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.

 

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)

From the Rare Book Collection: Queen Victoria’s signed copy of her published journals

Only a few British monarchs have ever written books. As a young king, Henry VIII published an attack on the Protestant reformer Martin Luther many years before his own split with the Catholic church.

Eight decades later, James IV of Scotland (later to become James I of the newly formed United Kingdom) wrote a variety of works including an epic poem, a treatise against tobacco and a study of witchcraft and demonology which was later used by William Shakespeare as one of his main sources for Macbeth. However, only one monarch has ever published what essentially is an autobiography during their life; Queen Victoria and her book Leaves from the Journal of Our Life in the Highlands.

Queen Victoria’s book in the library’s Rare Book Collection

Queen Victoria reigned for nearly 64 years following her coronation in 1837.  In 1842 when she was aged 23, she and Prince Albert travelled to Scotland for a holiday shortly after marrying. Their experiences on that trip made a lasting impression on them both and she soon became the first monarch since Charles I to have a home in Scotland. Victoria and Albert returned in 1844 and again three years later. In 1848 Albert acquired a lease on Balmoral Castle and its associated estate of 17,400 acres in the Deeside region, about 80 km west of Aberdeen and then purchased it using his own inherited wealth in 1852. In due course this isolated area was to become Victoria’s spiritual home and she returned there with her family almost every year for the rest of her life. These retreats allowed the royal couple to cast off much of the rigid formality of court protocol and to gain some sense of what it might be like to live a ‘normal’ life. Victoria and her family would roam the hills and explore the wild mountain streams as they chose. Continue reading “From the Rare Book Collection: Queen Victoria’s signed copy of her published journals”

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)