Posts Tagged ‘biography’

The biography of a woman who channeled childhood.

Today I decided to share this GoodReads report on a biography I read recently.

“I really liked this biography of the prolific and influential writer for children Margaret Wise Brown.

“Amy Gary is not primarily a biographer. In her earlier jobs, she was head of publishing for Lucasfilms and Pixar. But curiosity led her to a treasure trove of unpublished papers that the sister of Margaret Wise Brown had stored away in the attic after Brown’s death at 42 from an embolism.

“Margaret Wise Brown not only wrote the seminal Goodnight, Moon, which after a slow start sold more that 48 million copies worldwide, but many other titles you might recognize without knowing they were by her. At this time of year, I always pull out Home for a Bunny, for example.

“Brown wrote for a variety of publishers, including Harper, Disney, and Golden Books. But it wasn’t that she was a warm and fuzzy child-loving, motherly type. It was more that she never stopped being a child. She thought like a child. She fit in well with the cutting-edge child-development philosophy of the Bank Street School, one of her first employers in New York, but even before she knew about that, she sensed that books featuring repetition and descriptions of very familiar objects would please young children. And she tested everything on her audience.

“Gary’s access to Brown’s papers makes this a rich biography of a wild and original, nature-loving girl who became a wild and original, nature-loving adult. Despite a life of privilege in both New York and the south (she was a frequent visitor to her cousins’ Manhattan-sized island, Cumberland, which is now a national park), nothing could dampen her ability to see everything around her in terms of a story for kids.

“I think you will be interested in how Brown met some great illustrators and writers and nurtured their talents — and in how she came up with innovations like furry books and records in book pockets. She was valued for her work, which was satisfying, but her love life with both men and women she knew were bad for her kept her from being happy for long.

“I really appreciated Gary’s long epilogue, in which she tied up every possible loose end. And the forward by Brown’s fiance, James Stillman Rockefeller Jr., was a lovely way to capture Brown’s vibrant way of talking about, thinking about, whatever she saw.”

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Photo: Jack Alterman
Linda Lear’s books include biographies of Beatrix Potter and Rachel Carson.

In 2015, I wrote here about Linda Lear’s excellent biography of Beatrix Potter, which highlights the scientific side of the beloved children’s book author /illustrator /land preservationist.

More recently, when my husband and I were watching a television special on Rachel Carson (author of The Sea Around Us and Silent Spring), I saw Lear being interviewed and realized she’d written a biography of Carson, too.

So I went to Linda Lear’s web page to learn more about her.

“Whenever my parents drove over the Allegheny River into downtown Pittsburgh from the rural community of Glenshaw where I was born,” Lear reports, “I begged my father not to go over the bridge that crossed the river above the stock yards.

“There were animal parts visible in the yard, and debris strewn along the river’s edge. The smell of dead animals mixed with the stench of sulfur from the smelting operations further down river. We talked about why the city was dirty, the river polluted, and what we could do about it. For generations my family had been involved in the natural world and from them I learned to appreciate and nurture it.

“My grandfather loved books and loved to read to me when I was little. Our favorites were fairy tales, [Grimm brothers] and [Hans Christian Anderson], Lewis Carroll, and any sort of animal fable. We loved Aesop, Br’er Rabbit, Uncle Wiggly, and of course, Peter Rabbit. He introduced me to the nonsense rhymes of Edward Lear, and to illustrators such as [Mary Jo] Beswick, Walter Crane, and Beatrix Potter.

“From my grandparents and from my mother, I absorbed the pleasures of gardening, herbaceous and perennial, learning the names of plants, and later of making a garden of my own. I always loved woodland flowers and animals. I became adept at rescuing stray kittens and baby rabbits, and finally got a healthy kitten of my own.

“I was educated at women’s schools until my graduate work at Columbia University. Before finishing my doctorate, I taught American history at independent schools, and fortunately ended up teaching at one in Washington, D.C. in the late 1960s — just in time to become an activist.

“I have had a long career in college and university teaching and have written a variety of books and articles. I began to specialize in environmental history just as the field was being defined. Fellowships at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book Library and at the Smithsonian Institution allowed me to redefine myself as a full-time writer.”

Read her comments on her books here.

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Did you read Jack Kerouac’s On the Road? I was really into Kerouac for a while after being startled that Dharma Bums, read by Allen Ginsberg on an audiotape, sounded so jolly. I thought Kerouac was supposed to be gloomy. After hearing that tape, I went straight to the wonderful 1994 Kerouac biography by Gerald Nicosia, Memory Babe.

Andy Cush, of Animal New York, recently posted driving directions for On the Road using Google Maps.

“In case you want to replicate everyone’s favorite overrated Beat Generation novel,” he says, “this is On the Road for 17,527 Milesan ebook that catalogs every twist and turn in Sal Paradise’s epic cross-country journey as a set of Google Maps directions. The exact and approximate spots Kerouac traveled and described are taken from the book and parsed by Google Direction Service API. The chapters match those of the original book,’ writes the creator, [German college student] Gregor Weichbrodt.

“It’s 45 pages long of pure, unadulterated driving directions — ‘Passing through District of Columbia. Entering Maryland. Take the 2nd left onto US-1Alt N/Bladensburg Rd,’ goes one particularly stirring passage — and if you’re interested, you can get a paperback edition here.” More.

I am not sure I agree that the book is overrated, but I must say I loved the Nicosia description even more.

Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac

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I blogged in May about the late Paul Nagel, the great biographer of the John Adams family and a friend from the years my husband and I spent in Minneapolis.

Today his son sent a lovely memorial piece by Paul’s longtime buddy Norbert Hirschhorn. Bert’s article appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Read it here. Bert is a physician who has written investigative medical articles on the real illnesses that likely killed historic figures. He is also  a poet. His website and photo are here. He divides his time between London and Beirut, where his wife is a professor at the American University. The following poem, written about a period he spent in Finland, might be an elegy for Paul.

Finnish Autumn

by Norbert Hirschhorn

Leaves flee their trees. Gold coins strewn across
woodland paths turn black, rain-smashed to dross.

Silver birches’ ciliate tips outside my window
incised against the sky like intaglio.

Bohemian waxwings rise in flocks, take flight –
maple leaves mottled by black-spotted blight.

Bone-white horizon, a full setting moon;
bone-white the sun rising into the brume.

I am worried, curious: the coming chill –
mythic, drear – augury of a world… gone still.

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