Alexei Sayle does it again – April Biography picks

Those who loved Alexei Sayle’s wonderful Stalin Ate My Homework and longed for him to divulge what happened next need wait no longer. His equally esoteric adult life is revealed in the sequel received this month. Also on offer are important new studies of Clementine Churchill, Peggy Guggenheim and Ted Hughes. A gracious note is provided by an attractive picture book of Audrey Hepburn’s life at home.

Syndetics book coverThatcher stole my trousers / Alexei Sayle.
What I brought to comedy was an authentic working-class voice plus a threat of genuine violence – nobody in Monty Python looked like a hard case who’d kick your head in.
In 1971 comedians on the working men’s club circuit imagined that they would be free to go on telling their tired, racist, misogynistic gags forever but their nemesis, a 19 year old Marxist art student with a bizarre concern for the health of British manufacturing was slowly coming to meet them.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverAudrey at home : memories of my mother’s kitchen with recipes, photographs, and personal stories / Luca Dotti with Luigi Spinola.
“Enter Audrey Hepburn’s private world in this unique New York Times bestselling biography compiled by her son that combines recollections, anecdotes, excerpts from her personal correspondence, drawings, and recipes for her favorite dishes written in her own hand, and more than 250 previously unpublished personal family photographs.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe silver moon : reflections on life, death and writing / Bryce Courtenay.
“Each of us has a place to return to in our minds, a place of clarity and peace, a place to think, to create, to dream. For Bryce Courtenay this place was a waterhole in Africa where he used to escape to as a boy, in search of solitude. One evening, while lingering there, he witnessed the tallest of the great beasts drinking from the waterhole in the moonlight, and was spellbound. Ever since, he drew inspiration from this moment.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverEdward VII : the cosmopolitan king / Richard Davenport-Hines.
“Like his mother Queen Victoria, Edward VII gave his name to an era. Both reflected the personalities of their central figures: hers insular and stiff; his attuned to the need for royal performances in public, European-minded, pleasure-loving, money-conscious and worldly. This highly entertaining book by celebrated biographer and social historian Richard Davenport-Hines conveys Edward’s distinct personality and significant influences throughout his life.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverFirst Lady : the life and wars of Clementine Churchill / Sonia Purnell.
“Without Churchill’s inspiring leadership Britain could not have survived its darkest hour and repelled the Nazi menace. Without his wife Clementine, however, he might never have become Prime Minister. By his own admission, the Second World War would have been ‘impossible without her’. Clementine was Winston’s emotional rock and his most trusted confidante.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverOff the beaten track : three centuries of women travellers / Dea Birkett ; foreword by Jan Morris.
“The author records the experiences of women travellers and reveals where they travelled, what they looked like, how they described new landscapes and cultures in both words and images. She also raises important issues of identity and representation, as well as attitudes to gender roles.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverPeggy Guggenheim : the shock of the modern / Francine Prose.
“One of twentieth-century America’s most influential patrons of the arts, Peggy Guggenheim (1898-1979) brought to wide public attention the work of such modern masters as Jackson Pollock and Man Ray. In her time, there was no stronger advocate for the groundbreaking and the avant-garde. Her midtown gallery was the acknowledged center of the postwar New York art scene, and her museum on the Grand Canal in Venice remains one of the world’s great collections of modern art.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverGreat lives : a century in obituaries / edited by Anna Temkin.
“The Times obituaries have given readers throughout the world an instant picture of a life for over 150 years. This book brings together 124 of these pieces, with obituary updated and reproduced in their entirety. The Times register provides a rich store of information and opinion on the most influential characters of the 20th and early 21st century.The Times Great Lives is a must for anyone with an interest in the history and people of the 20th century.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverTed Hughes : the unauthorised life / Jonathan Bate.
“Ted Hughes, Poet Laureate, was one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. He was one of Britain’s most important poets, his work infused with myth; a love of nature, conservation, and ecology; of fishing and beasts in brooding landscapes. With an equal gift for poetry and prose, and with a soul as capacious as any poet in history, he was also a prolific children’s writer and has been hailed as the greatest English letter-writer since John Keats. His magnetic personality and insatiable appetite for friendship, love, and life also attracted more scandal than any poet since Lord Byron.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverFamily life : birth, death and the whole damn thing / Elisabeth Luard.
“Not everyone keeps an eagle owl in the spare bedroom cupboard, plays chess for the French Foreign Legion, or goes to school on an obstinate donkey. But this was all just a day in the life of the four Luard children. For the Luards, growing up as their family travelled across Europe, life was a series of adventures. Yet no family is immune to tragedy, and in Francesca, the eldest of three daughters, we find a true heroine.” (Syndetics summary)

From Russia with love – Biography picks for March

Many readers loved Elena Gorokhova’s A Mountain of crumbs – her account of growing up in pre-Perestroika Russia. Now they can read of her new, longed-for life in the United States, and her reunion with her remarkable mother. This is a story which is both funny and touching.
Also received this month were new books by Diana Athill, Joan Bakewell and Marian Keyes. You are spoiled for choice!

