Favorite Memoirs: Final Installment

Favorite Memoirs: Final Installment
As this three-part series comes to a close, I think you’ll enjoy the five favorite war memoirs listed by one of our Facebook friends. We’re quoting his comments on each.
1. Eastern Approaches by Fitzroy Maclean. Probably the best memoir I’ve ever read. It has three distinct sections. In Part I, it’s the 1930s and Mr. Maclean is a secret agent assigned to the British embassy in Moscow. Chased across Soviet Central Asia by the NKVD on horseback—literally— he later was one of the few Western eyewitnesses to the 1938 Soviet show trial of Nikolai Bukharin. In Part II, it’’s WWII and Mr. Maclean joins the British Army, becoming one of the founders of the Special Air Service, a commando unit that became famous for its daring raids behind Rommel’s lines in North Africa. In Part III, Mr. Maclean is summoned back to London to meet with Churchill, who appoints him his personal representative to the Yugoslav partisan leader Josef Broz Tito and parachutes him into Croatia to help lead guerrilla operations against the Nazis. (After the war, Mr. Maclean—who was one of only two men in the British Army to rise from the rank of private to brigadier general during the war—served as a member of Parliament representing the constituency of Bute and North Ayrshire, in southwest Scotland, on the Firth of Clyde. He also ran an inn, I believe.) You will not be able to put this book down.
2. With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa, by E.B. Sledge. A sergeant in the 5th Marines during WWII, Mr. Sledge later became a biology professor at the University of Montevallo, in Alabama. He wrote his memoir to explain his wartime experiences to his family. His wife eventually persuaded him to publish it (in the early 1980s, I believe), whereupon it was discovered and championed by the late military historian John Keegan, who called it one of the greatest combat memoirs ever written. I agree.
3. Quartered Safe Out Here, by George MacDonald Fraser. At 17, the author, who later became famous for a ribald and brilliant series of novels known collectively as The Flashman Papers, enlisted in the British Army’s Border Regiment and was promptly sent off to Burma to kill Japanese. The title, incidentally, comes from the opening lines of Kipling’s Gunga Din: “You may talk o’ gin an’ beer / When you’re quartered safe out ‘ere, / An’ you’re sent to penny-fights an’ Aldershot it; / But if it comes to slaughter / You will do your work on water, / An’ you’ll lick the bloomin’ boots of ’im that’s got it.”
4. Good-by to All That, by Robert Graves. Before he wrote I, Claudius, Mr. Graves was a British infantry officer in the trenches of the Western Front during the Great War. A real horror show rendered with ineluctable poignancy.
5. Between Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker’s War, 1941-1945, by Leo Marks. During WWII, Mr. Marks was head of communications for the Special Operations Executive, Churchill’s pet spy agency, where he revolutionized cryptography. Because of secrecy laws, Mr. Marks wasn’t able to tell his story—which is replete with tales of derring-do—until 1998. After the war, incidentally, Mr. Marks became a successful screenwriter and, oddly enough, played the voice of Satan in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ.

As this three-part Write My Memoirs series comes to a close, I think you’ll enjoy the five favorite war memoirs listed by one of our Facebook friends. We’re quoting his comments on each.

