Tag Archives: biography

Read: The other Wes Moore: one name, two fates by Wes Moore

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The other Wes Moore: one name, two fates is a fascinating that is part memoir and part biography about two men from Baltimore growing up at the same time with the same name. As the subtitle suggests, their lives diverge and are polar opposites despite their oddly similar beginnings.

The audiobook is read by the author himself, which makes the story even interesting. It is a great way to enjoy the book since Moore does a wonderful job of reading and has great dynamics and intonation. Listening as an audiobook also adds more emotion to the story since there are many difficult times and passages for both men.

Despite having eerily similar family situations and starting environments, each Wes Moore makes decisions early on that set them on different paths but it isn’t until middle/high school that their lives become set. The author could have ended up like the other Wes Moore if his mom hadn’t made drastic changes and stretched their financial resources to ensure that his life was better than hers. He was sent to military school that in fact straightened him out whereas the other Wes Moore didn’t have the same opportunities and his mom struggled to support their family so like his brother he began dealing drugs to make copious amounts of money and couldn’t quit it for good then ended up in prison after a robbery was interrupted. Clearly environment as well as nurture played important roles in shaping both of their lives, for better and worse.

This is another timely book even though it is several years old. In a way, it reminds me somewhat of Between the world and me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and is a good pair to it.

Recommended?: Yes, for anyone who enjoys a memoir and is interested in reading about two very different lives of black men from Baltimore. It is a serious book but there is a lot to learn from it and certainly worth a read.

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Read: Every love story is a ghost story: a life of David Foster Wallace by D.T. Max

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I’ll be honest, this book took me a long time to get through. It was a marvelous, meticulous, fascinating read that was also dense and complex. A work to steep oneself in, taking the time to truly understand the literary life along with the personal path of David Foster Wallace (DFW). Or, to put it a different way, reading it any faster would have fried my brain with the overload of details and tangents that entangle the entire book. To offer D.T. Max the highest compliment, Every love story is a ghost story: a life of David Foster Wallace, reads like DFW’s Infinite jest, with beautiful, jam-packed sentences, ever-moving story and scenes, and the requisite multitude of jarring and subdued endnotes that keep the reader flipping back and forth to break up the reading experience. Nicely done, Max, nicely done! This biography masqueraded as fiction most of the time, as it was so well-crafted and focused on telling a rich tale, which I loved because I am not typically a fan of non-fiction.

This sense of familiarity between Max with DFW creates a closeness for readers, taking us on the life and literary journey as it is told. The literary portion entwines with the biographical details to show that both inform each other for DFW, which feels genuine and likely the truth for DFW. We sit with him in his apartment, walls covered in written passages of his current writing endeavor along with his correspondence with author friends, as he struggles to work and his dogs run a-muck. We contemplate with him about the influence and inspiration of other writing on his own. Having not read all of DFW’s works that Max discusses, I felt like I missed out on the insight of Max’s literary criticisms for those works. For the portion about DFW writing and publicizing Infinite Jest I felt much more connected to the story, having read that work. Max has an amazing ability to succinctly interpret and offer profound criticism of DFW’s writing in powerful sentences that hint at a depth below the surface comment. This became apparent to me during this portion, so I want to now read other DFW works and re-read corresponding passages in this book to understand them both better.

Max conveys DFW in all of his complexity, which I appreciate because I completely changed the image of DFW in my mind from very little about what I actually knew about him. DFW struggled in many aspects of life, even with his writing, but he forever strived to be better, remain sober, and a genuine person. His personal change and growth during his lifetime is incredible and he shared his lessons with anyone he could, including young writings who were as idealistic and cocky as he had been. Max provides a clear, factual, and balanced perspective on DFW and his life, which is refreshing because it never becomes emotional nor feels distant. It is as if we are living life along with DFW and that is the sign of a true writer, when they fade from the pages and the reader is caught up in the writing and people.

The biography is crafted as if it was written by a close friend or even sibling, and in a few instances as if by DFW himself due to the amount of insight and deep knowledge not only about what DFW’s personal history but also his inner thoughts and feelings. Throughout reading this, I believed that Max and DFW knew each other very well, however, Max admits in the first sentence of his acknowledgments at the end of the book that he never actually met DFW, merely saw him once from afar. That makes this biography all the more profound and stunning, since 5 of the 6 pages of acknowledgements list the names of everyone who knew DFW well and contributed stories, letters, notes, and personal history about then man that they loved and admired, despite the likely pain and sadness that the remembrances caused even a couple of years after his suicide. Max represents DFW’s personal struggles matter-of-factly and builds subtly towards what could be an emotional, dramatic climax but Max resists sensationalism, ending simply and plainly with great respect for DFW and his work.

Recommended?: For those who love DFW, are interested in learning more about him and his life, anyone wanting to read his work but hasn’t yet (as this is a good taste of what he and it is like), and fans of biographies or literary criticism. Okay, let’s through in aspiring, or current, writers since this is a well-written book and DFW offers much advice throughout. If you enjoy and can finish this biography, you are ready for Infinite Jest. Keep in mind, both require two bookmarks (one for endnotes in the back).

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