Biographies Behind the Famous Brands

From Sky TV to Tesla and from Dyson to Cadbury Chocolate; read the legendary stories of the genius brains behind the big brands; their lives, their difficult times and how they thrive on success.

Invention : a life / Dyson, James
“Famously, over a four-year period, James Dyson made 5,127 prototypes of the cyclonic vacuum cleaner that would transform the way houses are cleaned around the world. Dyson reveals how he came to set up his own company and led it to become one of the most inventive technology companies in the world. Dyson has always looked to the future, even setting up his own university to help provide the next generation of engineers and designers. It is a compelling and dramatic tale.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Elon Musk : how the billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla is shaping our future / Vance, Ashlee
“Elon Musk, the renowned entrepreneur and innovator behind SpaceX, Tesla, and SolarCity, sold one of his internet companies, PayPal, for $1.5 billion. The author captures the genius’s life and work, from his tumultuous upbringing in South Africa and flight to the United States to his dramatic technical innovations and entrepreneurial pursuits. Musk has dedicated his energies and fortune to inventing a future comparable to science-fiction fantasy.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

No limits : how Craig Heatley became a top New Zealand entrepreneur / Black, Joanne
“No Limits describes Craig Heatley’s entrepreneurial life. It charts his philosophies, his approach to currency trading and the significance of joining the world’s most prestigious golf club, Augusta National, home of the Masters. It is Sky Television that was his boldest and most precarious undertaking. The fledgling company teetered in the early nineties as rugby suffered its own crisis, torn between its amateur heritage and the forces of professionalism.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Chocolate wars : from Cadbury to Kraft : 200 years of sweet success and bitter rivalry / Cadbury, Deborah
“Deborah Cadbury takes a journey through this award-winning documentary into her own family history to uncover the 250 years of chocolate empire-building. John Cadbury founded the first Cadbury’s coffee and chocolate shop in Birmingham in 1824; then his grandson George made this company’s fortune. This is also the story of their Quaker rivals, the Frys and Rowntrees, and their European competitors, the Nestles, Suchards and Lindts.” (Adapted from Overdrive)

The contrarian : Peter Thiel and Silicon Valley’s pursuit of power / Chakin, Max
“A biography of venture capitalist and entrepreneur Peter Thiel, the enigmatic, controversial and hugely influential power broker who sits at the dynamic intersection of tech, business and politics. Since the days of the dot-com bubble in the late 1990s, no industry has made a greater global impact than Silicon Valley.” (Catalogue)

All this way to meet you: New biographies

Recent Biography Picks

via GIPHY

A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, and the one who doesn’t read, lives just one.” – George RR Martin

Dive into someone else’s life for a bit with our new biographies! This month we’ve got a wide range of stories, from standing in front of a Taliban warlord’s home to a drag queen’s rise to stardom. Other highlights from the below list include New York Times bestselling author Jami Attenberg on her journey as a writer, Miriam Margolyes on her rip-roaring life as an actor and The Sunday Times Memoir of the Year, Free : coming of age at the end of history.

I came all this way to meet you : writing myself home / Attenberg, Jami
“From New York Times bestselling author Jami Attenberg comes a dazzling memoir about unlocking and embracing her creativity-and how it saved her life”– Provided by publisher. Attenberg reveals the defining moments that pushed her to create a life and a voice she could claim for herself. Drawn to a life on the road, her wanderlust led her across the country and eventually around the globe. She began to reflect on the experiences of her youth, and began writing: researching articles for magazines, jotting down ideas for novels, and refining her craft, learning to trust her gut, and ultimately, trust herself. ” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Empower : conquering the disease of fear / Azim, Tareq
“If you knock on Wakil’s door, he’s going to kill you.” That’s what Tareq Azim’s guide told him, as they stood at the foot of the local Taliban warlord’s home. Most people would let fear get the better of them. However, Tareq had already conquered fear. He walked up to the door by himself, and gave three loud knocks.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

The tick of two clocks : a tale of moving on / Bakewell, Joan
“Old age is no longer a blip in the calendar, just a few declining years before the end. Old age is now a major and important part of life: It should command as much thought – even anxiety – as teenagers give to exam results and young marrieds how many children to have . . . I am in my 80s and moving towards the end of my life. But in a more actual sense, I have moved from my dear home of 50 odd years into another . . . the home where I will be until the end.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Caught in the act : a memoir / Jenek, Shane
“Meet Shane Jenek. Raised in the Brisbane suburbs by loving parents, Shane realises from a young age that he’s not like all the other boys. At a performing arts agency he discovers his passion for song, dance and performance, and makes a promise to himself: to find a bigger stage. Meet Courtney Act. Born in Sydney around the turn of the millennium, Courtney makes her name in the gay bars of Oxford Street and then on Australian Idol. Over ten years later, she makes star turns on RuPaul’s Drag Race and Celebrity Big Brother UK, bringing her unique take on drag and gender to the world. Behind this rise to national and global fame is a story of searching for and finding oneself.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

This much is true / Margolyes, Miriam
“BAFTA-winning actor, voice of everything from Monkey to the Cadbury’s Caramel Bunny, creator of a myriad of unforgettable characters from Lady Whiteadder to Professor Sprout, Miriam Margolyes is the nation’s favourite (and cheekiest) treasure. Now at the age of eighty, she has finally decided to tell her life story, and it’s well worth the wait.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Did ye hear mammy died? / O’Reilly, Séamas
“Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? is Seamas O’Reilly’s memoir of growing up as one of eleven children in rural Northern Ireland in the 1990s after the death of their mother when Seamas was five. He delves into his family – his pleasingly eccentric, reticent but deeply loving father; his rambunctious siblings, intent on enforcing a byzantine age-based hierarchy; and the numerous bewildering friends, relations and neighbours who blew in and out to ‘help’. Seamas describes how his mother’s death changed his childhood relationships with everyone and everything, as knowledge of his tragic experience preceded him.” (Catalogue)

My mess is a bit of a life : adventures in anxiety / Pritchett, Georgia
“Television writer and producer Georgia Pritchett knows a thing or two about anxiety. From worrying about the monsters under her bed as a child (Were they comfy enough?), to embracing womanhood (One way of knowing you have crossed from girlhood to womanhood is that men stop furtively masturbating at you from bushes and start shouting things at you from cars. It’s a beautiful moment) to being offered free gifts after an award ceremony (It was an excruciating experience. Mortifying) worry has accompanied her at every turn. This memoir is a joyful reflection on just how to live and sometimes even thrive (sometimes not) with anxiety”–Publisher’s description.” (Catalogue)

Free : coming of age at the end of history / Ypi, Lea
“Lea Ypi grew up in one of the most isolated countries on earth, a place where communist ideals had officially replaced religion. Albania, the last Stalinist outpost in Europe, was almost impossible to visit, almost impossible to leave. It was a place of queuing and scarcity, of political executions and secret police. To Lea, it was home. People were equal, neighbours helped each other, and children were expected to build a better world. There was community and hope. Then, in December 1990, a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall, everything changed.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Entertaining, emotional & eye-opening: our latest biographies

Take a peek at some of our most recent biographies.  Unprotected : a memoir is gay black actor Billy Porter’s testimony to the power of talent and courage that overcame an environment of abuse, racism, and homophobia.  John Higgs helps us better understand the poet, artist and visionary that was William Blake in William Blake vs the world. Experience the global refugee crisis through the eyes of Mondiant Dogon, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide, as he recounts a saga of horror, deprivation, frustration and ultimately hope in Those we throw away are diamonds. Read on to find more of our latest biographies.

