One of reading’s greatest joys is the opportunity to experience stories – and in some cases, even live entire lives – that are different from one’s own. This month at the Penn Libraries, our Featured Books and DVDs will let you walk in someone else’s shoes through biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs. Have you ever wondered what it’s like to grow up in a cult, to be a world-renowned musician, or to pull your family out of poverty by working as ... a comedian? This month’s selections illuminate these realities, and many more.
You can find the selections highlighted below, and many more, on display on the first floor of the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center, next to New Books.
Note: The descriptions below are collected from publishers and edited for brevity and clarity.
Forager: Field Notes for Surviving a Family Cult by Michelle Dowd
Michelle Dowd was born into an ultra-religious doomsday cult, run by her grandfather in the mountains of Angeles National Forest. She and her siblings lived a life of deprivation, isolated from “Outsiders” and starved for both love and food. As she learned survival and foraging skills, she realized she had the strength to break free. With haunting and stark language, and illustrations of edible plants and their uses opening each chapter, Forager is a fierce and empowering coming-of-age story and a timely meditation on the ways in which harnessing nature’s gifts can lead to our freedom.
Gone: A Girl, a Violin, a Life Unstrung by Min Kym
A young violin prodigy, Min Kym found “the one” in her rare 1969 Stradivarius. But just as her career was taking off, her violin was stolen, and overnight she lost her ability to play or even function. In this lucid and transfixing memoir, Kym reckons with the space left by her violin’s absence. She sees with new eyes her past as a child prodigy, with its isolation and crushing expectations; her combustible relationships with teachers and with a domineering boyfriend; and her navigation of two very different worlds, her traditional Korean family and her music. And in the stark yet clarifying light of her loss, she rediscovers her voice and herself.
Why Is Everybody Yelling?: Growing Up in My Immigrant Family by Marisabina Russo
This graphic-novel debut from an acclaimed picture book creator follows her upbringing in New York in the aftermath of World War II. Family secrets throw Marisabina Russo’s ideas of her Catholic family and religion into turmoil when she finds out that she’s Jewish by blood, and that her family members are Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. Following the author’s young life into the tumultuous, liberating 1960s, this heartfelt, unexpectedly humorous, and meticulously illustrated graphic-novel memoir explores the childhood burdens of memory and guilt, and Marisabina’s struggle and success in forming an identity entirely her own.
Rabbit: The Autobiography of Ms. Pat by Patricia Williams
Patricia Williams (Ms. Pat), the comedian, actress, and producer, was born and raised in Atlanta at the height of the crack epidemic. One of five children, Pat watched as her mother struggled to get by on charity, cons, and petty crimes. She had two children of her own by age 14. Her unflinching memoir follows Pat’s determined efforts to make a better life for her children using her survival tools: hustling and humor. The BET original series “The Ms. Pat Show” is based on this story.
The Fire Still Burns: Life In and After Residential School by Sam George with Jill Yonit Goldberg and Liam Belson, Dylan MacPhee, and Tanis Wilson
Set in the Vancouver area from the late 1940s through the present, this candid account follows Sam George from his idyllic childhood growing up on the Eslhá7an (Mission) reserve to the confines of St. Paul’s Indian Residential School and then into a life of addiction and incarceration. But an ember of Sam’s spirit always burned within him, and even in the darkest of places he retained his humor and dignity until he found the strength to face his past. This unflinching memoir examines the horrors of a childhood spent trapped within the Indian Residential School system and the long-term effects on survivors. It also illustrates the healing power of one’s culture and the resilience that allows an individual to rebuild a life and a future.
A Mother's Courage: Talking Back to Autism
Narrated by Oscar winner Kate Winslet and directed by Oscar nominee Fridrik Thor Fridriksson, this 2010 film follows one woman's quest to unlock her autistic son's mind. Margret has tried a number of treatments to help her 10-year-old autistic son, Keli. Consumed by an unquenchable thirst for knowledge about autism, she travels from her home in Iceland to the United States and Europe, meeting scientists and other experts, as well as other families touched by autism. As she comes across innovative new therapies, Margret finds hope that her son may be able to communicate on a level she never thought possible.
In 1943, Norman Lewis entered a war-torn Naples. He began writing notes that turned into his masterpiece, a memoir titled Naples '44. Francesco Patierno's documentary, narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch, imagines Lewis returning many years later to the city that charmed and seduced him, alternating between current footage of Lewis and flashbacks to the stories from his past.
La Danza de la Realidad (The Dance of Reality)
Filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky was born in 1929 in a coastal town in Chile. In The Dance of Reality, Jodorowsky reconstitutes the adventure of his early life in that town, where he discovered the fundamentals of reality as he underwent an unhappy and alienated childhood as part of an uprooted family. Blending his personal history with metaphor, mythology and poetry, the film reflects Jodorowsky's philosophy that reality is not objective but rather a "dance" created by our own imaginations.
In Spanish with English subtitles.
Living Thinkers: An Autobiography of Black Women in the Ivory Tower
This documentary examines the intersection of race, class and gender for Black women professors and administrators working in U.S. colleges and universities today. Though more than 100 years have passed since the doors to higher education opened for Black women, their numbers as faculty members are woefully low and for many still, the expression of racism, sexism, and discrimination marks their experience. Through frank and sometimes humorous conversations, this documentary interrogates notions of education for girls and women and the stereotypes and traditions that affect the status of Black women both in and out of the Academy.
La Vierge, les Coptes et Moi (The Virgin, the Copts and Me)
In his feature debut, French-Egyptian filmmaker Namir Abdel Messeeh sets out for Cairo to investigate the phenomenon of miraculous Virgin Mary apparitions in Egypt's Coptic Christian community. As he seeks out witnesses to the well-known 1968 sighting in Zeitoun, the professed secular skeptic Namir realizes he needs to change course due to lack of cooperation from the church and opposition from his traditional family. But as his slowly gains their trust, Namir enlists family members’ help to reimagine his film as a touching and often hilarious portrait of family and heritage.
In French and Arabic with subtitles in English.