Archive for the ‘Biographies’ Category

You Review: Signed, Sealed, Delivered – Nina Sankovitch

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

Review by Anouschka van Leeuwen

In her previous book, Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, Nina Sankovitch took the reader along on her year-long project of reading one book a day, explaining what emotions the books triggered and how they related to her own life. Signed, Sealed, Delivered has the same spirit: this book is again a personal tale. After the discovery of an old box of letters, Sankovitch is inspired to look for the significance of written correspondence. Her findings result in a book, that like its predecessor, mixes the genres of non-fiction and memoir. Unfortunately, I found both of these aspects a bit disappointing.

Concerning the author’s personal reflections, I found that the initial story of the discovery of the old letters was a nice introduction to the book’s subject. However, after a while the author’s sentiments became a bit irksome to me. For example, Sankovitch often expresses how she wishes that her children will write to her once they leave for college so that she will have a memento of their love for her. Although touching, after a few times these motherly sentiments started to become repetitive and did not have any added value to the main subject of the book.

At times, I found that this melodramatic tone made me wish that Sankovitch had tried to approach the subject from a more theoretical perspective, which brings me to my second concern. When I started the book, I had expected something along the lines of an essay explaining the appeal of letter writing. Instead, the majority of the book consists of examples of both famous and non-famous letter writers and receivers.

This is not to say that the book was not entertaining. On the contrary: the example stories are often compelling and sometimes even taught me a thing or two (like the history of Heloise and Abelard and how letter writing played a role in their lives). Still, I felt like the author missed out on the opportunity to delve deeper into the psychological aspects of written correspondence, especially in this digital age. Each chapter centers around a particular function that letters may fulfill, and in between the stories, Sankovitch sometimes drops a line that summarizes the effects that reading or writing a letter can have. I think I would have liked it better if these reflective parts had taken up more space in the book.

To summarize, I have mixed feelings about this book. Being an avid letter writer myself, I have enjoyed the numerous tales that illustrate the appeal of letters. On the other hand, readers who are expecting a philosophical or psychological account of letter writing should realize that Signed, Sealed, Delivered is not intended as such. Instead, it should be seen as a compilation of the most romantic or otherwise touching stories in the history of the handwritten letter.

You Review: The latest releases, reviewed by ABC customers.

No ebook available for Signed, Sealed, Delivered, but there is one of her earlier book: Tolstoy and the Purple Chair.

Pulitzer Prize Winners 2014

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Congratulation to everyone who won a 2014 Pulitzer Prize last night!  The full list can be found here; the winners in the Letters and Drama categories are:

Fiction: The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt *
Drama: The Flick – Annie Baker
History:  The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832 – Alan Taylor
Biography or Autobiography:  Margaret Fuller: A New American Life – Megan Marshall
Poetry: 3 Sections – Vijay Seshadri
General Nonfiction: Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation – Dan Fagin

* True story:  I saw my very first goldfinch yesterday morning as I was on a run!  I should have kept running to the nearest bookie, obviously.  :-)  Very pretty and quick bird, and very striking, too.

You Review: I Forgot To Remember: A Memoir of Amnesia – Su Meck with Daniel de Vise

Friday, April 4th, 2014

Reviewed by Alba León

For Su Meck, life as she knew it ended with a ceiling fan crashing on her head. After her traumatic brain injury she had to piece her life back from second- and third-hand stories. Her very identity vanished, taking with it her knowledge about the most basic things in life, like the function of a tin opener.

Her candid account of how she managed to raise a family and move across the world and back is simply incredible. Hindsight makes her very aware that her memoir could have been so much more tragic. That her husband, her parents, even her doctors, refused to acknowledge that her brain was damaged in ways that could not be understood. That all the frustration of her very young partner, who found himself charged with a woman who could not recognise him, could be explained but not justified. And it is terrifying because she was not aware of it herself.

I Forgot to Remember is enthralling because it shows the daily struggles of a woman who did not know that her behaviour was not normal. It is scary because it very openly narrates how well she could pass off as a quirky person, rather than as a seriously ill individual, and how her behavior got explained away and rationalised. It is heartbreaking to read how she dealt with intimacy, her children and their sense of responsibility, and how terrified she was about being made out for the fake she felt she was.

I read this memoir in one sitting.  It had me wincing at times, sharing the Meck’s family’s pain, but thanks to it I also became more aware of traumatic brain injury and its consequences.

You Review: The latest releases, reviewed by ABC customers.

