Discover the world through other people’s lives

Good Reads1 copyBy John Hoover
©2015 Telegraph Publishing LLC
Searching for a theme for this month’s Good Reads, Bill came up with the title, “Try to Remember…” his way of suggesting that we review a memoir we’ve read. Kim suggested that a biography would also fit the theme, which I thought was a grand idea. So, this month’s column contains our recommendations for some memoirs or biographies about interesting people, (some famous, some not) and the lives they led.

Robert PaceLynne’s choice for September is The Short Tragic Life of Robert Peace ($16) by Jeff Hobbs. “Having grown up in the outskirts of Newark, N.J., Robert Peace seemed destined to break out of the cycle of poverty, drugs and prison of his childhood. He earned a scholarship to Yale after a stellar high school career and seemed to be going somewhere … but things didn’t go as planned. This is one of the most poignant biographies I have read and it has kept me awake at night wondering why. Hobbs, Peace’s roommate at Yale, wrote this as a tribute to his friend. It reads like a novel, but it isn’t.”

UnbrokenUnbroken ($16) by Laura Hillenbrand is Bill’s choice. “Mention the name Louis Zamperini, and few will think of that name as subject for a riveting biography – except those who recognize Zamperini as the central real-life character in Hillenbrand’s pulse-quickening book. As a teenager, Zamperini channeled his defiance into running, which carried him to the Berlin Olympics and within sight of the four-minute mile.  But when war came, the athlete became an airman, embarking on a journey that led to his doomed flight, a tiny raft, adrift into the unknown and then a brutal life as a prisoner.  If you can bear it, watch the movie after you have read the book – and your problems won’t loom as large.”

Deborah MittfordOne of Amanda’s favorite memoirs is Wait for Me! ($20), by Deborah Mitford. “This is an easy-to-read tale of Mitford’s very unusual childhood and subsequent marriage to and life with Andrew Cavendish. When her husband unexpectedly becomes Duke of Devonshire, he inherits Chatsworth, an impressive English ‘home’ (like Downton Abbey!). Mitford finds ways for the house and grounds to become financially sustainable – and her methods become a model for other British historic homes that are open to the public. There are many famous names throughout, and great black and white photos. Truly, a picture of a bygone way of life.”

JoySylvan says, “Working at Misty Valley is fraught with constant temptation, and I was ecstatic that this month’s theme gave me an excuse to read a book I almost couldn’t bear to put on the shelf when it came in: Joy: Poet Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C.S. Lewis ($28) by Abigail Santamaria.  I had learned a bit about this intelligent and strong woman from reading several of C.S. Lewis’ biographies and seeing the wonderful film Shadowlands. Santamaria’s book goes much deeper into Joy Davidman’s life before meeting Lewis, and the bumpy road to their eventual love story – which was not as pretty, but just as inspiring as Hollywood version of their romance. I especially loved how the narrative of her life is interspersed with Joy’s poetry and letters between her and Lewis.”

John AdamsI don’t know if David McCullough is the best author of biographies writing today but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed each of his that I’ve read. It is difficult to pick just one to review but I have a special fondness for  John Adams ($20). Exhaustedly researched, fully referenced and wonderfully written, John Adams not only tells the story of the subject’s life. But because of Adam’s involvement in the American Revolution, the reader also comes away with a greater understanding of that seminal period in our history. As our second president, Adams had a profound impact on the formation of the American republic and for that reason alone this book is worthy of reading.

First they killedKim’s  selection is First They Killed My Father ($15.99) by Loung Ung. This “was a Vermont Reads pick from 2004 that I only just discovered this past year. What a read! Set in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge reign of terror in the 1970s, it’s a first-hand account of the author’s early childhood. She shares what happened to her and her family as the violence and oppression grew worse in ‘the Killing Fields.’ At the age of 10, after already losing both parents and two sisters, she managed to escape with her older brother to the United States, and settled here in Vermont as a refugee. An incredibly powerful story – and a part of recent history I previously knew very little about.”

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeGood Reads

About the Author: After a 35-year career as a high school social studies teacher, John Hoover and his wife, Sally, retired to Vermont. He lives in Windham where he serves as a Justice of the Peace and Library Trustee. He works part time as a book-seller at Misty Valley Books, is active at St. Luke's Episcopal Church and sings in several choral groups.

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