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Biographies

  •  Eliza

    May 20th is a special day for me. No, it’s not because it’s World Metrology Day or the feast day of Saint Ivo of Chartres. It’s because it’s Eliza Doolittle Day!

    As any musical or classic film fan knows, Eliza Doolittle is the aspiring “lady in a flower shop” and star of Lerner and Loewe’s MY FAIR LADY. The original 1956 Broadway production won seven Tonys, with the 1964 film going on to garner eight Academy Awards, and a current revival is up for 10 more possible Tonys. It’s an almost guaranteed critic and crowd pleaser.

    MY FAIR LADY has been my favorite film for nearly 20 years now, and as an Audrey Hepburn obsessive, I have a soft spot in my heart for the song “Just You Wait.” Unlike most of the songs, which were dubbed by Marni Nixon, it features Hepburn’s actual singing voice with only a small section of dubbing. Skip to 1:31 for the establishment of this important international holiday.

     

    So here are a few options for celebrating Eliza Doolittle Day:

    Watch the film

    5.17 My Fair LadyMY FAIR LADY
    Directed by George Cukor
    (1964)

    Number 8 on the American Film Institute’s list of the Greatest Movie Musicals, Number 12 on their 100 Years … 100 Passions list, and number 91 on their list of the 100 Greatest American Movies Of All Time. It’s just that good. 

     

    Listen to the original cast recording

    5.17 SoundtrackMY FAIR LADY: ORIGINAL BROADWAY CAST RECORDING
    Music by Frederick Loewe
    Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
    (1956)

    Even half a century later, there’s still a surprising amount of controversy over the casting of Audrey Hepburn in the film over Julie Andrews, who originated the role. Luckily, you can still listen to the original Broadway cast recording in all its undubbed glory. 

     

    Play or sing along

    5.17 Piano VocalMY FAIR LADY PIANO/VOCAL/CHORD SELECTIONS
    Music by Frederick Loewe
    Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
    (2007)

    Why not try your own hand (or voice) at classic tunes like “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” and “I Could Have Danced All Night.” I’d argue that Alan Jay Lerner’s lyrics for MY FAIR LADY are some of the cleverest ever written for Broadway, and Loewe’s gorgeous, sweeping score stands the test of time. 

     

    Read the original

    5.17 PygmalionPYGMALION
    By George Bernard Shaw
    (1913)

    MY FAIR LADY is based on this classic play, inspired by Greek mythology. Nearly every clever line from the musical comes straight from George Bernard Shaw’s original, but be prepared for a very different ending. 

     

    Read about the Elizas

    Though many women have played Eliza, Julie Andrews and Audrey Hepburn are inarguably the women who defined the role. They are fortunately both exemplary role models in their own rights, and these biographies will give you wonderful insight into the women behind the role.

    5.17 HomeHOME: A MEMOIR OF MY EARLY YEARS
    By Julie Andrews
    (2008)

     

    5.17 Audrey HepburnAUDREY HEPBURN: AN ELEGANT SPIRIT
    By Sean Hepburn Ferrer
    (2003)

     
  • Hamilton

    Confession: after listening to the Hamilton soundtrack for the first time, I sobbed in my car for ten minutes.

    I had gone back and forth, listening first to the audiobook of the Ron Chernow biography that inspired the play and then to the soundtrack until I caught up chronologically with my reading. By the time I had finished the biography, I was deeply invested in the stories and personalities of early American history, but when the final song shifted focus to Eliza … I was a goner. It was quiet, unexpected, meaningful, and so incredibly moving. I think it’s the best final number in musical theater history, and I will fight you on that.

    There was no going back for me. I was obsessed.

    If you care about musical theater at all, you already know that Hamilton is coming to town. The national tour arrives in Salt Lake City in just a few short weeks, and the digital fight to get tickets was a bloodbath. Whether you were one of the lucky few to get tickets or you’re now considering selling a kidney in order to afford one on craigslist*, the library provides plenty of ways to become the ultimate Hamilton fan.

