Biographies, Memoirs and Autobiographies Read in 2020

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Biographies, Memoirs and Autobiographies Read in 2020

Dez 31, 2019, 1:28 pm

What are reading this year!

Jan 4, 2020, 12:51 pm

The Queen's Conjurer, a biography of John Dee. Dee is a fascinating character, blending early scientific endeavors, mystical leanings and meandering the power and political structures of Elizabethan England.

Jan 5, 2020, 3:16 pm

I'm finally getting to Educated by Tara Westover

Jan 16, 2020, 1:29 pm

I finished To a Distant Island by James McConkey. This is a memoir by McConkey that has Anton Chekhov as its central figure. How does that work? Toward the end of his life, in 1890, Chekhov made a long arduous trip by boat, train and carriage from Moscow all the way to Sakhalin Island, off Russia's Pacific Coast. McConkey tells us in this book's first paragraph that Chekhov "had been undergoing a depression so severe that his most recent biographer believes he might have been nearing a breakdown" and that this was "a journey of over sixty-five hundred miles, or more than a quarter of our planet's circumference." The trip's avowed goal was to study and document the allegedly horrific penal colonies that the Russian government was running on the Island. But as McConkey, via Chekhov's own letters and the book Chekhov wrote about the trip, tells us that Chekhov's real goal was to shake himself loose of this depression by plunging into the unknown and experiencing life away from the restrictions of Moscow society and his own growing fame as a writer. He made it to Sakhalin and spent three months interviewing thousands of prisoners and their families, as well as the island's administrators and other inhabitants of the place. Conditions were even worse than Chekhov had expected. He ultimately wrote a book about his findings, The Island of Sakhalin.

OK, back to McConkey. In the mid-80s, McConkey decided to write a memoir about his family's year in Florence, Italy in the early 1970s. McConkey was on sabbatical from his tenure at an unnamed university, driven away from the school by the late-60s turmoil on campus that he had found himself drawn into but ultimately repelled and distressed by. While in Italy, he came upon a volume of Chekhov's Sakhalin letters and became fascinated, going on to read everything he could find of these letters and of Chekhov's life. From the letters, McConkey imagines and creates a novel-like narrative for Chekhov's journey, interspersing known facts with his own fancy. He makes an admittedly conjectural examination of Chekhov's motivations and psychological evolution during his travels. But this is, as I said up top, ultimately a memoir. McConkey endeavors to thread his own memories of his family's stay in Italy throughout his telling of his Chekhov tale. The problem here is that while the thematic connections between the two story lines were evidently clear to McConkey, he fails, in my view, to present them effectively (or at all) for the reader. I would recommend this book only to those with a particular interest in Chekhov's life.

Editado: Jan 27, 2020, 12:21 pm

Indianapolis: The True Story of the Worst Sea Disaster in U.S. Naval History and the Fifty-Year Fight to Exonerate and Innocent Man
Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic
This book tells the tale of the WWII ship Indianapolis. During the war this ship had a secret mission to deliver one of the atomic bombs that was used on Japan to help end the war. After that mission, a Japanese submarine attacked the boat causing it to sink, losing the lives of many of the crew. Despite the heroic actions of Commander McVay and the lack of help from the Navy, he was court martialed for not following procedures. Many of his crew was upset with the charges and it took years to have someone look into and dispute the charges. This was so interesting and there was also a wonderful special on PBS that led me to read the book. I recommend both. Check out more information at

Fev 5, 2020, 11:21 am

Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman
Anne Helen Petersen
5/5 stars
Petersen writes an engrossing book on the way the world views certain women that buck the traditional roles of mother, wife and female role model. Told through the stories of various women, including Serena Williams, Hillary Clinton, Lena Dunham, Melissa McCarthy and others in the public eye, this book will astound you about the treatment of women and the double standards that they have had to deal with.

Fev 5, 2020, 11:55 am

>6 JulieLill: I just finished this book myself recently. I didn't think Petersen made her case entirely in every chapter, but overall I, too, found it to be a valuable book.

Editado: Fev 5, 2020, 10:01 pm

>6 JulieLill: Thank you! Sounds interesting.

Fev 6, 2020, 3:55 pm

>7 rocketjk: Not sure where I got this title from - maybe from you if you wrote a review. I did enjoy it. Definitely thought provoking!

Editado: Fev 6, 2020, 4:20 pm

>9 JulieLill: Could be! My review is on the book's work page, plus I posted on my own threads and probably in the Reading Non-Fiction and Reading Women Writers groups.

Here you go, in case you're interested:

Fev 9, 2020, 11:43 am

I finally read The Bronx Zoo, Sparky Lyle's entertaining memoir of life on the Yankees during the fabled 1978 season, during which the Yanks came back from around 14 games out to catch the Boston Red Sox for their division title and go on to win the World Series. It was lots of fun to revisit this season, which, as a Yankees fan, I remember well. I wish Lyle hadn't had so many gripes to include in his narrative, but still, the book was a fun and fascinating ride back in time.

