Little spots of festive cheer – Biography picks for December

Many modern books have such dark covers, but fortunately the contents of this month’s biography selection are a lot more colourful. Frederick Forsyth reveals that he was secret agent and many of his thrillers were based on his own experiences. A new biography of John le Carre reveals that much of his life was shrouded in mystery. Little spots of light relief are provided by the irrepressible Dick Van Dyke and Diana Melly writing on the magic of movement. Merry Christmas to biography-lovers everywhere!

Syndetics book coverThe outsider : my life in intrigue / Frederick Forsyth.
“Trained first as a pilot, then as a journalist, Frederick Forsyth finally turned to fiction and became one of the most lauded thriller writers of our time. As exciting as his novels, Forsyth’s autobiography is a candid look at an extraordinary life lived to the full, a life whose unique experiences have provided rich inspiration for thirteen internationally bestselling thrillers.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverKeep moving : and other tips and truths about aging / Dick Van Dyke with Todd Gold.
“Show-business legend Dick Van Dyke is living proof that life does get better the longer you live it. Who better to offer instruction, advice, and humor than someone who’s entering his ninth decade with a jaunty two-step? Van Dyke isn’t just a born song-and-dance man; his irrepressible belief in embracing the moment and unleashing his inner child has proved to be the ultimate elixir of youth.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverPour me : a life / A. A. Gill.
“A. A. Gill’s memoir begins in the dark of a dormitory with six strangers. He is an alcoholic, dying in the last-chance saloon – driven to dry out, not out of a desire to change but mainly through weariness. He tells the truth – as far as he can remember it – about drinking and about what it is like to be drunk. Pour Me is about the black-outs, the collapse, the despair. He recalls the lost days, lost friends, failed marriages … But there was also ‘an optimum inebriation, a time when it was all golden’.”(Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverStrictly ballroom : tales from the dancefloor / Diana Melly.
“Two years ago, at the age of 72, Diana Melly took up ballroom dancing. She was suffering from bereavement, having recently lost her husband George to dementia, and was told that dancing might help. It has done much more than that, opening up a whole new chapter in her life. Ballroom dancing turns out to be incredibly good for you — a complex activity which not only flexes unexpected muscles but rewires the brain, increasing serotonin levels and reducing stress. In this gently humorous book, Diana Melly takes us on an eye-opening tour of dance.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverVera Brittain and the First World War : the story of Testament of youth / Mark Bostridge.
Vera Brittain and the First World War tells the remarkable story of the author behind “Testament of Youth” whilst charting the book’s ascent to become one of the most loved memoirs of the First World War period.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverSpectacles / Sue Perkins
“When I began writing this book, I went home to find what my mum might have kept of my stuff. What I found was that she hadn’t kept some of it. She had kept all of it. Sadly, a recycling ‘incident’ destroyed the bulk of this archive. This has meant two things: firstly, Dear Reader, you will never get to see countless drawings of wizards, read a poem about corn on the cob, or marvel at the kilos of brown flowers I so lovingly pressed as a child. Secondly, it’s left me with no choice but to actually write this thing myself. This, my first ever book.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverJohn le Carré : the biography / Adam Sisman.
“The definitive biography of the internationally adored author of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and A Perfect Spy–arguably one of the most important and influential writers of the post-World War II period–by the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning biographer Adam Sisman. In this definitive biography–blessed by John le Carré himself–Adam Sisman reveals the man behind the bestselling persona. In John le Carré, Sisman shines a spotlight on David Cornwell, an expert at hiding in plain sight.” (Syndetics summary)

And two good ones in another part of the library:

Syndetics book coverThe white road / Edmund de Waal.
“A handful of clay from a Chinese hillside carries a promise: that mixed with the right materials, it might survive the fire of the kiln, and fuse into porcelain” translucent, luminous, white. Acclaimed writer and potter Edmund de Waal sets out on a quest – a journey that begins in the dusty city of Jingdezhen in China and travels on to Venice, Versailles, Dublin, Dresden, the Appalachian Mountains of South Carolina and the hills of Cornwall to tell the history of porcelain.” (Syndetics summary)

Chance DevelopementsChance developments : unexpected love stories / Alexander McCall Smith.
“It is said that a picture may be worth a thousand words but an old photograph can inspire many more. In this beguiling book, Alexander McCall Smith casts his eye over five chanced-upon photographs from the era of black-and-white photography and imagines the stories behind them.” (Syndetics summary)

Formed by their first years – Biography picks for November

“Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man” is a Jesuit maxim which is generally held to be true. Several of the authors featured here were shaped by their early experiences. Make your selection from the bios listed below – whether it be that of an Australian broadcaster (Richard Glover), an American novelist (Joyce Carol Oates), or one of our own – Albert Wendt or Geoff Murphy.