  1. Eastern Approaches by Fitzroy Maclean. Probably the best memoir I’ve ever read. It has three distinct sections. In Part I, it’s the 1930s and Mr. Maclean is a secret agent assigned to the British embassy in Moscow. Chased across Soviet Central Asia by the NKVD on horseback—literally— he later was one of the few Western eyewitnesses to the 1938 Soviet show trial of Nikolai Bukharin. In Part II, it’’s WWII and Mr. Maclean joins the British Army, becoming one of the founders of the Special Air Service, a commando unit that became famous for its daring raids behind Rommel’s lines in North Africa. In Part III, Mr. Maclean is summoned back to London to meet with Churchill, who appoints him his personal representative to the Yugoslav partisan leader Josef Broz Tito and parachutes him into Croatia to help lead guerrilla operations against the Nazis. (After the war, Mr. Maclean—who was one of only two men in the British Army to rise from the rank of private to brigadier general during the war—served as a member of Parliament representing the constituency of Bute and North Ayrshire, in southwest Scotland, on the Firth of Clyde. He also ran an inn, I believe.) You will not be able to put this book down.
  2. With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa, by E.B. Sledge. A sergeant in the 5th Marines during WWII, Mr. Sledge later became a biology professor at the University of Montevallo, in Alabama. He wrote his memoir to explain his wartime experiences to his family. His wife eventually persuaded him to publish it (in the early 1980s, I believe), whereupon it was discovered and championed by the late military historian John Keegan, who called it one of the greatest combat memoirs ever written. I agree.
  3. Quartered Safe Out Here, by George MacDonald Fraser. At 17, the author, who later became famous for a ribald and brilliant series of novels known collectively as The Flashman Papers, enlisted in the British Army’s Border Regiment and was promptly sent off to Burma to kill Japanese. The title, incidentally, comes from the opening lines of Kipling’s Gunga Din: “You may talk o’ gin an’ beer / When you’re quartered safe out ‘ere, / An’ you’re sent to penny-fights an’ Aldershot it; / But if it comes to slaughter / You will do your work on water, / An’ you’ll lick the bloomin’ boots of ’im that’s got it.”
  4. Good-by to All That, by Robert Graves. Before he wrote I, Claudius, Mr. Graves was a British infantry officer in the trenches of the Western Front during the Great War. A real horror show rendered with ineluctable poignancy.
  5. Between Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker’s War, 1941-1945, by Leo Marks. During WWII, Mr. Marks was head of communications for the Special Operations Executive, Churchill’s pet spy agency, where he revolutionized cryptography. Because of secrecy laws, Mr. Marks wasn’t able to tell his story—which is replete with tales of derring-do—until 1998. After the war, incidentally, Mr. Marks became a successful screenwriter and, oddly enough, played the voice of Satan in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ.

Continued: The List of Favorite Memoirs

Continued: The List of Favorite Memoirs
In the last post, we began compiling a list of our Facebook friends’ favorite memoirs so you’ll all have some “reference material” for writing your own memoirs. Here’s the next batch, along with the posters’ comments. Like Write My Memoirs on Facebook and give us some of your recommendations!
How To Talk Dirty and Influence People by Lenny Bruce. Comedy and tragedy intricately intertwined.
Try Stephen Fry’s The Fry Chronicles. Lighter (though it deals with some hard issues) with a healthy dose of humor and self-deprecation. It is refreshingly honest.
Similarly: Stephen Fry’s autobiography volumes Moab is my Washpot and The Fry Chronicles are worth reading, as he is such a splendid writer.
Patti Smith’s memoir, Just Kids.
Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton. An honest street smart chef makes good.
The Tender Bar by J. R. Moehringer. Fun one.
Marilyn Freund Try this; I think you might like it a lot—In the Land of the Grasshopper Song: Two Women in the Klamath River Indian Country by Mary Ellicott Arnold and Mabel Reed.
If you want to read something tacky but quite riveting, read I’m with the Band: Confessions of a Groupie by Pamela Des Barres and Dave Navarro. I really enjoyed it!
What It Is Like To Go To War by Karl Marlantes.
Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela.
Geoffrey Wellum’s First Light, an account of his life as a WWII Spitfire pilot, was absolutely absorbing.
Two Holocaust autobiographies: 1) The Lost Cellos of Lev Aronson by Frances Brent. It’s a Holocaust tale of music, struggle, ingenuity and survival, and it’s also a love story. 2) An Englishman in Auschwitz by Leon Greenman.
Still more to come next week!

In the last post, we began compiling a list of our Facebook friends’ favorite memoirs so you’ll all have some “reference material” for writing your own memoirs. Here’s the next batch, along with the posters’ comments. Like Write My Memoirs on Facebook and give us some of your recommendations!

  • How To Talk Dirty and Influence People by Lenny Bruce. Comedy and tragedy intricately intertwined.
  • Try Stephen Fry’s The Fry Chronicles. Lighter (though it deals with some hard issues) with a healthy dose of humor and self-deprecation. It is refreshingly honest. Similarly: Stephen Fry’s autobiography volumes Moab is my Washpot and The Fry Chronicles are worth reading, as he is such a splendid writer.
  • Patti Smith’s memoir, Just Kids.
  • Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton. An honest street-smart chef makes good.
  • The Tender Bar by J. R. Moehringer. Fun one.
  • Try this; I think you might like it a lot—In the Land of the Grasshopper Song: Two Women in the Klamath River Indian Country by Mary Ellicott Arnold and Mabel Reed.
  • If you want to read something tacky but quite riveting, read I’m with the Band: Confessions of a Groupie by Pamela Des Barres and Dave Navarro. I really enjoyed it!
  • What It Is Like To Go To War by Karl Marlantes.
  • Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela.
  • Geoffrey Wellum’s First Light, an account of his life as a WWII Spitfire pilot, was absolutely absorbing.
  • An Englishman in Auschwitz by Leon Greenman.

