What Have We Here? New Biographies in the Collection

There is something magical about delving into the life of a person who is so different to yourself, and finding out that despite their extraordinary lives, we all have much in common.  This month’s new crop of biographies in the collection showcases many amazing lives while also highlighting the shared humanity of us all.  Try these titles to get you started.

What have we here? : portraits of a life / Williams, Billy Dee
“Billy Dee Williams was born in Harlem in 1937 and grew up in a household of love and sophistication. He studied painting, before setting out to pursue acting with Herbert Berghoff, Stella Adler, and Sidney Poitier. He became a true pop culture icon when, as the first Black character in the Star Wars universe, he played Lando Calrissian in George Lucas’s The Empire Strikes Back.” (Adapted from Catalogue)


Beyond hope : from an Auckland prison to changing lives in Afghanistan / Shah, Bariz
“At age 18, Bariz Shah ended up in an Auckland prison. As an Afghan migrant who was deeply affected by 9/11, Bariz spiralled from schoolyard fights into crime and drugs – until prison made him rethink the story of his life. Years later, in Christchurch, Bariz had turned everything around when a terrorist walked into the local mosque and took the lives of 51 people in his community. Driven by a new purpose, Bariz and his wife Saba raised money to return to Afghanistan and establish 51 small businesses in honour of those they lost. In this memoir about finding self-belief, belonging and positive change, Bariz’s story reminds us that we always have the power to change ourselves for the better.” (Catalogue)

Molly / Butler, Blake
“Blake Butler and Molly Brodak instantly connected, fell in love, married and built a life together. Nearly three years into their marriage, grappling with mental illness and a lifetime of trauma, Molly took her own life. In the days and weeks after Molly’s death, Blake discovered shocking secrets she had held back from the world, fundamentally altering his view of their relationship and who she was.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

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O Brother: New biographies and memoirs in the collection

Reading biographies and memoirs is like looking through the windows of other people’s lives. You can live vicariously through princes and pop stars, comedians and cults, or politicians and poets. We have a diverse crop of new titles for you to delve into, and here are a few from this month’s list.

O brother / Niven, John
“A memoir that is by turns heart-breaking and hilarious, O Brother evokes a working-class childhood of the 1970s and 80s and tries to answer the questions of guilt, culpability and regret that often haunt the survivors of suicide. John Niven’s little brother Gary was fearless, popular, stubborn, handsome, hilarious and sometimes terrifying. In 2010, after years of chaotic struggle against the world, he took his own life at the age of 42. It is about black sheep and what it takes to break the ties that bind. Fundamentally it is about how families survive suicide, ‘that last cry, from the saddest outpost.'” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Being Henry : the Fonz… and beyond / Winkler, Henry
“From Emmy-award winning actor, author, comedian, producer, and director Henry Winkler, a deeply thoughtful memoir of the lifelong effects of stardom and the struggle to become whole. Henry Winkler, launched into prominence as “The Fonz” in the beloved Happy Days, has transcended the role that made him who he is. Filled with profound heart, charm, and self-deprecating humor, Being Henry is a memoir about so much more than a life in Hollywood and the curse of stardom. It is a meaningful testament to the power of sharing truth and kindness and of finding fulfillment within yourself.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Counting the cost / Duggar, Jill
“Jill Duggar and her husband Derick are finally ready to share their story, revealing the secrets, manipulation, and intimidation behind the show that remained hidden from their fans. Jill and Derick knew a normal life wasn’t possible for them. As a star on the popular TLC reality show 19 Kids and Counting, Jill grew up in front of viewers who were fascinated by her family’s way of life. Theirs is a remarkable story of the power of the truth and is a moving example of how to find healing through honesty.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

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Making it so: New biographies and memoirs

Have you set a reading goal for 2024?  Are you looking for some inspiration to get you rolling?  Look no further than these amazing new biographies hitting our collection this month.  We’ve got everything from a star of the Star Trek universe, to legendary filmmakers, to our former Prime Minister to pique your interest.  Take a look at this selection…

Making it so : a memoir / Stewart, Patrick
“From his acclaimed stage triumphs to his legendary onscreen work in the Star Trek and X-Men franchises, Sir Patrick Stewart has captivated audiences around the world and across multiple generations with his indelible command of stage and screen. Now, he presents his long-awaited memoir, Making It So, a revealing portrait of an artist whose astonishing life — from his humble beginnings in Yorkshire, England, to the heights of Hollywood and worldwide acclaim — proves a story as exuberant, definitive, and enduring as the author himself.” (Catalogue)

