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).

Meet Robin Robilliard, author of Hard Country

This June, Wellington residents will have 3 chances to meet with Robin Robilliard, author of Hard Country, number two best seller for non-fiction books on the Paper Plus book chain list,  and 4th on the Sunday Star Times best selling biographies list two weeks ago. She will be giving public talks at the following:

Kilbirnie Library – June 18th  6.30pm 

Wellington Central Library – June 19th 6pm

Johnsonville Library – June 20th 11.30am

6 c_Robby Robilliard 9781775536635

Don’t miss this opportunity to hear the story of an amazing woman and her family’s who achieved the impossible on a Golden Bay Farm and ask her questions about her biography.

As Robin put it “Managing to survive without bankruptcy, as had our three predecessors on Rocklands, is the real success story”.
One thing a fiercely independent young married couple knew for sure when they were planning their farming future together was that they never wanted to work for anyone else.
It’s this resilient and pioneering spirit that runs through Robin (Robby) Robilliard’s absorbing new memoir as this marvellous and sprightly octogenarian reflects on her life with husband Garry and their family the isolated Golden Bay, at the very tip of South Island, far away from family and friends. When they arrived there in 1957 it was a very different place to the vibrant and richly diverse community there is today.

You can listen to the interview Robin had with Kim Hill here

Māori Boy: a conversation with Witi Ihimaera

witi
Last week, I had the great pleasure of attending an author talk with Witi Ihimaera about his latest book, Māori Boy, held at National Library. Māori Boy: a memoir of childhood is a recollection of the author’s early life growing up near Gisborne in the 1940s and 1950s. As a life-long fan of Ihimaera’s writing, I was really excited and interested to hear him speak about his experiences of writing the book and about some of the events and relationships in his childhood which inspired it. The event was incredibly well attended, creating a need for extra seats as well as more speakers; testifying to the popularity of this iconic New Zealand writer. The audience were also treated to a brief teaser video of Lee Tamahori’s upcoming film The Patriarch, which is based on Ihimaera’s well-loved novel Bulibasha. I was also lucky enough to get my shiny new copy of the book signed!

We have plenty of copies available here at the library:

Syndetics book coverMāori boy : a memoir of childhood / Witi Ihimaera.
Maori Boy: A Memoir of Childhood is the first volume of Witi Ihimaera’s enthralling memoir, packed with stories from the formative years of the bestselling author of Whale Rider and Pounamu, Pounamu. He tells of his early life in rural and small town New Zealand, of family secrets, of facing anguish and challenges, and of laughter and love.” (from randomhouse)