Biography/Memoir Favorites

Another list I’ve put together for this holiday season as recommendations for books to read, gift, or put on wish lists. This list is a double handful of biographies and memoirs I found interesting. Luckily, I’ve recommended most of these books previously so you can find more info about each of them if you are interested.

A Princess Diarist

It is hard to believe Carrie Fisher has been gone for six years now. This memoir reflects on her time filming the first Star Wars movie which would subsequently launch her into fame and fandom as the iconic Princess Leia. The more I learn about her, the more I like her and wish she were still around.

And So It Goes – Kurt Vonnegut: A Life

This biography of Kurt Vonnegut is insightful and I think explanatory of much of his writing as he pulled much of his own life into his work. I am nearing the end of my read-through of all his novels and having read this biography made me appreciate his work more than I probably would have.

Robin

Robin Williams is another celebrity lost too soon. It has been eight years since we lost this fun, compassionate man. This biography by David Itzkoff is thoroughly researched and gives much insight into the man who was Robin.

Reflections: On the Magic of Writing

This is Diana Wynne Jones’s memoir on writing as well as reflections on her childhood and adult life. It was fun to look more into her experiences and who she was.

J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography

This biography by Humphrey Carpenter may be the best one out there on this prolific author. Tolkien has shaped a lot of writers and heavily influenced fantasy and storytelling in general. Love him or hate him, this book is a great look at who he was and the life he led.

In Pharoah’s Army

This memoir covers Tobias Wolff’s experience while a soldier in the Vietnam war. For those interested in Wolff or the war, it is a good read.

As You Wish

This book is Cary Elwes’s memoir during the filming of The Princess Bride and is a great read for the fans of this iconic movie that somehow became a cult classic after flopping at the box office.

Educated

Tara Westover’s memoir about her life in a family that didn’t believe in public education, or health services, is a fascinating read about how some people think. She doesn’t condemn the way she is raised, but ultimately had to decide how to interact with her family after going out on her own to learn about the world.

Amazing Fantastic Incredible

A graphic novel memoir about the graphic novel icon Stan Lee. A quick read that is more a cursory look at his life and work with some obvious bias, but overall a good, fun, book.

Tesla: Man Out of Time

A definitive biography on the enigma that is Nikola Tesla. What more is there to say? Margaret Cheney does a great job putting his life on the page.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Robert M. Pirsig’s philosophical memoir is not for everyone but had/has stirred up a lot of interesting conversations. It may be tough for many readers to get through, but it is an interesting read.

A Moveable Feast

A shorter, fun look into Hemingway’s life in Europe with a event alongside F. Scott Fitzgerald. Great for fans of either writer.

What If Our World Is Their Heaven?

This is actually a transcription of the final interview of Philip K. Dick which is a fantastic insight into who he was, and what he was working on before he passed away. He had a book in-progress that never was finished or published in any way, so what he gives us in this interview is all we will ever get. Sounded good too.

Science Fiction Favorites

I thought I’d put together a few lists this holiday season to recommend books to read, gift, or put on wish lists. This first list is a handful of science fiction books I’ve enjoyed and will likely re-read at a later time. Luckily, I’ve already recommended each of these books so you can find more info about each of them if you are interested.

Dune

Dune by Frank Herbert is one of my favorite science fiction books of all time. I first read it a few years ago upon hearing it is one of the best science fiction books of all time. It was originally published in 1965. It also helps that we recently had a great movie adaptation covering the first half of this book and the adaptation of the second half is coming out next year. I have yet to read the sequels but this first book is great as a standalone story.

The Book of the New Sun

The Book of the New Sun was my introduction to Gene Wolfe who is now one of my favorite authors. This four-book saga is unique and not for everyone, admittedly, but I enjoyed it. Wolfe builds a world filled with mystery without fully giving you a glimpse behind the curtain.

The Murderbot Diaries

The Murderbot Diaries is Martha Wells’s collection of science fiction novellas that follow the fun character who calls itself Murderbot. This story is rich with warnings about how the human race could end up as well as unique views of how we can and should be better. The first in this series is All Systems Red. 

Ready Player One (and Two)

Ready Player One is a fun book all around. The movie adaptation obviously changed a lot but was also fun for me. The sequel, Ready Player Two, was fun but a mediocre follow-up in my opinion.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Douglas Adams’s series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy might not be the type of humor for a lot of people, but the absurdity of it makes it enjoyable and lighthearted. There are five books in total and, admittedly, some sequels are lacking.

The Library at Mount Char

One of my absolute favorite reads of recent years, The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins is a hidden treasure that gives a unique perspective into how the universe works (or at least who is at the helm of creation).

Project Hail Mary

Andy Weir’s third novel, Project Hail Mary, is another semi-lighthearted-during-life-threatening-situations tale much like his first book The Martian. This story involves a mystery that is causing stars to die much quicker than expected, including the Sun. In an interstellar race against the clock, Ryland Grace needs to solve this mystery before Earth is no longer hospitable for humans.

Cat’s Cradle

Having become a big fan of Vonnegut this year, I felt it necessary to include at least one of his novels and Cat’s Cradle seemed appropriate as we head into winter as it involves the mysterious Ice-9.

The Left Hand of Darkness

Another book with ice as an element (arguable a major character in itself) is Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. This an important novel containing questions about gender in a world where gender is ambiguous.

Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell spans several centuries and goes into a future (or futures) that fall into the realms of science fiction, so I’m including it in this list. I greatly enjoyed this book which I first discovered when seeing the trailer for the movie, which I also enjoyed but mostly because I’d read the book beforehand.

