Memoir Writing: Turning Your Life into Art (or Is it the Other Way Around?)

Monday January 11, 2016: 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm -- Downtown Library: Multi-Purpose Room

This event is intended for grade 6 - adult

Huron High School English teacher and Love & Vodka:My Surreal Adventures in Ukraine author R.J. Fox will lead participants through the process of turning real life experiences—both profound and ordinary—into the art of creative non-fiction.

Learn how to mold your own life stories through such topics as story structure, dialogue, character development/arc, and how to infuse your writing with literary elements traditionally associated with fiction. Participants will apply the skills taught during the workshop through various prompts and activities designed to spark creativity, with the aim of mining material that can later be developed into various forms of memoir and creative non-fiction, from short essays to long-form works.

R.J. Fox is the award-winning writer of several short stories, plays, poems, and fifteen feature-length screenplays. He is also the writer and director of several award-winning short films. In addition his writing and film-making exploits — not to mention his talents as a saxophonist — Fox teaches English and Video Production in the Ann Arbor Public Schools where he uses his own dream of making movies to inspire his students to follow their own dreams. Fox has also worked in public relations at Ford Motor Company and as a newspaper reporter.

This event includes a book signing and books will be for sale at the event.

Blackout: a moving portrait of alcoholism and recovery

Sarah Hepola writes of her experiences with both alcoholism and sobriety in the deeply personal, relatable, and relevant new book Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget. With so many college activities now focused around drinking, it's often difficult after graduation has occurred for young people to shed the mentality of making-everything-more-fun-with-alcohol. Alcohol-fueled events and parties extend into our twenties, thirties and beyond, and the line between normal alcohol consumption and alcoholism is increasingly blurred for many young people. Hepola calls alcohol the “gasoline of all adventure” for her when she was in her younger years. She spent fun nights at cocktail parties and at bars, drinking til last call… but the frivolity didn’t come without a price. She blacked out often and was left spending entire mornings trying to piece together what she had done the night before, making self-deprecating jokes to cover her shame. As with many alcoholics, her career flourished during this time, but as the blackouts continued, Hepola was forced to admit the truth: the alcohol she thought she needed to lift her spirits was depressing her and negatively affecting her health and relationships. Thus, she embarks on a new and unexpected adventure: that of sobriety.

This memoir is simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking, and always unfailingly honest. A highly recommended read for anyone who has been forced to reinvent themselves or cope with necessary change, Blackout reveals how sometimes giving up the thing we cherish the most can allow us to truly find ourselves.

For other excellent stories about women and alcoholism, try Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood by Koren Zailckas, Note Found in a Bottle, by Susan Cheever, and Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol, by Ann Dowsett Johnston.

Oliver Sacks, Writer and Neurologist, Dies at 82

On Sunday, Dr. Oliver Sacks passed away in his home after a long battle with cancer. Dr. Sacks was a wonderful writer who brought the lives of his neurology patients to a wider audience through his many books. His writing was caring, funny, and fascinating. Dr. Sacks was one of the first writers to actively work to make science accessible to all people, regardless of their scientific training. His work in this field has been carried on through outlets such as RadioLab and the series The Best American Science and Nature Writing.

Dr. Sacks first rose to fame through his book Awakenings, which told the story of his work with a group of catatonic patients and was later adapted into a movie of the same name. Dr. Sacks wrote a plethora of other books about his patients, including The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales and An Anthropologist on Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales. An endlessly curious man, Dr. Sacks also wrote about his travels, his own life story, music, and more. Dr. Sacks was a true talent whose work and writing greatly improved our world.

Love and Mercy

The film Love and Mercy is a bit of a music biopic that sheds light on the story of Beach Boys’ singer and songwriter Brian Wilson. He is wonderfully portrayed by Paul Dano and John Cusack at two very different stages of Wilson’s life and the split storyline darts in and out, detailing Wilson’s workflow, anxiety, and musical genius. In the end it shows Wilson in the 1980s as a very broken man under the overbearing care of his therapist Eugene Landy, and then the inevitable release of this care which leads to where he is today. It’s a well done story and it was great to hear all the Beach Boys music throughout the film. Those boys sure can harmonize.

Notable New Memoir: Sally Mann's Hold Still

Renowned photographer Sally Mann’s new memoir, Hold Still, is a breath of fresh, Southern air. Stories of her family—past and present—as well as anecdotes about her deep love of the southern United States and her photography sojourns are interspersed with her beautiful photographs.

Mann generated controversy in the 1990s for her photo collection “Immediate Family,” which featured many pictures of her children, some in the nude. No matter how you feel about these photographs, its undeniable that they are striking, and the work of someone deeply talented. Her other work is equally breathtaking, particularly her haunting landscapes, many of which are taken at and near the farm where she was raised and continues to live, in Virginia.

Hold Still is written at an almost soothing pace. Mann spins out stories of generations of family troubles, and analyzes deeply who she is today. Excerpts from years of letters and diary entries compliment her stories, and add unique details and perspectives to situations whose outcomes have been altered by the passing of time. She writes at length about her beloved South and the deep-seated sense of place that she has found during her lifetime there. I loved becoming more familiar with Mann’s work while also reading this fascinating account of a memorable life.

For more of Mann’s photography, check out Deep South and What Remains.

