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Lost Connections

Lost Connections

posted by:
October 16, 2012 - 7:03am

The Distance Between UsWhile America continues to debate immigration reform, Mexican-born author Reyna Grande has placed a human face on her own family’s painful struggles to emerge from the shadows. In her moving memoir, The Distance Between Us, the physical journey of illegally emigrating from one of the poorest states in Mexico to a Los Angeles Latino neighborhood a quarter century ago extracts a high emotional cost in the quest for a better life. As a young child in Iguala, Mexico, Reyna Grande believed that the country on “the other side” gobbled up parents. When Reyna’s own parents leave for “el otro lado” to find work, she and her older siblings are left behind with a cruel grandmother. Reyna depends on her older sister, Mago, who becomes the “little mother”--understanding too well the breach in trust that has occurred. They ache helplessly for their absent alcoholic father and indifferent mother, who returns only to leave again.

 

The author never forgets her roots, nor does she make excuses in telling this coming of age story. She examines with sharp focus and a renewed compassion the actions of her flawed parents and the life-altering repercussions for all involved. Through the grim realities of her early life and the "broken beauty" of her native country, she captures her own voice as a young child with matter of fact clarity.  When her father finally returns for her and her siblings, the border crossing on foot is perilous. "We became lizards, rubbing our bellies against the cold, damp earth, trying to find a place to hide," she recalls. Sadly, entry into the U.S. brings its own hardships, brought on by living with an explosive father. Readers of Angela’s Ashes and The Glass Castle will recognize the familiar, true theme of a family's breakdown, and the resilience and tenuous steps that lead to understanding and forgiveness. Teen readers of memoir will benefit from gleaning a perspective on a modern immigrant experience so close to home.

Cynthia

 
 

Stop by and Set a Spell

 

Visiting TomVisiting Tom: A Man, a Highway, and the Road to Roughneck Grace is a quirky biography of eighty-two-year old Tom Hartwig, who is equal parts Rube Goldberg and Hunter S. Thompson.  The only reason we are so fortunate to learn about the enduring spark and eccentricities of Tom is due to the many neighborly visits made by Michael Perry, author of Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs and Parenting. Perry recognizes Tom’s uniqueness which embodies a rare and rustic Americana spirit that is seldom seen today.

 

The Hartwig resistance, a white clapboard farmhouse, is situated in rural Wisconsin. It has been Tom’s home since his birth in 1929. He admired the tranquil landscape with Arlene, his wife of sixty years, until President Eisenhower enacted the Federal -Aid Highway Act which ran a four lane interstate right past his kitchen window.  Although he is quick to shake his head at the ceaseless stream of cars that disfigured his farmland, Tom has his own ways to make known his charming yet anomalous independence.  From stationing an operable cannon on his front lawn, to leading a team of oxen through local parades, it is obvious that little in this life, not even a highway, can get in this man’s way. For readers who want an off the beaten path biography, Visiting Tom is the perfect collection of astute yet humble musings, and authentic snapshots from the life of one extraordinary man.

Sarah Jane

 
 

A Family’s Journey Through Darkness

January First“Schizophrenia is a little like cancer. You can’t trust that it will ever go away completely.” Michael Schofield begins with these reflections as he chronicles his journey to understand and combat his daughter January’s mental illness in January First: A Child’s Descent into Madness and Her Father’s Struggle to Save Her. For the first five years of her life, Michael and his wife Susan knew only a few certainties about January.  First, she was a genius, with an IQ of 146. Second, she had an extremely active imagination, to the point where she created her own private world and hundreds of imaginary friends. Third, she rarely slept and needed constant stimulation, keeping both parents in a state of total exhaustion and often despair. January was also more prone than the average child to tantrums and fits of rage, which intensified after the birth of her brother, Bodhi. The Schofields had hoped that a sibling would give January a much-needed companion, but were horrified when she tried time and again to physically harm the infant. After many wrong turns and countless battles with California’s mental health and education systems, January was diagnosed with childhood schizophrenia, a condition much more severe in children than in adults.

