Becoming–with Michelle Obama!

November is a big month in the world of biography! The reason? It’s the launch of Michelle Obama’s highly anticipated memoir, Becoming. Becoming covers everything from childhood to work to politics–as well as more recent goings-on at the White House. And while Obama is currently on a stadium-sized book tour in the US, you can get a sneak preview of your own by checking out a sample chapter in the Guardian (and don’t forget to have a browse of our other great new biographies, too!).

Syndetics book coverBecoming: a memoir / Michelle Obama
“In her memoir, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her–from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it.” (Adapted from the Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverInheritance: a memoir of genealogy, paternity, and love / Dani Shapiro
“In the spring of 2016, through a genealogy website to which she had submitted her DNA for analysis, Dani Shapiro received the news that her father was not her biological father. She woke up one morning and her entire history–the life she had lived–crumbled beneath her. Inheritance is a book about secrets–secrets within families, kept out of shame or self-protectiveness; secrets we keep from one another in the name of love.” (Adapted from the Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverIn pieces: a memoir / Sally Field
“In this intimate, haunting literary memoir, an American icon tells her own story for the first time–about a challenging and lonely childhood, the craft that helped her find her voice and a powerful emotional legacy that shaped her journey as a daughter and a mother. Powerful and unforgettable, In Pieces is an inspiring and important account of life as a woman in the second half of the twentieth century.” (Adapted from the Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverSmall fry / Lisa Brennan-Jobs
Small Fry is Lisa Brennan-Jobs’s poignant story of a childhood spent between two imperfect but extraordinary homes. Scrappy, wise and funny, young Lisa is an unforgettable guide through her parents’ fascinating and disparate worlds. Part portrait of a complex family, part love letter to California in the seventies and eighties, Small Fry is an enthralling book by an insightful new literary voice.” (Adapted from the Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverMad, bad, dangerous to know: the fathers of Wilde, Yeats, and Joyce / Colm Tóibín
“From Colm Tóibín comes an intimate study of Irish history and literature told through the lives and work of three men–William Wilde, John Butler Yeats and John Stanislaus Joyce–and the relationships they had with their sons. Tóibín recounts the resistance to English cultural domination, the birth of modern Irish cultural identity and the extraordinary contributions of these complex and masterful authors.” (Adapted from the Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverHeavy: an American memoir / Kiese Laymon
“In this powerful and provocative memoir, genre-bending essayist and novelist Kiese Laymon explores what the weight of a lifetime of secrets, lies and deception does to a black body, a black family and a nation teetering on the brink of moral collapse.” (Adapted from the Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverBrutally honest / Melanie Brown
“As one-fifth of the iconic Spice Girls and judge on X Factor and America’s Got Talent, Melanie Brown, a.k.a Scary Spice, has been an international star since her twenties. Brutally Honest is an exposé of the struggles and acute pain that lay behind the glamour and success.” (Adapted from the Syndetics summary.)

Backstairs of History: The Best of Recent Biographies

I am, I am, I am Cover

Have you ever thought about writing your memoirs? Of course you have! And you don’t need to be a famous politician or a rock star or an eccentric billionaire to do it—some of the most radical (and successful) memoirs have been written by normal-ish human beings!

But perhaps you need a bit more encouragement? Never fear, below is a list of some of the best biographies of the last few years, and while, yes, there is a celebrity or two, there are ordinary people as well, and each of them have expanded the idea of what a memoir can accomplish—and whose voices need to be heard!

The beautiful struggle : a memoir / Coates, Ta-Nehisi
“With a remarkable ability to reimagine both the lost world of his father’s generation and the terrors and wonders of his own youth in 1980’s Baltimore, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers readers a small and beautiful epic about boys trying to become men in black America and beyond.” (Catalogue)

I am, I am, I am : seventeen brushes with death / O’Farrell, Maggie
“A terrifying encounter on a remote path. A mismanaged labour in an understaffed hospital. This is a memoir with a difference: seventeen encounters with Maggie at different ages, in different locations, reveal to us a whole life in a series of tense, visceral snapshots. It is a book to make you question yourself: what would you do if your life was in danger?” (Catalogue)

Hunger : a memoir of (my) body / Gay, Roxane
“Gay, who deals fearlessly with our hardest truths in both essays (the New York Times best-selling Bad Feminist) and fiction (An Untamed State, an LJ Best Book), here addresses issues of eating and self-image, then broadens her meditation on body as she examines violence against women, starting with a terrible incident in her youth.” (Catalogue)

Making rent in Bed-Stuy : a memoir of trying to make it in New York City / Harris, Brandon
“A young African American millennial filmmaker’s funny, sometimes painful, true-life coming-of-age story of trying to make it in New York City–a chronicle of poverty and wealth, creativity and commerce, struggle and insecurity, and the economic and cultural forces intertwined with ‘the serious, life-threatening process’ of gentrification.” (Catalogue)