    1) Read the biography

    3.1 Alexander HamiltonALEXANDER HAMILTON
    By Ron Chernow
    (2004)

    The book that started it all. Lin-Manuel Miranda read ALEXANDER HAMILTON while on vacation in 2008 and spent the next several years gradually crafting the music, lyrics, and book for his musical juggernaut. Even if you’re not a big history buff, rest assured that Pulitzer prize winner Chernow is a master biographer who makes history come alive in an accessible, compelling way. 

     

    2) Listen to the soundtrack

    3.1 SoundtrackHAMILTON: ORIGINAL BROADWAY CAST RECORDING
    Music and Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda
    (2015)

    If you haven’t listened to the soundtrack yet, stop reading and place a hold on it now.

    Seriously. Now.

     

    3) Learn the backstory

    3.1 Hamilton the RevolutionHAMILTON: THE REVOLUTION
    By Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter
    (2016)

    Now that you’re knee-deep in the world of HAMILTON, it’s time to dive a little deeper. HAMILTON: THE REVOLUTION, also affectionately known as the Hamiltome, gives an insider’s look into the making of the musical. Part of what makes HAMILTON so accessible to so many people is the way it blends hip hop with classic musical theater styling. It has so many subtle nods to rap and musical theater history, and the Hamiltome is the best way to catch them all. 

     

    4) Sing (and play) along

    3.1 MusicHAMILTON: AN AMERICAN MUSICAL
    Music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda
    (2016)

    Even if you don’t have the velvety voice of Leslie Odom Jr. or the lyrical speed of Renée Elise Goldsberry, you can take your best shot at the music. We have both the standard piano/vocal music and an easy piano version for you to try. 

     

    5) Keep reading

    3.1 I Eliza HamiltonThe popularity of the musical has led to an explosion of Hamilton-related fiction in the past couple of years. For adults, there’s I, ELIZA HAMILTON, THE HAMILTON AFFAIR, and (later this year) MY DEAR HAMILTON, and teens can read ALEX AND ELIZA, HAMILTON AND PEGGY! A REVOLUTIONARY FRIENDSHIP, or ALEXANDER HAMILTON: THE GRAPHIC HISTORY OF AN AMERICAN FOUNDING FATHER.

    Everything you need if you're not quite ready to leave Hamilton behind.

     

    *The Provo City Library does not endorse selling human organs, even for Hamilton tickets.

  • kenya

    Do you have an upcoming trip? Whether it’s for business or pleasure, there’s a sure fire way to increase the awesomeness of your travel experience: Check out a book. 

    But not just any book. Check out a book that was written about the place you’re going. Whether you’re headed to Rome, Hong Kong, or St. George, we have a book that will help you connect with that place, its culture and its history. 

    A couple years ago I spent a few months at a girls school in Kenya. I had a wonderfully immersive experience made only better by the fact that while I was there I was pretty dedicated to reading literature written by people who actually lived, or had lived, in Kenya. Doing this helped broaden my perspective of this young, postcolonial country that I was trying to understand. Here are 5 of my favorite Kenyan books: 

    7.21 Out of AfricaOUT OF AFRICA
    By Isak Dinesen
    (1937)

    This is one of the most familiar Kenyan literature titles thanks to the movie featuring Meryl Streep. Karen Blixen (pen name, Isak Dinesen) writes her biographical memoir of life on a Kenyan coffee farm when Kenya was still a British colony. She was one of many Danes who migrated to Kenya, where the Danish presence remains strong to this day. Her home has been converted into a historical memorial and museum, and while the area that was once her plantation has become part of Nairobi, the locals still refer to the entire area as “Karen.” Blixen’s views are decidedly white-washed, but she still gives a lovely and honest account of what it was like for an educated, single (married but separated) white woman to take up living in a completely foreign environment. 

    7.21 West with the NightWEST WITH THE NIGHT
    By Beryl Markham
    (1942) 

    This is another Kenyan colonial memoir. I picked this up because I was told by a fellow literature BA that it had some of the most beautiful prose she’d ever read. She wasn’t wrong. Both Markham and Dinesen paint a beautiful picture of the fantastic Kenyan landscape that is so foreign to many of us living in the US. This is also another great feminist tale as Markham shares her experiences as a single, woman pilot in the African bush. One of her most intense scenes involves an elephant hunt with a murderous bull elephant. While reading this, the locals had already made sure I was scared to death of these big, beautiful creatures, but this scene solidified that fear. Interestingly enough, if you read Out of Africa and wonder where Blixen’s husband is, you can find him hanging out with Markham in this tale, proving how close knit the white settlers were at this time. 

