Tag Archives: biographies

The Artist Currently (and Formerly) Known as . . .

I’m an 80s girl. By that I mean that the ages typically known as the “formative years” for a person, middle and high school, happened for me between 1981 -1987. If you want to include college, that extends me out to 1991 (Now, you all know how old I am!). But the entirety of my teenage years happened in the 1980s.

The upshot to this is that much of the music permanently ensconced in my gray matter comes from that time period. I can’t remember what the “plan” is for this weekend, but I can remember all the lyrics to that Roxette song I heard while watching Pretty Woman the other day. Even though I haven’t heard that song since the last time I watched that movie. (Which, I promise you, has been more than a decade.)

Even as a white, middle class girl from the suburbs of a small city, two of the major influences on my musical development from that time period were Michael Jackson and Prince. But since they were two of the biggest names in the music business during that time, this really is no surprise. I’m not sure what attracted me to their largely androgynous appearances, but I was thoroughly enticed. I had Michael Jackson posters all over my bedroom walls and watched, and listened to, Purple Rain more times than I can count. (In my semi-defense, this was the era of HBO having 3-4 movies per month that they would show over and over and over again. So, I’ve pretty much seen ALL the movies of that time period a bajillion times). Because of my emerging adolescent self and all the hormones and whatnot that accompany this life event, I’m sure their songs’ pulse-pounding beats, titillating lyrics and gyrating dance moves (viewed via the MTV channel that actually showed music videos) had more than a little to do with my interest.

IWouldDie4UDiversions from your formative years die hard. So when I came across a review of I Would Die 4 U: Why Prince Became an Icon by Touré, I knew I had to read it. This book is a compilation of 3 lectures given by the author, a music journalist and television personality, for the Alan LeRoy Locke Lecture Series at the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University. Did you realize that there’s a difference between being a rock star and an icon? One entertains us, while the other embodies who we are as a people or generation, even if it’s just for that moment in time, expressing to us our deeply held feelings and beliefs that we might not have known were there in the first place. Touré makes the convincing argument that because of his childhood experiences (absent father and mother, latchkey kid, high school loner), spiritual beliefs and sexuality, Prince had all the foundations to become an icon for Generation X.

I had not read any other biographies or studies of Prince before this one, but having seen a bit in magazines and on television over the years, I felt I had some knowledge of his background and persona. What I discovered in the pages of this book reinforced what I already knew and provided me with more insight than the slim 150 pages would belie. I learned about childhood and adolescent traumas, relationships and marriages, his crazy work ethic and schedule, as well as the layers of meanings to many of Prince’s most popular song lyrics. When I finished, I felt like I knew as much about Prince as anyone on the outside could, given his propensity to project only the carefully crafted image he wants people to see.

To sum up, I highly recommend this book. I’ve been booktalking it to everyone I’ve run into for the past few weeks. People are getting tired of me. Seriously. So I figured I would recommend it to All of You and that might satisfy my need to jabber on and on about it. Plus, I’ll probably write a Staff Pick for it. Then I’ll REALLY be done talking about this book. Maybe.

Let’s Go Crazy,
Melissa M.

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A Few More Books for BUCtober and Beyond

Even thought we’ve already had an Eleventh Stack blog about our winning baseball team in this Steel City, it’s so rare that the major sports news in October should be about anything but the Pittsburgh Steelers. I felt that another post highlighting one of our other black & gold teams–the Pittsburgh Pirates–wouldn’t be overkill, but a tribute to their great season.

This post-season of the Pirates is the team’s first since moving into their new home on the North Shore, just blocks from the Allegheny branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. Their level of play this season has been enough to get even the fairest weather of fans behind this team that has a heart as big as the rubber duck docked along the Allegheny River. Personally, I’m thrilled with their success this year, since my family was convinced that both my move to Pittsburgh twenty-one years ago, as well as my inter-rival-city marriage (Cleveland v. Pittsburgh) which took place the same day as the last post-season home game in the Pirates’ modern history, had something to do with this alleged curse on the Pirates. No matter how long this post-season play lasts for the Buccos and their fans, the thrills and intricacies of baseball can last beyond October with some great reads for all ages. Many of these are favorites amongst the rabid baseball fans in my own household.

