Tag Archives: memoirs

Yet Another Best Of List

Because of a technical glitch, my selections for favorite books read in 2014 didn’t quite make it into the annual Stuff We Like edition of Eleventh Stack.

This just means now I get to tell you all about the great things I discovered this year in MY VERY OWN POST.

Funny how life works out that way.

History of the RainYou already know how much I loved History of the Rain, the Man Booker Prize nominated novel by Niall Williams. As we come to year’s end, this remains one of my favorite books I read in 2014. It has one of my favorite quotes as its second paragraph:

“We are our stories. We tell them to stay alive or keep alive those who only live now in the telling. That’s how it seems to me, being alive for a little while, the teller and the told.” (pg. 1) 

Glitter and Glue

Another book that I loved right away was Kelly Corrigan’s memoir Glitter and Glue.  Now, some may say I’m partial to Ms. Corrigan’s writing because, like me, she’s a Philly girl. That certainly helps, but the fact remains that she’s a damn good writer – and Glitter and Glue is a fantastic follow-up (actually, it’s somewhat of a prequel) to The Middle Place.

Gabriel

I read a lot of poetry this year, and much of what I read was by poets who were new-t0-me. My favorite poetry book is actually a single poem in book-length form.  Edward Hirsch’s work was among my favorites before 2014, which made Gabriel: A Poem a highly-anticipated read.  A tribute to and reflection on his loss of his son, Mr. Hirsch’s heartbreak cracks your heart open with the grief on every line he writes.

Love Life

Finally, this was the year of the audiobook – at least for me.  I listened to a total of 20, mostly during my commute to and from my job here at the Library.  (Those minutes sitting in traffic on the Vet’s Bridge really do add up. Who knew?)  Among those who kept me awake was none other than Rob Lowe, who filled my car with long-ago tales of debauchery, a tearjerker about sending his son off to college, and a female co-star who had a difficult time kissing him. (Note to Rob: if you ever find yourself in such a predicament again, drop me a note and I’ll help you out.) Now, celebrity memoirs by people who don’t even need their name on the book cover are usually not my thing, but if you grew up in the ’80s as I did, you might find Love Life irresistible.

What books, music and movies did you find irresistible in 2014?

~ Melissa F.

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Solomon Northup: Keeping the Legacy Alive

Last year, a patron named Clayton Adams showed me an amazing story that taught me a lot about injustice, resiliency, and hope. It began with trust, followed by deception and injustice, and ends with justice and reunion. And the fact that this story happened at all and that we can go out and read or watch it (I encourage you to do both) is what ultimately gives me hope that we will progress. This story is called Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup.

Northup, a black man born free, was kidnapped from his family in 1841 and sold into slavery in the Deep South. He is threatened into silence by his abductors, being told to never reveal his true identity. For twelve years, Solomon Northup is a Georgia-runaway slave named “Platt” who works for many different owners at different plantations. In 1852, Northup and a Canadian carpenter named Samuel Bass managed to send a letter to Northup’s friends & family in his home state of New York, leading to his freedom on January 3rd, 1853.

Solomon Northup, after regaining his freedom, wasted no time. He wrote and published a memoir called Twelve Years a Slave (1853) detailing his experience. The memoir contains settings and characters also featured in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which was released the previous year. At first, his story took off after 30,000 copies were sold. He went around the North, from city to city, to talk about his experience as a slave. But then in 1857, Solomon disappeared. The location and nature of his death are still unknown. The book also went into obscurity and was not published again until 1968 when Sue Eakin (Louisiana State University at Alexandria) and Joseph Logsdon (University of New Orleans) republished an annotated version.

In 1998, a group of students from Union College set out to learn more about Solomon Northup by tracing his descendants. Based on what they had to go on, tracking any living descendants was next to impossible… until the family of Clayton Adams reached out to Union College and explained their heritage.

Clayton Adams is the great-great-great grandson of Solomon Northup on his mother’s side. He’s also a patron at CLP- West End who first told me about this story. His mother, Carla Adams-Sally, first told him about his family history when he was a junior in high school. At the time, “it just kind of went in one ear and out the other”, Clayton said. It wasn’t until he went to college and took a black literature class that Clayton began to wonder more about Solomon and his story.

