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.)

Modern Bodies: The Best of Dance Biographies

No art form better captures the passion and politics of humanity than dance. From the Soviet-American ballet rivalry of the Cold War to the rise of Lindy Hop in 1920s Harlem to the emergence of waacking from the LGBTQI clubs of 1970s LA, dance explores—and occasionally crosses—boundaries of nation, culture, gender and sexuality. New Zealand is no exception, and as part this year’s Dance Week we’ve got Dancing Through the Pages, a series of talks and performances by Wellington-based dancers and artists. And if you can’t wait until then, we’ve also got some great dance biographies, from Vaslav Nijinsky to Michael Jackson and beyond!


Syndetics book coverNijinsky / Lucy Moore.
“The first major biography for forty years tells the tragic story of ballet’s great revolutionary, Nijinsky. ‘He achieves the miraculous,’ the sculptor Auguste Rodin wrote of Vaslav Nijinsky. He embodies all the beauty of classical frescoes and statues. Like so many since, Rodin recognised that in Nijinsky classical ballet had one of the greatest and most original artists of the twentieth century, in any genre.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverModern bodies : dance and American modernism from Martha Graham to Alvin Ailey / Julia L. Foulkes.
“In 1930, dancer and choreographer Martha Graham proclaimed the arrival of “dance as an art of and from America.” Through their art, modern dancers challenged conventional roles and images of gender, sexuality, race, class and regionalism. Modern Bodies exposes the social dynamics that moved modern dance to the edges of society, a place both provocative and perilous.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverJosephine Baker / written by José-Louis Bocquet ; art by Catel Muller ; historical consultant, Jean-Claude Bouillon-Baker.
“Josephine Baker was 19 years old when she found herself in Paris for the first time. Overnight, the young American dancer became the idol of the Roaring Twenties, captivating Picasso, Cocteau, Le Corbusier and Simenon. After World War II, Baker devoted herself to the struggle against racial segregation, battling the humiliations she had for so long suffered. She would sing of love and liberty until the day she died.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverHe’s got rhythm : the life and career of Gene Kelly / Cynthia Brideson & Sara Brideson.
“He sang and danced in the rain, proclaimed New York to be a wonderful town and convinced a group of Parisian children that they had rhythm. One of the most influential and respected entertainers of Hollywood’s golden age, Gene Kelly revolutionized film musicals with his innovative and timeless choreography.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverDarcey Bussell / Darcey Bussell.
“Darcey Bussell is widely considered to be one of the greatest English ballerinas of all time. Her stellar career spanned two decades of magnificent dance where she worked with Dame Margot Fonteyn, observed an aging Nureyev, crossed swords with rival prima ballerina Sylvie Guillem, argued the finer points of technique with Sir Kenneth MacMillan and danced for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverMoonwalk / Michael Jackson.
Moonwalk is the only book about his life that Michael Jackson ever wrote. It chronicles his humble beginnings in the Midwest, his early days with the Jackson 5 and his unprecedented solo success.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverAmerica dancing : from the cakewalk to the moonwalk / Megan Pugh.
“An exuberant history of American dance, told through the lives of virtuoso performers who have defined the art. The history of American dance reflects the nation’s tangled culture. Dancers from wildly different backgrounds learned, imitated and stole from one another. Audiences everywhere embraced the result as deeply American.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverRemembering Nureyev : the trail of a comet / Rudi van Dantzig ; translation by Katie de Haan.
“Famously volatile, fickle in his passions for people, but with astonishing charisma onstage and off, Rudolf Nureyev is regarded as one of the greatest male ballet dancers of the twentieth century. This is a book balletomanes cannot miss, with an eagle-eyed sharpness that never dissolves into hagiography or gossip.” (Adapted from 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)

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)

October’s bumper crop – Recent Biography picks

Every now and then we receive a ”bumper crop” of good books – so many that you will be hard-pressed to choose between them. October has been such a month. Goodies which came through our doors include Queen Bees – a study of the new breed of society hostesses which emerged in Britain between the wars, a new study of novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard, and a fascinating look at Boris Pasternak’s tragic muse, Olga Ivinskaya who became Lara in his famous novel Dr Zhivago.

