Category Archives: Biography & Memoir

When Skateboards Will Be Free

Title: When Skateboards Will Be Free: A Memoir of a Political Childhood

Author: Said Sayrafiezadeh

Summary: In his debut memoir, Sayrafiezadeh describes his childhood in the Socialist Workers Party. Even after her husband leaves her to foment revolution in his native Iran, Said’s mom, Martha,  remains steadfast to him, and to the Party. Self-inflicted poverty is not only a constant, it is perceived as a guiding value - a way to identify with the struggle of the workers and a thumb to the eye of the bosses and their materialistic society. Martha tells young Said that he can have a skateboard after the revolution in an episode that supplies the title of the book.

While young Said hurtles through adulthood, attending SWP conferences, fearing for his father’s life in Iran, and taking a trip to Cuba to see the socialist dream in action, his mother’s psyche slowly unravels. This bracingly funny and shocking memoir is a revelation; a unique look into the world of people still waiting for the revolution to come from a powerful and promising new writer.

Who will like this book?: People who enjoy memoirs, particularly by people with interesting (and damaged) childhoods. Readers looking for insight into outsider and fringe politics.

If you like this, try this: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. For more on the politics, try Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism by Joshua Muravchik.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

A Pearl in the Storm

Title:   A Pearl in the Storm: How I Found My Heart in the Middle of the Ocean

Author:   Tori Murden McClure

Publisher: Harper Collins, April 2009

Summary:  Sometimes when you start a book by a new author it is important to give the story a chance to win you over. This is one of those books.   I picked up this book because I had done some rowing in a former life. I also am fascinated by the idea of people doing extraordinary physical things that most armchair  “explorers”  can only dream of.

And true to form there are plenty of exciting moments where the reader holds their breath and cheers Tori on through some horrible storms including a hurricane. However, the most appealing quality of this book is the realistic way Tori reveals her story while she reflects upon the pivotal moments and people of her life as she rows across the Atlantic Ocean.  Each life is unique and Tori’s tale does not disappoint.  Her physical prowess is impressive to be sure however her humanity is even more so. She invites the reader to share her zig-zag road to contentment, or maybe even happiness.

Who will like this book:   Anyone who enjoys an adventure, a tale of extreme physical challenge or perhaps someone who is at a crossroads in their life.

If you like this, try this:  Books by Bruce Chatwin and Paul Theroux.

Recommended by:  Karen, Deputy Town Librarian

Blood in the Cage

Title: Blood in the Cage: Mixed Martial Arts, Pat Miletich, and the Furious Rise of the UFC

Author: L. Jon Wertheim

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, January 2009

Summary: Ten years ago it was decried as ‘human cockfighting’ and banned in many states across the country. Today, mixed martial arts (or MMA) is perhaps the fastest growing sport on the planet.  L. Jon Wertheim explores the phenomenon that is MMA, and in particular the dominant brand, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), through the rise of Pat Miletich, a former champion and world-renowned trainer.

Miletich was among the first fighters to combine multiple fighting styles into one complete attack, and through his meteoric rise from poverty in the Midwest to international stardom, we see the evolution of MMA from it’s no-holds-barred origins to today’s slick promotional machine, with monthly pay-per-views and a massively popular reality show. Love it or hate it, MMA is an economic powerhouse that outdraws boxing and professional wrestling. You probably know someone who watches it. Give this book to them!

Who will like this book: This book is indispensable for MMA fans, but it is also a great read for sports generalists or fans of other combat sports such as boxing or traditional martial arts.

If you like this, try this: A great read about the hows and whys of fighting, A Fighter’s Heart by Sam Sheridan. A biography of an iconic UFC champion, Iceman by Chuck Liddell. Another (slightly irreverent) look at a booming sport, NASCAR, in Sunday Money by Jeff MacGregor.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

American Shaolin

Title: American Shaolin: Flying Kicks, Buddhist Monks and the Legend of Iron Crotch: An Odyssey in the New China

Author: Matthew Polley

Publisher: Gotham, December 2007

Summary: This is not your typical travelogue or coming-of-age story, but this Alex Award winner will be as entertaining as any book you’ll read this year. In 1992, Matthew Polley dropped out of Princeton and went to China to learn kungfu from the legendary monks of the Shaolin temple in China. He lived there for two years at the temple, studying kickboxing and becoming the first American to be accepted as a Shaolin disciple.

This book chronicles not only Matthew’s story, but also the rapid changes occurring in rural China during the ’90s, where cultural traditions and social mores truly began to collide with the modernizing influences of the West. Written in an almost irreverent tone with several laugh-out-loud, cringe inducing moments (the noted Iron Crotch technique being among them), American Shaolin is really about the relationships between Matthew, his fellow trainees and monks, and the other laowai (foreigners) who come to Shaolin to study and to profit. The monks of Shaolin, young and old, provide the heart and soul of this terrific book.

