A Fortunate Life by Fred H. Rohn

I am very excited to share the cover to a special project I have been working on for the past year.


A Fortunate Life is written by my father, Fred H. Rohn.

image0-jpgAuthor Fred H. Rohn grew up on Hurden Street in Hillside, New Jersey, a place that played a pivotal role in his upbringing.

From bike rides and street games in Hillside, to marriage and children in the town of Madison, Rohn shares his experiences of growing up during the Depression, attending college, serving in the Navy, embarking on a business career, and marrying his best friend and high school sweetheart.

Offering an important historical perspective on growing up in the twentieth century, this memoir shares what Rohn considers to be the factors of a fortunate life. Interspersed with photographs from past and present, he shows how one small life fits, as a microcosm, into the fabric of family, friends, and an ever-changing world environment.

A Fortunate Life, published by Archway Publishing, will be available soon on Amazon and Barnes and Noble in print and eBook formats.

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That’s life! Books about life

Life has many ups and downs, but you can always count on a book to get you through the tougher days.  Heavy or light, fiction or nonfiction, there is no shortage of books on the subject!

Books with the word “life” in the title:

Archie The Married Life
Archie – The Married Life Book 2
by Paul Kupperberg
:  Even comic book characters have challenges and Archie has his hands full with both Betty and Veronica!

Barbarian Days A Surfing Life
Barbarian Days:  A Surfing Life
by William Finnegan:  winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Biography, a self-portrait of a life-long surfer.

Dear Life coverDear Life by Alice Munro:  terrific collection of short fiction by one of the best.

life after life pic

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson:  One of the best books I’ve ever read, Atkinson looks at the what-ifs during the world-changing events of World War II.

Stll Life with Bread Crumbs
Still Life with Bread Crumbs
by Anna Quindlen:  Love enters the picture at all stages of life in this popular story.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty new
“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”
by James Thurber:  A henpecked husband escapes into his own world in this Thurber classic.

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace
The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace
by Jeff Hobbs:  an absorbing story about a super smart and caring guy from a poor neighborhood in New Jersey who just couldn’t make it work.

The Story of My Life
by Helen Keller:  Helen Keller lost her sight and hearing as a baby and overcame tremendous obstacles and became a well-known supporter of many causes.

Of course you don’t have to have the word “life” in the title to write about the subject.  Here are some notables from this year’s reading list:

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway:  Hemingway looks back on his days in Paris and his marriage to Hadley Richardson.

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín:  A young Irish woman takes a chance on a better life in America after World War II.

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume:  a fictionalized depiction of life in 1950s Elizabeth, New Jersey when three planes crashed in their town.

My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout:  How do you put the hushed experiences of your childhood into words, and should you?

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie:  terrific semi-autobiographical story about a life of poverty on the Spokane Indian reservation.

The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler:  Life changes in an instant when a man’s wife dies.  Will he get a chance to fix unreconciled conflicts in his marriage?

The Hours Count by Jillian Cantor:  great 1950s historical fiction about the lives of accused spies, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were the only civilian Americans to be killed for spying for the Russians.

Traveling Mercies – Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott:  an honest and often humorous memoir about finding faith.

We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas:  A family’s life is transformed after a loved-one’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler:  a solid reminder that successful people put in a lot of time at the bottom, before anyone knows about them.

Thanks for visiting – back to my book!

Currently reading The Time Between by Karen White

Traveling Mercies – Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott

Traveling Mercies – Some Thoughts on Faith

Anne Lamott

4 book marks

It isn’t easy to categorize this memoir about personal growth and faith.  I had not read anything by Lamott before my book club friend chose Traveling Mercies, which was published in 1999.  Lamott is an Amercian novelist and nonfiction writer.  Her first nonfiction book, Operating Instructions:  A Journal of My Son’s First Year, was published in 1993.  Lamott’s most recent novel, Imperfect Birds was published in 2010 and her most recent nonfiction, Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace was published in 2013.

