Category Archives: Biography & Memoir

Stitches

Title: Stitches

Author: David Small

Summary: David Small grew up in a cold house, with distant, nearly silent parents. He was born sickly – and as was par for the course at that time, his radiologist father gave him plenty of x-ray treatments to strengthen his lungs. When a growth developed on his neck, his parents thought little of it. Four years later, he finally had surgery to remove an aggressive malignant tumor. But no one told young David what was wrong with him, or why he was now voiceless.

That Small grew up to be a renowned artist and picture book illustrator (Imogene’s Antlers, So You Want to Be President?) seems miraculous, given the circumstances of his childhood. In this boldly designed, unforgettable graphic memoir, he pulls no punches. But what elevates this book above and beyond the popular ‘terrible childhood’ subgenre is his refusal to reduce his family to caricatures. A story of family horrors shown through the eyes of a young, creative child, Stitches will make an impact on all who read it.

Who will like this book?: Readers who like redemptive stories about painful childhoods. If you or your children have enjoyed Small’s award-winning picture book illustrations, you will be fascinated by his life story.

If you like this, try this: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel.  Why I Killed Peter by Olivier Ka. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

Bad Mother

Title: Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities and Occasional Moments of Grace

Author: Ayelet Waldman

Publisher: Doubleday, May 2009

Summary: When her essay Motherlove was published, Ayelet Waldman revealed to the world that she loved her husband more than she loves her children. She was promptly vilified by ‘good’ mothers everywhere – even receiving letters stating that her children should be taken from her. After all, how could a woman who would make such a statement be a fit parent?

Are there anything but bad mothers out there nowadays, when the expectations placed on women to succeed both in and out of the home are so extreme…and when there always seems to be a member of the Good Mommy Police out there to bust you when you slip up? Waldman’s passionate responses to this question, as well as her thoughts on the many facets of motherhood, daughterhood and modern wifedom, are included in this bold and passionate collection of essays.

Who will like this book?: Harried moms who feel like they drop the ball more often than they catch it, and anybody who knows and loves them.

If you like this, try this: The collection The Bitch in the House. The forthcoming Manhood for Amateurs by Waldman’s husband, Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Chabon.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

Zeitoun

Title: Zeitoun

Author: Dave Eggers

Publisher: McSweeney’s, August 2009

Summary: In his National Book Critic’s Circle-nominated book What is the What, Dave Eggers deftly told the true story of a Sudanese boy-soldier and refugee as a ‘fictional’ narrative. In his latest, Eggers does the same for the city of New Orleans in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The Zeitouns, Abdulrahman, an immigrant of Syrian descent and his wife Kathy, a native Louisianan, are practicing Muslims who own a successful contracting business. When the storm draws near, Kathy takes their children to higher ground while Zeitoun remains to protect their properties.

Steering his secondhand canoe through the city streets, Zeitoun finds great comfort in assisting where needed while Kathy pleads with him to abandon the city, up until the day he stops calling. The truth behind his disappearance is shocking and life-altering.

Zeitoun manages to feel epic in scope while remaining compulsively readable. In its honest and clear-eyed depiction of the hurricane and its aftermath, it tells a deeply American story about faith, family, the cultural melting pot, devotion to duty, and what it takes to survive when the unthinkable occurs.

When you finish a book as good as this one, you are exhilarated but somehow sad because you can never read it for the first time again. Zeitoun cannot be recommended highly enough.

Who will like this book?: This is a book that deserves a wide readership, but it will particulary appeal to those who like reading stories about ordinary people dealing with extraordinary circumstances.

If you like this, try this: What is the What by Dave Eggers. 1 Dead in Attic: After Katrina by Chris Rose. The Great Deluge by Douglas Brinkley.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

American On Purpose

Title: American on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot

Author: Craig Ferguson

Publisher: HarperCollins, September 2009

Summary: Craig Ferguson is the hilarious host of TV’s Late Late Show. Craig was born in Glasgow Scotland which he describes as “Detroit on acid” when he was growing up. He certainly managed to party his way through his youth until age 29 when he sobered up. His telling of his misadventures as a bouncer, a modern dancer, a drummer in a few bands all while totally inebriated (and more) is self deprecating, funny and sad. He travels to the United States with his father as a youth and his life is changed forever. He returns years later trying to land an acting job in Hollywood and does so by the skin of his teeth.

Now over 2,000,000 people laugh with him most nights as he entertains and shares his lust for the American way of life. His story is another great tale of the American dream coming true for a person who takes risks, perseveres, and appreciates his good fortune in the end.

Recommended by: Karen, Deputy Town Librarian

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 Salon.com, 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