Five of Nancy Jo’s Favorite Autobiographies

EDITOR’S NOTE – This is part of a series featuring Salina Public Library staff and guest bloggers’ recommendations for summer reading. We hope these lists will help you find your next book!

By Nancy Jo Leachman ι July 21, 2014

I Had a Hammer book cover

  • I Had a Hammer: The Hank Aaron Story by Hank Aaron with Lonnie Wheeler. This is a baseball book that transcends sports. There are plenty of interesting anecdotes about his teammates and career. Aaron also talks about his time in the Negro Leagues and about the hatred he was victimized by when breaking the home run record of white hero Babe Ruth. If baseball is not your thing, take the “Moby Dick” approach,  skip “the whaling bits” and read it for the civil rights insight.

The Garner Files book cover

  • The Garner Files: A Memoir  by James Garner and Jon Winokur. This is a memoir as engaging as James Garner himself. A childhood of abuse fostered a desire to stand up for himself and others. He won a case against Warner Brothers that earned him the respect and affection of numerous fellow actors. Garner is very blunt about his feelings, good and bad, towards the people whose names he drops. He makes no secret of his liberal political beliefs. He and Steve McQueen, costars of “The Great Escape,” friends and next-door-neighbors, shared many interests except their politics. Since McQueen was a Republican, it didn’t seem right that McQueen, and not Garner, made Nixon’s Enemies List. Garner quips, “I would have dearly loved to make that list.” Garner fans will be very happy with his memoir.
  • Sadaharu Oh: A Zen Way of Baseball by Sadaharu Oh and David Falkner. Don’t underestimate the importance of the subtitle. This is unlike any American sports biography you may have read. Subject to discrimination as the child of a Japanese mother and Chinese father growing up in post WWII Tokyo, Oh’s journey took him from being a failed athlete to becoming the Home Run Champion of the entire world. Training included a Samurai sword and assuming the position of a flamingo in his batting stance at the insistence of his Zen mentor. Oh believed that the twin sister who died in infancy took all the bad with her and left him to live with the power of two people. It’s a baseball book whose dominant theme is not sport, but the belief system of another culture.
  • Pride: The Charley Pride Story by Charley Pride and Jim Henderson. Country music was only one of the arenas in which Pride fought the battle of being black. Originally he thought baseball was his way out of poverty and he played in the Negro Leagues, a part of his life well covered in the book. (Today he is part owner of the Texas Rangers). His story of being a “highly conspicuous anomaly” in the world of country music is told with humor, poignancy and realism. Contrary to normal procedure, his PR people withheld his photo from the publicity packets being sent out in response to requests for concert appearances. His race was therefore often a surprise and revealed too late to cancel the show. Pride relates that he never experienced racism from the fans, just from the venue operators. His biography is immensely enjoyable and enlightening.

Tisha book cover

  • Tisha: The True Story of a Young Teacher in the Alaska Wilderness by Anne Hobbs and Robert Specht. In 1927, 19-year-old Anne Hobbs goes to the mining town of Chicken, Alaska, to teach school. Greeted initially with friendliness and appreciation, the residents freely share their household goods, pots and pans to help Anne settle in. When they find out she plans to let the Indians attend school, one by one they come and take back all their possessions. And the struggle begins. Her battles with poverty, ignorance and racism are told with moving frankness. It’s also an inspiring interracial love story, one which took 10 years to overcome the obstacles to marriage of a white girl to an Indian boy.

Nancy Jo Leachman is an Information Services Librarian.