Driving to Treblinka : a long search for a lost father / Wichtel, Diana
“When Diana Wichtel was 13 she moved to New Zealand with her mother, sister and brother. Her father was to follow. Diana never saw him again. Many years later she sets out to discover what happened to him.” (Catalogue)

You can’t touch my hair and other things I still have to explain / Robinson, Phoebe
“A hilarious and affecting essay collection about race, gender, and pop culture from celebrated stand-up comedian and WNYC podcaster Phoebe Robinson.” (Catalogue)

Wishful drinking / Fisher, Carrie
“In her first ever memoir, Carrie Fisher takes us on an intimate, hilarious and sobering journey through her life. Adapted from the sold-out one-woman show of the same name.” (Catalogue)

The good immigrant / Shukla, Nikesh (editor)
“Bringing together 21 exciting black, Asian and minority ethnic voices emerging in Britain today, The Good Immigrant explores why immigrants come to the UK, why they stay and what it means to be ‘other’ in a country that doesn’t seem to want you – but still needs you for its diversity monitoring forms.” (Catalogue)

This is going to hurt : secret diaries of a junior doctor / Kay, Adam
“As soon as Adam Kay set foot on a hospital ward for the first time, he realized there’s quite a lot they don’t teach you at medical school. His diaries from the NHS front line – scribbled in secret after long nights, endless days and missed weekends – are hilarious, horrifying and heartbreaking by turns.” (Catalogue)

Swimming suffragettes: New biographies

Staying

“A revolution in swimming was underway. By custom and often by law, women in America and England weren’t allowed in the water without covering their limbs in a heavy “bathing costume” that weighed them down. But some women wanted to jump into the water unencumbered, and even to race…”Sarah Laskow

Swimming features prominently in this month’s new biographies, including Jenny Landreth’s Swell, which details the connection between women’s suffrage and swimming, as well as Yusra Mardini’s Butterfly: from Refugee to Olympian, describing Mardini’s escape from Syria and later membership of the Refugee Olympic Athletes Team. And if you’ve forgotten your togs or towel, don’t worry–we’ve got plenty of biographies set on dry land as well!

Syndetics book coverSwell : a waterbiography / Jenny Landreth.
“These days, swimming may seem like the most egalitarian of pastimes, open to anyone with a swimsuit–but this wasn’t always the case. It wasn’t until the 1930s that women were finally, and reluctantly, granted equal access to the water. This is the story of the women who made that possible, a thank-you to the fearless “swimming suffragettes” who fought for equal access, and won.” (Adapted from the Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverButterfly : from refugee to Olympian–my story of rescue, hope, and triumph / Yusra Mardini with Josie Le Blond.
“When young Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini realized her boat’s engine shut down as she was travelling from Syria to Greece with other refugees, there was no hesitation: she dove into the water. Grabbing a rope with one hand, she began kicking up the black water, inching the boat towards the distant shore. This act of bravery saved the lives of a boatload of refugees–and started her towards the Rio Olympics.” (Adapted from the Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverExcuse me while I slip into someone more comfortable : a memoir / Eric Poole.
“In 1977, Eric Poole is a talented high school trumpet player with one working ear, the height-to-weight ratio of a hat rack, a series of annoyingly handsome bullies and a mother irrationally devoted to Lemon Pledge. But who he wants to be is a star…ANY star. Picking up at the end of his first acclaimed memoir, Where’s My Wand?, Poole’s journey from self-delusion to acceptance is simultaneously hysterical, heartfelt and inspiring.” (Adapted from the Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverThe girl : Marilyn Monroe, the seven year itch, and the birth of an unlikely feminist / Michelle Morgan.
“With an in-depth look at the two most empowering years in the life of Marilyn Monroe, The Girl details how The Seven Year Itch created an icon and sent the star on an adventure of self-discovery and transformation from a controlled wife and contract player into a businesswoman and unlikely feminist whose power is still felt today.” (Adapted from the Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverStaying : a memoir / Jessie Cole.
“As children, Jessie Cole and her brother Jake ran wild, free to roam their rainforest home as they pleased. They had each other, parents who adored them, and two mysterious, beautiful, clever half-sisters. But when Jessie was on the cusp of adolescence, tragedy struck, and her family fell apart. This heartbreaking memoir asks what happens to those who are left behind when someone takes their own life–and finding peace in a place of pain.” (Adapted from the Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverOdyssey of the unknown Anzac / David Hastings.
“Ten years after the end of World War I, the Sydney Sun reported that an unknown Anzac still lay in a Sydney psychiatric hospital. Thousands of people in Australia and New Zealand responded to this story and began an international campaign to find the man’s family. David Hastings follows this one previously unknown Anzac, George McQuay, from rural New Zealand through Gallipoli and finally home. By doing so, he takes us deep inside the Great War and the human mind.” (Adapted from the Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverMI5 and me : a coronet among the spooks / Charlotte Bingham.
“When Lottie is summoned to her father’s office at the age of 18, she is astonished to learn that this unexciting parent is a spy. Even more perturbing is his view that she should stop drifting around and get a proper job, something patriotic and worthwhile. This unique memoir is a window into 1950s Britain: a country where Russian agents infiltrate the highest echelons, where debutantes are typists and where Englishness is both a nationality and a code of behaviour.” (Adapted from the Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverSkybound : a journey in flight / Rebecca Loncraine.
“In her mid-30s Rebecca Loncraine was diagnosed with breast cancer. Two years later, and after months of gruelling treatment, she flew in a glider for the first time. In that engineless plane, soaring 3000 feet over the landscape of her childhood with only the rising thermals to take her higher and the birds to lead the way, she fell in love.” (Adapted from the Syndetics summary.)

