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In the stacks: New memoirs and biographies

Posted: January 16, 2014 - 12:03am

Reading memoirs and biographies can give you a window into others’ lives and thought processes, and we’ve just added a number of fascinating new titles at the Juneau Public Libraries. “Look for Still Foolin’ ‘Em,” by Billy Crystal, and “A Curious Man,” by Neal Thompson (about Robert Ripley, of Ripley’s Believe it or Not fame), as well as the books below.

“Raising Cubby,” by John Elder Robison.

Jack Robison, called Cubby by his affectionate father, made the news in 2009 when the ATF saw videos the teenager posted on YouTube of him doing one of his favorite things: blowing stuff up with homemade explosives. Then, in 2011, Cubby and his girlfriend hit the New York Times with an article about their lives as college kids with autism, and how they found love and companionship. Here, his father, John Robison, gives readers an inside view on the joys and difficulties of being a single father with autism raising a son with many of his same quirks. How do you deal with toddler meltdowns when your autism keeps you from even seeing the signs of trouble? (Set a timer, insert food every two hours.) What happens when your son’s obsessive interests feed his fierce intellect to the detriment of school in the morning? Sometimes Robison the elder’s approach reminded me of Calvin’s dad in the comic strip, other times I wondered whether or not to laugh, but these vignettes of life in the Robison household are full of love and, from this distance, laughter. (Bonus fun fact: Robison is the older brother of memoirist Augusten Burroughs.)

“An Apple a Day,” by Emma Woolf.

When Woolf, columnist for The Times, was 19, she suffered through a failing relationship that triggered a horribly self-destructive streak. She entered Oxford University weighing a perfectly normal 133 pounds, and left, several years later, weighing just 77 pounds. Here in a no-nonsense, no-pity tone, Woolf explains the ins and outs of living with anorexia, how even though she is a cheerful, self-confident person, she is also a control freak. Part journal, part self-help, part love-story this refutes the idea that anorexia happens when women (and girls) try to live up to unrealistic media images and instead points out a link between anorexia and autism in girls. With the support of her family and husband, Woolf is working hard on gaining weight so that she’ll be healthy enough to have a baby, though by the end of the book, it’s unclear whether she’ll make it.

“Surgeon in Blue,” by Scott McGaugh.

When the American Civil War broke out, Jonathan Letterman was a medical officer responsible for several hundred men. Soon, though, he found himself promoted to chief medical officer of the Army of the Potomac, and he was suddenly dealing with thousands of wounded men. He changed all that by establishing entirely new standards of care for both wounded and unwounded soldiers. Gone were the days of muddy kitchens, overflowing latrines, and animal carcasses left unburied. Ambulance carts were no longer available for other uses, and Letterman created special “ambulance crews” trained specifically to transport the wounded. Survival rates skyrocketed. After the war, Letterman resigned from the Army to head west, and in California, he started a family and an oil drilling business. Though that never succeeded, Letterman is still remembered for dropping the military mortality rate from 26 percent down to merely 9 percent.

“The Black Russian,” by Vladimir Alexandrov.

Frederick Bruce Thomas was born in 1872 to former slaves-turned-successful farmers in Mississippi. But when disaster strikes and the family flees an unscrupulous white landowner, Thomas gets a taste of a life other than farming. As a bellboy (and eventually head bellboy and personal valet) at a first class hotel, he discovers he has a flair for managing people while being personable, agreeable, and charming. After earning enough for the fare, Thomas departs the States to see the world, working his way through London and France and eventually landing in color-blind Russia. Settling in Moscow, Thomas gains Russian citizenship, opens a number of very popular theaters and restaurants, marries, and is poised to live the high life when disaster strikes again and the Bolsheviks take over the country. Though he rebuilds his wealth and reputation in Turkey, Thomas is eventually brought down again through a combination of a racist American official, an angry ex-wife, criminal activity, and a nation’s unrest, and died in a Turkish debtor’s prison in 1928.

•••

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, all public libraries will be closed on Monday, Jan. 20.

On Tuesday, Jan. 21, come to the Douglas library for Third Thursday’s Movies in Spanish. Doors open at 5:15 p.m. for those who want some Spanish language practice (or simply great seats), movie starts at 5:45 p.m.

On Thursday, Jan. 23, TEDx is back! Join library staff at 6 p.m. at the downtown library for video essays and conversation about creativity.

And from now until Feb. 28, the library is offering you the chance to Blind Date a book – just come on in to any branch and take your pick of paper-wrapped Book Dates – maybe you’ll find a new favorite book, author, or genre. Rate your Date to enter into a pool for a prize drawing in March.

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

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