Born and raised in San Francisco, Lamott grew up in an unhappy home as a middle child in the 1960s and by thirteen, she and her friends were drinking and using drugs regularly.  Her parents were both free spirited, non-religious intellectuals and, as a girl, she felt the comfort of community in many of her friends’ religions.  She found her anchor in the St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in San Francisco, but she battled depression, alcoholism, drug abuse and bulimia for many years, returning to St. Andrew’s to make sense of her struggles.

The subject is heavy, but Lamott writes with honest humor.  She openly shares her weaknesses, failures, fears and bad judgement, not to preach or convert, but to tell the story of her journey as a single mother with a lot of issues.  Her faith is highly personalized, tweaked to help her through difficult decisions and feelings of inadequacy.

Lamott adored her father, Kenneth Lamott, who was a writer and literary figure and a central figure in her life.  His diagnosis of brain cancer and death at age fifty-six was a major blow to Lamott.  She wrote Hard Laughter, her first published novel, as a tribute to him.

Traveling Mercies is an excellent read.  The book’s appeal lies in its accepting and non-judgemental delivery.  Lamott isn’t sending a message.  She is telling us what works for her.  I recommend Traveling Mercies to anyone who is interested in personal growth and in understanding relationships.

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Helen Keller – The Story of My Life


Helen Keller – The Story of My Life

4 book marks

If you grew up in the United States, you very likely learned about Helen Keller in school.  She was an American girl from Alabama who lost her sight and hearing as a baby and determinedly overcame these obstacles to become a writer, a social activist and an advocate for the blind and deaf.

With the help of her devoted teacher, Anne Sullivan, Keller learned to write and speak.  She attended special schools for the blind and deaf and graduated from Radcliffe College as the first blind and deaf person to earn a bachelor’s degree.  Keller wrote The Story of My Life in 1902.  By then she was a young woman and was a student at Radcliffe.

Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan. Photo courtesy of Perkins Institute for the Blind

Keller’s early life is also depicted on the stage and in film.  William Gibson wrote The Miracle Worker, a three-act biographical play about Anne Sullivan which premiered on Broadway in 1959.  Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke starred in the 1962 movie adaptation of the same name.  Both actresses won Academy Awards for their performances.  Many of you will remember the famous water pump scene from the movie in which Sullivan teaches Keller about water by showing her how it feels on her hand.

I knew all that before I read The Story of My Life.  But I didn’t know about Helen’s many famous friends, including innovator and scientist Alexander Graham Bell, to whom her memoir is dedicated, poet John Greenleaf Whittier, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, First Lady Mrs. Grover Cleveland, and authors Mark Twain and Edward Everett Hale.

The book is divided into two sections.  The first section is Keller’s personal story of how she learned to break free from the dark and silent world she inhabited.  She had an intense desire to experience everything around her and was fortunate to have many opportunities to do so.  She learned how to communicate, first through Sullivan’s system of spelling out words in Keller’s hand, and later by reading braille and writing letters first by hand and later with a braille typewriter.  Being able to read and write made all things possible.

The second section of the book is a collection of letters Keller wrote to friends, family and dignitaries dating from 1887-1901.  While I enjoyed reading her personal story, I think the letters show the real Helen Keller, a wonderful and loving little girl who was able to find joy in the smallest of things and who was interested in everything she came in contact with.  I was amazed at how quickly she learned and how extensive her vocabulary was.  The letters begin when she was seven years old and in just a short period, they show an explosion of knowledge and ability.

Keller’s early years had ups and downs like any normal childhood.  She refers to one particular event in which she was accused of plagiarizing a story she wrote as a birthday present for Michael Anagnos, the director of the Perkins Institute for the Blind where she was a student.  When it was discovered that her story very closely resembled a previously published story, Keller could not imagine how she could have written one so similar.  It was later believed that the original story had been read to her years before and Keller had simply absorbed it as she had many other stories, only to emerge later.  Sadly, this marked the end of her friendship with Anagnos.