Still more to come next week!

Good Memoir Reads This Fall

Good Memoir Reads This Fall
Some of Write My Memoirs’ Facebook friends had a discussion about their favorite biographies and autobiographies in response to a friend who’d asked for recommendations. Here, we share the latter with their charming comments for your memoir-reading enjoyment this fall. We’ll continue the list next week.
If you like to read about suffering in USSR get Ida Nudel A hand in the darkness—a type of “Gulag” book.
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. I didn’t realize it was a memoir when I bought it (go ahead and laugh at me), and almost didn’t read it. It’s one of my favorite books, and I loved it so much that I begged for Half Broke Horses for a Christmas gift. I think you’ll love them!
Elie Wiesel’s Night is good, but you have to be in the right frame of mind for that one.
Hit by a Farm: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Barn is really good. By Catherine Friend.
I’ll mention Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, by Jung Chang, though you’ve almost certainly read it already?
Did you read Life by Keith Richards? LOVED it.
If you’re into music, Who I Am by Pete Townshend is great.
I, Tina: My Life Story by Tina Turner. You probably can guess the main theme of the struggles she’s faced, but the details paint an even darker picture.
Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley.
Miles: The Autobiography, by Miles Davis with Quincy Troupe Davis. Steel yourself for some colorful language, but you get used to it as you become caught up in his rhythms and cadences.

Some of Write My Memoirs’ Facebook friends had a discussion about their favorite autobiographies in response to a friend who’d asked for recommendations. Here, we share their selections along with their charming comments for your memoir-reading enjoyment this fall. We’ll continue the list next week.

  • If you like to read about suffering in USSR, get Ida Nudel’s A Hand in the Darkness—a type of “Gulag” book.
  • The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. I didn’t realize it was a memoir when I bought it (go ahead and laugh at me), and almost didn’t read it. It’s one of my favorite books, and I loved it so much that I begged for Half Broke Horses for a Christmas gift. I think you’ll love them!
  • Elie Wiesel’s Night is good, but you have to be in the right frame of mind for that one.
  • Hit by a Farm: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Barn is really good. By Catherine Friend.
  • I’ll mention Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, by Jung Chang, though you’ve almost certainly read it already?
  • Did you read Life by Keith Richards? LOVED it.
  • If you’re into music, Who I Am by Pete Townshend is great.
  • I, Tina: My Life Story by Tina Turner. You probably can guess the main theme of the struggles she’s faced, but the details paint an even darker picture.
  • Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley.
  • Miles: The Autobiography, by Miles Davis with Quincy Troupe Davis. Steel yourself for some colorful language, but you get used to it as you become caught up in his rhythms and cadences.

Leisure Reading Picks for Summer 2012

Leisure Reading Picks for Summer 2012
It seems like we read all day long, but so much of it is online and, if you’re like me, you’re also still reading traditional newspapers. But how many books do you read? If you feel like you’re behind in books, summertime is a great season to catch up. For those of you who are not interested in the best-seller, Shades of Grey kind of list, here are 16 titles (erroneously billed as 15) that NPR Books released after asking indie booksellers for their choices. For descriptions of each book, follow this link.
1. I Saw A Peacock With A Fiery Tail, by Jonathan Yamakami and Ramsingh Urveti
2. The Mark Inside: A Perfect Swindle, A Cunning Revenge, And A Small History Of The Big Con, by Amy Reading
3. The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, by Jonathan Gottschall
4. Hole In My Life, by Jack Gantos
5. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, by Jeanette Winterson
6. Absolution, by Patrick Flanery
7. The Book Of Jonas, by Stephen Dau
8. A Good American, by Alex George
9. The Healing, by Jonathan Odell
10. Hit Lit: Cracking The Code Of The Twentieth Century’s Biggest Bestsellers, by James W. Hall
11. Mr G: A Novel About The Creation, by Alan Lightman
12. Coral Glynn, by Peter Cameron
13. Boleto, by Alyson Hagy
14. Glaciers, by Alexis M. Smith
15. The Cheerleaders Of Doom, by Michael Buckley and Ethen Beavers
16. The Collective, by Don Lee

It seems as if we read all day long, but so much of it is online and, if you’re like me, you’re also still reading traditional newspapers. But how many memoirs, other nonfiction or fiction books do you read? If you feel like you’re behind in books, summertime is a great season to catch up. For those of you who are not interested in the best-seller, Shades of Grey kind of list, here are 16 titles (erroneously billed as 15) that NPR Books released after asking indie booksellers for their choices. For descriptions of each book, follow this link.

