Biography, Autobiography, Memoir discussion

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message 1: by Selina (new)

Selina (literatelibrarian) | 2261 comments Does anyone read biographies on writers or authors?
I find them interesting, but often extremely detailed becauause the biographer has gone through all their letters and journals etc and seem to know everything they ever did, which is kind of disconcerting because most people are private and dont keep extensive records about themselves...

Am reading one now called Maurice Gee: Life and Work by Rachel Barrowman. I have read a few Maurice Gee's novels, also wrote for children and its fascinating to read how he got ideas for his stories and what was truly behind them. I've learned to beware of the writer...you just may end up in one of their stories as a not very likeable character!

Some others I've got through and nearly overwhelmed with the sheer details of their life of people who spend their time writing (and often, embellishing or making up stuff...)as these bios tend to be very fat!

Katherine Mansfield: A Secret Life
Southern Daughter: The Life of Margaret Mitchell and the Making of Gone With the Wind
The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath
C. S. Lewis: A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet


message 2: by Fishface (new)

Fishface | 1619 comments I've read a couple I really liked. One is actually a diary, now I think of it, M.F.K. Fisher's Stay Me, Oh Comfort Me: Journals and Stories, 1933-1941. That was a wonderful read. So was the "psychobiography" of Truman Capote, Tiny Terror: Why Truman Capote (Almost) Wrote Answered Prayers, which matches up what went on in Capote's writing to what went on in his life. Really well done and part of a series of similar books. I keep meaning to get to Ascending Peculiarity: Edward Gorey on Edward Gorey. It's sitting right there in my TBR pile.


message 3: by Koren (new)

Koren  (koren56) | 2738 comments Mod
The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee by Marja Mills was one I read recently. It wasn't a huge book so it was ok.


message 4: by Selina (new)

Selina (literatelibrarian) | 2261 comments Daphne du Maurier: The Secret Life of the Renowned Storyteller it might have been this one I read years ago but remember she had an interesting life and the Cornish estate where she lived inspired the novel Rebecca.

I kind of pick up the theme that novelists are drawn to darkness or trying to recreate life the way they want it to be as if trying to make sense of it. They want to tell a good yarn too, but sometimes deeper stuff goes on. Eg Anne Perry wrote crime (under a pen name) because the author actually committed it.

The Opposite of Fate: Memories of a Writing Life by Amy Tan was quite interesting because when you find yourself to be an author and suddenly famous, you get cliff note versions of your life.


Lady ♥ Belleza (bella_foxx) | 216 comments And So it Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life

Gave it 4 stars, very long but he did live 85 years.

My review: Link


message 6: by Selina (new)

Selina (literatelibrarian) | 2261 comments Just want to add Stalin's Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva was also a writer. She only wrote four books though and they were memoirs. Many writers bios contain personal correspondence and diaries because they literally kept them all. Which makes for very fat and detailed biographies.

The one on Margaret Mitchell, even though she only ever wrote and published one novel, Gone with the Wind, was very detailed with her correspondence plus she was a journalist before that.

The only thing with writers bios is, that you need to have read some of their work and often the biographer often falls into the trap of just recounting their stories and plots spoiling it for those who havent read it or adding nothing for those that have.

Writers who write books then write memoirs about themselves can come acrosss as a arrogant i,e Bill Bryson The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid I mean nothing much happened in Brysons childhood I gathered other than that he comes across as a spoiled brat!


message 7: by Fishface (last edited Oct 28, 2017 09:36AM) (new)

Fishface | 1619 comments Alice Miller, a psychoanalyst and author known for books like The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self, For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence, and The Body Never Lies: The Lingering Effects of Cruel Parenting, is basically a confessional memoirist processing her own upbringing and her own treatment of her son. I always got the feeling that she was hoping he would read her books and see the apology she put in each one.


message 8: by Selina (last edited Oct 29, 2017 10:05PM) (new)

Selina (literatelibrarian) | 2261 comments Think I read one of hers but dont remember her mentioning her son? Was she abused or abusive? Did her son run away..?

The thing with these writers is when do they find the time to write books...most of them dont have day jobs but they have needed to live life first to write about it. Or have a vivid imagination...

Roald Dahl Boy: Tales of Childhood is another I remember.


message 9: by Fishface (last edited Oct 30, 2017 10:23AM) (new)

Fishface | 1619 comments I don't think Alice Miller's son ran away but when he reached adulthood he had basically nothing further to do with her.

