomitable will, will so strong he imposed it simply by being. He was a man who could afford to be easy going and funny, all the while adhering to a plan of grand ambition which embraced cross country automobile trips to broaden the horizons of his children and simple pronouncements: "You might as well be a mensch." Much of the book's power lies in the author's recognition of himself as his father's ambition fulfilled - a successful American who does his best to "be a mensch," a real human being.
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on December 6, 1998
A fine book for any man to read who is a: beyond forty five years old, b: has sons, c: possibly was brought up Jewish. All or some of the above would enjoy this book. I am reminded of my own father, his triumphs and shortcomings and Calvin's book is a must for any person who wants a quick fun read with interesting messages. I started it, and finished it the same morning! I could not put it down...
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on January 12, 2007
Such is Calvin Trillin's caliber of work you don't realize how good he is, and he is really good. This book touched me deeply; Mr. Trillinsky was not an emotional man and given to the touchy feely sort of stuff so espoused these days, but he gave his son everything he would need to have a fulfilling life, one of the main components being a deep, abiding and unconditional love; how lucky Mr. Trillin was.

My father was an evil and stupid man who never learned from his mistakes and is now reaping the whirlwind; I believe Mr. Trillinsky would have I.D.'d him in five minutes flat, and would have had mercy on him, much more than I can manage now. If you are raising a child, or trying to figure out what in God's green earth happened to you during your childhood, read this book. Mr. Trillin's artistry is a delicious extra.

I have read "Remembering Denny" and it has seared a place in my mind since. It explained so much to me. This is another book that is going to go on my mental bookshelf, probably till the end of me.
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on July 6, 2001
The market is flooded these days with memoirs. This little book stands out from the pack. Trillin writes about his father with love, admiration and respect, as well as his famous wit. I recommend this book to any father's son.
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VINE VOICEon July 13, 2009
This is a very heart-moving memoir written by a man who is remembering his father. It is not a very in-depth memoir but it is moving. I picked up the book because I enjoy Trillin's short poems in the Nation magazine and wanted to know more about the man behind some of the wittiest poems. This book is mainly reflections of a man who is sharing a tale of one of the most important person in his life, his father.

Calvin Trillin tries to make sense of the man who was his father and takes the reader along for a nostaglic walk down memory lane. In this event, he has also shown a side of himself that most people probably don't get to see ... Trillin as a boy and as a young man, trying to live up to what his father believes in.

Trillin says that his father is just an ordinary man who just blends in the crowd, but Trillin brought his father to life with those amazing stories and reveals a warm-hearted man of few words to the world. It is a fitting tribute to a man who raised Trillin and it is a pleasure to read this book.

7/13/09
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VINE VOICEon December 30, 2014
Calvin Trillin’s short ode to his father is a nice little read, and gives the reader insight into what the man meant to Trillin. This award winning author traces his family roots from Europe to America at the turn of the 19th century, and how the newly arrived immigrants adjusted to the new world. It’s a fantastic little read.
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on November 4, 2013
Trillin gives us not only a valentine of his father but he does so without revealing any negativity -- he is able to see the man and his "agenda" without focusing on his own residue. This is an amazing feat considering how others have viewed the "agenda" of their fathers and how it cost them. One does not come across this graciousness frequently -- rarely is a better description.
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on April 3, 2008
This is a lovely endearingly funny book. I read it in just an evening but I'm sure it's a book I'll go back to in the future.
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on May 25, 2010
Text apart, for the moment, family photos here should charm. An ordinary looking man, Abe Trillin might have come from my elementary school classes. Those mostly Jewish New York boys would have some differences from those that took the Texas route into the United States. I detect strength, modesty, humor and love in the pictures.
When being born, perhaps the key decision is your choice of father. That is so fateful (recent personal affirmations of that have come to me in the stories of Beethoven and the prophet Jeremiah as well percusionist Evelyn Glennie); it is hard to see the good points of bastardy.
This continuity Trillin speaks of is bred into the people; sovereign God is a cause or effect, probably both. Even when the grocer has not raised a grocer, the mensch raised a mensch.
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