Act like you got some sense : and other things my daughters taught me / Foxx, Jamie
“In this hilarious and heartfelt memoir, award-winning, multi-talented entertainer Jamie Foxx shares the story of being raised by his no-nonsense grandmother, the glamour and pitfalls of life in Hollywood, and the lessons he took from both worlds to raise his two daughters” (Catalogue)
“A practical, sometimes profane, always entertaining guide to the fine art of parenting.” (Kirkus Review)

Unprotected : a memoir / Porter, Billy
“Before Billy Porter was slaying red carpets and giving an iconic Emmy-winning performance in the celebrated TV show Pose; before he was the groundbreaking Tony and Grammy Award-winning star of Broadway’s Kinky Boots, Porter was a young boy in Pittsburgh who was seen as different, who didn’t fit in. At five years old, Porter was sent to therapy to ‘fix’ his effeminacy. He was endlessly bullied at school, sexually abused by his stepfather, and criticized at his church. Porter came of age in a world where simply being himself was a constant struggle.”(Catalogue) Also available an eBook and as an eAudiobook narrated by the man himself!

William Blake vs the world / Higgs, John
“Poet, artist and visionary, William Blake was an archetypal misunderstood genius. His life passed without recognition and he worked without reward, mocked, dismissed and misinterpreted. Yet from his ignoble end in a pauper’s grave, Blake is now considered a seminal figure in the history of the poetry and visual art of the Romantic Age. Taking the reader on wild detours into unfamiliar territory, John Higgs places the bewildering eccentricities of a most singular artist into context. And although the journey begins with us trying to understand him, we will ultimately discover that it is Blake who helps us to understand ourselves.” (Adapted from catalogue)

Going there / Couric, Katie
“For more than 40 years American journalist Katie Couric has been an iconic presence in the media world. In her brutally honest memoir, she reveals how she has balanced her personality, intellectual curiosity and desire to be taken seriously while facing a host of challenges: an eating disorder, sexism, the perils of celebrity– and rebuilding her life with two young daughters after her husband, Jay Monahan, died of colon cancer. Couric writes about the culture at CBS– rife with gender inequality and predatory behaviour–and the downfall of Matt Lauer.” (Adapted from catalogue)

Those we throw away are diamonds : a refugee’s search for home / Dogon, Mondiant “A stunningly beautiful and heart-breaking lens on the global refugee crisis, from a man who faced the very worst of humanity and survived to advocate for refugees everywhere. One night when Mondiant Dogon, a Bagogwe Tutsi born in Congo, was very young, his family fled into the bush after learning that they were to be killed within hours. Beginning their long and dangerous journey into Rwanda, his family made their way to the first of several UN tent cities in which they would spend the next quarter century. Against all odds, and through grit and good fortune, he managed to be one of the few Congolese Tutsis to receive an education in Rwanda. Eventually, Dogon came to the US and became an advocate for his people. ” (Adapted from catalogue)

Odd boy out / Brandreth, Gyles Daubeney
“In Odd boy out, Giles Brandreth provides a revealing and entertaining account of growing up and coming of age in an apparently well-to-do but always strapped-for-cash middle-class English family. It is a story about the ordinary things – family life, happiness, ambition and love, but it also about adventures – meeting princes and presidents, visiting death-row in America, exploring the sex clubs of Copenhagen. It is a story of a boy blessed with wit, what he got up to and who he met in those remarkable years after the Second World War.” (Adapted from catalogue). Also available as a eBook.

COVID Calamities & Anxiety Antics: Our latest Biographies

Living through a pandemic brings all sort of challenges that we have to contend with. This latest selection of biographies brings laugh out loud moments, stories of perseverance and courage, and even a local mystery to distract and entertain us.

Theroux the keyhole / Theroux, Louis
“Step inside Louis’ life like never before as he turns his critical eye on himself, his home, and family and tries to make sense of our weird and sometimes scary world. Like millions of others, Louis’ plans were mothballed by the onset of COVID. Unable to escape to the porn sets, prisons and maximum-security psychiatric units that are his usual journalistic beat, he began reporting on a location even more full of pitfalls and hostile objects of inquiry: his own home during a pandemic. Honest, hilarious and heart warming Theroux the keyhole is a diary of the weirdness of family life in Covid World.” (Adapted from catalogue)

My mess is a bit of a life : adventures in anxiety / Pritchett, Georgia
“Multi award winning television writer and producer (Veep, Succession, The Thick of it, Miranda) Georgia Pritchett knows a thing or two about anxiety. From a worrier as a child to an adult living with sometimes crippling anxiety, she takes us through her life sharing stories with warmth and humour. Told in comic vignettes, this delightfully offbeat, painfully honest and snort out aloud funny memoir is a joyful reflection on just how to live and sometimes even thrive (sometimes not) with anxiety” (Adapted from catalogue)

Start your engines / Briggs, Sam
“UK CrossFit superstar Sam Briggs, aka ‘The Engine’, is a true hero in the sport, with a level of endurance unparalleled in the game. From being kicked out of ballet as a child, to qualifying for the CrossFit game 7 times, this is the story of how Sam got to the top of her sport, and battled with everything she had to stay there. Start Your Engines is the story of how, with a combination of grit, training and dogged motivation, it’s never too late to achieve your dreams.” (Adapted from catalogue)

The opposite of butterfly hunting / Lynch, Evanna
“Cast as Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter films, Evanna Lynch has long been viewed as a role model for people recovering from anorexia. Here, in her memoir, Evanna confronts all the complexities and contradictions within herself and reveals how she overcame a serious eating disorder, worked to conquer her self-hate and began to confront her fear of leaving the neatness and safety of girlhood for the unpredictable journey of being a woman, all in the spotlight of international fame. This is a story of the tragedy and the glory of growing up, of mourning girlhood and stepping into the unknown, and how that act of courage is the most creatively liberating thing a woman can do”. (Catalogue)

Come back to Mona Vale : life and death in a Christchurch mansion / McKinnon, Alexander
“A beautifully written, compelling narrative/memoir that sets about unravelling the mysteries and anomalies behind the public history of a wealthy Christchurch business family in the first half of the 20th century. The story unfolds like a crime or detective tale, and also delves into the history of the Canterbury settlement, contrasting Christchurch’s public values, aspirations and beauty with its murkier private behaviour. The story is told with a graceful touch and an eye for the vivid, comic and telling detail. Alexander McKinnon’s exploration of his family’s past is the record of a beautiful and grand (yet gradually crumbling) manor interwoven with social history – with a sense of the Gothic, of obsession, and of a tight-knit circle where secrets wreak a terrible climax leading to a form of inter-generational haunting.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Chaise longue / Dury, Baxter
“Methods of parenting and education have progressed in recent years, especially compared to some of the more casually experimental routes inflicted on children of artistic professionals in the 70s and 80s. One experience that would take some beating is that endured by Baxter Dury. When punk rock star Ian Dury disappeared to make films in the late 80s, he left his teenage son in the care of his roadie, in a rundown flat in Hammersmith. But this was no ordinary roadie; this was the Sulphate Strangler. The Strangler, having taken a lot of LSD in the 60s, was prone to depression, anger and hallucinations. He was also, as the name suggests, a drug dealer. What could possibly go wrong? Chaise Longue is an intimate account of the adventures, escapades, and perilous times of Dury’s childhood set in bohemian west London populated with feverishly grubby characters. Narrated in Dury’s candid tone, both sad and funny, this moving story will leave an indelible imprint on its readers.” (Adapted from catalogue)