Stephen King's wonderful Danse Macabre is very autobiographical; it talks about how a box of old horror and sci-fi paperbacks was his only tangible connection to his runaway father, and how they got him started on his own career as the world's best-loved horror writer.


message 10: by Selina (new)

Selina (literatelibrarian) | 2261 comments Another one that came to mind...sorry browsing my old threads..

Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession by Anne Rice

I used to read a lot of Anne Rice, she of the famed vampire chronicles before Buffy, Twilight, true blood et al. But this one does not really say that I recall, why she was drawn to writing about vampires in the first place, and witches and werewolves. Anyway what happened seems that she got back into to catholicism and vowed that she would give it up, but like any catholic she lapsed again and went back to writing about them. But she did try and sneak in a few books about angels and Jesus, but they werent as popular. What I do remember is...she likes to write about moral quandaries.


message 11: by Selina (new)

Selina (literatelibrarian) | 2261 comments Finished reading It Looks Better on You: New Zealand Women Writers on Their Friendships by Jane Westaway and Tessa Copeland

Its as it says an anthology of nz women writers on their friendships. So there were a couple of pages of anecdotes, stories or poems about each writers friends (with other women).

There is some musing on friendship and what it means. Some I found interesting but some I found confusing and wonder if that was really a friendship or just made up like the writer just wanted to write something to get their name in the book and be published. Lol

Also the dust jacket flap had the names of all these writers as if I should know them but I dont know half of them. Its funny how many of these writers because they must have time to write, dont seem to know how to be friends themselves they are more 'befriended' as they dont set out to make friends since they stuck inside all day writing.


message 12: by Fishface (last edited Apr 14, 2018 10:18AM) (new)

Fishface | 1619 comments Selina wrote: "Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession by Anne Rice...But this one does not really say that I recall, why she was drawn to writing about vampires in the first place. "

I read somewhere the original book, Interview with the Vampire, came to be when she wrote a short story about a little girl who became undead as a way of processing her own daughter's death from cancer. Claudia was based on her daughter. Someone encouraged her to flesh it out into a book-length story and it sold like hotcakes. And she had all these publishers fighting over the rights to a sequel, and another, and another, and it was really hard to resist.


message 13: by Selina (new)

Selina (literatelibrarian) | 2261 comments Fishface wrote: "Selina wrote: "Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession by Anne Rice...But this one does not really say that I recall, why she was drawn to writing about vampires in the first ..."

Thats right I think it was lukemia? It was a long time ago that I read Interview with the Vampire. I forget what happened to Claudia, but the other character Lestat became popular. And it was made into a movie. And then couldnt stop writing. She had created a monster!
Sort of like Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.


message 14: by Selina (last edited Apr 14, 2018 11:03AM) (new)

Selina (literatelibrarian) | 2261 comments Am looking forward to reading Where the Past Begins: A Writer's Memoir by Amy Tan

Although her later books after Joy Luck Club weren't as popular, I was fascinated with The Kitchen God's Wife and how she depicted the whole Chinese immigrant experience. Amy Tan grew up in San Francisco an ocean away from her parents homeland, and like most children of immigrants was never really told about her parents past and hardships in another land. They came to start a new life and leave the past behind, but I guess you never forget your roots.


message 15: by Selina (last edited Jul 15, 2018 11:57PM) (new)

Selina (literatelibrarian) | 2261 comments Finally got round to reading Amy Tans new memoir. Its a bit convoluted and not linear, but if you a fan of Amy Tan's novels you will like it as it takes you on a journey of piecing together the puzzle of her mother and grandmothers life back in China and how that impacted on her family as they started a new life in America. This is what made her a writer...as well as touching on the tragedies of both her her dad and brother dying when she was fifteen.
I would have liked if she had shared how she met her husband Lou, but sadly for this reader its not mentioned. Some of the real life elements in her novels are recognisable here, like the story of her piano recital humiliation, her being diagnosed with epilepsy, and of course her mothers past life and previous marriage she kept secret until she could no longer keep it to herself which escaped in the forms of suicide threats and rages. Her mother even threatened once to kill Amy as well, but of course Amy had no idea and thought this was just normal for a chinese mother to do...it was just part of her vocabulary. Amy had blanked out the memory but it surfaces in her writing to get to the core of the emotional experience. I recognise this myself in the way my own mother speaks in chinese and broken english.
Its a bit harrowing to think deeply about the tragedies Amys family faced but thats what makes Amy Tans novels so compelling.


