I don’t know about you but I find a friend’s assessment of a book is often as good, if not better, than some of the reviewers. That’s why I wanted to share with you this list, compiled by some of my colleagues in the Association of Personal Historians. Here are fifteen gems to add to your list of summer reading… Read More
Category Archives: Book reviews
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- 15 Great Memoirs Written by Women.
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- How to Interview Someone Who Is Terminally Ill: Part One.
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- Warning: Using Copyright Music Without Permission Is Illegal.
- How to Make Your Life Story Workshop Memorable.
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I don’t know about you but I find a friend’s assessment of a book is often as good, if not better than, that of some of the reviewers. That’s why I wanted to share with you this list, compiled by some of my colleagues in the Association of Personal Historians. Here are fifteen gems to add to your list of summer reading.
What’s your favorite memoir written by a woman? I’d love to hear from you.
An American Childhood. Annie Dillard. Harper Perennial; 1st Perennial Library Ed edition (July 20, 1988)
“Dillard’s luminous prose painlessly captures the pain of growing up in this wonderful evocation of childhood. Her memoir is partly a hymn to Pittsburgh, where orange streetcars ran on Penn Avenue in 1953 when she was eight, and where the Pirates were always in the cellar.” From Publishers Weekly
Pilgrim At Tinker Creek. Annie Dillard. Harper Perennial Modern Classics (October 28, 1998)
“The book is a form of meditation, written with headlong urgency, about seeing. A reader’s heart must go out to a young writer with a sense of wonder so fearless and unbridled…There is an ambition about her book that I like…It is the ambition to feel.” Eudora Welty, New York Times Book Review
Balsamroot: A Memoir. Mary Clearman Blew. Penguin (Non-Classics) (July 1, 1995)
“Blew mines the repository of her aunt’s memoirs and diaries, uncovering near-revelations that suggest Imogene’s life was far from what it appeared to be.
The memoir is energized by the search and by the author’s connectedness to a Montana heritage.” From Publishers Weekly
Bone Deep in Landscape: Writing, Reading, and Place. Mary Clearman Blew. University of Oklahoma Press (September 2000)
“I cannot reconcile myself to the loss of landscape, which for me often is an analogy for my own body…. And yet I know that I have never owned the landscape.” In her second collection of essays (after All but the Waltz), Blew again demonstrates her artistry and strong connection to the Western terrain of her past and present homes in Montana and Idaho.” From Publishers Weekly
A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana. Haven Kimmel.Broadway; Today Show Book Club edition (September 3, 2002)
“It’s a cliché‚ to say that a good memoir reads like a well-crafted work of fiction, but Kimmel’s smooth, impeccably humorous prose evokes her childhood as vividly as any novel.” From Publishers Weekly
The Leopard Hat: A Daughter’s Story. Valerie Steiker. Vintage (May 6, 2003)
“In this finely etched memoir, Steiker relives her childhood the family apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side,
the Parisian escapes with her mother, the family holidays in India and Nepal in delicious, Proustian detail.” From Publishers Weekly
Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression. Mildred Armstrong Kalish. (Bantam Books, 2007)
“Simple, detailed and honest, this is a refreshing and informative read for anyone interested in the struggles of average Americans in the thick of the Great Depression.” From Publishers Weekly
Lazy B. Sandra Day O’Connor.Modern Library; First Edition edition (November 1, 2005)
“A collaboration between O’Connor and her brother, the book recounts the lives of their parents “MO” and “DA” (pronounced “M.O.” and “D.A.”) and the colorful characters who helped run the Lazy B ranch.” From Publishers Weekly
The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts. Maxine Hong Kingston. Vintage; Vintage International Edition edition (April 23, 1989)
“The Woman Warrior is a pungent, bitter, but beautifully written memoir of growing up Chinese American in Stockton, California.” From Amazon.com Review
Personal History. Katharine Graham.Vintage; Reprint edition (February 24, 1998).