Fev 15, 2020, 7:19 pm

Fiasco: A History of Hollywood's Iconic Flops
James Robert Parish
3.5/5 stars
Written in 2006, this book can certainly be updated but as a movie buff, I had seen many of the movies in the book as the author breaks down the reasons each movie failed. There are a couple of movies in the book that I did enjoyed. I liked Paint Your Wagon and Last Action Hero but I definitely agree that Showgirls, Robin William’s Popeye and Ishtar were completely terrible. This book is definitely for movie fans. It would be interesting to see a updated version of this book!

Fev 16, 2020, 4:48 pm

The Family Nobody Wanted
Helen Grigsby Doss
4/5 stars
Set in the 40’s this is the true story of the Doss’s who were unable to have any children. Reaching out to an adoption agency they eventually were able to adopt one child. When they went back to try for another adoption, they were told they could only adopt one white child so Helen reached out to other agencies that had different race or mixed race children. They, eventually, through sheer determination adopted a total of 12 children. Wonderfully written and so inspirational, I sped through this book.

Interesting article on the family-

Fev 18, 2020, 2:05 pm

Almost American Girl: An Illustrated Memoir
Robin Ha
4/5 stars
Author Robin Ha’s graphic novel is the true story of her coming to America with her mother after being raised in South Korea. Since she only speaks Korean, she has a hard time adapting to the United States, let alone learning an unfamiliar complicated new language and trying to make new friends especially in high school where the students aren’t the friendliest. Well done!

Fev 26, 2020, 11:48 am

Elton John
5/5 stars
Elton John relates his amazing career as a song writer, composer, singer, film maker and the incredible ups and downs of his life through childhood to the present. Well written and hard to put down.

Fev 28, 2020, 4:06 pm

Editado: Mar 4, 2020, 12:06 pm

In the Great Green Room: The Brilliant and Bold Life of Margaret Wise Brown
Amy Gary
4/5 stars
This is the very interesting biography of the author Margaret Wise Brown. Brown’s life was a whirlwind between writing books, travel and her multiple relationships with men and women. Unfortunately, at the age of 42 she died from a blood clot after having surgery but she has left behind her works which still are being published and loved by readers today.

Mar 5, 2020, 11:09 am

Mar 5, 2020, 3:52 pm

>20 LynnB: Looking forward to your review of Habib's story.

Editado: Mar 6, 2020, 11:52 am

The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom
Sławomir Rawicz
3.5/5 stars
During WWII Polish solider Slavomir Rawicz is captured by the Russians and sent to a labor camp in Siberia. Conditions are horrible and Rawicz conspires with six other prisoners to escape to British India. The trek is a long one and several die on the way but when things go bad, they encounter people along the way who help them out even though their lives are also troubled. There have been sources that say that the book is a falsehood though it was nevertheless a very interesting read. This was also made into a film but unfortunately I have not been able to find a copy of it yet.

Mar 26, 2020, 5:29 pm

Mar 26, 2020, 5:45 pm

>23 LynnB: Love the title.

Mar 26, 2020, 7:37 pm

Rereading Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks.
Sad story but the writing is beautiful.

Mar 27, 2020, 9:05 am

Year of Wonders is a fitting read at this time. I've been thinking about that one.

Abr 3, 2020, 5:02 pm

Just finished Dishwasher an ode to chronic quitters everywhere. Folks seemed to like it. I gave it a mediocre 2.5 stars.

Abr 3, 2020, 5:45 pm

>27 Sandydog1: Sounds interesting but will probably skip- don't you hate it when you read a book that doesn't live up to your expectations. I used to be afraid to give up on books but my list is so long - I now have no problem giving up on a uninteresting book.

Editado: Out 14, 2020, 9:37 pm

Just finished reading Rocket Girl by her son, George Morgan. Although the details are skimpy and some of the characters are composites, it still gives a general idea of how important her work was to the rocket program in this country.

Abr 5, 2020, 9:08 am

Here ya go:

Rocket Girl

Abr 5, 2020, 5:13 pm

The Queens of Animation: The Untold Story of the Women Who Transformed the World of Disney and Made Cinematic History by Nathalia Holt
4.5/5 stars
This is the amazing true story of the women animators that worked at the Disney studios and who influenced and participated in the filmmaking process of the animated films. They came from all backgrounds and did jobs that the men got paid more for doing but they persevered and were able to make an impact on the films they worked on. Interesting fact -I never knew that the book Bambi: A Life in the Woods was banned in Germany because it dealt with German antisemitism and it was written by a Jewish author. Highly recommended!

