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Get another life: Read biography

This year I’m spending my summer in the company of snowboarders, saints, diplomats, entertainers, soldiers, writers and complete strangers.

Their stories ” biographies and autobiographies ” reside on that long set of book cases that separates fiction from oversize books. You pass them on the way to and from the children’s room. Browsing my way along this collection, I’ve been choosing volumes based on the criteria I imagine most library patrons use: either I admire the subject, or the title intrigues me, or the book design is beautiful. Occasionally I choose based on a review or a friend’s recommendation.

The biggest reward I’ve discovered is that biographies enlarge my life.



First, of course, I get to travel vicariously through territory I’ve never seen ” someone else’s places and experience. Taking these tours of other lives, so different from mine, opens new windows on the world. I will never compete in a snowboard competition (Tina Basich, “Pretty Good for a Girl”); I haven’t devoted half a century to writing and teaching fiction (“Wallace Stegner His Life and Work”); and I’m certainly not a 16th century Carmelite nun (“Teresa of Avila The Progress of a Soul”). I will never be a young soldier, returning from World War II, whose future work is sparked by a chance attendance at a Navajo healing ceremony for returning Dineh soldiers (Tony Hillerman, “Seldom Disappointed”). And I will never, thank goodness, experience the birth of a child and the dropping of bombs outside the window at the same time (P.D. James, “Time to be in Earnest”). But what I know about living is made richer and deeper through these stories.

At the same time, I wouldn’t be able to take in these stories, to connect them with my own if there weren’t points of intersection between my life ” anybody’s life ” and these other lives. In biographies and autobiographies there are moments of recognition, where something common to being alive on earth, any time, anywhere, forges a link of unity. Otherwise, we would never understand each other.



Here, for example, are some surprising similarities from the stories of three people who seem the most unlikely companions:

Wallace Stegner and Teresa of Avila were both good people, painfully aware of what they called their failings and continually determined to become better people. They persisted ” Teresa through the 16th century, Stegner through the 20th. Tina Basich and Teresa of Avila each had unusual, unconventional childhoods. As a result, each of them confronted the world with a freshness and naivete which allowed her to live against the flow of expectations and create a new sort of life. Stegner and Basich at first appear to have nothing in common. One grew up in a difficult, troubled family, the other in loving support. Stegner draws inspiration from Anton Chekov, Walt Whitman and John Wesley Powell; Basich looks to Madonna, J. Lo, and Britney Spears. Yet their stories share the struggle of celebrity, of setting boundaries between personal and public lives, of finding financial and emotional support for work they had the courage to do.

-Knowing more about other lives helps us see and care for our own lives more deeply. I invite you to get another life at the Truckee Library.

Jois Child is a Truckee resident and a Friend of the Truckee Library.


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