Life, loss and love (and grave robbing?) with new Biographies

Letters From the Suitcase

Most memoirs deal in facts, in whos and whats and whens. However this month’s new biographies contain something a bit different: When We Were Ghouls, by Amy E. Wallen. When We Were Ghouls follows Wallen and her family as they travel around the globe, facing “seismic shifts in cultures”. Years later Wallen must pick through uncertain memories to try and find the truth – were her parents really grave robbers?

Syndetics book coverHarry: Life, Loss, and Love / Katie Nicholl.
“On the eve of his wedding comes the most intimate and informative portrait yet of Prince Harry, from royal expert Katie Nicholl, author of the bestselling William and Harry and Kate. From his earliest public appearances as a mischievous redheaded toddler, Prince Harry has captured the hearts of royal enthusiasts around the world. In Harry, Britain’s leading expert on the young royals offers an in-depth look at the wayward prince turned national treasure.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverLetters from the suitcase: a wartime love story / [edited by] Rosheen and Cal Finnigan.
“Mary and David Francis were only 21 and 19 when they met in 1938. They fell in love instantly, and against the wishes of David’s parents, they lived together and married. These poignant letters reveal their intelligence and thoughtfulness, their passion, the everyday details of their lives working as a secretary at Bletchley Park and as a young officer in action on the other side of the world.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverYoung queen: the story of a girl who conquered the world / Parris Goebel with Tracy O’Connor.
“In this honest memoir, Parris Goebel shares the extraordinary story of how she went from high-school dropout to award-winning dancer, choreographer and video director. She has worked with some of the biggest stars in music, including Janet Jackson, Rihanna and Justin Bieber. A true #girlboss.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverEverything I know about love / Dolly Alderton.
“When it comes to the trials and triumphs of becoming a grown up, journalist Dolly Alderton has seen it all. In her memoir, she vividly recounts falling in love, wrestling with self-sabotage, finding a job, throwing a socially disastrous Rod Stewart-themed house party, getting drunk, getting dumped and realising that Ivan from the corner shop is the only man you’ve ever been able to rely on.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverChurchill: the greatest Briton / Christopher Catherwood.
“A richly visual examination of the most revered Briton in history, from his birth at Blenheim Palace, to his inspirational wartime leadership, to his final years as a grand old man of world politics. This illustrated portrait, complete with 160 painstakingly researched photographs, artworks, speeches and letters sourced from the family archives at Cambridge, provides insight into every facet of this remarkable man.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverWhen we were ghouls: a memoir of ghost stories / Amy E. Wallen.
When We Were Ghouls follows Wallen’s recollections of her family who, like ghosts, came and went and slipped through her fingers, rendering her memories unclear. Were they a family of grave robbers, as her memory of the pillaging of a pre-Incan grave site indicates? Are they, as the author’s mother posits, ‘hideous people’? Or is Wallen’s memory out of focus?” (Adapted from Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverErnest Hemingway: a biography / Mary V. Dearborn.
“His writing was taken up with notions of human dignity and worth, ‘the necessity of man’s freedom, of personal honor,’ notions by which a man should live and die in a world that had lost the possibility of hope. Dearborn’s is the first full biography of Hemingway to be written by a woman, the first to fully explore the causes of his suicide and to substantially deepen our understanding of the man.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverGirls at the Piano / Virginia Lloyd.
“A brilliant memoir about how learning the piano shaped the lives of two women worlds and generations apart that will resonate for music lovers everywhere and for anyone who has tried to master the piano.” (Syndetics summary.)

Blasphemous libel and other stories: New Biographies

If you missed cartoonist Tom Scott’s appearance at the New Zealand Festival, never fear – his memoir Drawn Out is available now! Drawn Out has been shortlisted for a New Zealand Book Award, and includes Scott’s famous battle with Prime Minister Robert Muldoon. Check it out, along with a range of other great titles!

