So, we in the book blogging world tend to get caught up in the hype of the bestsellers, or the latest release in that series “everybody” is raving about, and we tend to forget that there actually are other genres in the bookstores and libraries. Personally, I don’t read a lot of non-fiction (i.e. the true stuff that happened to real people), often because I tend to have the attention span of a squirrel, and therefore it’s much easier for me to watch the movie so that I don’t get distracted from finishing the book, and then I never learn about the topic at all. But anyway, I do like to check out biographies, especially ones that help promote a greater understanding of an over-arcing topic that I may be interested in.
However, are all biographies created equal? Just like any other book, the way a memoir is written makes a big difference in what the reader will take away from the experience. Is the material relatable to someone who doesn’t know much about that person’s occupation/background? Are the facts presented pretty accurately from the person’s memories, or has some heavy ghost-writing been conducted (meaning the content has been slanted too far to one viewpoint)?
Let’s get into a slightly heavy discussion, shall we…
Misty Copeland: Life in Motion (An Unlikely Ballerina). This was one of my best reads of last year. Not just because I love ballet and followed the news about this remarkable woman, who successfully became the first black principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre in 2016. Her memoirs are chock full of heart-wrenching personal details about her childhood and her honest struggles with self-esteem and the challenges to reaching the level of success she has. The ghost writer did an excellent job on conveying the world of classical ballet to people who aren’t dancers. And if you are a dancer, there’s plenty to relate to and admire. Misty’s own voice does come through very well in the writing style (I’ve watched several televised interviews with her). This one I recommend, even for the non-dancer.
Michaela DePrince: Taking Flight. Comparing this selection to Misty’s is unfair, but inevitable, and for me inevitably disappointing. While I have enormous respect for the fact this young woman is a survivor of a horrible civil war in her native country, I don’t really have fond feelings for her book. The writing is very choppy and hard to follow; also, the narration begins when Michaela was supposedly a very young child, preschool age, and based on what I know about child development (hello, Early Childhood degree), I find it extremely hard to believe a 4-year-old would have such graphic memories. Particularly of a civil war, which cognitively she would’ve had such little to zero understanding of things like the reasons behind the fighting and why her family had to move houses. And so many of the later chapters are blatant about describing pretty much everybody in America as racist, which is simply not true. Michaela claimed that she “had” to go dance for a ballet company in the Netherlands, because “none of the American companies would take a black girl,” and that is simply not true, either. Also, the fact that these “memoirs” were published when she was only in her early 20s seems just a bit pre-emptive.
I Am Malala: Malala Yousafzai. I’d give this 3 stars. Again, I suspect heavy editing from the adult ghostwriter. There were so many comments about the current political climate in Pakistan/Afghanistan — which I understand is a very big deal (especially for women) — but Malala has made it clear on numerous occasions, she doesn’t want to take sides in politics or theology; her mission is for girls everywhere, regardless of their nationality, religion, or race, to receive education through high school. I consider this incredible young woman a true feminist, and quite honestly, her father, too, for coming from such a prejudiced background and being determined to see his daughter go to school. The Western-ized liberal slant on a lot of the book concerned me, particularly since it’s supposed to be from the point of view of a distinctly Eastern-born girl.
Nerdy, Shy and Socially Inappropriate by Cynthia Kim. This is just plain the best book on autism that I’ve come across. It uses all the psychological/medical stuff to explain autism, but it also breaks it down into a great, understandable picture of daily life for the autist — and since it was written by Cynthia Kim, who falls on the high-functioning end of the spectrum, and was diagnosed (what was formerly called) Asperger’s as an adult, you know it’s true and correct and all so real. In fact, I actually haven’t read more than 75% of it yet, because I see myself sooooo much in it, that there were parts where reading became too painful and I had to set it aside. So, whether you have a family member or friend on the spectrum or have very little idea what ASD actually means, read this.
The Mighty Queens of Freeville by Amy Dickinson. The reason I read this to begin with is — drum roll, please! — Amy Dickinson, now-famous advice columnist, actually hails from the town where I now live! I literally have run into her in the grocery store. And when we were just listening to her on NPR radio, that’s really impressive and mind-boggling all at once. And while I don’t know Amy or her family personally, plenty of my acquaintances do, and it was just head-exploding to read about businesses and streets I see in person every week in a nationally best-selling memoir. Also, Amy has a very honest and funny writing style, and this is a fun read for single moms and anybody who has read Amy’s column and wanted to know more about the person behind the newspaper head shot.
Forever, Erma by Erma Bombeck. So, this one will seem to come out of left field. But I have been a massive fan of Erma Bombeck since I was…okay, it’s been a very long time, and if I admit to just how young I was when I started reading her newspaper column, I will definitely be branded as a nerd. And this is just not accurate: I am a geek. So, anyway, this is a collection of Erma’s most popular columns from across 30 years of making us laugh. I greatly miss this lady’s sharp wit and wisdom. Bless you, Erma, for all you gave us to treasure.