I also enjoyed reading about the rigorous preparation and enormous effort it took for Keller to be admitted into college.  She had to pass exams to demonstrate proficiency in a wide variety of subjects.  Keller struggled with math, especially algebra and geometry.  Imagine having to learn these subjects without seeing!  She had to take her math exams in a different version of braille, and the symbols were different from the ones she knew.  In college, acquiring textbooks in braille, attending lectures and having Sullivan spell them out in Keller’s hand were just a few of the things she had to do.  When a textbook was unavailable in braille, Sullivan would read and spell out the texts to Keller. Talk about perseverance and dedication!

Keller spent much of her adult life writing, traveling and campaigning for various social causes including women’s suffrage.  She was a member of the Socialist Party of America and the Industrial Workers of the World.  She died in 1968 at age eighty-seven and has since received many posthumous awards and commendations.

I highly recommend this memoir.  I love reading about people who make things happen.  It’s a great example of someone who never felt sorry for herself and expanded her world despite her limitations.

Helen Keller learned how to print using a grooved board to keep her letters and lines straight. Image courtesy of Massachusetts Historical Society.

Are you wondering how Helen Keller learned to write letters like this?

Helen Keller wrote many letters to her friends and family members and she used a grooved writing board to learn how write them.  The board helped her form each letter and keep the lines straight, a painstaking process which she learned with determination and cheer.  She explains how it works in this letter to the children’s monthly, St. Nicholas:

It gives me very great pleasure to send you my autograph because I want the boys and girls who read St. Nicholas to know how blind children write.  I suppose some of them wonder how we keep the lines so straight so I will try to tell them how it is done.  We have a grooved board which we put between the pages when we wish to write.  The parallel grooves correspond to lines and when we have pressed the paper into them by means of the blunt end of the pencil it is very easy to keep the words even.  The small letters are all made in the grooves, while the long ones extend above and below them.  We guide the pencil with the right hand, and feel carefully with the forefinger of the left hand to see that we shape and space the letters correctly.  It is very difficult at first to form them plainly, but if we keep on trying it gradually becomes easier, and after a great deal of practice we can write legible letters to our friends.  Then we are very, very happy.

Here are two additional Helen Keller books

Helen in Love:  A Novel by Rosie Sultan   Helen Keller reportedly fell in love with a man named Peter Fagan, who had been hired as a private secretary during Anne Sullivan’s absence.  Published in 2013, Sultan tells the story of this relationship.

Helen Keller:  A Life by Dorothy Herrmann  – 1999 well-known and respected biography, now on hold for me at the library.

Want to learn more about Helen Keller?  Check out these resources:

American Foundation for the Blind
Perkins School for the Blind

Looking for memoirs to read?  Find out more here.

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Who’s That Indie Author? Gerhard Maroscher

Who's That Indie Author pic


Author name:  Gerhard Maroscher

Genre:  Memoir

BookWhy Can’t Somebody Just Die Around Here?


Bio: Gerhard was born in Transylvania (part of Romania) during WWII. He and his family miraculously survived the war and the deprivation thereafter. After the war they fled communist countries, eventually immigrating to the USA. Gerhard worked as an engineer for 34 years after serving in Vietnam. Following his retirement he began a second career as a high school German teacher. While immersed in teaching, he wrote and published German short stories for learners of German. After his second retirement he wrote his memoir.          

Favorite thing about being a writer: Giving author talks where I get to tell my story, feedback from readers, and meeting interesting people

Biggest challenge as an indie author: Using technology and social media to market my books effectively

Favorite book: Ken Follett Century Trilogy.

Contact Information: website:  The Maroscher Story, Short Fiction website:  German Readers, Twitter:  @gmaroscher1, Facebook:  Why Can’t Somebody Just Die Around Here?

Awards and recognition: Why Can’t Somebody Just Die Around Here? received the 2016 IAN Outstanding Non-Fiction Book of the Year Award for history. The book also received a positive review from Kirkus.

Are you an indie author?  Do you want to build your indie author network? Why not get your name out on Who’s That Indie Author?

Email bvitelli2009@gmail.com for a bio template and other details, and follow along on Book Club Mom to join the indie author community!

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Memoirs – it’s a love-hate relationship!

