This book is subtitled "A Diary showing how Unimportant People in London and Birmingham lived through the war years", and that's a very good descripti...moreThis book is subtitled "A Diary showing how Unimportant People in London and Birmingham lived through the war years", and that's a very good description of it. Hodgson, a social worker in Notting Hill, simply kept a record of what she and the people around her did on a daily basis during the war -- blitzes, blackouts, rationing, the whole bit -- and though it could easily have gotten repetitive, it's instead engaging, giving a vivid picture of civilian wartime life. I found her worship of Churchill especially endearing; at one point she says that a statue of gold should be erected to him in thanks.(less)
Me Talk Pretty One Day was the first David Sedaris I read, several years ago, and I still remember laughing so hard while reading it in bed that my hu...moreMe Talk Pretty One Day was the first David Sedaris I read, several years ago, and I still remember laughing so hard while reading it in bed that my husband kept leaning over to ask what was so funny - I always had to hand him the book, because I couldn't possibly have read it aloud without becoming hysterical.
The first part is focused on Sedaris himself and his family; the second deals with Sedaris's struggles with life in France with his new lover. The bits in the second half about his language classes are worth the price of admission all by themselves, particularly "Jesus Shaves", wherein the class tries to explain (in French) Easter and Jesus to a Moroccan Muslim: "He calls his self Jesus and then he die one day on two...morsels of...lumbers."
Okay, now I'm laughing again, so I'll stop there. Just go read the book, but not anywhere you can't laugh out loud. (less)
Oh, these were utterly delightful, and I wish I had more of them. (Also, I would like to be able to read them in French someday.) They're a simply mar...moreOh, these were utterly delightful, and I wish I had more of them. (Also, I would like to be able to read them in French someday.) They're a simply marvellous mix of court gossip, political news, and family matters, in a fluid and vivacious style, often very funny.
I laughed especially over the bit where her son discloses a recent problem with impotence: "He had found a favourable opportunity, and yet, dare I say it? His little gee-gee stopped short at Lerida. It was an extraordinary thing; the damsel had never found herself at such an entertainment in her life. The discomfited knight beat a retreat, thinking he was bewitched." (Although interestingly, she goes on to say, apparently without being upset, that her son told her that she had given him "some of the ice in [her] composition".)
Yet the letters aren't all humor; there's the sadness of death and of separation, and the melancholy of introspection, and the love of nature and literature.(less)
Oh, this was as delightful as I'd expected. It begins when Julia Child and her husband Paul moved to Paris in 1948, when Paul was posted to the Americ...moreOh, this was as delightful as I'd expected. It begins when Julia Child and her husband Paul moved to Paris in 1948, when Paul was posted to the American Embassy there. Julia fell immediately in love with French food and started taking classes at the Cordon Bleu...and thus, a legend was born. She talks about the long genesis of her most famous cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, born of a collaboration with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, and how she got started on television. The whole book is just full of Julia-isms ("Hooray!" "Yum!") and joie de vivre and of her love of France, of food, and most of all, of Paul, who comes through just as fascinatingly as Julia herself.(less)
Sojourner Truth was born Isabella, a slave, in New York just before 1800. She was emancipated when New York abolished slavery in 1827, and a few years...moreSojourner Truth was born Isabella, a slave, in New York just before 1800. She was emancipated when New York abolished slavery in 1827, and a few years later, she took a new name for herself and began a new career as an itinerant preacher. She quickly became famous for her stirring speeches and her championing of the rights of black people and women, and today she's one of the most famous African-American women of the Civil War period (along with Harriet Tubman).
The 1884 edition of her Narrative is made up of several parts. First, there's the "Narrative of Sojourner Truth" itself, dictated by Truth to her white friend Olive Gilbert. Then, there's "The Book of Life", one of Truth's scrapbooks which was added to the Narrative by her friend Frances Titus (also white), containing articles about Truth, correspondence with her, and a set of autographs of famous people she had collected. After Truth's death, Titus added "A Memorial Chapter", containing obituary notices and poems and an account of Truth's funeral.
This accruing of material and editing by Truth's friends results in a multilayered story of her life, often surprisingly obscure, and I was glad to have Painter's biography of Truth to read after the Narrative. (Painter also provides an extremely useful introduction to the Penguin edition of the Narrative, so it's not absolutely necessary to read her biography; I just liked the expanded analysis there.) I was especially impressed by Painter's discussion of the difference between the real Truth and how her friends and editors portrayed her. For instance, lots of articles about her quote her as speaking with a Southern dialect she wouldn't have used, since she was from the North; many white people would have thought this the normal way for all black people to speak, since black people were associated so strongly in their minds with Southern slavery. Yet Truth wasn't simply content to be seen as others wanted to see her; Painter examines also how she chose to portray herself and how she created her own persona.