“This is the story of a newspaper’s rise to power but also of the destruction of a marriage, as Philip Graham slid into alcohol, depression, and suicide, and of Katharine’s rise as a powerful woman in her own right.” From Library Journal
Some Memories of a Long Life [1854-1911]. Malvina Shanklin Harlan. Modern Library (July 8, 2003)
“These memoirs by the wife of a noted Supreme Court justice, John Marshall Harlan, first appeared last summer in the Journal of Supreme Court History…. Justice Harlan, though a former slave-holder, is remembered for his lone and eloquent dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson, the case that established the doctrine of “separate but equal.” From Publishers Weekly
The Road from Coorain. Jill Ker Conway.Vintage Books; First Vintage Books edition (August 11, 1990)
“At age 11, Conway ( Women Reformers and American Culture ) left the arduous life on her family’s sheep farm in the Australian outback for school in war-time Sydney, burdened by an emotionally dependent, recently widowed mother. A lively curiosity and penetrating intellect illuminate this unusually objective account of the author’s progress from a solitary childhood–the most appealing part of the narrative–to public achievement as president of Smith College and now professor at MIT.” From Publishers Weekly
The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less. Terry Ryan. Simon & Schuster (August 30, 2005)
“Married to a man with violent tendencies and a severe drinking problem, Evelyn Ryan managed to keep her 10 children fed and housed during the 1950s and ’60s by entering–and winning–contests for rhymed jingles and advertising slogans of 25-words-or-less. This engaging and quick-witted biography written by daughter Terry… relates how Evelyn submitted multiple entries, under various names, for contests sponsored by Dial soap, Lipton soup, Paper Mate pens, Kleenex Tissues and any number of other manufacturers, and won a wild assortment of prizes, including toasters, bikes, basketballs, and all-you-can-grab supermarket shopping sprees.” From Publishers Weekly
Wait Till Next Year: A Memoir. Doris Kearns Goodwin. Simon & Schuster; First Paper edition (June 2, 1998)
“Goodwin recounts some wonderful stories in this coming-of-age tale about both her family and an era when baseball truly was the national pastime that brought whole communities together. From details of specific games to descriptions of players, including Jackie Robinson, a great deal of the narrative centers around the sport.” From Library Journal
A Romantic Education. Patricia Hampl. W. W. Norton & Company; 10 Anv edition (June 1, 1999)
“A now classic memoir, described by Doris Grumbach as “unusually elegant and meditative,” once more available with an updated afterword by the author. Golden Prague seemed mostly gray when Patricia Hampl first went there in quest of her Czech heritage. In that bleak time, no one could have predicted the political upheaval awaiting Communist Europe and the city of Kafka and Rilke. Hampl’s subsequent memoir, a brilliant evocation of Czech life under socialism, attained the stature of living history, and added to our understanding not only of Central Europe but also of what it means to be engaged in the struggle of a people to define and affirm themselves.” From Product Description
Photo by Kathryn
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Keepsake by Marilyn Koop is a must-have for your library. A friend gave me a copy the other day and I’ve been totally captivated by it. Each page contains a photograph of time-worn hands cradling a loved keepsake. On the page opposite is a cameo history of the person, a brief story behind the keepsake, and words of advice. There are twenty portraits in the collection. All save two were of people living at the Wellington Terrace, an assisted care residence near Fergus, Ontario.
Marlene Creates, a Newfoundland environmental artist and poet has written of the book:
When objects are keepsakes, they relate most to our hands and our sense of touch. In Marilyn Koop’s photographs, hands are as eloquent as faces. On first glance, many of the cherished objects being held by these elderly people seem quite modest … But on reading these elders’ stories, it turns out that…[these keepsakes] are important not because of their monetary value but because of their history and meaning. I am struck by the profound human caring and gratitude in these stories. The keepsakes are stand-ins for lost loved ones and times past. Through Marilyn Koop’s photographs and the brief life stories she has gathered, we are given the real value of these keepsakes.
As a personal historian, I see a number of ways Keepsake can be of value:
- a gift for special clients
- in workshops as an example of creative story telling
- to awaken care facility administrators to the potential of life story projects with their own residents
- a source for reflection on aging, keepsakes, and remembrance
Contact Marilyn Koop directly at: email@example.com
Price: Cdn $24.00 includes postage and handling.
Images by permission of Marilyn Koop Copyright 2009
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This past Saturday I attended the Canadian premiere of Joan Didion’s play The Year of Magical Thinking, based on her book by the same name. Both her book and play are extraordinary. The Chicago Sun-Times has said:
Unforgettable…Both personal and universal. She has given the reader an eloquent starting point in which to navigate through the wilderness of grief.
