Biographies & Memoirs

The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food and Love by Kristin Kimball

The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food and Love by Kristin Kimball

I don’t know about you, but I’m always drawn to accounts of people who forgo traditional lives to pursue the unknown. Some make the move to remote locations; others choose to follow unusual career paths. In The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food and Love, author Kristin Kimball leaves behind what many might label an enviable existence as a freelance writer in New York City to stake a claim on a 500-acre, ramshackle farm.

Kristin’s been assigned to write an article about Mark, who’s making a name for himself in the ever-changing world of farming. Rather than being able to interview her subject—who remains on a constant treadmill of chores—she finds herself hoeing broccoli and slaughtering pigs…all in her urban finest. The next day brings her no closer to Mark as she’s assigned to work the tomato fields. With time running out and only a few scribbles recorded, Kristin implores Mark to answer her questions. Their brief encounter will lead to a major life change for them both.

Books in My Baggage: Reading at the Beach

Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found

But not ON the beach: pages oily from suntan lotion; wind and sand. Nah, bad for paper. Watching pelicans cruise over the waves is preferred. Knowing we would hit the Beach Book Mart, a bookshop in Atlantic Shores with an interesting historical selection, I packed two books. One of those plus two of the three store-bought titles had a thread: Italy.

First down the chute is Norman Douglas’ Siren Land, a memoir of  Capri and the Sorrentine Peninsula. Two previously read authors, Paul Fussell and Elizabeth Davis, quoted and discussed Douglas, and the library owns the title. I found his prose dense, witty fairly often, even had a couple funny bits. It is more than a travelogue: it is learned and chatty. Emperor Tiberius was the first famous Roman to retire to Capri; his stay is touched on. Douglas includes stories of saints, a single thread  of the story of these siren lands. History and biology of the sirens is knocked off in the first couple of chapters, followed by a wandering over the land, a boat ride or two, and an island full of fleas...with gossip, lore, architecture, history, and memorable characters.

Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Uncovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence--and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process by Irene M. Pepperberg

Alex & Me cover

Years ago when researchers were in heated debates about whether or not animals can think, I could have told them that they do.  When I was first married I had an incredible dog named Doctor. One day when I was young and stupid, I had a knock on my door.  There was a man standing outside my door whom I didn’t recognize, so I locked my screen door to keep my dog in and stepped outside to see what this man wanted.  He began to ask me some very bizarre questions about the neighborhood. He kept stepping back to draw me away from my front door. Suddenly I found that I had gone into my front yard to talk to this strange young man. Red flags were going off in my brain at this point. He was about to ask me another odd question when he suddenly stopped and said, “I have to go.” He turned around and walked quickly away. I thought, “What a strange man that was!”  When I turned around I discovered that Doctor had jumped up, unhooked the screen door, and was sitting behind me with his lips curled back in a silent growl. Evidently, he thought that the man was odd also.

 When my husband bought me Alex & Me, by Irene Pepperberg, last year and gently said, “I think that you would like this," I politely thanked him and stubbornly put it on the shelf.  A year later I picked it up and now I grudgingly have to admit that he was correct.  I do love this book!

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Bossypants

When I first saw Tina Fey co-anchor Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update with Jimmy Fallon on some lonely teenage evening, I couldn't stand her. The punchlines were marinated in a sense of overwhelming superiority, with a side of mean-spirited smarminess. Thankfully this is not the version of Tina Fey that came into focus as time passed.

Beatrice Schenk de Regniers Danced with Words and Pictures

May I Bring a Friend by Beatrice de Regniers

"I think of writing--particularly of writing picture books--as a kind of choreography. A picture book must have pace and movement and pattern. Pictures and text should, together, create the pattern, rather than simply run parallel." --  Beatrice Schenk de Regniers*

Quick Facts:

Born:  in Lafayette, Indiana, on August 16, 1914
Favorite writing genres: picture books, folk tales, poetry, and plays
Well-known books: May I Bring a Friend?; What Can You Do with a Shoe?;  Everyone Is Good for Something;  David and GoliathIt Does Not Say Meow, and Other Animal RhymesLittle Sister and the Month Brothers
Her last name is pronounced, “drain-yay”
Education: Attended University of Illinois, 1931-33; University of Chicago, Ph.B., 1935, graduate study, 1936-37; Winnetka Graduate Teachers College, M.Ed., 1941.
Career:  Member of the Eloise Moore Dance Group, Chicago, 1942-43; copywriter, Scott Foresman, publishers, Chicago, 1943-44; welfare officer, UNRRA, Egypt, 1944-46; copywriter, American Book Company, New York, 1948-49; director of educational materials, American Heart Association, New York, 1949-61; editor, Lucky Book Club, Scholastic Book Services, New York, 1961-81.
Awards:  May Children's Spring Book Festival honor book, New York Herald Tribune, 1958, for Cats Cats Cats Cats Cats;  Boys' Clubs Junior Book Award, 1960, for The Snow Party;  Indiana Authors Day Award, honorable mention, 1961, for The Shadow Book;  Caldecott Award, 1965, for May I Bring a Friend? ‘s illustrations by Beni Montresor; certificate of excellence, American Institute of Graphic Arts, for communicating with children;  Brooklyn Art Books for Children citation, 1973, for Red Riding Hood: Retold in Verse for Boys and Girls to Read Themselves.
Memberships: Authors Guild, Authors League of America, Dramatists Guild, PEN, Society of Children's Book Writers.
Died:  March 1, 2000, from a stroke at her home in Washington, D.C.