Syndetics book coverDrawn out : a seriously funny memoir / Tom Scott.
“Tom Scott has been drawing political cartoons for Wellington’s Dominion Post since 1988, and was famously banned from the Press Gallery by P.M. Muldoon. His memoir covers his childhood – a tragi-comedy of a poor Irish Catholic family, his uni days when he was editor of the student newspaper and sued for blasphemous libel, his parliamentary career, his work with Ed Hillary and more.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe trauma cleaner : one woman’s extraordinary life in death, decay & disaster / Sarah Krasnostein.
“Before she was a trauma cleaner, Sandra Pankhurst was many things: husband and father, drag queen, gender reassignment patient, sex worker, small businesswoman, trophy wife… But as a little boy, raised in violence and excluded from the family home, she just wanted to belong. Now she believes her clients deserve no less.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverIn praise of difficult women : life lessons from 29 heroines who dared to break the rules / Karen Karbo ; illustrations by Kimberly Glyder.
“From Frida Kahlo and Elizabeth Taylor to Nora Ephron, Carrie Fisher, and Lena Dunham, this witty narrative explores what we can learn from the imperfect and extraordinary legacies of 29 iconic women who forged their own unique paths in the world.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverA life of my own / Claire Tomalin.
“This enthralling memoir follows Claire Tomalin through triumph and tragedy in equal measure, from a difficult wartime childhood to her marriage to a brilliant young journalist. Tomalin writes of the intense joys of a fascinating progression as she became one of the most successful literary editors in London before discovering her true vocation as a biographer.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverGeorge / Sean Smith.
“Georgios Panayiotou was just eighteen when he decided to adopt the stage name of George Michael. Sometimes his two worlds would collide with shattering consequences. Bestselling biographer Sean Smith has gone back to the neighbourhoods of North London to trace the astonishing journey of a sensitive but determined boy who grew up to be one of the biggest British pop stars of all time.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverAn odyssey : a father, a son, and an epic / Daniel Mendelsohn.
“When eighty-one-year-old Jay Mendelsohn decides to enroll in the undergraduate Odyssey seminar his son teaches at Bard College, the two find themselves on an adventure as profoundly emotional as it is intellectual. As this intricately woven memoir builds to its wrenching climax, Mendelsohn’s narrative comes to echo the Odyssey itself, with its timeless themes of deception, recognition and the meaning of home.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverExtraordinary life of A.A. Milne / Nadia Cohen.
“Very few authors can ever dream of coming close to the legacy left by A.A. Milne, but Milne himself was never able to enjoy his fame and fortune. He died deeply resenting Winnie the Pooh’s success. The Extraordinary Life of A.A. Milne delves deep into the life of Milne and sheds light on new places, and tells stories untold.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverHitler, my neighbor : memories of a Jewish childhood, 1929-1939 / Edgar Feuchtwanger with Bertil Scali ; translated by Adriana Hunter.
“Edgar Feuchtwanger was a carefree five-year-old when Adolf Hitler moved into the building opposite. In 1933 the joy of this untroubled life was shattered. Edgar’s parents, stripped of their rights as citizens, tried to protect him from increasingly degrading realities. In 1939 Edgar was sent alone to England. It wasn’t until the age of 88 he felt ready to tell the story of his buried childhood and his infamous neighbour.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverGordon Walters : new vision / commissioning editor, Zara Stanhope ; curators, Lucy Hammonds, Laurence Simmons and Julia Waite ; managing editor, Clare McIntosh.
“A substantial publication, Gordon Walters : New Vision, is being co-published by Auckland Art Gallery and the Dunedin Public Art Gallery to mark the occasion of this exhibition.” (Syndetics summary)

Nothing but biography: Recent biographies

“Read no history: nothing but biography, for that is life without theory.” So wrote the esteemed Benjamin Disraeli. A little sweeping maybe, but we biography-lovers cannot but concur. There are some excellent examples of the craft on offer this month.

Syndetics book coverAlexander Hamilton / Ron Chernow.
“Alexander Hamilton was an illegitimate, largely self-taught orphan from the Caribbean who overcame all the odds to become George Washington’s aide-de-camp and the first Treasury Secretary of the United States.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverWhat she ate : six remarkable women and the food that tells their stories / Laura Shapiro.
“Each of the six women in this entertaining group portrait was famous in her time, and most are still famous in ours; but until now, nobody has told their lives from the point of view of the kitchen and the table.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverSargent’s women : four lives behind the canvas / Donna M. Lucey.
“In this seductive, multilayered biography, based on original letters and diaries, Donna M. Lucey illuminates four extraordinary women painted by the iconic high-society portraitist John Singer Sargent. With uncanny intuition, Sargent hinted at the mysteries and passions that unfolded in his subjects’ lives.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverA secret sisterhood : the literary friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot and Virginia Woolf / Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney ; foreword by Margaret Atwood.
“Male literary friendships are the stuff of legend; think Byron and Shelley, Fitzgerald and Hemingway. But the world’s best-loved female authors are usually mythologized as solitary eccentrics or isolated geniuses.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe ocean fell into the drop / Terence Stamp.
The Ocean Fell into the Drop is a different kind of showbusiness memoir, one that traces Terence Stamp’s twin obsessions, acting and mysticism, and the relationship the two have to each other for him, through the trajectory of his life.” (Syndetics summary)
See also Stamp album by the same author.