1. I Saw A Peacock With A Fiery Tail, by Jonathan Yamakami and Ramsingh Urveti

2. The Mark Inside: A Perfect Swindle, A Cunning Revenge, And A Small History Of The Big Con, by Amy Reading

3. The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, by Jonathan Gottschall

4. Hole In My Life, by Jack Gantos

5. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson

6. Absolution, by Patrick Flanery

7. The Book Of Jonas, by Stephen Dau

8. A Good American, by Alex George

9. The Healing, by Jonathan Odell

10. Hit Lit: Cracking The Code Of The Twentieth Century’s Biggest Bestsellers, by James W. Hall

11. Mr G: A Novel About The Creation, by Alan Lightman

12. Coral Glynn, by Peter Cameron

13. Boleto, by Alyson Hagy

14. Glaciers, by Alexis M. Smith

15. The Cheerleaders Of Doom, by Michael Buckley and Ethen Beavers

16. The Collective, by Don Lee

No Time to Read? This is For You!

No Time to Read? This is For You!
If you’re really hunkerin’ down and writing your memoirs, you may think you’re too busy to read books. After all, you’re writing one! But I urge you to keep up with your reading during this time, because other authors’ work inspires you to use language well and to continue until you’ve completed your project—so that you’ll have something for other people to read.
To fit reading into your tight schedule, try this idea from DailyLit.com. When you sign up with DailyLit for free, you can choose a book to have emailed to you in regular installments that each take just a few minutes to read. So while you’re reading your email, you’re also reading a book. You tell DailyLit exactly what time and how often to send you the installments—as the name indicates, a daily email is the norm—and you can always order another installment right away if you have time and can’t put the “book” down.
“We created DailyLit because we spent hours each day on email but could not find the time to read a book,” the website says. “Now the books come to us by email. Problem solved.” Although some books do have a fee attached, many are free because the site is supported by advertising. I especially encourage you to read other people’s memoirs, so click on this DailyLit page and you’ll find some of those. And then you can get back to writing your own memoirs!

If you’re really hunkerin’ down and writing your memoirs, you may think you’re too busy to read books. After all, you’re writing one! But I urge you to keep up with your reading during this time, because other authors’ work inspires you to use language well and to continue until you’ve completed your project—so that you’ll have something for other people to read.

To fit reading into your tight schedule, try this idea from DailyLit.com. When you sign up with DailyLit for free, you can choose a book to have emailed to you in regular installments that each take just a few minutes to read. So while you’re reading your email, you’re also reading a book. You tell DailyLit exactly what time and how often to send you the installments—as the name indicates, a daily email is the norm—and you can always order another installment right away if you have time and can’t put the “book” down.

“We created DailyLit because we spent hours each day on email but could not find the time to read a book,” the website says. “Now the books come to us by email. Problem solved.” Although some books do have a fee attached, many are free because the site is supported by advertising. I especially encourage you to read other people’s memoirs, so click on this DailyLit page and you’ll find some of those. And then you can get back to writing your own memoirs!

The Elements of Style: Still Relevant?

The Elements of Style: Still Relevant?
Writers unsure of their grammar often ask me to recommend a reference. After all these years, I still mention The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr., and E.B. White. Yes, that’s the same E.B. White who authored the children’s classic, Charlotte’s Web. If you ever took English 101 in college, you may have The Elements of Style sitting on a bookcase somewhere. First published in 1959, it was at one time a standard required text and, while some points are dated, I find that it has mostly stood the test of time.
When you think of a grammar or style book, you probably envision a huge, hardback, doorstop-worthy tome, but Struck and White’s soft-cover, 71-page booklet can fit into a coat pocket. Yet it covers everything from fine points of grammar to broad suggestions on style. Here’s one example of the more general advice, found under the topic, “Avoid fancy words”:
“Avoid the elaborate, the pretentious, the coy, and the cute. Do not be tempted by a twenty-dollar word when there is a ten-center handy, ready and able….If you admire fancy words, if every sky is beauteous, every blonde curvaceous, if you are tickled by discombobulate, you will have a bad time with [this reminder]….There is nothing wrong, really, with any word—all are good, but some are better than others….The line between the fancy and the plain, between the atrocious and the felicitous, is sometimes alarmingly fine.”

