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Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 12 months ago
  • Waterfront : A Walk Around Manhattan by Phillip Lopate
  • the opposite of fate - amy tan
  • Population 485 - Meeting your Neighbors One Siren at a Time, Michael Perry
  • Alfred Kazin - A walker in the city --Kazin is also remembered for his great memoir, A Walker in the City, a kind of sensory tour of his childhood in Brownsville. It begins, "Every time I go back to Brownsville it is as if I had never been away. From the moment I step off the train at Rockaway Avenue and smell the leak out of the men's room, then the pickles from the stand just below the subway steps, an instant rage comes over me, mixed with dread and some unexpected tenderness... As I walk those familiarly choked streets at dusk and see the old women sitting in front of the tenements, past and present become each other's faces; I am back where I began."
  • six-string odyssey - about learning guitarI
  • It's the birthday of one of the first great travel writers, George Borrow (books by this author), born in Norfolk, England (1803). By the time he was 22, he could understand 12 languages, including Welsh, Hebrew, and Danish. In 1833, he was hired by the British and Foreign Bible Society to travel all over the world distributing Bible translations, and he wrote about all the thieves, revolutionaries, gypsies, soldiers, politicians, and priests that he met along the way. His most famous book was a best seller called The Bible in Spain (1843), about his adventures in Spain while attempting to distribute Spanish translations of the Bible.
  • the piano store on the left bank
  • adam gopnik's paris book
  • jean shepard's books
  • london: a biography
  • harriet walter - PN2598.W225 A3 2003





Eve Claxton is the compiler of The Book of Life, a compendium of the best autobiographical and memoir writing throughout history.


1. The Book of My Life by Girolamo Cardano (1576)

Contrary to popular belief, memoirs weren't invented in the mid-1990s. The genre is, of course, ancient - the Romans and Greeks wrote about their own lives; St. Augustine penned The Confessions, his full-length life story, at the turn of the 5th century. One of my personal favourites amongst the earlier works of autobiography is The Book of My Life, written in Renaissance Italy, by the polymath Girolamo Cardano. Each chapter describes a different aspect of Cardano's life - his career and relationships; his appearance and temperament, not to mention difficulties with his sexual health. A classic of self-examination.


2. Harriette Wilson's Memoirs by Harriette Wilson (1825)

Wilson was the most famous courtesan in Regency England - a mistress of aristocrats, politicians, poets, and military men alike. When she came to publish her memoirs in 1825, however, she was past her prime and losing her looks. In desperate need of money, Wilson posted letters to each of her ex-lovers demanding £200 or an annual pension if they wished to be omitted from her kiss-and-tell. The Duke of Wellington reportedly told her, "Publish and be damned!" (as a result, the Duke appears in her Memoirs portrayed as a dreadful bore with the looks of a "rat-catcher"). Wilson's first line gives you a good idea of her seductively mischievous tone: "I shall not say why and how I became, at the age of fifteen, the mistress of the Earl of Craven..."


4. The Autobiography of Margaret Oliphant by Margaret Oliphant (1899)

Oliphant was one of the most prolific and beloved novelists of the 19th century. Today, if she's remembered at all, it's usually as "Queen Victoria's favourite novelist" which doesn't seem like much of a recommendation. Her Autobiography, however, is unusually affecting. It was written as a private record over a period of 30 years, and was patched together by her descendents after her death in 1897. Even Virginia Woolf, who reviled Oliphant's novels, described The Autobiography as a "most genuine and moving piece of work." Each of Oliphant's six children and her husband died before her - including two sons in infancy and two daughters in childhood. The book ends with the death of her last surviving child: "I have nobody to stand between me and roughest edge of grief," she writes.


5. Father and Son by Edmund Gosse (1907)

A memoir about the relationship between the English writer Edmund Gosse and his father, the naturalist and evangelical Phillip Gosse. Although the events it recreates take place in the mid-19th century, the book feels timeless. This is partly because it's so poignant but also because the Gosses' complex and conflicted relationship is so well rendered. In the course of the book we witness the young Gosse emerging as his own person, despite enormous pressure from his father to fit into a staunchly evangelical mould. Eventually Gosse Jr and Gosse Sr go their separate ways - a schism that's ostensibly cause by their divergent views on Darwinism. Incredible to think such matters are still contentious in certain parts of the States.


9. The Perfect Stranger PJ Kavanagh (1966)

The English poet PJ Kavanagh called his 1966 memoir, "the story of a recognition and a rescue." It's a book that charts how one person can change another's life completely. Kavanagh begins with his childhood, growing up in wartime Bristol, and follows the course of his youth through boarding school and the army, until he winds up at Oxford, a rather lost and disgruntled 20-something. Here he meets a fellow student, Sally Phillips, the "perfect stranger" of the title, and they fall in love. What follows is a magical depiction of Sally, their short-lived happiness together, and the transformative effect she has on his existence.


KIND OF JOURNAL--PR6061.A9 K562 2003



10. Borrowed Finery by Paula Fox (2001)

My favourite memoir of recent times. Sadly, I didn't manage to include an excerpt in the anthology (I couldn't find a single section that would work when divorced from the rest of Fox's book) so it's very pleasing to recommend it here. Fox - the American novelist and children's book author - wrote this story of her childhood in her late 70s and she's a very good advertisement for waiting until old age to write about the past. Borrowed Finery is a model of exactitude and restraint, in which Fox manages to evoke her abandonment by her parents and a childhood spent in the care of a succession of strangers and relatives without a shred of self-pity. A second memoir, The Coldest Winter has just come out in the States and forms a kind of sequel. It's just as good as its predecessor.



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