His mother had once owned an original copy of Twelve Years a Slave, given to her by her mother (Clayton’s grandmother), Victoria, along with her other siblings. Victoria’s grandfather was Alonzo Northup, son of Solomon Northup. In 1990, while he was at college, Clayton enrolled in a black literature course. Hearing mention of Solomon’s name and who he was started to pique his interest. He went to his mother with a newfound curiosity and became familiar with a trilogy of slave narratives called Puttin’ on Ole’ Massa featuring stories by Henry Bibbs, William Henry Brown, and Solomon Northup. He then read Twelve Years a Slave.

Photo from the Twelve Years a Slave companion website blog - click through to read a post by Clayton Adams

Photo from the Twelve Years a Slave companion website blog – click through to read a post by Clayton Adams

The film by Steve McQueen (which is available for check-out or request at the Library) is an excellent reenactment of the story. There were “important aspects from the book in the movie that wasn’t held back”, says Clayton. Every scene is faithfully executed with a kind of no-holds-barred approach. “[Steve McQueen] is not trying to sugar coat it, and that’s the thing I like.” What makes the story the most interesting is the situation itself: a black man who was born free gets kidnapped from his family, sold into slavery, and owned by slave owners for twelve years before he proves his freedom. Between these points in the story is a brutally honest portrayal of what life as a slave was like. Clayton thinks “it’s about time that it’s been boldly put into the forefront.”

To this day, Clayton is committed to preserving the story and legacy of his great-great-great grandfather. “We’re still learning”, he says. The whereabouts of Solomon are still unknown and the events leading to and trailing his disappearance are still murky. But so much has already been accomplished in piecing together the life of Solomon Northup. His story almost vanished completely and had been rediscovered and preserved by people who see values and lessons-to-be-learned from these kinds of stories. But why are these stories precious? What do we take away from them? I think Clayton’s mom says it best:

“His courage and perseverance should be an inspiration to all humans who face life’s obstacles and tragedies. We are all proud of him and Anne and hope that others will benefit from knowing his story.”
                             -Carol Adams-Sally

If you want to know more about Solomon Northup, Twelve Years a Slave, and more, check out the book companion website, where you’ll find a blog featuring a post by Clayton Adams, reviews from 1853 of the book including reviews by Harriet Beecher Stowe and Frederick Douglas, and so much more!

–Brandon

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The Books We Turned To When Our World Stopped Turning

We left the developmental pediatrician’s office holding two things:

A diagnosis (“your son has clinical features of autism spectrum disorder“) and a practically translucent handout photocopied so many times that the information was hardly readable through our tears.

What we didn’t have in those very early days, thanks to the renowned specialist we consulted for our then 2-year-old boy, was hope.

This was a decade ago, in early 2004. It would be awhile before I completed my medical degree from the University of Google, I wasn’t blogging yet, and social media hadn’t exploded into the share-every-detail-of-your-family’s-lives-behemoth that it is now. Even if I had, the notion of sharing my family’s autism journey (which I now do, in various publications and blogs) was still too new.

At that moment – and in the days and months and years afterward – what I needed and what I craved most were the experiences of other families. I was on a quest for information, absolutely, but also the experiences and knowledge of others who were a few mile markers down this potholed, curvy New Normal Road that my family was driving down without a GPS (we didn’t have that either).

During those days and throughout the decade that followed, I turned to what I knew, what I could count on.

Books.

And you know what? I still do. Ten years into this, I’m not done learning. Not by a long shot. As different challenges come up, as our family’s journey takes different turns, as we explore different paths, I always come back to the books.

I almost hesitate to share a reading list, because what resonates with me may be vastly different for you. Like those of us who know and love someone with autism are so fond of saying if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism. Same with the books. The books that I’d recommend and that have helped me and my family may be very different ones for you and yours.

But an Eleventh Stack post like this almost demands such, especially with tomorrow being the first day of National Autism Awareness Month. Perhaps you’re starting out on that journey where my family was ten years ago.  Perhaps you have a family member on the autism spectrum, or a close friend’s child has just been diagnosed. Perhaps you’ve been wanting to learn a little more.

Father's Day - Buzz BissingerI think there is something intrinsic that compels us to seek out the stories of others and to share ours. That was the case with me. My favorites have been the memoirs written by the fathers (Not Even Wrong: Adventures in Autism, by Paul Collins; Father’s Day: A Journey Into the Mind and Heart of My Extraordinary Son, by Buzz Bissinger, and Not My Boy: A Dad’s Journey with Autism, by Rodney Peete).

