Tag Archives: biography

I was looking back at the posts I’ve written over the past year, and came across one from almost exactly a year ago, written after Irene came through the area. THIS year brought Hurricane Sandy, and with her came much destruction to some areas.

For me, it meant being evacuated from the marshy area I live in (luckily, no house damage) and a loss of power for four days. In that time, I had a chance to test out my new iPhone 5 and a borrowed first-generation iPad. My i5 was really reliable in terms of connection and, ooh, the battery life! I was able to charge it in a short car drive, and then it’d last until the next day! That’s a far cry from my old HTC Evo. In between checking CL&P outage maps on my iPhone and playing with my daughter (no school for 5 days!!), I was also able to get some reading done… all on the iPad.

Just before the storm, I checked out a book from my library’s eBook download pageTimeline by Michael Crichton. I am a big Michael Crichton fan (Andromeda Strain is one of my all-time favorites). I charged the iPad up and kept it charged until Monday, when we lost power. From then until Thursday, the iPad retained enough of a charge for me to finish the entire book over the course of those powerless days.

Downloading ebooks and audiobooks to iPads and iPhones is really simple – browsing onscreen for books is a bit tricky, but if you know what you’re looking for and find it, checking out/downloading is a breeze.

I also recently read the whole of Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie on my smartphone. The reward of downloading a book the moment I think of having it is huge – it’s a heady power we can enjoy at our fingertips!

I thought perhaps this long biography (625 pages!) would be too much for a phone. My plan was to start it on the phone, then find a print copy to do my ‘real reading.’ But …  the phone is so much lighter than the book.

I was able to turn out the lights, and read the book on my phone in bed, set for white text on a black background, and with little taps of my finger, turn the page as I read. It was so simple and so convenient, and actually really enjoyable.

Format aside, this book was SOO good. Catherine the Great was a really interesting person who led a remarkable life. How she came to power and how she led reads in this book like a well-researched, well-written soap opera.

Despite all the digital reading I’m doing lately, I still love my paper books, and just finished a 545 page historical novel about Marie Antoinette (Abundance by Sena Jeter Naslund). It’s another long book (despite her short life), but it must be – it covers the time from when Marie Antoinette was preparing to marry Louis XVI, and goes right up to her unfortunate end. This book is engaging and seems as well-researched as a work of fiction can be.

The novel’s voice of Marie feels real when compared with the actual letters she wrote (the letters, to her mother, are a regular feature of the novel). It could easily have been a frivolous novel, to match the lightweight charm of the subject, but takes Marie and her concerns seriously. The time in which Marie lived was amazing. The world revolted, discovered, changed, all while Marie Antoinette was growing into a woman. This fascinating story is told through her eyes, with clarity and sympathy.

However you’re into getting your reading done – online or digital device or in print, go for it. The library has stepped up to give you more of what you want, when you want it.

And we librarians can help you with the downloading ebooks and audiobooks to your reading device – be it an Apple device, an Kindle, a Nook, or even your computer. We’ve created handouts with simple step-by-step directions for a variety of devices. They’re accessible online or at the library, and we’re happy to help too. You can call us with questions or if you’re stuck on any of the steps. If you don’t have a device of your own, we lend Kindles and Nooks that are preloaded with book titles. You can play around with it, read a book, see how you like the feel, etc. Enjoy!


After reading a book about Teddy Roosevelt, I wanted to learn more about early American politics – my civic knowledge is sorely lacking. A book crossed my path that looked really good – Benjamin Franklin: An American Life. It was written by Walter Isaacson, the same guy who wrote the recently published Steve Jobs biography. Benjamin Franklin is a BIG, intimidating book, but I thought I’d give it a shot and am sooo glad I did! I have a new-found admiration for the complex person that Benjamin Franklin was.

This very large, potentially very dry and boring book covered Franklin’s entire life, but did so in a way that was far from dry and boring. Franklin himself was not dry, was not boring – this bio paints him in such a way as to highlight his charm, his curiosity, and his intelligence, without glossing over his less endearing personality quirks.

When I read John Adams by David McCullough (a wonderfully well-written book about our cantankerous but endearingly earnest second president), Franklin’s exploits were touched on, and in this book, the reverse is true. Adams and Franklin had a sort of love-hate relationship, and it’s interesting to read about it from both sides.

