Biographies, biographers, and interesting people

Posts tagged ‘books’

Ree Drummond’s “The Pioneer Woman”

Pioneer womanIt’s hard to say what influences me to read a particular book. Sometimes it’s recommendations from friends or something I read, perhaps a review. Other times I may choose a book on a whim. That was the case with Ree Drummond’s memoir The Pioneer Woman. It was the illustration on the hardcover edition of the book that got my attention. I liked the image of the cowboy on his horse raising his hat and turning slightly in the saddle to smile at the woman riding with him. The woman, of course, is smiling up at him. The scene reminded me of the westerns I watched as a kid – Dale Evans and Roy Rodgers, Gene Autry, and Annie Oakley. After all that reminiscing, I couldn’t resist the book.

The subtitle, “Black Heels to Tractor Wheels,” serves as a good summary of the story. Drummond was at a crossroads in her life. She had spent seven years in L.A. and was in a relationship that she knew was not what she wanted. She returned to her parent’s home in Oklahoma to think about what she wanted to do next. She had begun making plans to move to Chicago when she met the cowboy she calls Marlboro Man. Soon after that, her transition from “black heels to tractor wheels” began.

Drummond’s memoir covers a narrow time frame from meeting Marlboro Man to their wedding and the birth of their first child. On the surface, it’s a love story, but there are also subplots that give the book depth including details about life on a ranch. If someone cornered me at a party and started talking about ranching, I would probably yawn and make a quick escape. But it was fascinating to learn what ranching is like through the eyes of someone who is experiencing it for the first time and wondering if she can adjust to that lifestyle.

As Drummond contemplates marrying Marlboro Man, she finds it hard to accept that her parents are thinking about ending their marriage. There is also the ex-boyfriend who still has hope for their relationship. Drummond weaves all of those parts of her life together in a well-written story.

As I was reading The Pioneer Woman, I discovered that Drummond’s book The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Dinnertime was on the bestseller list. As a biographer, I was intrigued and wanted to learn more about what she had done since the time period she describes in her memoir.

It turns out that the cookbook I saw on the bestseller list is her fourth one, and she has a show on the Food Network. She also has a popular website where she shares her photography and recipes and blogs about life with her family on the ranch. The blog is where Drummond’s memoir began with humorous posts about her transition from city life to country girl. Her readers enjoyed those posts so much that Drummond decided to tell the whole story in a memoir.

She also writes children’s books that feature her “very lethargic” Basset hound, Charlie. She has her own product lines, and in August, she and her husband are opening a mercantile store and deli/restaurant. Drummond has come a long way from the young woman in her memoir. In that book she wondered what she would ever do for a job when she lived on a ranch so far away from the nearest town. She has obviously figured it out.

Sonia Sotomayor

Sonia SotomayorSonia Sotomayor, my latest leveled reader for National Geographic, was released this week. Celebrating the release of a book is a great way to start the New Year. I was even more excited last week when the Children’s Book Council (CBC) included the book on their “Hot Off the Press” list.

A biography about Sotomayor was a perfect project for me because I like to write about strong women who make good role models for girls. Sotomayor certainly fills that requirement. Of course, her road to becoming the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice was not easy. That was another thing about her that appealed to me. I think it’s important for kids to see that problems are part of everyone’s life, and that the people they admire overcame many hurdles on their road to success.

Sotomayor has faced many obstacles beginning when she was very young.  She was born in New York City, but her parents were from Puerto Rico and her father did not speak English. Because of that the family spoke Spanish at home. The fact that Sotomayor did not speak English on a regular basis made school difficult for her, but she overcame that to become a top student.

Another obstacle was that she was diagnosed with diabetes just before her eighth birthday. It meant she would need a shot of insulin every day for the rest of her life. Sotomayor faced that diagnosis with the same kind of courage she has shown throughout her life. Her parents sometimes argued about who would give their daughter her shots. Sotomayor didn’t want them arguing about her, so she learned to give the shots to herself.

Sotomayor was awarded a scholarship to Princeton, but felt very out of place there at first. At that time Princeton had few women and even fewer students of Hispanic descent, but that did not hold her back. As a senior Sotomayor won one of the university’s highest honors, the M. Taylor Pyne Prize. She also worked with other students to bring more Hispanic students and teachers to Princeton.

Sotomayor has dealt with obstacles in her life by working hard and not being afraid to ask for help. I’m hoping that’s something young readers will take from the book. However I try hard not to hit them over the head with a message because I want the book to be fun to read. Sotomayor made that easy too because she is certainly not all work and no play. So the book includes details such as the fact that Sotomayor was the first Supreme Court justice to flip the switch to drop the crystal ball in Time’s Square on New Year’s Eve and that she is a life-long Yankees fan.

As a kid, I loved to read biographies about people who overcame obstacles and succeeded. Now I like writing that kind of book. So I’m hard at work on my next leveled biography about someone who had tremendous success and many failures.

Ali Wentworth’s “Happily Ali After”

Ali WentworthI admit that part of my interest in Ali Wentworth’s memoir Happily Ali After was the fact that she is married to George Stephanopoulos. I’ve often wondered about that partnership. As an outsider judging from what I’ve seen of them on TV, they seem totally different. First there is George, who chooses his words so carefully. Then there is Ali. The few times I’ve seen her on various talk shows, I felt like there was no way of anticipating what would come out of her mouth. Almost anything seemed possible.

It turns out that my judging the relationship of two people I don’t even know was playing right into Chapter 4 of Ali’s book. All of the chapters begin with a quote. Chapter 4 starts with this one by Walt Whitman: “Be curious, not judgmental.” It seems that Ali, like me, has been guilty of judging someone from what she saw on TV and on the Internet. In her case it was Kendall Jenner, but when their paths actually crossed, Kendall surprised Ali.

I don’t expect I’ll ever meet Ali, but reading her book has helped me see her in a different light. There have been times when I watched her on TV and felt like I just did not “get” her humor, but her book is laugh out loud funny. I started it thinking I would read one chapter at the end of each day. It would be my reward for having a productive day even if the day was not as productive as I had hoped. After a couple of chapters, I was rewarding myself with three chapters a day. By that time, I was hooked. I ditched my rewards system altogether and just sat down and finished the book.

I enjoyed Ali’s humor, but I was also impressed with her insights into situations I had also experienced. As I read her thoughts about exercising, aging, and family, I realized that I actually had some things in common with her. I especially appreciated what she wrote about Ali McGraw’s famous line from Love Story: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” I’ve always felt that is the worst line ever. In my world, love requires lots of apologies. I was happy to learn that someone else feels the same way.

I also liked the chapters where Ali wrote about her husband. I’m sticking with my first impression that they are very different, but I no longer wonder how they manage to stay married. Ali uses some great anecdotal information that clearly shows they care about each other and appreciate their differences.

There are some sections of the book that fall into the category of too much information for my comfort zone, but I give Ali props for being honest. I didn’t read her first book, Ali in Wonderland, but I plan to rectify that.

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