The first books I read that made me realize that there were other families having similar experiences as mine (which of course I knew, but there is something validating about seeing such in print) were Making Peace with Autism: One family’s story of struggle, discovery, and unexpected gifts, by Susan Senator and the anthology Gravity Pulls You In: Perspectives on Parenting Children on the Autism Spectrum, edited by Kyra Anderson and Vicki Forman.

There are more books, of course – so many more that this post could be twice as long and go on to praise how people with special needs are being incorporated into children’s and teen fiction (maybe that will be part two. Or three). And that’s the point, really.

It goes without saying that I was – and am – able to read most of these books because of the library.

At a time when we thought we were being handed heartbreak, the books we discovered gave us hope.

–Melissa F.

 

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Six-Word Memoirs Are For All

What’s Your Six-Word Memoir?

The Six-Word Memoir is an internet meme that is ancient (born 2008) by meme standards, yet it still maintains popularity due to the endless possibilities.  The memoirs get much love on Tumblr, including lots of photos of Honest Tea caps.   According to Smith Magazine, which started the online project and published a book or two, “a SixWord Memoir® is the story of your life—some part of it or all of it—told in exactly six words.”Hemingway’s “For sale: baby shoes.  Never worn.” is credited as being the very first.

On the First Floor at Main, following in the Teen tradition,  we asked patrons to share their Six-Word Memoirs.  As always, we were not disappointed.  My favorites include “the pub quiz ended in bloodshed” and “never gotta mustard, always gotta ketchup.”

Because I am a super-nerd (Hey, I’m a librarian!), I also think it’s fun to create Six-Word Memoirs for literary characters.  Here are some, and the only rhyme or reason for their choosing is that they are from my favorite classics.  Please feel free to create your own memoirs – for yourself or anyone else – in the comments of this post!

Anonymous, Beowulf: Grendel’s gonna die!  His mama too!

Cather’s My Ántonia, Ántonia: Hey Jim, you totally missed out.

Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground, Underground Man:  I’m inventing existentialism. I feel weird.

Flaubert’s  Madame Bovary, Emma Rouault: Country life is boring.  Hi, handsome!

García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, Narrator: I don’t care about your feelings.

Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, Jude:  It is hard to be me.

Hardy’s Tess of the D’urbervilles, Tess: You think Angel’s a bit much?

Roché’s Jules Et Jim, Kate:  French, German, tall, short.   Can’t decide.

Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, Romeo: She died.  I will.  Wait, what? AND Juliet: Just until he’s back. Wait, what?

Thoreau’s Walden, Henry: Shhh! Sometimes Mom brings me cookies.

Happy memoiring!

Holly

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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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Flower Power

Born in 1968, a very tumultuous year that saw Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. assassinated, My Lai, and Vietnam War protests worldwide, I’m drawn to memoirs and novels set during the 1960s and 1970s, my own formative years.

Here are a bunch that I loved.

space Space: A Memoir by Jesse Lee Kercheval

Novelist Kercheval was ten when her father accepted a job in Cocoa Beach, Florida in 1966, home of Cape Canaveral. Amid the excitement of the space launches, the story of how her family fell apart and her beloved sister’s attempt to hold them all together is moving and poignant.

paperwings

Paper Wings by Marly Swick

Suzanne Keller grows up watching helplessly as her beautiful mother’s fragile happiness is fractured by JFK’s assassination and her own unresolved ghosts from the past, while the Beatles rose to stardom and the Vietnam war raged on. Her anxious and fervent belief that she can somehow save her mother is both heart wrenching and powerful.

egg

An Egg on Three Sticks by Jackie Fischer

In the early 1970s, in San Francisco, Abby is thirteen and just wants to be a teenager. But her life spirals out of control as her mother’s nervous breakdown shatters her family.

summer

The Summer of Naked Swim Parties by Jessica Anya Blau

In 1976 California, fourteen year old Jamie gets her first boyfriend, hangs out with her two best friends smoking cigarettes and tanning, while her free-wheeling parents throw naked swim parties, much to her eternal embarrassment.

virgin

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

In a tony Detroit, Michigan suburb in the early 1970s, the local teenage boys become obsessed with the five beautiful Lisbon sisters, whose claim to fame is that they all committed suicide.

ticket

A Ticket to Ride by Paula McLain

Before her phenomenal novel, The Paris Wife, McLain penned this provocative novel. Awkward and shy fifteen year old Jamie lives with her uncle in 1973 Illinois when her older, mysterious cousin, Fawn, comes for a summer visit. Fawn’s risky behavior and dangerous influence lead to tragedy. See also McLain’s painful memoir of growing up in foster homes in the 1970s, Like Family: Growing Up in Other People’s Houses.

