Tag Archives: biography

The Best Biography & Memoir Books of 2011.

Are you still looking for the perfect gift for that special personal historian on your list? Look no further. I’ve selected a dozen critically acclaimed  biographies and memoirs as possibilities. It’s a varied list that’s sure to offer up just the right book for that certain someone.

I’ve put these books on my Santa Claus wish list. Maybe he’ll be good to me. I still believe in Santa you know! ;-)

Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark

“Such was the power of Kael’s voluminous writing about movies that she transformed the sensibility and standards of mainstream pop culture criticism in America — mostly for the better, despite her bullying personality (in print and in life), her sloppy professional ethics and her at times careerist escapades in self-dramatizing contrarianism…If you want to understand what it was like to be in the audience during America’s thrilling, now vanished age of movies, you must begin with Kael.” (Frank Rich, The New York Times)

The Measure of a Man: The Story of a Father, a Son, and a Suit

“In The Measure of a Man, Vancouver fashion writer, broadcaster and erstwhile tailor’s apprentice JJ Lee chronicles the evolution of the men’s suit, with fascinating tidbits on some of its innovators, such as Beau Brummell, Oscar Wilde and King Edward VIII…Lee, who recently made the non-fiction short list for a Governor-General’s award, also tells a very personal and yet universal story about a son’s quest to understand his father’s life, and their relationship.” (Carla Lucchetta, The Globe & Mail)

Then Again

“Diane Keaton’s book about her life is not a straight-up, chronological memoir. It’s a collage that mixes Ms. Keaton’s words with those of her mother, Dorothy Deanne Keaton Hall, who died in 2008. Since Ms. Hall left behind 85 scrapbooklike journals, a huge and chaotic legacy, there is every reason to expect that Ms. Keaton’s braiding of her own story with her mother’s in “Then Again” will be a rambling effort at best. Instead it is a far-reaching, heartbreaking, absolutely lucid book about mothers, daughters, childhood, aging, mortality, joyfulness, love, work and the search for self-knowledge. Show business too.” (Janet Maslin, The New York Times)

My Korean Deli: Risking it All for a Convenience Store

“It’s hard not to fall in love with My Korean Deli. First, it’s the (very) rare memoir that places careful, loving attention squarely on other people rather than the author. Second, it tells a rollicking, made-for-the-movies story in a wonderfully funny deadpan style. By the end, you’ll feel like you know the author and his family quite well—even though you may not be eager to move in with them. . . .”
(Corby Kummer, The New York Times)

Steve Jobs

“Mr. Isaacson treats “Steve Jobs” as the biography of record, which means that it is a strange book to read so soon after its subject’s death. Some of it is an essential Silicon Valley chronicle, compiling stories well known to tech aficionados but interesting to a broad audience. Some of it is already quaint. Mr. Jobs’s first job was at Atari, and it involved the game Pong. (“If you’re under 30, ask your parents,” Mr. Isaacson writes.) Some, like an account of the release of the iPad 2, is so recent that it is hard to appreciate yet, even if Mr. Isaacson says the device comes to life “like the face of a tickled baby.” (Janet Maslin, The New York Times)

Twin: A Memoir

“…an unsparing but deeply compassionate inquiry into his family’s life. It’s a book that combines the sympathetic insight of Oliver Sacks’s writings with Joan Didion’s autobiographical candor and Mary Karr’s sense of familial dynamics — a book that leaves the reader with a haunting sense of how relationships between brothers and sisters, and parents and children, can irrevocably bend the arc of an individual’s life, how childhood dynamics can shape one’s apprehension of the world.” (Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times)

And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life

Readers need not be familiar with Vonnegut’s oeuvre to enjoy this fascinating biography of an immensely talented and darkly complicated man. If the goal of a biography is to leave readers feeling as though they know the subject better than the subject knew themselves, then And So It Goes succeeds very well indeed because Charles R. Shields is, as he described himself in the letter that won over Vonnegut, “a damn fine researcher and writer.” (Karen Dionne, New York Journal of Books).

Mordecai: The Life & Times

Charles Foran’s comprehensive, richly written life is the first to have the support of Richler’s family, especially his widow, Florence…Foran’s combination of daunting research with novelistic writing has “reconstructed” rather than “interpreted” Richler’s life, though occasional moments underscore Richler’s rare displays of deeply felt emotions and his resistance to curbing his two obsessions: smoking and drinking.”  (Ira Nadel, The Globe and Mail)

This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone

“Intense readability…. haunting power…. as well as lush, vivid atmosphere that is alluring in its own right…. [A] story so nuanced that it would be a disservice to reveal what was in store. If you want to know what happened, read it for yourself.” (Janet Maslin, New York Times )

One Day I Will Write About This Place: A Memoir

“Harried reader, I’ll save you precious time: skip this review and head directly to the bookstore for Binyavanga Wainaina’s stand-up-and-cheer coming-of-age memoir…This is a book for anyone who still finds the nourishment of a well-­written tale preferable to the empty-­calorie jolt of a celebrity confessional or Swedish mystery.” (Alexandra Fuller, The New York Times)

Bird Cloud

“Bird Cloud” is part personal memoir, part construction adventure, part diary about noble animals, but all of it comes together like the ingredients of a glorious meal. The reader is lucky to be invited to her table.” (Tim Gautreaux, San Francisco Chronicle)

Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness

“We work memory over, perhaps hoping, subconsciously, that things will turn out differently — or more realistically, that we will discover a key that unlocks a memory’s mysterious urgency. That drive to make sense, to find a deeper meaning in the shallows of daily life, to turn splintered chaos into a coherent story, makes a memoir worth reading. And “Cocktail Hour” hits the mark.” (Dominique Browning, The New York Times)

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Monday’s Link Roundup.