message 16: by Selina (new)

Selina (literatelibrarian) | 2261 comments I am going to add Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder to this topic. Laura wrote about her childhood in both the Little House books and a memoir called Pioneer Girl. I haven't read Pioneer Girl though.
Prairie Fires mentions her childhood but also goes on to her career as a writer, which will be interesting as she's become world famous now. I'm still reading it. It seems like she, like many well known writers/authors, started out as a journalist, writing farm news.
This was the same for Margaret Mitchell, who wrote as a journalist for the Atlanta newspaper before she wrote Gone With the Wind.
Also Bill Bryson. He wrote for the Iowa newspaper if I recall. He even delivered newspapers as a boy his memoir is The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. People have reviewed his memoir and some loved it but some wondered if it was just nostalgia on his part, and not all that interesting. He could have turned it into a children's series with enough imagination like Laura Ingalls Wilder did.


message 17: by Fishface (new)

Fishface | 1619 comments I'm surprised I forgot Stay Me, Oh Comfort Me: Journals and Stories, 1933-1941 a book made up of writings from MFK Fisher's diaries and annotated by her family. It focuses on a pivotal part of her life -- leaving her first husband, Al Fisher, for Dillwyn Parrish (Timmy for short), then taking care of him through a long, painful illness that ended when he killed himself.


message 18: by Selina (new)

Selina (literatelibrarian) | 2261 comments From Little Houses to Little Women: Revisiting a Literary Childhood by Nancy Cabe

If you into Little House books, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, Nancy Drew, or Emily Dickensen...well this is the book for you written by an english/creative writing professor who goes and takes her adopted daughter on a literary road trip to revisit all the places of the authors/books she read growing up.
Cue lots of musings about girlhood angst, idealism, disillusionment, feminism, literary pretensions and museum gift shops.

To me it seemed like a worthy endeavour, well she got another book out of it, but maybe others are thinking, what she got a grant to go on a roadtrip? Also it leads to more delving into chilhood classics, particularly female authors (I get the distinct feeling that this author could only really identify with female protagonists) and other bookworm/pop culture trivia. But its nice to identify with someone who reads, and also sometimes picks holes in plots. I wonder what a book on revisiting Babysitters club series or Sweet Valley High would be like...


message 19: by Selina (new)

Selina (literatelibrarian) | 2261 comments Out of the Sky She Came: The Life of P.L. Travers, Creator of Mary Poppins by Valerie Lawson

After watching 'Saving Mr Banks' and the latest 'Mary Poppins Returns' I found this book and was curious to read all about the author of Mary Poppins. I hadn't read any of her Mary Poppins books - she wrote five overall. But it does seem to explain how Mary Poppins came to be..and P L Travers was quite a formidable character - cranky too!

Interesting facts - she was born in Australia, she followed new age gurus all her life, her father died when she was seven and he was an alcoholic, she adopted a son...she never married, she got into acting before she became a journalist - and fairy tales were her escape.


message 20: by Selina (new)

Selina (literatelibrarian) | 2261 comments I found Behind the Bestsellers at the op shop, a book about stories behind 50 popular books, so it has 50 biographical sketches.
It's entitled Who the Hell Is Pansy O'Hara?: The Fascinating Stories Behind 50 of the World's Best-Loved Books on Goodreads. I'm only really reading the ones I have read but I did find out a bit more about reclusive JD Salinger. I would dispute that they are best-loved books tho because Lord of the Flies was included and I hated that book. It was required reading for high school.
What, no Diary of Anne Frank?
FYI, Pansy O'Hara was the original name of Scarlett in Gone With the Wind. But we Windies all know that anyway...lol


message 21: by Sylvia (new)

Sylvia Clare | 40 comments I love memoir and biography specially as real life can be stranger than fiction, and as a writer/ author myself I know how much one's own life informs one's own content. I am also a music lover so have read many biographies of musicians like Joni and Cohen and Dylan who are my total favourites, but also of poets and literary figures from different eras, like Edith Sitwell, and then film stars like David Niven. I totally love Alexandra Fuller and stories of her strange life growing up in Africa in the middle of wars. I think memoir has so much to tell us and offers so much to learn from.x


message 22: by Selina (new)

Selina (literatelibrarian) | 2261 comments It's Roald Dahl day, September 13 so I've been reading a childrens bio Roald Dahl: The Storyteller.

