“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.
The personal histories included in All There Is are compelling and powerful. Some are joyous celebrations of love and companionship, while others are stoic accounts of tragedy and perseverance. Despite their differences, each narrative is characterized by an overpowering sense of authenticity. The stories recorded in All There Is were not shared for personal gain or publicity. Rather, they were collected through the efforts of StoryCorps, an oral history project that allows any willing volunteer to record his or her most precious memories and experiences. The participants share the most essential aspects of their lives in interviews that are recorded for their personal archives and, in many cases, for the American Folklife Center.
Since its debut in 2003, the StoryCorps project has spread across the United States, recording over 40,000 interviews. As Dave Isay, StoryCorps’ founder, states, “StoryCorps’ mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives. With a relentless focus on recording the stories of people who are often excluded from the historical record, StoryCorps captures lives that would otherwise be lost to history and reminds the nation that every story matters and every voice counts.”
Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, tells the story of one man's attempt to promote peace in the Middle East by building schools. Journalist David Oliver Relin chronicled Greg Mortenson’s life in order to encourage further support for his efforts in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
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!
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.