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Thread: What are your favourite memoirs?

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  1. #1
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    What are your favourite memoirs?

    or biographies? Are they the same thing in your mind?
    I tend to think of a memoir as being about just a facet of a person's life or an experience they had rather than a beginning to end sort of thing. Does that make any sense?

    Books I have loved that fit in this category include

    Road to Coorain

    Roadsong

    Kaffir Boy in America

    Angela's Ashes

    I know why the Caged Bird Sings

    I also read many many books on holocaust surviors when I was a teen, trying to understand how such evil could exsist in the world, but I can't rememeber any titles besides Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl .

    No doubt I am forgetting many so look forward to your lists.
    Has anyone read The Boys of my Youth ? I was reading about this on amazon and it looks good.
    Last edited by kima; 06-20-2003 at 06:42 PM.
    You think you're not ever going to be able to eat another thing, but alas, you will find yourself feeling strangely peckish around teatime. The more you eat, the more you want. That's the way it goes."

    Nigella Lawson

  2. #2
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    Depends on the definition

    The way I look at it, a Memoir is the person telling his or her own story. A biography is someone else telling the person's story.

    I read Bugles and a Tiger by John Masters and loved it. It's his account of going to Sandhurst and signing on with a Gurkha regiment in the 1930's, before WWII. Masters is a novelist and his descriptions are wonderful.

    Another (an oldie, but enjoyable) is Our Hearts Were Young And Gay by Cornelia Otis Skinner.

    I can't think of others, but I do enjoy memoirs. I don't care for biographies as much. They tend to either deify or demonize the subject.
    Nothing in the history of mankind can foul things up quicker than a computer
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  3. #3
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    Yes Diana. You are right about biographies-I meant autobiographies and biographies. Thanks for your suggestions.
    You think you're not ever going to be able to eat another thing, but alas, you will find yourself feeling strangely peckish around teatime. The more you eat, the more you want. That's the way it goes."

    Nigella Lawson

  4. #4
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    I'm with you, Maureen; memoir and other narrative nonfiction are my favorites - I'll bet I've read close to a dozen holocaust memoirs.
    My favorite memoir in years is Frank Rich's Ghost Light; I've enjoyed a number of memoirs by venerable newspapermen including Art Buchwald and Russell Baker. I guess this is more autobiography, but Personal History by Katherine Graham is one of my favorite reads of all time. I'm not home right now and can't think of what all is on that shelf (have been mostly away from that category for a while) --- but I know The Road from Coorain is there, and I still haven't read it; maybe time to pick it up again?
    BTW, while I wasn't crazy about A Monk Swimming by Malachy McCourt, the follow-up, Singing My Him Song (yup-"Him") was a remarkable story of transformation and a man's escape from having become his father.

  5. #5
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    Memoirs and autobiographies that I've enjoyed in the last couple of years:

    An Hour Before Daybreak: Memories of a Rural Boyhood by Jimmy Carter. Former president Jimmy Carter writes about his depression-era boyhood on a Georgia farm.

    Seldom Disappointed: A Memoir by Tony Hillerman. As a fan of this author and his mysteries, I thoroughly enjoyed his autobiography.

    Lazy B by Sandra Day O'Connor and H. Alan Day. Supreme Court justice Sandra Day OíConnor and her brother, H. Alan Day, tell the story of growing up in the harsh yet beautiful land of the Lazy B Ranch in Arizona.

  6. #6
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    I read autobiographies and biographies occasionally...

    I really liked

    Life Is So Good by George Dawson, I'm sure this book hasn't gotten a ton of attention but I love it. It is a very uplifting story about a black man raised in the South. Who had dropped out of school to help the families farm. How he went back to school when he was in his 90's and learned to read. He was a huge inspiration for the kids in his class who were going back for their GED's. Actually a huge inspiration to anyone!

