01 August 2011

Don't-Miss Books to Read: Memoir and Biography 2

As I've mentioned here before, I'm pleased to be on the voting board for the 2011 Indie Lit Awards. In case you missed my earlier posts and don't know what these awards are, here's a brief description from the awards' blog:

Independent Literary Awards are given to books that have been recommended and voted on by independent literary bloggers. Nominations are open to all readers, and are then voted upon by a panel of bloggers who are proficient in the genre they represent. Each panel is led by a Director who oversees the integrity of the process.
I'm serving on the panel for the biography and memoir category, two genres I particularly love. Although I cannot nominate a title for award consideration, you can. In just a few weeks, nominations will be open, so now's the time to start thinking about which books you'd like to see make the short lists. I hope you take the time to nominate outstanding memoirs and biographies as well as great books in the other genres included in the 2011 awards.

This has been a great year for biography and memoir. I introduced you to a few titles in June, and now it's time to tell you about some more. I haven't read any of these yet (in fact some haven't been released yet), but they all grabbed my attention.

Out of a job and low on self-confidence Noelle Hancock decided to take Eleanor Roosevelt's advice to "Do one thing every day that scares you." My Year with Eleanor (Ecco Books) chronicles Hancock's project to do just that. Julie Salamon's Wendy and the Lost Boys (Penguin Press) is the authorized biography of the Tony-winning, trail-breaking playwright Wendy Wasserstein. Alexander Fuller's third book about her native Africa, Cocktail Hour under the Tree of Forgiveness (Penguin Press), focuses on her parents' childhoods during the fading years of colonial rule. In the early 1900s, two young women turn their backs on East Coast high society to try their hand at teaching in the wilderness of Colorado. In Nothing Daunted (Scribner), Dorothy Wickenden, the granddaughter of one these adventurous women, uses letters, interviews, and historical research to reconstruct their experience.

I'm not sure if young adults are as taken with Salinger as those of us who were reading him in the twentieth century, but Kenneth Slawenski's J. D. Salinger: A Life (Random House) will likely be one of the most-read biographies of 2011. In her latest memoir, Blue Nights (Knopf), Joan Didion turns her attention to her daughter, parenthood, and aging. Because I too can become somewhat obsessed over finding and creating the perfect loaf of bread with the perfect crust, William Alexander's 52 Loaves (Algonquin) is high on my list. I'm not quite as fanatic as he is, though, I truly have never considered growing my own wheat. Firsthand accounts of life in the American West of the nineteenth century is a particular love of mine. Frank Clifford's Deep Trails in the Old West (Oklahoma University Press), a "newly discovered memoir" has been edited and annotated by Frederick Nolan. Clifford recalls the rough and dangerous Wild West of his youth.

If you've read any great memoirs or biographies published this year, please remember to take the time in September to nominate them for an Indie Lit Award. If those aren't among your favorite genres, perhaps you can nominate titles in one of the following groups: literary fiction, GLBTQ, nonfiction, speculative fiction, and mystery.

What was the last memoir or biography you read?


JoAnn 8/1/11, 7:40 AM  

Several of these appeal to me, too - especially My Year with Eleanor and Nothing Daunted. I just finished a great memoir over the weekend, The Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jaber ...recipes included!

Tea,  8/1/11, 8:01 AM  

I truly enjoyed reading about each memoir/bio. Thanx.

Col (Col Reads) 8/1/11, 9:12 AM  

My Year with Eleanor looks especially interesting to me. It's moving up my TBR list rapidly -- thanks for the review!

Janet 8/1/11, 9:43 AM  

My Year With Eleanor sounds interesting! Adding it to my tbr list. I need to expand my reading more and do more bios and memoirs. I plan to look up your previous listings.
Also, being on the award voting board sounds exciting! You're a great person for it.

caite 8/1/11, 10:51 AM  

gosh, I have had some terrible luck with memoirs. Maybe I just read the wrong ones!

Jennifer-Girls Gone Reading 8/1/11, 10:53 AM  

I am embarrassed to say that Oprah's unauthorized biography was the last one that I read. Yes, it was shallow and horrible and not as juicy as I had hoped.

I am glad that you mentioned Joan Didion's book. She is amazing, and I should read more of her work instead of crap about celebrities. Thanks!

Zibilee 8/1/11, 11:29 AM  

Though memoirs are one of my favorite genres, I haven't read many of them this year. One of the best examples of the genre that I did read was Arms Wide Open by Patsy Harman about her time as a midwife out in Appalachia. A lot of the books that you mentioned here today sound excellent and like books that I could totally see myself reading. Thanks for sharing them and bringing them to my attention!

Dorte H 8/1/11, 12:17 PM  

When was the last...?

I am not even sure I remember. But when I´m a very old, very rich & famous author, I´ll go back to reading a more varied diet again :)

I have used Salinger´s dark but wonderful "A Perfect Day for Banana Fish" in my classes sometimes, and my students seem to appreciate the story.

Martha@Hey, I want to read that 8/1/11, 1:37 PM  

I really want to read My Year With Eleanor. It sounds so good. I've read quite a few memoirs and autobiographies lately.

Anonymous,  8/1/11, 1:48 PM  

I am soaking with some best stuff!
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Beth Hoffman 8/1/11, 1:51 PM  

I am very curious about Cocktail Hour Under The Tree of Forgetfulness ... will eagerly watch for your review!

Veens 8/1/11, 4:01 PM  

I really would not read either genres, if I had a fiction at hand. But I am trying to break loose and read more.

Anonymous,  8/1/11, 5:08 PM  

Alexandra Fuller has a new book out...yay! It's got another long title...boo!

Sheila (Bookjourney) 8/1/11, 8:46 PM  

My Year With Eleanor, Wendy and The Lost Boys - AWESOME!

bermudaonion 8/1/11, 8:51 PM  

I love memoirs and biographies too and want every one you listed.

Amused 8/1/11, 11:42 PM  

I LOVE Bios and memoirs too and there are many on this list that I've been eyeing too and some I've now added to my TBR pile. Thanks for this list!

David Abrams 8/4/11, 1:52 PM  

Yesterday, I finished reading Leigh Montville's new biography of Evel Knievel, stuntman extraordinaire. Though Montville skimmed over the last 20 years of Evel's life, for the most part, the book was well-written. Like its subject, it was often bold and in-your-face. It's a depressing book, though. Evel had millions and squandered it with a "You Can't Take It With You" philosophy. His fall, full of hubris and recklessness, came quickly, taking him overnight from folk hero to has-been.

Jessica 8/7/11, 12:20 PM  

I just have to thank you - I ran across this post and saw "52 Loaves." My father was is on a project to bake the perfect loaf of bread, so I sent him a copy. He was thrilled! He read me little bits of it on the phone and it sounds wonderful.

Booksnyc 8/8/11, 9:53 AM  

I have read so few biographies and memoirs this year which is surprising because memoir especially is a favorite genre of mine.

I enjoyed Fuller's first book so her next one definitely appeals!

avril,  8/9/11, 8:23 AM  

For me reading biographies is the main hobby. A friend that suggested me the top 9 biographies by Yuri Mintskovsky convinced me I should try reading this kind of books. After the first 3 books I realized how many things we can learn from such books and how we can develop a healthy way to see things.

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