Didion’s work is a stark reminder of the frailty of life. In a heartbeat we can be alone and bereft. And as she points out, this will happen to us all. I believe that personal historians are involved in important and soulful work. We make it possible to preserve the memories of those who will inevitably die. We create legacies that can be a part of the healing process for those left behind. Didion’s opening words to her book are achingly observant:
Life changes fast.
Life changes in the instant.
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.
If you haven’t read The Year of Magical Thinking, I urge you to do so. If you have an opportunity to see the play, don’t miss it. If you haven’t yet started on your life story, begin today.
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Like most personal historians you’re probably a lover of books. You read them, discuss them, shelve them and share them. I just came across a terrific website that I think you’ll like. It’s called Goodreads and was launched in December, 2006. It currently has more than 2,300,000 members and 54,000,000 books added to member profiles. Here’s how Goodreads describe itself:
… a free website for book lovers. Imagine it as a large library that you can wander through and see everyone’s bookshelves, their reviews, and their ratings. You can also post your own reviews and catalog what you have read, are currently reading, and plan to read in the future. Don’t stop there – join a discussion group, start a book club, contact an author, and even post your own writing.
When I want to know what books to read, I’d rather turn to a friend than any random person, bestseller list or algorithm. So I thought I’d build a website — a website where I could see my friends’ bookshelves and learn about what they thought of all their books.
Goodreads is that site. It is a place where you can see what your friends are reading and vice versa. You can create “bookshelves” to organize what you’ve read (or want to read). You can comment on each other’s reviews. And on this journey with your friends you can explore new territory, gather information, and expand your mind.
Photo by Ianqui Doodle
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I’ve compiled the following 1o best sellers from Amazon.com. The books represent Amazon’s highest sales ranked life story books listed from 1997 to 20o8. If you’re starting to build your personal history library you couldn’t go wrong by adding these titles. Two books that I’ve used and like are: How to Write Your Own Life Story by Lois Daniel and Legacy : A Step-By-Step Guide to Writing Personal History by Linda Spence. Click on the titles for further information. (all reviews from Amazon.com)
- Writing Your Life: An Easy-to-Follow Guide to Writing an Autobiography (Spiral-bound) by Mary Borg. Cottonwood Press, Inc.; 3rd edition (April 1, 1998)
- Legacy : A Step-By-Step Guide to Writing Personal History by Linda Spence. 178 pages. Swallow Press (November 1, 1997)
Linda Spence’s Legacy proves to be just that: the creation of a family heirloom that money couldn’t buy. Through a series of thought-provoking questions about each phase in human life, Spence helps readers record their personal history, think back to feelings that any number of snapshots could never capture, and reflect upon their lives. What events occurred during your childhood? What did you like most about school? What do you wish your parents had done for you? The text includes sample essays by the author and quotations by other writers to encourage your muse.
- How to Write Your Own Life Story: The Classic Guide for the Nonprofessional Writer by Lois Daniel. Chicago Review Press; 4 Sub edition (August 1, 1997)
Writing the story of one’s life sounds like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. This warmhearted, encouraging guide helps readers record the events of their lives for family and friends. Excerpts from other writers’ work are included to exemplify and inspire. Provided are tips on intriguing topics to write about, foolproof tricks to jog your memory, ways to capture stories on paper without getting bogged down, ways to gather the facts at a local library or historical society, inspired excerpts from other writers, and published biographies that will delight and motivate.
- Your Life as Story by Tristine Rainer.Tarcher; 1st Trade Paperback Ed edition (April 13, 1998)
Every person’s life tells a story, but few of us dare to consider our own story worthy of being written. Tristine Rainer shows us how to apply the structure of story telling to an ordinary life to give it shape, meaning, and clarity. Learning the tricks to becoming a better autobiographic writer may not lead to getting published, nor should that be the goal. Rather, it is a process that helps us re-remember the past so that we can better understand the meaning of the present.
