Sunday, May 4, 2008

Biographies
















As a child, I remember going through a long stage where I devoured biographies (and autobiographies). Books devoted to Helen Keller, George Washington Carver, Abraham Lincoln, and Vincent Van Gogh engaged me. It probably started in fourth grade or so, when we studied biographies of famous leaders in history. From an early age, people fascinated me, especially those who rose above obstacles and made something of themselves. To this day, I enjoy reading biographies (as well as autobiographies) for the same reasons. Recently, that is within the past couple of years, I've read a few biographies of more current people, such as The Autobiography of Malcolm X (utterly fascinating and enlightening), Lance Armstrong's Autobiography, It's Not About the Bike (inspiring on many levels), as well as Portrait of an Artist, about Georgia O'Keeffe. I found Elizabeth Wurtzel's memoir, Prozac Nation, too depressing to read in its entirety (her writing about how miserable she feels just brings down your own mood after awhile although she is, I'm sure, extremely bright).

I am a huge fan of Nicholas Sparks, and recently read Three Weeks With My Brother, which is more or less autobiographical. In this book, you see that Sparks' fiction stems from events in his actual life, which add a new dimension to his novels. Soon I will probably start reading, Lucky Man, Michael J. Fox's autobiography. I have the book on my shelf and it seems like it will be a good one.

It's never to late to add to a post! Rather than keeping this tucked away in the comments section, where readers may never venture, I am also posting them here. These astute comments are from Sharon, who's obviously an avid fan of biographies:

"I love biographies and the books I bought for the trip were: Wonderful Tonight, by Pattie Boyd; The Rivals, about the rivalry/friendship of tennis legends Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova; Obama, by a Chicago Tribune reporter who's covered the Senator for years; and finally, Chasing the Dream, by Joe Torre. In retrospect, I noticed that all these touch upon a period in American culture I'm especially interested in, the 1960s.

So...on the flight out, I started with Boyd's book. For those who may be unaware, she's the ex-wife of George Harrison; she left him for Eric Clapton (Clapton immortalized her--or at least his longing for her-- in his song "Layla"). I thought I'd get a look at the repressive 50s, the swingin' 60s, and beyond, and I did--but this book was so poorly written I stopped about halfway. I don't care how much she considers herself a mover and shaker in the cultural revolution that was going on back then, it's pretty apparent from the start that Boyd is not a contributor (or even a thoughtful observer) but essentially a glorified hanger-on. Kind of sad, but I guess that's how women saw themselves, as appendages to powerful men. Perhaps if the book were better written with some attempt at analysis it would have held more interest for me, but it was just the same thing over and over again ("We flirted...We felt a powerful connection...We got high..." etc., etc.) One day I'll pick this up again to see how it all turns out (I'm sure she discusses George's last days and Eric's addictions).

Next was The Rivals--no, not the Sheridan farce, but, as mentioned, an examination of the Chris Evert-Martina Navratilova tennis rivalry and friendship. I remember first reading about Chris Evert in Sports Illustrated back in 1971 and thinking how cool and collected she looked. She got me--and others-- interested in tennis (as a spectator sport) and I followed the major tournaments on TV for a few years. Other than her autobiography (which I'd read about 15 years ago) I didn't know much about her and this book did a good job in filling in the gaps. I knew less than nothing about Martina and this book opened my eyes to her really independent spirit and courage--defecting from Czechoslovakia, her openness about her sexuality, etc. Remember, she basically came out in the 80s, when it was not acceptable or fashionable to do so. But this book is so much more than a biography of simply these two; among other things, it paints a detailed picture of the history of women's pro tennis and the struggles involved in achieving parity with the men's tour. A fascinating social document. The book is by Johnette Howard and is highly recommended. I could not put this book down. . . . "

Sharon, thank you for taking the time to put your thoughts into writing. They are certainly "post worthy".

3 comments:

  1. I like books that are fiction, but kind of like an autobiography, you know? But I mostly enjoy fiction books.

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  2. How intriguing to be engaged by overcoming obstacles at 9 years old! Since my 30s, it has become a lifelong quest for me to find folks who deal with obstacles constructively with themselves and others with dignity, humor and maturity without resorting to meanness and the lemon side of life. Early on, I was encouraged to believe that if I behaved perfectly, no harm would come to me and I would be successful. Curious fiction. Many cultures still promote this (and by cultures I include religions, too) and promote isolation. It is the opposite of isolation and exclusiveness that brings the best in life and the way to handle obstacles in a constructive way. Sometimes I forget to study the ways of one's adversaries for greater understanding which I don't always find in a biography. Short poetry that connects people throughout different stages of life in positive ways and links one to nature and time bring an enduring quality and common denominator to my experience. Thanks for the idea about biographies. Exciting and positive. Sandie

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  3. Sandie, I enjoyed reading your intelligent comments. I will keep poetry in mind as I continue my quest. Thanks so much for your feedback!

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