    7.21 UnbowedUNBOWED
    By Wangari Maathai
    (2006) 

    There’s no way my reading list would be complete without this amazing autobiography by Wangari Maathai, a Nobel Prize winner for her work with the Green Belt Movement. She was the personal hero of many of the girls on campus, and her views gave me important insight into both the environmental and political crises facing the country. Unbowed is the perfect title for this book about a woman who never stepped back from a fight if she knew the cause would help her country.  

    Unfortunately, the Provo library doesn’t own the following two books, but they are still worth looking up. 

     

    7.21 A Grain of WheatA GRAIN OF WHEAT
    By Ngũgĩ wa Thiongʼo
    (1967) 

    Even though the Provo library doesn’t currently own any of the fictional works of renowned Kenyan writer, Ngũgĩ wa Thiongʼo, we do have his autobiography, BIRTH OF A DREAM WEAVER: A WRITER'S AWAKENING. A Grain of Wheat is worth a read if you’re at all interested in the Kenyan independence movement of the 50s. It’s an emotion-driven tale of the controversy that overshadowed the personal lives of everyone leading up to Uhuru. For me, this was an important glimpse into the feelings of someone who actually lived through these turbulent times and the resulting aftermath. 

     

    7.21 The River and the SourceTHE RIVER AND THE SOURCE
    By Margaret A. Ogola
    (1995)

    I read this book in tandem with the girls at the school where I was living. This amazing tale follows a family through 4 generations, spanning from tribal life in the bush, through university degrees and life in the city. This tale covers love, loss, disease, and political instability as the family tries to survive and stay true to their roots. Akoko, the first protagonist, is heralded throughout as the matriarch of the family, the source of the river.

     

     

  • joseph smith

     Today, April 6th, is the anniversary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  The history of the LDS church is unescapably tied to the history of Utah and also Provo and it can be a fascinating topic to delve into.  In celebration of the 1830 founding of this influential religion, I have compiled a list of key works that explain more about its founder and first prophet, Joseph Smith, Jr. 

    Each of these books illuminates a different perspective of this complex and visionary man who, while born into humble circumstances, started a movement that would touch the lives of millions.  Even if you think you already know a lot about Joseph Smith, I guarantee you will discover a wealth of new details in the following volumes.

    4.6 Witness to the MartyrdomWITNESS TO THE MARTYRDOM
    By John Taylor
    (2017)

    On June 27, 1844, John Taylor, was in Carthage Jail along with Joseph and Hyrum Smith and was severely wounded during the fatal altercation with the mob. He recovered his health and put into writing his recollections of the Prophet's final days on earth. John Taylor's detailed first-person account of the Martyrdom is a witness to the goodness and deep faith of the leading Brethren of the restored Church. 

     

    Rough Stone RollingJOSEPH SMITH: ROUGH STONE ROLLING
    By Richard Lyman Bushman
    (2005)

    While many “experts” continue to view Joseph Smith as a controversial figure, renowned scholar (and Latter-day Saint) Richard Bushman locates Joseph in his historical and cultural context, fleshing out the many nuances of nineteenth-century American life that produced such a fertile ground for emerging religions.

     

    The History of Joseph Smith by his MotherTHE HISTORY OF JOSEPH SMITH BY HIS MOTHER
    By Lucy Mack Smith
    (2004)

    In this incomparable classic, Lucy Mack Smith, the mother of the prophet Joseph Smith, Takes a tender look back at the extraordinary life of her son. She relates with stirring personal detail the events that shaped his character, as well as the visions and miracles of the gospel restoration that reshaped the world.

     

    4.6 Precept upon PreceptPRECEPT UPON PRECEPT
    By Robert L. Millet
    (2016)

    Latter-day Saint doctrine is based on the restoration of a correct understanding of God's "character, perfections, and attributes." In Precept upon Precept, esteemed Latter-day Saint scholar and speaker Robert L. Millet explored how the restoration of one truth led to questions that led to answers and the restoration of more truths—line upon line, precept upon precept.