Visit Alba’s website at to read her stories.

Win tickets to The Invisible Woman!

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

In 1857, the 45 year-old Charles Dickens (Ralph Fiennes) falls in love with 18 year-old actress Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones), who will be his muse/mistress for the rest of his life. Years later, the new life she has made is haunted by that guilty secret relationship.

Based on Claire Tomalin’s book The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens (ebook), this is Ralph Fiennes second turn at directing. It premieres in Dutch theaters on March 27th.

We are giving away 3×2 tickets to The Invisible Woman!

All you have to do is answer the following question: Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas (Mrs. Frances Ternan in the movie) starred together in another blockbuster that was based on a very famous book. What was the title of that book and the name of its author?

Mail your answers to by March 17th for a chance to win free tickets! Please include “Dickens” in the subject of your mail.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom prize draw winners

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

Congratulations to Sharon Prosetiko, Ana Castelo, Angelica Vigilante, Anita Kalmane, Babette Dolfin and Beatriz M. Navarrete:

you all won 2 tickets to Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom!

Thanks to everyone who entered this prize draw.  Your inspiring answers to the question Which other (auto)biography by a great inspirational leader did you absolutely love? can be found below.

“My favourite (auto)biography is: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.” (ebook here)

“I really loved Barack Obama’s Dreams from my Father. It gave me a good insight into his life and background and how he came to run for president. It had good flow and was a fun read.” (ebook here)

Virunga: The Passion of Dian Fossey by Farley Mowat is a moving biography of one of the world’s leading primatologists and environmental conservationalists, who was murdered for her work to save wild mountain gorillas. Inspiring and an urgent call for action.”
Blogmistress’s note: this book is unfortunately out of print at the moment. We can get it through our supplier of second-hand books, though.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X.”

“Two of my favorite inspirational leaders for which I enjoyed reading their biography were Steve Jobs and Martin Luther King, Jr.

“My favourite biography is about Erich Maria Remarque: Als wäre alles das letzte Mal by Wilhelm von Sternburg.”
Blogmistress’s note: this book is not translated into English (yet, or else out of print).

The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew.”
Blogmistress’s note: this book is unfortunately out of print at the moment. We can get it through our supplier of second-hand books, though.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X.”

“The first biography that comes into my mind is a cinematographic one, namely the movie Papillon. Not exactly the story of a leader, but surely an inspirational one, raising strong feelings about justice, freedom and friendship.”
Blogmistress’s note: The movie Papillon is in fact based on the memoir Papillon by Henri Charrière (ebook here).

“The other biography I also loved was the The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
What other inspirational people often have in common is that they where raised decent and generally good at heart from the start, so to speak, and then grow into an influential role.
What I loved was the development of someone, who cares for nothing but himself at first, to one who is carrying millions in guidance by his own example and narrative
Also it is amazing and (hopefully) not to be seen again that such a large group of people follow the words and instructions of one man.
Good or bad, it is still just another human being.
I have yet to come across any man or leader who is truly an angel at heart.”

“The biography I most like is the one written by John Carlin: Playing the Enemy.” (ebook here)

John Hume: Statesman of the Troubles, by Barry White, is a fantastic read, and I would recommend it to anyone who has an interest in Mandela’s life and struggles. It certainly taught me about the compassion, resilience and greatness of a man in my own country, whom I’d been brought up to think was but a boot-licker of Britain and her ‘Ulster’ Unionists.
Just as Mandela realised the need for a change of attitude in order to move forward, John Hume had grasped, early on in the late ’60s, the torch of peace, truth and reconciliation in the forgotten, apartheid statelet in Ireland, north of the border.
Statesman of the Troubles depicts Hume’s own long walk for the freedom of the ‘Blacks of Europe’ in the remaining corner of their own country still under the foot of a regime, whose repression remains unknown to others but the people of that island, in a completely objective and unbiased way. Two of the inherent qualities of Hume himself, whose humility from the beginning of his social and political career also offered ‘freedom to the jailer’.”
Blogmistress’s note: this book is unfortunately out of print at the moment. We can get it through our supplier of second-hand books, though.

Living History by Hillary Rodham Clinton is cautious, wary, and about as juicy as an orange. It is a valuable feminist document.
I like this book not because of the history Senator Clinton records, but because of the history she doesn’t record. She notes that she cannot give undisputed facts, ”I am responsible for the opinions and interpretations expressed in this memoir’.” (ebook here)