In this Monday’s Link Roundup I found PANTONE: A Color History of the 20th Century a reminder of the important role of color in our memories. The book looks gorgeous. It’s definitely on my Santa Claus list. Anyone want to play Santa? ;-)

  • The Terrible Word of the Year “Voltaire famously said that the Holy Roman Empire was “neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.” Yesterday, Oxford University Press announced that, for the first time, their U.S. and U.K. lexicographers (along with “editorial, marketing, and publicity staff”) had chosen a “global word of the year.”
  • On the Future of Books: A Discussion with Seth Godin. “The industry of publishing ideas has been undergoing a revolution for more than a decade, and where it’s headed is still an open question…Today I share a conversation I had with best-selling author, blogger and publisher Seth Godin on the future of books, publishing and blogging. It was fascinating.”
  • Nile Rodgers’ top 10 music books. “From Beethoven’s letters to Bob Dylan’s Chronicles, the musician chooses books that reveal the private lives behind the public melodies.”
  • 16 Ways to Leave a Legacy. “You’ve spent years digging up data and stories to breathe life into the grandparents and great-grandparents who’ve made your existence — and your children’s — possible. But what are you doing to ensure your family’s legacy will be around after you’re gone?”
  • PANTONE: A Color History of the 20th Century. “… longtime PANTONE scholars Leatrice Eiseman and Keith Recker explore 100 years of the evolution of color’s sociocultural footprint through over 200 works of art, advertisements, industrial design products, fashion trends, and other aesthetic ephemera, thoughtfully examined in the context of their respective epoch.”
  • EyeWitness to History.com. “Your ringside seat to history – from the Ancient World to the present. History through the eyes of those who lived it.” [Thanks to Mim Eisenberg of WordCraft for alerting me to this item.]
  • The Legacy Project. “The Legacy Project began in 2004, when I started collecting the practical advice for living of America’s elders. Using a number of different methods, my research team systematically gathered nearly 1500 responses to the question: “What are the most important lessons you have learned over the course of your life?”

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Monday’s Link Roundup.

If you’re searching for a way of creating a free professional promotional video for your business, look no further. Check out My Business Story in today’s Monday’s Link Roundup. And reenacted photos in Back to the Future will forever change how you look at childhood pictures of yourself.

  • Moby Offers Up Free Music to Filmmakers. “If you’re an indie filmmaker, non-profit filmmaker or film student, you can head to MobyGratis.com, register for the site, and then start browsing through a fairly extensive catalogue of recordings — 120+ recordings in total.”
  • The Late Word. “When we speak of literature, we should not imagine that we are speaking of some stable and enduring Platonic entity. The history of literature has always been about its highly mutable institutions, whether bookstores, publishers, schools of criticism, or, for the last half century, the mass media.”
  • StoryCorps Gives Voice to Critically Ill. “[StoryCorps]has created the StoryCorps Legacy initiative. Partnering with hospitals, hospices and cancer centers, it helps people with life threatening medical conditions record their stories.”
  • My Business Story. “Google and American Express know every small business has a BIG story. So we’ve created MY Business Story to help you make a professional-quality video. It’s free and easy. Just tell your story and we’ll take care of the rest.”
  • A Plethora of Writing Prompts for Creative Writing and Journaling. “Having a list of prompts that you can pull from every day in order to help you practice your craft, even if it’s just for ten minutes a day, can be very helpful. In addition, sometimes creative writing prompts can help spark an idea when you’re stuck on a short story or some other fiction piece that you’re writing.”
  • Back to the Future. “I love old photos. I admit being a nosey photographer. As soon as I step into someone else’s house, I start sniffing for them. Most of us are fascinated by their retro look but to me, it’s imagining how people would feel and look like if they were to reenact them today… A few months ago, I decided to actually do this. So, with my camera, I started inviting people to go back to their future.”
  • miniBiography and the 99%. “David Lynch’s Interview Project,[is] an online series of short video documentaries centering on the lives of “normal” people across America. In Interview Project’s 121 mini-biographies, the filmmakers (including Lynch’s son Austin) ask complete strangers piercing, existential questions. It is a source of ever-renewed wonder that each stranger has an answer, and that the answers are so often so rich and brimming with hard-luck stories and lived experience.”

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Monday’s Link Roundup.

Welcome to another issue of Monday’s Link Roundup. For those of you who are discovering this weekly roundup for the first time, a word of explanation. The links I select are those that I find personally entertaining, informative, amusing, thought provoking, and unusual. As well, they all have some connection to the realms of personal history, memoir, oral history, and biography. I hope you enjoy your visit here today.

