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The Stuff of Life: A Daughter's Memoir Hardcover – October 1, 2003

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (October 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582341834
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582341835
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #876,807 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Karbo achieves the near-impossible with this memoir: she wrangles the potentially depressing subjects of death and a dysfunctional family into a funny, uplifting page-turner. When her kindhearted but curmudgeonly father is diagnosed with lung cancer, Karbo begins the exhausting leapfrog between her husband and three children in Portland, Ore. and his triple-wide in the Nevada desert. Her attempts to discuss the rapidly spreading disease with the world's most uncommunicative patient are indeed valiant, but Karbo's honesty about her partial regression into adolescence is what will distinguish her story from the rest of the cancer caretaker genre. After all, what normal human beings in Karbo's position haven't found themselves "running on the fumes of maturity... still and always the long-suffering sixteen-year-old?" It's refreshing that our tour guide in this country of illness doesn't pretend to be a natural-born Florence Nightingale. Instead, she freely admits, "I have little patience with the necessary routines of caregiving. I trust doctors about as much as I trust mechanics or the retail associate at Nordstrom who tells me I look fabulous in a pair of $1,200 Calvin Klein capri pants, and am a barf-o-phone to boot." Karbo may occasionally hide out in the bathroom-reduced to reading the fake newsprint wallpaper during her father's hour-long coughing jags-but, as the end approaches, no one can argue she isn't a devoted, well-intentioned daughter. She may apologize for being a "blinking, flinching, grief-stricken fool," but this sense of fallibility and honesty could inspire an alternate subtitle for her book: a survival manual for the living.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

As in her popular Generation Ex: Tales from the Second Wives Club (2000), Karbo's latest finds wisdom and wild humor in "heart-crackingly sad" family stories. When Karbo's father is diagnosed with lung cancer, Karbo becomes his primary caretaker, shuttling between her family in Portland, Oregon, and his triple-wide trailer in the Nevada desert. A stoic, Clint Eastwood type, Karbo's father is a horrible patient, and Karbo, whose mother died of cancer when she was a teenager, doubts her own nursing instincts: "We're not a well-matched patient-nurse couple." In a narrative that loops back through family history, Karbo talks about her complicated relationship with both parents, her struggle to balance motherhood and her writing career, and what she learns about her dad as he moves closer to death. With generous honesty, Karbo describes nuanced moments of nearly excruciating tenderness, embarrassment, frustration, and love, balanced with passages of often side-splitting humor. A compulsively readable memoir about family and the writing life that will appeal to Anne Lamott fans. Gillian Engberg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

More About the Author

Karen Karbo's first novel, Trespassers Welcome Here, was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and a Village Voice Top Ten Book of the Year. Her other two adult novels, The Diamond Lane and Motherhood Made a Man Out of Me, were also named New York Times Notable Books.

Karbo's 2004 memoir, The Stuff of Life, about the last year she spent with her father before his death, was an NYT Notable Book, a People Magazine Critics' Choice, a Books for a Better Life Award finalist, and a winner of the Oregon Book Award for Creative Non-fiction.

Her short stories, essays, articles and reviews have appeared in Elle, Vogue, Esquire, Outside, O, More, The New Republic, The New York Times, and other magazines. She is a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Fiction, and a winner of the General Electric Younger Writer Award.

Karbo is most well known for her best-selling Kick Ass Women series, the most recent of which is How Georgia Became O'Keeffe, published in 2011. How to Hepburn, published in 2007, was hailed by the Philadelphia Inquirer as "an exuberant celebration of a great original"; #1 ebook best-seller The Gospel According to Coco Chanel appeared in 2009. Next up: Julia Child Rules, which will appear in October 2013.

In addition, Karbo penned three books in the Minerva Clark mystery series for children: Minerva Clark Gets A Clue, Minerva Clark Goes to the Dogs, and Minerva Clark Gives Up the Ghost.

Karen grew up in Los Angeles, California and lives in Portland, Oregon where she continues to kick ass.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 24, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Karen did a beautiful job of making me laugh while I cringed. I got this book because I am currently in her shoes with my own dad--our shoes are different sizes but the path is the same. I was helped knowing her experience, knowing her thoughts, feelings, reactions and how she coped with not knowing. Her humor touched me deeply and I felt so grateful that there is also room to laugh during this challenge of life and death. I highly recommend this book to any adult child who chooses to courageously face and honor their parent during their final chapter. I have felt so alone at times but have also felt helped by Karbo's generous contribution for those of us who follow in her footsteps. She has helped me not to judge myself and to open more softly to accepting the reality that one of my loved ones is in the midst of his final times here and compassion for self and others truly connects and brings a crazy kind of peace. Thank you Karen.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 3, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Here's what is so terrific about this book: 1) It satisfies your morbid curiosity about how death really happens, eg "I didn't know how long a body could hang on, how dying can be imminent for days and days and days," a truth nobody ever tells you; 2) it satisfies your morbid curiosity about how other respectable competent people actually get through the deaths of their loved ones and how they fall apart a bit (eg don't actually want to hear details about their bowel movements). 3) It's tragic AND funny, often at the same time, as when Karbo describes her cancer-and-chemo ravaged father coughing into a square of kleenex and folding it into ever tinier and tinier squares and then dropping it into a plastic bag, or rewards himself by having a SINGLE JELLY BEAN FOR DESSERT, or counts the number of kibbles he gives his dog, 23 every day. We get this great clear sense of him as a bit exasperating in his obsessive-compulsivity but also as a meticulous and a profoundly decent and moral human being, a duality which helps those of us with gigantically ambivalent feelings about our own parents. Along the way Karbo tells similarly horrible/funny stories about the lives and deaths of other luminaries in her life like her mother (brain cancer), stepsister (suicide), dog (euthanasia). 4) There is genuine suspense about what happens next: even though we ultimately know "how it ends," we don't know HOW it ends, and in fact there is a mystery about Karbo's actual parentage which gets revealed at the end. 5) The best part, though, is that you end up gobbling the book just waiting to see how Karbo is going to say stuff. For example that her father's nurse's real name, Sandra Nightingale, is so unlikely that it "must be her nom de nurse.Read more ›
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 16, 2003
Format: Hardcover
When my sister passed this book on to me I thought I'd never read it. Like I want to read about someone's father dying of lung cancer? It turns out I read The Stuff of Life in about two sittings. This compulsively readable memoir is funny and wise and has a lot to say about how important it is to just be yourself, and do what you can for the people you love. It debunks the myth that in order to be a caregiver you have to have a Florence Nightengale-type personality. It's NOT about death, but about how we live. It's about the mess of life. I thought it was way better than Tuesdays with Morrie, because it was more real.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Barb F. on August 8, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I work for a hospice and this book was quite informative in many ways. Including: father/daughter relationships, lung CA, explanation on how it can effect someone and taking care of a loved one at home. I was surprised by something that is disclosed in the book) and taken slightly aback but I was motivated to read more!
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