Abr 6, 2020, 5:23 pm

I picked up another obscure one Canoe Trip Alone in the Maine Wilderness by David Curran. Not stellar so far, but it's short, I'll stick with it.

Abr 18, 2020, 3:28 pm

You'd think that with sheltering at home, I would be reading more, but I have been watching movies instead. Nevertheless just finished What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker: A memoir in essays by Damon Young. Introspective, funny and a glimpse of what it is to be black in America.

Abr 19, 2020, 2:33 pm

Abr 19, 2020, 5:24 pm

>33 jwrudn: That sounds interesting!

Abr 21, 2020, 3:49 pm

>35 JulieLill: I recommend it as long as you are ok with some foul language.

Maio 8, 2020, 2:17 pm

by Roger Ebert
3/5 stars
This was an unusual book. It is not a linear biography of Scorsese, in fact it is not a true biography at all but a look at his life amid his film work. There are 6 discussions/chapters in this non-fiction work - 1) Beginning, 2) Achieving, 3) Establishing, 4) Reflecting,(which is an interview with Ebert) 5) Venturing and 6) Masterpieces. I think the book is interesting and I learned a lot about Scorsese’s filmmaking but the problem I have with the book was that there was a lot of repetition in the book and a rehashing of the movie plots that have been gone over in previous chapters. However, if you are a big film fan or Scorsese fan, I will think you will like this book.

Maio 11, 2020, 4:19 pm

To the Lighthouse
Virginia Woolf
3.5/5 stars
This is a semiautobiographical book of the author and her family set in three time periods. Woolf relates the feelings, events and emotions of her childhood when they stayed at their summer home near the lighthouse. The second section relates the events of WWI and what happened to the family during that time period and the last section is ten years later and recalls the memories of returning to their summer home and their trip to the lighthouse. I have never read Woolf but enjoyed this book and her writing.

Maio 17, 2020, 3:27 pm

You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington
by Alexis Coe
3.5/5 stars
This is a very interesting short biography of Washington geared to those who don’t want to read some of the tomes on him. The author writes about his childhood, marriage to Martha, his war service and his time as president and afterwards. The author intersperses the book with odd facts and topics which include the diseases he survived, the lies told about him, the animals he raised and much more. I really enjoyed this book!

Maio 17, 2020, 6:08 pm

These Wonderful People is a 1947 collection of random details of a crowd of famous people. All surprisingly fascinating.

Maio 28, 2020, 4:05 pm

Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live as Told by Its Stars, Writers, and Guests
By Tom Shales
3.5/5 stars
This book is definitely for fans of the show and goes over each season (up till 2014) and includes all the members, writers, producers and Loren Michaels talking about their roles on the phenomenon of SNL and how it affected them.
This book was the updated version for their 40th Season in 2014 (originally published in 2004). I am not sure if it has been updated since then but it would be interesting to read about the changes to the program due to the coronavirus. I enjoyed this so much but be warned it is over 700 pages.

Maio 30, 2020, 1:33 pm

West of Eden: An American Place
Jean Stein
3/5 stars
Jean Stein’s book covers five unusual true stories of Los Angeles, particularly focusing on Hollywood by using the interviews of the actual relatives and players of Hollywood that have shaped Los Angeles history for good or for bad. Stein covers the stories of the Dohenys, the Warner Brothers family, real estate heiress Jane Garland, actress Jennifer Jones, and her own family. I am mixed about this book, some of it I raced through and then others parts seemed to drag on forever. I knew that Hollywood was a free for all but never knew, especially in its early history, that everything was up for grabs in terms of morality.

Jun 9, 2020, 1:09 pm

I just finished The Only Rule Is It Has to Work: Our Wild Experiment Building a New Kind of Baseball Team by Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller. In 2015, Lindbergh and Miller, a pair of sportswriters, bloggers and podcast hosts got the owners of an 4-team independent baseball league* to agree to allow them to apply the relatively new ideas about baseball that are generally housed under the broad term, "sabermatrics." Sabermatrics is the philosophy/practice of developing rosters and considering in-game strategy that is based on deep dives into performance stats and probabilities rather than going by old-school, we've always done it that way attitudes.

* Independent leagues are the lowest level of professional baseball. The leagues are "independent" because they have no affiliation with major league teams.

The book is, basically, a co-memoir. The two men take turns writing chapters. Together, they describe their progress through the season with their team, the Sonoma Stompers. While they don't get to create the team's entire 22-man roster, they are able to add several players of their own choosing for which they study databases of players who had remained undrafted by major league organizations and whose stats indicate potential success based upon the "new" theories. The writers describe the coming together of the team, their struggles to gain the respect of the players and coaching staff for their roles in the team's performance, their growing understanding of the dynamics of clubhouse culture and the specific problems of players performing at such a low level of organized ball. As the season progresses, the two writers, together, weave together a very engaging story and they don't stint in self-examination, either. There's a lot of learning done.