Syndetics book coverFlesh wounds / Richard Glover.
“A mother who invented her past, a father who was often absent, a son who wondered if this could really be his family. Richard Glover’s favourite dinner party game is called ‘Who’s Got the Weirdest Parents?’. It’s a game he always thinks he’ll win. There was his mother, a deluded snob, who made up large swathes of her past and his father, a distant alcoholic.And there was Richard himself, a confused teenager, trying to find a family he could belong to.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverWhat my daughters taught me / Joseph Wakim.
“When Joseph Wakim’s wife died of breast cancer in 2003, his three daughters were only eleven, nine and four years old. Despite well-meaning friends, family and even strangers telling him he would need help to bring up his daughters, Joseph followed his heart and did the job his way, trusting that he – and the girls – would know what to do.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe good life on Te Muna Road / Deborah Coddington
“An engaging, affectionate reflection on finding love, making wine, and life in a small rural community. The first time Deborah Coddington lived in Martinborough was in the height of the hippy era, when the old mansion Waiura attracted poets, protesters, novelists, photographers, artists and activists.Nearly 40 years on,Deborah returned to Martinborough.[This memoir] is wry, amusing and heartfelt.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe way we wore : a life in clothes / Daphne Selfe.
“Daphne Selfe has been photographed by Mario Testino, Nick Knight and David Bailey. She has modelled for Dolce and Gabbana, Red or Dead and high-street chains such as TK Maxx, and regularly appears in newspaper fashion pages and glossy magazines. She is one of Britain’s most in-demand supermodels and has worked non-stop for almost twenty years. But what makes her really rather extraordinary is that she is now in her late eighties.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverMaggie Smith : a biography / Michael Coveney.
“No one does glamour, severity, girlish charm or tight-lipped witticism better than Dame Maggie Smith, one of Britain’s best-loved actors. This new biography shines the stage-lights on the life and work of a truly remarkable performer, one whose career spans six decades. From her days as a star of West End comedy and revue, Dame Maggie’s path would cross with those of the greatest actors, playwrights and directors of the era.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverOut of the Vaipe, the deadwater : a writer’s early life / Albert Wendt.
“For many years one of the Pacific’s leading writers, Albert Wendt ventures into fascinating and deeply personal new territory in this ground-breaking BWB Text. He recalls his boyhood in the Vaipe, a suburb of Apia in Samoa, just metres from the local cinema, and his life-changing schooling as a scholarship student at an initially foreign New Plymouth Boys’ High School.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverA life on film / Geoff Murphy.
“The majorly entertaining memoir from a major entertainer – Geoff ‘Goodbye Pork Pie’ Murphy tells it like it really was in this director’s cut of his life and times. “I’m taking this bloody car to Invercargill!” It was the line that had cinema audiences cheering. Goodbye Pork Pie became an instant classic, and announced the arrival of a major new talent in director Geoff Murphy.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverChanging lives / Janice Marriott and Virginia Pawsey.
“Friends since high school, Janice Marriott and Virginia Pawsey reconnected after 30 years and, shortly afterwards, began writing to each other about their respective lives, publishing Common Ground and Common Table together. However, each of them, unpredictably and somewhat radically, changed their lifestyle.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe lost landscape : a writer’s coming of age / Joyce Carol Oates.
“A momentous memoir of childhood and adolescence from one of our finest and most beloved writers, as we’ve never seen her before In The Lost Landscape, Joyce Carol Oates vividly re-creates the early years of her life in western New York State, powerfully evoking the romance of childhood and the way it colors everything that comes after.” (Syndetics summary)

About the author – Biography picks for September

If you enjoy an author’s work then it is natural to want to find out more about the author. Knowing their family background, their history, opinions and thoughts about their creation can greatly enhance the reading experience. A good writer is generally entertaining whatever the subject matter, and if that subject is themselves then the result is usually a jolly good read. This month we feature the life stories of five well-known writers, which we hope will bring you enlightenment and enjoyment.

Syndetics book coverGood Chinese wife : a love affair with China gone wrong / Susan Blumberg-Kason.
“When Susan, a shy Midwesterner in love with Chinese culture, started graduate school in Hong Kong, she quickly fell for Cai, the Chinese man of her dreams. As they exchanged vows, Susan thought she’d stumbled into an exotic fairy tale, until she realized Cai– and his culture– were not what she thought.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverHave you been good? : a memoir / Vanessa Nicolson.
“A reflective, potent memoir by the granddaughter of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson – about difficult parents, damaging loves and a life lived at passionate extremes.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverWomen I’ve undressed / Orry-Kelly.
“Found in a pillowcase, the fabulous long-lost memoirs of a legendary Hollywood designer – and a genuine Australian original. Orry-Kelly created magic on screen, from Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon to Some Like It Hot. He won three Oscars for costume design. He dressed all the biggest stars, from Bette Davis to Marilyn Monroe. He was an Australian. Yet few know who Orry-Kelly really was – until now.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe last love song : a biography of Joan Didion / Tracy Daugherty.
“In The Last Love Song, Tracy Daugherty, the critically acclaimed author of Hiding Man (a New Yorker and New York Times Notable book) and Just One Catch, delves deep into the life of distinguished American author and journalist Joan Didion in this, the first printed biography published about her life. Joan Didion lived a life in the public and private eye with her late husband, writer John Gregory Dunne.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverEat first, talk later : a memoir of food, family and home / Beth Yahp.
“A dazzling memoir from a talented Malaysian writer about family and home, and a searing portrait of the country of her birth. In this riveting memoir Beth persuades her ageing parents on a road trip around their former home, Malaysia. She intends to retrace their honeymoon of 45 years before, but their journey doesn’t quite work out as she planned. Only the family mantra, ‘Eat first, talk later’ keeps them (and perhaps the country) from falling apart.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverGoing up : to Cambridge and beyond – a writer’s memoir / Frederic Raphael.
Going Up is a journey from Chicago to Putney, to Charterhouse, on up to Cambridge, and beyond to Hollywood and France, recording experiences that were absorbed in his opulent novels and screenplays. Raphael is the author of over twenty novels, the most celebrated being The Glittering Prizes and its sequels. Going Up is a dazzling piece of virtuoso prose writing that is fabulously indiscreet but also deeply moving, and punctuated throughout by Raphael’s indefatigable wit and incomparable erudition.” (Adapted from Amazon.com)