Syndetics book coverFirst women : the grace and power of America’s modern First Ladies / Kate Andersen Brower.
“Brower (The Residence) has written a sophisticated and intimate portrait of modern first ladies, from Jacqueline Kennedy through Michelle Obama in expertly balanced prose that is neither too impersonal nor too personal. Though Brower doesn’t whitewash the different personalities of the women, she manages to find positives in even some of the more reputedly prickly characters.” (Library Journal)

Syndetics book coverQueen bees : six brilliant and extraordinary society hostesses between the wars / Siân Evans.
Queen Bees looks at the lives of six remarkable women who made careers out of being society hostesses, including Lady Astor, who went on to become the first female MP, and Mrs Greville, who cultivated relationships with Edward VII, as well as Lady Londonderry, Lady Cunard, Laura Corrigan and Lady Colefax. Written with wit, verve and heart, Queen Bees is the story of a form of societal revolution, and the extraordinary women who helped it happen.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe pigeon tunnel : stories from my life / John Le Carré.
“When John le Carré was writing Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974), he made a mistake that would change his life. Working from an outdated guidebook, he described a pursuit by ferry across the straits between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, not knowing that a tunnel had been built under the sea connecting the two points. Appalled, he swore that he would never again set a scene in a place he hadn’t visited. As a result of that vow, le Carré’s readers now have the opportunity to enjoy what is both a meditative look at the writing life and an exciting, anecdote-rich travel memoir.” (Booklist)

Syndetics book coverThe house on the hill / Susan Duncan.
“In The House on the Hill, Susan Duncan reaches an age where there’s no point in sweating long-term ramifications. There aren’t any. This new understanding delivers an unexpected bonus – the emotional freedom and moral clarity to admit to hidden and often fiendish facts of ageing and, ultimately, the find ways to embrace them. This, in turn, unleashes an overwhelming desire to confront her intractable 95-year-old mother with the dreadful secrets of the past before it is too late, no matter the onsequences.” (Library catalogue note).

Syndetics book coverThe match girl and the heiress / Seth Koven.
“Rutgers University historian Koven (Slumming) has fashioned a scholarly yet highly readable jewel that tackles the big issues of early-20th-century England in an intimate way. Through the lives of Muriel Lester and Nellie Dowell, he brilliantly illuminates the growth of global capitalism, a revolutionary “God is love” Christian theology, war and pacifism, feminism and sexuality, and class and gender relations.” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverElizabeth Jane Howard : a dangerous innocence / Artemis Cooper.
“Elizabeth Jane Howard (1923-2014) wrote brilliant novels about what love can do to people, but in her own life the lasting relationship she sought so ardently always eluded her. She grew up yearning to be an actress; but when that ambition was thwarted by marriage and the war, she turned to fiction. Her first novel, The Beautiful Visit, won the John Llewellyn Rhys prize – she went on to write fourteen more, of which the best-loved were the five volumes of The Cazalet Chronicle.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverLara : the untold love story that inspired Doctor Zhivago / Anna Pasternak.
“The heartbreaking story of the love affair between Boris Pasternak, the author of Doctor Zhivago, and Olga Ivinskaya–the true tragedy behind the timeless classic. When Stalin came into power in 1924, the Communist government began persecuting dissident writers. Though Stalin spared the life of Boris Pasternak–whose novel-in-progress, Doctor Zhivago, was suspected of being anti-Soviet–he persecuted Boris’s mistress, typist, and literary muse.” (Publisher’s description)

A good one you might have missed:

Syndetics book coverDiplomatic baggage : the adventures of a trailing spouse / Brigid Keenan.
“Brigid Keenan has worked on Nova, edited sections of the Sunday Times and contributed a regular column to Punch and Sainsbury’s Magazine . The author of four previous books, she is married to the EU’s man in Kazakhstan.” (Syndetics summary)

And a good one in another part of the library:
Those who loved “Love Nina” will enjoy this autobiographical novel.

Syndetics book coverParadise Lodge : a novel / Nina Stibbe.
“A delightful story of growing up, getting old, and every step in between, from the acclaimed author of Man at the Helm and Love, Nina. After succeeding in her quest to help her unconventional mother find a new “man at the helm,” fifteen-year-old Lizzie Vogel simply wants to be a normal teenager. Just when it looks as if things have settled down, her mother goes and has another baby. On top of that, Lizzie’s best friend has deserted her for the punk craze, which Lizzie finds too exhausting to commit to herself.” (Syndetics summary)

Notable women – Recent Biography Picks

Those who became hooked on Simon Garfield’s edited editions of the Mass Observation diaries (We are at war, Private battles) may have been especially fascinated by one of the protaganists, Maggie Joy Blunt. Now, permission has been given for publication — under her real name — of excerpts from the diaries she kept throughout her long life. Other notable women featured this month include Bridget Keenan, Audrey Hepburn, The Queen and Helen Gurley Brown. Something for every taste!

