Memoirs Are Made of This

Memoirs, according to the dictionary, can be biographical or autobiographical. This list is composed of books by or about people worth knowing. Some are well-known, some are known, and a few are relatively unknown.

We Are All the Same: A Story of a Boy's Courage and a Mother's Love

By Jim Wooten

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"Award-winning correspondent for ABC World News and Nightline Jim Wooten is a seasoned newsman who has covered tragedy the world over. Now he tells the story of Nkosi Johnson, an eleven-year-old South African boy born with AIDS into poverty in a shantytown and given only a few years to live. But his ailing mother managed to cross her country’s divisions of race and class to bring him to Gail Johnson, who would raise him for her. Before his own death at the age of twelve, Nkosi had become, in Nelson Mandela’s words, 'an icon of the struggle for life' for millions in Africa and around the world. And he had changed Wooten’s life in ways Wooten is still discovering."

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The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir

By Bill Bryson

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"Bill Bryson was born in the middle of the American century--1951--in the middle of the United States--Des Moines, Iowa--in the middle of the largest generation in American history--the baby boomers. Like millions of his generational peers, Bill Bryson grew up with a rich fantasy life as a superhero. Using his fantasy-life persona as a springboard, Bryson re-creates the life of his family in the 1950s in all its transcendent normality--a life at once familiar to us all and as far away and unreachable as another galaxy."

Also available in large print and on audio.

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The Inextinguishable Symphony: A True Story of Music and Love in Nazi Germany

By Martin Goldsmith

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"Set amid the growing tyranny of Germany's Third Reich, here is the riveting and emotional tale of Gunther Goldschmidt and Rosemarie Gumpert, two courageous Jewish musicians who struggled to perform under unimaginable circumstances--and found themselves falling in love in a country bent on destroying them."

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The Glass Castle: A Memoir

By Jeannette Walls

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"Jeannette Walls grew up with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation. Rex and Rose Mary Walls had four children. In the beginning, they lived like nomads, moving among Southwest desert towns, camping in the mountains. Rex was a charismatic, brilliant man who, when sober, captured his children's imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and above all, how to embrace life fearlessly. Rose Mary, who painted and wrote and couldn't stand the responsibility of providing for her family, called herself an "excitement addict." Cooking a meal that would be consumed in fifteen minutes had no appeal when she could make a painting that might last forever. Later, when the money ran out, or the romance of the wandering life faded, the Walls retreated to the dismal West Virginia mining town -- and the family -- Rex Walls had done everything he could to escape. He drank. He stole the grocery money and disappeared for days.

"As the dysfunction of the family escalated, Jeannette and her brother and sisters had to fend for themselves, supporting one another as they weathered their parents' betrayals and, finally, found the resources and will to leave home. What is so astonishing about Jeannette Walls is not just that she had the guts and tenacity and intelligence to get out, but that she describes her parents with such deep affection and generosity. Hers is a story of triumph against all odds, but also a tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a family that despite its profound flaws gave her the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms."

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Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored

By Clifton L. Taulbert

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Clifton Taulbert's loving memoir of life in the colored section of a little Mississippi Delta town has won praise and stirred hearts across the nation, and was turned into a moving and memorable film.

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Journey from the Land of No: A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran

By Roya Hakakian

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A Jew in a land where Islamic fundamentalism grew ever stronger, Roya was twelve when the revolution came, closing opportunities to the young woman even as she matured into a brilliant student.

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Five Finger Discount: A Crooked Family History

By Helene Stapinski

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"As Stapinski writes, Jersey City was a tough place to grow up, except I didn't know any better. In this unforgettable memoir, Stapinski tells the heartbreaking yet often hilarious story of growing up among swindlers, bookies, and crooks. With deadpan humor and obvious affection, she comes clean with the outrageous tales that have swirled around her relatives for decades, and recounts the epic drama and comedy of living in a household in which petty crime was a way of life. The dinner Helene's mother put on the table (often prime rib, lobster tail, and fancy cakes) was usually swiped from the cold-storage company where Helene's father worked. The soap and toothpaste in the bathroom were lifted from the local Colgate factory. The books on the family's shelves were smuggled out of a book-binding company in Aunt Mary Ann's oversize girdle (or taken by Grandpa Beansie from the Free Public Library). Uncle Henry did a booming business as the neighborhood bookie, cousins did jail time, and Great-Aunt Katie, who liked to take a shot of whiskey each morning to clear her lungs, was a ward leader in the notorious Jersey City political machine.

"No backdrop could be more appropriate for the Stapinskis than Jersey City; a place known for its ties to the Mafia, industrial blight, and corrupt local officials, and the author ingeniously weaves the checkered history of her hometown throughout the book. Navigating a childhood of toxic waste and tough love, Stapinski tells an extraordinary tale that, unlike the swag of her childhood, is her very own."

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A Hell of a Place to Lose a Cow: An American Hitchhiking Odyssey

By Tim Brookes

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In 1973, Tim Brooks flew to the U.S. and hitchhiked across the country. The young man loved that summer so much that he settled in the States permanently. Twenty-five years later he decides to re-trace his idyllic hitchhiking adventure. Of course, he's not so young anymore, and it is not 1973.

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Walking to Vermont: From Times Square into the Green Mountains--A Homeward Adventure

By Christopher S. Wren

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Newly-retired journalist encounters New England's gnarly nature as he treks far away from Times Square and into the Green Mountains.

From Chapter One:

It was not yet noon and hotter than a July bride in a feather bed when I trudged a half-dozen miles down the wooded northeastern flank of Mount Greylock, which is, at 3,491 feet, about as high as you can go in the state of Massachusetts. The descent, steep and muddy, made my footing precarious under the weight of a pack that felt stuffed with rocks. By the time I emerged from the spruce woods onto Phelps Avenue, a street of tidy wooden houses on the southern fringe of North Adams, I was hurting as hard as I was sweating.

Before I got bitten, I had planned to follow the white blazes marking the Appalachian Trail north across a green footbridge over some railroad tracks and the Hoosic River. Instead, I turned east on Main Street and caught a ride to the regional hospital on the other side of town.

Within minutes, I found myself stretched out on a white-sheeted bed in the hospital's emergency ward, feeling the soothing chill of saline solution dripping antibiotics into my vein through a long needle taped to the top of my hand.

It was not where I expected to be.

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Surprised By Joy: The Shape of My Early Life

By C.S. Lewis

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Born in Ireland in 1898, C.S. Lewis gained a triple First at Oxford and was Fellow and Tutor at Magdalen College from 1925-54, where he was a contemporary of J.R.R. Tolkien, among others. In 1954 he became Professor of Mediaeval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge. One of the most gifted and influential Christian writers of our time, he is also celebrated for his Narnia Chronicles and his literary criticism and science fiction.

In this book Lewis tells of his search for joy, a spiritual journey that led him from the Christianity of his early youth into atheism and then back to Christianity.

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