2024 Reading Challenge

2024 Reading Challenge
Jill Elizabeth has read 1 book toward her goal of 285 books.

2023 Reading Challenge

2023 Reading Challenge
Jill Elizabeth has read 5 books toward her goal of 265 books.

Top Ten Lists: Biographies/Autobiographies or Why Is Everyone Else’s Life so Interesting?

So I know it’s Book Review Tuesday, but this week it’s going to be a combination book review/top ten list day. As I have mentioned previously, I am now doing book reviews for several publishers, writers, and/or book review websites. As I have also mentioned previously (in nearly every Tuesday post, as a matter of fact – teehee), it seems like Book Review Tuesday comes around very fast every week. And while I enjoy writing book reviews and telling people about interesting books to look for (and not-so-interesting ones to avoid), I don’t actually want to be a professional book reviewer.

I want to be a professional writer. Of fiction. And writing books reviews is not writing fiction.

It takes a surprising amount of time to write good book reviews and/or good Book Review Tuesday posts, since I don’t just do a brief “here’s what it’s about, I liked it, you will too” kind of review. I like to have a theme for Book Review Tuesdays, with some context and some larger-meaning, drawing-connections kind of musings. Believe it or not, these types of posts don’t automatically just trickle out of my fingertips and out through the ether… They take time. So does writing fiction – vast, ginormous, buckets-full of time. And time is the one thing it seems like I am always jealously guarding and/or chasing these days.

So you are going to start seeing some variety on Book Review Tuesdays – some more Top Tens, some reposts of the reviews I do for other people, and possibly even some guest posts/reviews from other people. I hope you don’t mind. I do tend to get a lot of comments on the Top Tens/Book Review Tuesday posts, and I love getting comments, so hopefully I won’t upset the apple cart too much…

So on to the Top Ten/book review theme for today: biographies and autobiographies. I really enjoy reading about other people’s lives. That is, after all, what fiction is too – stories about lives. And while it is often great fun for me to escape into fantastic made-up lives, it is also often equally fun and educational to occasionally escape into fantastic real lives. And the Top Ten today includes some real doozies – women rising to meteoric heights that stretched so far above and beyond what the men in their lives (and even they) expected they could ever reach, men in politics ranging from the good to the bad and even the ugly, a horse with a more exciting life than most people, and a few bittersweet (and at times just plain bitter) explorations of what a “self” or a “life” actually encompasses. In the spirit of Book Review Tuesday tradition, I will offer a tish more insight into the books than my Top Ten Lists usually do. But first the list.

Top 10 Biographies/Autobiographies (you will learn and enjoy, I promise)

1. Personal History – Katherine Graham
2. Theodore Rex – Edmund Morris
3. Eleanor Roosevelt, Vol. 1: 1884-1933 – Blanche Wiesen Cook
4. The Brethren: Inside the Supreme Court – Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong
5. First Ladies: An Intimate Group Portrait of White House Wives – Margaret Truman
6. Seabiscuit: An American Legend – Laura Hillenbrand
7. Nixon: A Life – Jonathan Aitken
8. A Fractured Mind: My Life with Multiple Personality Disorder – Robert B. Oxnam
9. She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders – Jennifer Finney Boylan
10. A Beautiful Mind: The Life of Mathematical Genius and Nobel Laureate John Nash – Sylvia Nasar

I am not going to review all of them – a book’s presence in my Top Ten speaks for itself. I will mention a bit about the first two and the eighth, though, as they stand out to me today, even among this list of very good reads.

Personal History is a fascinating story about a woman who went from wife to newspaper magnate virtually overnight. Circumstances might have overtaken her, but her spirit, pluck, and strength took the Washington Post through a number of nation-changing events (hello Pentagon Papers and Watergate!), as well as a number of internal company (and family) transitions. I met Mrs. Graham at a luncheon in Washington a number of years ago – she was as gracious, graceful, and grand as her story suggests, and a marvelous speaker. Her story is a fabulous tale of adversity and a testament to the courage of her own convictions, even when everyone around her was filled with doubt.

What a man Teddy Roosevelt was! He was a true statesman on local, state, national, and global levels; a devoted family man; a hunter and gamesman; a soldier. And he managed to be all of these things nearly simultaneously, all the while chomping on cigars, laughing uproariously, and having the most magnificent time. In Theodore Rex, Morris tells Teddy’s story in the perfect tone of voice, and I guarantee you will be engaged – and surprised – at what unfolds.

A mind is a terrible thing to waste – and sometimes to behold, particularly when it contains dark secrets so deeply repressed that the structure of the mind itself is affected. In A Fractured Mind: My Life with Multiple Personality Disorder, you will meet Robert Oxnam – all of him, including all eleven inhabitants of the Castle, the structure his mind created to store the multiple personalities that developed as a result of unbelievable childhood trauma. A mind fractured to protect itself is an amazing thing indeed, as is a mind that has been painstakingly rebuilt. This is a fascinating story about the strength of the human spirit and the mind’s incredible ability to do what it has to in order to survive and function. The story is, at times, very difficult to read – to call what happened to Oxnam “gross trauma” is to commit the understatement of the year – but the exploration of one man’s quest to understand (and rebuild) himself from the bottom up will astonish you and if you walk away unmoved, I will be shocked.

Oh, and I have reviewed numbers nine and ten before. If you missed that post or have forgotten, “On Non-Fiction Redux or When Truth Really IS Stranger than Fiction” contains my reviews.

Whether you agree with how each of these individuals handled their own unique challenges and struggles or not, I guarantee you will learn something (even if against your will) and find the stories compelling and more than occasionally inspiring (even if against your will again). Enjoy!

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