Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Memoirs - Popular Book Genre

For the last few years memoir writing has been a popular genre among publishers and the public. With my interest in getting everyone to write their childhood memories and family stories, I began collecting books of people I have met who have written about their life. I am now reaching the point where I have not met everyone, but I do try to get their autographs. I have never been interested in autographs, but I think doing so for this genre emphasizes the human connection to the stories.

Several books in my collection are listed at the bottom right of this website. I urge you to read them. The variety is amazing, and to know that these are real people who have lived through some unique times makes personal history so much more important than what is given to us in history books. You may not feel that your life is as unique as these, but to your descendants it is just as important. Many of us do not realize that we are living history daily and that our individual lives actually create our collective history.

The following is a short review of each book listed and my connection to the authors.

Childhood Shadows: The Hidden Story of the Black Dahlia by Mary Pacios, Author House, 2007
Mary Pacios was a childhood acquaintance of Bette Short, dubbed the Black Dahlia. After years of anguish over how Bette has been treated in the media, Mary wrote her own book, disproving all the suspects in this brutal murder, and reaching a surprising conclusion about who may have been the killer. Mary explained that once she stumbled upon the possibility of Bette’s real murderer, she tried to disprove the possibility, but too many facts pointed in the direction of this famous Hollywood star. Mary has twenty-five pages of resources to support her work. Do check that you read the most current edition.
Mary, an artist by profession, has been in my writing class for a few years and has nearly completed her second book. This one is about her life stories with the underlying theme of the struggles of women since the 1940s.

Code Name: Copperhead: My True-Life Exploits as a Special Forces Soldier by Sergeant Major Joe R. Garner, US Army (Ret.), Simon & Schuster, NY, 1994
Sergeant Major Joe R. Garner served in the Vietnam War with twenty-one of his twenty-seven years in the Special Forces. His book was so well documented that Simon and Schuster made no disclaimer regarding the content, unlike many Vietnam era books. His story tells about his exploits during a time when our country was in conflict over the war; during a time when we were told we were not in Cambodia, but Joe was there. These memories are written honestly by an athlete who left high school to help support his family; by a courageous soldier who was the first man to jump with an A-bomb on his back; by a brave combatant who saw his best missions as saving the lives of other soldiers.
Joe is the husband of my cousin Kathy who used her Singer Sewing Machine to remake parachutes for Joe and his team as the Army wanted to perfect their use for combat. I have had the pleasure of hearing many stories of events happening after the war which are related to POWs, MIAs, and mercenaries. Most of these are not in the book and do not shed a positive light on our government. Joe is from the hills of Tennessee and continues living in the wooded area of the Ozarks which he much prefers over city life.

Soul Survivor: The Reincarnation of a World War II Fighter Pilot by Bruce and Andrea Leininger, Grand Central Publishing, New York, 2009
Some children have imaginary playmates, see what others call ghosts, or just make strange statements which adults dismiss as nothing. Given the religious norms of most people in the US, the majority of the population does not believe in reincarnation or ghosts. We have fewer reported incidents of such events when compared to other countries, but this story is considered the best case of a child’s past life memory in America. At age two James began to form sentences and revealed facts about World War II airplanes that baffled his parents. His father, a non-believer in past lives tried to disprove his son’s story. In the end, James was able to talk with the sister of the dead WWII pilot who died in a fiery crash. James was able to tell the sister information that only her brother would have known.
This family lives in a small town in Louisiana near the sister of my good friend. When my friend’s sister celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary, this book, signed by the authors and son James, was distributed to the guests.

Run Jane Run: A True Story of Murder and Courage by Jane Wells, New Horizon Press, Far Hills, NJ, 1996
A Kentucky law forbade a wife from divorcing her husband if she was pregnant, so Jane endured abuse and physical beatings until her child arrived. She entered a woman’s shelter and divorced. Along the way, the legal system blocked her way and defended her husband. Her abusive second husband murdered her first husband in front of two of her children when he returned to help Jane. She is currently living in a different state with her children as the ex-husband is not in jail, but married again. Jane has completed a degree in criminal justice, political science and women’s studies. She currently works with battered women, and has appeared on Oprah.
I will only state that I know Jane’s youngest child well, and have had several conversations with her as their location must remain anonymous.

Son of Scarface: A Memoir by the Grandson of Al Capone by Chris W. Knight, New Era Publishing, LCC, New York, 2007
Chris discovered when his father died during his teen years that he was the grandson of Al Capone. Chris retrieved his father’s address book his mother was discarding. This book provided clues to his father’s identity, and lead Chris on a research investigation leading him to conclude that his father was really Sonny Capone. His story focuses on a mentally disturbed mother and times of joy when his father was home. It is amazing how much Chris looks like Al Capone.
Chris is a member of my Campania, Italy DNA Project. He tested and is hoping to have other members of the Capone family test. He was just another tester until I mentioned my interest in people writing their memories. He then told me about his book and sent me a copy. I hope to meet him some day.

Somehow, We'll Survive: Life in Japan During WWII Through the Eyes of young Caucasian Boy by George Sidline, Vera Vista Publishing, 2007
The Sidline family left Eastern Europe and lived in Japan where George was born. The book focuses on George’s life in Japan during World War II where the family dodged American bombs, avoided Germans who also lived in Japan, made friends with the American POWs in the house next door, dealt with food shortages, and attended English-language schools. How the Sidline and other Jewish families were treated by the Japanese was remarkable. His experiences and perspective of the war make a unique story.
George lives locally and spoke to my writing class about his life. The presentation was also attended by members of the Jewish and Japanese community as well as a local ethnic newspaper.

Often there is little we can control in our lives, but we do know that the events of our lives either strengthen us or break us. All of these authors have found success regardless of their past. They do not tell their stories for pity, but to record their lives so it may help others understand that good can come from evil, that understanding and supporting each other makes us stronger as a people. Only through telling the stories can the events live as testimony of a time that has been or needs to be altered ... of a time where understanding and acceptance is required ... of a time that will help all of us open our eyes and hearts to what is and what can be.

Our stories have unspeakable value. We cannot judge that value; only time and the future generations can.

©Aulicino, Aug 2010

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