There is also a very interesting section of the narrative about the coming out of one of their pitchers, Sean Conroy, to become the first openly gay ballplayer in American professional baseball. When Conroy starts on the mound for the team's Pride Night that June, the program for the game, signed by every team member, ends up in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. The biggest part of the story, in a way, is Conroy's teammates' easy acceptance of his sexuality.

Lindbergh and Miller are both quite good writers, so the book flows very nicely and remains interesting throughout. It's a study of baseball, certainly, and as such is more or less of interest to baseball fans only. But this is also an interesting and acute study of human nature.

A personal note that the town of Sonoma is, you'll not be surprised to learn, in Sonoma County, California, just a touch south of where I live in Mendocino County. Yet I'd never even heard of the team, or the league, until I happened to notice an article online about their having fielded the first women players in organized baseball. (They did that the next year, after Miller and Lindbergh had ended their active participation in the organization.) That led me to the team's website, and to their "products" page, which features this book. I was looking forward to driving down to take in some games this summer. Oh, well.

Anyway, I highly recommend this book, though for baseball fans only.

Editado: Jun 13, 2020, 4:59 pm

Jul 2, 2020, 4:03 pm

I finished Trailblazer: A Pioneering Journalist's Fight to Make the Media Look More like America by Dorothy Butler Gilliam. I was about to say that the headline across the top of this important book's front cover says it all: "A memoir by the first black woman reporter at the Washington Post. But, really, that bit of copy, while accurate, only tells part of the story. For while Gilliams was, indeed, when hired in 1961, the first black woman reporter at the Post, the role she has played and the work she has done to advance the cause of black representation both in American's newsrooms and on the pages of those publications, goes far beyond the role that the words "first black woman reporter" convey.

Gilliam's career spans the Civil Rights era of the late 50s and 60s through the Black Power movement and all the way through to the present day. She began her career as a typist for the black weekly, the Louisville Defender in the mid-50s but was soon editing and writing stories. In 1957 she was working for the Tri-State Defender when, at the age of 21, she went to Little Rock to cover the tumultuous, violent, hate-filled proceedings of the attempts to integrate the public schools there. She went to work for the The Washington Post, as mentioned, in 1961, and as a Post reporter went to Oxford, Mississippi, to cover the equally violent and ugly events around James Meredith's attempts to become the first black to enroll at the University of Mississippi. She spent several years as a beat reporter in Washington, retired for several years to raise her three daughters and support her husband's growing art career, and then returned to the Post as the editor of the newly expanded and influential Style section that covered a wide range of artistic and cultural issues in the city. And that's the short list of her accomplishments.

There are points at which I thought Gilliam's writing needed more detail and a bit better organization, particularly in the book's first third. But overall, I'll just say that Gilliam is an extremely admirable person, a tough fighter, who is reporting a crucial story.

This is the short version of this review! Check out my threads on Club Read or the 50-Book Challenge groups to the full-length treatment. :)

Jul 4, 2020, 9:28 am

I’ve started Outlaw: India’s Bandit Queen and Me by Roy Moxham. It’s the story of an abused Lower caste woman who takes vengeance into her own hands.

Jul 4, 2020, 12:31 pm

>47 varielle: This sounds interesting!

Jul 5, 2020, 8:26 am

>47 varielle: I've added it to my wish list. I'm trying not to buy books this year and have reduced my TBR shelves substantially during this pandemic.

Jul 8, 2020, 2:00 pm

I’ll let you know how it is as I get further along.

Jul 11, 2020, 5:27 pm

I raced through The Lost Memoir by Lou Gehrig, edited by Alan D. Gaff. Toward the last months of the New York Yankees' famed 1927 season, Lou Gehrig's agent arranged for him to keep a diary to be published in segments, as he wrote them, in several newspapers across the country, primarily, somewhat surprisingly, the Oakland Tribune. The pieces began appearing in August, 1927. Gehrig's columns first covered his early life and career, and then, once he'd caught up, began talking about the season as it was unfolding. There was no drama, as that team, which became known as Murderers Row and featured Babe Ruth's 60-home run season (Gehrig hit 47 while driving in an astounding 173 runs and won the MVP award) and the team one the AL pennant by 19 games. So Gehrig settled for talking about his teammates and, especially, their strengths on the field and in the clubhouse. So these columns ran in three or four papers, including one for each of the four games of the World Series (the Yanks swept the Pirates in four), and then were forgotten by posterity. That's until historian Alan Gaff, doing research about something else among old newspaper clippings, came upon them and decided they needed a dusting off. That's this book.

The first 100 pages consist of the columns themselves, somewhat edited by Gaff. The second 100 pages bring us Gaff's biographical essay about Gehrig.