It’s impossible to recommend any baseball books for Pittsburgh fans without talking about two of our baseball greats: Roberto Clemente and Honus Wagner, who both provide a great deal of literary fodder. Fellow Eleventh Stack blogger, Scott, has listed several great reads, including 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente. The Pride of Puerto Rico: The Life of Roberto Clemente, by Paul Robert Walker, is another great avenue for younger readers to learn about this baseball player and humanitarian. Bruce Markusen’s Roberto Clemente: The Great One is often the go-to tome of the right fielder for adult readers. It will soon be obvious to readers of any Clemente biography why Pittsburgh has a bridge named after the Hall-of-Famer, and Major League Baseball annually awards players who model Clemente’s work on and off the field.

Honus Wagner is another famed Pirate and he is honored in children’s literature through Dan Gutman’s Honus and Me, the first in an historical fiction, time travel series tied to the thrill of collecting baseball cards. In real life, Honus Wagner baseball cards are as coveted as the fictional Willy Wonka Golden Ticket. Gutman uses this rarity as the jumping off point for his children’s book series which goes on to introduce the subjects of racism and women in non-traditional female roles in subsequent titles.

Speaking of female roles, and since I’m the lone female in my household, I would like to take this opportunity to recommend some other titles which either highlight their role in baseball history or are characters in some great baseball literature. For the younger set, and a book I relished reading to my young sons to highlight the importance of women in baseball, check out Sue Macy’s A Whole New Ball Game. If you or your children aren’t aware of the role women played by continuing the tradition of baseball during World War II, when male baseball players were hard to come by due to the war, this is a great introduction to that era of baseball history.

Shirley Wong is one of my favorite female characters in kids’ historical fiction. A Chinese immigrant to Brooklyn, New York, Shirley learns English and how to acclimate to her new world thanks to the Brooklyn Dodgers and Jackie Robinson, in Betty Bao Lord’s In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson. While my colleagues and I might tend to recommend the Lupicas and Christophers when it comes to sports fiction for kids, this is one of many non-traditional characters in baseball stories we can point young readers to.

The women in Bernard Malamud’s The Natural and W.P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe (you might know this one as the movie Field of Dreams) are no shrinking violets. The main female characters in these novels really get into the heads of the baseball-obsessed men in their lives, for good or for bad. And as it turns out, maybe the men aren’t the only ones obsessed with this sport and the drama it can bring to one’s life. If you only know these titles from their movie presence, I would highly recommend that you read the poetry these authors have created in bringing baseball to life on the printed page.

Many of these titles share space on the shelves in my home library, but there are many copies available for borrowing through the library’s Next Generation Catalog. In fact, I just used the catalog to put a title on my own holds list. I’ve recently been introduced to another female in baseball lore, Effa Manley, who apparently played a pivotal role throughout the history of Negro League Baseball, in which Pittsburgh played a huge role with its own Crawfords and Homestead Grays. The biography, The Most Famous Woman in Baseball: Effa Manley and the Negro Leagues, by Bob Luke, is the next baseball read that I can’t wait to get started on. However, it may have to wait until BUCtober is over, because for now, the Pittsburgh Pirates are holding most of my attention.

These are just a few of the multitude of baseball books available to any reader who wants to read more beyond the statistics and standings of the regular season play. The post-season will soon come to an end, and regardless of how the Buccos finish off, there can be plenty of baseball to keep any reader occupied until spring training picks up again next February.

–Maria J.

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We’re Here. We’re Queer. Get Used to it!

pride week_facebookJune is LGBTQ Pride Month and June 9-16 is Pride Week at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. Here at the library we pride ourselves on providing access to information and entertainment for everyone. While all of our locations have materials for those wanting to read about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender issues, two of our library locations, the Main Library in Oakland and the Allegheny location on the North Side, have separate GLBT genre collections. These collections contain both fiction and nonfiction books and cover all areas of LGBTQ interest. There are mysteries, historical fiction, love stories, family dramas, and erotica. Nonfiction topics include travel, wedding planning, religion, medical, history (or herstory) and biographies.
GayPrideMonth
For LGBTQ Pride month, I created a display for the First Floor, New & Featured. I presented a selection of biographies, memoirs, and tell-alls. Here are some selections from that display…

A Year Straight: Confessions of a Boy-Crazy, Lesbian Beauty Queen by Elena Azzoni

