Biographies & Memoirs

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.

If You Like John Adams by David McCullough

John Adams by David McCullough

 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.

John Adams by David McCullough: "In this powerful, epic biography, David McCullough unfolds the adventurous life-journey of John Adams, the brilliant, fiercely independent, often irascible, always honest Yankee patriot -- 'the colossus of independence,' as Thomas Jefferson called him -- who spared nothing in his zeal for the American Revolution; who rose to become the second President of the United States and saved the country from blundering into an unnecessary war; who was learned beyond all but a few and regarded by some as 'out of his senses'; and whose marriage to the wise and valiant Abigail Adams is one of the moving love stories in American history."

Books similar to John Adams by David McCullough include other biographies of famous people, or perhaps books set in that time/place.  Here is a selection of possibilities:

1776 by David McCullough
Based on extensive research in both American and British archives, 1776 is the story of Americans in the ranks, men of every shape, size, and color, farmers, schoolteachers, shoemakers, no-accounts, and mere boys turned soldiers. And it is the story of the British commander, William Howe, and his highly disciplined redcoats who looked on their rebel foes with contempt and fought with a valor too little known. But it is the American commander-in-chief who stands foremost -- Washington, who had never before led an army in battle. (Catalog summary)
 

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood by Alexandra Fuller
Fuller's memoir of a childhood dominated by the Rhodesian civil war of 1971-1979 captures the fascinating life of a white family living in one of the most remote regions of Africa.

 

 

Oogy: The Dog Only a Family Could Love by Larry Levin

Oogy, the Dog Only a Family Could Love

Sometimes you find a book that reflects your own life so much that you just have to get it and read it. That is the case with this book. Oogy was a 10-week-old puppy who was used as a bait dog in dog fighting and then left in an abandoned house to die. They think that approximately a week later police received a tip about recent dog fighting in the house and discovered Oogy lying inside. His ear was ripped off, part of his head was torn away and his jaw was broken. Instead of taking him to the county pound which would result in the puppy being euthanized, the police took him to the Ardmore Animal Hospital. There, a courageous woman who worked for the veterinarian fought to save him and inspired the whole staff of the animal hospital to keep Oogy alive.

Jefferson’s Nephews: A Frontier Tragedy, by Boynton Merrill, Jr.

Jefferson's Nephews: A Frontier Tragedy

They say every family has its black sheep.

Jefferson’s Nephews, by Boynton Merrill, Jr., tells of a vile murder mostly forgotten, which played out in the hinterlands of a new Kentucky settlement in the early 1800s. Two brothers had come away from their family’s land in Albemarle County, Virginia, to try to make a fresh start. But Isham and Lilburne Lewis brought with them bitter hearts and slave labor—a combination that was to prove lethal. The gruesomeness and cruelty of their crime rocked the nearby community of Livingston County. Perhaps more shocking to the white citizens was the brothers’ blue blood pedigree.
 

I Slept With Joey Ramone by Mickey Leigh and Legs McNeil

I Slept With Joey Ramone

How’s that for a title that gets your attention? No, this isn’t one of those glamorous, tell-all, rock star groupie memoirs. In fact, I cannot imagine any of the members of the punk rock pioneers, the Ramones, even using the word “glamorous” in a sentence…except perhaps to describe a pizza.

I Slept with Joey Ramone is the affectionate account of lead singer Joey Ramone’s complicated relationship with his kid brother Mickey, who also wrote and played music, but lived in Joey’s shadow.

The sections relating the brothers’ childhood in Queens were especially informative, and had the same sense of deep camaraderie that I loved in Frank McCourt’s first memoir Angela’s Ashes, with just a couple of brothers looking out for each other in the big bad city. You learn about their fascination and burgeoning love of rock music, thanks to the Beatles and Phil Spector’s wall of sound.

Cook: The Extraordinary Voyages of Captain James Cook by Nicholas Thomas

Cook: The Extraordinary Voyages of Captain James Cook by Nicholas Thomas

As my cotton-gloved hands examined the woven fabric, I felt the thrill of encountering a link to the age of discovery. Over a hundred years old and probably unseen and untouched for decades, this artifact of the Cook Islands was being carefully prepared by us technicians to be moved to the Smithsonian Institution’s storage facility. Some twenty years later, Professor Nicholas Thomas’ Cook: The Extraordinary Voyages of Captain James A. Cook has given me much better perspective on these pieces of the past.

Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller

There’s no understating the dangers of life in Africa: malaria, spitting cobras, poisonous spiders, intestinal parasites and worms, landmines, terrorists, corrupt government officials, and its many wars.  In Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood Alexandra Fuller - nicknamed Bobo - chronicles her childhood in Rhodesia during the tulmultuous Rhodesian Civil War, which culminated in the end of white rule. It was not an easy, carefree childhood. Three of Bobo’s siblings died in infancy or early childhood, and Bobo herself had a few close scrapes with death. She learned at an early age to load guns and not to startle her parents during the night for fear that they may accidentally shoot her.

Bobo’s parents are the most profound characters in this memoir, especially her mother. Mum could drink all night, sitting “yoga-cross-legged,” and still be awake in the morning to greet the dawn with “stupefied wonder.” She can round up cattle all day like the toughest ranch hand, and yet she can also minister to the farm workers’ ailments with mercy. She could spend the day quietly reading books with Bobo on the bed and listening to radio programs, and the night singing at the “club” with a bottle in her hand. With the death of each child Mum goes into a steeper downward spiral.

If you like "Let's Take the Long Way Home" by Gail Caldwell

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.

Let's Take the Long Way Home is Gail Caldwell's story about her friendship with the late Caroline Knapp, and how they loved each other, flaws and all.

If you liked "Let's Take the Long Way Home," you may like these recommendations:

If you haven't already, you should definitely read Knapp's two memoirs - Drinking: a Love Story and Pack of Two.

I would also recommend Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy. Grealy was diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma at age nine. The surgery which saved her life disfigured her face. As a counterpoint, Ann Patchett writes about her lifelong friendship with Grealy in the book Truth & Beauty: a Friendship.
 

Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook, by Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain's first book, Kitchen Confidential, was a surprise when it hit national best seller lists; even the author was taken aback. He thought it would appeal to food-service workers in the New York city area, as it was a "look behind the curtain" of local restaurants. The secret to Bourdain's success in this and later books is his passion for food and his ability to write well why he finds food exciting. We get two Tonys in his books: bad Tony and good Tony. Good Tony is articulate and writes well about food or preparation of food. Bad Tony is foul-mouthed and angry. We get both Tonys in Medium Raw.