 

Schofield’s complete honesty, even when it means portraying himself in a less than flattering light, is one of the most powerful draws of this book. He lays bare the family’s physical, emotional and financial struggles. Conveyed particularly well are the immense frustrations the Schofields experience on a daily basis, as they deal with insurance companies, doctors who won’t return calls, and a child who does not respond to traditional reinforcements or punishments.  At present, the situation with January has improved, thanks in large part to a creative living situation – for several years the Schofields kept two apartments so January and Bodhi could live apart - and a drug cocktail which has reduced the severity of her hallucinations. As Schofield concludes, the family has learned to embrace the positive in each day but know that January’s condition may still deteriorate. To find out even more about Jani, visit Schofield’s website, which includes links to media coverage on the family.

Melanie

 
 

A Banquet for the Senses

Alyssa Harad has a secret: she is obsessed with perfume. She owns a dizzying array of tiny bottles of scent, tucked away in shoeboxes, drawers, and what she calls her “perfume closet”. She plans her vacations around visiting exclusive boutiques stocked with the rarest and most coveted perfumes, elixirs so precious that she can barely dream of affording a sample, let alone an entire bottle. She became so entranced that she wrote a book, Coming to My Senses: A Story of Perfume, Pleasure, and an Unlikely Bride, that describes her gradual emersion into the decadent world of perfumery. 

 

Harad is not the most likely person to develop a fixation for such a sensuous and rather commercial subject.  After spending years obtaining a PhD in English, Harad thought she knew who she was—literate, feminist, more likely to spend money on books than on beauty supplies.  But she was also drifting, aimless, searching for an avocation that would spark her passions. Oh, and did she mention she was getting married? To distract her from her life and her upcoming wedding, Harad embarked on a voyage into the mysterious and complex realm of perfume, where she found a community of bloggers, commenters, perfumers, and retail salespeople who share her preoccupation with all things olfactory. Her descriptions of how the different notes of a perfume unfold over time are exotic and imaginative. She can paint images, evoke memories, and plunge into the unknown, all from a single drop of fragrance.

 

As her wedding date draws near, Harad reconciles her conflicting feelings over her marriage and her obsession, leaving her more grounded and more fully present in her own life. Coming to My Senses is a personal journey of rediscovery, remembrance, and recognition that will tease your senses and soften your heart.

 

Rachael

 
 

Downton Abbey’s Competition

Call the MidfieBBC’s new series based on Jennifer Worth’s best-selling memoir Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times broke viewer records when it attracted 9.8 million viewers for its opening episode. The show’s popularity only grew from there with later episodes overtaking Downton Abbey’s record ratings. The ensemble cast, including Jessica Raine and Vanessa Redgrave, brings to life the harsh living conditions in London’s poorest slums in the 1950s. The memoir that inspired the series was recently rereleased in time for the show’s US television premiere.

 

At age 22, Jennifer Worth moved into an Anglican convent to work as a midwife to the poorest women in East London. The world she describes is almost unimaginable to modern audiences. Few people had cars, so children typically played in the smaller side streets where there was no traffic. Large families lived in small two-room apartments, many of which had cold running water but no indoor bathrooms. Antibiotics were new and rarely used, and nearly all births took place in the patient’s home.

 

Armed with only a bicycle and bag of supplies, Worth and the other midwives from Nonnatus House delivered 80-100 babies per month in their patients’ homes. Although the details of her patients’ lives and their living conditions are sometimes difficult to read, Worth also brings humor and hope to the stories. Told in her unique voice, Call the Midwife is filled with colorful characters from the nuns and midwives to the patients themselves. This frank and sometimes graphic memoir brings to life a fascinating piece of history. Call the Midwife will air in the US on PBS beginning Sunday, September 30th, and will be released on DVD in November. To get a taste of the show, check out this trailer.

Beth

 
 

The Final Season

PaternoJoe Paterno long identified with Virgil’s reluctant Trojan hero Aeneas, who eschewed individual glory on his way to founding Rome. Aeneas fulfilled his destiny in a way that the late Penn State coach admired. Aeneas, like Paterno, was a team player.  In his new biography, Paterno, author Joe Posnanski paints a complicated picture of the consummate team player and his rise and fall as a coaching legend.