Syndetics book coverRussian tattoo : a memoir / Elena Gorokhova.
“From the bestselling author of A Mountain of Crumbs, a “brilliant and illuminating” (BookPage) portrait of mothers and daughters that reaches from Cold War Russia to modern-day New Jersey to show how the ties that hold you back can also teach you how to start over.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverMaking it up as I go along / Marian Keyes.
“‘Fabulous shoes, my badly made stews, an Antarctic cruise and ten pounds to lose. Having to schmooze when I’d far rather snooze. Skin care and bad hair and what should I wear? All kinds of views, which I hope will amuse…’ Welcome to the magnificent Making It Up as I Go Along – aka the World According to Marian Keyes. A bold, brilliant book bursting with Marian’s hilarious and heartfelt observations on modern life, love and much, much else besides.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverIn other words / Jhumpa Lahiri ; translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein.
In Other Words is a revelation. It is at heart a love story: that of a writer for another language. For Jhumpa Lahiri, that love was for Italian, which first captivated and capsized her during a trip to Florence after college. Although Lahiri studied Italian for many years afterward, true mastery always eluded her. Seeking full immersion, she decides to move to Rome with her family. There, she begins to read and write solely in Italian. In Other Words investigates the process of learning to express oneself in another language, and describes the journey of a writer seeking a new voice. Presented in a dual-language format, this is a wholly original book about exile, linguistic and otherwise, written with intensity and clarity.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverAbout women : conversations between a writer and a painter / Lisa Alther and Françoise Gilot.
“Lisa Alther and Françoise Gilot have been friends for more than twenty-five years. Although from different backgrounds (Gilot from cosmopolitan Paris, Alther from small-town Tennessee) and different generations, they found they have a great deal in common as women who managed to support themselves with careers in the arts, while simultaneously balancing the obligations of work and parenthood.” (Provided by publisher)

Syndetics book coverAmelia Earhart : beyond the grave / W.C. Jameson.
“This well-researched book is a biography of the life–and disappearance–of Amelia Earhart, the pioneering aviator who was the first woman to fly solo over the Atlantic in 1928. But did Amelia’s plane really crash and sink in 1937, or was her fate entirely different?” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverAlive, alive oh! and other things that matter / Diana Athill.
“What will you remember if you live to be 100? Diana Athill charmed readers with her prize-winning memoir Somewhere Towards the End, which transformed her into an unexpected literary star. Now, on the eve of her ninety-eighth birthday, Athill has written a sequel every bit as unsentimental, candid, and beguiling as her most beloved work.”(Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverStop the clocks : thoughts on what I leave behind / Joan Bakewell.
“Joan Bakewell has led a varied, sometimes breathless life. In Stop the Clocks, she muses on all she has lived through, how the world has changed and considers the things and values she will be leaving behind. Stop the Clocks is a book of musings, a look back at what she was given by her family, at the times in which she grew up. She talks of the present, of her family, of friends and literature – and talks too of what she will leave behind.” (Syndetics summary)

A good one in another part of the library:
Syndetics book coverM train / Patti Smith.
“Following Smith’s bestselling and critically acclaimed book Just Kids, this essay collection creates a map of the singer-songwriter’s peripatetic journeys to cafes, cemeteries, hotels, and train stations around the world. She is the perfect guide, revealing the mysteries in the shadows, the little bits of life people often take for granted-such as a good cup of coffee, a familiar coat, or the “transformation of the heart”.” (Syndetics summary)

Margaret Forster (1938–2016), noted novelist and biographer
It is with great sadness that we recently learned of the death of this well-loved author, of cancer at the age of 77. Although best known for her novel Georgy girl, Margaret Forster was the author of 14 biographies, among them the prize-winners Elizabeth Barrett Browning: a Biography and Daphne du Maurier: The Secret Life of the Renowned Storyteller. A feminist who recognised that the pioneering women who went before her had paved the way for her own success, she wrote Significant sisters: the grassroots of active feminism 1839-1939 in 1984.

Her last work of non-fiction, an autobiography entitled My life in houses, was published in 2014.