Syndetics book coverInterestingly enough … : the life of Tom Keneally / Stephany Evans Steggall.
“‘Tom stands among our great artists . . . a writer whose writing life parallels, exemplifies and is one of the crowning achievements of the Australian literature that came into being in our lifetime.’ –Richard Flanagan.
For five decades Tom Keneally has been one of Australia’s most loved literary figures. Celebrated as one of the world’s finest writers and known especially for the Booker Prize-winning Schindler’s Ark, he is also respected for his humanitarianism.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverClarkson : the gloves are off / Gwen Russell.
“Jeremy Clarkson is a national treasure and with almost a million signatures on the Bring Back Clarkson petition, the nation has spoken: they want their Clarkson back. The fallout and controversy caused by his sacking is huge, and with Top Gear being one of the most globally viewed shows, ripples will be felt across the world. In this riveting, entertaining and fully up-to-date new biography, frank views and hilariously candid anecdotes appear alongside the life story of the nation’s favourite TV presenter.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverEttie Rout : New Zealand’s safer sex pioneer / Jane Tolerton.
“Ettie Rout fought a battle for safer sex in the First World War – and won. She gave New Zealand the best sexual health system when its army adopted her prophylactic kit and made every soldier going on leave take one – while she was banned from the pages of the newspapers so New Zealanders wouldn’t find out. [She was] a woman way ahead of her time.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverA house in St John’s Wood : in search of my parents / Matthew Spender.
“An intimate portrait of Stephen Spender’s extraordinary life written by his son, Matthew Spender, with new insights drawn from personal recollections and unpublished archives. Stephen Spender’s life was a vivid prism on the twentieth century. Having met Auden and Isherwood at Oxford, he joined the early vocal critics of Hitler participated in the Spanish Civil War.” (Syndetics summary)

Good sorts – Recent Biography picks for August

In a world where some may feel we are daily bombarded with news of foul deeds it is refreshing indeed to read of people who try to make this world a better place. Lance O’Sullivan, pioneering Northland doctor and New Zealander of the Year 2014, is one such person and his story is all the more remarkable for the fact that it almost didn’t happen.
Other good sorts featured in this month’s line-up include two nurses, Vera Brittan and Thea Hayes, and self-help guru Wayne Dyer. Last but not least are the women of the 1950s who are the subject of our last pick, Perfect wives and ideal homes. Real heroines!

Syndetics book coverMan of iron : the extraordinary story of New Zealand WWI hero Lieutenant-Colonel William Malone / Jock Vennell.
“The first biography of one of New Zealand’s best known First World War soldiers.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverFace to face : conversations with remarkable New Zealanders / text, Paul Moon ; photographs, Jane Ussher.
“Stimulating, humorous, sometimes controversial and always revealing, Face to Face offers intimate portraits of the lives of twelve remarkable New Zealanders. Through conversations with Paul Moon, one of the country’s most acclaimed historians and cultural commentators, and through the lens of award-winning photographer Jane Ussher, we get to know these extraordinary Kiwis like never before.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe good doctor : breaking the rules, making a difference / Lance O’Sullivan with Margie Thomson.
“Lance O’Sullivan is a man on a mission. Raised in Auckland by a solo mother, he had a modest upbringing typical of the time, if one chequered with difficulties. After being expelled from two schools, Lance could have gone off the rails. Instead, he found his way at Hato Petera College, connecting with his Maori ancestry, and going on to study medicine.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverAn outback nurse / Thea Hayes.
“Thea Hayes trained as a nurse in Sydney in 1959. A year later she was catapulted out of the safety of her city life into the unknown world of the Outback. Thea knew nothing of the place she was soon to call home, Wave Hill Station in the Northern Territory, the second largest property in the world under one management. It covered four million acres! With nervous excitement, Thea accepted the job and flew to the Northern Territory where her life was about to change dramatically.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverI can see clearly now / Wayne W. Dyer.
“After four decades as a teacher of self-empowerment and the bestselling author of more than 40 books, Dr Wayne W. Dyer has finally written a memoir! However, he has written it in a way that only he can – with a remarkable take-home message for his longtime followers and new readers alike – and the result is an exciting new twist on the old format. In this revealing and engaging book, Wayne shares dozens of events from his life, from the time he was a little boy in Detroit up to present day.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverMademoiselle : Coco Chanel and the pulse of history / Rhonda K. Garelick.
“Certain lives are at once so exceptional, and yet so in step with their historical moments, that they illuminate cultural forces far beyond the scope of a single person. Such is the case with Coco Chanel, whose life offers one of the most fascinating tales of the twentieth century–throwing into dramatic relief an era of war, fashion, ardent nationalism, and earth-shaking change–here brilliantly treated, for the first time, with wide-ranging and incisive historical scrutiny.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverStalin’s daughter : the extraordinary and tumultuous life of Svetlana Alliluyeva / Rosemary Sullivan.
“Born in 1926, Svetlana Alliluyeva spent her youth inside the Kremlin as her father’s power soared along with that of the Soviet Union. Eighty-five years later, she died alone and penniless in rural Wisconsin as Lana Peters. Revealed here for the first time, the many lives of Joseph Stalin’s daughter form a riveting portrait of a woman who fled halfway around the world to escape her birthright.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverVera Brittain : a life / Paul Berry and Mark Bostridge.
“Vera Brittain is most widely known as the woman who immortalized a lost generation in her haunting autobiography of the Great War, TESTAMENT OF YOUTH. Writer, pacifist and feminist, she condemned her provincial background but remained acutely conscious of the conventional elements in her own character; she revealed a richly emotional life in her writing but was outwardly sober and reserved; she possessed a fierce desire for fame and recognition but was ready to sacrifice both on matters of principle.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverBloomsbury’s outsider : a life of David Garnett / Sarah Knights.
“Shortlisted for the Slightly Foxed Best First Biography Prize 2015 Literary Sensation, Lover, Libertine, Family Man Award-winning novelist and towering figure of the 20th century British literary landscape, David Garnett was a Bloomsbury insider ultimately pushed to the margins. In this, the first biography of Garnett, (known as Bunny), author Sarah Knights – who has had unprecedented access to Garnett’s papers – goes beyond stereotype and myth to present a clear sighted account of this often contradictory figure.” (Syndetics summary)

And a good one from another part of the library:

Syndetics book coverPerfect wives in ideal homes : the story of women in the 1950s / Virginia Nicholson.
“In Perfect Wives in Ideal Homes, Virginia Nicholson tells the story of women in the 1950s: a time before the Pill, when divorce spelled scandal and two-piece swimsuits caused mass alarm. Turn the page back to the mid-twentieth century, and discover a world peopled by women with radiant smiles, clean pinafores and gleaming coiffures; a promised land of batch-baking, maraschino cherries and brightly hued plastic. A world where the darker side of the decade encompasses rampant prostitution, a notorious murder, and the threat of nuclear disaster.” (Syndetics summary)

Back in the bad old days… – Biography picks for July

…Just imagine, unlike their sisters in New Zealand, women in Britain did not have the vote. Not a single woman, not even one who owned property. They were completely disenfranchised. However there were some brave souls who were determined to do almost anything to rectify this injustice. They endured imprisonment and force-feeding in order to win the vote for their sex. In this month’s star pick My own story Emmeline Pankhurst, one of the best-known of their number, recounts her recollections of the time. The book has just been made into a major film, ‘Suffragette‘. Her aristocratic fellow campaigner, Lady Constance Lytton, refused special treatment and became a martyr to the cause. Read, be inspired and always exercise your right to vote!

