These are all great reading:
- An American Childhood by Annie Dillard
- 1950's Pittsburgh seems wrong for a girl destined to be a nature writer, poet, and mystic, but the author remembers her city, family, and upper middle class society with warmth and humor.
- American Shaolin: Flying Kicks, Buddhist Monks, and the Legend of Iron Crotch: An Odyssey in the New China by Matthew Polly
- Matthew Polly, Kansan, Mandarin Chinese studying Princeton student, and self described "98 pound weakling", takes two years off from college to study kung fu with the monks of the famous Shaolin temple in China while knocking a few items off the list of "What's Wrong With Matt". A hilarious, very savvy dude comes of age.
- The Cannibal Queen: an Aerial Odyssey Across America by Stephen Coonts
- Following the success of Flight of the Intruder and before his emergence as an author of thrillers, Coonts purchased a 1942 Stearman, learned to fly the "tail-dragger" and took off with his 14-year-old son to visit all 48 states. The book is his journal. He meets mom-and-pop airport owners, other authors, and fellow seekers, and shares his opinions on nearly everything from politics and flying regulations to being a father. You can see him, still flying from his farm in West Virginia at his web site.
- Dreams from My Father: a story of race and inheritance by Barack Obama
- The president's first memoir, in a novelistic form with long quoted conversations and evocative descriptions, focuses on his search for a personal identity and purpose through school and college, work as a community organizer in Chicago, and a trip to Kenya to meet with members of his father's extended family. It is remarkable for its lucid style, perspectives into race relations in America and abroad, and brief portraits of remarkable individuals. It is important for Americans as a view into what "community" means to our government's leader.
- The Eaves of Heaven: A Life in Three Wars by Andrew X. Pham
- In the 60's American soldiers asked themselves what it must have been like for their Vietnamese contemporaries, who had spent their entire lives at war. Pham answers this question with power, beautiful language, and a surprising message of hope.
- How I Learned To Snap by Kirk Read
- Funny coming of age story of an outgoing, acid witted, young gay man in Lexington, Virginia, trying to negotiate Valley high school culture and a military father, but supported by his unconventional mother.
- I'm Looking Through You: Growing Up Haunted by Jennifer Finney Boylan
- English professor Boylan finally underwent a sex change, male to female, in her late twenties, but in this layered, funny, and poignant memoir describes what it was like to grow up haunted in body, forced to live the conventions of a boy's life in public, while soothing himself by wearing his sister's bras filled with balled up socks, in private. Boylan was also haunted from the beginning in the family home in Pennsylvania by multiple strange apparitions and sightings, that few others saw. In one of the saddest parts, Boylan struggles to work up the nerve to tell his sister, to whom he was very close, about the impending transformation, but inexplicably when he does, by telephone, opportunities having slipped by in the face-to-face, she reacts coldly, angrily, and refuses further contact. In the end Boylan realizes that we are haunted by ourselves, by our future and other selves, looking out at us each time we gaze in the mirror.
- Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
- Love, War, and the 96th Engineers (Colored): The World War II New Guinea Diaires of Captain Hyman Samuelson
- What made this book appeal to me was the number of different ways in which it could be read -- a detailed description of military engineering during World War II; a thoughtful presentation principles of leadership; a depiction of race prejudice (affecting not only the African-American troops, but the Papuans among whom they operated; and a chillingly frank portrait of love, loss, and betrayal. Samuelson is a thoughtful and complicated man, but always honest.
- Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam
- Homer and several of his friends, growing up in a small West Virginia coal town in the Sputnik era, become heroes of their town by learning to build and launch rockets. Also a moving and nostalgic portrait of a troubled family living in a simpler, more innocent time.
- Soldier's Heart by Elizabeth D. Samet
- Samet, a civilian employee, began teaching English Literature to West Point cadets in October of 2001, and among her first assignments was greeting the parents of plebes: "They were all eager mothers and fathers whose concern about their children's progress in composition hid a deeper anxiety about what distant corner of the world they might be deployed to in a few years." The title comes from a turn-of-the-century term for battle fatigue, and the book is an exploration of the sustenance that cadets-turned-captains took from their reading, and the lessons the students-become-soldiers taught Samet. Along the way there are unexpected insights into expected classics: Thuycidides, Henry V, War and Peace, and the Iliad, and surprising cadet favorites, such as Virginia Woolf's Orlando, the poems of Wallace Stevens, and St. Exupery's Wind, Sand and Stars.
- Three by Lillian Hellman
- Contains all three of Hellman's autobiographical works: An Unfinished Woman, Pentimento, and Scoundrel Time. "Unfinished" is about her life while growing up in New Orleans and also the story of her longtime romantic relationship with mystery writer Dashiell Hammett. "Pentimento", consists of individual portraits of people important to Hellman in her life. "Scoundrel Time" is an amazing recounting of the devastating attacks on Hellman and many friends by the House Committee on Un-American Activities during the McCarthy years.
- The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit by Lucette Lagnado
- Wall Street Journal reporter Lagnado writes of her loving, devoted relationship with her father. A dapper, successful capitalist he and his family lost all when they were forced to leave Cairo in 1963. Ultimately they settled in Brooklyn after a sojourn in Paris. Her father's strong Jewish faith seemed to sustain and occupy him as the family circumstances changed and declined. The reader gets a real sense of life and community in Cairo, Paris, and Brooklyn.