 

A bonanza of new biographies for your holiday reading

What a feast we have for you for this holiday period. There’s the larger-than-life Scottish Drag Queen Lawrence Chaney with their book Drag Queen of Scots : the dos and don’ts of a drag superstar. We have a stunning coffee table styled glossy pictorial tribute to Dan Carter. The delightful but naughty Julian Clary has written a doggy memoir… celebrating man’s best friend what else? Megan Dunn entertains us with an utterly engaging memoir-in-essays about art, sex, family and growing up in New Zealand. Never give up is the inspiring autobiography from Bear Grylls who takes us behind the scenes of some of his toughest expeditions. And what holiday wouldn’t be complete without the comedic wit from the consummate entertainer Billy Connelly!

With such a super book line up Wellington City Libraries truly is the gift that keeps on giving.

Drag Queen of Scots : the dos and don’ts of a drag superstar / Chaney, Lawrence
“Lawrence Chaney has wowed audiences across the globe as the winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK. From the tiny town of Helensburgh, near Glasgow, Lawrence has exploded on to the world stage, charming us with their charisma, humour and damn good looks. But as with any success story, it wasn’t all plain sailing. In Lawrence (Drag) Queen of Scots, the loch ness legend themself takes us through the struggles faced to get to where they are now. From a little boy feeling self-conscious and turning to humour to avoid being bullied, to finding drag as a vehicle towards confidence and self-love. With their top tips on everything from padding and make-up to building your own drag community, you’ll have all you need to strut your way to the top, too. You’ve seen the looks, the laughs, and my goodness you’ve seen a lot of tears, but now it’s time to grab a bottle of Irn-Bru and dive heard first into the purple haze that is the world of LAWRRREEENNNCE CHAAANEYYYYY!” (Catalogue)

Dan Carter : 1598 / Carter, Dan
“Coffee table books of a sporting variety have been rare in New Zealand during the years. Dan Carter 1598 attempts to change this as a large scale pictorial tribute to his astounding point scoring feats in test rugby. There is great variety in the images which convey the drama, camaraderie, emotion and physicality of the sport. It’s also a reminder of the power of the photograph, easily forgotten in our digital, fast twitch world. Dan Carter 1598 is a wonderful tribute to a remarkable player. ” (Adapted from Ketebooks, read the complete review here)

The lick of love : how dogs changed my life / Clary, Julian
“From one of Britain’s best-loved comedians comes this wonderfully funny, sharp and touching memoir and a celebration of the bond between man and dog – an autobidography, if you will. The Lick of Love takes us on a tour of Julian’s colourful life and the dogs that were by his side from the age of 21. An entertaining read, that celebrates the joy of being a dog lover, told with Julian Clary trademark humour.” (Adapted from catalogue)

Image from Mighty ApeThings I learned at art school / Dunn, Megan
“Part memoir, part essay collection… Things I Learned at Art School tells the story of Megan Dunn’s early life and coming-of-age in New Zealand in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. From her single mother’s love life to her Smurf collection, from the mean girls at school to the mermaid movie Splash, from her work in strip clubs and massage parlours (and one steak restaurant) to the art school of the title, this is a dazzling, killer read from a contemporary voice of comic brilliance.” (Catalogue) Also available as an ebook 

Never give up / Grylls, Bear
“In Never give up, global adventurer, Chief Scout and TV presenter Bear Grylls immerses readers in some truly remarkable adventures and survival missions. Bear takes readers behind the scenes of Man vs. Wild, the series that spawned an entire adventure industry. He also provides a unique and revealing insight into what it’s really like to go Running Wild with President Obama, Roger Federer and Julia Roberts, to name but a few of his global superstar guests. Along the way, Bear opens up about his most personal challenges, discovers the true value of adventure, and embodies the enduring power of courage, kindness and a never give up spirit.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Windswept & interesting : my autobiography / Connolly, Billy
In his first full-length autobiography, comedy legend and national treasure Billy Connolly reveals the truth behind his windswept and interesting life. Billy’s life is a remarkable story of success against all the odds. But it was his ability so spin stories, tell jokes and hold an audience in the palm of his hand that truly set him apart. As a young comedian Billy broke all the rules. He was fearless and outspoken – willing to call out hypocrisy wherever he saw it. But his stand-up was full of warmth, humility and silliness too. His startling, hairy ‘glam-rock’ stage appearance – wearing leotards, scissor suits and banana boots – only added to his appeal. It was an appearance on Michael Parkinson’s chat show in 1975 – and one outrageous story in particular – that catapulted Billy from cult hero to national star. TV shows, documentaries, international fame and award-winning Hollywood movies followed. Billy’s pitch-perfect stand-up comedy kept coming too – for over 50 years, in fact – until a double diagnosis of cancer and Parkinson’s Disease brought this remarkable live performances to an end. Windswept & Interesting is Billy’s story in his own words. It is joyfully funny – stuffed full of hard-earned wisdom as well as countless digressions on fishing, farting and the joys of dancing naked. It is an unforgettable, life-affirming story of a true comedy legend.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Politics and personalities: our latest biography picks

Love him or hate him, you can’t deny Simon Bridges is the man of the moment. How timely that he has released a biography National identity: confessions of an outsider. While this biography doesn’t delve into his politics, it is an opportunity to better understand the man himself and make your own mind up about him. In contrast Labour saving: a memoir by the late Sir Michael Cullen describes his lengthy political career and achievements during one of the most turbulent times in our political history. Check out these and other recent biographies below.

National identity : confessions of an outsider / Bridges, Simon
“In National Identity, Bridges offers an attempt to question himself and the country he loves. Politics, crime, kai, music, nature: these are the stuff of a life. Through candid and self aware reflections, he points out that politicians have become less robust, and that people don’t participate as much anymore – eroding our institutions and national life. He speaks his mind on an education system in crisis, the decline of Christianity, and how being the smallest, most isolated developed country in the world explains why we are how we are”. (Catalogue) Also available as an ebook.

Labour saving : a memoir / Cullen, M. J.
“In this clever, witty and detailed memoir, Sir Michael Cullen describes his lengthy political career, including his pivotal roles as Minister of Finance for nine years and Deputy Prime Minister for six years in Helen Clark’s government from 1999 to 2008. Best known for his major economic policies, Sir Michael was also the principal author of the Working for Families package which substantially increased the incomes of many low income families. As one of Labour’s most trusted and senior party members, he has had a box seat during the highs and lows of the party’s fortunes.” (Adapted from catalogue) Also available as an e-book.