I'm going to read this one next Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl. His first wife was the american actress Patricia Neal and she's also written an autobiography As I Am. It will be interesting to read, Roald Dahl did not lead a boring life! Apparently he was a bit of a bully to his first wife.


message 23: by Selina (new)

Selina (literatelibrarian) | 2261 comments Just want to add The World of Little House to this list, another children's bio. The good thing about children's biographies is there are plenty of pictures to look at.


message 24: by Julie (new)

Julie (julielill) | 1232 comments I never knew there was a Roald Dahl day. I do like his books and have read some of his short stories. I also have heard he that he treated Neal terribly.


message 25: by Selina (last edited Sep 22, 2019 11:51AM) (new)

Selina (literatelibrarian) | 2261 comments Am a bit bogged down with Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl like most writer bios with full access to all the letters of the subject, this bio is packed with details of the he said, she said variety and I dont think I need to know all that. Yes all writers will have issues of some kinds with their editors and publishers, and contract negotiations, but its not really illuminating reading about it. It would be like if someone wrote a bio about me and detailed all my employment ups and downs.

What I want to know is his character rather than every single quoted detail about every word he wrote. So am skimming up to the part where hes married to Patricia Neal and then embarking on his affair with the lady who will eventually become his second wife. It does seem his first marriage was shaky from the start and they did not marry out of love but a kind of 'we need to settle down, lets get married cos it seems like a good idea' but then finding out they are completely incompatible...he hates her acting friends, she finds him rude etc. Like chalk and cheese. Tragedy brings them together, but its not enough to keep them.

Dahls writing for children is what interests me more than what he wrote for adults so Im finding that is whats keeping me going. Like many authors who write for children once he finds his niche its extremely profitable but its kinda looked down on by the literary establishment. However his young fans adore him and I suppose thats all that matters. Apparently librarians hated him and gave him bad reviews but you wont find any complaints from this librarian...if he can get children reading then thats gold in my opinion.


message 26: by Sylvia (last edited Sep 22, 2019 08:36PM) (new)

Sylvia Clare | 40 comments Selina wrote: "Am a bit bogged down with Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl like most writer bios with full access to all the letters of the subject, this bio is packed with detail..."
i read somewhere that critical acclaim can be a bad thing for writers since it is popularity which matters most - if the public enjoy and read you what more do you want. SO much literary crit is a bit on the pompous or anal side anyway i have found over the years that i tend not to bother to read it. well done for keeping going with it though- i always like to finish a book if i can


message 27: by Sylvia (new)

Sylvia Clare | 40 comments any one here also a writer who has written some sort of memoir- I am mostly memoir of a sorts writer nowadays - my apart from poetry. Would be interested to find other memoir reader / writers too. Have found a few -Glenna Gill is a good read, sad though.


message 28: by Fishface (new)

Fishface | 1619 comments Selina wrote: "It's Roald Dahl day, September 13 so I've been reading a childrens bio Roald Dahl: The Storyteller.

I'm going to read this one next [book:Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Ro..."


Wait -- "Roald Dahl Day"?


message 29: by Selina (new)

Selina (literatelibrarian) | 2261 comments Yea his estate have a musuem dedicated to him and they promote his work, they made his birthday Roald Dahl day and children in school are, meant to do fun things and raise money for the charities he supported.


message 30: by Selina (last edited Nov 23, 2019 10:14PM) (new)

Selina (literatelibrarian) | 2261 comments My next read is going to be House of Dreams: The Life of L. M. Montgomery by Liz Rosenburg

It's meant for younger readers though so not sure if it will tell the whole story, bios for younger readers tend to be somewhat sanitized.


message 31: by Sylvia (new)

Sylvia Clare | 40 comments yes but sometimes young adults novels and books are also just more fun to read and they put different angles onto things- perhaps sanitized but perhaps also a younger mindset. be interested to hear your verdict


message 32: by Fishface (new)

Fishface | 1619 comments In a related theme, the Kurt Vonnegut Museum is now open for business...


message 33: by Selina (new)

Selina (literatelibrarian) | 2261 comments Finished reading House of Dreams: The Life of L. M. Montgomery. Well. It's not sanitized at all, I thought. I had no idea that Lucy Maud Montgomery (known as Maud) or Mrs McDonald when she married, suffered manic depression (now known as bipolar disorder) and that her end was likely suicide? An overdose of medication apparently. Her mother died when she was 3 and she was brought up under the care of her grandparents.

