Reading about lives less ordinary
January 30, 2007
Biographies and autobiographies provoke passionate responses. They provide unique opportunities to step outside the self and to visit the life of another. A gripping auto/bio can reveal a seemingly ordinary individual as someone quite the opposite.
Why is it that my favorite autobiographies are created by fiction writers who write about themselves? I think it’s the immediacy of the voice that appeals. This may also be the reason why I chose not to read the recent unauthorized biography of Harper Lee, author of the miraculous “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Though Ms. Lee is a worthy and fascinating subject, I felt it would be wrong to read a story of her life that she hadn’t helped to pen.
A fine example of an illuminating memoir is Mark Salzman’s “Lost in Place, Growing Up Absurd in Suburbia.” Salzman chronicles his search for nirvana and his desire to become a Chinese wandering monk, just like in “Kung Fu.” That way, he figures, girls might like him. All the while, Salzman’s father, a social worker with a passion for justice and astronomy, is lovingly portrayed, even through Mark’s exasperating teen years. If you haven’t read “Lost in Place,” treat yourself. This gifted writer is astonishingly self-aware and has a mordant sense of humility. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, which you really can’t do anyway when wearing a bald-headed wig.
Another favorite is Hilary Carlip’s “Queen of the Oddballs and Other True Stories from a Life Unaccording to Plan.” Carlip’s youth in Southern California is the sparkling backdrop of Hollywood in the innocence of the early 1970s. Young Hilary and her oddball buddies don’t actually stalk celebrities ” it’s actually more like insinuating themselves into someone’s life, like Carole King or Carly Simon, and then befriending them. Carlip describes an adolescence frantic in the effort to both stand out and fit in. She won on “The Gong Show” with her juggling act, and received an unprecedented ’10’ from Rex Reed. She also taught Lucille Ball how to juggle, oddly, through a middle-man, but that’s to be expected in this writer’s surprising story.
At the bookstore, I asked Carol and Margaret what biographies they favored.-
Recommended Stories For You
– Ruth Reichl’s “Tender at the Bone,” which she called “a savory memoir.” In “Tender at the Bone,” young Ruth Reichl describes her apprentice years with infectious humor. It’s a “poignant yet hilarious” collection of stories about people Ruth has known and loved, and who, knowingly or unknowingly, have steered her on the path to fulfill her destiny as one of the world’s leading food writers.
– “Dreams From My Father,” by Barack Obama. Senator Obama writes an elegant and compelling biography that powerfully articulates America’s racial battleground. The son of a white American mother and a black African father, he tells of his search for his place in black America.
– “The Other Side of the Sky,” by Farah Ahmedi is a poignant memoir of survival that chronicles Ahmedi’s journey from war to peace. Ahmedi delivers a vivid portrait of her girlhood in Kabul, where she narrowly escapes death. The war eventually forces her to flee across the border and to finally make her way to America. This inspiring story proves that even in the direst circumstances, the human heart can endure and thrive.
– “A Sense of the World,” by Jason Roberts opens in an era in which the blind were routinely housed in asylums. Meanwhile, the sightless James Holman is studying medicine, fighting the slave trade in Africa, hunting big game, and circumnavigating the world alone in the 19th century.-
The auto/bio is a terrific way to appreciate another viewpoint, learn perspective and to ultimately feel connected with humanity. Visit your local library or bookstore to explore the fascinating world of people through books.
Lydia Sparksworthy is a Friend of the Truckee Library and the manager of the Bookshelf at Hooligan Rocks.
Truckee Library, 10031 Levon Ave., Truckee, 582-7846
Monday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Tuesday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Wednesday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Thursday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The Truckee Library is closed on Sundays
The Bookshelf’s Dry Camp Book Club
“The Painted Veil,” by Somerset Maugham is the selection for the Feb. 13 meeting. The book club with meet at 7 p.m. at the library. The group will meet on the second Tuesday of the month rather than the usual third Tuesday because of Ski Skate Week. Book club participants will receive a coupon for 15 percent off a one-time book purchase at the Bookshelf at Hooligan Rocks.
Tuesdays at 10:30 a.m. for ages 2 to 3 years
Babes in Bookland
Wednesdays at 10:30 and 11 a.m. for ages 6 to 24 months
Storytelling with Mrs. Fix
Thursdays at 11:15 a.m. for ages 3 to 6
Stories, songs, and finger-plays in Spanish and English
Fridays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. for ages 3 to 5
Now on display at the library
Portraits by Truckee artist Raphael Jolly.
Over the fireplace: Acrylic painting by Eve Werner, “Quercus lobata serpentine.”
Income tax forms are now available in the foyer.