autobiography

All posts tagged autobiography

When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi (buddy read with Jennifer from Tar Heel Reader)

Published February 3, 2019 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

THE NEW YORK TIMES NUMBER ONE BESTSELLER
THE SUNDAY TIMES NUMBER ONE BESTSELLER
SHORTLISTED FOR THE WELLCOME BOOK PRIZE 2017

‘Finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option…Unmissable’ New York Times

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, the next he was a patient struggling to live.

When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a medical student asking what makes a virtuous and meaningful life into a neurosurgeon working in the core of human identity – the brain – and finally into a patient and a new father.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when when life is catastrophically interrupted? What does it mean to have a child as your own life fades away?

Paul Kalanithi died while working on this profoundly moving book, yet his words live on as a guide to us all. When Breath Becomes Air is a life-affirming reflection on facing our mortality and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a gifted writer who became both.

What did I think?:

When Breath Becomes Air is one of those books that I kept hearing great things about and it had been on my nonfiction shelf for much longer than was sensible before I got cross with myself and put it on my Nonfiction November TBR in an effort to ensure it was finally read! Well, thank goodness for buddy reads and Jennifer, a blogger bestie of mine who blogs over at Tar Heel Reader. She too had been desperate to read this book and sent me a message suggesting we should read it together. Of course I jumped at the chance. I count myself so very lucky to be able to buddy read with a quartet of wonderful bloggers and we always have such deep, meaningful and rewarding conversations about our reads that sometimes I wonder whether I should read every single book in my collection with a partner?!

Let’s be completely honest here. When Breath Becomes Air was never going to be an easy read. If you weren’t already aware, the book is a memoir following a respected neurosurgeon’s battle when he is diagnosed with cancer and, devastatingly, he passes away before he has a chance to finish the book. As a reader, you go into it knowing this cold, hard information but strangely enough (even though it’s ludicrous to say as you’re well aware of the ending), you feel a burst of hope throughout that the story might end up having a happy outcome. One of the worst things is reminding yourself that it doesn’t and that whole anticipation of the emotional trauma to come is nothing short of horrific.

Paul Kalanithi, author of When Breath Becomes Air, published posthumously in January 2016.

This wasn’t an absolutely perfect read for me – there were points where Paul is describing his college years that I’m sad to say, dragged slightly but one thing I will take away from this astonishing memoir is how poignant and gut-wrenching his journey was whilst battling stage IV metastatic lung cancer. He had this incredible lust for life and his passion for literature and writing really made me feel warm towards him as an individual. I also appreciated how he talked about his relationship with his wife and about himself as a person. There were flaws, there were issues but his brutal honesty about this made me respect him even more and believe in the authenticity of what he was saying.

When Breath Becomes Air is truly an evocative and heart-breaking read. I admired the determination with which Paul continued with his career despite having such a life-altering diagnosis and how he continued to achieve great things despite being racked with pain as the cancer slowly ravaged his body. I even found myself getting frustrated at times, particularly in the beginning when he suspected something was wrong with him but was too fearful to get it confirmed by another medical professional. Would he have been in a different situation if he had been diagnosed sooner? Probably not, his cancer was particularly invasive and aggressive but the thought of it made my stomach churn.

The most distressing parts of the book personally speaking came right at the end. Paul and his wife Lucy decide to have a child and Paul writes about holding her beside his hospital bed right near the end of his life. It filled me with sadness and despair, realising that that poor little girl would never really know her father although I think it’s wonderful that Lucy is keeping his memory alive in so many ways and that she will always have this book as a testament to her father’s life. Then there was *that* epilogue written by Lucy as Paul was unable to finish the book. Well, I was in bits by this time. I can’t imagine the bravery that it must have taken for her to write what she did and remain so hopeful for herself and her daughter’s future.

This is such an incredibly moving and thought-provoking read that I really believe will stay etched on my memory for years to come. If you’ve been putting it off like I had been, I very much recommend giving it a shot, it’s such an affecting reading experience. Thank you so much to Jennifer for reading it with me and the deep, fascinating conversation that we had – I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.

For Jennifer’s fabulous review, please see her post HERE.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Previous buddy reads with Jennifer @ Tar Heel Reader

Elmet by Fiona Mozley – check out my review HERE and her review HERE.

Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay And A Mother’s Will To Survive – Stephanie Land

Published January 27, 2019 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Evicted meets Nickel and Dimed in Stephanie Land’s memoir about working as a maid, a beautiful and gritty exploration of poverty in America. Includes a foreword by Barbara Ehrenreich.

“My daughter learned to walk in a homeless shelter.”

While the gap between upper middle-class Americans and the working poor widens, grueling low-wage domestic and service work–primarily done by women–fuels the economic success of the wealthy. Stephanie Land worked for years as a maid, pulling long hours while struggling as a single mom to keep a roof over her daughter’s head. In Maid, she reveals the dark truth of what it takes to survive and thrive in today’s inequitable society.

While she worked hard to scratch her way out of poverty as a single parent, scrubbing the toilets of the wealthy, navigating domestic labor jobs, higher education, assisted housing, and a tangled web of government assistance, Stephanie wrote. She wrote the true stories that weren’t being told. The stories of overworked and underpaid Americans.

Written in honest, heart-rending prose and with great insight, Maid explores the underbelly of upper-middle class America and the reality of what it’s like to be in service to them. “I’d become a nameless ghost,” Stephanie writes. With this book, she gives voice to the “servant” worker, those who fight daily to scramble and scrape by for their own lives and the lives of their children.

What did I think?:

This review comes with a huge thank you to the lovely people at Orion Books who hosted an event just before Christmas entitled Books and Baubles where I managed to pick up a review copy of this moving memoir which was published on 24th January this year. I think I mentioned in a recent review that I love to read nonfiction that’s going to teach me a little something and if it has the ability to touch my heart in addition, well that’s a win-win situation for me! Reading real-live stories from normal individuals living extraordinary lives is another aspect that might draw me into picking up a book and when I read that it followed a single mother struggling to raise her daughter in impoverished circumstances within modern day America, I was too intrigued to let it slip through my fingers and had to pick it up and check it out.

On finishing and having been incredibly moved throughout, it hammered home how lucky I was in my current situation to have a guaranteed decent wage, roof over my head, supportive partner and the ability to treat myself on a monthly basis. Stephanie Land’s daily struggles to achieve the things I occasionally take for granted was both eye-opening and thought-provoking and I was constantly touched by her determination, ridiculously strong work ethic and maternal instinct to ensure her child never wanted for too much, even if it meant going without things herself.

Stephanie Land, author of Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay And A Mother’s Will To Survive.

Maid follows Stephanie’s tumultuous life with her daughter, from teaching her to walk in a homeless shelter to her difficult relationship with her daughter’s father. We watch her fight for appropriate, affordable housing that is still inadequate and has devastating consequences for her child’s health and witness her steely resolution to work as many hours it takes just to provide enough food for her family and keep them both warm and comfortable. The only work she is able to take on is as a maid which involves back-breaking tasks, a constant supply of energy and resolve for very little money. She has no choice but to pay for childcare whilst she is working and has to use a car to move between different jobs so the wages she makes barely covers all these necessities and she is forced to rely on government assistance just so she and her daughter can eat.

I was raised in a working-class family where before my mother went back to university and forged a career for herself, she was a mainly stay-at-home parent with my father receiving the only wage for our house (from the army, which wasn’t huge). We never knew poverty and for that I feel incredibly grateful but we weren’t well-off either and there were times when we couldn’t have everything we desired. However, all three of us never wanted for anything and I know my mum would have taken food from her own mouth if it meant that we ate that evening. Luckily, I don’t believe that was ever necessary. As I have a very close relationship with my mum, I really responded to Stephanie’s emotional connection with her daughter and her instinct to protect and defend her, even if that meant Stephanie suffering herself as a result.

Apart from being quite an emotional read, this book was memorable to me in the way it made me think deeply about situations I hadn’t really appreciated before now. For example, what it feels like to have to work so hard for very little and still not have enough money to be able to do things that you would enjoy. Then there’s the shame that Stephanie felt about having to rely on food stamps and how she was treated by (some very ignorant, might I say) individuals because of that. That is to say, people saying to her “you’re welcome!,” referring to the fact that it was their tax money that paid for her shopping or judging what she bought with her food stamps – particularly if it was chocolate or a treat for her daughter. It made me so mad! I found her relationship with her family and her daughter’s father especially upsetting as well. She really didn’t have a decent support system in place and some of her family’s attitudes or deliberate ignoring of her situation really made my blood boil.

