Thursday, 1 May 2014


I am reading "Too close to the Falls", a memoir written by a psychologist, of her early years in Lewiston, New York.  It surprises me that the author can remember so many details of childhood events.  Can she really remember conversations from many, many years ago, when she was a very young child?  Could she really read proficiently at four and help with pharmacy deliveries?

I realize that there is often a question about the truth in biographies.  Certainly time changes incidents of your childhood.  And, of course, two people remember the very same incident in different ways.
However, I always enjoy both biographies and autobiographies, realizing that there is fiction in both.

James Fry was publicly humiliated when the details of his autobiography "A Million Little Pieces" turned out to have some fictional aspects.  But there was great emotion in the book and I felt that I understood addiction better after reading that book.  Perhaps the fictional aspects were what kept me engrossed.  The introduction was fascinating:
"The young man came to the Old Man seeking counsel.
I broke something, Old Man.  How badly is it broken?
It's in a million little pieces.
I'm afraid I can't help you.
There's nothing you can do.
It can't be fixed.
It's broken beyond repair.  It's in a million little pieces."

The author was an alcoholic, drug addict and criminal.  He began drinking at ten (football games, parents' parties).  He smoked pot at 12 .  He blacked out at 14 - coke, acid, crystal meth at 15, etc.
He talks about "The Fury" that he has always felt- never connecting with his parents.
There are no sentences or paragraphs - free style writing. It was compelling!
I learned a lot about addiction and didn't worry whether every detail was completely accurate.

"The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio" by Terry Ryan was a light and interesting biography.
The subtitle is: "How my mother raised 10 kids on 25 words or less".
In 1953, with 10 children to support, Leo Ryan worked in a machine shop making $90.00 a week and spending $30.00 of that on beer.  His wife, Evelyn, wrote poetry and jingles to supplement that.

When they were being evicted, she won $5.000. and bought a house.  She also won a 5 minute grocery shopping spree. ($411.44 worth of food).
"Her delight in living rose out of bed with her every day.  It was the one thing Dad couldn't drink away."
When Evelyn died, all 10 children returned to the family home and reminisced about their mother's resilience and creativity.

"An island to someone who has never left it is the world". 

"The land is more important than the country".
I have enjoyed reading Wayne Johnston's fiction stories that are set in Newfoundland and I enjoyed reading this biography of his family.  The men are the main characters- Wayne, his father Art, and grandfather Charlie.  I still remember, years after reading the book, the descriptions of travelling with horse and buggy in the winter.  Sometimes the driver fell asleep and the horses found their own way home.
There are interesting descriptions of the forge and blacksmithing during Charlie's life. Art was an inspector for the Department of Fisheries and made some interesting trips. The train trip across Newfoundland (Art and Wayne) described some of the geography as well as introducing mummers.

George Dawson was featured on one of Oprah's shows.  He learned to read at 98.  He was studying for his GED at age 103 when he died.

Dawson was born in 1898 in Texas.  He saw lynchings and feared the Ku Klux Klan.  He travelled until he married and had seven children.  He always helped them with their homework even though he couldn't read. He also drove a car until he needed to take a test, so had to give up driving.A man came to his door and invited him to attend an adult education program.  I enjoyed Dawson's memories and also his attitude.  He was hard-working and honest.

Quote: “Things will be all right. People need to hear that. Life is good, just as it is. There isn’t anything I would change about my life.”—George Dawson

I have recorded 63 biographies and autobiographies that I have read.  Several of these are about a spiritual search.  Others are appreciated for the sense of time and place, such as "Lemon Swamp and Other Places: a Carolina memoir".  Mamie Fields, born in 1888 in Charlston, had collected a lot of writing over the years and her granddaughter helped her work on the book for 8 years, with the publication accomplished when Mamie was 95.

I really enjoy biographies in any form.  "Loving Frank" (Frank Lloyd Wright) was great and I am planning to read Nancy Horan's latest book "Under the Wide and Starry Sky"- a biography of Robert Louis Stevenson.

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