Biography

Dreaming in French: the Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis

ISBN: 
9780226424385

Confession: I tried to learn French once.  Years ago, I signed up for a New Orleans Free University class in what should have been a great place to learn French or at least Cajun. But each week the instructor came to class "under the influence."  Even though he shared some wild Paris stories and jumped on and off the teacher's desk, my French never improved.

I've always enjoyed books about experiencing the world through the lens of a new culture. Alice Kaplan's excellent Dreaming in French is a very fun and compelling read. In clear beautiful prose, she writes about how living in France changed the life courses of three smart and gifted women: Jackie Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis. 

Each of them spent time in France on the cusp of womanhood. In many ways, France and French culture affected not only how they viewed the world but their entire lives afterward.

In 1949 Jackie travelled to Paris by ship as part of a contingent of Smith College students spending the year abroad. It was soon after World War II and she was placed with a former WWII resistance fighter whose husband had died in a camp doing slave labor for the Nazis. Read more »

Lighting Out for the Territory: How Samuel Clemens Headed West and Became Mark Twain

ImageThe title of this book Lighting Out for the Territory by Roy Morris, jr. refers to the last paragraph in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn when Huck reckons that it's time "to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest", which is exactly what Clemens himself did in July 1861. Clemens had ridden as a guerilla maurader for the Missouri militia in a locally formed group in the very early days of the Civil War called the Marion Rangers. They never saw any real action, but his brief stint with them, plus the ever present chance he could be drafted by either side, Union or Confederate, to pilot a gun boat, made the mostly neutral West look inviting.

His brother Orion had been appointed as Secretary to the Territorial Governor of the newly created Nevada Territory. Orion invited Sam to go along to share expenses. From this happenstance beginning one of America's great writers was born.

Read more »

Nowhere Boy

Image
Confession time -- I grew up with The Beatles. They hit the music scene in the U.S. in 1964 when I was 9 years old. I was enthralled. From that time on, I really wanted to play guitar and drums. Many books and movies have been written and made about the early days of The Beatles. Nowhere Boy could have been just another in the bunch. Read more »

Half Broke Horses: a True Life Novel

Half Broke HorsesThis Sunday in our Booksplus program (Library Room 2B at 2p.m.) we will be discussing Jeannette Walls' rousing true fiction story Half Broke Horses about her grandmother, Lily Casey Smith, a feisty woman who grew up in the still wild west of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona in the early years of the last century. You may be familiar with the author's first book The Glass Castle; it made many best books of the year lists when it came out in 2005 and still has a wide readership.

What a gripping opening. A flash flood rips through the family ranch one evening and Lily her brother and sister hear a loud rumbling as the earth shakes beneath them. Lily grabs the youngest and runs for the only tree in the field. They spend a harrowing night hanging on to branches as massive flood waters drown the field. Although Lily is only ten at the time, she keeps both children awake by making them say their math tables, the names of the states, and any other long list she can remember.
Read more »

Mark Twain Tonight w/Hal Holbrook

Image 
"I haven't a particle of confidence in a man who has no redeeming petty vices." Mark Twain -- A Biography

Hal Holbrook's recreation of Mark Twain in the one man show Mark Twain Tonight has long been a favorite of mine. Mark Twain was controversial in life and has remained so long after his death. One of his most famous books Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been called everything from the father of the American novel to trash, though the latter has been for differing reasons through the years. Often we forget that Mark Twain was not just a writer. He was, in his time, highly regarded and in demand on the lecture circuit. Today we might think of him as a standup comic. Read more »

Mark Twain: Man in Whte

Man in White"The report of my death was an exaggeration." Most people have heard this famous quote by one of our most beloved writers. Mark Twain: Man in White focuses on the last four years of Twain's life when his fame was at its peak, and the problems that dogged his life, including the bad health of loved ones and the stealing of his money by associates also continued.

But what a wonderful man Twain was--always up for a good practical joke, always putting his entire self into his writing and gosh, thoroughly addicted to playing pool. Not only addicted to it, but he was one of those hosts that had to beat you if only by a little.
Read more »

Slinging Doughnuts for the Boys

RichardsonI am deep in the middle of Adam Hochschild's new book, To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 about the anti-war movement before and during World War I (and is thus far excellent). And I recently slogged through British historian Antony Beevor's 500+ page D-Day: The Battle for Normandy, which was a bit too detailed, but very fair in representing Allied incompetence and portrayed some of the major players, including Montgomery, Eisenhower and Patton in a new light for me. Can you tell I was a history major? Standing out so far in this recent WWI/WWII kick was Slinging Doughnuts for the Boys: An American Woman in WWII by Indiana University history professor, James H. Madison.
Read more »

Cleopatra: A Life

CleopatraForget what you know about Cleopatra - she was neither Egyptian, nor did she commit suicide with a live snake (though it remains a tenaciously romantic symbol) - and discover a much more complicated and interesting person. She was not the beauty as Elizabeth Taylor would make us believe, but was able to charm two of the most powerful men in history, and was lucky enough to bear sons by both. Stacy Schiff argues in this new remarkably readable biography, Cleopatra: A Life, that her death marked the end of an empire, the end of a dynasty and the end of ancient history. Read more »

Jimi: Sounds Like A Rainbow

Jimi: Sounds Like A Rainbow: A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix is written by Gary Golio, and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe, using mixed media in colors both bright and pastel, on plywood. Hendrix was fascinated with music, sound, art, and color at an early age. As a young boy, he even used a broom as a pretend guitar, playing and singing to an imaginary audience in his bedroom. He listened constantly to blues, jazz, gospel, classical, folk, and rock and roll music, but was also mesmerized by sounds he heard in the street and in nature, and by the colors of things around him. In his mind, according to the author, colors had sounds to them, and he wondered "Could someone paint pictures with sound?"

Read more »

Syndicate content