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Memoirs reveal so much about the writer

“You never really understand a person until you …climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

— Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird”

By Laurie Robb

Rowan Public Library

Perhaps you’ve tried to put yourself in the place of someone going through tremendous heartbreak or joy. Or maybe you’ve wanted to know how a survivor of tragedy faces each day. You’ve wondered how a person forgives the most unforgivable transgression, from someone else or from herself.

Memoirs are wonderful tools to help readers understand how other people experience both ordinary and extraordinary life. Like biographies, memoirs chronicle a person’s experiences and can be as intense as Elie Wiesel’s “Night,” or as light-hearted as Jeannette Walls’ “The Glass Castle.”

Classic memoirs include Anne Frank’s “Diary of a Young Girl,” Frank McCourt’s “Angela’s Ashes,” Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and Mitch Albom’s “Tuesdays with Morrie.

 The past few years have given us bumper crops of exciting and diverse memoirs. Award winning book “The Lab Girl” by Hope Jahren is about a female scientist who, through determination and love, excels in her field.

J.D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy,” which got lots of air time during the election, is about his white working class family in Appalachia.

Paul Kalanithi’s “When Breath Becomes Air” is the moving account of Kalanithi’s diagnosis of cancer and how he approaches death.

“You Will Not Have My Hate” is the story of a widower who must confront his grief after the murder of his wife in the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks.

“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot is the story of a family’s quest to find out more about the woman whose cancer cells would generate countless new medical discoveries.

Another gift that memoirs can deliver is the opportunity to experience the point of view of someone living with a disability, mental illness or other condition. In honor of Autism Awareness Month, a wonderful way to connect or understand autism is to read memoirs written by authors on the autistic spectrum.

Temple Grandin, a well-known autism advocate and animal scientist, has several books available at the library. Her memoirs include “The Way I See It” and “Thinking in Pictures.”

John Elder Robison, brother to Augusten Burroughs and exploding guitar guru, is another of my favorite authors on the spectrum. He wrote “Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s,” as well as “Raising Cubby: A Father and Son’s Adventures with Asperger’s, Tractors and High Explosives.”

“The Reason I Jump: the Inner Voice of a13-Year-Old Boy with Autism,” by Naoki Higashida, is a wonderful memoir that young adults find intriguing.

“Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant,” by Daniel Tammet is another perspective of living with autism and “Letters to Sam: A Grandfather’s Lessons on Love, Loss, and the Gifts of Life,” by Daniel Gottlieb, is the touching memoir of a grandfather relating to his autistic grandson.

Rowan County author Susan King wrote a moving account of her experiences with her son in the inspiring book “Optimism for Autism: The Inspi.”

 If you can’t wait to pick up one of the newest memoirs, here is a list of suggestions. There is certainly something here for everyone.

  • “How to Murder Your Life,” by Cat Marnell
  • “Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin,” by Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin
  • “My Life, My Love, My Legacy” by Coretta Scott King
  • “Instrumental: a Memoir of Madness, Medication, and Music,” by James Rhodes
  • “Scrappy Little Nobody,” by Anna Kendrick
  • “No One Cares About Crazy People,” by Ron Powers
  • “A Life Extraordinary: The Extraordinary Story of One Boy’s Gift to Medical Science,” by Sarah Gray
  • “Patient H.M.,” by Luke Dittrich
  • “Storyteller’s Nashville: a Gritty and Glorious Life in Country Music,” by Tom T. Hall
  • “The Girl Who Escaped ISIS,” by Farida Khalaf and Andrea C. Hoffman
  • “Based on a True Story,” by Norm MacDonald

So, if you want to connect with someone extraordinary or even someone ordinary in extraordinary situations, pick up a memoir. Through the author, you will have a front row seat to learn, explore and grow. To me, memoirs are the best of both worlds: true events and great stories (and storytellers). Find your next favorite memoir at the Rowan Public Library.

Chapter Chats Book Club: A weekly club for teens 14-17, primarily for participants with developmental or intellectual disabilities, but all are welcome. Meets Tuesdays at East branch meeting room, through May 23, 5 p.m. For more information, contact Tammie Foster at 704-216-7842.

Dr. Who’s Days: Travel through time and space with screenings of the classic BBC program, “Dr. Who.” Families are invited to attend. Headquarters, April 11, 4:30 p.m.

Teen Advisory Board: Teens who join this board provide input on RPL’s teen programming and book selection and discuss current events and issues of interest. Members can count their hours of participation toward school community service requirements. East, April 10, 6:30 p.m.; Headquarters, April 25, 4:30 p.m.

Maker Mondays: April 10, 6-7 p.m., headquarters. See the RPL Cooperative Lab’s 3D printer in action. Learn about the process from start to finish, and witness how a 3D printer can make ideas reality.

Special PJ Storytime: April 10, 6 p.m., South Rowan Regional. Patrons who took part in the “Night at the Library”on March 27-29 will receive their free pictures and souvenirs at this special storytime event. Call 704-216-7728 for more information.

Monday, April 10, 6:30 p.m., same program at headquarters for patrons who participated on March 31-April 1. Call 704-216-8234 for more information.

Monday, April 10, 6 p.m., same program at East Branch for people who took part in the March 27-29 event. Call 704-216-7842 for more information.

“Dr. Strange” at South Rowan Regional: Monday, April 17, 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Benedict Cumberbatch and Chiwetel Ejiofor star in “Dr. Strange.” This 2016, PG-13 rated film has a runtime of 115 minutes. Light refreshments; free, open to the public. All ages are welcome; an adult must accompany children ages 13 and under.

Teen Poetry Slam: April 18, 5:30-7 p.m., headquarters. Teens younger than 19 are invited to perform up to three original poems in front of a panel of judges and an audience. Winners will be determined in middle and high school categories and will receive prizes. Poems are judged according to content, length, word usage, organization and audience response; performances are judged per poet’s eye contact, voice projection and clarity, relation to the audience, delivery and overall execution. Registration is required. Contact Hope at 704-216-8258 or Hope.Loman@rowancountync.gov. This event is free. Audience participation is open to the public and all ages.

Friends of RPL Annual Meeting: April 25, 7 p.m., headquarters. This year’s presenter is Tim Peeler,  author and poet. A past winner of the Jim Harrison Award for contributions to Baseball Literature, Peeler has also been a finalist for both the Casey and the SIBA Awards. Peeler will share poems from his 2016 “Wild in the Strike Zone,” along with stories and slides focusing on the Outlaw Independent Carolina Baseball League that played in the Piedmont in the 1930s. The annual meeting will be held in Stanback Auditorium; a reception will follow in the Hurley Room. This free event is open to the public; all ages are welcome.

Displays: Headquarters, Sexual Assault Awareness exhibit by the Family Crisis Council and national robotics display by John Deal; East, artisan jewelry by Myrtis Trexler; South, clothesline project.

Literacy: Call the Rowan County Literacy Council at 704-216-8266 for more information on teaching or receiving literacy tutoring for English speakers or for those for whom English is a second language.

Weekly events for children run through the week of April 28.

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