She had various suitors but unlike Anne of Green Gables didn't end up with her bosom friend or kindred spirit at all, she married a minister and they were not well matched. She was a prolific author though and earned fame and fortune (and a few unhinged fans) with her well-loved books. She had two sons, one was a prodigal and the other was a darling. One child also was still born. But no daughters...and her husband never cared for her writing.

It sounds terrible but she really did live through her writing which was the best escape for her. So it's not really a young readers book, as deals with some youthful passions and a love-less marriage but the line illustrations at the beginning of each chapter are quite delightful. There aren't any photographs. However it is shelved and catalogued in the children's section.


message 34: by Selina (new)

Selina (literatelibrarian) | 2261 comments Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Spiritual Life By Nancy Koester Harriet Beecher Stowe A Spiritual Life by Nancy Koester

After reading Uncle Tom's Cabin I wanted to find out more about the author - this biography was a good one. Back in the 1800s people had larger families though so I found it hard to keep track of all her family members, Harriet's dad married three times and had children with each wife and then Harriet married a widower and went on to have six or seven children, I lost count. Plus several family members were named Harriet.

Aside from that I learned the Beechers ministers in the Calvinist tradition except Harriet started having doubts about their strict theology and turned to Episcopalian later in life, after dabbling for a bit in spiritualism after one of her sons died apparently unconverted, which means in Calvinism or Puritanism that he was going to be doomed to hell.

She became a famous author after writing Uncle Toms Cabin, and wrote to support her family, her husband being a poor clergyman. She wrote several other books which sound quite interesting except they would be all out of print by now. She lived through the Civil War and the Emancipation of slaves that she had so fervently believed ought to be set free, and also set her pen to expose other injustices of that time as well, including women's rights, animal welfare etc. She believed education to be a key and taught and founded schools with her sister. Quite an amazing life. I was quite horrifed to read that pro-slavery people would burn not only churches but printing presses to silence people who spoke out about slavery.


message 35: by Selina (last edited Mar 08, 2020 09:46AM) (new)

Selina (literatelibrarian) | 2261 comments Mophead By Selina Tuisitala Marsh
Mophead by Selina Tusitala Marsh

This book is a memoir for children by NZ's own first Pacific Island female Poet Laureate, Selina Tuistala Marsh. Its all about her wild unruly hair and how being herself made great poetry. Its funny and sassy with cartoony illustrations, and very touching. Recommended, and not just because she shares my name!


message 36: by Selina (new)

Selina (literatelibrarian) | 2261 comments We have a Writers Festival every year in May in Auckland but I have heard its now cancelled :-(


message 37: by Selina (last edited Jun 13, 2020 05:05PM) (new)

Selina (literatelibrarian) | 2261 comments The Lives of Danielle Steel: The Unauthorized Biography of America's #1 Best-Selling Author by Vicky Bane

175 novels and counting...I've only read one of her novels and her memoir about her son who committed suicide, but if you haven't read any of her books and don't have time to read them all but are curious you can't go far wrong with reading this biography...as all the melodrama in her novels comes from Danielle Steel herself.

In the bio at the time she is on to her fourth husband with a household on nine children to look after (in a mansion, with nannies, secretaries, accountant, cook, housekeepers, gardener, ) in San Francisco...worth millions of dollars after selling millions of books, but this does not come about through plain sailing!

We learn amongst other juicy details that she had wealthy but neglectful parents, married at 18 to a wealthy banker, divorced and then married two felons (one in jail for robbery and rape, the other on drugs), writes her novels at night on a typewriter for hours on end, and got custody of her son from one of her drug addicted husbands by trailing him with a private investigator.

If that isn't enough soap opera for you then there's plenty more, most of which end up in her novels. You have to admire Danielle Steel, it is said if you give her a grape seed, she will plant it in the ground and try to make wine out of it.


message 38: by Julie (new)

Julie (julielill) | 1232 comments Selina wrote: "The Lives of Danielle Steel: The Unauthorized Biography of America's #1 Best-Selling Author by Vicky Bane

175 novels and counting...I've only read one of her novels and her memoir abo..."