Syndetics book coverMy own story / Emmeline Pankhurst.
“Emmeline Pankhurst grew up all too aware of the prevailing attitude of her day: that men were considered superior to women. When she was just fourteen she attended her first suffrage meeting, and returned home a confirmed suffragist. Throughout the course of her career she endured humiliation, prison, hunger strikes and the repeated frustration of her aims by men in power, but she rose to become a guiding light of the Suffragette movement. This is the story, in Pankhurst’s own words, of her struggle for equality.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverVirginia Woolf : a portrait / Viviane Forrester ; translated by Jody Gladding.
“Winner of the prestigious Prix Goncourt award for biography, this remarkable portrait sheds new light on Virginia Woolf’s relationships with her family and friends and how they shaped her work. Virginia Woolf: A Portrait blends recently unearthed documents, key primary sources, and personal interviews with Woolf’s relatives and other acquaintances to render in unmatched detail the author’s complicated relationship with her husband, Leonard; her father, Leslie Stephen; and her half-sister, Vanessa Bell.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverCriminal that I am : a memoir / Jennifer Ridha.
“A candid memoir from a talented young lawyer who becomes romantically entangled with the convicted drug felon she represents-Cameron Douglas, son of film actor Michael Douglas-and who soon makes the mistake of her life. Or does she? Criminal That I Am is a defense attorney’s account of the criminal justice system as seen through the prism of a particular case: her own.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverA passion for birth : my life : anthropology, family and feminism / Sheila Kitzinger.
“This fully illustrated autobiography recounts Sheila Kitzinger s life from her childhood, with a mother who was a feminist before the term was invented, her student days in Oxford to her pioneering work in anthropology and tireless campaigning for women s rights and improvement in maternity services. An inspiration to many, Kitzinger talks candidly about her set-backs and failures as well as her achievements,in her continuous and untiring struggle against the medicalization of childbirth.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverPrimates of Park Avenue : a memoir / Wednesday Martin, Ph.D.
“Like an urban Dian Fossey, Wednesday Martin decodes the primate social behaviors of Upper East Side mothers in a brilliantly original and witty memoir about her adventures assimilating into that most secretive and elite tribe. After marrying a man from the Upper East Side and moving to the neighborhood, Wednesday Martin struggled to fit in. Drawing on her background in anthropology and primatology, she tried looking at her new world through that lens, and suddenly things fell into place.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverSettling day / Kate Howarth.
“Following on from her award-winning memoir Ten Hail Marys , Kate Howarth’s extraordinary life continues in Settling Day . Thrust out of her son’s life while he is still a toddler, teenaged Kate has to rely on her wits and courage to start life anew. Filled with remorse and an unwavering determination to be reunited with her son, so begins Kate’s journey as she fights injustice and prejudice to create a better life.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverLady Constance Lytton : aristocrat, suffragette, martyr / Lyndsey Jenkins ; foreword by Helen Pankhurst.
“Lady Constance Lytton, daughter of a Viceroy of India, seemed the most unlikely of suffragettes. Witnessing the trial of Emmeline and Christobel Pankhurst, she was converted to the cause of women’s suffrage. Constance changed her life, rejected her aristocratic background, and acquired a purpose. As an activist Lytton disguised her identity to avoid privileged treatment and when arrested, and subsequently jailed, went on hunger strike, being force-fed eight times. (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverEat, drink & remarry : confessions of a serial wife / Margo Howard.
“”Margo Howard, daughter of advice maven Ann Landers and author of the highly syndicated columns ‘Dear Prudence’ and ‘Dear Margo,’ chronicles her winding journey to everlasting love–and the three divorces it took to get there–in this disarmingly candid memoir.” (Provided by publisher)

Great minds past and present – Biography picks for June

The great news this month is that Oliver Sacks, ground-breaking neurologist and popular author, has at last published his autobiography. Sacks, who has enhanced so many lives, has had a very difficult passage through his own. His memoir gives a frank account of this, and his emergence as a happy and balanced man who found his life partner at the age of seventy seven.
And the sad news this month is that John Nash, the gifted mathematician of ‘A Beautiful Mind’ fame, died in a car crash shortly after receiving the equivalent of the Nobel prize for his work. If you haven’t read A Beautiful Mind you might like to consider it now.