     

    5.6 Joseph Smith PapersJOSEPH SMITH PAPERS
    Compiled by various historians and The Church Historian’s Press
    (2008)

    And finally, for those who want access to it all, we have the JOSEPH SMITH PAPERS.  This project “is an effort to gather together all extant Josephs Smith documents and to publish  complete and accurate transcripts of those documetns with both textual and contextual annotations.”  Print volumes available at the library include documents, histories, revelations and translations, and journals.

     
  •  magic books 1

    The arrival of autumn brings the changing of the leaves, the smell of pumpkin spice, and perhaps a little magic on the crisp evening air. Fall was once a time for traveling magicians to breeze through town, mystifying and delighting the carnival-going masses. We may be short on traveling magicians, but the library has some great books that can bring the world of legerdemain to you. Snuggle up with a blanket, a hot beverage, and a book about magic!  

    10.6 Carter Beats the DevilCARTER BEATS THE DEVIL
    By Glenn David Gold
    (2002)

    This is one of my very favorite books of all time. In 1920, Charles Carter, known as Carter the Great, who became a master illusionist out of loneliness and desperation, creates the most outrageous stunt of all, involving President Harding--one that could cause his downfall. Somewhere in between historical fiction and biography, Carter’s tale of his rise and fall in the entertainment world of the roaring 20s is pure gold.  



    10.6 The IllusionistsTHE ILLUSIONISTS
    Rosie Thomas
    (2014) 

    An artist, his model, and two magicians are thrown together by a twist of fate, their lives are inextricably linked: the fortune of one depends on the fortune of the other. And as Eliza gets sucked into the seductive and dangerous world her strange companions inhabit, she risks not only her heart, but also her life. 

     

     

    10.6 Jonathan Strange Mr. NorrellJONATHAN STRANGE & MR. NORRELL
    By Susanna Clarke
    (2004) 

    In nineteenth-century England, all is going well for rich, reclusive Mr. Norrell, who has regained some of the power of England's magicians from the past, until a rival magician, Jonathan Strange, appears and becomes Mr. Norrell's pupil.

     

     

     

    10.6 The PrestigeTHE PRESTIGE
    By Christopher Priest
    (1995) 

    A 19th century feud between two English stage magicians involves electricity, duplicity, obsession, and illusion both on and off the stage. Fans of Christopher Nolan’s 2007 film of the same name may be surprised at the differences between book and movie, but will delight in the same sinister tone. 

     

     

     

    10.6 The Secret Life of HoudiniTHE SECRET LIFE OF HOUDINI: THE MAKING OF AMERICA’S FIRST SUPERHERO
    By William Kalush
    2006 

    Confession—when I was in high school, I went through a stage magician phase where I could not get enough magic in my life. I devoured books and movies about stage magic and its history. This book is to blame. When I read this in high school, I was blown away at how interesting Harry Houdini is. Included in this biography are Houdini's secret work as a spy for the United States and England, his post-war efforts to expose the fraudulent activities of spiritualist mediums, and the plot organized by Arthur Conan Doyle to have him murdered.

     

  • pete seeger

    For any 10-year-olds with an interest in the folk music of the 1960s, this blog post is for you!***crickets***Okay, okay. I know how it sounds, but one of the fascinating things about biographies written for children is that many are written about people that most children aren’t initially interested in. Don’t get me wrong, there will always be books about Einstein, Disney, and Muhammad Ali. But some of the real gems of our biography collection are about people that may not have obvious “kid-appeal” in 2017.Take Pete Seeger. I became a fan of his music as a sophomore in college when I became a little more politically active, a little more frustrated at “modern life,” and a little more convinced that the 1960s was the time to live. Ask me as a ten-year-old who Pete Seeger was, though, and I would have had no answer. I think the same is probably true of most kids.Still, for whatever reason there have been four well-written, fairly acclaimed children’s biographies about Pete Seeger published in the last year. Perhaps it is because he passed away in 2014 and publishers are eager to capitalize on a chance to make new biographies. Or perhaps it’s just because the stars aligned. We may never know. But if you’re interested in teaching your child the value of folk music and peaceful political activism – which might not be such a bad thing – here are all the Pete Seeger books our children’s department has to offer:

    10.13 Who Was Pete SeegerWHO WAS PETE SEEGER? 
    By Noel MacCarry
    (2017)

    The newest installment in a series of books that has written a biography for everyone. This book provides a good amount of detail and presents a charming caricature of the artist.

