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A Different Kind of Book Review: Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume One by Helena Hann-Basquiat


Mary picked up the soft cover book from her pillow where it had been resting since Lucy left it there.  She opened the book so she could see the front and back cover, the red, black, and white colors making her eyes dance.  Red was her favorite color.  Black used to be the color of her hair.  And it had been long and wavy, much as she imagined Helena’s hair to be.  An index card floated down from the book and onto Mary’s lap.  It was a note from Lucy:  “Just call me Penny dammit!”  Mary laughed at the inside joke. Both she and Lucy were regular readers of Helena’s blog and knew the story behind “Penny dammit.”

They had been excited to learn that Helena was publishing her memoirs and wasted no time in getting their hands on a copy.  While Mary knew she was probably quite a bit older, she liked to fancy herself as Helena in much the same way that Lucy fancied herself as Penny.  Although, truth be told (and there’s truth in those memoirs, perhaps not factual truth, but definitely truth of the heart), Lucy was nothing like Penny.  She just wanted to be that sassy, witty, beautiful young girl and to have an aunt to call her own since her own parents were dead.  And Mary never had children, but she was drawn to Lucy and doted on her as if she were a favorite niece.

Mary sat back on her bed and lazily turned the pages, smiling as she did, remembering the weekend she spent with her favorite dilettante in bed.  Yes, not too long ago, on a cold rainy weekend, Mary decided to start her day by reading in bed with a big pot of Earl Grey tea and a big slice of Verry Berry Coffee Cake that Randy had left for her.  He had left for the weekend, to engage in some rugged, rustic team-building exercises with his officers.  Her cousins, Maggie and Melissa, were busy with inventory at the knitting shop, and so Mary was all alone all weekend.  Except she had Helena to keep her company.  And often Penny as well.

And what company they were!  Helena’s stories of her California years: rubbing elbows (and sometimes more than elbows) with musicians, crossing paths with sociopaths, having her world turned upside down by men who loved her too much and men who didn’t love her enough.  Then there was Wyoming and the funny but dramatic series of tangles with an “Accidental Plagiarist” and Cheyenne, his girlfriend stripper exotic dancer.  Helena even delves into her early adult years when she lived with a strange religious cult that she had joined only to be close to a boy she had fallen in love with.  And music!  Always music, most of which Mary had never heard of before.  Of course, the local radio stations in her small town tended to only play the top ten, and there were usually more commercials than music anyway.  But now the Postal Service had a new meaning for her, and it didn’t have anything to do with mail.

She spent the whole weekend in bed with Helena and Penny, getting up only to make more tea or use the bathroom.  By the time Randy came home that Sunday night, she had fortunately finished the Memoirs, otherwise he would have been showering alone.

Mary closed the book and put it down on the bedside table.  “It wasn’t all fun and games though, was it, Helena?”  There was quite a bit of tragedy in these stories, for both Helena and Penny, but they had each other.  Much like Mary had her cousins.  They had always been close, but with each of them becoming a widow, so fast, so young, they now simply couldn’t live without each other.  She wondered about passing the Memoirs along to Maggie and Melissa.  She knew they would enjoy Helena’s saber-sharp wit, her alliterations, her annotations which were as much fun to read as the stories.

But Melissa had a tendency to be literal, she thought, to take things at face value.  To wit, Melissa would see the word memoirs and assume that the experiences recounted were factual, never mind that Helena includes a “caveat emptor” at the very beginning (actually, before the beginning) of the book, saying “I may have blurred the lines between truth and fiction.”  Mary wondered if the lines were so blurred that no eyeglass prescription would be powerful enough to distinguish them.  But she didn’t care.  Not really.  She approached the Memoirs as if it were complete fiction; that way she wouldn’t trouble herself about what is fact and what isn’t.

What mattered to her and what she knew mattered to Maggie (former English major that she was) was the writing.  It was wonderful, the stories at turns hilarious and heartbreaking.  It was a book that she could pick up and enjoy over and over while she waited for Volume Two.


And so could you, dear Reader.  Be sure to pick up a copy of Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume One by Helena Hann-Basquiat and consider reading it in bed so you can say you’ve been in bed with your favorite dilettante.  If having the book isn’t enough for you, then hop over to Helena’s blog where more delights await you.

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Marie A Bailey

Writer, blogger, knitter, cat lover, and introvert.

26 replies

  1. Marie, this was amazing. This touched me very deeply, not only with the sentiment, but the manner in which you presented it — to have influenced you like this makes me very proud.
    Thank you.


  2. I got here from S K Nicholl’s blog. Excellent and fascinating review, Marie. 🙂 From what I’ve read so far on other blogs, Dilettante is a remarkable novel. 🙂


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