Go on a memorable journey with these 6 new biographies, memoirs and novels
These new releases tell 'moving accounts' of peoples lives, says CBC book columnist Richard King
Becoming by Michelle Obama was deservedly the best-selling book of 2018.
She writes about her life growing up on the South Side of Chicago in a closely-knit family where she grasped the pleasures of dreaming and achieving. As a child she learned that her ability to do something well was directly related to how much effort she put in to mastering the skill. This applied equally to learning to play the piano and getting top marks at school.
Her drive and intelligence got her into Princeton, then Harvard law school and finally, and a little reluctantly, to the White House where for eight years she served as one of the three best first ladies of the United States. Obama's book is at once personal and inspirational.
Days of Moonlight
Giller prize-winning Canadian author André Alexis writes about a journey in Days of Moonlight. This is the fourth novel in a quincunx — actually it is novel number five in the quincunx; novel three is yet to be published.
In Days of Moonlight, Alfred Homer who recently suffered the loss of his parents agrees to go on a road trip with a friend of theirs, botany professor Morgan Bruno. The aptly named Homer and Bruno travel through southern Ontario to towns such as East Gwillimbury and East Tecumseh.
The book is graced with line drawings of some of the flora the two encounter. The novel deals with spiritual elements of the journey and the reader realizes that it is an exploration of Alfred's psyche.
A Joy to be Hidden
Ariela Freedman's novel A Joy to be Hidden is also based on a quest but the story is told in a more realistic fashion.
The novel is set in New York in the 1990s. The narrator, Alice Stein, is a graduate student and lecturer at NYU studying the French deconstructionists. Alice, whose father recently died, develops a close relationship with her grandmother just before the elderly woman passes away. Alice is charged with sorting through her grandmother's possessions and comes across a family secret.
The novel is populated by wonderful characters whose paths Alice crosses as she deals with the issues that have arisen following her grandmother's death.
Fredrick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom
There are very few people in American history more important than Fredrick Douglass. Yale professor David Blight provides a well-document and readable biography of Douglass in Fredrick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom.
Douglass was born a slave in Maryland in 1818 and escaped to freedom in 1838. He and his wife settled in Massachusetts and then in Rochester, New York. Douglass had been taught to read when a slave and found religion when a teen. He taught himself the art of public speaking and clear, passionate writing. Douglass became one of the leading abolitionists in the United States, brilliantly writing and speaking on the issue. He famously referred to himself as a thief for stealing himself from his master and escaping slavery.
The book is a moving account of the life of a self-made man who devoted himself to ending the odious systems of slavery and prejudice.
A Rich Brew: How Modern Cafés Created Modern Jewish Culture
Shachar M. Pinsker, a professor at the University of Michigan, wrote about an institution that we all take for granted — the café.
In A Rich Brew: How Modern Cafés Created Modern Jewish Culture, Pinsker examines the importance of café life in six cities, four of them in Europe and one each in Tel Aviv and New York.
Cafés were more than gathering places to relax over a coffee and read the newspaper. They were safe havens, large and elaborately decorated, where people would meet to discuss the issues of the day. They were places where poets and novelists met political types all of whom added, through their writings and actions, to Jewish culture as we know it.
Writers such as Sholem Aleichem in Odessa and Lev Bronshtein (who became Leon Trotsky) in Vienna were habitués of cafés. In spite of the fact that the grand cafés of the past have disappeared, modern cafés continue to play an important role in our culture.
The Organist: Fugues, Fatherhood and a Fragile Mind
Mark Abley is unquestionably one of our best writers. He is well-known (and missed) for his column on the English language that ran in the Gazette. He is also a very versatile writer. In his book, Watch Your Tongue, he takes the reader on a witty tour of English language's idioms.
In his more recent book, The Organist: Fugues, Fatherhood and a Fragile Mind, he writes a moving biography of his family and especially of his father, Henry.
Abley writes with great sensitivity and deep emotion about the man who did not have an easy life and how this affected those around him, those who loved him. The writing is such that there will be times that the reader will be moved to tears when reading about episodes in the Abley family. The reader will, at all times, be rewarded by reading about a son's devotion to his father.
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