Syndetics book coverThe bird market of Paris : a memoir / Nikki Moustaki.
“An avian expert and author shares a true story of her remarkable grandfather and their shared passion for birds. After his death she fulfils his wish for her to go to Paris and visit the market and this leads to an astonishing redemption.” (Global Books summary)

Syndetics book coverBorn with teeth : a memoir / Kate Mulgrew.
“At 22, Kate Mulgrew gave birth to a daughter. Having already signed the adoption papers, she was allowed only a fleeting glimpse of her child. Three days later, she returned to work as the star of a popular soap opera. Twenty years later, she went in search of the daughter she had given away. We know Mulgrew for the strong women she’s played–Captain Janeway on Star Trek; “Red” on Orange Is the New Black. Now, in her memoir, we meet the most inspiring and lovable character of all: herself.” (Summary from Amazon.co.uk)

Syndetics book coverEisenhower : in war and peace / Jean Edward Smith.
“In his magisterial bestseller FDR, Jean Edward Smith gave us a fresh, modern look at one of the most indelible figures in American history. Now this peerless biographer returns with a new life of Dwight D. Eisenhower that is as full, rich, and revealing as anything ever written about America’s thirty-fourth president.” (Summary from Amazon.co.uk)

Syndetics book coverThe book of wanderings : a mother-daughter pilgrimage / Kimberly Meyer.
“To a mother and daughter on an illuminating pilgrimage, this is what the desert said: Carry only what you need. Burn what can’t be saved. Leave the remnants as an offering. When Kimberly Meyer gave birth to her first daughter, Ellie, during her senior year of college, the bohemian life of exploration she had once imagined for herself was lost in the responsibilities of single motherhood. For years, both mother and daughter were haunted by how Ellie came into being-Kimberly through a restless ache for the world beyond, Ellie through a fear of abandonment.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverOn the move : a life / Oliver Sacks.
“Few people can claim to have made such a profound impact on the public understanding of the brain and its inner workings. In this book, Oliver Sacks describes his time at Oxford University, his time spent in San Francisco and Los Angeles in the early nineteen sixties, before moving on to chart his progression from young doctor to his public role as a neurologist and author. Here we see Sacks’s private passions – among them, motorcycling, weightlifting, travel, and botany – placed alongside his professional life. He will also explore his most formative relationships with those thinkers who have influenced his own work.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverA curious friendship : the story of a bluestocking and a bright young thing / Anna Thomasson.
“The winter of 1924: Edith Olivier, alone for the first time at the age of fifty-one, thought her life had come to an end. For Rex Whistler, a nineteen-year-old art student, life was just beginning. Together, they embarked on an intimate and unlikely friendship that would transform their lives. Gradually Edith’s world opened up and she became a writer. Her home, the Daye House, in a wooded corner of the Wilton estate, became a sanctuary for Whistler and the other brilliant and beautiful younger men of her circle.” (Global Books summary)

Syndetics book coverOne life : my mother’s story / Kate Grenville.
“Nance was a week short of her sixth birthday when she and Frank were roused out of bed in the dark and lifted into the buggy, squashed in with bedding, the cooking pots rattling around in the back, and her mother shouting back towards the house: Goodbye, Rothsay, I hope I never see you again! When Kate Grenville’s mother died she left behind many fragments of memoir. These were the starting point for One Life , the story of a woman whose life spanned a century of tumult and change.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverPicnic in Provence : a memoir with recipes / Elizabeth Bard.
“The bestselling author of Lunch in Paris takes us on another delicious journey, this time to the heart of Provence. Ten years ago, New Yorker Elizabeth Bard followed a handsome Frenchman up a spiral staircase to a love nest in the heart of Paris. Now, with a baby on the way and the world’s flakiest croissant around the corner, Elizabeth is sure she’s found her “forever place.” But life has other plans. On a last romantic jaunt before the baby arrives, the couple take a trip to the tiny Provencal village of Céreste.” (Global Books summary)

Syndetics book coverA beautiful mind : the life of mathematical genius and Nobel laureate John Nash / Sylvia Nasar.
“The true story of John Nash, the mathematical genius who was a legend by age thirty when he slipped into madness, and who — thanks to the selflessness of a beautiful woman and the loyalty of the mathematics community — emerged after decades of ghostlike existence to win a Nobel Prize and world acclaim.” (adapted from Global Books summary)

Renunciation in two worlds – May biography picks

What would cause a young man to forsake a fortune and an earldom or a child of comfortable middle-class India to become a pilgrim? These questions are answered in two of our current selection of new biographies. Those who know of the wonderful writing style of Selina Hastings will need little persuasion to open this new volume – a very personal one as it is the story of her father. Also featured is the story of Satish Kumar, which is extremely interesting as it is tied up with the Gandhi’s struggle for the betterment of the Indian people and the teachings of Bertrand Russell..
Lighter reading is provided by comedian Michelle A’Court belatedly remembering serious stuff she should have told her daughter. Cat-lovers everywhere will relish a new book comprising beautiful black- and-white photographs of famous artists and their moggies. Happy reading!

Syndetics book coverFatal glamour : the life of Rupert Brooke / Paul Delany.
“Delany gives us a less one-sided portrait of Brooke than we have yet seen. The central achievement of this book looms most largely in its cultural iconoclasm. Fatal Glamour, likely to become the definitive biography of Rupert Brooke, smashes the ancient myths and idols of a Georgian product of the old Renaissance grammar school.” David Williams, University of Manitoba and the author of Media, Memory, and the First World War.” (Global Books summary)

Syndetics book coverThe red earl : the extraordinary life of the 16th Earl of Huntingdon / Selina Hastings.
“(Jack Hastings’s) adventures are brilliantly and affectionately told by his daughter: award-winning biographer Selina Hastings . the delight of this book is in the small details the author has uncovered about the extraordinary life her father led before she was born . Jack packed more into the first 20 years of his adult life than most people do into a lifetime and this wonderful celebration of one man’s determination to have his own way is a pure delight.” (Global Books summary)

Syndetics book coverArtists and their cats / Alison Nastasi.
“Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol, Frida Kahlo – great artists throughout history have shared one very special love – the companionship of cats. This book gathers photographs of 50 famous artists with their beloved feline friends and offers behind-the-scenes stories of their relationships.” (Global Books summary)

Syndetics book coverStuff I forgot to tell my daughter / Michèle A’Court.
“Adapted from the author’s sell out solo standup show, this is a candid and very funny account of being the mother of a daughter, of how we are sometimes so busy parenting we forget how to be a person, and why learning how to store ginger is as important as knowing the history of feminism.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverNo destination : autobiography of a pilgrim / Satish Kumar.
“When he was only 9 years old, Satish Kumar renounced the world and joined the wandering brotherhood of Jain monks. Dissuaded from this path by an inner voice at the age of 18, he became a campaigner for land reform, working to turn Gandhi’s vision of a renewed India into reality. Fired by the example of Bertrand Russell, he undertook an 8,000-mile peace pilgrimage, walking from India to America without any money.’No Destination’is an exhilarating account of an extraordinary life.” (Global Books summary)