The columns give us a nice, if surface, insight into life in a Major League clubhouse during that era. These pieces were for public consumption during the season being described. Even if Gehrig was the kind of guy to dish the dirt on his teammates (he evidently wasn't), this wouldn't have been the venue to do that. And Gehrig was clearly most comfortable writing about his colleagues in glowing terms. But still, this is a fun reading experience, especially when Gehrig describes his early days on the Yankees, which he joined as the rawest of raw rookies. He talks about how much encouragement and help he got from Ruth, already a veteran and a star when Gehrig arrived. Gaff's essay adds some nice perspective, as well, and takes us through Gehrig's sad and much too early death of the disease that's now named after him. Gehrig was, evidently, a genuinely nice guy as long as he lived who worked very hard to become a good fielding first baseman and one of the all-time greats at the plate. Endearingly, he retained his Achilles heal on the field--he was a terrible base runner.

This is a fun volume for baseball fans, especially those interested in the game's history. It is a very recent publication, purchased for me as a birthday present by my wonderful wife.

Jul 12, 2020, 1:04 pm

>51 rocketjk: Nice review!

Jul 19, 2020, 3:58 pm

I finished Strange Defeat: A Statement of Evidence Written in 1940 by Marc Bloch. This is a fascinating testimony about the factors in the French army, government and society in general that, according the author, accounted for the French collapse and premature (in Bloch's opinion) surrender in the face of the German invasion in 1940. Marc Bloch was a veteran of the trenches of World War I and by trade a highly respected historian, so analysis of the type he undertook here was his stock and trade. When war was declared in 1939 with the invasion of Poland, Bloch returned to the military as a reservist, and was set to work as an officer working out the tracking and distribution of petrol supplies for the French First Army. As such, Bloch was in a position to see first-hand the hardening of the arteries that had taken place within the French military, both during the long period of inactivity known as the Phony War and then during the tragically short period of actual fighting once Germany invaded. Bloch describes, here, the scene on the beaches during the Dunkirk escape. Among those taken off the beaches, Bloch spent a short time in England, and then returned to what he thought would be the battle to defend his country.

This book was written in 1940, almost immediately after the French surrender. There are a few footnotes that Bloch entered to amend or add to the information presented in around 1942. Bloch discusses a great many reasons that came together to create a France wholly incapable of fighting off the German Army. A top-heavy military structure with too much jealousy and too little cooperation between branches, a complacency born of a wholesale refusal to take a clear look at the way warfare had changed since the first world war, the widespread loathing for and distrust of the working classes and the democratic process in general among the country's governing and industrial classes, to the extent, Bloch says, that some even thought that not only was it inevitable that Germany's autocratic system would defeat France, but that perhaps it was preferable that they would. In the field, according to Bloch (and he certainly wasn't alone), the French Army was done in by a lack of adequate training and equipment, poor leadership in crucial posts, and the dismay and sometimes even panic derived from the surprising speed and fury of the German attack (which Bloch takes pain to point out should not have been surprising).

Bloch takes the reader on a tour of French pre-war society, taking industrialists, labor leaders and academics (including himself) to task for the ways in which the nation fell short and laid themselves open to defeat. Bloch goes on to provide a more global context with a final section acute and highly readable political philosophy. The combination of Bloch's status as an expert historian and as a first-hand participant in so many of these events, plus Bloch's lucid and enjoyable writing style, makes this an entirely fascinating testimony and analysis of a fascinating if tragic historical saga.

This book was a birthday gift (along with the recently reviewed Lou Gehrig memoir) from my wonderful wife, who knows what I like to read!

Editado: Jul 29, 2020, 3:05 pm

Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the Worlds' Most Dangerous Man
Mary L. Trump
4.5/5 stars
Mary Trump, niece of Donald Trump and daughter of Fred Trump Jr., writes about life in the Trump family beginning with the patriarch of the Trumps, Fred Trump. Fred Sr. was a cruel, miserly man obsessed with profits and his children were his last priority and seen only as valuable as employees and for what they could do for him. When their mother became ill, they were on their own and were ill prepared for life. Not a long book but filled with crucial details of the Trump family history and a look at the family that shaped Donald Trump.

Ago 2, 2020, 12:48 pm

Housebroken: Admissions of an Untidy Life
Laurie Notaro
Laurie Notaro is an unconventional wife, mother and writer. She writes about her everyday experiences from trying on Spanx, snooping in her husband’s journal and her love of Twinkies to name a few, with no shame and makes you laugh and smile a lot. I would read more of her books!

