Category Archives: Biography & Memoir

Home Game

Title: Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood

Author: Michael Lewis

Publisher: W.W. Norton, May 2009

Summary: When Michael Lewis had his first child, he knew exactly how he should feel. You know, in awe of the miracle of life and forever changed and stuff.  But when these feelings were slow to materialize, he realized that many devoted dads are, for lack of a better word, faking it. He began to chronicle the events immediately following the birth of each of his three children, determined to describe the actual sensation of being a father.

These short essays, many originally posted on, are sharp, funny, and utterly truthful. From beaming with pride as his three year-old defends her older sister by cursing out older bullies, to spending the night under-prepared to camp at ‘Fairyland’ (a kiddie amusement park,) to the feelings of utter uselessness that attend fathers during labor and delivery, Home Game is a funny and fast read just in time for Father’s Day.

Who will like this book: This is a great choice for most dads, but for new and first-time dads in particular. Lewis has a following from his excellent sports writing.

If you like this, try this: Alternadad by Neil Pollack. The forthcoming Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon. The Blind Side, a football book by Lewis.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

The Girls from Ames

Title: The Girls from Ames: A story of Women and a Forty-Year Friendship

Author:  Jeffrey Zaslow

Publisher: Gotham, April 2009

 Summary: How does a group of ten women manage to stay friends for 40 years?  With a lot of hard work!  After reading their story, it is one of the things that I found I admired most about these women – their conscious decision to keep the group together no matter what life throws at them, and believe me, it’s thrown plenty.  They admit that they are more in touch with each other now than they have been over the years thanks to email.  But even before that, through annual reunions and a determined effort to be present at each other’s milestone events whenever possible, all of them do their best to stay a part of the group because it is that important to them.

Jeffrey Zaslow, a columnist from The Wall Street Journal, spent 4 days with them during one of their recent reunions.   Karla, Kelly, Marilyn, Jane, Jenny, Karen, Cathy, Angela, Sally, and Diana all share stories about what it was like to grow up in Ames, Iowa in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and what it was like to be a member of this tight circle.  The circle is not completely intact because, sadly, the eleventh member of the group, Sheila, died when she was in her early twenties.  But she’s definitely with them in spirit; the group has created a scholarship to Ames High in her memory.  We learn about her death and what it did to the girls individually and as a whole.  There are many sad stories to be shared, but also stories of great joy.  When anything of any importance happens in one of their lives, they go to each other first to share the experience, whether painful or joyful.  It was fascinating to read how they support each other.

Although I can’t help but wonder how the writing of the book would have fared in the hands of a writer with a less “reporter-like” voice, I believe the story of these women carries the book along and makes it a very worthwhile read.

Recommended by: Mary, Branch Reference

Crazy for the Storm

Title: Crazy for the Storm: A Memoir of Survival

Author: Norman Ollestad

Publisher: Ecco Press. May 2009

Summary: I did not expect to like this book as much as I did. Granted, I am an extreme adventure reader junkie, but I was not expecting to be fascinated by the reckless yet charismatic parent of the author. The book opens with the 11-year old author “waking up” in a  plane that crashed in a blizzard twenty years ago. The chapters alternate between the how the young boy manages to survive the crash and how he got there – in large part due to his father. The writing is average but the stories of his childhood adventures with his daredevil father are not.

In one passage Ollestad describes his father’s ‘madness/passion’ :

“The cranium shelf rising off his forehead bumpy and uneven, the  cluster of diamonds in the blue of his eyes fragile cracked windows, and I  saw someone younger and full of grand ambitions and I thought about how he had wanted to be a professional basketball player. He looked at me as if into a mirror, studying me, like I was holding something that he admired, even desired.”

I was compelled to sit down for a long afternoon and just finish the tale.

Who will like this book?: If you enjoyed Krakauer’s tales, or are intrigued by the extreme adventures of the likes of Tori Murden McClure [who rowed across the Atlantic Ocean solo (and who is appearing at the Library on Mon. May 18 at 7 pm)] you will enjoy this book.

Recommended by: Karen, Deputy Town Librarian

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


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.