Lies my mirror told me : a frank, funny, fearless memoir / Harmer, Wendy
“Wendy Harmer has had an extraordinary life. From being born with a severe facial deformity, to performing as a stand-up comedian, a national television host and then the highest paid woman in the cut-throat world of Sydney FM radio … Wendy’s tale of overcoming adversity is told with her trademark in-your-face frankness and celebrated wit.  In Lies My Mirror Told Me Wendy reflects on her life – one of the most unlikely success stories you will ever read.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Sure, I’ll join your cult : a memoir of mental illness and the quest to belong anywhere / Bamford, Maria
“Maria Bamford is a comedian’s comedian (an outsider among outsiders) and has forever fought to find a place to belong. From struggling with an eating disorder as a child of the 1980s, to navigating a career in the arts (and medical debt and psychiatric institutionalization), she has tried just about every method possible to not only be a part of the world, but to want to be a part of it. In Bamford’s signature voice, Sure, I’ll Join Your Cult, brings us on a quest to participate in something.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Every man for himself and God against all : a memoir / Herzog, Werner
“Legendary filmmaker and celebrated author Werner Herzog tells in his inimitable voice the story of his epic artistic career in a long-awaited memoir that is as inventive and daring as anything he has done before. Every Man for Himself and God Against All is at once a firsthand personal record of one of the great and self-invented lives of our time, and a singular literary masterpiece that will enthrall fans old and new alike. In a hypnotic swirl of memory, Herzog untangles and relives his most important experiences and inspirations, telling the full story of his life for the first and only time.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

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Voyages and vespers: new classical material

At Wellington City Libraries we have the antidote to being aurally overwhelmed by a surfeit of Christmas carols: recent additions to our classical music collection include many wonderful new CDs in November and December, and this blog will explore some of these acquisitions. A special highlight is the Emerson String Quartet’s Infinite Voyage, the final recording by a venerable ensemble that disbanded in late 2023 after nearly half a century together. We also have Norman Meehan’s outstanding and much-needed biography of composer Jenny McLeod

http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0C5FM1P1Z/ref=ase_wellingtoncit-21 Vespro della Beata Virgine / Monteverdi, Claudio
Raphaël Pichon founded the period-instrument ensemble Pygmalion in 2006, to explore the ‘filiations that link Bach to Mendelssohn, Schütz to Brahms or Rameau to Gluck and Berlioz.’ Since then, Pygmalion has demonstrated its ability to perform an enormous repertoire of music. The ensemble also holds a residency at the Opéra national de Bordeaux, and tours and records regularly. This recording of Claudio Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 opens with a veritable operatic explosion: the intonation ‘Deus, in adjutorium meum intende’ and the choral response ‘Domine, ad adiuvandum me festina’ suggest a lusty exhortation rather than a pious supplication. As the journey through Monteverdi’s Vespers continues, the overall mood remains operatic, but Pichon tempers bombast with moments of crystalline delicacy and tenderness. The instrumentalists and singers embrace their roles, expertly blending precision and expression to create a very memorable account of Monteverdi’s work.

Jenny McLeod : a Life in Music / Meehan, Norman
Norman Meehan’s biography of Jenny McLeod — one of the most extraordinary, innovative, and versatile talents in New Zealand music — is a welcome addition to our music and biography collection. As McLeod’s former student, Elizabeth Kerr, comments in her review, Meehan captures the enigmatic personality of his subject, drawing on many conversations, while also offering insightful and persuasive analyses of McLeod’s music, weaving together a narrative of her life with analyses of her music. Meehan’s depiction of McLeod is a compelling one, leading us on her journey: from Levin and Timaru to Wellington, then Paris and Olivier Messiaen, and Cologne and Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen, before McLeod’s return to New Zealand and a turbulent encounter with academe at Victoria University, arguably a milieu for which McLeod’s unique vision and prodigious musical intellect were both too great and too soon.
What emerges from A Life in Music is McLeod’s lifelong ‘search for meaning’ and fulfillment in her creative and spiritual life; her continuing quest for attaining these objectives could be intellectually and physically draining, but ultimately, as works like the opera Hōhepathe score for Whale Rider, her song cycles setting New Zealand poets, the hymns and choral works, and of course, the Tone Clock pieces demonstrate, McLeod always surmounted these challenges. Meehan’s study of McLeod is, therefore, a  readable, incisive, and sensitive account of one of New Zealand’s most remarkable musical lives.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0CBSSFJ6X/ref=ase_wellingtoncit-21Infinite Voyage / Emerson String Quartet
The Emerson String Quartet was formed when its members were still students at the Julliard School, and endured for more than four decades as one of the world’s great string quartets. After countless international tours and recordings, the Emerson Quartet decided to disband in 2023, and made their final performance on 22 October at the New York Chamber Music Society.
As David Allen wrote in his review for the New York Times, the Emerson Quartet was far more than a string quartet,  ‘an establishment, a touchstone, a catalyst’ in the musical world. Although the repertoire choices in Infinite Voyage may appear disparate, this is all music that reflects the literal and figurative journies of the Emerson Quartet’s history.  The music is ideally chosen to reflect the Quartet’s collaborations, ambitions, and friendships.  Arnold Schoenberg’s Quartet No. 2 is a work that the Emerson Quartet had wanted to record since adding it to their repertoire, and in this recording they are joined by Barbara Hannigan. Hannigan also performs in Hindemith’s Melancholie, a song cycle setting four poems by Christian Morgenstern, and dedicated to Hindemith’s friend Karl Köhler who perished on the Western Front in 1918. Chanson perpétuelle by Chausson, here in its version for soprano, string quartet, and piano (Bertrand Chamayou), speaks of loss and separation, but also the comfort of memory. Berg’s String Quartet No. 3, completed in 1910 and premiered on 24 April 1911, is a work that still bristles with a sense of the avant-garde more than a century after its composition. The Emerson Quartet captures the audacious modernism of the work, as well as Berg’s immersion in and appreciation of lustrous late Romantic opulence. 