 

We Were Always Free by T.O. Madden, Jr.

Cover to We Were Always Free

Fiction authors sometimes begin historical narratives by announcing the discovery of a long-forgotten strong box in a dusty attic containing purportedly true accounts of times passed handily preserved for the modern reader’s enjoyment.  T.O. Madden, Jr.'s  We Were Always Free starts with just such a scenario, but unlike historical fiction, this is no ploy.  The history unearthed is real and traces back to colonial Virginia when Mary Madden, an Irish woman, gave birth to a child of mixed race on August 4, 1758 in Spotsylvania County.

Because of the laws of the time, just as the mother was free so would Mary’s child, Sarah, be considered free, as would all of Sarah’s descendents.  Mary and her newborn were first tended at the Collins farm in Spotsylvania, and the church vestry paid the Collins for their year of upkeep with 600 pounds of tobacco taken in tithes from the parishioners.  In 1759, still being paupers, Mary was sent along with her baby, to the local workhouse where the poor labored to support themselves. 

If you like Lies That Chelsea Handler Told Me by Chelsea's family, friends, and other victims

Lies That Chelsea Handler Told Me

This readalike is in response to a patron's book-match request. If you would like personalized reading recommendations, fill out the book-match form and a librarian will email suggested titles to you. Available for adults, teens, and kids.  You can browse the book matches here.

Lies That Chelsea Handler Told Me: "The friends, family, and co-workers of the late-night talk show host on the E! network describe how they have all been tricked by her into believing tales of utter nonsense and behaving like total fools."

If you liked that book, you may also like these titles and authors.

The Bedwetter by Sarah Silverman.
Comedian Silverman's memoir that mixes showbiz moments with the more serious subject of her teenage bout with depression as well as stories of her childhood and adolescence. (Catalog summary)

 


 

Bossypants by Tina Fey.
From her youthful days as a vicious nerd to her tour of duty on Saturday Night Live; from her passionately halfhearted pursuit of physical beauty to her life as a mother eating things off the floor; from her one-sided college romance to her nearly fatal honeymoon, comedian Tina Fey reveals all, and proves that you're no one until someone calls you bossy.
(Catalog summary)

 

Conquest of the Useless by Werner Herzog

Conquest of the Useless by Werner Herzog

"We have no dinosaur, it says on a hand-lettered sign outside a farm that puts on rattlesnake rodeos."

                                                                                                                                                                             --Werner Herzog

To find pleasure in  Conquest of the Useless, you must have at least a passing familiarity with the filmmaker Werner Herzog. Herzog has been writing and directing films for five decades, but only a few of his movies have broken into the American mainstream. The most well known here are the documentary Grizzly Man and the Vietnam War film Rescue Dawn (starring Christian Bale).

Each of Herzog's works oozes with a mood of effortless intensity, as if he has summoned the stress and obsessions of humanity like moths to a flame. Whether it's Timothy Treadwell (Grizzly Man's protagonist, who lived with and was inevitably eaten by bears) or Nosferatu (from Herzog's 1979 remake), the director is singular in his subjects' driven focus on their goals and desire, no matter how self-destructive they may be.

Debt-Free U: How I Paid for an Outstanding College Education without Loans, Scholarships, or Mooching off My Parents by Zac Bissonnette

Debt-Free U book cover image

If there was one thing that people across the country could agree on right now, it would be the ridiculously high cost of today’s college education. Most parents assume that student loans are a fact of life, and most students assume that student loan debt is a necessary and even positive thing. If you want to get a good job, it’s commonly thought that going to a good college (chosen in part by U.S. News and World Report rankings) and getting a good name on your diploma simply costs money and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Enter Zac Bissonnette. Twenty-one, college student, and an art history major. So what knowledge does he have that the rest of us--and many other experts--do not? Well, as the subtitle of Debt-Free U suggests, Zac paid for his college education, “without loans, scholarships, or mooching off [his] parents.” And you can, too. Because, as it turns out, Zac might know what he’s talking about. He is a writer and editor with AOL Money & Finance, has written for the Boston Globe, appeared on CNN, and has the financial savvy and banking portfolio of someone several times his age.

Neither Wolf Nor Dog: On Forgotten Roads with an Indian Elder by Kent Nerburn

Neither Wolf Nor Dog Cover

Sometimes a book tells a wonderfully enchanting story. Sometimes it is nonfiction and conveys information. There are a few books that are able to do both. Out of those few books that do both, there are a handful that can really cause you to question the reality that you have known as truth. Neither Wolf, Nor Dog, by Kent Nerburn, is one of those special books. 

Nerburn’s book is a true story. When he was a young anthropologist who specialized in Native Americans, he was invited to meet with an Indian Elder in order to write down his thoughts and memories. After Nerburn accepts the challenge, he and Dan, the Lakota elder, begin to go across the Black Hills on a spiritual journey that is both mystical and enlightening.