I respect and admire Stephanie Land so much for first of all writing this book and secondly, for making other people more aware of the situation that has become a ridiculous kind of normal for many people all over the globe who are just trying to make ends meet and survive but are subject to hideous poverty and unstable living conditions. It was a poignant, revealing read that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

In Order To Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey To Freedom – Yeonmi Park with Maryanne Vollers

Published January 19, 2019 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Human rights activist Park, who fled North Korea with her mother in 2007 at age 13 and eventually made it to South Korea two years later after a harrowing ordeal, recognized that in order to be “completely free,” she had to confront the truth of her past. It is an ugly, shameful story of being sold with her mother into slave marriages by Chinese brokers, and although she at first tried to hide the painful details when blending into South Korean society, she realized how her survival story could inspire others. Moreover, her sister had also escaped earlier and had vanished into China for years, prompting the author to go public with her story in the hope of finding her sister.

What did I think?:

One of the things I love best about reading nonfiction is taking the opportunity to find out more about different countries, cultures and belief systems and North Korea is one of those places that has fascinated me for a long time now. We hear so much in the media about the totalitarian regime i.e. the country being sealed off from nearby potential allies, the punishments doled out to those who try and escape, the secretive nature of how they conduct their business and the absence of freedom of thought/speech. There have been a few books published in recent years from individuals willing to speak out against the regime and I’ve been meaning to check one out so I was delighted to find In Order To Live on Audible which I managed to download and listen to in its entirety in a very short space of time.

Now I have to be honest, I really didn’t get on very well with the audio narration of this book and sadly, this did factor into my general enjoyment but I’ll go into that a bit later. I do firmly believe that if I had read this book rather than listened to it, I would have appreciated it a lot more so whilst I may not necessarily recommend the audiobook format, for Yeonmi’s harrowing story alone, I would definitely classify it as a “must read,” particularly if you’re interested in finding out more about North Korea or the refugee experience.

Yeonmi Park, author of the memoir In Order To Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey To Freedom.

When I first became an avid reader, I almost always stayed in one lane genre wise and tended to only read very narrowly within a specific field – mostly thrillers and crime fiction. Nonfiction wasn’t really for me, I did give it a go at times but in hindsight, I was picking completely the wrong things and nothing seemed to grab my attention or keep me interested until the end and I often gave up, professing that I was primarily a fiction reader. I’m so happy I carried on pushing myself nonfiction wise until I realised the kind of books that I would enjoy and In Order To Live falls perfectly into a few of my specifications. I like to be educated, informed, surprised, moved and challenged with nonfiction and this book did all these things for me, to the extent where I still think about Yeonmi and parts of her life even though it’s been a good couple of months since I finished listening to her story.

I wanted to learn more about North Korea and I knew it was going to be an emotional read but I still wasn’t prepared for how some of their rules and regulations would shock and indeed, anger me. Of course, growing up in a repressive state where you’re taught how to think and feel from the moment you are born is normal and natural for Yeonmi in the beginning as it’s all she’s ever known. However, it’s only when she manages to escape and see how the rest of the world lives that she realises how dangerous and destructive such a way of thinking can be for an entire population. Imagine being at school and being taught mathematics in the terms of war. I’m paraphrasing here but children were basically told: “if you have ten Yankee bastards and six of them are shot, how many Yankee bastards are left?” I don’t think I’ll ever forget that, it had a huge impact on me. I mean, if something like that becomes the norm for teaching such young children, what hope is there for their future and how they view other people, really?

A parade of North Korean soldiers.

I hope regular readers will appreciate that I’m always completely honest in my reviews and this is something I feel I have to be honest about but I feel awful for doing it. As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t get on with the audio narration of this book and it was such a shame. I’d just like to mention that I love that they got a Korean girl to narrate the story, it made Yeonmi’s life much more authentic and my issue was nothing to do with her accent at all. How do I explain? I just felt that it came across like she was reading a script and at times it felt a bit mechanical and emotionless. Of course, this could be because English was her second language and I absolutely salute her for her obvious mastery of English BUT I felt that Yeonmi’s story was packed full of emotion, hardship and brutality and at times, I felt like I needed a narration where I could really feel the sentiments of the more horrific parts of the story. I really don’t mean to offend anyone, it’s just my personal opinion and it just makes a larger impact on me as a reader when I can really feel all the feelings, you know?