     

     

     

    10.13 Let Your Voice Be HeardLET YOUR VOICE BE HEARD: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF PETE SEEGER 
    By Anita Silvey
    (2016)

    This book provides a lot of good information about the life of Pete Seeger and the causes that were important to him – enough for kids to go out and explore more on their own.

     

     

    10.13 ListenLISTEN: HOW PETE SEEGER GOT AMERICA SINGING 
    By Leda Schubert
    Illustrated by Raul Colon
    (2017)

    This is my favorite of the bunch—mostly because I like picture book biographies. But also because it shows the influence Pete Seeger had in unexpected ways. Plus, it includes the titles of all his songs, which is fun for fans.

     

    10.13 Stand Up and SingSTAND UP AND SING!: PETE SEEGER, FOLK MUSIC, AND THE PATH TO JUSTICE 
    By Susanna Reich
    Illustrated by Adam Gustavson
    (2017)

    This one is a little text heavy for a picture book biography, but it does maybe the best job of explaining the oppression that Pete Seeger sought to overcome by making a statement with his music. 

    10.13 AbiyoyoBONUS: ABIYOYO 
    By Pete Seeger
    Illustrated by Michael Hays
    (1986)

    This picture book version of Seeger’s own ballad was a Reading Rainbow pick back in the day and is an adaptation of a South African folktale. With a note from Seeger in the front of the book, this is perhaps the best way to introduce young music fans to Pete Seeger.

     

  • girl power biographies 01

    Find them in the catalog: 

    VIVA FRIDA

    MAYA LIN

    GEORGIA IN HAWAII

  •  Pills

    I’ve been surprised as an adult by how much I enjoy reading memoirs. Plenty of these have been fluffy or funny celebrity memoirs, but in the last year or so, I’ve been drawn to powerful and sometimes troubling personal stories of people who have survived childhood trauma. Though it would be an exaggeration to call my own childhood traumatic, I’ve found wisdom, inspiration, humanity, and a surprising amount of connection in these stories.

    Famous memoirist Jeannette Walls once said in a New York Times interview, “The best self-help books, in my opinion, are memoirs. If people are honest about what happened to them, those stories are astonishing gifts to those of us grappling with – or just trying to understand – similar situations. I give away my memoirs like aspirins to friends who are going through tough times. Sometimes, it’s easier to have perspective on someone else’s life than your own.”

    So, readers, here are a few of my favorite literary aspirins, memoirs of resilience, all told with compassion and honesty.

    3.22 The Glass CastleTHE GLASS CASTLE
    By Jeannette Walls
    (2013)

    Walls grew up in a family that moved from place to place, descending further into poverty and dysfunction as the years past in spite of their love for each other. Her father’s alcoholism and the mental illness of both parents caused extreme financial hardship and often left the Walls children in danger, but Jeannette and her siblings banded together to work their way out into the world. THE GLASS CASTLE is beautiful, horrifying, and unflinchingly honest, as Walls grapples to overcome her shame and stop hiding her past.

     

    3.22 EducatedEDUCATED
    By Tara Westover
    (2018)

    I've been floored by just how good this recent release is. Tara Westover was raised in rural Idaho by survivalist parents who practice an extreme and bizarre take on Mormonism.  Westover’s paranoid father, convinced the government was his enemy, had the children born at home so they wouldn’t have birth certificates, wouldn’t allow them to attend school, and insisted on home care by their herbalist mother for even the most life-threatening illnesses. A blind eye is turned to any abuse in the home. Westover eventually works her way to BYU, Cambridge, and eventually Harvard where she discovers the full emancipation of an education.