 Mass in 40 parts = Missa Ecco sì beato giorno / Striggio, Alessandro
Alessandro Striggio (c. 1536/7–1592) was a virtuoso performer on the lute, viol, lira da braccio and lirone, as well as an adept and imaginative composer, and his music dominated the Medici court in Florence during the 1560s. For many years he was best known for his secular vocal music, including many madrigals and some intermedi (precursors to opera). However, Striggio’s reputation changed with I Fagiolini‘s 2011 recording of his Mass in 40 Parts, an extraordinary large-scale sacred work. That recording won several awards including the Gramophone Early Music Award and a Diapason d’Or de l’Année. In this new album, the original recording of Striggio’s Mass has been remastered, and it is complemented by the addition of Thomas Tallis’s great 40-part work Spem in Alium. In a departure from convention, Hollingworth has added continuo instruments to Spem in Alium, adding remarkable depth and resonance to the piece, and providing a rich foundation for the towering edifice of Tallis’s motet.

 http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0C98T5MYF/ref=ase_wellingtoncit-21Sounds and Sweet Airs : a Shakespeare songbook
Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Roderick Williams (baritone), and Joseph Middleton (piano) collaborate here on an array of settings of Shakespeare’s texts.  Their recording brings together such familiar songs as Schubert’s An Silvia (D. 106) and Haydn’s canzonetta She Never Told Her Love setting Viola’s words from Act 2 of Twelfth Night with newer responses to Shakespeare’s words, including Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s song cycle Rosalind, and Roderick Williams’s own Sigh No More, Ladies. The ingenious programming makes for diverting pairings of works: Michael Tippet’s Songs for Ariel alongside Arthur Honegger’s Deux chants d’Ariel, and Benjamin Britten’s Fancie next to Francis Poulenc’s Fancy (both setting the same text from The Merchant of Venice) demonstrate Shakespeare’s great reach across time and place. Representing the eighteenth century are J. C. Smith and Thomas Arne. The artists’ imaginative approach to this Shakespeare project makes for an illuminating song recital.

Choral Works / Cage, John
In 2022, BBC Music Magazine described performing this choral music by Cage as ‘the musical equivalent of climbing Mount Everest,’ and praised the Latvian Radio Choir for surmounting its ‘jagged, fragmented notes and pitches’ with accuracy and expression. Of particular interest is the work Hymns and Variations, in which Cage took two hymn melodies (‘Old North’ and ‘Heath’)  by William Billings that form part of the New-England Psalm Singer (1770) and manipulated the tunes by altering the note values and durations and erasing some notes. In each of the variations Cage altered these manipulations, so that a mere revenant of Billings’s original melodies haunts the texture. The result is evocative and veiled, attributes strengthened by the excellence of the Latvian Radio Choir and the intuition of their director, Sigvards Kļava.