    I also liked
    Me and Hank: A Boy and His Hero, Twenty-five Years Later by Sandy Tolan. Hank Aaron's life surrounding the time he exceeded Babe Ruth's record for the most home runs. A great read all the way around...good book to give a guy. There is the very famous picture where just after meeting or beating the record Mr. Aaron is being hugged by his Mom. But on closer inspection you realize she is shielding him. He had been receiving death threats and when they blew of the fireworks she thought he was being shot at! OMG, I'm almost crying thinking about it!
    Peggy
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    Bark less

  7. #7
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    I usually don't read them, particularly business or political ones. But I'm most interested in Don't Lets Go To The Dogs Tonight.

  8. #8
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    I'm reading Breaking Clean by Judy Blunt right now. It is a beautifully written memoir about growing up on a cattle ranch in Montana. My lord, was their life hard.

    Here's a link to the reviews on amazon.
    breaking clean
    I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day. ~E.B. White

  9. #9
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    I'm currently enjoying A Girl Named Zippy. I'm about half way through and I have to agree with the comment on the back cover: "a rare and welcome treat: a memoir of a HAPPY childhood."

  10. #10
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    Dolores, I've picked that book up a good half dozen times but never bought it; perhaps I'll grab a used copy and put it with my "special reserve" of light books that I like to keep on hand for when I need a nice escape....
    Happiness is not a goal, it is a byproduct. - Eleanor Roosevelt

  11. #11
    Originally posted by d_ferrero
    I'm currently enjoying A Girl Named Zippy. I'm about half way through and I have to agree with the comment on the back cover: "a rare and welcome treat: a memoir of a HAPPY childhood."
    I loved that book!

  12. #12
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    Kima -

    I think I read that book Kaffir Boy in America . Who is the author?? That was an amazing book! My parents lived lived in SA for a couple of years and I think I read that during that time. I also enjoyed Nelson Mandela's autobiography on the topic of SA.

    Szui

  13. #13
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    I love a good food-related memoir:

    Ruth Reichl: Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me with Apples


    Elizabeth Ehrlich: Miriam's Kitchen: A Memoir
    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/AS...050439-0014260


    Alice B. Toklas: Aromas and Flavors of the Past and Present
    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg...050439-0014260

    and
    The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook
    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg...glance&s=books
    Anna
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    A fruit is a vegetable with looks and money.
    Plus, if you let fruit rot, it turns into wine,
    something Brussels sprouts never do.
    P. J. O'Rourke, humorist
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

  14. #14
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    Thanks for sharing titles everyone!

    I like food memoirs too Little Bit though when I found Comfort me with Apples very so what???

    Here is a link to the book I meant- Kaffir Boy not Kaffir Boy in America which is the sequel and good but not excellent.

    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/AS...999449-3447945
    You think you're not ever going to be able to eat another thing, but alas, you will find yourself feeling strangely peckish around teatime. The more you eat, the more you want. That's the way it goes."

    Nigella Lawson

  15. #15
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    Kima - Kaffir Boy is awesome and life changing. As I went to the link you shared - I also read My Traitor's Heart which is great too!

    Little Bit - I love both of Ruth Reichl's books you mention - especially Tender at the Bone. I laughed out loud!!!

    Suzi

  16. #16
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    I love a good food-related memoir

    Oh, yes! I remember enjoying Long Ago in France by MFK Fisher, though I can't say that I remember much about it now.

    Daughter of the Queen of Sheba by Jacki Lyden was about life with a manic-depressive mother. I'd read that before I read Tender at the Bone, and I tell you - within about half a page of Ruth Reichl's book, it all sounded eerily familiar.

    Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng and Manhattan, When I was Young by Mary Cantwell are also among my all-time favorites.
    Happiness is not a goal, it is a byproduct. - Eleanor Roosevelt

  17. #17
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    I loved Angela's Ashes and 'Tis with 'Tis being very funny. Diana, I remember reading Our Hearts were Young and Gay many years ago and loved it. Although it was very sad, I loved the Vivien Leigh biography.
    Life is all about a$$; you're either covering it, laughing it off, kicking it, kissing it, busting it, trying to get a piece of it, behaving like one, or you live with one.

