Autobiography

All posts in the Autobiography category

Banned Books 2016 – OCTOBER READ – The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Published October 31, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

The Glass Castle is a remarkable memoir of resilience and redemption, and a revelatory look into a family at once deeply dysfunctional and uniquely vibrant. When sober, Jeannette’s brilliant and charismatic father captured his children’s imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and how to embrace life fearlessly. But when he drank, he was dishonest and destructive. Her mother was a free spirit who abhorred the idea of domesticity and didn’t want the responsibility of raising a family.

The Walls children learned to take care of themselves. They fed, clothed, and protected one another, and eventually found their way to New York. Their parents followed them, choosing to be homeless even as their children prospered.

The Glass Castle is truly astonishing–a memoir permeated by the intense love of a peculiar but loyal family.

bannedbooks

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Welcome to our tenth banned book of 2016! As always, we’ll be looking at why the book was challenged, how/if things have changed since the book was originally published and our own opinions on the book. Here’s what we’ll be reading for the rest of 2016…

NOVEMBER- Gossip Girl- Cecily Von Ziegesar

DECEMBER – My Sister’s Keeper- Jodi Picoult

But back to this month….

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

First published: 2005

In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2012 (source)

Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit

Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?

BETH: As one of the more fairly recent releases for our banned books list this year, answers for the first two questions are going to be similar as I don’t think attitudes have changed that much in the last ten or so years. There are a few profanities in the text with one mention of the “c” word which I know some people may not take too kindly to. However, I feel that no matter where you go or what you try to avoid, you cannot help but hear bad language, whether it’s in the street or on the television. If you’re offended by bad language, fair enough that’s your own personal right and you can choose to read this book or not. In my opinion, it’s not completely littered with profanity so I was perfectly happy whilst reading it. 

CHRISSI: It does have some offensive language, I know the ‘c’ word certainly offends me, but when used in this book it didn’t bother me so much because it was the reality of the situation. It didn’t prevent me from reading this book, it just made me cringe a little. That’s fine. That’s real. I can see that its heavy subject matter might be too much for teenagers but moving into YA and adult, I don’t think it’s something that should be necessarily banned. As Beth says, you can hear much worse on TV, around friends and with music.

How about now?

BETH: See first answer! This book is not marketed as a young adult novel. In fact, it is on the “adult” category of GoodReads. This may be down to the occasional bad language, sexual references or some of the more adult content that it contains. The subject matter that this novel deals with is difficult and was, at times, hard to read for me but I’m incredibly glad that I did because I found it a wonderful, highly emotional piece of writing. I can’t really think of any hard and fast reasons why it should be challenged/banned and think a memoir of this standard deserves to be read.

CHRISSI: Like Beth, I don’t think it should be necessarily challenged or banned as I think it’s a highly important read. Perhaps, if in a high school/college library it should have a notice for explicit content, but an outright ban? No I wouldn’t agree with that.

What did you think of this book?:

BETH: I thought it was a brilliant read! The fact that it is a memoir just made Jeannette’s difficult upbringing with her family all the more poignant and a little chilling in places if I’m honest. I felt so sorry for Jeannette and her brother and sisters being brought up in such an environment, moving from place to place, sleeping in cars and rooting through rubbish bins just to find something to eat. It’s a life that no child should have to experience and really made me think about people that are less fortunate and don’t have the blessing of a stable home/family.

CHRISSI: I was utterly gripped by this book. I couldn’t put it down, but at the same time, I wanted to because it was such an intense read. It was tough to read about what Jeannette and her siblings went through. It made me realise how lucky I was to have the upbringing that I did. It certainly kept me thinking and I imagine this book will stay with me for a long time.

Would you recommend it?:

BETH: But of course!
CHRISSI: Of course!

BETH’S personal star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Join us again on the last Monday of November when we will be discussing Gossip Girl by Cecily Von Ziegesar.