Syndetics book coverThe gamekeeper / Portia Simpson.
“The H is for Hawk for lovers of the outdoors and wildlife. A fascinating memoir of Scotland’s first-ever qualified female gamekeeper. In this wonderful memoir, Portia tells the story of how she first broke into a traditionally conservative, male-dominated profession and the skills, training and dedication that helped to set her apart.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe secret history of Jane Eyre : how Charlotte Brontë wrote her masterpiece / John Pfordresher.
“In The Secret History of Jane Eyre, John Pfordresher tells the enthralling story of Bronte’s compulsion to write her masterpiece and why she then turned around and vehemently disavowed it.” (Syndetics summary)

One to look forward to:
Syndetics book coverAn Almost Perfect Christmas
“From perennially dry turkeys to Christmas pudding fires, from the round robin code of conduct to the risks and rewards of re-gifting, An Almost Perfect Christmas is an ode to the joy and insanity of the most wonderful time of the year.” (Syndetics summary)

A good one reissued:
Syndetics book coverMoab is my washpot / Stephen Fry.
“A number one bestseller in Britain, Stephen Fry’s astonishingly frank, funny, wise memoir is the book that his fans everywhere have been waiting for.” (Syndetics summary)

A good one you might have missed:
Syndetics book coverDadland : a journey into uncharted territory / Keggie Care.
“Keggie takes us on a spellbinding journey, in peace and war, into surprising and shady corners of history, her rackety English childhood, the poignant breakdown of her family, the corridors of dementia and beyond. As Keggie pieces Tom – and herself – back together again, she celebrates the technicolour life of an impossible, irresistible, unstoppable man.” (Syndetics summary)

One child, one teacher : New Biography books

“One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.”

These famous words spoken by education activist Malala Yousafzai in her address to the United Nations have echoed around the world. Their veracity is borne out in the stories of several of our subjects this month for whom education was the passport to a better life.

Syndetics book coverOf fortunes and war : Clare Hollingworth, first of the female war correspondents / Patrick Garrett.
“Legendary journalist Clare Hollingworth died in Hong Kong aged 105 in January 2017 after an illustrious career spanning the 20th century. Clare was famous for getting ‘the scoop of the century’: the outbreak of the Second World War.” (Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverAnts among elephants : an untouchable family and the making of modern India / Sujatha Gidla.
“Like one in six people in India, Sujatha Gidla was born an untouchable. While most untouchables are illiterate, her family was educated by Canadian missionaries in the 1930s. Several became teachers, one a famous poet and revolutionary” (Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverEdward VII : the Prince of Wales and the women he loved / Catharine Arnold.
“[Catharine Arnold’s] new biography focuses — deliciously — on the women who shared the scandalously plentiful sex life of Queen Victoria’s eldest son, the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII.” (Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverFirst confession : a sort of memoir / Chris Patten.
“Chris Patten’s career has taken him from the outer London suburbs to the House of Commons, a seat in the Cabinet, last Governor of Hong Kong, Chairman of the BBC and Chancellor of Oxford University. About all of these he is enlightening and entertaining.” (adapted from Wellington City catalogue note)

Syndetics book coverThe Kelloggs : the battling brothers of Battle Creek / Howard Markel.
“John and Will Kellogg were American empire builders. John was one of America’s most beloved physicians; a best-selling author, lecturer, and health-magazine publisher and founder of the Battle Creek Sanitarium. His youngest brother, Will, was the founder of the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company, which revolutionized the mass production of food and what we eat for breakfast” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe Durrells of Corfu / Michael Haag.
“The Durrell family are immortalised in Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals and its ITV adaptation, The Durrells. But what of the real life Durrells? Why did they go to Corfu in the first place – and what happened to them after they left? The real story of the Durrells is as surprising and fascinating as anything in Gerry’s books” (Catalogue note)

Syndetics book coverMorningstar : growing up with books / Ann Hood.
“In her admired works of fiction, including the recent The Book That Matters Most, Ann Hood explores the transformative power of literature. Now, with warmth and honesty, Hood reveals the personal story behind these beloved novels” (adapted from book jacket summary)

Syndetics book coverThis long pursuit : reflections of a romantic biographer / Richard Holmes
“From the award-winning author of The Age of Wonder and Falling Upwards, here is a luminous meditation on the art of biography that fuses the author’s own experiences with a history of the genre and explores the fascinating and surprising relationship between fact and fiction.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverDaring to drive : the young Saudi woman who stood up to a kingdom of men / Manal al-Sharif
“This is a memoir about living, loving, dreaming, daring, and driving while female — in a country where it’s dangerous to do all of the above. Manal al-Sharif grew up in Mecca the second daughter of a taxi driver, born the year strict fundamentalism took hold. […] Manal-al-Sharif has written a fiercely intimate memoir about the making of an accidental activist, a vivid story of a young Muslim woman who stood up to a kingdom of men — and won. Daring to Drive is a remarkable celebration of resilience in the face of tyranny, the extraordinary power of education and female solidarity, and the difficulties and joys of taking the driver’s seat of your own destiny” (Catalogue description).