Ten thousand aftershocks / Tom, Michelle
“After Michelle Tom’s house was damaged by a deadly magnitude 6.3 earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2011, she and her young family suffered through another 10,000 aftershocks before finally relocating to the stability of Melbourne, Australia. But soon after arriving, Michelle received the news that her estranged sister was dying. Michelle Tom explores the similarities between seismic upheaval and her own family’s tragedies: her sister’s terminal illness, her brother’s struggle with schizophrenia and ultimate suicide, the sudden death of her father, her own panic disorder and, through it all, one overarching battle – her lifelong struggle to form a healthy connection with her mother.” (adapted from catalogue)

Bourdain : the definitive oral biography / Woolever, Laurie
“When celebrity chef, author and traveller Anthony Bourdain died in June 2018, fans around the globe came together to celebrate the life of an inimitable man. Now, for the first time, people have been granted a look into Bourdain’s life through the stories and recollections of his closest friends and colleagues. Laurie Woolever, Bourdain’s longtime assistant and confidante, interviewed nearly a hundred of the people who shared Tony’s orbit, from members of his kitchen crews to his writing, publishing, and television partners, to his daughter and his closest friends, to piece together a remarkably full, vivid, and nuanced vision of Tony’s life and work.” (Adapted from catalogue)

This much is true / Margolyes, Miriam
“BAFTA-winning actor Miriam Margolyes is the nation’s favourite (and cheekiest) treasure. Now at the age of eighty, she has finally decided to tell her life story, and it’s well worth the wait. Find out how being conceived during an air raid gave her curly hair; what pranks led to Miriam being known as the naughtiest girl ever to be educated at Oxford High School; how, as a teenager, she ended up posing nude for Augustus John; what she did when Warren Beatty asked ‘Do you fuck?’ and much, much more. With a cast list stretching from Martin Scorsese to Barbara Streisand, a cross-dressing Leonardo DiCaprio to an incomprehensible Isaiah Berlin, This Much is True is as clever and self-critical, as warm and honest, as full of life and surprises, as its wonderful author.” (Adapted from catalogue)

Starstruck : my unlikely road to Hollywood / Maltin, Leonard
“Hollywood historian and film reviewer Leonard Maltin invites readers to pull up a chair and listen as he tells stories, many of them hilarious, of 50+ years interacting with legendary movie stars, writers, directors, producers, and cartoonists. Maltin’s career as a free-lance writer and New York Times-bestselling author as well as his 30-year run on Entertainment Tonight, gave him access to Katharine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Sean Connery, Shirley Temple, and Jimmy Stewart among hundreds of other Golden Age stars, his interviews cutting through the Hollywood veneer and revealing the human behind each legend.” (Adapted from catalogue)

From persecution to flamboyance: our latest biographies are here!

In the latest biographies to hit our shelves we have a miscellany of experiences and memoirs to peruse.  We run the gamut of emotions with a poet, TV presenter, rugby coach, actress, asylum seeker and resident of Centrepoint all sharing their stories which range from heartache, persecution and abuse to flamboyance, success and healing. There’s something for everyone.

After the Tampa : from Afghanistan to New Zealand / Nazari, Abbas
“Escaping from Taliban persecution in Afghanistan, Abbas Nazari’s parents fled the country in 2001 to find a safe place in which to bring up their five children.  Abbas tells his story 20 years on, from the Taliban’s horrendous rule in Afghanistan to his family’s desperate search for safety, to how this became an international political hot issue, to settling and growing up in far-off New Zealand.” (Adapted from Catalogue) Also available as an ebook.

Poet warrior : a memoir / Harjo, Joy
“The first Native American to serve as US poet laureate Joy Harjo offers a vivid, lyrical, and inspiring call for love and justice in this contemplation of her trailblazing life. Poet Warrior reveals how Harjo came to write poetry of compassion and healing, poetry with the power to unearth the truth and demand justice. Moving fluidly among prose, song, and poetry, Poet Warrior is a luminous journey of becoming that sings with all the jazz, blues, tenderness, and bravery that we know as distinctly Joy Harjo.” (Catalogue) Available as an ebook.

Lost and found : my story of heartbreak and hope / Street, Toni
“Toni Street’s easy on-air style and warm personality has made her a firm favourite with thousands of New Zealanders. But behind the bubbly persona, is a story of heartbreak and resilience. Toni and her family’s story is one of almost unbelievable trial and tragedy, but also love, determination and incredible resilience and will strike a chord with anyone who has gone through difficult times.” (Adapted from Catalogue) Also available as an ebook.

Jayne Mansfield : the girl couldn’t help it / Golden, Eve
“Jayne Mansfield (1933-1967) was driven not just to be an actress but to be a star. One of the most iconic sex symbols of her time, she was known for her platinum blonde hair, hourglass figure, outrageously low necklines, and flamboyant lifestyle. This funny, engaging biography offers a nuanced portrait of a fascinating woman who loved every minute of life and lived every minute to the utmost”. (Adapted from Catalogue)

You can see Jayne Mansfield star in the 1956 motion picture ‘The Girl can’t help it’ available to borrow as a DVD Movie 

Steve Hansen : the legacy / Paul, Gregor
“Between the years 2012 and 2019, Sir Steve Hansen oversaw an era of such remarkable success that it would be almost impossible to repeat. His 15-year career in the All Blacks coaching team is the heaviest footprint in rugby history. Of the 210 tests he was involved with, his team lost just 25 times. Of the 107 tests he served as head coach, Sir Steve accumulated a record 4 World Rugby Coach of the Year awards and orchestrated 93 victories – a winning percentage of 87 per cent, the highest of any All Blacks coach.” (Catalogue) Available as an ebook.

Surviving Centrepoint : my years in New Zealand’s most infamous cult / King, Rachel C
“In this intimate and harrowing account, Rachel Clare King tells her story of the years she spent in New Zealand’s notorious commune, Centrepoint, and life there under the rule of its cult leader and founder Bert Potter. Surviving Centrepoint was first published under the pseudonym Ella James. Now, for the first time, and using her real name, Rachel shares her journey from physical hurt and emotional pain to the reality of survival and the healing power of telling the truth.” (Adapted from catalogue) Also available as an ebook.

 

Stories of strength, resilience, racism, and the hope and despair of climate change

In our latest biographies we read about the indomitable Helen Kelly, President of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions from 2007 to 2015, whose life was tragically cut short at the age of 52. Beloved NZ writer Patricia Grace takes us on a journey through her childhood and writer, columnist and former lawyer Charlotte Grimshaw opens up about growing up as daughter of the famous CK Stead. There are stories of strength and resilience from Sharon Stone and from the winner of the 2020 Costa Biography Award: Lee Lawrence who documents the shooting of his mother by police, the subsequent uprising, the fight to clear his mothers name and racial prejudice he encountered. Finally we hear the story of kiwi scientist Dave Lowe who for decades has been recording the changes in our climate and trying to open people’s eyes to the effects of increasing fossil fuel emissions.