criime

A Crime in the Neighborhood by Suzanne Berne

During the summer of 1972, in Spring Hill, Maryland, nine year old Marsha breaks her leg and, with time on her hands, chronicles her parents’ divorce, her teenaged siblings’ shoplifting adventures, and the murder of a boy in her class in her notebook (shades of Harriet the Spy?). When a quiet, unassuming man moves into the house next door, her imagination runs wild as she comes to believe he is the murderer. The repercussions of her actions and that summer resonate long into adulthood.

lovelybones

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

In 1973, fourteen year old Susie Salmon is murdered by a neighbor; the entire novel is her point of view about her murder and the effects on those she left behind. Very creepy.

~Maria, who once owned a mood ring, crushed on Shaun Cassidy, and saw all the Star Wars movies first run.

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can’t stop, won’t stop

You may have noticed an explosion in the publication of memoirs these past few years.  Someone likes to write about his living experiments; someone else had an incredibly miserable childhood; or maybe someone just has a really funny personal blog.  Well, I, for one, am thrilled with this trend!  Whether it’s an opportunity to imagine a parallel life for myself, a way to learn from someone else’s experience, or a reminder of all that we humans have in common, I actually can’t stop reading these memoirs, nor do I want to.

I am currently reading Fit2 Fat 2Fit: The Unexpected Lessons from Gaining and Losing 75 Lbs. on Purpose, by Drew Manning, in which he describes his experience as a personal trainer who really wanted to understand where his clients were coming from when they struggled to lose weight or get in shape.   It definitely falls in the category of wanting to learn from someone else’s experience, since I don’t want to try it myself!

Last week I read A Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost: A Memoir of Three Continents, Two Friends, and One Unexpected Adventure, by Rachel Friedman.  Since college, I have played with the idea of traveling or living in another country on a grand adventure that would shake me out of my day to day habits and struggles.  With this book, I could find out what another rule-following, by-the-book-living young woman experienced when she did just that.

Before that one, I read the story of a woman whose doctor did not detect her pregnancy – even after she listed all the classic symptoms – and who finally found out she was pregnant after she was six months along.  Alice Eve Cohen’s What I Thought I Knew is both fascinating and appalling, and was another memoir I couldn’t put down.

A few months ago, I had to return and re-reserve Bright Lights, No City: An African Adventure on Bad Roads with a Brother and a Very Weird Business Plan, by Max Alexander, which chronicles the many ups and downs of building a sustainable, profitable, and useful battery business in Ghana.  I usually give up on a book I can’t finish in three weeks, but I had to know how they fared as they doggedly pursued this dream.

I also went through a period of how-i-survived-hideous-illness-or-injury memoirs, including Learning To Breathe: One Woman’s Journey of Spirit and Survival, about Alison Wright’s near-death experience in a bus crash in Laos (as well as her many other adventures as a globe-trotting photojournalist) and My Life, Deleted, by Scott Bolzan, who lost his memory after falling and hitting his head on the bathroom floor.  The best of those, though, was My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey, by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D.  This woman becomes a brain scientist twice!  Talk about inspiring…

And then there are the spiritual memoirs, my absolute favorites:

Mary Pipher’s Seeking Peace: Chronicles of the Worst Buddhist in the World tells the story of what happened after her book, Reviving Ophelia, became a surprise bestseller.  Donald Miller decides to make a great story of his life in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years:  What I Learned While Editing My LifeTake This Bread:  A Radical Conversion, by Sara Miles, describes her conversion experience of taking communion and follows it by leading her church to start a food bank.  And of course, anything by Anne Lamott.  I just started The Accidental Buddhist: Mindfulness, Enlightenment, and Sitting Still, by Dinty W. Moore, and I’m looking forward to chapters like “Just Sitting: I Obsess a Lot, and Then I Get Distracted” and “Buddha Bug, Buddha Being: You Are What You Eat.”

What I can resist, for some reason, are celebrity memoirs or war memoirs.  I’m just picky that way, although I’m sure I would make exceptions (Bossypants, for example, is one I’m tempted by, but haven’t tried yet).  How about you?  Are you a memoir fan?  Have any suggestions or favorites?  I could go on and on, but now it’s your turn.

-Kaarin

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