Jeanne Mackey: Stories & Songs from an Elder-in-Training

Wednesday September 30, 2015: 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm -- Downtown Library: Multi-Purpose Room

Local musician and workshop leader Jeanne Mackey shares personal stories, songs, and reflections on the aging process in this interactive session. "Getting older happens automatically. Getting wiser as we age requires some effort! It helps to know that others are facing similar issues. And it's essential to keep one's sense of humor in the midst of the uncertainty."

In 2010, Mackey created Drop the Knife: A Memoir-in-Song on the occasion of turning 60. An instructional designer at the University of Michigan and former psychotherapist, she has led workshops on conscious aging.

Spinster: Making a Life of One's Own

Kate Bolick’s 2011 Atlantic cover story “All the Single Ladies,” abruptly started a much-needed conversation about the role of single women in America, and about how our increasing numbers are changing contemporary culture. Stating that she “wanted to take advantage of the intimacy that a book offers, and draw the reader into my imaginary life, to better share the nuances of my single experience,” Bolick expanded the article into the recently published book Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own. The book’s premise is that solitude is a thing to treasure, not fear. How do women who are living, working, and aging alone construct meaningful lives? How do single women find a sense of community while also embracing their solitude—be it temporary or permanent? Bolick emphasizes that the number of women living alone in this country continues to increase: we marry later, the divorce rate is high, and life expectancies are getting longer. All these factors contribute to the 50% of women who consider themselves single today.

It’s refreshing to see the typical stereotypes of spinsters—cat ladies, strange aunts, etc—debunked in Bolick’s book. She highlights women like herself who have chosen to put work, friends, hobbies, travel, and other pursuits at the center of their lives. Of course, she also writes candidly about the challenges of a single life. Spinster offers a fresh look at singlehood, and the unique chances that it offers to live our lives authentically.

2015 Michigan Notable Books Announced

Each year, the Library of Michigan selects a list of titles for recognition as Michigan Notable Books. These have been singled out as exceptional titles published in the previous year that highlight Michigan people, places, and events.

In addition to drawing attention to books with a Great Lakes region focus, "...the list continues to offer something for everyone. The 2015 list represents fiction, short story collections, history, children's picture books, mysteries, poetry and memoirs," says State Librarian Randy Riley. This 2015 list includes a range of diverse offerings, from dystopian fiction bestseller Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel to Derek Jeter's YA novel The Contract, from a history of Detroit's crucial supply role during WWII in A.J. Baime's The Arsenal of Democracy to Josh Greenberg's River of Sand guidebook to fly fishing in the waterways of the Great Lakes region.

Ready to explore the books for yourself? Here's a Michigan Notable Books|list of this year's honored titles in the AADL catalog.

Behind the scenes at Saturday Night Live

Saturday Night Live is one of the longest-running television programs in the country, and is certainly one of the most beloved. Featuring live comedy sketches and variety performances as well as popular bands and musical guests every week since it first aired in 1975, SNL celebrated its 40th anniversary earlier this year. Fans of SNL will absolutely love Saturday Night Live: The Book, published this year in honor of the show’s 40th year. The large, brightly colored book is filled with facts and never before seen, behind-the-scenes photographs from every season of the show. Also included are interviews with Lorne Michaels, cast members, and other contributors to the show, and fun, goofy details about some of the more famous skits.

As a huge SNL fan myself, I even liked the portion of this book that shows photos of every host the show has had, and lists the air date, host and musical guest for all 784 episodes of the show. It was amazing to see the hundreds of various people that have hosted over the years!

The AADL also has lots of great SNL episodes on video, including the Best of Steve Martin, the Best of Will Ferrell and the Best of Amy Poehler collections, and many complete seasons. If you’re interested in reading more about the show, try Live From New York: the complete, uncensored history of Saturday Night Live as told by its stars, writers and guests.

Live from New York it’s Saturday niiiiiiiight!

Award Winning Audiobook - The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer 2010. 20 hrs. 30 mins.

Awards: The Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction, 2011. TIME Magazine’s All- TIME 100 Non-Fiction books.

Author: Siddhartha Mukherjee

Narrator: Stephen Hoye

As a hematology/oncology fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital, Siddhartha Mukherjee was challenged by one of his patients to explain cancer. This biography of the disease, which takes on the enormous task of describing cancer and it’s treatment from ancient Egypt through modern day, is the result. Although the breadth of the story is intimidating, The Emperor of All Maladies is a great listening experience. The narrator did an excellent job with the personal stories of Mukherjee and his patients and I found the book informative but easy to comprehend.

On March 30th, inspired by Mukherjee’s book and with the support of Stand Up to Cancer, PBS and the documentary filmmaker Ken Burns will air the first episode of a 3-part, 6-hour television event. Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies is hailed as the most comprehensive documentary on a single disease ever made. As Ken Burns explains, “the series matches the epic scale of the disease, reshaping the way the public sees cancer and stripping away some of the fear and misunderstanding that has long surrounded it. The story of cancer is a story of human ingenuity, resilience and perseverance but also of hubris, paternalism and misperception.”

Part one of the film airs on Monday March 30, 2015 from 9-11pm e.s.t. For a schedule of upcoming episodes and interviews with executive producer Ken Burns, visit the PBS website.

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