Bad girls get good press – Recent Biography picks

This month’s top pick is a beautifully illustrated book which celebrates women who had the courage to challenge the status quo and forged the way for women who came after them. Robin Dalton, once a society figure and subsequent good-time girl, is not quite in the same league,but her story is an entertaining and inspiring one..
Good girls get good press too – activist Coretta King, widow of Martin Luther King, a nurse who devoted her life to sick children – and Queen Victoria, who was a famously good woman.

Syndetics book coverBad girls throughout history : 100 remarkable women who changed the world / Ann Shen.
“The 100 revolutionary women featured in this illustrated book were bad in the best sense of the word: they challenged the status quo and changed the rules for those who followed. From ancient times through present day, from pirates to artists, scientists to spies, these courageous women achieved unprecedented feats and left a permanent mark on human history.”–Back cover.

Syndetics book coverBreaking ranks / James McNeish.
“Three distinct stories about three distinct men, but with one thing in common – they all paid the price for standing up for what they believed. From a great writer, three great stories about conscience and consequence. This is the story of three men – a doctor, a soldier and a judge. They are men of rare achievement. The doctor has the gift of saving others but not himself. The soldier disobeys orders and abandons his command post in a bid to die with his men. The judge cares more to uphold a principle than save himself from ruin. All three defy convention.”(Wellington City Libraries catalogue note).

Syndetics book coverJuliet’s answer : one man’s search for love and the elusive cure for heartbreak / Glenn Dixon.Juliet’s Answer: One Man’s Search for Love and the Elusive Cure for Heartbreak
“Eat, Pray, Love meets The Rosie Project in this fresh, heartwarming memoir by a man who travels to Verona and volunteers to answer letters addressed to Shakespeare’s Juliet, all in an attempt to heal his own heartbreak. When Glenn Dixon is spurned by love, he packs his bags for Verona, Italy. Once there, he volunteers to answer the thousands of letters that arrive addressed to Juliet–letters sent from lovelorn people all over the world”.(Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverVictoria : the heart and mind of a young queen / foreword by Daisy Goodwin ; written by Helen Rappaport.
‘The official companion to ITV’s drama, ‘The Victoria letters” delves into the private writings of the young Queen Victoria, painting a vivid picture of the personal life of one of England’s greatest monarchs.”(Wellington City Libraries catalogue note).

Syndetics book coverAlways the children : a nurse’s story of home and war / Anne Watts.
“Anne Watts grew up in a small village in north Wales in the 1940s. She trained as a nurse and midwife, joined the Save the Children Fund, and was posted to Vietnam in 1967. Here, Anne was faced with a vision of hell that her training at Manchester’s Royal Infirmary could not have prepared her for.” (Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverSully : my search for what really matters / Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger ; with Jeffrey Zaslow.Proxy Error
“Airline pilot Captain “Sully” Sullenberger tells his life story, including his perspective on the emergency landing on the Hudson River that earned him the world’s admiration, and offers insight into the qualities that have been vital to his success”–Publisher.

Syndetics book coverThe long and winding road / Alan Johnson.
“When Tony Blair brought Alan Johnson into Parliament in 1997, it was something of a culture shock. Blair famously said to him ‘Oh, so you really are working class aren’t you’. In this memoir of politicking and skulduggery, he tells of his experiences in Westminster.”(Wellington City Libraries catalogue note).

Syndetics book coverOne leg over : having fun – mostly – in peace and war / Robin Dalton.At the age of ninety-five, Robin Dalton looks back on her life, particularly on her love life. Married at nineteen, disastrously, Robin has a lucky escape-her ‘Society Divorce’ makes the front page of Sydney newspapers, bumping the war to page three ‘One leg over” is a story of love and romance, of loss and great sadness. But above all it’s a celebration of a wonderful life..”(Wellington City Libraries catalogue note).

Syndetics book coverMy life, my love, my legacy / Coretta Scott King ; as told to the Rev. Dr. Barbara Reynolds.The Washington Post ‘s Books to Read in 2017
The New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice
USA Today , “New and Noteworthy”
Read it Forward, Favorite Reads of January 2017″.The life story of Coretta Scott King–wife of Martin Luther King Jr., founder of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change (The King Center), and singular twentieth-century American civil and human rights activist.” (provided by publisher)

A GOOD ONE YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
Syndetics book coverMy history : a memoir of growing up / Antonia Fraser.‘Antonia Fraser’s memoir describes growing up in the 1930s and 1940s but its real concern is with her growing love of history. The fascination began as a child when her evacuation at the beginning of the war to an Elizabethan manor house became an inspiration for historical imaginings – and developed into an enduring passion; as she writes, ‘for me, the study of History has always been an essential part of the enjoyment of life’.(Amazon.co.uk summary)

AND A GOOD ONE IN ANOTHER PART OF THE LIBRARY
Syndetics book coverPrinces at war : the bitter battle inside Britain’s royal family in the darkest days of WWII / Deborah Cadbury.
‘British author Cadbury explores the many layers involved in the abdication crisis of 1936, which ceded the British crown to the seemingly least prepared of the four sons of George V, George VI, aka Bertie, who revealed himself in the subsequent crisis of war to be the most suitable and stalwart of all.”(Wellington City Libraries catalogue note).