I read a few of her books years ago but this sounds really interesting. Adding to my list!


message 39: by Selina (new)

Selina (literatelibrarian) | 2261 comments Māori Boy: A Memoir of Childhood by Witi Ihimaera

Witi Ihimaera was the first Maori writer in NZ to be published in English. Before the publication of Pounamu Pounamu, a collection of short stories in 1974, nobody had ever written about Maori life who actually was Maori.
Be warned this is just his childhood up to age 14, there's another volume about his adulthood called Native Son: The Writer's Memoir. Reading Maori Boy is not JUST about his childhood though its all about his family even stemming back to the time his tribe first came to Aotearoa. And Maori have HUGE families so its every aunty, uncle, cousin and grandparents as well.
Witi was raised under the whangai system where he was given to relatives especially his nanny (grandma) to raise, although his mum didn't really want him to be taken away, however his grandma was insistent. Witi spanned both worlds of Maori and Pakeha so this memoir is infused with maori myths as well as childhood recollections of going to school, living on the farm, the suburbs, and 1950s New Zealand. There is quite a bit of political history going on too. Which makes a fairly fat book that could become a bit tedious in parts. I sometimes think he likes his own words a bit too much as the prose can get a bit purple.

There's some interesting race relations observations. Witi's family is Mormon but that didn't seem too incompatible with Maori mythology as there is frequent mention of Maori gods. Like many dysfunctional families though, there is abuse, which may be further elaborated on in the next volume, as Witi hints at his ambivalent sexual orientation from childhood.

Overall an engaging if rather wordy memoir, and an insight into the world few Pakeha really understand.


message 40: by Selina (new)

Selina (literatelibrarian) | 2261 comments Native Son: The Writer's Memoir by Witi Ihimaera

I was not wrong about writer's bios being fat...this is the second volume of a trilogy and so you might be getting more in the last installment (and they are not thin volumes by any means). This one covers the years from university until his marriage in his late twenties.
Also included is a few excerpts from his stories. The great urban migration of Maori from the 1960s meant a different way of life that was hard to adjust to in the Pakeha world, although Witi struggled, he got through in spite of a suicide attempt.
It made me think of why so many youth suicides in nz today (and not always because of sexual identity crises) but probably because of lack of security /future to look forward to.
Witi's family secrets come tumbling out, his dad had fathered two sons before marrying his mother and so his inheritance seemed to be at stake, as his whole identity as eldest son was put into question. The writing path though, seemed to be the natural course to take, following on from a great oral story telling tradition to a written one.

Again a wordy memoir and often I wasn't getting the Greek myth references at all, but then I got the impression he was trying to prove something. There's always the difficulty of having a dual heritage which part or parts do you choose? Or do you take both and make something new with it all together?


message 41: by Selina (new)

Selina (literatelibrarian) | 2261 comments Beyond the Secret Garden: The Life of Frances Hodgson Burnett by Ann Thwaite

Like most bookworms, I adored The Secret Garden but didn't know much about the author...Frances Hodgson Burnett had written other books both for adults and for children but I had never read them. I've always interested in author's childhoods though, if they are a children's author and not so much their later literary careers.

This biography is one I mostly skimmed after getting the gist of her childhood, growing up in Manchester, father dying young, and moving to America after the civil war. Much of it is like a rags-to-riches tale, and there are other tragedies too. Frances wrote for 'renumeration' and it paid her well, eventually out-breadwinning her husband, whom she divorced to marry someone 10 years younger who was on the make. Frances wanted to write happy endings, not real life since that had let her down, a common theme amongst many writers.

I wanted more about The Secret Garden though, it was written near the end of her career so there is not much about it, at the time, not as best selling as Little Lord Fauntleroy which was the Harry Potter of it's day. She had two sons, one of which bore the brunt of being labelled Little Lord Fauntleroy and he did write a memoir of his mother too, so perhaps that's the one to read.


message 42: by Selina (last edited Sep 13, 2020 12:47PM) (new)

Selina (literatelibrarian) | 2261 comments Boy: Tales of Childhood by Roald Dahl

It's Roald Dahl day. Worth a re-read, I had forgotten that Dahl was actually quite a naughty prankster, but then his headmasters were terrifying too. I don't know when caning stopped being used in schools, but it seems to me were children WORSE in those days because they were caned?