 

Posnanski cleverly organized Paterno’s story into five operatic acts, beginning with his success-driven upbringing in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, and concluding with the tragic repercussions of the 2011 Penn State sexual abuse scandal.  By the end, and in a span of about three months, the winningest coach in college history had been consumed by scandal, cancer, and ultimately death.

 

Excellence and success meant different things to Joe Paterno. Examples of both are in plentiful supply in Posnanski’s book. There are anecdotes and testimonials but also contradictions. A former writer for Sports Illustrated, Posnanski visualized a different book when he was granted full access to Paterno last year. Then the Jerry Sandusky case erupted.   A chapter entitled “Sandusky” explores the emotional armor of these powerful men.  Apparently there was no love lost between the two. There are some interesting sidebars about Paterno’s impressions of the second most popular coach in Happy Valley.  

 

Although the author’s tone is generally sympathetic, it is still a white-hot topic as to why Paterno, a lifelong rule follower who valued his young men, did not step up for those most vulnerable. "One of Paterno's great strengths, and perhaps one of his great flaws was his fierce loyalty and absolute trust in the people closest to him," according to Posnanski. That observation remains the crux in evaluating the aggregate of a remarkable 46-year career that reached the pinnacle of heights before plunging to the depths of misery.

Cynthia

 
 

Let's Get Ready to Rumble

GooseTony Siragusa, one of the most beloved former Ravens, writes about football and life in Goose: the Outrageous Life and Times of a Football Guy. Siragusa’s path to the Super Bowl wasn’t easy, and his was a career which almost didn’t happen. Readers meet Goose as a child in New Jersey and learn that athletics did not always come easy. In fact, he used his failure to make the Little League All Star team at age twelve as future motivation to prove his prowess. He had a successful career as a college athlete at the University of Pittsburgh and also enjoyed the extra-curricular fun associated with college days. Unfortunately, he injured both knees while playing and lost a season to rehabilitation.

 

During the 1990 NFL draft, Siragusa was not picked through twelve rounds, but was selected by the Indianapolis Colts as an undrafted free agent. The team doctor thought he would be lucky to survive a few years in the NFL. But what do doctors know? Siragusa played for twelve seasons, signing with the Ravens in 1997. He will forever be remembered in Baltimore as a critical member of the 2000 Ravens’ defense which allowed the fewest points in NFL regular season history, and which went on to bring the Lombardi Trophy to Charm City by claiming victory in Super Bowl XXXV. Today, Siragusa is a popular sideline reporter on the Fox network and cohost of DIY Network’s Man Caves. Football falls will appreciate the insider details, but this is more than a tale of the gridiron. Siragusa shares life lessons, stories about small town living, and the importance of perseverance in this breezy, humorous read which will appeal even to those readers who don’t claim citizenship in Ravens Nation.  

Maureen

 
 

Here's to You, Mrs. Robinson

Mrs. Robinson's DisgraceBefore British Parliament passed the Matrimonial Causes Act, marriages could only be dissolved in a private Act of Parliament, the cost and scandal of which made divorces rare. During the summer of 1858, that changed. The new Court of Divorce and Matrimonial Causes began to grant divorces to the English middle class. On June 14, 1858, a man named Henry Robinson petitioned the court to dissolve his marriage to his wife Isabella on grounds that she had committed adultery. The evidence came from her own diary, portions of which were read aloud over the course of the trial and then widely published in London newspapers. London was riveted by the scandal. Kate Summerscale brings this fascinating story to modern audiences in Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady.

 

In her diary, Isabella Robinson regularly reflected on her unhappiness with her life and marriage. She also wrote about a relationship with a man named Edward Lane, who publicly denied the affair. Standards for proving a wife’s adultery in divorce cases were so low that the diary was potentially enough to condemn Isabella in court despite her husband’s multiple infidelities. To protect Lane’s reputation, Isabella’s attorneys and doctors convinced her to present the diaries as fictional, and her only viable legal defense was to claim that she had imagined the affair because she suffered from sexual mania.

