Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Hobos, Bums and Tramps and Memoirs

I love a good memoir or autobiography. My top twelve favorite autobiographies or memoirs are:
#12 Edward Ball: Slaves in the Family (South Carolina and Georgia)
#11 Thomas Vogel: Growing Up in Vietnam (Minnesota and Vietnam)
#10 Katherine Graham: Personal History (Washington D.C. and Virginia)
#9 Willie Nelson: Willie An Autobiography (Texas and all 50 states)
8 Roze Zar: In The Mouth of The Wolf (Warsaw, Poland and the Nazis)
#7 Nathaniel Fick: One Bullet Away (Quantico, Afghanistan and Iraq)
#6 Chaim Potok: Davita's Harp (Jewish New York 1930's and 1940's)
#5 Rick Atkinson: Long Gray Line, From West Point to Vietnam and After--
The Turbulent Odyssey of the Class of 1966 (West Point to Vietnam)

#4 Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl (Holland and the Nazis)
#3 Jeannette Walls: The Glass Castle (West Virginia, the Southwest and NYC)
#2 Malcome X: The Autobiography of Malcome X (Omaha, Michigan and NY)
#1 Louis L'Amour: Education of a Wandering Man (North Dakota, the West)

, the number one memoir in my opinion is the Lous L'Amour's memoir of his life that he wrote just months before he knew that he was going to die from cancer. It is the story of his wandering thru both life and books: from simple western beginnings in Jamestown, North Dakota to Singapore to Klamath Lake in Oregon to Kingman, Arizona to World War II battlefields in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Germany, to New York City and Hollywood and finally to his Colorado ranch. And while Louis was wandering over the earth he was wandering thru any book that he could find. What I like best about this memoir is that Louis kept lists of all the books he had ever read in his lifetime. What an astounding thing to do.
The lists show how books influenced his life and his writings. Every time I check his list of books read I think to myself: now why haven't I read that yet?

The reason I'm writing about my favorite memoir books is that thru my neighborhood book club I have found a memoir that has leapfrogged to #3 on my list. The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls is the story of a young girl living in a very dysfunctional family. Holy Cow, what a strange story! This has to be a memoir because nobody could dream up such weird circumstances and characters in a book. It is simply too, too wild to be fiction. Robbyn, what a great book selection. I can't wait to discuss it his Friday nite at your house.

And the reason I'm labeling today's blog Hobos, Bums and Tramps and Memoirs is that I happened to pick up L'Amour's memoir and read the passage about hobos, bums and tramps. Do you know the difference between the three? According to L'Amour a bum is a local person who doesn't want to work to make a living while a tramp is a wandering adventurer who doesn't want to work to make a living. In contrast L'Amour described his early career years as a hobo: a person who wanders around the country to earn a living. A hobo is a person to be admired. Well, in The Glass Castle the father is the bum, the mother is the tramp and the second daughter is the hobo who makes it from a rain soaked shack in West Virginia to an Ivy League university (Bernard) and a journalism job with MSNBC in New York and Washington.
(An aside: during the depression years my mother fed a lot of hobos who traveled from town to town by train. She spoke well of them all except for the one who threw her fried egg sandwich in the road ditch after she stopped her chores to make him lunch.) And while we were on our cross country road trip we bought a CD of famous train songs and one of them was the Hobo's Lullaby. I told Jack that I needed to learn the lyrics so that I could entertain our grandson. Jack, however, questioned whether Daddy Karras wanted his son referred to as a little hobo: Go to sleep, you little hobo.....


Brenda said...

Hi Joann -- I just finished reading The Glass Castle over vacation and was as blown away by it as you were. It does a good job of showing just how resourceful and resilient children can be. I liked how it made the transition from their younger years (when they took their lives in stride) to their teen years (when they started to question their environment). I thought it was interesting that the parents moved to NY when the kids did -- guess no one was left in WV to take care of them! Wish I knew what happened to Maureen, though. Take it easy -- say hi to the club for me.

jerrywaxler said...

Hi Joann,

It’s wonderful seeing your favorite memoir list. (And the lovely essay that went with it.) It appears to be a thoughtful list, and eclectic. A good memoir takes you on a trip. So I guess that means memoir readers might make good hobos, traveling on the shoulders of writers to see wars, foreign cultures, and even the home culture but in a different sort of family, like Jeanette Walls. I’m on a memoir kick, or you might say an obsession, and have been blogging about reading and writing memoirs to discover what I can about the people with whom I share the world. It’s an endless source of inspiration.

Best wishes,
Jerry Waxler
Memory Writers Network

Jack and Joann said...

Hi Jerry,

Well, it was wonderful seeing your comment on my blog post. I love memoirs too! When I lose interest in a novel I always find myself turning to a memoir for both entertainment and inspiration. That's why I decided to create a list of my favorite memoirs. And of course as soon as you create a list you realize that your forgot a great selection. I should have included "me 'n Henry" a book I purchased in Bisbee, Arizona. Walter Swan is the author and the memoir is about Walter and his brother, Henry, growing up on the family homestead in Cochise County when Arizona was a brand new state. His wife was the person who gave him the idea to write down his memories even though he didn't know how to write down his thoughts or to spell or to use handwriting that was legible enough for someone to read. I discovered this book in The One Book Bookstore in Bisbee in 1989 when I was on a sightseeing trip to Arizona with my family. My family enjoyed meeting Walter in his One Book Bookstore and getting an autographed copy of his one and only book. He was a delightful old man to talk to about his memories. I imagine that he may now be deceased because he was born in 1916. If you can find a copy of this book, you will not be disappointed for it is both an easy and interesting read. A true picture of the rugged southwest and the homesteaders who settled there. I love making new acquaintences because every person you meet has a good story or two to tell you if you can coax them into talking to you about their past. I also enjoyed checking out your memoir writing blog. Very interesting. Would love to hear from you again.

Best wishes to you,
Joann Shipley