Syndetics book coverIf you find this letter : my journey to find purpose through hundreds of letters to strangers : a memoir / Hannah Brencher.
“A heartwarming memoir of love and faith from Hannah Brencher–founder of The World Needs More Love Letters–who has dedicated her life to showing total strangers that they are not alone in the world.” (Global Books summary)

Syndetics book coverMr. and Mrs. Disraeli : a strange romance / Daisy Hay.
“Reading between the lines of a great cache of their letters and the anecdotes of others in chilly Oxford reading rooms, Daisy Hay shows how the Disraelis rose to the top of the social and political pile. Along the way, we meet women of a similar station and situation whose endings were far unhappier than Mary Anne’s, acting as a counterpoint to her fairy tale ending as the landed Angel of the Prime Minister’s House.” (Global Books summary)

Syndetics book coverWhat comes next and how to like it : a memoir / Abigail Thomas.
“In astutely titled short chapters, from a quarter-page to a few pages, best-selling author Thomas (Safe Keeping, 2000; A Three Dog Life, 2006) walks readers with her through some heady times, including love affairs, friendships, pets, cancer, and death. She intersperses her recollections with discussions of her artwork (paint on glass) and how the colors and the results surprise her. So, too, do life’s vicissitudes.” (Booklist)

Syndetics book coverGreat women’s lives : a celebration in obituaries / edited by Sue Corbett ; foreword by Lucy Worsley.
“Nearly 150 years of women’s progress is charted in this compilation of significant women’s obituaries With entries dating from 1872 to 2013, the latest in The Times ‘series of anthologies of its obituaries focuses attention on almost two centuries of groundbreaking achievements by more than 100 women, from around the world ” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverYoung Eliot : from St. Louis to The Waste Land / Robert Crawford.
“A groundbreaking new biography of one of the twentieth century’s most important poets On the fiftieth anniversary of the death of T. S. Eliot, the award-winning biographer Robert Crawford presents us with the first volume of a comprehensive account of this poetic genius. Young Eliot traces the life of the twentieth century’s most important poet from his childhood in St. Louis to the publication of his revolutionary poem The Waste Land.” (Syndetics summary)

Quite a good time to be born – Recent Biography picks

Many of of our picks are memoirs this month, and most of the authors would agree with David Lodge that the year of their birth was quite a good time to be born. Lodge, celebrated for his humorous novels about English academic life, has written of the life that inspired them – his own. Gail Godwin writes of her career in publishing. Phyllis Barber tells us what happened next after fighting to establish an independent life for herself in a strict Mormon community, and a decent young doctor tells us how he was seduced by the dark side. Among the biographies featured is the heart-breaking story of golden girl Reeva Steenkamp written by her mother. A new look at Bertie, Prince of Wales, shows how his years in France shaped him and made him an effective ruler when he eventually came to power. Happy reading!

Syndetics book coverReeva : a mother’s story / June Steenkamp with Sarah Edworthy.
“In the early hours of Valentine’s Day 2013, Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, shooting her multiple times while she cowered behind the locked door of their bathroom. His trial has attracted more international media attention and public scrutiny than any since that of OJ Simpson. What went on behind the scenes though? And what was the real Reeva like, away from the photo shoots and the attention of the media?.” (Wellington City Libraries catalogue note)

Syndetics book coverQuite a good time to be born : a memoir : 1935-1975 / David Lodge.
“The only child in a lower-middle-class London family, who got his artistic genes from his musician father and his Catholic faith from his Irish-Belgian mother, David Lodge was four when World War II began and grew to maturity through decades of great social and cultural change, giving him plenty to write about in his distinguished career. In this memoir of his life up to the publication of his breakthrough book, ‘Changing Places’, David looks back over his childhood and youth.” (Global Books summary)

Syndetics book coverPublishing : a writer’s memoir / Gail Godwin ; illustrations by Frances Halsband.
“As a successful novelist with 45 years of experience, Godwin (Flora; The Good Husband) offers readers an up-close view of the publishing world and its changes over the years. In this unusual memoir, the author weaves events in her personal and writing life among accounts of her interactions with publishers.” (Library Journal)

Syndetics book coverRaw edges : a memoir / Phyllis Barber.
“In this memoir, Barber, an author who teaches at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, details her life after her marriage ended, as well as the development of her identity as she searched for the meaning of love and spirituality. Picking up where her previous memoir (How I Got Cultured: A Nevada Memoir) left off, she describes the period of her life between 1995 and 2002, which included a cross-country bicycle trip, a relationship with a drug addict, a second failed marriage, and periods of depression.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverDirty Bertie : an English king made in France / Stephen Clarke.
“Despite fierce opposition from his mother, Queen Victoria, Edward VII was always passionately in love with France. He had affairs with the most famous Parisian actresses, courtesans and can-can dancers. He spoke French more elegantly than most English. He turned his French seduction skills into the diplomatic prowess that sealed the Entente Cordiale. A quintessentially English king? Pas du tout! Stephen Clarke argues that as ‘Dirty Bertie’, Edward learnt all the essential things in life from the French.” (Wellington City Libraries catalogue)

Syndetics book coverThe young T.E. Lawrence / Anthony Sattin.
“Sattin (Lifting the Veil), a travel writer with an extensive background in the Middle East, approaches the oft-profiled T.E. Lawrence from a new angle, focusing exclusively on the first half of Lawrence’s life, prior to the events that would make him famous. He wonders “how the second son of a quiet, comfortably off, apparently unexceptional Oxford family came to play a role-any role-in the Arab uprising.” (Publisher Weekly)