Memoir writers unsure of their grammar often ask me to recommend a reference. After all these years, I still mention The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr., and E.B. White. Yes, that’s the same E.B. White who authored the children’s classic, Charlotte’s Web. If you ever took English 101 in college, you may have The Elements of Style sitting on a bookcase somewhere. First published in 1959, it was at one time a standard required text and, while some points are dated, I find that it has mostly stood the test of time.

When you think of a grammar or style book, you probably envision a huge, hardback, doorstop-worthy tome, but Strunk and White’s soft-cover, 71-page booklet can fit into a coat pocket. Yet it covers everything from fine points of grammar to broad suggestions on style. Here’s one example of the more general advice, found under the topic, “Avoid fancy words”:

“Avoid the elaborate, the pretentious, the coy, and the cute. Do not be tempted by a twenty-dollar word when there is a ten-center handy, ready and able….If you admire fancy words, if every sky is beauteous, every blonde curvaceous, if you are tickled by discombobulate, you will have a bad time with [this reminder]….There is nothing wrong, really, with any word—all are good, but some are better than others….The line between the fancy and the plain, between the atrocious and the felicitous, is sometimes alarmingly fine.”

10 Fall Reading Suggestions

10 Fall Reading Suggestions
When you’re not writing your memoir, many of you are avid readers. Our local reviewer, Julia Keller of the Chicago Tribune, recommends five fiction and five nonfiction books coming out this fall. Enjoy!
Fiction: 1) The Lost Memory of Skin, by Russell Banks, a “disturbing” portrait of a convicted sex offender. 2) The Cat’s Table, by Michael Ondaatje, a 1950s story of a young boy’s dinners aboard a ship crossing the Indian Ocean. 3) The Stranger’s Child, by Alan Hollinghurst, following a wealthy family in post-World War I Britain. 4) 11/22/63, by Stephen King, exploring what might have happened if someone had stopped Oswald from assassinating JFK. 5) Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life, by Ann Beattie, an imaginative trek through the private thoughts of Pat Nixon during the 1960s-’70s.
Nonfiction: 1) The Other Walk: Essays, by Sven Birkerts, a collection of personal reflections on myriad topics. 2) Floating Worlds: The Letters of Edward Gorey & Peter F. Neumeyer, edited by Peter F. Neumeyer, a must for any fan of the reclusive Edward Gorey. 3) The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food, by Adam Gopnik, exploring, and contributing to, the nation’s fixation on food. 4) Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman, by Robert K. Massie, a textured look at a player in pre-revolutionary Russia who has been regarded narrowly. 5) Freud’s Couch, Scott’s Buttocks, Bronte’s Grave, by Simon Goldhill, which channels Victorian times, when fans traveled to authors’ homes for inspiration.

When you’re not writing your memoir, many of you are avid readers. Our local reviewer, Julia Keller of The Chicago Tribune, recommends five fiction and five nonfiction books coming out this fall. Enjoy!

Fiction: 1) The Lost Memory of Skin, by Russell Banks, a “disturbing” portrait of a convicted sex offender. 2) The Cat’s Table, by Michael Ondaatje, a 1950s story of a young boy’s dinners aboard a ship crossing the Indian Ocean. 3) The Stranger’s Child, by Alan Hollinghurst, following a wealthy family in post-World War I Britain. 4) 11/22/63, by Stephen King, exploring what might have happened if someone had stopped Oswald from assassinating JFK. 5) Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life, by Ann Beattie, an imaginative trek through the private thoughts of Pat Nixon during the 1960s-’70s.

Nonfiction: 1) The Other Walk: Essays, by Sven Birkerts, a collection of personal reflections on myriad topics. 2) Floating Worlds: The Letters of Edward Gorey & Peter F. Neumeyer, edited by Peter F. Neumeyer, a must for any fan of the reclusive Edward Gorey. 3) The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food, by Adam Gopnik, exploring, and contributing to, the nation’s fixation on food. 4) Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman, by Robert K. Massie, a textured look at a player in pre-revolutionary Russia who has been regarded narrowly. 5) Freud’s Couch, Scott’s Buttocks, Bronte’s Grave, by Simon Goldhill, which channels Victorian times, when fans traveled to authors’ homes for inspiration.