Talking About The Last Act Of Love by Cathy Rentzenbrink with Chrissi Reads

Published September 7, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

In the summer of 1990 – two weeks before his GCSE results, which turned out to be the best in his school – Cathy Rentzenbrink’s brother Matty was knocked down by a car on the way home from a night out, suffering serious head injuries. He was left in a permanent vegetative state. Over the following years, Cathy and her parents took care of Matty – they built an extension onto the village pub where they lived and worked; they talked to him, fed him, bathed him, loved him. But there came a point at which it seemed the best thing they could do for Matty – and for themselves – was let him go. With unflinching honesty and raw emotional power, Cathy describes the unimaginable pain of losing her brother and the decision that changed her family’s lives forever. As she delves into the past and reclaims memories that have lain buried for many years, Cathy reconnects with the bright, funny, adoring brother she lost and is finally able to see the end of his life as it really was – a last act of love. Powerful, intimate and intensely moving, this is a personal journey with universal resonance – a story of unconditional love, of grief, survival and the strength of the ties that bind. It’s a story that will speak to anyone who has lost someone close to them, to anyone who has fiercely loved a sibling, and to anyone who has ever wondered whether prolonging a loved one’s life might be more heartbreaking than saying goodbye.

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: How would you describe the experience of reading non fiction vs fiction?

BETH: Great question! A lot of the times I really feel it depends on the subject matter and the non fiction book in question. Sometimes it can be a bit dry but other times it can be written in a way that is just as compelling as reading a piece of fiction. This was definitely the case with The Last Act Of Love. It was quite literally a page turner and I managed to read it within a day as I just couldn’t put it down. It was terribly sad and at times almost unbearable to read but I’m infinitely glad that I did.

BETH: This is a harrowing story but ultimately uplifting. How did you feel when you reached the end of the book?

CHRISSI: I’m not a major fan of non fiction, as you know, but this book completely pulled me in. You’re right, it was such a harrowing story but it really was uplifting and I think that’s down to the fact that you can tell, as a reader, how much love was felt for Matt. His family really adored him and it was plain to see that. I loved that we got to read more about how the tragic event affected Cathy long after the accident. It was heart-warming to read Cathy’s letter to her brother at the end of the book. This book was an act of love in itself, as Cathy rawly and honestly opens up and it’s a beautiful thing. I felt incredibly moved by the end of the book.

CHRISSI: What does this book tell us about the nature of love?

BETH: Quite a lot. Love comes in many forms but is especially strong in a parent-child or sibling relationship. Obviously when Matt first had his accident, the family cannot bear for him to die so do everything possible in their power to try and prevent this, even taking him out of the hospital environment and learning how to care for him at home. However, after many years when he remains in a persistent vegetative state, they realise that they may be making it more difficult for him than just being strong enough to let him go. Their last act of love is making the hugely difficult decision to let him pass away but it’s not a decision they take lightly.

BETH: You’re not normally a fan of non fiction – what was it about The Last Act Of Love that touched you so deeply?

CHRISSI: I  am definitely not a fan of non fiction, but memoirs have always been the kind of non fiction that I do enjoy reading. I enjoy raw honesty even if it’s hard to read at times. I really felt that Cathy laid herself bare with this memoir. As I mentioned before, it was an act of love in itself writing this memoir. I really feel like Cathy had the most wonderful relationship with her brother and that relationship did touch me deeply.

CHRISSI: Did reading this book, knowing it was a memoir, affect your emotions more?

BETH: One hundred percent. Knowing that all of this really happened and that the family suffered for so long made it all the more traumatic. It must have been a very hard book for his sister to write, although it seemed that she got so much out of this process. I feel honoured as a reader that she chose to share her experiences with the world and really hope that she can come to terms with what has happened in time. Such an emotional read!

BETH: Would you read another book by this author fiction or otherwise?

CHRISSI: Yes, I would. I thought Cathy had a very engaging writing style. This book, despite it being so very sad, was such a page turner!

Would WE recommend it?:

BETH: But of course!

CHRISSI: Without a doubt!

BETH’s star rating (out of 5):

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CHRISSI’s star rating (out of 5):

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Banned Books #8 I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou with Chrissi Reads

Published February 23, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local “powhitetrash.” At eight years old and back at her mother’s side in St. Louis, Maya is attacked by a man many times her age—and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime. Years later, in San Francisco, Maya learns that love for herself, the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and the ideas of great authors (“I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare”) will allow her to be free instead of imprisoned.