RoyalLoveStoriesRoyal love stories : the tales behind the real-life romances of Europe’s Kings & Queens / Gill Paul ; introduction by Camilla Tominey.
“Historically, many royal marriages have represented the unions of dynasties, with true engagements of the heart notable for their rarity. Yet royal couples could fall in love, and this book is full of surprises, from the undying love that the last Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II, felt for his Tsarina, to the unlikely love that flourished between Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.” (Global Books summary)

Syndetics book coverSophia : princess, suffragette, revolutionary / Anita Anand.
“BBC radio and television journalist Anand tells the story of Sophia Duleep Singh (1876-1948), born in exile in England but the rightful heiress to a rich and mighty Indian empire-the Kingdom of the Sikhs. Raised as a privileged Englishwoman with Queen Victoria for a godmother, Sophia’s life took an unexpected turn when she dared to travel to her ancestral home in India. While there, she found herself moved by the plight of her kinsmen who languished under British rule.” (Library Journal)

Syndetics book coverThe truant from medicine : how a decent young doctor was seduced to the dark side / Ivan M. Donaldson.
“This engaging memoir tells how the author has integrated the two great loves of his life. It’s the story of one of this country’s wine pioneers but also the fascinating account of a life in medicine, spent plumbing the deep mysteries of the human brain.” (Wellington City Libraries catalogue note).

Something to look forward to – Biography picks January 2015

One of the great determinants of happiness is having something to look forward to. It cheers us along life’s rocky road and offers a beacon of hope in sometimes barren times.
This month we feature two goodies to come – Antonia Fraser, biographer of so many great historical figures, has now chosen to tell her own fascinating story. Alexandra Fuller, author of several popular biographical works set in Africa (Don’t let’s go to the dogs tonight, Cocktail hour under the tree of forgetfulness) is now telling us what happened next in her own life – a true coming-of age memoir with which many readers will identify. Another cause for celebration this month is the re-issue of Betty Macdonald’s timeless comic classic The egg and I – something which will lift the most jaded of spirits!

Syndetics book coverTibetan peach pie : a true account of an imaginative life / Tom Robbins.
“Legendary novelist, American icon, and author of the international bestseller Even Cowgirls Get the Blues Tom Robbins’s zany romp through his wild life and times. Tom Robbins is an American institution. For over forty years, his warm, wise, and wonderfully weird novels such as Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Another Roadside Attraction, and Jitterbug Perfume have entranced readers the world over.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverOur time of day : my life with Corin Redgrave / Kika Markham.
“Actors Kika Markham and Corin Redgrave were married for 25 happy, passionate and turbulent years. They shared their love of acting, family and left-wing activist politics with ceaseless energy and commitment, recording their thoughts and feelings in personal diaries. Each wrote of the other with sometimes brutal honesty and deep insight into the human heart and psyche. Kika Markham draws this poignant account of their marriage from those intimate diaries.” (Global Books summary)

Syndetics book coverTorvill and Dean : our life on ice : the autobiography / [Jayne] Torvill and [Christopher] Dean.
“When Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean collapsed to the ice at the climax of their routine to Bolero in the 1984 Winter Olympics, the judges could find no fault, awarding them 12 maximum scores of 6.0, while 24 million viewers watching at home in Britain simply looked on in amazement. Suddenly, we were all experts in figure skating, and we wanted to know more about the couple at the heart of it all. Despite intense interest in them, Torvill & Dean kept their lives private.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverMāori boy : a memoir of childhood / Witi Ihimaera.
“This is the first volume of Witi Ihimaera’s enthralling memoir, packed with stories from the formative years of this much-loved writer. Witi Ihimaera is a consummate storyteller – one critic calling him one of our ‘finest and most memorable’. Some of his best stories, however, are about his own life. This honest, stirring work tells of the family and community into which Ihimaera was born and of his early life in rural New Zealand.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe lives of the famous and the infamous : everything you need to know about everyone who mattered / The Week ; compiled and edited by Steve Tribe.
“Read about the man who convinced Einstein there was a God, the newspaper publisher who brought down a president and the code-cracking genius who helped foil the Nazis, and remember the lives of those that created the extraordinary moments in our modern history. Based on the obituaries that appear in every issue of The Week, here is a book that brings together the famous and infamous figures of our generation.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverDon’t give up, don’t give in : lessons from an extraordinary man / Louis Zamperini and David Rensin.
“Louis Zamperini has lived one of the most amazing lives imaginable. Zamperini was an American Olympic athlete before serving in the Second World War. During the war his plane was shot down, leaving him stranded on a life raft in the middle of the ocean for 47 days. He survived and was rescued by Japanese forces, only to be imprisoned and tortured in a POW camp. Amazingly, Louis survived this ordeal too and went on to help others.” (Global Books summary)

And two good ones to look forward to:

Syndetics book coverMy history: a memoir of growing up
“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 – 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’.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverLeaving before the rains come
“In 1992 Alexandra Fuller embarked on a new journey, into a long, tempestuous marriage to Charlie Ross, the love of her life. In this frank, personal memoir, a sequel to Don’t Let’s Go To The Dogs Tonight, she charts their 20 years together, from the brutal beauty of the Zambezi to the mountains of Wyoming – the new adventures, the unexplored paths, the insurmountable obstacles and the many signals that they missed along the way.” (Global Books summary)

And an oldie but a goodie, reissued:

Syndetics book coverThe egg and I / Betty MacDonald.
“When Betty MacDonald married a marine and moved to a small chicken farm on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, she was largely unprepared for the rigors of life in the wild. With no running water, no electricity, a house in need of constant repair, and days that ran from four in the morning to nine at night, the MacDonalds had barely a moment to put their feet up and relax. And then came the children. Yet through every trial and pitfall–through chaos and catastrophe–this indomitable family somehow, mercifully, never lost its sense of humour.” (Global Books summary)

Great books for the holiday break – Biography picks for December

After the Christmas hysteria has subsided, biography-lovers may seek out a comfortable chair somewhere in the sun and take in one of the interesting books offered to them here, or one of the many more in our extensive biography section. A special treat this month is My life in houses by Margaret Forster, which tells her story through the houses she has lived in — a very interesting personal narrative and social history of modern England. Another Good British Biography in our holiday selection is the very readable and comprehensive Behind the mask : the life of Vita Sackville-West. You may find something else which takes your fancy in the list below. Season’s greetings to biography-lovers everywhere!

