Biographies

10 Great Biographies You Can Read or Listen to Right Now

Have you tried Hoopla yet? The app is free, the library pays for the content, and your library card will get you 10 downloads a month. Best of all, you never have to wait--everything is available right now. I’ve been browsing Hoopla for great reads to share with you--here are 10 biography picks, and all 10 are available as an eBook and as an eAudiobook.

Descriptions in italics are provided by the publisher.

Old in Art School by Nell Irvin Painter
A Princeton University historian describes her post-retirement decision to study art, a venture that compelled her to find relevance in the undervalued masters she loves, the obstacles faced by women artists, and the challenges of balancing art and life. The author, a noted scholar, was raised in Oakland and graduated from Oakland Tech. Her book was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and a Best Book of the Year selected by The San Francisco Chronicle.

Just Kids by Patti Smith
In this memoir, singer-songwriter Patti Smith shares tales of New York City : the denizens of Max's Kansas City, the Hotel Chelsea, Scribner's, Brentano's and Strand bookstores and her new life in Brooklyn with a young man named Robert Mapplethorpe--the man who changed her life with his love, friendship, and genius. Winner of the National Book Award, finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and many other awards.

The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King
Fred Rogers (1928-2003) was an enormously influential figure in the history of television and in the lives of tens of millions of children. Drawing on original interviews, oral histories and archival documents, the author traces the iconic children's program host's personal, professional, and artistic life through decades of work. Selected as a Best Book of the Year by The San Francisco Chronicle.

Ordinary Girls by Jaquira Díaz
Jaquira Díaz writes an unflinching account of growing up as a queer biracial girl searching for home as her family splits apart and her mother struggles with mental illness and addiction. From her own struggles with depression and drug abuse to her experiences of violence to Puerto Rico's history of colonialism, every page vibrates with music and lyricism. Winner of a Whiting Award in Nonfiction, a Lambda Literary Awards Finalist​, and a Best Book of the Year selected by Library Journal.

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung
Chung investigates the mysteries and complexities of her transracial adoption in this chronicle of unexpected family for anyone who has struggled to figure out where they belong. A finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and a Best Book of the Year selected by The Washington Post, NPR and numerous others.

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
Recounts how the author, an experienced falconer grieving the sudden death of her father, endeavored to train for the first time a dangerous goshawk predator as part of her personal recovery. Winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize, the Costa Book of the Year, one of The New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year, and numerous other accolades.

Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot
The author recounts her coming of age on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in the Pacific Northwest where she survived a dysfunctional childhood and found herself hospitalized with a dual diagnosis of PTSD and bipolar II disorder. Selected as a Best Book of the Year by NPR, Library Journal and others.

The Ungrateful Refugee: What Immigrants Never Tell You by Dina Nayeri
In her first work of nonfiction, Dina Nayeri defies stereotypes and raises surprising questions about the immigrant experience. Here are the real human stories of what it is like to journey across borders in the hope of starting afresh. Finalist for The Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Kirkus Prize.

Chasing Space: An Astronaut's Story of Grit, Grace, and Second Chances by Leland Melvin  
In this moving, inspirational memoir, a former NASA astronaut and NFL wide receiver shares his personal journey from the gridiron to the stars, examining the intersecting roles of community, perseverance and grace that align to create the opportunities for success.

Darling Days by iO Tillett Wright
At the center of Darling Days is the remarkable relationship between a fiery kid and a domineering ma-a bond defined by freedom and control, excess and sacrifice; by heartbreaking deprivation, agonizing rupture, and, ultimately, forgiveness. Darling Days is also a provocative examination of culture and identity, of the instincts that shape us and the norms that deform us, and of the courage and resilience it takes to listen closely to your deepest self. When a group of boys refuse to let six-year-old, female-born iO play ball, iO instantly adopts a new persona, becoming a boy named Ricky-a choice iO's parents support and celebrate. It is the start of a profound exploration of gender and identity through the tenderest years, and the beginning of a life invented and reinvented at every step. Alternating between the harrowing and the hilarious, Darling Days is the candid, tough, and stirring memoir of a young person in search of an authentic self as family and home life devolve into chaos.

