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In the Stacks: New biographies

Posted: March 23, 2011 - 5:47pm  |  Updated: March 25, 2011 - 9:54am

Get to know people from all walks of life — new biographies are on the shelves at the public libraries. Biographies are mostly shelved under the Dewey number 921, but you’ll also find interesting multi-person biographies in 920; for instance, the story of Julia Child and her friend, Avis DeVoto. Browse the libararies’ collections or zero in on the person you’re interested in using the catalogue.

“As Always, Julia,” edited by Joan Reardon.

When Julia Child wrote to the Harper’s journalist Bernard DeVoto in 1951, offering to send him kitchen knives from France after his article bemoaning the state of American kitchen knives, the response came not from the journalist, but from his wife. Soon, letters were rushing back and forth across the ocean, Mrs. Child and Mrs. DeVoto became Julia and Avis, and a great friendship was formed. Avis recognized from the first pieces she saw of Julia’s French cookbook that she was looking at a bestseller, and became instrumental in getting it published. Julia was a stalwart support when Avis’ husband died unexpectedly, and the two commiserated over aging, lamented the state of American cooking, and wished they had met much earlier. Their letters are collected here, grouped into stages of life and put in context by Reardon, and cover the remarkable span of years that it took Mastering the Art of French Cooking to reach publication and Julia to become a household name. Funny and fresh, these are the kinds of letters we wish we wrote today, full of references to political and life events and, yes, lots and lots of cooking.

“Franklin and Eleanor: an extraordinary marriage,” by Hazel Rowley.

The marriage of the Roosevelt cousins, unconventional from the start, is perhaps the true subject of this biography. Rowley manages to not take sides between the two strong personalities, choosing instead to emphasize the intricate give and take between them that allowed them to stay together and thrive as individuals and as a couple. From the beginning, their relationship had more than two people in it: there was Sara, Franklin’s mother, in whose shadow the family lived for the first six years of marriage. And after Franklin contracted polio at the age of 35, several more people entered into the relationship, most notably Franklin’s secretary Missy LeHand, and his closest advisor Louis Howe. But Franklin and Eleanor were always each others’ centers and supports, personally, socially, and politically.

“Conversations with Myself,” by Nelson Mandela.

This compendium of letters, transcripts of conversations, and journal entries together compose a nuanced but jumpy portrait of Mandela and his life’s struggles. Like a jigsaw puzzle, it will take a little work to build the picture, but the result is worth it. Readers can trace the events of Mandela’s life, starting with fragments from his childhood looking after cattle on the veld in his home village, through his days at school to his arrival in Johannesburg and into his life as an activist, convict, free man and leader of his country. In a way, this follows Mandela’s bestselling memoir “Long Walk to Freedom,” and has, folded into it, the seeds of an autobiography he was working on. This is an unexpectedly intensely personal look into the heart and soul of a great man.

“The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the end of America’s childhood,” by Jane Leavy.

Leavy was practically born a Mickey Mantle fan and was fortunate enough to interview him (and to see for herself his womanizing ways) before his death in 1995. After talking with over 500 of Mantle’s fellow players, coaches, fans, and family, she wrote this detailed and vivid portrait of an athletically gifted but genetically cursed man, whose rise captivated America and enabled his fall. She follows him from Oklahoma, where his father was a zinc miner, to the Yankee Stadium, where Mantle was the breadwinner. She paints a picture of a charismatic and loyal but naïve man who wanted the best for his friends, family, and teammates, who loved his family but ultimately couldn’t shake loose his demons.

•••

Want to learn to amaze yourself and annoy your friends with everyday objects? Come to the Valley Library on Tuesday, March 29th at 7 p.m. for a round of Stuntology with Sam Bartlett.

The library’s tax forms have finally arrived! Looking for the AARP Tax Help? Come to the Mendenhall Valley Library every Sunday from 12-4 p.m. until April 17.

For information about upcoming programs, or to place a hold, visit www.juneau.org/library or call 586-5249.

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