Transparent: Love, Family, and Living the T with Transgender Teenagers by Cris Beam

Coal to Diamonds by Beth Ditto

Family Outing: What Happened When I Found Out My Mother Was Gay by Troy Johnson

Finding the Real Me: True Tales of Sex and Gender Diversity – Tracie O’Keefe and Katrina Fox, editors

The Talented Miss Highsmith: The Secret Life and Serious Art of Patricia Highsmith by Joan Schenkar

Queers in History: The Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Historical Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, and Transgenders by Keith Stern

Gypsy Boy: My Life in the Secret World of the Romany Gypsies by Mikey Walsh

Welcome to My World by Johnny Weir

And my absolute favorite title on this display…
Swish: My Quest to Become the Gayest Person Ever by Joel Derfner

Happy LGBTQ Pride Week and Month!
-Melissa M.

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Lovers and Fighters

“If you can’t take the punches, it don’t mean a thing.” –Warren Zevon

I don’t remember much about the day Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini visited my school. My dad wasn’t a huge boxing fan, so I didn’t really understand why the fighter was famous–just that he was, and that he cared enough about his hometown to do things like talk to kids at pep assemblies. I sat in a wooden folding chair in the gym, surrounded by cheering classmates who were obviously much more sports-savvy than I was; I don’t remember anything Mancini said, either–any wisdom he might have had for me was drowned out by pre-teen adulation. The only detail I recall clearly was that one of the eighth grade girls presented Mancini with a bouquet of flowers, and that the boxer gallantly gave her a peck on the cheek. The girl’s face lit up like a Christmas tree, and the audience collectively roared its approval.

“Boom Boom’s” visit made an impression on me, though. How could it not?  Mancini’s presence was meant to be an example of what we, too, could accomplish, if we worked hard. We could be contenders.  We could be somebody. Maybe not in the ring, but somehow. All you had to do was pay your dues and have faith, and somehow everything would turn out okay. Maybe I missed out on the details of that particular sermon, but the underlying message–reinforcing, as it did, everything else I’d been brought up to believe–rang out like a bell, an insistent sound rippling down to the bone.

Nobody talked to us about what happened later. We were, perhaps, too young to learn we could do our best to rise, and still fall.

When Mark Kriegel’s biography of Mancini, The Good Son, came up on my radar, I knew I was going to read it. Mancini’s story was our story too, those of us who grew up in the shadow of Black Monday, and even though you can’t go home again, home never really leaves you. I wanted to see how the story turned out, and I was not disappointed.

Equal parts love song and hero’s journey, The Good Son is a guided tour of Ray Mancini’s desire to win a world boxing championship, something his father, the original “Boom” Mancini, was denied after a WWII injury cut his own career short. Like a modern-day Hercules, the young Mancini stubbornly plows through the obstacles in his path and achieves his dream. Fame and further opportunities follow, but nothing gold can stay, and “Boom Boom” ultimately meets the psychological test of his life in his fight with Duk Koo Kim, and its tragic aftermath.

This was, for me, the most interesting part of the book: how do you go on living when your world is blown apart? Kriegel shows, with great compassion, Mancini’s struggles to find meaning in life, and a life after boxing. The journey to redemption, one that, in the hands of clumsier writers suffers from hyperbole and cliche, becomes, in Kriegel’s hands, a tale that could (and can, and does) happen to anyone. Best of all, readers who like happy endings will get one…though it may not come wrapped in the trappings they have come to expect from “happy.”

I don’t want to spoil it too much for you, but I can assure you, there’s something in The Good Son for a variety of readers, even if the namedropping of specific neighborhoods and local politicos doesn’t make you mist up a little, the  way I did. For the sports fans, there’s a ripping good yarn about the bloodier days of boxing, before Howard Cosell lost his temper about it. For those who lived during the boom and bust of the steel industry, there are slices of living history, bittersweet pieces of pie you can wash down with your coffee (or maybe a shot and a beer). And for those who still believe–or want to believe–in heroes, here there are lovers and fighters, families and rivals, the human condition writ large, Shakespeare for groundlings, poetry in motion.

If the name of the game really is “be hit and hit back,” The Good Son wins, by unanimous decision. Try it and see.

–Leigh Anne

who, after all those years, finally got the message

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Memoir vs. autobiography, Or, “It’s a boy! It’s a girl! It’s hundreds of boys and girls! And they’re all famous!”