I don’t like memoirs, but I read them anyway!  Why is that?  Because I’m drawn to stories about people.  I’ve certainly reviewed a bunch and enjoyed many, despite their self-indulgent tendencies.  Here’s what I mean:

a-moveable-feastA Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway – Gave it 5 bookmarks because I love all things Hemingway.

widow's story

A Widow’s Story by Joyce Carol Oates – Oates went through a hard time after her husband died and she wasn’t afraid to share the scary parts.

battlehymnBattle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua – Didn’t like it but I read every page and was eager to discuss it at my book club.

halfbrokehorsesHalf Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls – This one has an easy flow.  I liked learning more about The Glass Castle family, but The Castle is better.

I'll Sleep When I'm DeadI’ll Sleep When I’m Dead by Crystal Zevon – I was more interested in Warren Zevon than Crystal, and she does a lot of name-dropping, but I thought she did a good job assembling these memories and showing Warren’s complicated personality.

MennoniteMennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen – Sometimes funny, but questionable motives in this one.

NightNight by Elie Wiesel – Hands down 5 bookmarks for this important read about surviving the Holocaust.

onceuponOnce Upon a Secret:  My Affair with President John F. Kennedy by Mimi Alford – Did you think sex and politics was a new thing?

The Art of AskingThe Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer – Palmer is a very interesting person and, although I felt a little duped by the title, I liked learning about her life and marriage to Neil Gaiman.

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert PeaceThe Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs – Indeed a tragic story about a super-smart guy who just couldn’t make it work.

throughmyeyesThrough My Eyes by Tim Tebow – Tebow! Tebow! Tebow! – We certainly had a lot of him a few years back.  College football fans will like this one – lots of play-by-play of important games, but definitely self-indulgent.

Yes PleaseYes Please by Amy Poehler – Poehler is down-to-earth and it was fun to relive some SNL moments.

Here are some excellent memoirs I’ve read but haven’t reviewed:

 Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

If you like lists, you’ll like seeing what memoirs everyone should read:

Early Bird Books – 10 Famous Memoirs Everyone Should Read Once
Ranker – The Best Memoirs Ever Written
Amazon – Best Selling Memoirs
Amazon – 100 Biographies & Memoirs to Read in a Lifetime

Now I want to read these:

  • Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen – I’ve heard it was excellent and hey, I’m from Jersey!
  • The Story of My Life by Helen Keller – it’s amazing how much Helen Keller overcame.
  • West with the Night by Beryl Markham – Hemingway thought it was excellent and he told his editor that it was so good he was “was completely ashamed of (himself) as a writer.”
  • When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi – the wait list at the library is long, but I’m patient.

What memoirs or autobiographies are your favorites?

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A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway


A Moveable Feast – The Restored Edition
Ernest Hemingway

4 book marks

In 1928, Ernest Hemingway stored two steamer trunks at the Ritz Hotel in Paris and didn’t retrieve them until 1956.  Inside the trunks were notes and papers from his days in Paris, during the time when he wrote his first novel, The Sun Also Rises, and was married to his first wife, Hadley Richardson.

Seeing these notes prompted Hemingway to begin working on a memoir of his days in Paris, where he was part of the expatriate community of writers, artists and creative minds, known now as the “Lost Generation”, a term attributed to Gertrude Stein.  By the 1950s, however, Hemingway was suffering from many conditions, injuries resulting from two serious plane crashes, poor eyesight, depression and different paranoias.  He committed suicide in 1961, leaving the book unfinished.  After his death, his fourth wife, Mary Welsh, edited the manuscript and the first edition of A Moveable Feast was published in 1964.

My interest in the Lost Generation started a few years ago after I read The Sun Also Rises and then read more about Paris in the 1920s and of the talented writers and artists who lived there and met in the city’s cafés.  Then I read The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, a terrific historical fiction about Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson.  After that, it only made sense to go back to the source, A Moveable Feast.

It’s fascinating to me that so many talented people were all together in Paris.  Did they know they were part of this creative burst?  Some of the well-knowns were F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, James Joyce and Gertrude Stein.  Others included Wyndham Lewis, Ford Maddux Ford, and Ernest Walsh, names I didn’t know, but enjoyed reading about.