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  18. #18
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    Re: Depends on the definition

    Originally posted by beejayw1


    I read Bugles and a Tiger by John Masters and loved it. It's his account of going to Sandhurst and signing on with a Gurkha regiment in the 1930's, before WWII. Masters is a novelist and his descriptions are wonderful..
    I loved all of John Masters books so much. You remind me I will have to reread all of them.

  19. #19
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    Right now I am reading Anne Roiphe's 1185 PARK AVENUE. The title is the address of the apartment building in Manhattan where she grew up.
    From Amazon: "He married her because she was rich" is the author's bleak assessment of her handsome, unfaithful father's relationship with her unhappy, insecure mother. Anne Roiphe describes with equally brutal candor a childhood largely spent with the governess until she was old enough to mix her mother's drinks, light cigarettes, and listen to complaints about her father. In this grim environment, Roiphe and her sickly younger brother did not band together so much as coexist in mutual misery. She seems to find redemption in the trio of deaths that close the book. Her parents died from cancer; her father disinherited his children in favor of his second wife. Her brother, a doctor infected with AIDS from cutting himself in his lab, ordered a funeral without any words: "The God who would do this to him deserved only silence." So why read this angst fest? Because Roiphe is just as honest about her own efforts to escape her gilded cage on New York's Upper East Side, and because she captures the social and historical particulars of wealthy Jewish American life from the 1930s on in the same richly textured detail she brought to feminist classics like Up the Sandbox. "I am a writer, and burning bridges behind me is part of the cost of the work," she comments. She burns them with sorrowful panache in this chilling, engrossing memoir. --Wendy Smith --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

    I also loved Kaffir Boy, Kaffir Boy in America and Miriams Kitchen.
    Ellyn

  20. #20
    Ellyn,

    Thanks for the recommendation, 1185 Park Avenue sounds like something I'd read.


    Has anyone read The Mitford Sisters? It's the biography of the Mitford family, a family of talented and rather eccentric aristocrats in England. Nancy Mitford, one of the sisters, wrote The Pursuit of Love.

  21. #21
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    Without a doubt, top of the list, The Color Of Water: A Black Man's Tribute To His White Mother by James McBride. It's an amazing book about his mother, her struggles as a Polish Jew who immigrated to the US, her leaving her family behind (in Virginia) to move to New York City, her two marriages to black men that made her even more isolated than she already was, and the way she raised twelve children. A very powerful and moving book - the kind that after you finish, you sit there thinking "wow", and then have to recommend it to everyone you meet.

    Blackbird: A Childhood Lost And Found by Jennifer Lauck is a pretty harrowing look about a pretty harrowing life (and the book only covers six years!). As a child (and I mean as a child - the book starts when she's five) she watched her mother slowly die after years of severe health problems, her father remarry a woman who can't stand her, her father die before she turns 10, and her step-mother essentially abandon her to live in a shelter (because the step-mother wants the social security for her). It's a very hard book to read, realising that people could actually treat other people, children, that way, but in a way it's very uplifting as she obviously survived it all and manages to tell the tale brilliantly. The second instalment is called Still Waters.

    To balance out the sadness of Blackbird, read The Prize Winner Of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids On 25 Words Or Less by Terry Ryan, which is a very funny look at growing up in the 50s with a mother who uses jingle and slogan contests to feed and clothe her family.

    And of course, once I finish writing it, I'll have to recommend my own memoir!

  22. #22
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    Originally posted by claire797
    Ellyn,

    Thanks for the recommendation, 1185 Park Avenue sounds like something I'd read.

    Has anyone read The Mitford Sisters? It's the biography of the Mitford family, a family of talented and rather eccentric aristocrats in England. Nancy Mitford, one of the sisters, wrote The Pursuit of Love.
    Yup, 1185 Park Avenue sounds like a good read for me, too. Ellyn, you might check out Manhattan, When I Was Young - this one is Manhattan in the 1950s- a wonderful read.