Aside from this minor niggle, I found myself thoroughly intrigued and touched by Yeonmi’s life. Not only did she have to grow up in such a difficult way but her childhood, innocence, dreams and hopes were ripped away from her in a way that could have been entirely preventable if she had lived in a different place. Moreover, I have to give her so much respect for speaking out against the regime and putting her own life at risk in order to try and prevent other young girls going through what she went through at such a young age. She’s a brave, inspirational young woman who has been through such trauma and suffering and emerged out the other side stronger, independent and much more resilient as a result.

I’d love to know your thoughts on In Order To Live if you’ve read it, especially if you listened to the audiobook. Did you have the same feelings as me? Please let me know in the comments below!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

Educated – Tara Westover

Published November 13, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Tara Westover grew up preparing for the End of Days, watching for the sun to darken, for the moon to drip as if with blood. She spent her summers bottling peaches and her winters rotating emergency supplies, hoping that when the World of Men failed, her family would continue on, unaffected.

She hadn’t been registered for a birth certificate. She had no school records because she’d never set foot in a classroom, and no medical records because her father didn’t believe in doctors or hospitals. According to the state and federal government, she didn’t exist.

As she grew older, her father became more radical, and her brother, more violent. At sixteen Tara decided to educate herself. Her struggle for knowledge would take her far from her Idaho mountains, over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d travelled too far. If there was still a way home.

EDUCATED is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty, and of the grief that comes with the severing of the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has, from her singular experience, crafted a universal coming-of-age story, one that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers – the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes, and the will to change it.

What did I think?:

I honestly don’t think I’ve heard a bad review of this memoir so I was super excited to listen to it in audiobook format (which I’ve also heard highly praised) recently. I’ve recently started listening to more books by audio and I always thought the format wasn’t for me – I found I got easily distracted, lost into daydreams and hadn’t listened to a word the narrator had said in the past five minutes or so, leaving me completely lost! However, I don’t find this problem with non-fiction and if it’s a genuinely compelling narration, my thoughts don’t seem to drift as much. This was definitely the case with Educated where the narrator, Julia Whelan did a stellar job of bringing Tara’s story to life and I found myself excited every time I pulled on my little pink headphones to catch up with Tara and her astounding journey once more.

Tara Westover, author of the memoir Educated.

Educated reads almost like a recurring nightmare that you can’t seem to wake up from and I was appalled and fascinated in equal measure by the journey Tara goes on as an individual and how she eventually seeks to better herself through education after receiving no formal schooling until the age of seventeen. She was raised in a Mormon household with six other siblings (five brothers and a sister), a paranoid survivalist father who insisted the End Of Days was near and a diminutive, compliant mother who yielded to her husband’s every demand, no matter how ridiculous. The family didn’t believe in many things – medicine, the government and education to name a few and when accidents or illness befell one of them, they were treated by their mother who also moonlighted as a herbalist.

Tara goes through so many terrible things in her childhood. As well as dealing with her father’s mental health concerns, herself and members of her family go through the most horrific accidents that occur mainly due to the physical nature of their risky work in her father’s junkyard but occur twice in vehicles where shockingly, seatbelts are not compulsory for the family! Tara also has to deal with an increasingly aggressive, controlling and violent older brother whose constant physical and emotional abuse is either played down or completely ignored by her parents.

Bucks Peak, Idaho where Tara and her family were based.

It is of little surprise that Tara decides one day she has suffered enough and wants to succeed in the world outside the isolated, suffocating atmosphere that she finds herself in at home. She begins to teach herself basic mathematics and history and to cut a long story short, she exceeds even her own expectations and ends up going to both Harvard and Cambridge University, achieving a PhD. Unfortunately, her many years of being indoctrinated as a Mormon and a survivalist plague her daily, making her question both her abilities and her own worth, particularly as she receives little support or praise from her family.