The book reads a lot like Hemingway’s fiction.  His simple writing style is identical.  Hemingway presents a vivid picture of this time period and, in particular, talks easily about his relationships with Hadley, Stein, and Fitzgerald.  I liked reading about his disciplined approach to writing and his desire for perfection.  He was very focused on writing what he called “true” sentences and was not happy unless he had put in a productive time writing, often in cafés or in a sparse rented room.  I think he makes it very clear how hard writing is and how devoted and conscientious a writer must be.

I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next.  That way I could be sure of going on the next day.

Hemingway and Hadley seemed very happy in their marriage, despite being poor.  He describes an easy and affectionate relationship.  This is, of course, before his affair with Pauline Pfeiffer, who would become his second wife.  He seems to deeply regret hurting Hadley and writes:

The bulldozing of three people’s hearts to destroy one happiness and build another and the love and the good work and all that came out of it is not part of this book.  I wrote it and left it out.  It is a complicated, valuable and instructive story.  How it all ended, finally, has nothing to do with this either.  Any blame in that was mine to take and possess and understand.  The only one, Hadley, who had no possible blame, ever, came well out of it finally and married a much finer man than I ever was or could hope to be and is happy and deserves it and that was one good and lasting thing that came of that year.

His relationship with the American writer and art collector, Gertrude Stein, gave him confidence, but lasted only a few years.  In the book, Hemingway explains the friendship and tries to understand why it ended.

Hemingway also discusses his friendship with F. Scott Fitzgerald, including Scott’s marriage to Zelda.  He recognizes a great talent, but even before Hemingway meets Zelda, he can see Fitzgerald’s life and marriage spiraling.  After reading The Great Gatsby, Hemingway understands his role as a friend.

When I had finished the book I knew that no matter what Scott did, nor how preposterously he behaved, I must know it was like a sickness and be of any help I could to him and try to be a good friend.  He had many good, good friends, more than anyone I knew.  But I enlisted as one more, whether I could be of any use to him or not.  If he could write a book as fine as The Great Gatsby I was sure that he could write an even better one.  I did not know Zelda yet, and so I did not know the terrible odds that were against him.  But we were to find out soon enough.

Other topics include horse racing, boxing, eating, drinking and writing in cafés, skiing in the Austrian Alps and the story of how Hadley lost all his papers and previous manuscripts on a train.  I very much enjoyed reading about Hemingway during this time, although I’m sure it is subjective.  I had read that Hemingway was very difficult to live with – that seems to be left out here, except for one reference to his own hot temper.

My earlier impression of an aimless group of hard-drinking and pleasure-seeking writers and artists changed a bit after reading his account and I recommend the book to anyone who wants to know more about Hemingway and this group.

Some side notes:

You might like these other Hemingway books and short stories:

The Sun Also Rises
A Farewell to Arms
The Old Man and the Sea
“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”
“Hills Like White Elephants”
“The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber”

You can find a lot of information about Hemingway online.  Click here to view his Wikipedia page.

A sad history of suicide has plagued generations of Hemingways, beginning with Ernest Hemingway’s father.  Hemingway’s sister and brother also took their own lives, as did his granddaughter, Margaux.  In an effort to understand and avoid this trap, Margaux’s sister, Mariel made a documentary entitled “Running from Crazy”.  You can read a CNN article about this 2013 film here.

The Restored Edition of Hemingway’s memoir was edited by his grandson Seán Hemingway, who is a curator of ancient art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Seán also wrote the introduction.  Hemingway’s son Patrick (from his marriage to Pauline Pfeiffer) wrote the foreward.  This edition is different from the first, in that the chapters are ordered differently and a few extra sections are added, including transcriptions of Hemingway’s false starts for his introduction.  Some people were critical of Mary Welsh’s introduction and her editing and this newer version seeks to share all the parts of his manuscript.  I enjoyed reading an interesting article about The Restored Edition of A Moveable Feast from popmatters.com.

Hemingway had a hard time with marriage and was married four times.  Read more about his wives on Wikipedia:

Hadley Richardson
Pauline Pfeiffer
Martha Gellhorn
Mary Welsh

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