Syndetics book coverA notable woman : the romantic journals of Jean Lucey Pratt / edited by Simon Garfield.
“In April, 1925, at the age of 15, Jean Lucey Pratt started a journal that she kept until just a few days before her death in 1986, producing more than a million words in 45 exercise books. What emerges is a portrait of a truly unique, spirited woman and writer. Never before has an account so fully, so honestly, and so vividly captured a single woman’s journey through the 20th century.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe ambassador’s wife’s tale / Julia Miles.
“Who really looks after British interests abroad? Behind the pomp of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, another powerful force is busily but discreetly propping up the image of UK Plc. For 28 years, Julia was a ‘diplomatic spouse’, juggling a growing family while supporting the demands of one of the great Offices of State. Sometimes hilarious, sometimes terrifying, she reveals the truth of the realities of life as a Ambassador’s wife, ranging from food shortages to terrorist incidents, to rubbing shoulders with the Queen, Mrs Thatcher and George Best.” (Publisher’s description)

Syndetics book coverFull marks for trying : an unlikely journey from the Raj to the rag trade / Brigid Keenan.
“Brigid Keenan was never destined to lead a normal life. From her early beginnings–a colorful childhood in India brought to an abrupt end by Independence and Partition, then a return to dreary postwar England and on to a finishing school in Paris with daughters of presidents and princes–ordinary just wasn’t for her. When, as a ten-year-old, she overheard her mother describe her as “desperately plain,” she decided then and there that she had to rely on something different: glamour, eccentricity, character, a career–anything, so as not to end up at the bottom of the pile.” (Syndetics summary)

Two good ones you might have missed:

Syndetics book coverNancy Mitford : a biography / Selina Hastings.
“It’s hard to believe this is the first full biography of Nancy Mitford, that slightly tarnished “Bright Young Thing” who, with dear Gertie and Noel, Linda and Cole, Wallie and David, has racketed through so many reminiscences of the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. By this time, her exploits are as familiar as the strains of “I’ll See You Again.” Considering the quality of the material, Mitford has been fortunate in her biographer.” (Kirkus review)

Syndetics book coverThe Queen’s speech : an intimate portrait of the Queen in her own words / Ingrid Seward.
“On 9 September 2015, Queen Elizabeth II will become the longest-serving monarch in British history. During her 63 years on the throne, few have got to know her well, but there is one body of work that sheds new light on her thoughts, personality and the issues that really concern her: the Queen’s own speeches. For many years, the Queen’s Christmas address was the most-watched programme on television on Christmas Day, and millions still tune in to hear what she has to say.” (Syndetics summary)

From other parts of the library:

Syndetics book coverEnter Helen : the invention of Helen Gurley Brown and the rise of the modern single woman / Brooke Hauser.
“[This book] chronicles the rise of a cultural icon who redefined what it means to be an American woman. In 1965, Helen Gurley Brown, author of the groundbreaking bestseller Sex and the Single Girl, took over an ailing Cosmopolitan and soon revamped it into one of the most bankable–and revolutionary–brands on the planet.” (Adapted from dust jacket)

Syndetics book coverAudrey and Givenchy : a fashion love affair / Cindy De La Hoz.
“The words “Audrey style” conjure images of ballet flats, little black dresses, bateau necklines, capri pants, and countless stunning fashions.Audrey Hepburn, the fashion icon, got her start in the early 1950s, just as a young French designer, Hubert de Givenchy, was beginning his legendary career. Together Audrey and Givenchy were a brilliant meeting of minds.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe lonely city : adventures in the art of being alone / Olivia Laing.
“Writer and critic Laing searches for answers to the puzzles of her life in the experiences and creative endeavors of others. In The Trip to Echo Spring (2014), she explores the impact alcoholism has had on various American writers. In her newest imaginative and poignant quest she looks to visual art for illumination of the true nature of loneliness.” (Booklist)