Editado: Ago 9, 2020, 12:28 pm

The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz
Erik Larsen
5/5 stars
I love Erik Larson and he does not disappoint in his newest non-fiction book recounting the first year of WWII. The book mainly centers on Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of England as he and the country wage war against the Nazi Regimen and as he tries to get help from President Franklin Roosevelt. Larson also recounts the lives of Winston’s family and friends during war time and the British citizens as they deal with food shortages, bombing raids, death and destruction and trying to work amidst the German air raids and bombings. Larson’s books are so interesting, that I can’t wait for his next book.

Ago 9, 2020, 1:27 pm

Presently reading Untamed by Glennon Doyle. I don't remember why I ordered it from the library. It is very good, but I am not in the mood, unfortunately.

Ago 21, 2020, 7:39 pm

Dead Presidents: An American Adventure into the Strange Deaths and Surprising Afterlives of Our Nation's Leaders
Brady Carlson
4/5 stars
Brady Carlson, reporter and NPR Radio Host traveled around the country with his son tracking down a number of dead presidents' graves, looking into the manner of their deaths and how they were remembered. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and loved all the trivia. I definitely recommend this book.

Ago 21, 2020, 10:26 pm

Reading Dear Senator which is just mind-blowing to me. I guess it is a true story of Strom Thurmond having a black daughter by a former maid? And they kept in touch? And he spoke out against lynching in South Carolina when he was the governor. The memoir is written by the daughter, who understandably is very confused by the relationship to her father. I am about half-way through.

Editado: Ago 22, 2020, 9:18 am

>59 krazy4katz: I believe she has since passed away but she did an interesting interview on tv a few years ago. She looked just like him. I’ll be back if I can find a link to the interview.

ETA here’s one. She did several with espn and abc.

Ago 22, 2020, 12:37 pm

>60 varielle: Thank you! I just finished the book and found it an amazing and worthwhile read. Her knowledge of history and years of teaching definitely made this a very informative book as well as being a outstanding story. I don't know how I feel about Strom Thurmond, but Essie Mae was a heroine in my opinion.

Ago 26, 2020, 4:23 pm

Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies
J.B. West
5/5 stars
J.B. West was the Chief Usher of the White House from 1940’s in which he worked for the Roosevelts until his retirement a year or so into the Nixon’s’ first term in the White House. His role (along with his staff) was to assist in the daily lives of the president and his family which included planning social events, renovations to the White House (and each President’s wife had their say so in those changes) and supervising the staff. Each President had a budget for the White House but that did not cover all their expenses which they then had to pay for themselves. This was well written and a wonderful look at the Presidents’ wives and their roles in the lives of their husbands and country.

Ago 28, 2020, 2:10 pm

Finished Shamrocks and Salsa by Gerald F. Cox, a book LT member rocketjk mentioned to me in another thread (check out his review on the works page). I love that title and enjoyed this autobiography by a priest/activist turned family man/activist.

Ago 28, 2020, 6:45 pm

>64 dypaloh: Glad you liked Gerry's memoir. I will tell his wife, Kathy. I'll be seeing her tonight!

Ago 31, 2020, 9:42 am

The Penguin Lessons: What I Learned From a Remarkable Bird
Tom Michell
4/5 stars
Tom Michell recalls his time in South America as a traveler, a teacher and an owner of a penguin. Tom is traveling in Uruguay when an oil spill occurs. He witnesses thousands of birds entrenched in oil, mostly dead except for one penguin who is still alive but coated with oil. He makes a decision to rescue him and clean him up. He christens him Juan Salvador and Michell takes him to his new assignment in Argentina, teaching at a boy’s school where all the students adore Juan. What a delightful story of survival and friendship!

Set 16, 2020, 11:31 am

Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002
David Sedaris
4/5 stars
David Sedaris opens his life to his readers with his diary entries from 1977-2002. The entries relay the often bizarre world of David’s and his thoughts about life, his family, his work and the strange people and events he encounters. This is definitely for Sedaris fans. If you haven’t read any of his other books - you might want to read some of those before you open this book.

Editado: Out 3, 2020, 4:46 pm

I finished Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance. Vance's first-person description of the distressed working class (and below) "Hillbilly" communities of the Appalachian Mountains he grew up in. The first half to two-thirds of the book are more interesting than the final chapters, to put it mildly. Vance is a good writer, and his narratives of his early family troubles, his mother's addictions, his grandparents' taking over of his and his sister's raising and the ways in which these events are indicative of the conditions and problems of their rural Kentucky community are absorbing. The points Vance has to make in retrospect about these matters ring true enough.

But I found the final 60 pages or so of Vance's memoir to be excruciating, unfortunately. Vance is, of course, a success story. That success was hard earned and, as Vance certainly allows, against the odds, a product, to a large extent, of the support of his grandparents, a type of familial help that many young people of his world don't receive. As admirable as Vance's "against the odds" success is, though, his attempts to jam the square peg of his upper mobility into the round peg of his community's problems don't ring true.