This was such a moving and thought-provoking read and really reminds me why I need to give memoirs more of a chance as a genre. Tara’s story is so inspirational and touching and I found myself really rooting for her to get the chance to live a better life and realise the things she was told as a child may have been merely delusions and paranoia. Tara comes across as a vulnerable child transformed into a stronger, more resilient woman and I had nothing but admiration and respect for her sticking to her guns, fully deserving all that she achieved. It made for difficult reading at points, that’s for sure and some of the incidents that she had to witness were truly horrendous and at times heart-breaking. However, it just made me think even more highly of her as a person and appreciate the relatively calm, simple life I’ve led myself in comparison!

I wouldn’t be surprised if Educated makes it to my top ten books of the year. It’s an incredible piece of writing and an eye-opening account of an extraordinary life that has to be read to be believed.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death – Maggie O’Farrell

Published October 4, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

I AM, I AM, I AM is a memoir with a difference – the unputdownable story of an extraordinary woman’s life in near-death experiences. Intelligent, insightful, inspirational, it is a book to be read at a sitting, a story you finish newly conscious of life’s fragility, determined to make every heartbeat count.

A childhood illness she was not expected to survive. A teenage yearning to escape that nearly ended in disaster. A terrifying encounter on a remote path. A mismanaged labour in an understaffed hospital. Shocking, electric, unforgettable, this is the extraordinary memoir from Costa Novel-Award winner and Sunday Times bestselling author Maggie O’Farrell.
It is a book to make you question yourself. What would you do if your life was in danger, and what would you stand to lose?

What did I think?:

Where do I even BEGIN with this book? I can’t express eloquently enough the depth of my feelings for this unforgettable memoir or even explain adequately how much it affected me but I’m going to give it a good shot. I listened to the Audible version of I Am, I Am, I Am (which I highly recommend by the way) but it’s one of those books that because it has become a favourite of mine, I simply had to get a hard copy also and was lucky enough to receive one as a gift. This book has had a lot of hype around the blogging/reviewing community and rightly so. After reading a fair few of Maggie O’Farrell’s novels, I already knew she was a gifted, beautiful writer but even after all the critical acclaim, I still wasn’t prepared for the wave of emotions this book invoked. There were points when I was almost a sobbing mess and kind of wished I wasn’t listening to it in public (more on that later) and other parts which made me reflect on the nature of mortality and the fascinating journey my life has been up until now whilst fully appreciating the good things and the great people that I am lucky to have around me and hold them close. I can’t thank the author enough for reminding me how precious they really are.

Maggie O’Farrell, author of I Am, I Am, I Am.

If you’re slightly cynical of the title and wonder how O’Farrell can possibly have had seventeen near death experiences, let me explain. The events that the author discusses are brushes with mortality that both she and her children have suffered in their lives. Some are mere whispers of things that might have been i.e. near escapes, potentially life-altering events and then there are the severe, life-threatening episodes that continue to have a dramatic effect on the author’s emotional and physical health. This ranges from a severe childhood illness that Maggie sadly still suffers repercussions from, encounters with individuals that threaten her life, problems with pregnancy and labour and the current trauma that Maggie finds herself embroiled in that profoundly affects the present and the future of one of her children. This is an honest, raw and deeply moving look at life and death in all its guises that may make you look at your own life in a whole different way but will most assuredly make you happy just to be alive.

I think I’ve become a more emotional person as I’ve got older and gone through different experiences in my life and I do find myself slightly more sensitive to difficult topics, including illness and death. However, I was profoundly moved by Maggie O’Farrell’s story and couldn’t quite comprehend a) the obstacles she has overcome in her life b) how she continues to struggle and cope on a daily basis with her daughter’s heart-breaking medical problems and c) how she manages to maintain such a strong, positive and sunny outlook. I felt humbled, inspired and honoured to be allowed into her world and, as I’ve mentioned, it did make me consider parts of my own life, particularly those parts where I felt a strong personal connection with the author.

I wrote a post a while back about how I’ve been coping with recurrent miscarriages and funnily enough, it seems to be a topic which appears in quite a few books I’ve read recently! I was worried at first about how I was going to deal with reading about it but I’m actually finding it quite therapeutic – now even more so with I Am, I Am, I Am. Miscarriage unfortunately seems to be still quite a taboo subject and when I was going through it these past eighteen months, I didn’t really feel able to talk to anyone who would really understand what I was going through. With this memoir, it’s so strange to say, but finally I feel understood and comforted. Maggie talks about her own loss so articulately and thoughtfully that it was such a relief to realise that all the emotions I was experiencing were perfectly natural and more importantly, that I wasn’t alone. Other people were going through this, other people felt the same way as me and I shouldn’t blame myself on any level. As I listened to this particular passage, I was walking to the train station on the way to work and I have to admit, it wasn’t the easiest thing to listen to whilst I was in public. But holy cow, was it rewarding? The answer is yes.