Poetic and powerful, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings will touch hearts and change minds for as long as people read.

bannedbooks

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Welcome to our second book of 2015 and the eighth book in our series of Banned/Challenged Books. We’ll be looking at why the book was challenged, how/if things have changed since the book was originally published and our own opinions on the book. This is what we’ll be reading for the rest of 2015 – the post will go out on the last Monday of each month so if you’d like to read along with us, you are more than welcome.

MARCH

Crank by Ellen Hopkins

Chosen by : Chrissi

APRIL

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

Chosen by : Beth

MAY

What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones

Chosen by : Chrissi

JUNE

Bridge To Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Chosen by : Beth

JULY

Detour for Emmy by Marilyn Reynolds

Chosen by : Chrissi

AUGUST

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor

Chosen by : Beth

SEPTEMBER

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Chosen by: Chrissi

OCTOBER

Forever by Judy Blume

Chosen by : Beth

NOVEMBER

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Chosen by : Chrissi

DECEMBER

Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes

Chosen by: Beth

But back to this month….

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Chosen by: Beth

First published: 1970
In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2007 (source)
Chosen by: Beth
Reason: sexually explicit

Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?

BETH: This is one of the “older” novels on the Frequently Challenged Books of the 21st Century (see source above) but I don’t believe that it was consistently sexually explicit for the time period. There is only one incident where the book was slightly explicit where Mr Freeman rapes Maya. I first read this book as a teenager and do remember feeling a bit shocked when the author describes the incident but I think the way it was written was utterly compelling and it made me want to read on.

CHRISSI: I can see why some people would have problems with using it with younger readers, but I think compared to some literature out there based around the same period it’s not as sexually explicit as some reads are. Yet, I can understand the particular scene which would be quite hard to read if we’re thinking about using this book in a school setting. It’s particularly shocking. The life lessons that are in this book are important, but incredibly heavy going.

How about now?

BETH: Reading this book again as an adult was a real treat and I found that my opinions and emotions around Maya’s rape haven’t changed. As to whether it should be a “challenged” book in today’s world, I really don’t think so. I would have loved to study this while at school as I think it brings up a lot of important issues. My only hesitation would be to aim the book at a slightly higher age level i.e. GCSE.

CHRISSI: Hmm. As I mentioned before, the life lessons are important, but the content itself is quite heavy going and shocking. I don’t think it should be banned, but it should be used with 15 year olds + . I don’t know. Am I underestimating younger readers?

What did you think of this book?

BETH: I loved this book when I first read it and I still love it today. The author writes so beautifully about her childhood and the barriers she had to overcome in the American South, where racial prejudice and segregation was simply a way of life. She comes out of everything she goes through stronger and more determined with a zest for life that is truly inspirational.

CHRISSI: I didn’t like it as much as I had hoped I would. I thought it dealt with some incredibly powerful issues, but for some reason it fell short for me. Perhaps its because non fiction really isn’t my sort of thing. There’s no denying that Maya Angelou is a talented writer though.

Would you recommend it?

BETH: But of course!

CHRISSI: Yes! (to some)

BETH’s star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Please join us next month when we will be discussing Crank by Ellen Hopkins which was chosen by Chrissi.

bannedbooks

Under A Mackerel Sky – Rick Stein

Published January 14, 2015 by bibliobeth

Under a Mackerel Sky

What’s it all about?:

The wry, perceptive, and strikingly evocative memoir of a much-respected chef

Rick Stein’s childhood in 1950s rural Oxfordshire and North Cornwall was idyllic. His parents were charming and gregarious, their five children much-loved and given freedom typical of the time. As he grew older, the holidays were filled with loud and lively parties in his parents’ Cornish barn. But ever-present was the unpredictable mood of his bipolar father, with Rick frequently the focus of his anger and sadness. When Rick was 18 his father killed himself. Emotionally adrift, Rick left for Australia, carrying a suitcase stamped with his father’s initials. Manual labor in the outback followed by adventures in America and Mexico toughened up the naive public schoolboy, but at heart he was still lost and unsure what to do with his life. Eventually, England called him home. From the entrepreneurial days of his mobile disco, the Purple Tiger, to his first, unlikely nightclub where much of the time was spent breaking up drink-fuelled fights, Rick charts his personal journey in a way that is both wry and perceptive; engaging and witty.

