Category Archives: Autobiography

59. My Salinger Year (Joanna Rakoff)


On the recommendation of a friend, I read this story without realizing that it was actually a memoir.  It was not until I started to write my blog post that I discovered that the main characters name was also the name of the author.  That being said, I truly enjoyed the book.  I think that I would have read it with a different perspective if I had known it was a true story AND if I had read more Salinger books.

The book was set in seasons, which I liked.  As the seasons’ changed, Joanna grew.  She slowly took on more responsibility in her position working as an assistant at The Agency, she grew up in her relationship with her parents  and she learned lessons in her relationships with her friends and boyfriend while she quietly wrote poetry and read manuscripts.

The agency represented J.D. Salinger, or Jerry, as they called him.  Joanna developed a “phone relationship” with him as she forwarded his calls and had quick chats with him when her boss was not available.  She came to understand the impact that his writing had on others as she read fan letters which were never shared with him, at his request.  She made the mistake of venturing away from the form letter responses that had been advised adding her own commentary and some of the letters seemed to haunt her years later.

“but, again, he leaves it to the reader to decide whether or not this is so.  In literature, as in life, sometimes there are no right answers.”

The novel ended with a section describing her life following her Salinger year.  This gave the reader some closure and the memoir essentially ended with the death of J.D. Salinger (which happened in January 2010).  The author shared that she rereads some of his books annually and reflects on her Salinger year.  Although I have a pile of books on my bedside table, I am inspired to read Franny and Zooey in the near future and perhaps, reread The Catcher in the Rye.

“And, thus, with each passing year – each rereading – his stories, his characters, have changed and deepened;”

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Filed under Autobiography, Memoir

25. Annaleise Carr: How I Conquered Lake Ontario to Help Kids Battling Cancer (as told to Deborah Ellis)

annaleise-bookAs a swim parent, I was very interested to meet Annaleise Carr at a book signing.  Carr, a petite and determined girl was just 14 years old at the time of her successful Lake Ontario swim.  What an amazing feat to swim 51km across the Great Lake ending at Marilyn Bell park and raising over $100 000 for Camp Trillium (a local camp for kids battling or affected by cancer).  It is hard to imagine swimming through the night, not being able to see the guide boats, taking nourishment from a lacrosse stick and dealing with cold currents yet she successfully completed her first Great Lake swim.

While the book is  clearly written for a young adult audience, it was very interesting and quick read about the perseverance, determination and strength of this 14-year-old girl.  She ended the book by speaking of her team and the importance of this crew in her successfully meeting her goals.

Good luck, to Annaleise Carr, as she attempts to cross Lake Erie this summer!

(137 pages)

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Filed under Autobiography, Canadian, Teen

23. The Unforgiving Tides (Ross Pennie)

9637910After meeting author, Ross Pennie (see Up in Smoke entry), I was very curious to read his memoir describing his time spent in Papua New Guinea following his graduation from medical school.  From the time that he arrived he was immersed in the medical clinic, dealt with life threatening emergencies, solved medical mysteries, tried to prevent sad deaths and participated in the miracle of bringing lives into the world   He volunteered for two years, working alongside a team of nuns and volunteers.

The book was a reminder of how lucky we are to be Canadians and to appreciate volunteers who make a difference in this world.  It is essential to read the epilogue, which was written by Pennie’s young son and ties the entire book together.  It certainly left me reflecting…

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Filed under Autobiography, Canadian

22. The Wolf on Wall Street (Jordan Belfort)


Although this book is an autobiography, it is hard to believe that anyone could live the life of Jordan Belfort.  He chronicles his life of excess and his addiction to drugs, sex and alcohol while telling the story of his fraud within the stock market and money laundering.  The book has recently been made into a movie with the proceeds of the books, movie and speaking engagements intended to repay over $110,000,000 to investors.

Belfort ingested cocktails of drugs leading to having his stomach pumped and a stint in a rehabilitation center.  His substance abuse came peaked when he pushed his wife down the stairs and drove through his garage door with his young daughter in the car.  He tells the tale of entering rehab, deciding that he was finished with drugs and having no withdrawal symptoms leaving the reader to wonder if this is a bit of fiction.

The book characterizes the greed and excess of the Wolf on Wall Street and I will not be rushing to watch this movie about a selfish man who felt that he was above the law.  It is sad to think that he is profiting by telling his story and getting paid $30,000 for each speaking engagement.

(890 pages)



Filed under Autobiography, Made into a movie

17. What I Thought I Knew (Alice Eve Cohen)


This book was reviewed as “darkly hilarious… an unexpected bundle of joy” by the Oprah magazine.  I was less than impressed.  It told true story of the author, divorced and in a relationship with a new, younger partner and her adopted daughter.  Despite a past diagnosis of infertility, she became pregnant and, unbelievably, did not realize it (despite multiple doctor’s visits) until the 6 month mark.   The book vividly describes her experience but it was very hard to warm to this mother who was VERY negative about the entire experience.  She struggled emotionally, contemplating late term abortion and adoption.  The baby was born with health challenges that stressed the little family further.  As I finished this book, I could only hope that the daughter NEVER reads this book as I think she would be devastated to hear her mother’s true feelings during this stressful time.  I always shudder when I hear children referenced as “accidents” or “mistakes” but this descriptive story would be more upsetting to a child.  I feel very unsettled after reading this book.

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15. Three Weeks with My Brother (Nicholas and Micah Sparks)

31Lft+1oHNL._AA160_After reading ALL of Nicholas Sparks’ novels, I picked up this autobiography including tales of the trip of a lifetime that he shared with his older brother, Micah.  It has taken me a while to read it and I took a few breaks along the way, but it was interesting to learn more about the man behind the bestsellers.

The book alternates tales of their adventures in scenic locations and their lives starting with their childhood years.  What most people, who have read the Notebook or a Message in a Bottle, would not know is that Sparks grew up very poor, moving frequently and had a LOT of freedom to explore and get into trouble as a child.   As an adult, he was a track star (until he was injured), married young and started a family with his wife which includes 5 children.  He has struggled, helping his second child who has a disability to learn and be able to attend regular school.  Despite many specialists and testing, the family is not clear of his diagnosis.

The locations that the brothers described sound like amazing places to add to bucket lists.  The book brings you to tears as the brother’s lose both their parents in quick succession and later their younger sister.  Sparks describes how certain characters in books are modeled after certain family members.

While not a riveting book that is difficult to put down (like many of his novels), it was interesting to learn more about this prolific author.

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Filed under Autobiography