Once again, my hometown library held a stellar book sale, and once again, I brought home “way too many” books. While almost all of the books I chose are works of fiction, the following three are works of non-fiction that I could not pass up (and three works that I haven’t yet read). They are: Part of My Soul Went with Him by Winnie Mandela, Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles J. Shields, and Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years by Sarah and A. Elzabeth Delany with Amy Hill Hearth.
Part of My Soul Went with Him Winnie Mandela
Edited by Anne Benjamin and adapted by Mary Benson, Part of My Soul Went with Him begins with an editorial note by the former. Here is a snippet:
This is not an autobiography in the conventional sense…Winnie Mandela granted me the privilege of conducting lengthy tape-recorded interviews with her over a considerable period of time. She also entrusted me with letters from her husband in jail and other documents for selection, editing and publication. This book was compiled outside South Africa, and although Mrs Mandela was fully informed about the project, she could not see the manuscript in detail before it went into print.
This book about Winnie Mandela’s life was published in 1985, and tells the story of her activism, her younger days, and the day her husband, Nelson Mandela, was arrested and began his 27-year imprisonment. Information about uprisings, trials, and various images fill the pages, and in the introduction (following the editorial note), Anne Benjamin describes her meetings with Winnie Mandela. If you cannot immediately get your hands on a copy, I would implore you to read about Winnie Mandela in other places, like South African History Online and the BBC.
Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee
Charles J. Shields
As this book was written in 2006, it is pre-Go Set A Watchman (a quick Goodreads search shows me that just one biography or study of Nelle Harper Lee has been published since Lee’s second novel was published), and is the culmination of hundreds of interviews from friends, associates, and even former classmates. Charles J. Shields says in the introduction that Harper Lee denied his repeated requests to even fact check some of the details from his interviews. This makes me smile, because well, I’m not exactly sure. It just does.
Having our Say: The Delany Sisters’
First 100 Years Sarah and A. Elizabeth Delany with Amy Hill Hearth
Published in 1993, this oral history is about sisters Sarah “Sadie” Delany and Annie Elizabeth “Bessie” Delany and their lives in the Jim Crow south, NYC during the Harlem renaissance, and later on in a white suburb. Bessie became a dentist in Harlem, and Sadie became the first African-American teacher (home economics) at the all-white Theodore Roosevelt High School. In 1991, The New York Times gave Amy Hill Hearth an assignment to interview the Delany sisters, who had just turned one-hundred (Bessie) and one-hundred and two (Sadie) years old. After Hearth’s piece was published, letters, requests for interviews, and requests for public appearances were sent to the sisters, and almost all were declined. In the preface, Amy Hill Hearth describes why the sisters agreed to the proposal of a book:
Among those who read my article were editors at Kodansha America, Inc., who felt that the Delanys’ story deserved to be a book. At first the sisters demurred, unsure that their life stories were sufficiently interesting or significant. But they came to see that by recording their story, they were participating in a tradition as old as time: the passing of knowledge and experience from one generation to the next.
After reviewing these three picks I’m reminded that I need to incorporate more non-fiction into my reading. At 25 I still know very little about people and the world, and it certainly won’t hurt picking up a biography or memoir more than once in a while. Passing of knowledge isn’t just the writers’ or orators’ responsibility; it’s the readers’ too.