Syndetics book coverMy life in houses / Margaret Forster.
“Margaret Forster takes us on a journey through the houses she’s lived in: from the council house in Carlisle where she was born in 1938, to her beloved London house of today – via the Lake District, Oxford, Hampstead, and a spell in the Mediterranean. This is not a book about bricks and mortar, but a book about what houses are to us, and the effect they have on the way we live our lives. It is also a very personal inquiry into the meaning of home.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Rest in peace Margaret. You have brought much reading pleasure to many people.

More about the Mitford sisters – Biography picks for January

We have a bumper crop of new life stories to cheer in the new year. Another book about the famous Mitford sisters throws interesting new light on the illustrious sextet. The acclaimed The fish ladder has just hit our shelves together with a new book by Oliver Sacks giving thanks for all the good things a long life has given him. The intriguing story of a hidden Kennedy and long-overdue examination of the life of Millicent Baxter help make up this month’s complement.

Syndetics book coverTake six girls : the lives of the Mitford sisters / Laura Thompson.
“The eldest was a razor-sharp novelist of upper-class manners; the second was loved by John Betjeman; the third was a fascist who married Oswald Mosley; the fourth idolized Hitler and shot herself in the head when Britain declared war on Germany; the fifth was a member of the American Communist Party; the sixth became Duchess of Devonshire. They were the Mitford sisters: Nancy, Pamela, Diana, Unity, Jessica and Deborah.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe fish ladder : a journey upstream / Katharine Norbury.
“Katharine Norbury was abandoned as a baby in a Liverpool convent. Raised by a loving adoptive family, she grew into a wanderer, drawn by the landscape of the British countryside. One summer, following the miscarriage of a much-longed-for child, Katharine sets out–accompanied by her nine-year-old daughter, Evie–with the idea of following a river from the sea to its source. The luminously observed landscape grounds the walkers, providing both a constant and a context to their expeditions. But what begins as a diversion from grief evolves into a journey to the source of life.” (Syndetics summary)

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.[They] provide a revealing insight into the character of the woman who has reigned over us since the days when Churchill was prime minister.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverGratitude / Oliver Sacks.
My predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved. I have been given much and I have given something in return. Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.
During the last few months of his life, he wrote a set of essays in which he movingly explored his feelings about completing a life and coming to terms with his own death.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverOut of the shadows : the life of Millicent Baxter / Penny Griffith.
“Millicent Baxter was the pivot and driving force of her husband and sons lives. In some ways they lived in her shadow. Throughout her 96 years, Millicent was surrounded by fame, but virtually untouched by it. Her son James K. Baxter, was arguably the country’s most celebrated poet. Her husband Archie Baxter was New Zealand’s most renowned WW1 conscientious objector. Millicent declined an MA at the University of Cambridge and became a leading promoter of pacifism in New Zealand at a time when women just did not do such things.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe missing Kennedy : Rosemary Kennedy and the secret bonds of four women / Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff.
“Throughout her childhood, Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff frequently visited Rosemary Kennedy, President John F. Kennedy’s sister. Why? Koehler-Pentacoff’s aunt, Sister Paulus Koehler, a Franciscan nun, was Rosemary’s devoted caregiver at St. Coletta in Jefferson, Wisconsin for fifteen years and her driver and travel companion for over thirty.” (Syndetics summary)

A good one you might have missed:
Syndetics book coverKitchen Privileges : A Memoir
“Mother supported us by renting rooms, allowing our paying guests to have the privilege of preparing light meals in the kitchen. I supported my family by writing radio shows. Very early in the morning I put my typewriter on the kitchen table before I went to work in Manhattan and spent a few privileged and priceless hours working on my first novel. I have found that dreams do come true,even when the odds against achieving them seem great.” (Syndetics summary)

A good one reissued:
Syndetics book coverCome, tell me how you live / Agatha Christie Mallowan ; with an introduction by Jacquetta Hawkes.
“To the world she was Agatha Christie, author of numerous bestselling mysteries and whodunits, arguably the most popular writer in the English language. But in the 1930s she wore a different hat, traveling with her husband, renowned archaeologist Max Mallowan, as he investigated the buried ruins and ancient wonders of Syria and Iraq. [It was] described by the author as a “meandering chronicle of life on an archaeological dig.” (Syndetics summary)

And a good one in another part of the library:
Syndetics book coverStroppy old women : 52 Kiwi women, who’ve been around long enough to know, tell you what’s wrong with the world / compiled by Paul Little and Wendyl Nissen.
“They’re all irate about something, sounding off on topics from ageing to architecture, shop assistants to short skirts, tablecloths to technology, and many more, in the female follow-up to the popular Grumpy Old Men books. These strops are even more controversial, hard-hitting and funny than the male versions.” (Syndetics summary)

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

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

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

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)