Nocturnes & Barcarolles / Fauré, Gabriel
Recorded in 2022, these nocturnes and barcarolles by Fauré add to the more than seventy albums Marc-André Hamelin has made for Hyperion, alongside chamber music by Franck, Dohnányi, Shostakovich, Brahms, and Schumann, solo sonatas by Mozart, Haydn, Liszt, CPE Bach, and Chopin, concertos by Alkan and Strauss, and shorter works by Debussy and Catoire, Bolcom and Feldman, among many others. In these Fauré pieces, Hamelin reveals his ‘innate affinity‘ with French music of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; his performance of these works explores the subtle dramas of Fauré’s music. Hamelin’s complete command of the pieces’ harmonic intricacies is almost painterly, tiny brushstrokes and choices of colour that coalesce into a large and beautiful poetic canvas.

If You Would Have Told Me: New biographies in the collection

Summer is here and that means beach reads, holiday reads, chilling on the deck reads… all those lovely ways to relax and enjoy a good book.  This month we have some cracking good reads in our new biographies, take a look at these that have hit the shelves recently.

If you would have told me : a memoir / Stamos, John
“If you would have told a young John Stamos flipping burgers at his dad’s fast-food joint that one day he’d be a household name and that, at the height of his success, he’d be living alone, divorced, with no kids, high on a cocktail of forgetting, he might’ve asked, “You want fries with that?” John burst onto the scene in General Hospital, propelling him into the teen idol stratosphere, a place that’s often a point of no return. Whether showing off his comedic chops on Full House or his dramatic skills on ER, pushing the boundaries on Broadway or living out his youthful dreams as an honorary Beach Boy, John has surprised everyone, most of all himself.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

The stirrings : a memoir in northern time / Taylor, Catherine
“This is a story about one young woman coming of age, and about the place and time that shaped her: the North of England in the 1970s and 80s. About the scorching summer of 1976 – the last Catherine Taylor would spend with both her parents in their home in Sheffield. About the Yorkshire Ripper, the serial killer whose haunting presence in Catherine’s childhood was matched only by the aching absence of her own father. About 1989’s ‘Second Summer of Love’, a time of sexual awakening for Catherine, and the unforeseen consequences that followed it.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Wifedom : Mrs Orwell’s invisible life / Funder, Anna
“Looking for wonder and some reprieve from the everyday, award-winning writer Anna Funder slips into the pages of her hero George Orwell. When she uncovers his forgotten wife, it’s a revelation. Eileen O’Shaughnessy’s literary brilliance shaped Orwell’s work and her practical common sense saved his life. But why-and how-was she written out of the story? Using newly discovered letters from Eileen to her best friend, Funder recreates the Orwells’ marriage, through the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War in London.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

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Wandering Through Life: New Biographies and Memoirs in the Collection

Reading about extraordinary lives is often inspirational, intriguing, fascinating, shocking or outrageous.  Every biography or memoir has the potential to take you on a real adventure in it’s pages.  We have another month of new titles that have arrived in the collection, and have selected some for you below to try.

Wandering through life : a memoir / Leon, Donna
“From a childhood in the company of her New Jersey family, with frequent visits to her grandfather’s farm and its beloved animals and summers spent selling homegrown tomatoes by the roadside, Donna Leon has long been open to adventure. In 1976, she made the spontaneous decision to teach English in Iran, before finding herself swept up in the early days of the 1979 Revolution. After teaching stints in China and Saudi Arabia, she finally landed in Venice. Having recently celebrated her eightieth birthday, Leon now confronts the dual challenges and pleasures of aging. Wandering through life offers Donna Leon at her most personal.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Berserker / Edmondson, Adrian
“Ade Edmondson smashed onto the comedy circuit in the 1980s, stormed The Comedy Store and, alongside Rik Mayall, brought anarchy to stage and screen. How did a child brought up in a strict Methodist household – and who spent his formative years incarcerated in repressive boarding schools – end up joining the revolution? Well, he is part Norse. Could it be his berserker heritage? With wisdom, nostalgia and uniquely observed humour, Ade traces his journey through life and comedy: starting out on the alternative scene, getting arrested in Soho, creating his outrageously violent characters and learning more about his curious (possibly Scandinavian) heritage. With star-studded anecdotes and set to a soundtrack of pop hits which transport the reader through time, it’s a memoir like no other.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Astor : the rise and fall of an American fortune / Cooper, Anderson
“The story of the Astors is an extraordinary but true tale of ambition, invention, destruction, and reinvention–and of cunning, determination, hard work, hubris, infighting, and greed. One of the wealthiest men to have ever lived, John Jacob Astor first arrived in New York in 1783 and built a fortune through a ruthless expansion of his beaver trapping business, which he grew into an empire through real estate that enriched him at the expense of Manhattan’s poorest residents.  In this unconventional, page-turning historical biography, featuring black-and-white and color photographs, Anderson Cooper and Katherine Howe chronicle the lives of the Astors and offer a window onto the making of America itself.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

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