- The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing: How to Transform Memories Into Meaningful Stories by Sharon M. Lippincott. Lighthouse Point Press (July 2, 2007)
I can’t imagine a better guide to lifestory writing. Sharon Lippincott pushes, cajoles, encourages, shares, and stays with you every step of the way. Don’t worry if writing and computers are new to you. Do your children and grandchildren a favor. Get this book, take a deep breath, and give them your story. –John Kotre, Ph.D. Emeritus Professor of Psychology, University of Michigan, Dearborn.
- Living Legacies: How to Write, Illustrate, and Share Your Life Stories by Duane Elgin. Conari Press; illustrated edition edition (January 11, 2001)
Creating stories allows individuals and their families to see and honor their connection to older and younger generations. The authors believe that through such writing, individuals not only communicate the meaning and spirit of their lives to their loved ones but also gain perspective on the larger world. This beautifully designed and illustrated guide escorts readers through the process of writing down their stories and illustrating them with photographs, memorabilia, and other images, including digital format. By offering readers questions to draw out events and memories, the book emphasizes a person’s full life, in all of its highs and lows, magic moments, and simple pleasures. The book’s supportive approach will inspire even first-time writers to forge a collection of stories to share and pass on to the important people in their lives.
- Your Story: A Guided Interview Through Your Personal and Family History. Gift To The Future 2000 (December 1, 1998)
From the Publisher
Your Story offers comprehensive, yet fun questions that help generate memories and thoughts about our past. Your Story was designed to help the writer recall and record memories about early childhood, school, parents, friends, first love and so forth. After each thought provoking question there is space for writing responses, attaching pictures and/or small momentos. The reader and writer will be grateful for the many memories, thoughts and experiences that these interview questions illicit.
- Writing Life Stories: How To Make Memories Into Memoirs, Ideas Into Essays And Life Into Literature by Bill Roorbach. Writers Digest Books; 2 edition (July 1, 2008)
Writing Life Stories is a classic text that appears on countless creative nonfiction and composition syllabi the world over. This updated 10th anniversary edition gives readers the same friendly instruction and stimulating exercises along with updated information on current memoir writing trends, ethics, Internet research, and even marketing ideas. Readers will discover how to turn their untold life stories into vivid personal essays and riveting memoirs by learning to open up memory, access emotions, shape scenes from experience, develop characters, and research supporting details. With creativity sparking ideas from signing a form releasing yourself to take risks in your work to drawing a map of a remembered neighborhood, this book is full of innovative techniques that prove that real stories are often the best ones.
- The Legacy Guide: Capturing the Facts, Memories, and Meaning of Your Life by Carol Franco. Tarcher (December 28, 2006)
From Publishers Weekly
Veteran authors Franco and Lineback lead readers from beginning to end through the daunting process of writing a memoir-for fun, loved ones or publishing. Examining each stage of life, the authors outline the issues to consider and the questions to ask oneself, as well as techniques for successful writing.
- Turning Memories Into Memoirs: A Handbook for Writing Lifestories by Denis Ledoux. Soleil Press (September 20, 2005)
Baltimore Sun Review
Anyone intent of writing a family history should read Turning Memories Into Memoirs.
Photo by Julia Laing
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As a member of the Association of Personal Historians, I’m pleased to tell you about the publication of the Association’s new book, My Words Are Gonna Linger: The Art of Personal History. The APH website describes the anthology as a celebration of “the full range of life story writing, from lighthearted stories and deeply felt reminiscence to eyewitness accounts of history…. this rich collection of 49 stories from real life — gathered or written by members of the Association of Personal Historians — also explores the importance of life review and why these stories matter so much.”
Susan Wittig Albert writing in StoryCircleBookReviews.org says:
If you’re a fan (as I am) of stories rooted in real life, you will very much enjoy this book. It would also make a delightful gift for the storytellers in your family—and might even give them a few valuable ideas (and some important motivation) for telling their own stories. And if you’re a teacher of memoir, reminiscence, or personal history, it would make an excellent addition to your classroom teaching or to your students’ reading list. Imaginatively conceived, thoughtfully arranged, and professionally
edited and presented, My Words Are Gonna Linger: The Art of Personal History will be a source of pleasure, information, and instruction.
The anthology is edited by Paula Stallings Yost and Pat McNees with a foreword by Rick Bragg.
Photo by Tyler