Party animals – Biography picks for February

….but not the usual kind. These animals are political not social (although often there is a mixing of the two). Our top pick is a study of growing up as a committed communist in post-war Britain. Author Aaronovitch does more than recount the story of his own journey; he attempts to explain how twentieth century history shaped such fervent adherents and why in the face of damning evidence they were so reluctant to abandon their beliefs. This one of three prize-winning biographies featured this month. We also list a biography of Theresa May and three very worthwhile books of movies currently showing.

Syndetics book coverParty animals : my family and other communists / David Aaronovitch.
“In July 1961, just before David Aaronovitch’s seventh birthday, Yuri Gagarin came to London. The Russian cosmonaut was everything the Aaronovitch family wished for – a popular and handsome embodiment of modern communism.But who were they, these ever hopeful, defiant and historically doomed people?” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverSee also:
Stalin ate my homework / Alexei Sayle.

“Entertaining, poignant & surprising, this is a brilliantly written memoir of an unusual childhood by one of Britain’s most-loved comedians, Alexei Sayle.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe missing Matisse / Pierre H. Matisse.
“Nazi planes were bombing Paris the day a lifelong, more personal war began for Pierre. It was the day he lost his identity.Born into a famous family, Pierre Matisse grew up immersed in the art world of Paris and the French Riviera, spending time with some of the most famous artists of the twentieth century.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverBorn a crime : stories from a South African childhood / Trevor Noah.
“The compelling, inspiring, and comically sublime story of one man’s coming-of-age, set during the twilight of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverDiary of a wartime affair : the true story of a surprisingly modern romance / Doreen Bates.
“The true story of a surprisingly modern romance in war-stricken London London, 1934. Doreen Bates is working in the same office as E, an older married man. In the years just before the war, they develop an irresistible attraction to one another and strike up a passionate affair. Doreen records it all with startling candour in her diary.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverTheresa May : the Downing Street revolution / Virginia Blackburn.
“Only the second woman to hold office at 10 Downing Street, Theresa May inherits the most difficult political mandate of recent times: to negotiate Britain’s exit from the European Union and re-establish its place in the wider world. She is known as an uncompromising and fiercely moral political operator who has risen through the ranks through profound competence, instead of cronyism.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverOnce we were sisters : a memoir / Sheila Kohler.
“After learning that her sister Maxine was killed when her husband drove them off a deserted road in Johannesburg, Kohler flew back to the country where she was born, determined to reckon with the tragedy and her family’s history of choosing unsuitable men. She shows how the bond between sisters changes but never breaks, even after death.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverScenes and apparitions : diaries, 1988-2003 / Roy Strong.
Scenes and Apparitions begins where its predecessor, Splendours and Miseries, left off. It covers a period of Roy Strong’s life from 1988 to 2003. Shaking off the shackles of public life, Roy was free for the first time to reinvent himself, leaving behind the political and cultural machinations of the art world.” (Syndetics summary)

A good one in another part of the library:

Syndetics book coverLeap in : a woman, some waves and the will to swim / Alexandra Heminsley.
“Alexandra Heminsley thought she could swim. She really did. But, as she learned one day while flailing around in the sea, she really couldn’t.” (Syndetics summary)

Three books of films now showing:

Syndetics book coverColour bar : the triumph of Seretse Khama and his nation / Susan Williams.
“The true story of a love which defied family, Apartheid, and empire – the inspiration for the major new feature film A United Kingdom, starring David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike London, 1947. He was the heir to an African kingdom. She was a white English insurance clerk. When they met and fell in love, it would change the world.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverHidden figures : the American dream and the untold story of the Black women mathematicians who helped win the space race / Margot Lee Shetterly.
“Before John Glenn orbited the earth, or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as “human computers” used pencils, slide rules and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverLion / Saroo Brierley ; with Larry Buttrose.
“A true story of survival and triumph against incredible odds , now a major motion picture starring Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman and Rooney Mara. When Saroo Brierley used Google Earth to find his long-lost home town half a world away, he made global headlines.” (Syndetics summary)

Writers to the fore this festive season – Recent biography picks

It is fitting that we mark a New Zealand Christmas with the award-winning biography of an exceptional man who embodied the best of our two cultures. Read his story in this month’s top pick Te Oka – pākehā kaumātua.
However the focus of this selection is very much on writers. This year marks the bi-centenary of the death of Charlotte Bronte, and it has been marked by Penguin with release of a major scholarly biography. Other writers featured are Beryl Bainbridge, Angela Carter, Patrick Leigh Fermor and the wonderful Alan Bennett. Wherever you are these holidays dear biography-lovers, take time to read!