Dahl's family life was rather scattered. They were from Norway, but went to live in England to make their fortune. He calls his older half sister, his 'ancient' sister. His dad died when he was young and his sister too, and his mother had another daughter after his dad died. He had a fancy private school education, and was used to the finer things in life. The memoir ends as he is going off on adventures with Shell oil company.

I often wonder what private school education does to people. Dahl went to a 'prep' school called Repton. But he didn't end up going to Oxford or Cambridge. He chose the adventurous life instead. Does having a private school education somehow make them any different to other people? They can get any job they wish after graduating or get more offers? Or does it make it seem that the rules don't apply to them?


message 43: by Selina (last edited Sep 19, 2020 01:19PM) (new)

Selina (literatelibrarian) | 2261 comments Frances Hodgson Burnett: The Unexpected Life of the Author of The Secret Garden by Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina

Of the two bios about the author I think this is the better written one about her life.
Interesting thing about Frances is that yes she got very wealthy from writing but her output was tremendous. She was supporting her family though she had about five homes in both America and England.
Sadly her son died and I think he was the model for Colin in The Secret Garden, of how she wished he would heal. For a time Frances was lady of the manor in a country estate called Maytham, England, obviously the model for Misselwhaite. And she loved gardening. But that had to be sold when she ran into financial difficulties that she had to write her way out of.

She reminds me a little of Danielle Steel, a born story teller, also much concerned with rags to riches tales. She just had stories come to her just like that and people loved to read them. Like Frances, Danielle also had a son who died young and was married more than once, became wealthy and was very generous.


message 44: by Selina (last edited Sep 22, 2020 12:47PM) (new)

Selina (literatelibrarian) | 2261 comments I Wrote That One, Too ...: A Life in Songwriting from Willie to Whitney by Steve Dorff

Not sure why I picked this one up as never heard of the guy, maybe it just had Whitney in the title, but the song he wrote for her was just one song she sang with Jermaine Jackson. And actually he only writes music, not the lyrics, and I don't really listen that much for the music. When Iistened to that song I wasn't really blown away by the music.

So I mostly skimmed this bio which was about how he created all this music and popular artists would record it. There's lots of name dropping, and bragging. His personal life was a bit of a shambles though and not sure how he really justifies breaking up his family, having an affair, then breaking up with his second wife as well. I was a bit nauseated to hear that his songs, mostly about love lost or love won, drew from his life that 'made good material'. And that he was looking for the ONE but didn't think he would find her, but if you happened to be the ONE he would devote himself to you. Until someone else came along! Empty promises, much.

Unfortunatley, as most of the songs he wrote got recorded in the 80s, even with big name stars like Kenny Rogers, Dusty Springfield and Celine Dion none of them I can say really made an impact on me, except for one song Karen Carpenter (and others) recorded 'I just fall in love again' although he didn't write the lyrics for it, even confessing he was a lousy lyric writer and most often collaborated. The one interesting thing though was that he was musically minded from birth in that he can SEE music in shapes and colours, which is not what most people can do, so he must have a gift.
I myself would not have the first clue on how to write the music for a song.


message 45: by Selina (last edited Sep 27, 2020 02:56PM) (new)

Selina (literatelibrarian) | 2261 comments Enid Blyton: The Biography by Barbara Stoney

This one has a foreword by one of Enid's daughters. Enid had a child like imagination and wrote prolifically. Before writing full time she was a teacher/governess. She married twice, and it seems left home early while her own parents split up.

The appendix has a list of her work which is lengthy. She had her critics but I think it comes from anyone that's wildly popular is often disliked. She really related to her readers as children who needed both comfort and adventures and the right to believe in fairies. An interesting thing I learned wasn she wrote weekly in several children's magazines and created fan clubs and gave a lot to charities.