     

    3.22 You Dont Have to Say You Love Me aYOU DON’T HAVE TO SAY YOU LOVE ME
    By Sherman Alexie
    (2017)

    Celebrated author Sherman Alexie has written fiction and poetry for all ages, but this is his first time publishing a memoir.  He grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation and was raised by an alcoholic father and a recovering alcoholic mother. He recounts the regular abuse, violence, and racism he both witnessed and experienced as a child in a moving mix of essays, letters, and poetry. He also describes the complicated relationship between himself and his mother as they both struggled with mental illness.

     

    3.22 Hillbilly ElegyHILLBILLY ELEGY
    By J.D. Vance
    (2016)

    Vance was raised Middletown Ohio by a family originally from Kentucky. His parents had moved for good factory jobs that temporarily provided them a middle class life, but never quite escaped the culture of poverty. Drug addiction, alcoholism, violence, and verbal abuse continue to plague their lives. Vance, now a Yale-educated lawyer, shares not just his own experiences, but an insightful sociological critique of hillbilly culture.

     

    3.22 Born A CrimeBORN A CRIME
    By Trevor Noah
    (2016)

    This is not your typical celebrity memoir. Comedian Trevor Noah, best known as the current host of the Daily Show, grew up in Apartheid South Africa as the son of a black mother and a white man. His parents’ union was illegal, and Trevor’s visibly mixed heritage meant that he couldn’t be seen with either parent in public without risking their arrest. BORN A CRIME is largely a love letter to Noah’s mother, a powerful, devout woman who fiercely protected her son.

     
  • history forgot

    History is seldom a straightforward affair, and often throws people who have made important contributions to the world to the wayside.  Especially when they don’t fit some predetermined profile of what someone with those contributions should be.  I think this forgotten and then rediscovered aspect adds an additional level of interest to their stories!  So many people think history is boring and dry, or very black and white.  The truth is that history is full of intrigue, mystery, and depth.  These five people are all noteworthy for contributions made, but have been banished to the margins of history all for different reasons. 

    11.30 Genius BelaboredGENIUS BELABORED: CHILDBED FEVER AND THE TRAGIC LIFE OF IGNAZ SEMMELWEIS
    By Theodore G Obenchain
    (2016)

    Before germ theory was understood and accepted, Hungarian obstetrician Ignaz Semmelweis had a brilliant solution to appalling mortality rates of new mothers caused by childbed fever: basic antiseptic measures such as hand washing by those attending births.  His solutions to childbed fever were ahead of his time, and rejected by the medical community for a number of reasons.  

     

     

    11.30 Rosalind FranklinROSALIND FRANKLIN: THE DARK LADY OF DNA
    By Brenda Maddox
    (2003)

    British chemist Rosalind Franklin was crucial to the discovery of the structure of DNA.  In 1962 her colleagues Maurice Wilkins, Francis Crick, and James Watson received the Nobel Prize but it was Franklin’s data and photographs, for which they did not give her credit, which led to their award-winning discovery.  

     

     

    11.30 The Fossil HunterTHE FOSSIL HUNTER: DINOSAURS, EVOLUTION, AND THE WOMAN WHOSE DISCOVERIES CHANGED THE WORLD
    By Shelley Emling
    (2011)

    The rhyme, “she sells sea shells by the sea shore” was inspired by Mary Anning, who discovered the first dinosaur skeleton at the age of twelve.  Before this discovery, it was widely believed that animals did not become extinct.  Her finds helped lay the groundwork for Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.  

     

     

    11.30 The Woman Who Would Be KingTHE WOMAN WHO WOULD BE KING
    Bby Kara Cooney
    (2014)

    Hatshepsut was one of the few women in the indigenous dynasties of Ancient Egypt to rise to the position of Pharaoh.  Of those few women, she reigned the longest.  Her reign included one of Egypt’s most productive building periods, but near the end of the reign of her successor someone tried to erase her from the historical record.  Henrietta Lacks – The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

     

     

    11.30 The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksTHE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS
    By Rebecca Skloot
    (2010) 

    The first “immortal” human cells, cells that will grow in culture, were gathered from a woman named Henrietta Lacks.  Her cells have been vital for many medical advances such as the polio vaccine, in vitro fertilization, gene mapping, and more.  However Henrietta was not ever informed that her cells had been taken and used for research, making way for all sorts of questions on ethics.