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Musician Biographies for Every Taste

Have you signed up for the OPL “Read to the Rhythm” Adult Summer Reading Program, yet? All you have to do is:

  1. Pick up a raffle card from any library location.
  2. Either read a book and write a short description/review OR complete three different activities listed on the card.
  3. Turn in your completed card at the library.
  4. Do it again!

Sure, reading is its own reward, but our Summer Reading prizes this year include a variety of gift cards and a Kindle Fire HD, so get those raffle cards in by the program end date of August 8th!

Among the listed activities, in keeping with the musical theme, is to read a book about a musician. To further that goal, here is an annotated list of 10 of the best musician biographies and Music Memoirs we have on our shelves:

Beneath the underdog: his world as composed by Mingus by Charles Mingus; edited by Nel King (1991)

The legendary jazzman recounts his life and career, from his childhood in Watts and his apprenticeship with jazz musicians, to his recordings with Duke Ellington and others, and more.

                                                                                                            

A broken hallelujah : rock and roll, redemption, and the life of Leonard Cohen by Liel Leibovitz (2014)

A meditation on the life of the Canadian singer-songwriter, musician, poet, and novelist discusses his performing career, which began despite his crippling stage fright, to his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

 

 Girl in a band: a memoir by Kim Gordon (2015)

A founding member of Sonic Youth, fashion icon, and role model for a generation of women, now tells her story--a memoir of life as an artist, of music, marriage, motherhood, independence, and as one of the first women of rock and roll.

 

George Frideric Handel: a life with friends by Ellen T. Harris (2014)

An intimate portrait of Handel'€™s life and inner circle... a tale that reveals an ambitious, generous, brilliant, and flawed man who hid behind his public persona.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Just kids by Patti Smith (2010)

An artist and musician recounts her romance, lifetime friendship, and shared love of art with Robert Mapplethorpe, in an illustrated memoir that includes a colorful cast of characters, including Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, Andy Warhol, and William Burroughs.

                                                                                                            

Life by Keith Richards, with James Fox (2010)

The lead guitarist for The Rolling Stones recounts his life, from a youth obsessed with Chuck Berry to the formation of the Stones and their subsequent stardom, and discusses his problems with drugs, the death of Brian Jones, and his relationship with Mick Jagger.

  

Mo' meta blues: the world according to Questlove by Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson and Ben Greenman (2013)

A punch-drunk memoir in which Everyone's Favorite Questlove (The Roots, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon) tells his own story while tackling some of the lates, the greats, the fakes, the philosophers, the heavyweights, and the true originals of the music world. He digs deep into the album cuts of his life and unearths some pivotal moments in black art, hip hop, and pop culture. 

   

Possibilities by Herbie Hancock, with Lisa Dickey (2014)

The legendary jazz musician and composer reflects on his seven decades in music, tracing his early years as a musical prodigy and work in Miles Davis' second quintet to his multigenre explorations and collaborations with fellow artists. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Spirit rising: my life, my music by Angélique Kidjo, with Rachel Wenrick (2014)

Dubbed Africa's Premier Diva by Time Magazine, the singer/songwriter/activist shares her compelling story of escape from Africa where her voice was censored by the Communist regime to become a Grammy Award-winning, Billboard-topping musician and UNICEF Ambassador.

 

Words without music by Philip Glass (2015)

The world-renowned composer traces the story of his life and career and his professional collaborations with such peers as Allen Ginsberg and Martin Scorsese while sharing evocative insights into his creative process.

 

This is but a small sampling of the wealth of musician biographies and music memoirs spanning numerous genres. To get a personalized list of books based on your music and literature interests, try Book Me!, our new online Readers' Advisory Service. Go on and "Read to the Ryhthm".