  • How a Book is Made: AD 400 vs. 1947 vs. 1961 vs. 2011. “I love books, their past and their future. Yet, while ubiquitous and commodified, books and how they come to be remains an enigma for most of us. No longer. From Discovery comes this 5-minute microdocumentary on how books are made.”
  • Movellas democratises ebook publishing for Europe. “Movellas is bringing a popular Japanese concept for mobile partwork publishing to Europe. The publishing platform — which just won a Meffy for the Best Mobile Social Media Service — allows aspiring authors to write short novels chapter-by-chapter in a social and interactive environment.”
  • Selling My Mother’s Dresses. “Some of my favorite things — including the sundress I’m wearing today and the Winnie the Pooh car that Jay is pushing our daughter in — are from someone else’s life. I find no joy in shopping at regular stores anymore…I love trying to sniff out a memory from a bud vase or a favorite song from a case of L.P.’s. The stains and broken switches, the bend in the knee of an old pair of jeans. Sometimes I just want to look at how many Mason jars one person can collect and imagine what they might’ve held. It’s comforting to know that someone has breathed and laughed inside a sweater before me. That I am part of a continuum.” [Thanks to Mary M. Harrison of Morning Glory Memoirs for alerting me to this item.]
  • Helvetica: A documentary Film by Gary Hustwit. “Helvetica is a feature-length independent film about typography, graphic design and global visual culture. It looks at the proliferation of one typeface (which recently celebrated its 50th birthday in 2007) as part of a larger conversation about the way type affects our lives.”
  • World Wide Words. “The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or change their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least some part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, the background to words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.”
  • Schools, beware the e-book bandwagon. “..schools may want to pause before jumping on the e-book bandwagon. In a study last year at the University of Washington, a group of graduate students were given Kindles, and their use of the devices was monitored through diary entries and interviews. By the end of the school year, nearly two-thirds of the students had abandoned the Kindle or were using it only infrequently. Of those who continued to use the e-reader regularly, many had “switched to a different and usually less desirable reading technique,” researchers said.” [Thanks to Paula Stahel of Breath and Shadows Productions for alerting me to this item.]

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Monday’s Link Roundup.

In this  Monday’s Link Roundup have some fun with Literary Games for Bored Book Nerds. For something serious be sure to read Oral history, unprotected.  And memoir writers will find two interesting articles, What Exactly Happened and ‘Memoir Project’ Gives Tips For Telling Your Story.

  • On Acknowledgements. “Anyone who wants to study writers’ idiosyncrasies need look no further than their acknowledgments…Acknowledgments also offer an all-too-rare view of the writer as actual human being.”
  • Oral history, unprotected. “Researchers who conduct oral history have no right to expect courts to respect confidentiality pledges made to interview subjects, according to a brief filed by the US Justice Department on Friday.”
  • The case for and against the Oxford comma. “When linking three or more elements, some writers place a comma before the “and”: bell, book, and candle. That’s known as the Oxford comma (or serial comma). Other writers don’t use that comma: bell, book and candle. Wars have been fought over less.”
  • Literary Games for Bored Book Nerds. “In the New York Times this week, Dwight Garner writes about literary games one can play with friends that aren’t anxiety-inducing. He writes, “Many people flee from games they fear will be public I.Q. tests or will expose gaps in their literary knowledge.” So true. Which is why we at Flavorpill would like to introduce a few games into your summer repertoire,..”

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Bringing the Dead to Life: Writing a Biography of An Ancestor.

My grandfather

**LAST WEEK to vote on my poll: How long have you been a personal historian? Click here to vote.**

The other day I was asked if I had any ideas about writing the biography of a dead family member. This struck a responsive chord in me. For some time I’ve wanted to write  about my mother’s father, my grandfather. He was only thirty-two when he died in 1920. A Winnipeg fire fighter, he succumbed to the great flu pandemic that was sweeping the world. My mother was only two when he died and she has few stories about him.

Maybe you’re also thinking about writing the life story of a distant family member. Before beginning, you’ll need to pull together as much information as you can on your ancestor. Here’s an approach I’m going to use for my grandfather’s story. You might want to try this.

Locate relatives and friends. Where possible, audio record interviews with descendants. Try to find out as much as you can, whether it’s first person accounts, documents, or leads to other people who may have information about your relative.  For example, I’ve started to interview my ninety-two-year-old mother on everything she knows about my grandfather.

Research documents. Personal letters, diaries, and wills, as well as census, land, church, probate, and court records, may yield details of your subject’s life. For example, I’ve contacted The Fire Fighters Museum of Winnipeg to ascertain if there are any records of my grandfather.

Search for historical and cultural information. This will give you some clues about your relative’s  life. In my case, I want to find out about the working life of Winnipeg fire fighters around 1920. What were the qualifications to get into the fire department? What did the job pay? How many hours a day did they work? Was there a pension plan?

Read local and ethnic histories. These can provide clues as to how your relative may have lived and provide interesting texture to your story. For example, I want to read newspaper accounts of the impact the the flu pandemic was having on Winnipeg.

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