Helen Kelly : her life / Macfie, Rebecca
“When Helen Kelly died on a Wellington spring night in October 2016, Aotearoa New Zealand lost an extraordinary leader. Kelly was the first female head of the country’s trade union movement, but she was also much more – a visionary who believed that all workers, whether in a union or not, deserved to be given a fair go; a fighter from a deeply communist family who never gave up the struggle; a strategist and orator who invoked strong loyalty; a woman who could stir fierce emotions.” (Adapted from catalogue)

From the centre : a writer’s life / Grace, Patricia
“With photographs and quotes from her many, hugely loved books, Patricia Grace begins with her grandparents and parents and takes us through her childhood, her education, marriage and up to the present day in this touching and self-deprecating story of her life, the life of a writer, of a Maori woman and of a teacher. It expresses the love for family and for ancestral land; shows the prejudices she had to face and that made her stronger; and tracks her career as a writer.” (Catalogue)

In this memoir you witness the slow, bittersweet reclamation of te reo Māori me ōna tikanga from a time when our culture was in desperate peril through the eyes of someone who has lived it. With Grace there is no distance between us, no shallow interpretation and we recognise that, in learning history, it matters who is telling the story.” (Emma Espiner, Kete) Read the complete review here.

The mirror book : a memoir / Grimshaw, Charlotte
“‘It’s material, make a story out of it,’ was the mantra Charlotte Grimshaw grew up with in her famous literary family. But when her life suddenly turned upside-down, she needed to re-examine the reality of that material. The more she delved into her memories, the more the real characters in her life seemed to object. So what was the truth of ‘a whole life lived in fiction’? This is a vivid account of a New Zealand upbringing, where rebellion was encouraged, where trouble and tragedy lay ahead. It looks beyond the public face to the ‘messy reality of family life’ and much more.” (Catalogue) Also available as an e-book.

The louder I will sing / Lawrence, Lee
“On 28th September 1985, Lee Lawrence’s mother Cherry Groce was wrongly shot by police during a raid on her Brixton home. The bullet shattered her spine and she never walked again. For Lee, it was a spark that lit a flame that would burn for the next 30 years as he fought to get the police to recognise their wrongdoing. The Louder I Will Sing is a powerful, compelling and uplifting memoir about growing up in modern Britain as a young Black man. It’s a story both of the underlying racism beneath many of our most important institutions, but also the positive power that hope, faith and love can bring in response.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

The beauty of living twice / Stone, Sharon
“Sharon Stone suffered a massive stroke that cost her not only her health, but her career, family, fortune, and global fame. Stone chronicles her efforts to rebuild her life and writes about her slow road back to wholeness and health. Stone made headlines not just for her beauty and her talent, but for her candor and her refusal to “play nice,” and it’s those same qualities that make this memoir so powerful. The Beauty of Living Twice is a book for the wounded and a book for the survivors; it’s a celebration of women’s strength and resilience.” (Adapted from Catalogue) Also available as an e-book.

Image from Victoria University PressThe alarmist : fifty years measuring climate change / Lowe, D. C.
“His research was urgent fifty years ago. Now, it’s critical. In the early 1970s, budding Kiwi scientist Dave Lowe was posted at an atmospheric monitoring station in the North Island. On a shoestring salary he measured carbon in the atmosphere, collecting data towards what became one of the most important discoveries in modern science. What followed was a lifetime’s career marked by hope and despair. Dave has faced down climate deniers, foot-dragging bureaucracy and widespread complacency to open people’s eyes to the effects of increasing fossil fuel emissions on our atmosphere.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Follow your dreams: biographies to inspire and entertain

In our latest Biography picks we meet New Zealand peanut butter baron Pic Picot, curator of fashion Claire Wilcox who tells her story in a series of vignettes,  former model and muse Jenny Boyd who was twice married to Mick Fleetwood, and Emmy award winner Julianna Margulies who starred as Carol Hathaway in the long running series ER. We also feature comedian Tom Allen, Australian film producer Al Clark (of  The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert fame) and Kaiya Stone who writes with humour and honesty about the difficulties of living with dyslexia and dyspraxia.

Everything is going to be K.O. / Stone, Kaiya
“A hilarious and heartfelt illustrated memoir of living with specific learning difficulties. In Everything is Going to be K.O. , Kaiya Stone writes about her experiences of living with specific learning difficulties: from struggling at school, to being diagnosed with dyslexia and dyspraxia at university, and performing her own one-woman stand up show inspired by her journey. Always funny and unfailingly honest, Kaiya not only outlines the frustrations of having SpLDs, but also the ways in which they have fuelled her creativity.” (adapted from catalogue)

Patch work : a life amongst clothes / Wilcox, Claire
“Claire Wilcox has been a curator of fashion at the Victoria and Albert Museum for most of her working life. In Patch Work, she steps into the archive of memory. From her mother’s black wedding suit to the swirling patterns of her own silk kimono, her memoir unfolds in spare, luminous prose the spellbinding power of the things we wear. Through the eye of a curator, we see how the stories and the secrets of clothes measure out the passage of time, our gains and losses, and the way we use them to unravel and write our histories.” (adapted from catalogue)

Jennifer Juniper : a journey beyond the muse / Boyd, Jenny
“Jenny Boyd’s extraordinary life is the stuff of movies. With boyfriend Mick Fleetwood, sister Pattie, George Harrison and the rest of the Beatles, she lived the London scene in the flower power era.  Later her two marriages to Mick Fleetwood, founder member of Fleetwood Mac, brought her to the forefront of the world of rock and roll – and its fame, money, drugs and heartache.  Jenny has spent her life in the company of some of the greatest musical and cultural influencers of the last 50 years – and the journey she takes to finding her own sense of self and creative ability makes Jennifer Juniper a truly captivating and inspiring story.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

No shame / Allen, Tom
“When I was 16 I dressed in Victorian clothing in a bid to distract people from the fact that I was gay. It was a flawed plan. This book is a very funny, candid and emotional ride of a memoir by one of our most beloved comedians. The working-class son of a coach driver, and the youngest member of the Noel Coward Society, Tom Allen grew up in 90s suburbia as the eternal outsider. In these hilarious, honest and heart breaking stories Tom recalls observations on childhood, his adolescence, the family he still lives with, and his attempts to come out and negotiate the gay dating scene. They are written with his trademark caustic wit and warmth, and will entertain, surprise and move you in equal measure.” (Catalogue)

Time flies / Clark, Al
“Al Clark is best known for his role as producer of Australian film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert . This idiosyncratic memoir with a distinctive voice and a sense of the absurd delivers a wistful, reflective, sometimes comic view of his childhood and working life. Clark first worked as a journalist at Time Out in London before becoming Publicity Director at Virgin Records. It was here that he represented the Sex Pistols, Phil Collins and Mike Oldfield. What emerges from Time Flies is Clark’s deep connection with music and film. Where so many showbiz memoirs are about deals, dirt and revenge, Times Flies is about a fan who never lost his sense of wonder.” (Adapted from Filmink review)

Sunshine girl : an unexpected life / Margulies, Julianna
“Known for her outstanding performances on The Good Wife and ER, Julianna Margulies now unleashes her sharp talent with a powerful debut memoir chronicling her life and her work, examining from within, her journey from chaos to calm. Along the way, there were failed romances, difficult choices, and overwhelming rejections. But there was also the moment that fate, faith, and talent assembled in a perfect storm that lead to the roles of a lifetime. Sunshine Girl is an accomplished coming of age story that offers readers a rich sense of relatability as well as the intimate details of a life unimagined” (adapted from catalogue)

Image from Mighty ApePic : adventures in sailing, business, and love / Picot, Pic
Now known for his famous peanut butter, Pic Picot has gone from selling the odd jar at the Nelson farmers market to running a multi-million dollar company. But his journey didn’t start there, he has been a leather sandal maker,  travelling rock musician, boat builder, restaurateur and has sailed the Pacific. In his book Pic discusses his successes and failures with honesty, perception and a great deal of humour. Pic’s unusual path to business success offers hope for anyone wanting to follow their dreams.