Overall, I felt that this memoir was worth reading, even with its flaws.

Out 4, 2020, 9:45 am

>69 rocketjk: I second your opinion about the last section of Hillbilly Elegy.

Out 9, 2020, 11:59 am

Ready for a Brand New Beat: How Dancing in the Street Became the Anthem for a Changing America
Mark Kurlansky
4/5 stars
In this book, Kurlansky explores the phenomenon of how Motown and the song “Dancing in the Street” changed music in a turbulent time in the US in the 1960’s. Kurlansky also explores the events of the time period including the rise of the Beatles, Vietnam, the Civil Rights Act and changes in politics. Kurlansky is never boring to me and I enjoy his unusual book topics!

Out 9, 2020, 5:35 pm

>2 SandraArdnas:

I wanted to like this book, but it failed the 50 page rule for me a decade ago. How is it going?

Out 9, 2020, 5:37 pm

>17 JulieLill:

Yes!! i gave it a perfect rating. I go a few years at a time without a five star book. I loved it. his voice is just *fabulous*. I love how he takes accountability for the problems in his life, yet does with so much wit. Fabulous.

Out 9, 2020, 6:43 pm

>72 PokPok: I liked it, but I'm fascinated by paradoxical characters who combine opposites. It became a slog at one point with two many of his seances, but overall it was still interesting.

Out 12, 2020, 10:21 pm

I finished Alexander Hamilton a few weeks ago and have started The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt.

Out 12, 2020, 10:23 pm

>56 JulieLill: I have this on my To Be Read list.

Out 14, 2020, 1:38 pm

I finished Born on the Fourth of July by Ron Kovic, which I found to be very powerful. There's nothing dated about it now, and it's easy to see why it gained such attention then. The memoir begins with the moment Kovic is wounded during a firefight and immediately loses all feeling from the middle of his chest downward. The horrors of life in a VA hospital and the darkness that descends on Kovic as he grapples with the realization that his condition is permanent are graphically and powerfully rendered. Kovic also flashes back to his (in the telling) idyllic Long Island middle-class upbringing that led him to the patriotic "God and Country" perspective that drew him to the Marines and to enthusiasm for the war in the first place. He details his life for the first decade after his wound, including his evolution into a strong anti-Vietnam War activist, in often compelling fashion as well. As an anti-war statement and a chronicle of personal darkness and perseverance, this memoir stands up very well.

Out 20, 2020, 6:19 pm

I finished The Norton Book of Women's Lives, edited by Phyllis Rose. This is a wonderful anthology of excerpts from memoirs written by women from a wide range of eras and nationalities. There are 61 entries in all, from around 8 to 20 pages in length. A few are excerpts from books I'd already read, such as Beryl Markhan's West with the Night and Anne Frank's diary. Others were from memoirs I feel like I should have already read, like Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior and Anne Moody's Coming of Age in Mississippi. Others were memoirs by women I'd never heard of and who lived lives sometimes privileged, sometimes horrifying and depressing, but always fascinating. Cultural Revolution China, both Revolutionary Era and Soviet Era Russia, India and Pakistan are just a few examples. Kate Millet, Vita Sackville-West and Zora Neale Hurston and M.F.K. Fisher are just three of the famous women who are represented. The collection is a very fertile resource for further reading and is just downright enjoyable in the extreme.

It took me three years to gradually read through this anthology, and I am considering simply starting at the beginning and reading through it again.

Out 20, 2020, 7:49 pm

I am reading The Life and Times of the Code Talker. Very interesting, but heart-rending story of Chester Nez, a Native American who grew up in Navajo territory out west, then entered the military during WWII with a number of other Navajos to create an unbreakable code used in the Pacific war. I am just finishing up his description of his childhood, which is full of lovely memories of his family and his home, as well as terrible memories about how he was treated by white people at school and in general. It gives me the same feeling as when I hear about violence against POC today.

Editado: Nov 7, 2020, 1:59 pm

When Life Gives You Pears: The Healing Power of Family, Faith, and Funny People
Jeannie Gaffigan
4/5 stars
In 2017 Jeannie Gaffigan loses the hearing in her one ear. Putting it off because of just being too busy, she finally goes to the doctor and finds out that she has a brain tumor and must undergo brain surgery. Her husband Jim cancels all his concerts, takes over the household and gathers up all her family and friends to help out. Very heartwarming and at times very funny!

Nov 8, 2020, 11:44 am

Tim and Tom: An American Comedy in Black and White
Tim Reid and Tom Dreesen
4/5 stars
Tim Reid and Tom Dreesen talk about their lives as stand up comics and as the first comedy duo who were interracial. This was a fascinating look at their lives growing up, how they met and started to perform together, how audiences responded to them and how they ended up eventually parting ways. Tom remained a comedian and was the opener to Frank Sinatra concerts while Tim moved on to TV in WKRP in Cincinnati and Frank's Place. Written in 2008, this book is still relevant today.

