What’s Your (life) Story?

I’m sure you’ve heard at least one variation of the saying: if you want to understand someone you should walk a mile in their shoes, right? And I agree! But if you’re a little tired and you still want to get to know someone better? How about a biography or autobiography! At our most recent genre book discussion we shared books about the lives of real people and I learned a lot -without much walking… Are you interested? Excellent! Here they are:

Donna: Unbroken: a World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand was first published in 2010 but has remained on the New York Times Bestsellers List for over 160 weeks. This heartbreaking captivating biography is about World War II prisoner of war survivor Louis Zamperini who is still alive today at a robust age of 97! After his plane crashed in the Pacific, he remained alive for 47 days adrift in a life boat with no food and water until he was captured by the Japanese. He spent the rest of the war in Japanese POW labor camps. As he was tortured and starved, he struggled to keep his sanity and to keep his spirit unbroken. Returning to the United States after the war was not easy for Louis and again he struggled to find his own path in life. Louis Zamperini’s life story is truly an inspiration for all of us. This book will soon be out in a movie that was directed by Angelina Jolie.

Lauren: Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers, tells the story of Syrian-born Abdulrahman Zeitoun and his American wife Kathy’s struggle to survive through the destruction of Hurricane Katrina, only to face a much larger battle in the aftermath of the storm. Kathy and the couple’s children evacuate before Katrina hits, but Zeitoun stays behind. When the worst is over, he uses a canoe to paddle around flooded New Orleans, connecting with other survivors and helping those he can. After a few weeks and daily check-ins with Kathy by a lone working telephone, Zeitoun suddenly disappears. The struggle of being a Muslim man in America compounded by the nation’s ongoing war on terror have devastating implications for Zeitoun and his family. I highly recommend.

Carol: Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman is a memoir based on the author’s time served in a federal prison for money laundering. A graduate of Smith College, Piper makes a mistake and gets involved in a relationship with a Nora, a woman who is involved in laundering money and smuggling drugs for an international drug ring. Years after their short-lived relationship, which included an ill-advised transport of money overseas by Piper, Piper is visited by Federal Agents and indicted. Sentenced to 15 months at Danbury Correctional Institution, Piper arrives there a full 10 years after her crime has been committed and she’s a very different woman with a loving fiancé and many supportive friends. Soon, Piper is submerged in the culture of prison, navigating the unspoken rules of institutionalized life and eventually having to do time alongside of Nora, the woman she feels is responsible for putting her there. This is a fascinating book about life behind bars.

Chris: Abigail Adams by Bancroft Award-winning historian Woody Holton takes a comprehensive look at Adams’ life and of women’s roles in the creation of the republic. From a young age and throughout her life, Abigail’s wit and intelligence opened many doors, to the powers that be, and to her husband’s heart, who affectionately called her “Miss Adorable.” She spent her life campaigning for woman’s education and denouncing sex discrimination. She was a savvy investor, and wrote her own will leaving her property to her granddaughters; this done at a time when husbands were legally assigned their wives’ properties. She was really knowledgeable about politics and had a huge influence on her husband and our second President. Abigail Adams truly was a unique and remarkable woman who made a difference.

Emma: Johnny Carson by Henry Bushkin is Johnny’s story at the pinnacle of his career through the eyes of his lawyer, tennis partner, and friend. Bushkin quickly learned that he needed to be available for Carson 24 hours a day. The book contains lots of Hollywood insider information and name dropping. Johnny was successful, brilliant, shy, moody, generous, and sometimes cruel. There were always consequences for crossing Carson. Bushkin went behind Carson’s back on a business deal, and their relationship ended abruptly after 18 years. This is a close look at a man who in the public eye had everything but who never seemed to find contentment and happiness with his family and friends.

Steve: A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert “Believe It or Not!” Ripley, by Neil Thompson, details the very interesting but very odd life of Ripley. He started out poor, painfully shy, and very self-conscious of his large teeth and stutter. A caring teacher took note of his artistic talents and allowed him to draw his reports, rather than write and speak about them, saving him the embarrassment of his stutter. As Ripley grew older, he honed his skills and began his career as a newspaper cartoonist, later stumbling onto his wildly popular “Believe It or Not!” fame after first showcasing odd sports feats. As his life progressed, Ripley became rich, famous, odd and erratic. A thorough and enjoyable read!

Megan: Stories I Only Tell by Friends by Rob Lowe provides a thoughtful glimpse into the life of a young teen idol and describes the challenges involved in creating a successful and meaningful career as well as a satisfying private life. Originally from Dayton, Ohio, a move to Hollywood when he was ten set the stage for a career path that has stood the test of time. From the Brat Pack to the West Wing, Lowe has managed evolve and succeed in a business that is not always kind to child actors. Fan already know that Lowe is charming, charismatic, and quite hilarious and this book will just confirm this!

Ann: A Street Cat Named Bob by James Bowen is a dual biography- of Bob the Cat and James Bowen. When they meet, James Bowen is a down and out busker on the streets of London. James sees a tom cat hanging around inside his apartment building and the cat appears to be in bad physical shape. James decides he has to help the cat, whom he names Bob, and takes him to the vet and nurses him back to health. James is recovering from drug addiction, and as a street musician, he can barely afford to feed himself much less a pet. James figures Bob is used to the street and will go on his way when he feels better. Wrong. James cannot shake Bob, who follows him down the street toward his music playing gigs. The two basically adopt each other, and Bob soon becomes a regular with James as they set up and play music in the street. The people love Bob, and so will you!

Dori: Gary Shteyngart’s Little Failure: A Memoir is both laugh out loud funny and touchingly poignant. As a child in the Soviet Union, novelist Shteyngart was a fragile asthmatic from a Jewish family that had suffered from the evils of Hitler and Stalin. Once settled in New York, he was bullied for his difference, suffering panic attacks and making few friends. At Oberlin College, he floated along in a haze of alcohol and drugs and started to fall in love with writing, though it takes years of psychoanalysis to pull him through. In this mesmerizing autobiography, he’s able to explain the relationship between himself and his parents, capturing the divide that many immigrants have with their American children, whose ambitions and grievances are often at odds.

Stacey: Jim Henson: the biography, by Brian Jay Jones, provides complete coverage, from birth to untimely death and reveals unexpected contradictions behind the legend. Mr. Henson was a creative genius who could bring simple pieces of felt to life while equally fascinated by new technological toys; he believed a simple handshake could seal the deal but understood the value of owning the rights to his original works. He wasn’t perfect but he was always true to himself, that’s pretty impressive.

And next up? We’ll be reading first novels! If you want to read along with us, find the debut book by an author -hopefully someone who has just recently been published for the first time. It’s always fun to find someone who’s just getting started, then when they’re super popular you can look back and say, “I found them!” So hurry up and search out the next big thing! We’ll be waiting…

— Stacey

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