Bluebeard

BluebeardBluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut was first published in 1987 and is the hoax autobiography of Rabo Karabekian. This novel is laced with many parallels to Vonnegut’s own life. Much more so than his other novels as they all include aspects, either references or core experiences, from his personal history. Regardless of any level of direct association between author and text, this book was fun to read because it focuses on a changing history within America (and the world) mostly around art, war, and the changing of generations and what is remaining, fading, or gaining the spotlight of world events.

This novel centers around Rabo Karabekian, an aging artist and World War II vet, who has a secret locked away in his potato barn on Long Island. Along comes a younger, recently widowed, woman who invites herself to stay in his home and badgers him to tell her his life story. The result is in effect the entirety of this novel.

Circe Berman, the widow in question, is tiresome at times with her efforts to uproot Rabo’s contentment with (or resignation to) the life he has led. I doubt anyone would really have put up with some of her behaviors, but her own vitality re-ignites the old man’s interests in life to the point he is no longer content just sitting around and waiting to die. This gives us our story and one which I recommend because Vonnegut again gives a narrative that provides a unique perspective of what life means on this small world and how we live together within it.

The celebrities of today will fade and new popular artists and persons will emerge. Each generation seems to have their own heroes and time is unrelenting. Rabo Karabekian was fine thinking he was a forgotten artist who possibly made it into a footnote of history. He had seen much change in the world and most of his friends were gone. His perspective of seeing a world that has somehow already moved on from such a major event as World War II is both incredulous and sorrowful.

Unfortunately, the technologies of today almost make it seem like newsworthy events are cycling through the front page faster and faster than ever before. The world has forgotten the realities of the World Wars and unfortunately quickly forgets the realities of yesterday leaving us no time to mourn or laugh or even ponder the moments that are making up our lives.

So, dear reader, I hope you remember to slow down and enjoy the life you have. Read books that make you feel, think, wonder, and learn. Read books that give you new perspectives. The world is rich with all types of experiences. Go forth and enjoy the time you have.

Happy Reading.

Mother Night

Mother NightMother Night is Kurt Vonnegut’s third book and was originally published in 1961. It is one of several of Vonnegut’s novels that is relatively short and, at least for me, read easy. I very well could have finished it in an evening. I did finish in just a few days.

This story features Howard W. Campbell, Jr. who is wanted as a WWII Nazi war criminal. However, he was secretly a spy for America, his native country, but has no way to prove his work that helped defeat the Nazis and no agent from America will or can vouch for him. His work as a spy prevented him being tried as a war criminal directly after the war, but after 15 years lying low in New York, he becomes the center of many people’s, and several nation’s, attention once again.

Not only does this book drip with references to Vonnegut’s own time during WWII, but it provides a fictional yet very real perspective of how people still hold strong beliefs and alarmingly hateful ideas despite what paths have been walked throughout history. I hate to say that this book very much remains relevant considering the growing number of people spouting old hatreds that should have been buried by society long ago (or perhaps the hatreds were always there and they found new ways or more confidence in shouting them).

Howard W. Campbell, Jr. is a man who did and promoted terrible things. He admits as much and states how he was able to do them in order to survive the times that enveloped much of the world. He knew the evils he committed but held shreds of hope that his work was worthwhile as through those evils he provided information to assist those he truly believed in. His struggles resulted in a mostly apathetic, shattered old man who finds a way to live through any situation or society. Unfortunately, I think to a degree, we all take part in a society where we disagree with many aspects and wish things were better than they were or more accepting of the things we hold most valuable.

For me, that would be books, and the recent increases in book bans (including works by Vonnegut) only increases my desire to speak up and spread the information others want to suppress. Perhaps this counts as doing just that.

Happy Reading.

Fall Reading Lineup (Part 2)

Well, I actually went through my initial fall book lineup quicker than I thought I would, so here we are with a Part 2. I haven’t returned to Gormenghast however, which was on my last lineup, and I’m not sure if I will return to it or let it go. I’m still very much reading through Kurt Vonnegut’s works and a few will be on this list, but of course I want to put a few others in the lineup to give myself some variety. Here we go (again):

we-are-what-we-pretend-to-beI recently finished We Are What We Pretend To Be: The First and Last Works by Kurt Vonnegut which includes his first novella (previously unpublished) and his final book/novella that was in progress but he never finished.

JailbirdI recently started another Vonnegut book, Jailbird (which I am enjoying thus far), and then I plan to read Slapstick as I work through all of his books. Having just read his biography, I chose Jailbird next as it was considered one of his better books to come from the latter part of his career while Slapstick was not well received and is supposedly a bit of a mess. I will find out for myself of course.

Slade HouseSince it is getting into “spooky” season, I figured I should include a book that might fit into that category. I’ve had this one for a while and haven’t gotten around to reading it, so I’m putting Slade House by David Mitchell in the lineup. It is relatively short so I hope to read through it well before the end of the month.

something-wicked-this-way-comesKeeping along the same theme here, I’ve always meant to read Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, so I’m adding it to the list for now but it may or may not drop off as the month goes by.

I’m not entirely certain what I’m going to dive into after I wrap up the final few Vonnegut novels. There are a million other books I want to eventually read, but sometimes I go by whatever pops out to me or if something captures my interest and I want to read it next. For example, I’m really enjoying the Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power television series so I may possibly jump back into Tolkien’s world.

Again, I hope you find time to read the books you want to read. Fall is a great season for reading as the weather cools and bundling up with a hot beverage and a good book is the perfect way to spend an evening (or an hour).

Happy Reading.