Library Moments: Books about famous people written by their children

Bessie Sullivan, County Librarian: Hello, I’m Bessie Sullivan from the Haliburton County Public Library and this is Library Moments. Once a week some of us from the library will come and talk about books, upcoming events, or the services we offer at the library.

When people write a biography it is about someone else.  Whose story are they really telling the person who is the subject of the book, or their own story?  In the case of the biographies we are discussing today that question gets even more complicated because these are three biographies written by the children of famous parents.  What is the motivation for writing the book?  To tell the parent’s story, to tell their own, or is it a combination of the two?

Today on Library Moments, Sherrill Sherwood, Erin Kernohan-Berning and I will each talk about a book by a famous person, written by their child.

waylonSherrill Sherwood, Collections Development: Rock ‘n’ roll was still in its infancy when it suffered its first tragedy. On Feb. 3, 1959, three of its biggest stars — Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson, known as the Big Bopper — were killed in a plane crash. On tour with them, Waylon Jennings gave up his seat to Richardson, who was ill. Waylon escaped death that day and went on to become a country music trailblazer, one of the genre’s original “outlaws”. In the early 1970s, Waylon began securing his position as a country outsider – a baritone-voiced, black-hat-wearing troublemaker who succeeded despite breaking all the rules. With the aptly-titled 1973 album Lonesome, On’ry And Mean, he began producing his own records and letting his regular band play on them – both Nashville no-no’s. “It was a big battle for me to get control of my career,” he said later. Waylon: Tales Of My Outlaw Dad, published in April of this year, is a loving tribute written by Waylon’s son Terry Jennings. Born when Waylon was only nineteen,Terry dropped out of high school, joined his dad on tour, and the two became more like brothers than father and son. On the road, they toured with legends like Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, and Jessi Colter, Waylon’s fourth and final wife. Waylon’s success was at times eclipsed by his demons – three divorces, crippling debt, and a depression that Terry traces back to the premature death of Buddy Holly. Through it all, Terry worked on the touring crew, helped manage Waylon’s career, and became one of his father’s closest friends. Debunking myths and sharing incredible never-before-told stories, this book is a son’s loving and strikingly honest portrait of his father, who he calls “the greatest Outlaw country musician to grace this earth” and  an unlikely but devoted family man.

a carlin home companionErin Kernohan-Berning, Branch Services Librarian: Comedian George Carlin was known for his smart, antiestablishment, and misanthropic humour. He is possibly most well known for his Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television routine. George Carlin’s career really began to take off in the 1970s, when recreational drug use and fame were inevitable bedfellows, which was also the same decade in which his only daughter Kelly was hitting her formative years. In A Carlin Home Companion by Kelly Carlin she talks about what it was like growing up with George Carlin as a dad, life on the road, the roller coaster of drug abuse, health scares, and IRS debt, and how being the only “adult” in the family really didn’t prepare her for adulthood. But there are also tender moments like George waking Kelly up to see the Apollo moon landing, and how from the road he sent her postcards with one word on them so she could string the message together – despite the ups and downs it is clear there was a lot of love in the Carlin family and that they doted on one another.

My husband is a big fan of George Carlin, and saw one of his last shows at Casino Rama. However, he had a difficult time with this books as, although the title – A Carlin Home Companion: Growing up with George – might suggest the focus would be on George’s life as told by his daughter, it really is more about his daughter’s life. This has been a common criticism in reviews of the book. However, there are many positive reviews as well – it just depends what you are after. If you are looking for the life of George Carlin you may be better reading his autobiography Last Words. But if you are looking for the story of a woman whose life’s journey was heavily influenced by her famous father, A Carlin Home Companion: Growing up with George would be worth your while to read.

the stone throwerBessie Sullivan, County Librarian: In The Stone Thrower, a daughter discovers herself while uncovering her father’s legendary past in football. At the age of thirty, Jael Ealey Richardson travelled with her father – former CFL quarterback Chuck Ealey – for the first time to a small town in southern Ohio for his fortieth high school reunion. Knowing very little about her father’s past, Richardson was searching for the story behind her father’s move from the projects of Portsmouth, Ohio to Canada’s professional football league in the early 1970s. As Richardson begins unravelling the story of her father’s life, she compares her own childhood growing up in Canada, with her father’s US civil rights era upbringing. Along the way, she also discovers the real reason – despite his athletic accomplishments – her father was never drafted into the National Football League. The Stone Thrower is a moving story about race and destiny written by a daughter looking for answers about her own black history. Using insightful interviews, archival records and her personal reflections, Richardson’s journey to learn about her father’s past leads her to her own important discoveries about herself, and what it really means to be black in Canada.

I think that when a child writes a biography of a parent they can’t help but tell their own story too.  Hearing about a person from the perspective of their offspring does provide a unique perspective and can make for some very interesting reading whether it’s the story you wanted to hear or not.  Thank you for listening to Library Moments here on 100.9 Canoe FM.

*Originally aired on 100.9 CANOE FM, May 8th – 14th, 2016.

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