Syndetics book coverTe Oka – pākehā kaumātua : the life of Jock McEwen / Mary McEwen.
“Jock McEwen, administrator, historian, linguist, composer and master carver, was a well-known figure in the Ma-aori world and the wider Pacific for over half a century. Born in Cheltenham near Feilding in 1915 he was brought up with a strong Presbyterian work ethic, which he retained until his death in 2010. Jock came into early contact with the Ma-aori community at Aorangi, where he learned to speak fluent te reo and developed interests in whakapapa (including his own) and tikanga M-aaori.” (Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverI loved her in the movies : memories of Hollywood’s legendary actresses / Robert J. Wagner with Scott Eyman.
“Film and television actor and New York Times bestselling author Robert Wagner’s memoir of the great women movie stars he has known.In a career that has spanned more than sixty years Robert Wagner has witnessed the twilight of the Golden Age of Hollywood and the rise of television, becoming a beloved star in both media”.(Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverA room in Athens / Frances Karlen Santamaria.
“First published in 1970, A Room in Athens is the remarkable journal of a free-
spirited, young American woman abroad in Greece with her writer husband in 1964. Inspired by the sixties’ vogue for the exuberant land of Zorba and Lawrence Durrell, they seek an Aegean idyll-but their plans threaten to go awry when she learns she is pregnant.”Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverBeryl Bainbridge : love by all sorts of means : a biography / Brendan King.
“Dame Beryl Bainbridge was one of the most popular and recognisable English novelists of her generation. She was shortlisted for the Booker Prize five times, and her critically acclaimed novels The Dressmaker (1973), The Bottle Factory Outing (1974), An Awfully Big Adventure (1990), Every Man For Himself (1996) and Master Georgie (1998), confirmed her status as one of the major literary figures of the past fifty years.(Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverCharlotte Brontë : a life / Claire Harman.
‘There was no possibility of taking a walk that day…’ With these words Charlotte Bronté began Jane Eyre and changed English literature irrevocably. Now, on the 200th anniversary of Charlotte’s birth, Claire Harman’s landmark biography provides a bold new view of one of Britain’s best loved writers, revealing that her life possessed all the drama and tragedy of a Gothic tale.”Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverThe invention of Angela Carter / Edmund Gordon.
“Angela Carter is widely acknowledged as one of the most important and beguiling writers of the last century. Her work stands out for its bawdiness and linguistic zest, its hospitality to the fantastic and the absurd, and its extraordinary inventiveness and range. Her life was as modern and as unconventional as anything in her fiction.Born Angela Olive Stalker in Eastbourne in 1940, her story spans the latter half of the twentieth century”.(Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverDashing for the post : the letters of Patrick Leigh Fermor / selected and edited by Adam Sisman.
“<“”A revelatory collection of letters written by the author of The Broken Road. Handsome, spirited and erudite, Patrick Leigh Fermor was a war hero and one of the greatest travel writers of his generation. He was also a spectacularly gifted friend”. (Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverDown the dirt roads : a memoir of love, loss and the land / Rachael Treasure.
‘For me, being in a paddock means anything is possible…’ Country girl and bestselling novelist Rachael Treasure had worked hard to build a long-dreamed-of lifestyle on her own patch of dirt in Tasmania’s rugged and beautiful wilderness. But through the breakdown of her marriage, Rachael lost her family farm and, in her words, lost her way in life. Discovering an all-new compass to live by, she took her two kids and her dogs and left the beaten path.” (Syndetics summary).

A good one you might have missed:

Syndetics book coverSkating to Antarctica / Jenny Diski.Skating to Antarctica
“This strange and brilliant book recounts Jenny Diski’s journey to Antarctica last year, intercut with another journey into her own heart and soul…a book of dazzling variety, which weaves disquisitions on indolence, truth, inconsistency, ambiguousness, the elephant seal, Shackleton, boredom and over and over again memory, into a sparse narrative, caustic observation and vivid description of the natural world. While Diski’s writing is laconic, her images are haunting.’
Elspeth Barker, Independent on Sunday” (Syndetics summary).

A good one in another part of the library:

Syndetics book coverKeeping on keeping on / Alan Bennett.
“‘I seem to have banged on this year rather more than usual. I make no apology for that, nor am I nervous that it will it make a jot of difference. I shall still be thought to be kindly, cosy and essentially harmless. I am in the pigeon-hole marked ‘no threat’ and did I stab Judi Dench with a pitchfork I should still be a teddy bear.” (Syndetics summary).

James McNeish, the celebrated New Zealand novelist, playwright, and biographer, died in November aged 85.

Syndetics book coverTouchstones : memories of people and place / James McNeish.
“A young man leaves home as a deckhand on a Norwegian freighter, to travel the world. He returns to New Zealand changed almost beyond recognition. Along the way he meets nine people who influence his life and help make him the writer he becomes.” (Publisher information)