Franklin led a full, full life – this book covers all of it. After reading this book, I’ve gotten to know better the man behind the myth. Franklin was full of nuance and depth. It seems that what we need now, in this world, is another Franklin. Someone who has a curious, practical mind, who embodies the American dream, who is a champion of the middle class and who believes in the community supporting each other. He was against “big government” but believed in fair taxes, and felt that wealthy people should give back to their communities – of their own volition, without any government regulation. He was a stickler for clear rules and regulations, but didn’t mind playing a part during a negotiation, bending the truth or leaving details out to benefit the newly forming America. He was shrewd, yet had a charming naiveté.

This book helped me understand more about the events leading up to the Revolutionary War, and brought Benjamin Franklin to life – it was interesting, and very much a page-turner (which is huge – I almost never finish non-fiction works; they just fade out at the end into ‘blah’. This was a far cry from blah).

It definitely has made me want to read more about the founding fathers, the beginning of our nation, the Civil War, our presidents…. There’s so much to know, and I’m looking forward to finding other well-written books to help learn it.

There are numerous books about J.D. Salinger and this most recent one by Slawenski is an interesting account of Salinger’s life, focused mainly on his writing years. This book was somewhere in the middle of my ‘to-read’ list, but jumped up to the top after a patron recommended it. The patron is a former teacher of Catcher in the Rye, and said that the chapter about Holden Caulfield described the character just as he taught it. He actually only recommended reading that chapter, but I was intrigued by the entire book, and decided to read the whole thing.

Slawenski is a huge, HUGE Salinger fan. He says as much in the introduction, writing about his website devoted to Salinger. This love and devotion comes across in the book – his admiration is palpable. But it doesn’t detract from the telling of Salinger’s life. He presents Salinger in full light, though tending to ennoble his flaws a bit.

Prior to this, I had no idea who Salinger was, what he was like. I had read all of his books, including the short stories, but had never read anything about the author himself. His life was definitely interesting. He fought in WWII, and was in a unit that took part in some of the bloodiest battles of the war. He became an intelligence officer, interrogating Nazis and their sympathizers. He wrote before, during and after the war, many of his stories exorcising his demons of war. Once back home, Salinger became an early American proponent of yoga and organic gardening. He was married multiple times and had children but was very much an independent spirit, preferring to lose himself in his characters’ lives. According to this biography, Salinger initially chose to separate himself from the world in order to produce his works; he knew he would otherwise be too distracted by his own fame, parties and fanfare. He felt he had a duty to write – to his spirit, his god. To do otherwise would be “phony”, something his most famous character, Holden Caulfield, would have despised.

This biography not only gives you a look at Salinger’s life, but describes the stories he wrote at various times, given some critical analysis in light of his life events. I’d read his books and stories over the years, and enjoyed each one. But after reading the bio of Salinger, I definitely want to go back and reread all of his works. Salinger was a master storyteller, presenting his written world through small details, allowing the reader to complete the picture. He described the trees, so that we could see the forest.

Franny and Zooey is one book I remember loving, but do not recall specifics from. It’s about a large, quirky family in New York. It was published in the 50s, but feels timeless. The story is about the relationships between family members and how they see the world. He also was a great short story writer. He wrote “For Esme – With Love and Squalor”, originally published in the New Yorker and anthologized in Nine Stories. This is a powerful tale of a war veteran and a chance encounter with a young girl who changes his life by simply reminding him of innocence.

I actually had the opportunity to hear this short story being read aloud in a coffeehouse by a friend of mine. The New Haven Theater Company presents a seasonal series of short story readings by actors called Listen Here – they do a wonderful job choosing and reading the stories. Attendance is free, the stories are priceless. In one of these sessions, Steve Scarpa’s reading of “For Esme” brought the emotions of the story to the forefront – I can say without any trace of sarcasm that ‘I laughed, I cried, it was better than Cats’... If you have the chance to attend a reading, possibly in the fall cycle, I highly suggest it.

So… any stories about Salinger and his works? Where were you when you first read Catcher? Any favorites other than Catcher?