The strength and intelligence of Truth's personality shine through all of the multiplicity of sources of the Narrative; Painter's incisive analysis helps make clear the outlines of Truth's life and provides an even more vivid portrait of her character. I was pleased to have read the Narrative and gotten to know more about a woman I really knew only by name, and I was even more pleased to follow that up with such an excellent biography. (less)
Hank Aaron was until a couple of years ago the holder of major league baseball's career home run record, and he is by all accounts one of baseball's a...moreHank Aaron was until a couple of years ago the holder of major league baseball's career home run record, and he is by all accounts one of baseball's all-time greatest players. Aaron started his career in baseball soon after Jackie Robinson broke the racial barrier, while black players still faced virulent racism on many fronts. Aaron faced more than most when he challenged Babe Ruth's home run record; he received thousands of hate-filled letters, many threatening his life, which are simply horrifying to read.
In this autobiography, Aaron's essential intelligence and dignity are apparent, as he relates the story of his life, from his poverty-stricken beginnings in Alabama to his elevation to the ranks of baseball's greatest. Each chapter is introduced with a third-person section which gives a historical picture of the world Aaron lived in, before Aaron's first-person narrative takes over; I thought this was an excellent structure, setting each part of Aaron's life and career in the context of his times while allowing for his own thoughts and opinions to be set down.
This is one of the best baseball autobiographies I've read, and along with Jackie Robinson's I Never Had It Made, it's essential reading for any baseball fan who wishes to understand the history of the game. More than that, though, it provides a thought-provoking look at American social history and civil rights through the lens of the sport many call America's favorite. (less)
I liked it, but I really, really wished for footnotes and more linking editorial material. If I am a very, very good girl, do you suppose Hermione Lee...moreI liked it, but I really, really wished for footnotes and more linking editorial material. If I am a very, very good girl, do you suppose Hermione Lee would write an actual biography of Barbara Pym? Once she's done with Penelope Fitzgerald, that is.(less)
This is an excellent collection of autobiographical essays. I'd only read Angell's baseball writing before (specifically, The Summer Game); there's a...moreThis is an excellent collection of autobiographical essays. I'd only read Angell's baseball writing before (specifically, The Summer Game); there's a little of that here, but what I found particularly compelling were Angell's memories of his parents, of their divorce, and of his mother's remarriage to E. B. White, whom Angell affectionately calls by his nickname, Andy. Also a highlight was the long section on The New Yorker, Angell's longtime employer, with witty, often moving reminiscences of Wallace Shawn and Harold Ross, among others. (less)
This is Beach's memoir of her long time in Paris as bookseller, publisher, and literary den mother; she was friends with writers from Andre Gide to Er...moreThis is Beach's memoir of her long time in Paris as bookseller, publisher, and literary den mother; she was friends with writers from Andre Gide to Ernest Hemingway and published Ulysses when no other publisher would touch it. I liked it a lot, but I can see the flaws in it. Beach's focus is always on others, especially Joyce, and I wanted more of her personal history and of her more candid opinions. Fortunately, I had to hand Noel Riley Fitch's excellent Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation(highly recommended) to fill in the gaps. (less)
The Pythons Autobiography is a funny and fascinating history of Monty Python, by the Pythons themselves: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, E...moreThe Pythons Autobiography is a funny and fascinating history of Monty Python, by the Pythons themselves: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin. (Graham Chapman died in 1989; he's represented by excerpts from earlier books and articles, as well as by his longtime companion David Sherlock and his brother and sister-in-law John and Pam Chapman.) Switching back and forth from one member to another, it covers their individual beginnings, their coming together as a group, and their work together and apart, up to the present day. The multiple viewpoints give an occasionally contradictory but always honest and interesting account of the group's ground-breaking comedy work; I particularly liked the sections on The Holy Grail and The Life of Brian. The book is fairly long (though my paperback edition isn't as long as the hardcover, which had many, many more photographs and images), but it's an absorbing read -- definitely an essential for any Python fan. (less)
Wharton's writing is every bit as clear and lucid as in her novels, and I really liked the look at her own life and background. I especially liked her...moreWharton's writing is every bit as clear and lucid as in her novels, and I really liked the look at her own life and background. I especially liked her understated wit and her early amazement at becoming a well-known writer, which makes her seem very human and approachable; here's a favorite passage: "I had written short stories that were thought worthy of preservation! Was it the same insignificant I that I had always known? Any one walking along the streets might go into any bookshop, and say: 'Please give me Edith Wharton's book'; and the clerk, without bursting into incredulous laughter, would produce it, and be paid for it, and the purchaser would walk home with it and read it, and talk of it, and pass it on to other people to read!" (less)
When Manija Brown (now Rachel Manija Brown) was seven, her parents decided to pack up and move to an ashram in India, there to devote themselves to th...moreWhen Manija Brown (now Rachel Manija Brown) was seven, her parents decided to pack up and move to an ashram in India, there to devote themselves to the teachings of guru Meher Baba. All the Fishes Come Home to Roost is Brown's memoir of her life in India and since. It's both searingly funny and simply searing; though Brown finds humor in much of what happened to her, the pain of her misfit life is always present, and I often found myself going from laughter almost to tears in the space of a few pages. The writing is trenchant and observant; the descriptions of India are particularly good, sharply and colorfully conveying the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes Brown experienced. All the Fishes Come Home to Roost is often not an easy read -- the physical and emotional abuse Brown endured was no small thing -- but it's always deeply compelling; I stayed up far too late one night to finish it. (less)