Biographies & Memoirs
If memoirs are written to both connect with the reader and exorcise the writer's personal demons, then Moshe Kasher had one gigantic, stinky, firebreathing, sword-wielding demon.
His debut book's title says it all: Kasher in the Rye: The True Tale of a White Boy from Oakland Who Became a Drug Addict, Criminal, Mental Patient, and Then Turned 16. Sure the Salinger-inspired pun is as obvious as a rhino stampede, but Moshe Kasher has had quite a colorful life. A life that I would not want to wish on my worst enemy.
Now a stand-up comic, Kasher was born to not one, but two, deaf parents. Mom and Dad separated within a year of his birth, and his mother took him and his older brother from Brooklyn to Oakland where a life of food stamps, less than stellar public schools, and years of therapy awaited them. This menagerie of elements was perfect for young Moshe (who at the time went by the less-Semitic name Mark) to rebel.
I’m a photographer. Since I carry some expensive equipment (AND I’m a woman), I’m leery about shooting by myself. But the best light is often around dawn and because Autumn has been so spectacular this year, I’ve seen more than my share of sunrises. One morning in particular, I decided to let my hardworking husband sleep in and I left to hike by myself along the Rappahannock River. Apparently no one else had the same idea. I found myself alone with the trees and birds for company. Or was I alone? The imagination is a powerful tool and, with every unexpected noise, I was certain I’d see a bad guy around the next corner. I forced myself to think of Cheryl Strayed and decided I’d just have to (wo)man up to enjoy my excursion. In Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Strayed, a novice hiker, walks eleven hundred miles (!!!!) SOLO from California to Oregon on the above-mentioned trail. Did I mention she was by herself??
When David Gilmour's son decided to drop out of high school, his father could have screamed at the top of his lungs about ruining one's future and the misery of being a lifelong freeloader. Instead he created The Film Club.
Fifteen-year-old Jesse could leave school under a couple of conditions. One: he had to avoid getting involved with drugs. Two: he had to watch three movies a week with his father, a former film critic. Dad picked the films, and all Jesse had to do was pay attention. What followed is one of the riskiest experiments in alternative education I have ever seen. Was David 100% sure this was an ideal solution? Heck no, but he thought it was worth a try.
"One of the most eccentric and accomplished politicians in all of American history, John Randolph (1773--1833) led a life marked by controversy. The long-serving Virginia congressman and architect of Southern conservatism grabbed headlines with his prescient comments, public brawls, and clashes with every president from John Adams to Andrew Jackson. The first biography of Randolph in nearly a century, John Randolph of Roanoke provides a full account of the powerful Virginia planter's hard-charging life and his impact on the formation of conservative politics."
Of the eight memoirs I’ve read so far this year, Jenny Lawson’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened is definitely the funniest. Fans of Laurie Notaro and Jen Lancaster will probably adore Lawson’s spirited descriptions of everything from her father’s affection for armadillo racing to her encounter with Stanley, the Magical Talking Squirrel.
Nina Sankovitch is an avid reader as is her whole family. They have turned to books for generations for joy and comfort. When her sister Ann-Marie dies from cancer, Nina goes into a depression until she decides to take steps to get her life back in order by giving up her job as a lawyer and reading a book a day for a year. This memoir is the progression that she makes from grief to joy over the course of the year. Tolstoy and the Purple Chair is so eloquent, so beautifully written that it has become one of my favorite books. Nina shares so much wisdom that it is the kind of book that you would like to keep to read over and over again. There were many times that I wanted to stop reading long enough to yell out, “Yes, Nina!! You are so wonderful!”
Nicholas Flynn’s life has been a motley assortment of personal loss, substance abuse, inertia, and petty crime, but that hasn’t stopped him from trying to write his way to clarity and perspective. Despite the seemingly endless barrage of set-backs, Flynn has been able to craft his experiences and thoughts into an intense, complex memoir – Being Flynn.
“Most kids grow up leaving something out for Santa at Christmas time when he comes down the chimney. I used to make presents for the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”
When I picked up a copy of Jeanette Winterson’s recent memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal, I couldn’t wait to start the first page. I’ve been fascinated by Winterson’s novels for years, but never imagined she would narrate her life in the coherent, linear style associated with memoirs. In Winterson’s fiction, she constantly manipulates the boundary between fantasy and reality, integrating personal experience, mythology, and philosophy into a fluid conglomeration. Although Why Be Happy does feature some of Winterson’s trademark structural experimentation, it is also an engrossing story about one woman’s experience of dysfunction, madness, violence, love, and religion.
A customer recently called me to tell me that he loved The President’s House, by Margaret Truman, so when I gave a talk in Northern Virginia a few days later, I passed on the recommendation to the group. The next customer who read it just called to tell me that he is really enjoying this book, too. Several of the book reviews said that it is a fun and interesting look at the White House written by a woman who has a deep love for this national icon because she was lucky enough to grow up there.
Born: New York City, June 27, 1928
Education: Graduated from Hamilton College, Clinton, NY, in 1950
Military service: Korean War, infantry, discharged in 1951
Family: married Carol Burrows in 1952. They had two children: Geoffrey and Andrew. Divorced his first wife and married Ida Karen Potash.
Work: worked as a magazine editor from 1952 to 1958 in New York City; also part-time trombonist at jazz clubs in Greenwich Village during the 1950s. He gave up the editing work and became a freelance writer full-time in 1958 and continues to work occasionally as a jazz musician.
Currently Lives in: New York City
First Books: Cheers, an adult book, in 1961; Battleground: The United States Army in World War II, a non-fiction children’s book, in 1965; The Teddy Bear Habit; or, How I Became a Winner, a children’s novel, in 1967.
Selected Awards: My Brother Sam Is Dead, Newbery Honor book, ALA Notable Book, Jane Addams Honor Book Award, National Book Award Finalist, Phoenix Award; War Comes to Willy Freeman, Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People; Chipper, Notable Studies Trade Book for Young People; Decision in Philadelphia: The Constitutional Convention of 1787, Christopher Award; Jump Ship to Freedom, Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People; The Making of Jazz, American Book Award Finalist.