It’s often quite tricky to dissect a memoir. After all, this is someone’s life, personal experiences, tragedies and triumphs you’re talking about and we all may have differing opinions on it depending what we’ve been through in our own individual lives. However, for me this book was perfection. It reminded me about love, about how special life is and most importantly, how to hope and believe in a better future.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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The Diary Of A Young Girl – Anne Frank

Published September 1, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Anne Frank’s extraordinary diary, written in the Amsterdam attic where she and her family hid from the Nazis for two years, has become a world classic and a timeless testament to the human spirit. Now, in a new edition enriched by many passages originally withheld by her father, we meet an Anne more real, more human, and more vital than ever. Here she is first and foremost a teenage girl—stubbornly honest, touchingly vulnerable, in love with life. She imparts her deeply secret world of soul-searching and hungering for affection, rebellious clashes with her mother, romance and newly discovered sexuality, and wry, candid observations of her companions. Facing hunger, fear of discovery and death, and the petty frustrations of such confined quarters, Anne writes with adult wisdom and views beyond her years. Her story is that of every teenager, lived out in conditions few teenagers have ever known.

What did I think?:

The Diary Of A Young Girl is one of those pieces of non fiction that occupies a very special place in my heart. I’ve read it a few times now at different points in my life through my adolescence right through to adulthood and each time I’ve managed to get something unique out of each reading experience. It’s not a five star read for me and that’s only because, I have to be honest, I do find parts of Anne’s diary a bit slower than others but it earns a rightful place on my favourites shelf because of what it’s given me over the years. Over this past year, I’ve challenged myself to a little experiment where I have a current read, a work of non fiction and a favourite re-read on the go at the one time. I set this challenge for myself as I realised I have a host of non fiction books on my shelves that just aren’t getting read and that I need to get round to, whilst also realising that with all the exciting new releases coming in, I don’t get a chance to re-read the books on my favourite shelves. The Diary Of A Young Girl is one of my all-time favourites and after this latest re-read, definitely deserves to keep its spot on the shelf.

Anne Frank, the author of the diary entries put into a collection by her father, Otto Frank.

If you haven’t managed to get round to reading this book yet (and I feel like it should be required reading in ALL schools!), Anne Frank is a young girl from a Jewish family who is forced to go into hiding with her parents, sister and another family when the Nazis descend upon their town and begin to remove all people of the Jewish faith to camps and ghettos, basically sealing their fate to one of misery, poverty, disease and in far too many scenarios, death. Assisted by some friends, the two families are ensconced in a Secret Annex concealed from the world by means of a bookcase which opened onto their tiny living quarters where they were forced to hide for two years. Most of the time they had to exist in complete silence because of the workers in the office below or the proximity of the other houses to their own space. Discovery of the family would result in deportation and execution of all those that hid there and of those that helped them evade the authorities so playing by the rules of the house, being as quiet as possible and desperately awaiting the end of the war became normal life for the families that lived there.

Reconstruction of the bookcase that hid the doorway to The Secret Annex.

Image from: By Bungle – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4132164

As I mentioned earlier on in my review, I’ve managed to extract something different from each experience I’ve had reading The Diary Of A Young Girl. Reading it as a teenager, I felt strangely close to Anne and I felt a well of emotions being stirred up regarding the horrific situation she finds herself in, her normal feelings as a young teenager herself (particularly about boys!) and those awkward adolescent moments where the hormones are raging and you feel yourself developing into a woman coupled with the confusion that often accompanies these thoughts and feelings. Having to cope with all of this whilst living in such close quarters with her family, another family and having no means of escape left me feeling so uncomfortable and sorry for Anne that at times, I had to silently applaud her for her tenacity, humour and bravery that is clearly apparent and so endearing throughout her diary entries.