The lush fertile womb of the New and Featured Nonfiction collection on the First Floor of the Main Library has recently given birth to a new Biographies section. It’s 144 inches and 250+ pounds of pure neonatal delight!

Now, everyone knows that nothing is begotten without labor pains. What could be painful about this new collection? For me, it is comes down to one word: Memoirs. Every Tom, Dick, and Harry has written one, and if we put them all into the Biographies section, we would have one giant, unwieldy baby on our hands. But how can we differentiate the memoirs from the autobiographies?

Here I quote Nigel Hamilton from his 2008 book How to Do Biography: A Primer: “Memoirs may be manipulated and selective…Amusing, informative, possibly deceitful, often self-deceiving, memoirs are extended self-portraits that whether pompous or humble, reflect the time in which they are composed—even if they do not shed much light on the author’s character” (p. 281).

Using St. Augustine, Frederick Douglass, and Anne Frank as examples, Hamilton defines autobiography as “the relentless record and examination of one’s own life: a quest for mental freedom through truthfulness” (p. 293).

However, my confusion multiplied when I consulted the Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory (4th Edition), edited by J. A. Cuddon. Autobiography is described in these terms: “Everyone recalls what he or she wants to remember. Disagreeable facts are sometimes glossed over or repressed, truth may be distorted for the sake of convenience or harmony and the occlusions of time may obscure as much as they reveal.” It doesn’t seem that anyone can agree on a definition or a concrete way to differentiate the two. To make matters worse, many of the review tools that we use when deciding on our purchases label items “biography” indiscriminately.

So, as a rule, I generally use these guidelines:
• The subject of the autobiography is the person, rather than a time, place, or experience (or other aspects of a person’s life).
• The subject of the autobiography is famous, outside of the book itself.
• The autobiography covers (most of) the person’s entire life. The memoir may only cover a certain segment.
• If other libraries label a book a biography, so will I. Sometimes.

Here are a few pop cultural books sitting on our Biographies shelf:

Redneck Boy in the Promised Land: The Confessions of “Crazy Cooter” by Ben Jones
You Can Run But You Can’t Hide by Duane “Dog” Chapman
Don’t Hassel the Hoff: The Autobiography by David Hasselhoff
Dr. Dre: The Biography by Ronin Ro

So come down and check out the Hoff’s autobiography. It has drama, photos, and everything you ever wanted to know about Baywatch, and it’s been sitting lonely for too long. Have you read any good memoirs (or autobiographies) lately?

–Bonnie

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15 minutes of fame

Most of you have probably heard some version of Andy Warhol’s famous quote: “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” I’m waiting for my moment of fame to come along, but in the meantime I spend a lot of time reading celebrity biographies.  I like to think of it as practice, so I’ll know what to do when I’m finally rich and famous. Actors and actresses like Clara Bow, Elizabeth Taylor, Ann Margret, and Orson Welles have each had some memorable celebrity moments, and luckily for us it’s all captured in their biographies.  Television actresses shouldn’t be overlooked eitherthe biographies and autobiographies of actresses like Joan Collins, Tori Spelling, or Rue McClanahan  are great weekend reads. Musicianswhether they’re punk, hair bands, hip hop, jazz, or classicalare another great source of celebrity drama. Writers, artists, and dancers also tend to have lives that make for some interesting reading. 

Warhol later revised his quote to “In 15 minutes everyone will be famous.”  Even though I’m still waiting, maybe you’re not.  If you’re rich and famous already, think about looking at some of our books on fashion and jewelryyou don’t want the paparazzi to catch you at less than your best. Make sure to also look at some of our books on money and investing, and also peruse our books on luxury automobiles and real estate

If you’ve already had your fifteen minutes and survived the perils of stardom, think about writing your memoirs.  Check out our books about writing or stop by the reference department and look at the most recent edition of Writer’s Market to find a publisher.  If you need to gather some inspiration from your fellow writers, make sure to drop in to our Squirrel Hill Branch on Sundays for their writer’s studio

There are way too many great celebrity bios, books on fame and fortune, and writing guides for me to list everything here.  Leave a comment and let us know your favorite trashy biography!  If you have a tip on how to deal with fame (like how do you find a closet big enough to hold all your free designer clothes?), let us know!

-Irene

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