What did I think?:

Rick Stein is best known here in the UK as a chef with many thriving and successful restaurants under his belt, but he has also written a number of cookery books and presented shows on television, including Taste Of The Sea and Rick Stein’s French Odyssey. Under A Mackerel Sky follows the same pattern as your average autobiography – a few tales from childhood, the troubles of adolescence/young adulthood and the serenity of “clued-up” happy, adult life. For the most part, this is how Stein’s story reads. We hear about his childhood which was idyllic up to a point, the shadow over everything being his father’s mental illness and the effect that it had on him personally, more so when his father sadly took his own life when Rick was just 18. Uncertain what to do with himself, he travels round Australia, picking up work when he can which is often strenuous manual labour, meeting new people, drinking quite a bit and generally having a good time.

When he comes home, he attempts several ventures, including a mobile disco and a nightclub – which he eventually loses the licence for after it becomes quite a rough place, notorious for its drunken fights. Throughout all his life experiences however, food played a big part in Rick Stein’s life and he decides to open up a seafood restaurant. After a while and a lot of hard work, the restaurant becomes a great success and before long Rick Stein appears on our TV screens as a guest chef in Keith Lloyd’s series Floyd On Fish before he is given the chance to head his own series accompanied by his loyal canine friend, Chalky who became a bit of a star of his own!

Unfortunately, I wasn’t a big fan of this book for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I would have liked to see the emotional side of Rick a bit more. He didn’t really go into too much depth about the death of his father which he may have had his own reasons for (fair enough) but I would have felt a slightly better connection with him if he had opened up a bit more. That was my other problem. I don’t feel that we got to see the real Rick Stein through this book, more his public persona with a few juicy tid-bits here and there. I found his stories about travelling around Australia and Mexico more readable and there were certainly parts of his life at Oxford that compelled me to read on but other parts, especially the second half of the book just felt like a list of his accomplishments. I would just have preferred to read about the man himself and what made him tick, although I’m sure fans of his cookery series and books would enjoy reading about his rise to fame. I’m afraid this just wasn’t the case for me.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):

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Wild Swans – Jung Chang

Published January 8, 2013 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

The story of three generations in twentieth-century China, it is an engrossing record of Mao’s impact on China, an unusual window on the female experience in the modern world, and an inspiring tale of courage and love. Jung Chang describes the life of her grandmother, a warlord’s concubine; her mother’s struggles as a young idealistic Communist; and her parents’ experience as members of the Communist elite and their ordeal during the Cultural Revolution. Chang was a Red Guard briefly at the age of fourteen, then worked as a peasant, a “barefoot doctor,” a steelworker, and an electrician. As the story of each generation unfolds, Chang captures in gripping, moving — and ultimately uplifting — detail the cycles of violent drama visited on her own family and millions of others caught in the whirlwind of history.

What did I think?:

Okay, first things first. This is only my second review for my blog and both books have received the full five star rating. However, just to clear things up, I don’t give out five stars willy-nilly, this book thoroughly deserves it. It is a beautiful, engrossing, and more than a little harrowing tale of three generations of women circa the Mao era.

I first read this book when I was about fourteen, and the impact it had on me was immense. Reading it now, I feel I can appreciate and understand it better (no offence fourteen year old self!). Some of the things that these women had to go through – from the traditional foot binding to disturbing violence and treachery under Chairman Mao was difficult to read and at times I’m not ashamed to admit that I fought back tears. I think Jung Chang is an amazing writer who had me completely under her spell, and I am looking forward to reading her book “Mao: The Unknown Story.”

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5)

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Boy – Roald Dahl

Published January 5, 2013 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Roald Dahl describes this book as “not a biography” and includes tales of his childhood. From his early years at school to holidays in his beloved Norway, his life was as bizarre, funny and exciting as the stories he wrote.

What did I think?:

I read this book many times as a youngster, and it still continues to delight me as an adult. The illustrations by Quentin Blake are wonderful and I was so pleased to see them in the Kindle edition.

His childhood memories include The Great Mouse Plot starring the brilliant (disgusting) Mrs Pratchett, A visit to the doctor (terrifying), Captain Hardcastle (I hate that guy), A drive in the motor-car (hold on to your noses!) and Fagging (warm bums required) which are amongst my favourites.

Masterful storytelling and fantastic wit by Roald Dahl really brings this book to life and I believe it to be a classic which can be enjoyed again and again.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5)

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