I remember enjoying the Famous Five series and The Magic Faraway Tree when I was young. This biography is interesting if a little dull at times though just stating the facts. Enid led a typical middle class english life (she had maids, gardeners, cooks and sent her daughters to boarding school) but this was during the war so I think her stories of escapism appeals to children at the time. Curiously not that much is said of her childhood except that she was close to her dad and estranged from her mother.
What can't be denied is how popular her books are with children, turning many into life-long readers.


message 46: by Selina (last edited Oct 01, 2020 09:37PM) (new)

Selina (literatelibrarian) | 2261 comments A Girl from Yamhill: A Memoir By Beverly Cleary

The author of Ramona writes about her own childhood years up to high school graduation. She grows up in Portland Oregon, around the time of the Depression. As an only child, it seems her relationship with her mother was rather difficult, her mother being rather overbearing. I'm surprised that Beverly was an only child, her mother miscarried what was meant to be her younger brother, but you might never have known from the detailed depictions of sibling rivalry in her Ramona and Beezus books.

I find it quite fascinating to read about about growing up in America at that time. It is followed by a sequel of her university days called My Own Two Feet: A Memoir


message 47: by Julie (new)

Julie (julielill) | 1232 comments Selina wrote: "A Girl from Yamhill: A Memoir By Beverly Cleary

The author of Ramona writes about her own childhood years up to high school graduation. She grows up in Portland Oregon, around the ..."


Added to my reading list!


message 48: by Selina (last edited Oct 03, 2020 06:08PM) (new)

Selina (literatelibrarian) | 2261 comments I had to go on straight to My Own Two Feet, Beverly Cleary's sequel to her first memoir. She picks up where she left off, staying with an aunt in California, to complete senior high. Then she went on to University of California (now Berkeley), and finally library school in Washington.
She vividly recalls her experiences, especially being away from home the first time, dating, making ends meet being a student, her first library job..and even surprisingly, working in a book store. She ends up marrying against her parents wishes, and also recounts her difficult relationship with her mother, which I can sort of relate to. She has a miscarriage, and I'm not sure if she has any children later on, because the book ends with the first publication of her first book, Henry Huggins.

Her dream of writing is inspired by the lack of interesting books for boys at the library, the books were either textbooks or were from the last century. I found it all very interesting, and full of incident. I think what brings her writing to life is the tensions between parent and offspring, and what it's like to grow up that stood out for me. Beverly struck me as a child that longed to be treated as an adult, to make her own choices and be independent, but her mother seemed very possessive and there were so many instances of belittlement that I think I wanted to slap her mother for the outrageous things she would say.

As for being a librarian and a bookseller well it was totally up my alley. Yes, people still ask librarians for all the answers today especially for radio quizzes to win cash. (never fair, if we get it right, do we win anything..no!)


message 49: by Selina (last edited Oct 13, 2020 02:30AM) (new)

Selina (literatelibrarian) | 2261 comments A Dream Called Home by Reyna Grande

Sequel to The Distance Between Us, Mexican emigre Reyna Grande goes on to Santa Cruz University and becomes determined to overcome her poverty stricken past and fulfil her American Dream - life, liberty and happiness.

This translates into her graduating and becoming a published author, owning her own home, and finding the man of her dreams and raising a family. Of course!

While it's not easy and she makes difficult choices (and sometimes wrong ones) she doesn't give up, and becomes an inspirational writer and speaker giving a voice to marginalised women of colour in the US. I devoured this one, and may pick up her novels at some stage, but after reading her brilliant and honest true and harrowing story in her memoirs I think it would pale in comparison to any fiction. Though it has made me curious to read more Latina authors.


message 50: by Selina (last edited Nov 06, 2020 08:39PM) (new)

Selina (literatelibrarian) | 2261 comments Untwisted: The Story of My Life by Paul Jennings

Popular Australian children's author writes about his life journey..and as one might expect if having read any of his stories that are always known for having a twist at the end, it's been a rather convoluted one.

His parents were escapees from Mother England and settled in Australia, so there's childhood memories of the voyage over and adjusting to a new land. Back then children were given harsh corporal punishment in schools and treated quite badly! Paul became a teacher and then a lecturer and then wrote his first book at age forty, it became so popular that he became a successful full time writer.

He shares quite a bit about where he got his story ideas from and the process of getting them published. One thing thats interesting is that he has never read any other children's authors work, he refuses to read JK Rowling or Roald Dahl, so that he can't be accused of copying them.

While I never really warmed to his stories myself, they were clever and funny but also a little disturbing. They don't seem as popular these days amongst my children at school though. I was surprised to learn he's going with another comedienne who I recall appeared on my favourite tv show as a child - The Comedy Company.

And there is a huge publishing trend for TV comedians to write books for children.


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