My high school favorites
I’ve taken a little liberty with the word “memoir” for these are all parents’ memoirs of sons. At this age, I adored my big brother and his friends and dreamed of having four sons.
Eric–is the story of a tall, easy-going soccer star at UConn who dies of leukemia. His mother, Doris Lund, wrote children’s books and did illustration work and his father did freelance work too. This was as much a revelation to me as leukemia. Eric’s story became popular in our high school because a classmate of my brother’s died of the same disease at about the same age.
Journey tells of historian Robert Massie’s namesake son’s life with hemopheilia–the catalyst for him writing his best-selling Nicholas and Alexandra. He took the “business” side of the disease–the insurance, the blood drives, while his now ex-wife Suzanne, the loss of whose influence as his editor and research shows clearly in his later books, wrote about mothering a child with such a (then) debilitating illness. She rages elogently at those imagining her beloved son was abused and at the times he was cruelly exclued way back in the early 60’s before anyone had heard of the color teal or what a teal pumpkin was and why it was important. Mother’s like Suzanne Massie paved the way for the so many of the inclusive ideas we embrace today. Their son, Bobby–who in middle age would be shown on a PBS program as no longer having the AIDS virus he contracted thru tainted blood products used to treat his illness–writes with his parents’ joint passion and precision about his side of things as well. Coming only a few years before HIV/AIDS hit the scene and decimated the hemophiliac population of the world, this book did a lot to champion patients’ rights, humane hospital rules on visitors, awareness of the impossibility of our medical insurance system for those with debilitating illnesses.
For me, it showed three brilliant people overcoming so much horror. I loved that Suzanne learned Russian during all of this as an “escape.” I loved that she taught ballet to earn a little badly needed money and most of all, I loved her intellectual world–the work at Time-Life, the research for her husband’s book (and subsequently for her own books). She did all this while baking Christmas cookies and, oh yes, raising two other children.
Death Be Not Proud by John Gunther is the moving story of a 1940s teenager, Johnny, and his battle with a malignant brain tumor. I was fascinated by him–he loved chemistry and pursued science with a passion most young men reserve for sports and girls. He attended a prestigious Eastern board school, too, so that also appealed. Again, though, aspects of his parents lives caught my attention–of course his father, renown journalist John Gunther, was known for his socio-political surveys known as the Inside books–Inside Europe,–showing the impact of Nazism and Inside the U.S.A. They are still classics. There is a decent movie version of the Death Be Not Proud–it brought Robbie Benson to the world’s attention. I used to have it on VHS. Death Be Not Proud. You can watch the movie here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5SicWF7eKf0
College memoir favorites
Stop-Time was assigned in my first literature and writing class. My class had the theme self-discovery. I’ve always been grateful that my Mom helped me register–I was completely overwhelmed by the course schedule. (I still had to endure four hours of waiting in line at I.U.’s famous “cattle drive” registration at the field house, but at least I knew how it all worked and got decent classes.) “Coming of Age” books are usually sweet, boy discovers girls or girl discovers boy type OR they are kids overcoming adversity. This one is the latter. I can still smell the dog poop as he cleaned it up. I can still take the joy of going off to college. And I shared his love of jazz. Like another book we read, the Autobiography of Malcolm X, this book showed how the other half were forced to live–those who were born because their parents had sex and not because they wanted children. It showed how little control kids have over their lives. Stop-time by Frank Conroy.
Ten Days That Shook The World was a “One Sitting Wonderful” book. I read it along with taking a Russian history class–it was a fabulous optional title. The movie Reds came out the same year.
The two Alices–Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone and “Princess” Alice, Duchess of Gloucester were formidable royal ladies. The first Alice (Athlone) was the daughter of Queen Victoria’s hemophiliac son, Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany. Her brother, Charles Edward, thru a series of bad family decisions, ended up taking the tiny throne of Saxe Cobrug Gotha and becoming a rather notorious Nazi. But what fascinated me about this Alice was that she traveled by bus, took a banana boat to the Bahamas and never had a hair out of place from it. Her book does show HER age–her views are very Raj, very racists but also, sadly, very characteristic of her time and “station in life.” Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone Memoirs.
The Second Alice and former King Edward VIII tell marvelous stories of their very, very grand Edwardian childhoods. This Alice was the Daughter of one of Scotland’s largest landowner and premier Duke’s–the triple AND double-barreled Montague-Douglas-Scott family, i.e. The Duke of Buccleuch & Queensbury! She had a very adventurous life as a young adult in Kenya as well. She married Edward VIII’s younger brother, Henry, a few weeks before the King abdicated to marry Mrs. Simpson. Memoirs of Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester.
The final two are tell-all books, but tell-all done with a modicum of respect, by Prince Charles’ first valet, the late Stephen Barry. I assume he got away with it since he was dying when they came out. They’re a fun read. Royal Service and Royal Secrets