Astonishing journeys and bookish broads: recent biographies of note

Astonishing journeys, a pioneering feminist, bookish broads, an Ockham Award winning book and a funny but thoughtful reflection on turning 50, all feature in these latest biographies.

Nuestra América : my family in the vertigo of translation / Lomnitz-Adler, Claudio
“A riveting exploration of the intersecting lines of Jewish and indigenous Latin American thought and culture, by way of a family memoir. In Our America, eminent anthropologist and historian Claudio Lomnitz traces his grandparents’ exile from Eastern Europe to South America. His grandparents stories intersect with leftist political movements in 1920s Peru, the Holocaust, Colombia’s political unrest and Israel’s beginnings. This immigrant family memoir recounts history with psychological insight and the immediacy of a thriller.” (adapted from Catalogue)

Floating in a most peculiar way / Chude-Sokei, Louis Onuorah
“The first time Chude-Sokei realizes that he is ‘first son of the first son’ of a renowned leader of the bygone African nation is in Uncle Daddy and Big Auntie’s strict religious household in Jamaica, where he lives with other abandoned children. Then his mother, the onetime “Jackie O of Biafra,” sends for him to come live with her in Inglewood, Los Angeles. In this world, anything alien– such as Chude-Sykes’s secret obsession with science fiction and David Bowie– is a danger. His yearning to become a Black American gets deeply, sometimes absurdly, complicated. This is his memoir of the redemptive skill of navigating not just Blackness, but Blacknesses, in his America. — adapted from jacket” (Catalogue)

Kate Edger : the life of a pioneering feminist / Morrow, Diana
“In 1877, Kate Edger became the first woman to graduate from a New Zealand university. Edger went on to become a pioneer of women’s education in New Zealand. She also worked tirelessly to mitigate violence against women and children and to fortify their rights through progressive legislation. She campaigned for women’s suffrage and played a prominent role in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and in Wellington’s Society for the Protection of Women and Children. Diana Morrow tells the story of this remarkable New Zealand woman’s life in a very readable book which provides valuable insights into the role of women social reformers in our history.” (adapted from Catalogue)

Bookish broads : women who wrote themselves into history / Marino, Lauren
“Women have written some of our most extraordinary literary works while living in societies and cultures that tried to silence them. In Bookish Broads, Lauren Marino celebrates fierce, trailblazing female writers, reworking the literary canon that has long failed to recognize the immense contributions of women. Featuring more than 50 brilliant bookish broads, Marino cleverly illuminates the lives of the greats as well as the literary talents history has wrongfully overlooked. Each intimate portrait delves into one woman’s works and is accompanied by vibrant illustrations depicting each literary legend in her element and time.” (adapted from Catalogue)

Of the winner of the General Non Fiction category at the 2021 Ockham Book Awards (Vincent O’Sullivan’s biography of Ralph Hotere), category convenor Dr Sarah Shieff said that as a biographer, O’Sullivan displayed masterly skill:

This is a sensitive, detailed portrait of one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most important modern artists, shaped around the four pou of Hotere’s identity: his Māoritanga, his faith, his whenua, and his whānau. The judges would like to commend Vincent O’Sullivan for an extraordinary achievement in biography.” (NZ Book Awards Trust)

Ralph Hotere : the dark is light enough : a biographical portrait / O’Sullivan, Vincent
“Ralph Hotere (Te Aupouri and Te Rarawa; 1931-2013) was one of Aotearoa’s most significant modern artists. Hotere invited the poet, novelist and biographer Vincent O’Sullivan to write his life story in 2005. Now, this book – the result of years of research and many conversations with Hotere and his fellow artists, collaborators, friends and family – provides a nuanced, compelling portrait of Hotere: the man, and the artist.” (Publisher information)

Turns out, I’m fine / Lucy, Judith
“Judith Lucy was just Great! Sure, the last remaining member of her immediate family had died, she was menopausal, she suspected her career was in the shitter and it seemed like the world was going to hell in a handbasket – but everything would work out because SHE HAD A MAN. Then, in the space of twenty-four hours, her relationship came apart and so did she. A broken heart became the catalyst for a complete existential melt down. She was nearly fifty, suddenly alone and unsure about every aspect of her life. How had this happened? She tries everything from dating a tree to getting a portrait of her vulva done to swimming with a whale shark. Thanks to a series of revelations and a slight drowning experience, Judith slowly starts to realise that her life is still full of possibilities and despite death, heartache and a dry vagina it turns out … she’s fine.” (adapted from Catalogue)

World War II, and NZ literature: New biographies in May

In this month’s new biographies, read about: a World War II codebreaker at Bletchley Park, a celebrated New Zealand plastic surgeon of the same era, and a renowned literary publisher who fled the Nazis and his storied family history.

Also included this month are a biography of Robin Hyde, as well as Gabriel Byrne’s autobiography, and essayist Fiona Murphy’s memoir which explores her experience of being deaf. Have a browse!

Mavis Batey : Bletchley codebreaker, writer, garden historian, conservationist / Stone, Jean
“When World War II was declared, Mavis Batey, previously studying German Romanticism, abandoned her studies to do her duty for her country. At Bletchley Park, Britain’s best kept secret, she became one of the first women codebreakers, a pioneer and a star, breaking codes vital to bringing peace. Mavis Batey, a unique biography, delves into the life of one of Britain’s best female codebreakers.” (Catalogue)

The shape of sound : a memoir / Murphy, Fiona
“Fiona Murphy is an award winning poet and essayist whose new memoir The Shape of Sound explores her experience of being deaf. She was in her first year of school when a hearing test confirmed she was profoundly deaf in her left ear. She has limited hearing in her other ear and has recently learned she will eventually lose her hearing completely.” (Summary drawn from Radio NZ’s article and interview with Fiona Murphy about The Shape of Sound)

Walking with ghosts : a memoir / Byrne, Gabriel
“In vivid, melodic prose, Gabriel revisits his childhood in Ireland, a world that has long since been renovated by time, and juxtaposes these memories with scenes from later years, in which he develops and occupies that strange identity of movie star. Impressionistic and sensual, Byrne’s visions of home, of boyhood and adolescence, are gracefully interspersed with jump-cuts to pointedly unglamorous scenes from his life as he becomes an actor, as he becomes celebrated, as he becomes forever recognizable. Byrne is interested in exploring the pathos in what it means to be famous, in what it means to be praised when everything you’ve learned tells you that are not worthy of praise.” (Publisher description) Also available as an eBook