Syndetics book coverBehind the mask : the life of Vita Sackville-West / Matthew Dennison.
“Matthew Dennison traces the triumph and contradictions of Vita Sackville-West’s extraordinary life. His narrative charts a fascinating course from Vita’s lonely childhood at Knole, through her affectionate but ‘open’ marriage to Harold Nicolson (during which both husband and wife energetically pursued homosexual affairs, Vita most famously with Virginia Woolf), and through Vita’s literary successes and disappointments, to the famous gardens the couple created at Sissinghurst.” (Global Books summary)

Syndetics book coverMy life in houses / Margaret Forster.
“‘I was born on May 25, 1938, in the front bedroom of a house in Orton Road, on the outer edges of Raffles, a council estate. I was a lucky girl.’ So begins Margaret Forster’s journey through the houses she’s lived in, from that sparkling new council house, built as part of a utopian vision by Carlisle City Council, to her beloved London house of today, via Oxford, Hampstead, the Lake District and a spell in the Mediterranean.” (Wellington City Libraries catalogue)

Syndetics book coverMichelangelo : a life in six masterpieces / Miles J. Unger.
“In Michelangelo, the poet Ludovico Ariosto saw an angel divine. The Michelangelo whom Unger delivers in this probing biography is no angel but, rather, a fallible, even devious man. But he does evince powers not previously seen among mere human beings in the way he defies the limits that previously circumscribed the role of the artist.” (Booklist)

Syndetics book coverEat, drink & remarry : confessions of a serial wife / Margo Howard.
“In this touching memoir, Howard, the author of the Dear Prudence advice columns, chronicles her multiple marriages with lessons learned but few regrets. Howard’s first lesson comes from dealing with her cold, driven, alcoholic first husband and their ritualized back-and-forth game of forgiveness. After that marriage she decides to be a writer like her mom, the famous advice columnist, Ann Landers, who opens her arms to her daughters ambitions by buying her an IBM Selectric Typewriter.” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverMona Lisa : a life discovered / Dianne Hales.
“In this entertaining book, Hales (La Bella Lingua) attempts to reconstruct the obscure life of Mona Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo, the wife of a prosperous Florentine merchant, Francesco del Giocondo, who either commissioned the painting from Leonardo da Vinci or was approached by the artist to create the smoky portrait now ensconced in the Louvre. Combining history, whimsical biography, personal travelogue, and love letter to Italy, the book portrays Lisa Gherardini as a Renaissance Everywoman.” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverMargot Asquith’s Great War diary 1914-1916 : the view from Downing Street / selected and edited by Michael and Elanor Brock ; with the assistance of Mark Pottle.
“A Downing Street diary with a difference; offering a unique record and a fascinating insight into the British government during WWI, written by Margot Asquith, the wife of then Prime Minister, H.H. Asquith.” (Global Books summary)

Syndetics book coverTravelling to work : diaries 1988-1998 / Michael Palin.
“Travelling to work is the third volume of Michael Palin’s widely acclaimed diaries. After the Python years and a decade of filming, writing and acting, Palin’s career takes an unexpected direction into travel, which will shape his working life for the next twenty-five years. Yet, as the diaries reveal, he remained ferociously busy on a host of other projects throughout this whirlwind period.” (Wellington City Libraries catalogue)

Syndetics book coverHow does it hurt? / Stephanie de Montalk.
“Stephanie de Montalk tells the story of the chronic pain that has invaded her life for more than ten years. She considers how her early experiences have been cast into fresh relief by what she has endured, then goes back in time to investigate the lives and works of three writers who also lived with and wrote about pain: ‘the consolator’, English social theorist Harriet Martineau (1802-1876), ‘the vendor of happiness’, French novelist Alphonse Daudet (1840-1897), and ‘the imago’, Polish poet Aleksander Wat (1900-1967).” (Publisher information)

Syndetics book coverThe woman who saved the children : a biography of Eglantyne Jebb, founder of Save the Children / Clare Mulley.
“Mulley’s fascinating biography of Jebb is an in-depth look at life in England in the early 1920s. Born in 1876 and raised in a Shropshire home, Jebb inherited her parents’ keen sense of social justice and personal social responsibility. Jebb and her sister, Dorothy, moved to Cambridge in the early 1900s, into what was then the middle of a liberal welfare movement. It was during this pivotal historical time that Jebb began to champion her cause with the belief that social justice is a civil right and not just a benevolent gift. (Publisher Weekly)

The new year brings two marvellous biographical movies to our screens:

The theory of everything based on Travelling to Infinity, the story of Jane Hawking’s life with the brilliant Stephen, and The imitation game about Alan Turing. There will be a rush to know more about these charismatic people so be in the vanguard and reserve them now!

Syndetics book coverTravelling to infinity : my life with Stephen / Jane Hawking.
Travelling to Infinity is a moving and engaging memoir written by Stephen Hawking’s first wife about the turbulent years of her marriage with the astro-physics genius, her traumatic divorce and their recent reconciliation.” (Global Books summary)

Syndetics book coverThe man who knew too much : Alan Turing and the invention of the computer / David Leavitt.
“Leavitt, who teaches creative writing at the U. of Florida, brings his novelist sensibilities to bear on the story of the English mathematician Alan Turing, who helped crack the Enigma code of World War II, crossed paths with the great minds of his time, and found his career as a computer builder cut short after he was arrested for violating anti-homosexuality laws. The biography, however, is no melodrama, focusing most intently on Turing’s ideas and their implications for the science that followed.” (Syndetics)