Who will like this book?: People looking for a book about the changes in China that isn’t overly political or preachy. Readers who like stories about other cultures. Anyone who harbors fantasies about secretly being the toughest guy in the room…and being able to prove it.

If you like this, try this: A Fighter’s Heart by Sam Sheridan. Iron and Silk by Mark Salzman. Shenzen by Guy Delisle.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

Dry

Title: Dry

Author: Augusten Burroughs

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, June 2003

Summary: Augusten (author of Running with Scissors and A Wolf at the Table) continues his autobiographical work in Dry. Sadly I am not sure his story is all that unique in terms of living a “successful” life on the outside. He makes a very good living in New York City working as an advertising executive during the day. However, when not at work, and, sometimes when (and certainly at lunch), Augusten’s life revolves around his need to drink to oblivion. He describes the chaos of his life and relationships brilliantly and often they are so “out there” you laugh with him as he reveals how crazy his life/addiction has become. Finally his boss forces him into rehabilitation where he meets and befriends some hilarious and sad personalities. His telling of his return to his life sober makes for a truly moving story. His sadness and regret is palpable when he realizes he may have lost the opportunity to be with his true love. Not for the faint-hearted.

Who will like this book?: Readers who relish the madness of the lives some people live and survive.

If you like this, try this: The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls.

Recommended by: Karen, Administration

The Prince of Frogtown

Title: The Prince of Frogtown

Author: Rick Bragg

Summary: This is the final volume in Rick Bragg’s Americana Saga: All Over But the Shoutin’ and Ava’s Man. Bragg finishes his collection of family stories with a tale about fathers and sons inspired by his own relationship with his ten year-old stepson. Bragg has a great gift for descriptive storytelling.

Who will like this book?: All who enjoy a great memoir.

If you like this, try this: This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolfe. Liar’s Club by Mary Karr.

Recommended by: Cliff, Reference.

Stealing Buddha’s Dinner

Title: Stealing Buddha’s Dinner

Author: Bich Minn Nguyen

Summary:This book is unique, entertaining and interesting in it’s perspective on the immigrant (Vietnamese) experience. The setting takes us back to the 1980′s in Michigan. Much of the assimilation experience is relayed through foods such as ice cream, Pringles, and Happy Meals.

Who will like this book?: This memoir is a must for foodie bookworms!

If you like this, try this: Bento Box in the Heartland by Linda Furiya and Fortune Cookies Chronicles by Jennifer 8. Lee

Recommended by: Laurie, Circulation.

Nixonland

Title: Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America

Author: Rick Pearlstein

Summary: Great historical epic. Not jut a fascinating account of the rise of Richard Nixon, but also the best account of the decade of the 1960s. Full of detail and great characters.

Who will like this book?: Anyone interested in this period of our recent history.

If you like this, try this: Bush’s Law by Eric Lichtblau

Recommended by: Cliff, Reference Librarian

Escape

Title: Escape

Author:Carolyn Jessop

Summary: When Carolyn was 18, she married Merril Jessop. She was his fourth wife. Fifteen years later, she took her eight children and fled, becoming the first woman to successfully win a custody case against a polygamist husband. In this harrowing book, Carolyn describes day to day life as a member of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (FLDS) and the monumental struggle she endured trying to protect her children from her petty and cruel ‘sister wives,’ emotionally abusive husband, and the community itself as it sank deeper into paranoia and religious fervor.

With the recent focus on polygamy in the Western U.S., this unforgettable book is as timely as it is fascinating. Jessop’s story is incredible, and her resilience and hopeful outlook are astonishing.

Who will like this book?: People who are interested in polygamy, or life in religious cults. People who like to read about the inner workings of, let’s say…non-traditional families.

If you like this, try this: Under the Banner of Heavenby Jon Krakauer. When Men Become Gods by Stephen Singular. Shattered Dreams by Irene Spencer

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

Title:  The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

Author:  Bill Bryson

Summary:  This book is ideal for any baby boomer who remembers their childhood fondly.  No heart-wrenching drama here.  The reader needs to have a good sense of humor and delight in the seriously silly adventures of children. I have not laughed out loud this much while reading a book in a long time.  Don’t you remember how seriously you took the “play” time you relished as a child? Don’t you want to feel so astonished by adult behavior again? Don’t you want to jump right into some great nostalgic read where all is fun, good and safe?

Bill Bryson, accomplished author of the favorite A Walk in the Woods(among others), shares his childhood and family life of the 1950′s and 1960′s growing up in Des Moines, Illinois.  He even likes his parents and appreciates their quirks! His storytelling is hilarious and warm. He laments about the wonderful things about this era in American history and what we may have lost. His impressive writing talent allows the reader to a take a nostalgic trip down memory lane in a feel-good and informative way.

I listened to the audio with someone who is not a baby boomer but sadly, was born, a tad too early, and he laughed out loud with me. The stories about childhood and the American way of life are universal. Please pick up a copy of the audio book while going on a long trip this summer and laugh with your family and friends.

Recommended by:  Karen, Deputy Town Librarian