Shining land : looking for Robin Hyde / Morris, Paula
“Looking for Robin Hyde brings together award-winning novelist Paula Morris and distinguished photographer Haru Sameshima. It is the second in the korero series of picture books edited by Lloyd Jones, written and made for grown-ups, and designed to showcase leading New Zealand writers and artists working together in a collaborative and dynamic way. In Shining Land Morris and Sameshima focus on the New Zealand journalist, poet, fiction writer and war correspondent Robin Hyde, exploring three locations important to her difficult life and ground-breaking work. This beautifully considered small book richly rewards the reader and stretches the notion of what the book can do.”–Publishers’ website.” (Catalogue)

Perfection : the life and times of Sir William Manchester / Brown, Earle
“Hailing from small beginnings in rural Waimate, Sir William Manchester became a battalion medical officer with the New Zealand Army in the United Kingdom during World War II. Selected in 1941 to train as a plastic surgeon, serendipitously under the supervision of the great pioneers Gillies, McIndoe, Mowlem and Barron – all New Zealanders – he excelled in this evolving surgical craft…This biography is based on the extensive archives left by Sir William, the authors’ research into his achievements and their personal knowledge of him, working with his as a trainee and colleague.” (Catalogue) Listen to an interview on Radio NZ with the authors

Endpapers : a family story of books, war, escape, and home / Wolff, Alexander
Endpapers excavates the extraordinary histories of the author’s grandfather and father: the renowned publisher Kurt Wolff, and his son Niko, who fought in the Wehrmacht during World War II before coming to America. Kurt Wolff was born in Bonn into a highly cultured German-Jewish family. Always bookish, Kurt became a publisher at twenty-three, setting up his own firm and publishing Franz Kafka, Joseph Roth, Karl Kraus, and many other authors whose books would soon be burned by the Nazis. Fleeing Germany in 1933, a day after the Reichstag fire, Kurt and his second wife, Helen, sought refuge in France, Italy, and ultimately New York, where in a small Greenwich Village apartment they founded Pantheon Books. Pantheon would soon take its own place in literary history with the publication of Nobel laureate Boris Pasternak’s novel Doctor Zhivago, and as the conduit that brought major European works to the States. But Kurt’s taciturn son Niko, offspring of his first marriage to Elisabeth Merck, was left behind in Germany, where despite his Jewish heritage he served the Nazis on two fronts. As Alexander Wolff visits dusty archives and meets distant relatives, he discovers secrets that never made it to the land of fresh starts, including the connection between Hitler and the family pharmaceutical firm E. Merck, and the story of a half-brother Niko never knew. ” (Catalogue)

Families, love and glamour! New biographies at your library.

Find out who was the real Wallis Simpson in a new biography about the glamorous American and her life. Read about Olivia Newton-John, one of the most successful and loved entertainers and her tireless journey to becoming a force for good in the world. Choose your favourite titles either as books or ebooks and enjoy reading!

Books
Inheritance : a memoir of genealogy, paternity, and love / Shapiro, Dani
“What makes us who we are? What combination of memory, history, biology, experience, and that ineffable thing called the soul defines us?
In the spring of 2016, through a genealogy website to which she had whimsically submitted her DNA for analysis, Dani Shapiro received the stunning news that her father was not her biological father. She woke up one morning and her entire history–the life she had lived–crumbled beneath her.” (adapted from Catalogue)

Don’t let me down : a memoir / Hosier, Erin
“Erin Hosier’s coming-of-age was full of contradiction. Born into the turbulent 1970s, she was raised in rural Ohio by lapsed hippies who traded 1960s rock ‘n’ roll for 1950s-era Christian hymns. Her mother’s newfound faith was rooted in a desire to manage her husband’s mood swings, which could alternately fill the house with music or with violence. Don’t Let Me Down is about a brave girl trying to navigate family secrets and tragedies and escape from small-town small-mindedness.” (adapted from Catalogue)

Don’t stop believin’ / Newton-John, Olivia
“For more than five decades Olivia Newton-John has been one of our most successful and adored entertainers. A four-time Grammy Award winner, she is one of the world’s best-selling recording artists of all time, with more than 100 million albums sold. Olivia has always radiated joy, hope and compassion – determined to be a force for good in the world. Now she is sharing her journey, from Melbourne schoolgirl to international superstar, in this deeply personal book.” (adapted from Catalogue)

eBooks
Overdrive cover Untitled, Anna Pasternak (ebook)
“Who was the real Wallis: an opportunistic American social climber, a master manipulator or the true love of Edward’s life? Amid the cacophony of condemnation her story has become obfuscated. Untitled is an intimate biography of one of the most misunderstood women in British royal history. Yet Edward gave up the British throne, the British Empire and his position as Emperor of India, to marry his true love, American divorcee Wallis Simpson.” (adapted from Overdrive description)

Overdrive cover Churchill, Andrew Roberts (ebook)
“Winston Churchill towers over every other figure in twentieth-century British history. By the time of his death at the age of 90 in 1965, many thought him to be the greatest man in the world. There have been over a thousand previous biographies of Churchill. Andrew Roberts now draws on over forty new sources, including the private diaries of King George VI, used in no previous Churchill biography to depict him more intimately and persuasively than any of its predecessors.” (adapted from Overdrive description)

Life after End Times: New Biographies

No one tells you this

Tara Westover never went to school. She didn’t visit the doctor. Instead, she spent her childhood working in a junkyard and preparing for the biblical End of Days. But as her family grew abusive, she knew she had to escape. She began to educate herself, and ten years later she was in the UK, completing a PhD at Cambridge University. Her biography, Educated, is one of nine fantastic new titles in this month’s collection. From Costa-winning Bart van Es’ The Cut Out Girl to Hollywood’s Eve by Lili Anolik, the list below highlights why memoir is one of the most dynamic genres in contemporary writing. Enjoy!

Another Planet: a Teenager in Suburbia / Thorn, Tracey
“In a 1970s commuter town, Tracey Thorn’s teenage life was forged from what failed to happen. Her diaries were packed with entries about not buying things, not going to the disco, the school coach not arriving. Returning more than three decades later to Brookmans Park, scene of her childhood, Thorn takes us beyond the bus shelters and pub car parks, the utopian cul-de-sacs and the train to Potters Bar, to the parents who wanted so much for their children, the children who wanted none of it.” (Catalogue)

The cut out girl: a story of war and family, lost and found / Van Es, Bart
“Bart van Es left Holland for England many years ago, but one story from his childhood never left him. It was a mystery: a young Jewish girl named Lientje had been taken in during the war by relatives and hidden from the Nazis. The girl had been raised by her foster family as one of their own, but then, after the war, there was a falling out. What was the girl’s side of the story, Bart wondered? What really happened during the war, and after?” (Catalogue)

Educated: a memoir / Westover, Tara
“Tara Westover grew up preparing for the End of Days, watching for the sun to darken, for the moon to drip as if with blood. As she grew older, her father became more radical, and her brother, more violent. At sixteen Tara decided to educate herself. Her struggle for knowledge would take her far from her Idaho mountains, over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d travelled too far. If there was still a way home.” (Catalogue)

No one tells you this: a memoir / MacNicol, Glynnis
“If the story doesn’t end with marriage or a child, what then? This question plagued Glynnis MacNicol on the eve of her 40th birthday. Despite a successful career as a writer, and an exciting life in New York City, Glynnis was constantly reminded she had neither of the things the world expected of a woman her age: a partner or a baby. She knew she was supposed to feel bad about this, but Glynnis refused to be cast into either of those roles and yet the question remained: what now?” (Catalogue)