 

Summerscale first read about this story in a book about Victorian scandals while she was researching her previous bestseller, The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective. She began to investigate the story because she was intrigued by the double standards that women faced in Victorian divorce courts; she wanted to know the truth about Isabella Robinson. Her storytelling results in the gripping tale of Mrs. Robinson’s fall from grace and the ensuing scandal.

Beth

 
 

We Will Rock You

MercuryThe Man Who Sold the WorldMickGet out your bell bottoms, glitter, and eyeliner and celebrate the music of the 1970s. Delve into the exploits of three rock gods in new biographies, just published in July. It doesn’t get much more fascinating than the life stories of Freddie Mercury, Mick Jagger and David Bowie. Mercury: An Intimate Biography of Freddie Mercury by rock journalist Lesley Ann Jones attempts to reveal the real Freddie Mercury. Jones traces his fascinating journey from a young boy raised in India and Zanzibar to the lead singer of Queen, one of the most successful super-groups of the 1970s. Jones depicts Mercury’s childhood, his rise to fame, and his friendship with Elton John. Jones traces Queen’s trajectory into super-group status, complete with the usual stories of rock and roll debauchery.  

 

The one and only Ziggy Stardust is the subject of Peter Doggett’s new biography, The Man Who Sold the World: David Bowie and the 1970s. Doggett chooses to write about Bowie’s most influential decade. He begins his analysis with “Space Oddity” from 1969 and rounds out the book, covering Bowie’s 1980 LP, Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps). A rock journalist and critic for decades, Doggett is considered to be one of the few writers who could pull off an effective, insightful look at Bowie’s impact on music and popular culture. Indeed, this new biography has already garnered positive reviews. Library Journal calls it “a complete treat.” Rob Fitzpatrick from London’s Sunday Times says the book is “astonishing and absorbing.”

 

Few bands are as influential and long lasting as The Rolling Stones. Mick: The Wild Life and Mad Genius of Mick Jagger  is a candid “tell-all” of the flamboyant front man. Based on interviews with friends, family members and other musicians, Mick is gossipy and salacious. This one is for readers who are interested in Jagger’s sexual exploits, drug use, and opinions on everything from Lady Gaga to Kanye West.

Zeke

 
 

Goodbye, Norma Jean

Marilyn & MeMarilyn at Rainbow's EndMarilyn in FashionOn August 5, 1962, the nation was shocked to learn of the death of Marilyn Monroe. She rocketed from from popular movie star to legend and her star has never faded. Three new volumes commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Marilyn’s death share different aspects of her story. 

 

In Marilyn & Me: a Photographer’s Memories, Lawrence Schiller writes a personal account detailing his early career days as a photojournalist. One of Schiller’s early assignments was Marilyn Monroe, and he shares the particulars of the friendship he built with Marilyn on the sets of two of her last movies, including the unfinished Something’s Got to Give. This is an intimate memoir of a young photographer's relationship with Marilyn Monroe just months before her death and contains his extraordinary photographs, some of which have never been published.     

 

Darwin Porter attempts to solve the mysterious circumstances surrounding Marilyn’s death in Marilyn at Rainbow's End: Sex, Lies, Murder, and the Great Cover-Up. A Hollywood journalist, Porter outlines a fairly thorough listing of the conspiracies and dark secrets behind what some see as Hollywood's most notorious mystery. While making a case that Marilyn was murdered, this investigative book lays out the evidence and allows the reader to come to his or her own conclusions.  

  

Marilyn in Fashion by Christopher Nickens and George Zeno combines elaborate photography and behind-the-scenes accounts to reveal how Marilyn meticulously crafted her image, right down to her shoes. From the pink satin Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend’s gown, and the pleated white dress from The Seven Year Itch, to the revealing nude sheath worn to sing happy birthday to President Kennedy, Marilyn had an enduring sense of personal style. In an era of Peter Pan collars, poodle skirts, and saddle shoes, Marilyn made fashion sizzle with sex appeal, and her look is imitated to this day.

 

Maureen