Sunday, September 02, 2018

Sunday Afternoon Tea - Biography, Memoir, and Letters

I loved Edith's two volumes of Family Letters

An extended family member once told me she never reads biographies or memoirs, believing they are all made up as much as a fiction book.  At the time, I was appalled as I loved those genres.

I was thinking of her recently when writing about Anne Morrow Lindbergh's diaries being favorite reading from my youth.  Anne was far from perfect but her diaries share with us beautifully her perspective on the world as it was before and around the time of WWII.  (I didn't read the book that contained diaries published later in life.)

An excellent biographer of a person or a time in history knows they must research many books, journals, diaries, letters, etc. to get an idea about their subject.  For each of us views the same person or event differently.  

I found it interesting that Madeleine L'Engle's children would say that some of their mother's memories tended to be more fiction than fact, especially in Two-Part Invention; The Story of a Marriage.  However, that is how L'Engle viewed the events in her mind as she remembered them years later.

I thought today instead of sharing some more recent books in the genre that I like, I'd share some from my collection that you don't hear as much about... at least these days.

Two of my very favorite books by Edith Schaeffer are volumes I don't hear about often.  They are compilations of her "Family Letters" sent during specific time periods.  If you know anything about L'Abri, the "Family Letters" began as that... letters to their families and close friends about what was going on in their ministry, for they did begin as missionaries to Europe after WWII.

As their work in Europe expanded, eventually to become the L'Abri ministry most of us know them from, the letters were sent to their supporters as well as family and friends.  The two books are With Love, Edith: The L'Abri Family Letters 1948-1960 and Dear Family: The L'Abri Family Letters 1961-1986.

Edith had close friends and family help her choose which letters from the thousands that were sent to include in the books.  She found it too hard to choose at times.  These letters not only tell us Edith's view of the changes in their ministry but we get a closeup look at Europe as it recovers from the second world war in half a century.

When reading these letters, it honestly feels as if a close friend had written from "across the pond".  They can be read alone or as background to the books L'Abri and the larger autobiography called The Tapestry.

Ravi Zacharias shares his story in the autobiography, Walking From East to West.  While he is an apologist I greatly appreciate, his story opened my eyes to what it would be like for someone from a completely different culture to accept Christ and become a well known minister of the Gospel.  It was fascinating.

By the way, you may notice that Ravi Z. has the name of a contributor on the cover of his autobiography.  He agreed to write his autobiography only if there was a co-writer working with him, holding him accountable to the truth.  You don't see that happening often!  I believe he fully understands our memory is not always 100% correct.

One of my favorite Christian nonfiction authors is W. Phillip Keller.  It saddens me that we no longer hear much about him.  He is one of the authors that I "focused read" at one time since I own a number of his books, mostly purchased at book sales through the years.

His most famous book is probably A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm but he was a prolific writer of beautiful prose about many subjects and places, kind of a Bible teacher/Wendell Barry.  His autobiography, Wonder O' the Wind: A Common Man's Quest for God is a book I have read a couple times and it is due for a dusting off soon.

He shares about growing up as a missionary kid in Africa, both the joys of having friends among the natives and the intense dislike of being sent to boarding school as was the practice among missionaries at the time.  He goes on to tell the story of his life (up to that point) and his walk with God.  He was an amazing man and this is just as amazing a story.  He reminds me of Berry in the way he describes the beauty and importance of our natural surroundings.

A biography I had never heard of before I saw it at a book sale is Grace Livingston Hill: Her Story and Her Writings by Jean Karr.  A good biography teaches me something I didn't know about the author's life, in this case why she began writing in the first place.

I have often thought of the chapters about her last years, when she passed away in 1947.  She thought at that time that the changes in society were bringing a culture of immorality to the nation... and we look at those years as being innocent!

I like to read the biographies of women who were in work situations where one did not often find women at that period of time.  Which is why two favorite biographies are My Life by Golda Meir and Madame Curie by Eve Curie.

In Golda's case, we see the founding of Israel and the events that led up to it from her viewpoint (and she was a controversial figure) and Eve does an excellent job writing about her mother in that biography.  I need to read Madame Curie again soon since I had to read it quickly the first time.

A book I loved when it first came out, eventually gave my copy away, and then purchased it again at a book sale because I missed it, is the book Special People written by Julie Nixon Eisenhower.  I can't remember if she had met everyone she wrote about in this book but she had at least met quite a few of them since she had been in a unique position to meet famous people.

The chapters in this 1977 book include brief stories about: Golda Meir, Ruth Bell Graham, Charlies Prince of Wales, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Mao Tse-tung, and Mamie Doud Eisenhower.  How is that for a diverse group of people?

I think I had better stop here before I find more books to write about on my shelves!  This post was particularly difficult to proofread with only one eye seeing clearly... so please excuse typos, misspellings, etc.

Mentioned in this Blog Post
Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage... here.
Dear Family... here. (Third Party)
With Love, Edith... here. (Third Party)
L'Abri... here.
The Tapestry... here. (Third Party)
Walking from East to West... here.
Grace Livingston Hill: Her Story and Her Writings... here. (Third Party)
My Life By Golda Meier... here.  (Third Party)
Madame Curie, a biography... here (paperback) and here (hardback Third Party)
Special People... here.

Disclaimer:  Most links to are Associate Links.


Anonymous said...

If you still have your copy of the story of Grace Livingston Hill..hang onto it. Did you see how much a copy sells for on Amazon! I would love to have a copy but that won't fit in my budget. I have most of Grace Hill's books and love them. Have re-read them all..some several times. Would love to read some more that you mentioned..but many books., so little time. Blessings, Sharon D.

Vee said...

Biographies and memoirs are among my favorite reading. This began in elementary school when the large rolling library cart visited each classroom and students were allowed two books a week. I always chose biographies: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, Jane Addams, Dorothea Dix, and on and on. When the school where I taught was given a large endowment to purchase books, you can guess what I chose. Biographies.)

I think reading Edith’s letters would be very interesting and edifying. (Course you should also know that beneath my bed are boxes of family letters going back to the 1800s. I doubt that they’d be quite as interesting as Mrs. Schaeffer’s.)

Janie said...

I loved Edith's The Tapestry. And you are right about Keller. I love reading his books, most of which can only be found used. My favorite is Wonder O' the Wind. He writes with such truth and transparency. And his love and descriptions of nature and the natural environment are evocative.

Terra said...

I seem to always be reading a memoir or occasional biography, now that I am a senior citizen. I read the 4 Crosswick journals by Madeleine L'Engle (you mention one of them) and years ago I wrote to her with the only address being Crosswick and she received and answered my letter, imagine my thrill. I still have her letter. Thanks for this post with some reading ideas in it.

Little Penpen said...

I've not read a lot of biographies, but I should read more. Recently, I read the one by Anderson Cooper about his mom, Gloria Vanderbilt. I have an interest in her because of the Biltmore Estate, located in my state of NC. I will check out some of these that you have listed.

Sallie Borrink said...

I have most of Grace Livingston Hill's books and have read about her extensively online, but have never invested in a copy of the Karr book. I would like to read it eventually. It is fantastic that you ran across a copy at a book sale! They are not very common.

Deanna Rabe - Creekside Cottage Blog said...

I love talking books with you! I like biographies and memoirs. I love learning about people.

Lots of great suggestions here!

Anonymous said...

I'm in the process of reading a biography of the Mitford sisters; Nancy, Pamela, Diana, Unity, Decca and Debo. Fascinating stuff written by Mary S Lovell. I highly recommend this book.

Rebecca said...

Looking forward to reading Madeleine D'Engles new biography....