Nov 12, 2020, 1:41 pm

I'm reading Without my Mother: A Daughter's Search for the Mother Who Abandoned Her by Melissa Cistaro.

Editado: Nov 13, 2020, 11:15 am

When Breath Becomes Air
Paul Kalanithi
5/5 stars
This is the wonderfully written autobiographical book by and about Paul Kalanithi’s life and his struggle with cancer which ends his life at the age of 36. The epilogue written by his wife lets the readers know what occurred at the end of his life. I am probably one of the last to have read this book but it was so inspirational and thought provoking that I had to praise this to all of you have not read it.

Nov 17, 2020, 3:46 pm

Man of Tomorrow by Jim Newton A biography of Jerry Brown, which by its nature covers Pat Brown and California history. It was written with the support of Brown, but he did not see the manuscript before being published.

I love Jim Newton, having devoured his previous bios of Earl Warren and Eisenhower's presidential years. I was thrilled to see that he had published this book on Brown. I must say, that he is a very complicated person, and I feel that even more so! His relationship with his spiritual beliefs and how that intersects with politics is fascinating. He is too conservative for liberals and too liberal for conservatives. He is a world leader in the fight against climate change. Very highly recommended.

Nov 18, 2020, 10:50 am

I'm reading The Answer Is....Reflections on my Life by the much-missed Alex Trebek. I admire his love of learning, his obvious pride in being Canadian, and the way he made learning and intelligence cool. RIP, Alex.

Nov 18, 2020, 10:58 am

Well, I started Tony Hillerman's Seldom disappointed : a memoir, but I think I'm giving it up. I enjoyed his mystery series so much! Yet somehow the writing in this book is not at all compelling, and I'm bored. It's too bad.

Editado: Nov 21, 2020, 1:59 pm

Warden Ragen of Joliet
Gladys A. Erickson
5/5 stars
Despite the age of the book (published in1957) and the subject, this is a book that I had a hard time putting down. In this true story, Warden Joseph E. Ragen was encouraged to take over the Stateville Prison and the Old Prison in Joliet, Illinois because of conditions at the prisons and the incompetence of an earlier warden. The book discusses the time period, some of the famous criminals in the system and the reforms that Ragen instituted to turn around the prison and encourage good behaviors in the prisoners. Highly recommended!

Editado: Nov 28, 2020, 12:54 pm

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory
Caitlin Doughty
4/5 stars
Doughty writes about her life and how she came to work in a crematory and eventually earning her degree in mortuary science. She also talks about the history and science of cremation and much more. I thought this so interesting and hard to put down. This may not be for everyone but if you are open to unusual experiences this may be the book for you.

Dez 1, 2020, 3:26 pm

All About All About Eve: The Complete Behind-the-Scenes Story of the Bitchiest Film Ever Made!
Sam Staggs
4/5 stars
This was an interesting look at the movie and eventually a play called All About Eve. The movie stars Bette Davis and Anne Baxter as rivals in the theater, one is on her way up and one is on her way down in their careers. Sam Staggs does a thorough job detailing the behind the scenes story of the movie, the actors and the drama on the set and off the set. He also discusses the musical stage version that starred Lauren Bacall years later after the original movie came out. This is definitely for movie buffs. I don’t think I have ever read such a detailed account of the story of a movie!

Editado: Dez 7, 2020, 9:35 am

Dez 12, 2020, 1:22 pm

Dez 12, 2020, 3:40 pm

>93 LynnB: It is a fascinating read.

Dez 13, 2020, 1:57 pm

1959: The Year Everything Changed
Fred M. Kaplan
4/5 stars
Kaplan takes a look at the events of 1959 and the history behind them. Topics include the space race, Castro’s rise to power, the loosening of censorship, the advance of birth control, civil rights, Motown and much more. One of the most interesting sections to me was that the President Eisenhower sent jazz ambassadors around the world on a good will tour. Dizzy Gillespie and his 18 piece band toured for ten weeks going to Iran, Pakistan, Turkey and more. It was a major hit and other groups with multi-cultural members were then sent out to perform.

Dez 25, 2020, 12:10 pm

Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West
Cormac McCarthy
4/5 stars
In the 1850’s , a young man known as “ the Kid” follows Captain Glanton, along with Judge Holden and a crew of cowboys, to Mexico in their attempt to find gold but they only find pain, misery and death. “The Glanton gang segments are based on Samuel Chamberlain's account of the group in his memoir My Confession: The Recollections of a Rogue. Chamberlain rode with John Joel Glanton and his company between 1849 and 1850.” Info from -
Well written, but it is a dark and brutal story.