Syndetics book coverLes Parisiennes : how the women of Paris lived, loved, and died under Nazi occupation in the 1940’s / Anne Sebba.
“Sebba (That Woman), a former Reuters foreign correspondent, burrows into the lives of women in the City of Light during WWII to reveal their captivating and complicated stories. Rather than simply presenting the women as collaborators or resisters, Sebba shows the impossible choices they faced, which hardly seemed like choices at all. This is the book’s heart, and it pulsates from start to finish.”(Publisher Weekly)

More on Waugh – Biography picks for August

There have been several seminal biographies of Evelyn Waugh but Philip Eade may have fresh insights to offer. Those who enjoyed Florence Foster Jenkins and The man who knew infinity will now be able to enjoy the books of the films. The name Helen Gurley Brown will resonate with female baby-boomers who well remember the fuss caused by Sex and the single girl. Here are a few nice books to snuggle down with now that winter has started to bite.

Syndetics book coverEvelyn Waugh : a life revisited / Philip Eade.
“Evelyn Waugh was described by Graham Greene as ‘the greatest novelist of my generation’, yet reckoned by Hilaire Belloc to have been possessed by the devil. Waugh’s literary reputation has continued to rise since Greene’s assessment in 1966. Fifty years on from his death, Philip Eade takes a fresh look at this famously complex character and tells the full story of his dramatic, colourful and frequently bizarre life.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverFlorence Foster Jenkins : the remarkable story of America’s best-known and least-talented soprano / biography by Jasper Rees ; screenplay by Nicholas Martin.
‘People may say that I couldn’t sing. But no one can say that I didn’t sing.’ Despite lacking pitch, rhythm or tone, Florence Foster Jenkins became one of America’s best-known sopranos, celebrated for her unique recordings and her sell-out concert at Carnegie Hall.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverMy father and Atticus Finch : a lawyer’s fight for justice in 1930s Alabama / Joseph Madison Beck.
“As a child, Joseph Beck heard the stories–when other lawyers came up with excuses, his father courageously defended a black man charged with raping a white woman. Now a lawyer himself, Beck reconstructs his father’s role in State of Alabama vs. Charles White, Alias, a trial that was much publicized when Harper Lee was twelve years old.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverNot pretty enough : the unlikely triumph of Helen Gurley Brown / Gerri Hirshey.
“When Helen Gurley Brown published Sex and the Single Girl in 1962, it sold more than two million copies in just three weeks, presaging the self-help boom and helping to usher in the unapologetic self-affirmation of second wave feminism.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe good shufu : finding love, self, and home on the far side of the world / Tracy Slater.
“The brave, wry, irresistible journey of a fiercely independent American woman who finds everything she ever wanted in the most unexpected place.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverDavid Astor : a life in print / Jeremy Lewis.
“Few newspaper editors are remembered beyond their lifetimes, but David Astor of the Observer is a great exception to the rule. He converted a staid, Conservative-supporting Sunday paper into essential reading, admired and envied for the quality of its writers and for its trenchant but fair-minded views.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverMy journey with Maya / Tavis Smiley, with David Ritz.
“Maya Angelou gave Tavis Smiley the glorious gift of friendship. They met when he was twenty-one and she was fifty-eight, and for the next twenty-eight years they talked often, of art and beauty, politics and history, music, religion, and race. Smiley stumbled into this relationship that shaped his future and affected the man he became.” (Syndetics summary)

And two good ones in other parts of the library:

Syndetics book coverThe man who knew infinity : a life of the genius Ramanujan / Robert Kanigel.
“A biography of the Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan. The book gives a detailed account of his upbringing in India, his mathematical achievements, and his mathematical collaboration with English mathematician G. H. Hardy. The book also reviews the life of Hardy and the academic culture of Cambridge University during the early twentieth century.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverBarbara Pym : a passionate force / Ann Allestree.
Barbara Pym – A Passionate Force is a fine portrait of such an intriguing woman. In this book Ann Allestree delves into Barbara Pym’s life and her works with zeal. From the acknowledged early classic Excellent Women to the universally rejected (and later resurrected) An Unsuitable Attachment, so out of kilter with the gritty social realism of the 1960s, all are held up to affectionate scrutiny.” (Book Guild Publishing review)