Another Column at MyShelf.Com

Before the Title, Past
A Nonfiction Column
By Jeff Shelby

The Real World

I’ve been doing a lot of reading this summer, but for some reason I’ve been more enticed by memoirs and biographies this year. I started the year, determined to read more biographies and I’ve stuck with that trend. In the past, I’ve always gone for the escapism of fiction in the summertime, preferring to figure out whodunit as I lay by the pool, sipping from my drink with the tiny umbrella in it. But this summer, I’ve taken a different route and decided to dive into real books about real people. So here are a few of the better ones I’ve consumed while stretched out on a chaise lounge:

Breaking Back: How I Lost Everything and Won Back My Life by James Blake

Blake is one of my favorite athletes, one of those guys who it’s nearly impossible not to root for. Intelligent, thoughtful and plays his guts out. My father and I saw him play in a tournament earlier this spring and that’s when another fan told me about the book, so I’d been eagerly awaiting its arrival. And I wasn’t disappointed. Blake has lived an amazing life – tennis prodigy, Harvard student, child from an interracial marriage, caretaker to his dying father and survived a devastating accident on the tennis court. His story is a must-read for everyone.

 One Bullet Away by Nathaniel Fick

I tend to avoid military books, but a friend recommended this one and it was fantastic. Fick is a Dartmouth graduate who was looking to challenge himself. So in 1998 he chose to do what he thought would push him the furthest – he joined the Marines. His story details not just the difficulties of his learning to become a Marine, but getting more than he bargained for. He ends up leading a ground unit into Afghanistan and later into Iraq. Fick manages to tell the tale in a completely non-partisan fashion, which is no easy task, so it doesn’t matter how you feel about the war – Fick just lets you know what it’s like for the men and women who are there.

Jesus Land: A Memoir by Julia Scheeres

I’d been meaning to read this book for months and I can’t believe I put it off for as long as I did because it was even better than I hoped it would be. Scheeres writes about her childhood as a young white girl growing up with two adopted black brothers in the Midwest. That alone would be interesting fodder for a book, but the other things that she experienced - violence, time in a Dominican Republic reform school, a cruel father – make this one of the most compelling books I’ve ever picked up. But be forewarned – this isn’t a happily ever after book. There is a lot of sadness along the way and it doesn’t end the way most of us probably would prefer it to.

Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin.

When Mortenson failed in his attempt to climb the world’s second tallest mountain, he found himself near death in a small Pakistani village. As the people of the village nursed him back to health, he promised to repay them by building them their first school. That first school has since turned into 50 schools in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. This is an amazing book about how one person truly can make a difference.

Go ahead. Put down the fiction and give one of these a try under the sun this summer.

Read just one of these books. You’ll feel better about the world.

2007 Past Columns

© MyShelf.Com. All Rights Reserved.