Reporter: a memoir / Hersh, Seymour M
“Seymour Hersh’s fearless reporting has earned him fame, front-page bylines in virtually every major newspaper in the free world, honours galore and no small amount of controversy. Now in this memoir, he describes what drove him and how he worked as an independent outsider, even at the nation’s most prestigious publications. This is essential reading on the power of the printed word at a time when good journalism is under fire as never before.” (Catalogue)

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

All the Lives We Ever Lived: Seeking Solace in Virginia Woolf / Smyth, Katharine
“Katharine Smyth was a student at Oxford when she first read Virginia Woolf’s modernist masterpiece To the Lighthouse in the comfort of an English sitting room, and in the companionable silence she shared with her father. After his death–a calamity that claimed her favourite person–she returned to that beloved novel as a way of wrestling with his memory and understanding her own grief.” (Catalogue)

On Sunset: a memoir / Harrison, Kathryn
“Noted for her boundary-breaking memoirs as well as her fiction, Harrison introduces us to her fur trapper-turned-Model T Ford salesman grandfather and her grandmother, born into a privileged Jewish merchant family in Shanghai, who raised her in a Tudor mansion above Sunset Boulevard until the money ran out. A childhood at once privileged and unusual, filled with the mementos and echoes of their impossibly exotic and peripatetic lives.” (Catalogue)

Hollywood’s Eve: Eve Babitz and the secret history of L.A. / Anolik, Lili
“LA in the 1960s was the pop culture capital of the world–a dream factory. Eve Babitz was the ultimate factory girl, a pure product of the city. The goddaughter of Igor Stravinsky and a graduate of Hollywood High, Babitz posed, at age twenty, playing chess with the French artist Marcel Duchamp. She was naked; he was not. The photograph made her an instant icon of art and sex. Babitz spent the rest of the decade on the Sunset Strip, honing her notoriety. Then, at nearly thirty, her It girl days numbered, Babitz was discovered–as a writer…” (Catalogue)

Becoming–with Michelle Obama!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Backstairs of History: The Best of Recent Biographies

I am, I am, I am Cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swimming suffragettes: New biographies

Staying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Letters From the Suitcase

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blasphemous libel and other stories: New Biographies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing but biography: Recent biographies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One child, one teacher : New Biography books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the bleak mid-winter – July biography picks

…you need lots of good books to curl up with in front of the fire. Try some of these!

Syndetics book coverCamera girl / Doreen Doreen Spooner with Alan Clark
“The inspiring life story of Fleet Street’s first female photographer. Doreen Spooner’s remarkable journey of glamour, heartbreak, and loss, through to adventure, success and a working mum’s determination to make it in a man’s world… Within a compelling mix of real-life dramas [she] managed a challenging career as Britain’s first ever female national newspaper photographer.” (www.amazon.uk).

Syndetics book coverBetween them : remembering my parents / Richard Ford.
“LONGLISTED FOR THE GORDON BURN PRIZE 2017 “From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sportswriter comes a deeply personal account of his parents – an intimate portrait of American mid-twentieth century life, and a celebration of family love.” (Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverNot your average nurse : from 1970s London to outback Australia, the true story of an unlikely girl and an extraordinary career / Maggie Groff.
“To a young girl the life of a student nurse sounds exciting, but with long hours and short shrift it’s never easy. So when Maggie Groff defies her parents’ wishes and embarks as a student nurse at London’s King’s College Hospital, she must quickly get to grips with the demands of her chosen career.” (Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverOnly : a singular memoir / Caroline Baum.
“Caroline Baum’s fascinating and moving memoir about being an only child in a very unusual family.” (Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverLight and shadow : memoirs of a spy’s son / Mark Colvin.
“Mark Colvin is a broadcasting legend. He is the voice of ABC Radio’s leading current affairs program PM ; he was a founding broadcaster for the groundbreaking youth station Double J; he initiated The World Today program; and he’s one of the most popular and influential journalists in the twittersphere. Mark has reported on wars, royal weddings and everything in between. In the midst of all this he discovered that his father was an MI6 spy”. (Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverA life in questions / Jeremy Paxman.“News, views and hilarious stories from the legend of Newsnight and long-standing quiz master of University Challenge.
‘Bursting with good things’ Daily Telegraph. Jeremy Paxman is Britain’s bravest, most incisive political interviewer. The no-nonsense star of BBC Newsnight, Paxman is a supreme inquisitor, a master at skewering mammoth egos with his relentless grilling.”(Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverFor the glory : the life of Eric Liddell / Duncan Hamilton.
“‘Eric Liddell deserves a definitive biography. This is it.’ Sunday Times , Books of the Year “Faster. Higher. Stronger. No one has embodied the ideals of the Olympic movement quite like Eric Liddell, star of the Oscar-winning film Chariots of Fire . After refusing to compete on religious principle in the event in which he was favourite, the 100 metres, at the 1924 Games in Paris, Liddell won an astonishing gold medal in the 400 metres. But instead of pursuing a path of global fame and fortune, he chose to follow his calling as a missionary in the country of his birth, China.”(Syndetics summary).

THREE GOOD ONES REISSUED :

Syndetics book coverThe plague and I / Betty MacDonald.
“Getting tuberculosis in the middle of your life is like starting downtown to do a lot of urgent errands and being hit by a bus. When you regain consciousness you remember nothing about the urgent errands. You can’t even remember where you were going.” Thus begins Betty MacDonald’s memoir of her year in a sanatorium just outside Seattle battling the “White Plague.” MacDonald uses her offbeat humor to make the most of her time in the TB sanatorium–making all of us laugh in the process.” (Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverImages and shadows : part of a life / Iris Origo.
“Bring her up somewhere where she does not belong… I’d like her to be a little ‘foreign’. Iris Origo was born in 1902 and spent her youth in the ancestral estate on Long Island and in her grandfather’s castle in Ireland. Her father died tragically when she was eight, and she continued her peripatetic life with her indefatigable mother and beloved governess.”(Wellington City Libraries catalogue note).

Syndetics book coverBeasts in my belfry / Gerald Durrell.“”A loving chronicle of jitter-bugging gnus, singing duets with a bear, stealing eggs to feed the Arctic foxes, practising tiger sniffs . . . Highly entertaining and informative” The Times “Over a year at Whipsnade Zoo we encounter a typically absurd cast – including Albert the lion, who’s a dab hand at ventriloquism, and Teddy the brown bear, with whom the young Durrell sings duets”.
(Syndetics summary).

AND ONE TO LOOK FORWARD TO:
Syndetics book coverThe Husband Hunters: Social Climbing in London and New York [paperback]
“Towards the end of the nineteenth century and for the first few years of the twentieth, a strange invasion took place in Britain. The citadel of power, privilege and breeding in which the titled, land-owning governing class had barricaded itself for so long was breached. The incomers were a group of young women who, fifty years earlier, would have been looked on as the alien denizens of another world – the New World, to be ” (Syndetics summary)

Bad girls get good press – Recent Biography picks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Party animals – Biography picks for February

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A good one in another part of the library:

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

Three books of films now showing:

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

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

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

Writers to the fore this festive season – Recent biography picks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A good one you might have missed:

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

A good one in another part of the library:

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

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

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