    I haven't read The Mitford Sisters, but I loved Hons and Rebels by Jessica Mitford; it's her story of growing up in that family.....
    Happiness is not a goal, it is a byproduct. - Eleanor Roosevelt

  23. #23
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    I 2nd Paula's recommendations for The Color Of Water: A Black Man's Tribute To His White Mother and Blackbird: A Childhood Lost And Found, Still Waters.
    I read all three and agree they are very powerful personal stories. Especially Blackbird, a survival story which stayed with me a long time.

    Paula and Canice, thanks for the suggestions of The Prize Winner Of Defiance, Ohio and Manhattan, When I was Young. I'm leaving tomorrow for two weeks vacation and plan on looking for these today to add to my big pile!

    Ellyn

  24. #24
    Originally posted by Canice


    Yup, 1185 Park Avenue sounds like a good read for me, too. Ellyn, you might check out Manhattan, When I Was Young - this one is Manhattan in the 1950s- a wonderful read.

    I haven't read The Mitford Sisters, but I loved Hons and Rebels by Jessica Mitford; it's her story of growing up in that family.....
    Canice, I didn't know that Jessica wrote a book. I'll have to look for that!

    If you liked Hons and Rebels, I have a feeling you will really like The Pursuit of Love. It's fictional, but it's loosely based on Nancy's life with her family. Plus, if you buy the book you get two stories in one book. The Pursuit of Love usually comes with another story called Love in a Cold Climate.

    The Pursuit of Love

  25. #25
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    I just finished a really great memoir this week Grace by Mary Cartledgehayes--wow. I found myself filling it with sticky markers and underlining in pencil (even though it is a library book!). It is about her decision to become a minister in her 40s and her experiences during seminary and her first settled position, but she also makes many good comments on transitions and faith and discovering who you are and what you want.

  26. #26
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    Russel Baker's Growing Up is a wonderful, funny account of the journalist's youth in Baltimore.

    I've read all of Jill Ker Conway's books - although the
    Road from Coorain is absolutely her best, the two follow-ups are good as well (although the third one is a bit dull, focusing on her tenure as President of Smith College).

    Also excellent (and older) are Elspeth Huxley's books of her growing up in colonial British Africa - The Flame Trees of Thika , Out in the Midday Sun , and The Mottled Lizard . The latter two may be difficult to find in bookstores, but the first one was the basis for a good Masterpiece Theater a long time ago.

  27. #27
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    Speaking of Africa, has anyone read I Married Adventure by Osa Johnson? Wonderful!
    Happiness is not a goal, it is a byproduct. - Eleanor Roosevelt

  28. #28
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    Oh! Just remembered - A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers, which looks at his having to raise his younger brother after both parents die, even though he's only in his 20s himself. Lots of sacrifice from everyone to get through, but not a sad book.

    Pay careful attention to all the "filler" pages at the front - the ones that cover copyright and thank yous, etc (the pages I usually ignore). They're hilarious and the main reason I started reading the book in the first place!

  29. #29
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    Paula, not to frighten you here, but we've got a lot of reading in common! One book I scratched from my list of favorites was The Color of Water (only because one can have only so many "favorites"). Then I kicked off Dave Eggers' book because I wasn't sure it was a memoir. And The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio was pure escapism for me; I read it on the heals of Ghost Light and was heartened to see that Ellyn (eas11) might pair it with Manhattan, When I was Young. ...poignant might be the best word for Defiance....
    Oh, and for those who aren't familiar with Dave Eggers' book, not only did he lose both of his parents to cancer within one month's time, and gain custody of his little brother...he was 23 when it all happened! But this book is not sentimental or reflective or smug or treacly ...it's very ironic.
    Happiness is not a goal, it is a byproduct. - Eleanor Roosevelt

  30. #30
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    Originally posted by Canice
    Oh, and for those who aren't familiar with Dave Eggers' book, not only did he lose both of his parents to cancer within one month's time, and gain custody of his little brother...he was 23 when it all happened! But this book is not sentimental or reflective or smug or treacly ...it's very ironic.
    I had to read this one in small doses. At some points he was really forcing the irony and detachment. In small bursts of reading, though, I enjoyed it.

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