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Category Archive for 'Autobiography/Memoir'

In Melville House Publishing’s Last Interview series, Billie Holiday’s own words define her and and reflect her difficult life through eight interviews. The first is given on November 1, 1939, published in Downbeat Magazine, and the last is twenty years later, published in October, 1959, in Confidential Magazine, an interview she granted two days before her death in a New York hospital at age forty-four. Born in Philadelphia, she grew up in Baltimore, the daughter of Clarence Holiday of the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra, with whom she had little contact after the age of ten. According to Khanya Mtshali, who wrote the substantial Introduction to this book, Billie was raped at around age ten and sent to a Catholic reformatory school for about two years, but was released “with the help of relatives” and later moved to New York with her mother, “where they began engaging in sex work to make ends met. Holiday was only fourteen.” In the the book’s first interview by Dave Dexter, with Downbeat Magazine on Nov. 1, 1939, she talks about those early years when she and her mother “were so hungry we could barely breathe.” Then at fifteen she got her chance singing in a “joint” in New York. Eight years later, at twenty-three, she was a giant in the music world. This book describes her ascent, and her difficulties, in her own words.

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“At thirty I had almost forgotten what it was like to be alone in a forest, or to immerse myself in a river, or to run along the edge of a crest beyond which there is only sky. I had done these things and they were my happiest memories. To me, the young urban adult I had become seemed like the exact opposite of that wild boy, and hence the desire grew to go in search of him. It wasn’t so much the need to leave as the desire to return; not to discover an unknown part of myself but to recover an old and deep-seated one I felt that I had lost.” Paolo Cognetti, author of 2017’s prize-winning THE EIGHT MOUNTAINS, continues the story of life in the alpine heights of northern Italy during summer vacations, with his own memoir, THE WILD BOY. Readers of EIGHT MOUNTAINS will be familiar with the area and the personality of his main character, remarkably like his own, as shown in this memoir by a man who has just reached age thirty. Newbies unfamiliar with Cognetti should enjoy an opportunity to share the life of a person of letters who is wondering about the direction he may take – a quiet book by a thoughtful writer for whom the trip to the mountains is a chance to relive times past through the activity of the present and learn from it

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In the years between 1973 and 1981, Uruguay was ruled by the rich and powerful – autocrats who used the power of the military to secure their rule and their continuing wealth – while the needs of the rest of the country were ignored.  Uruguayan author Mario Orlando Benedetti, widely regarded as one of the most influential writers in South America, was himself arrested and exiled during this time, and he knew many people who were imprisoned, if not executed.  Using his firsthand knowledge, he published this extraordinary and revelatory book in 1982, in the days immediately following the end of military rule, giving his audience and the rest of the world a vibrant, literary study of the effects of imprisonment on the hearts, minds, and psyches of people like himself, and of those at home who loved them. On the Favorites List for 2019.

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In the ending of Unquiet, author Linn Ullman summarizes her feelings about her father, Ingmar Bergman, and her complicated relationship with him and her mother, Liv Ullmann. The book, which she calls a “novel,” is more like a memoir, containing descriptions of many intimate family events, the instinctive reactions of her father and mother to life’s circumstances as they face them, and her own thoughtful exploration of her own identity, which dominates the body of the narrative. Age forty-eight by the time the novel ends, Ullmann presents an honest and realistic depiction of her life from the time she was a tiny child to the present, and she is so determined to be honest with herself and her reader, and so hopeful that her commentary contains elements of universality that she does not even mention the names of her famous parents until well over a hundred pages of narrative have elapsed. Linn Ullman has created a work memorable for its authenticity, its insights into parents and children, and its forthright depictions of the struggles that even caring people have in showing love.

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“There is no thief worse than a bad book,” an Italian Proverb reads. Those who know this site know I do not review books that I do not enjoy – everyone has different tastes – and I know that a book I dislike may be someone else’s favorite book of the year. When I start a new book (very often before its publication date, when there are no other reviews), I always want to be fair, giving the book a chance to make its case and, with luck, steal my heart. Publicists and representatives of publishers with whom I have had contact sometimes know me from my reviews and can be very helpful in helping me find books that will be of particular interest to me. Sometimes, however, these suggestions fall flat, too, and a book I’ve been looking forward to for weeks fails to pique my interest, and I do not like it and will not review it. This is my story about one such book.

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