On my latest reading of this book, I got even more than I ever could have expected from it emotionally speaking and that’s because I had the good fortune to visit Amsterdam about eight years ago and more specifically, the house and Secret Annex where Anne Frank was hidden. It was an experience I will never, ever forget, especially when I saw how small their quarters actually were. It was frightening to think that eight people had to live in such a small space and I couldn’t stop saying to my partner how unbelievable it was that they could survive in those cramped, overcrowded conditions for so long and all parties managed to keep their sanity. However, there are two stand-out points that I take away from Diary Of A Young Girl that I find particularly heart-breaking. The first is that Anne’s story does NOT have a happy ending and it’s especially hard to read, knowing this and seeing her joyful optimism for the end of the war, having a normal life and realising her dreams of becoming a writer. This leads me onto the second point – Anne is quite obviously a hugely talented writer. Her diary entries are succinct, empowering, beautiful, raw and so very authentic and it’s devastating to think of what she could have done in her life if she had been given the chance to see the end of the war and become an adult. Even writing about it now makes me feel so emotional and it’s definitely a book I’ll be re-visiting in the future, it’s too important not to.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Bookworm: A Memoir Of Childhood Reading – Lucy Mangan

Published April 11, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

When Lucy Mangan was little, stories were everything. They opened up new worlds and cast light on all the complexities she encountered in this one.

She was whisked away to Narnia – and Kirrin Island – and Wonderland. She ventured down rabbit holes and womble burrows into midnight gardens and chocolate factories. She wandered the countryside with Milly-Molly-Mandy, and played by the tracks with the Railway Children. With Charlotte’s Web she discovered Death and with Judy Blume it was Boys. No wonder she only left the house for her weekly trip to the library or to spend her pocket money on amassing her own at home.

In Bookworm, Lucy revisits her childhood reading with wit, love and gratitude. She relives our best-beloved books, their extraordinary creators, and looks at the thousand subtle ways they shape our lives. She also disinters a few forgotten treasures to inspire the next generation of bookworms and set them on their way.

Lucy brings the favourite characters of our collective childhoods back to life – prompting endless re-readings, rediscoveries, and, inevitably, fierce debate – and brilliantly uses them to tell her own story, that of a born, and unrepentant, bookworm.

What did I think?:

Oh my goodness, what could be better than a book about books? My boyfriend got me this book as a gift and as a loud and proud bookworm, he couldn’t have got me anything better. Seriously, this must be how some girls feel when they’re given jewellery? Lucy Mangan’s thorough exploration of her childhood reading is beautifully nostalgic and warmed my heart. We hear small parts of Lucy’s own life but unlike other memoirs, as the title suggests, this book is focused purely on how different books have shaped the author’s life. As a bookish, rather solitary child myself, I nodded along with almost everything the author described. For example, the joys of being sent to your room as a punishment – hey, more time alone to read right? Or the delights of reading under your cover with a torch when you’re supposed to be sleeping, which made me very tired the next morning at school but strangely satisfied as I managed to finish the book I was reading!

From the delights of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Lucy takes us through books that meant something to her as a child and how they changed her as a person. Lucy is slightly older than me by six years so some of the books I wasn’t instantly familiar with but I had a bundle of fun researching them on Google, especially when she mentioned illustrators like Edmund Evans and Maurice Sendak. However, the cockles of my heart were well and truly warmed when she mentioned my own childhood favourites like C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles Of Narnia, the master that is Roald Dahl, the heart-break of Charlotte’s Web, the goddess of adventure stories that is Enid Blyton and of course, my own personal heroine, Judy Blume. Helpfully, the author also provides a complete list of all the books she mentions in the appendix and I have to admit to adding quite a few to my wish-list!

Bookworm: A Memoir Of Childhood Reading is a gorgeous, evocative read that will have you remembering the books that really made an impression on you when you were younger and leave you with a wistful urge to re-read them all over again. The only reason I’m not giving it a higher rating is that there were a few books that I didn’t know and so didn’t quite feel the same connection with as others. However, this is a fantastic journey back in time that I thoroughly enjoyed and highly anticipate reading again in the future next time I need a trip down memory lane. The style of Lucy Mangan’s writing really invites you in and makes you feel like you’re having a chat with a good friend about the favourite topic of any bookworm of course – BOOKS. I’ve got that fuzzy, gooey feeling all over again just talking about this book!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0