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.

 

Biopics: an international feast online at Kanopy and Beamafilm

Have you run out of books? We can help with a fabulous selection of biopics to entertain and educate. You can access these films through our online movie streaming platforms Kanopy and Beamafilm. Just sign in with your Wellington City Libraries card and PIN.

The Oxford English Dictionary (which incidentally is also available through our online e-resources here) define biopic as “a biographical film, esp. one dramatizing the life of a public or historical figure”. Check our selection of fabulous international biopics below:

Neruda
“It’s 1948, and the Cold War has reached Chile. Following a ban on communism, Chilean poet-diplomat Pablo Neruda is forced into hiding. Beloved by the populace, he slips underground and is pursued by incompetent, vainglorious police inspector Oscar Peluchonneau, hoping to make a name for himself by capturing the country’s most infamous fugitive.

Blending visual grandeur and literary wit, Neruda is a beguiling reinvention of the ‘standard’ cinematic biography. Playfully confounding expectations at every turn, the film offers a startling rumination on the split between the person and persona, the man and the artist. 2017 Golden Globe nominee, Best Motion Picture – Foreign Language. Winner of the next bill of Best Actor and the Cine Latino Award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.” ( Adapted from Beamafilm)

A Royal Affair
“Denmark, 1766, Caroline Mathilde is married to the mad and politically ineffectual King Christian VII. When the King returns from a tour of Europe accompanied by Struensee, his new personal physician, Queen Caroline finds an unexpected ally within the kingdom. The attraction between the two is initially one of shared ideals and philosophy, but it soon turns into a passionate and clandestine affair.

Committed to the ideals of the Enlightenment that are banned in Denmark, Struensee convinces the King to assert his previously untapped power to remove the conservative political council and implement drastic changes to Danish society. As the Court plot their return to power and the downfall of the Queen and Struensee, the consequences of their affair are made clear and the entire nation will be changed forever.” (Adapted from Kanopy)  A Royal Affair is also available as a DVD from our collection.

Maya Angelou: And still I rise
“Distinctly referred to as “a redwood tree, with deep roots in American culture,” Dr. Maya Angelou (April 4, 1928-May 28, 2014) led a prolific life. As a singer, dancer, activist, poet and writer, she inspired generations with lyrical modern African-American thought that pushed boundaries.

With unprecedented access, filmmakers Bob Hercules and Rita Coburn Whack trace Dr. Angelou’s incredible journey, shedding light on the untold aspects of her life through never-before-seen footage, rare archival photographs and videos and her own words.” (Kanopy)

Southside with You
“On a summer’s day in 1989, a young law associate named Barack Obama used all his charms to woo attorney Michelle Robinson. From executive producer John Legend comes this uplifting romantic movie based on the real-life first date between the future First Couple.” (Kanopy)

Southside with You is also available as a DVD to borrow from our collection.

Yellow is Forbidden
“A modern-day Cinderella story where the brave, diminutive and daring heroine’s dream doesn’t end at the ball. Guo Pei is chasing every designer’s fantasy to become part of the exclusive yet savage world of Haute Couture.

It’s an unprecedented story, taking the viewer inside the world where Guo Pei creates magic: a 50kg dress so heavy Guo Pei has to consider a gymnast not a model to walk the runway, a gown spun by 300 embroiderers, precious gold material printed with centuries-old Swiss fresco. All from a woman who learnt her craft at Number 2 Light Industrial School after the reign of Mao Tse Tung.” (Beamafilm)

Yellow is Forbidden is also available as a DVD to borrow from our collection.

The Motorcycle Diaries
“In 1952, two young Argentines, Ernesto Guevara and Alberto Granado, set out on a road trip to discover the real Latin America. Ernesto is a 23-year-old medical student specializing in leprology, and Alberto, 29, is a biochemist. The film follows the young men as they unveil the rich and complex human and social topography of the Latin American continent.” (Kanopy)

The Motorcycle Diaries is also available as a DVD to borrow from our collection.

A Fortunate Life
“At eight years old, an impoverished Bert Facey was forced to start the backbreaking, dawn-to-dusk life of a farm labourer. Unschooled, his father dead, abandoned by his mother, by the age of twenty he had survived the rigours of pioneering the harsh Australian bush and the slaughter of the bloody WWI campaign at Gallipoli. Adapted from A.B. Facey’s best-selling autobiographical novel, this is the extraordinary tale of an ordinary Aussie battler, and remains one of the great Australian miniseries.” (Beamafim)

You can also read the original book the DVD mini series was adapted from, or listen the original book as a Book on CD.

Inside story, tales of people’s lives

Truth is stranger than fiction… these tales are shockingly, delightfully and intriguingly true. Access our online resources for your invitation into the lives of people well and lesser known. Accounts of the crew who survived the mutiny on the Bounty are delivered by a direct descendant of Fletcher Christian in Men Without Country. Boy on Fire is Nick Cave’s creation story and here in Aotearoa people look on their place in our community through lives framed by tragedy and courage, discussing the problematic and delightful aspects of life.

These titles are available through Libby/Overdrive and Borrowbox; download the apps to play or read on a compatible device or listen and read online. Enjoy!

cover imageBoy on Fire : The Young Nick Cave / Mark MordueRead by James O’Connell
Boy on Fire is a fascinating social and cultural biography, a vivid and evocative rendering of the people, time and places that went into the making of Nick Cave – from the fast-running dark river and ghost gums of Wangaratta and the punk scene that hit staid 1970s Melbourne like an atom bomb, right through to the torn wallpaper, sticky carpet and manic energy of nights at St Kilda’s Crystal Ballroom.” (BorrowBox)

Overdrive cover Men Without Country, Harrison Christian (ebook)
A mission to collect breadfruit from Tahiti becomes the most famous mutiny in history when the crew rise up against Captain William Bligh. Lives dominated by a punishing regime of hard work and scarce rations, and deeply divided by the hierarchy of class. It is a tale of adventure and exploration punctuated by moments of extreme violence – towards each other and the people of the South Pacific. Christian provides a comprehensive and compelling account of the whole story – from the history of trade and exploration in the South Seas to Pitcairn Island, which provided the mutineers’ salvation, and then became their grave. (Overdrive description)

cover imageHusna’s Story : My wife, the Christchurch Massacre & My Journey to Forgiveness / Farid Ahmed Read by Hazem Shammas
“The couple had been praying when a gunman burst into the mosque. He shot and killed 51 people that day and injured many others. In this audiobook Husna’s husband, Farid Ahmed, tells Husna’s story, including the day of the attack. Farid describes the selflessness and bravery with which Husna lived her life. Husna’s husband, quite remarkably, forgives the alleged killer. Farid’s philosophy of forgiveness, peace and love is an example of how faith and humanity can be tools for navigating even the most horrific of tragedies.” (BorrowBox)

cover imageGotta Get Theroux This : My life and strange times in television / Louis TherouxRead by Louis Theroux
“In 1994 fledgling journalist Louis Theroux was given a one-off gig on Michael Moore’s TV Nation. Gawky, socially awkward and totally unqualified, his first reaction to this exciting opportunity was panic. But he’d always been drawn to off-beat characters, so maybe his enthusiasm would carry the day. Or, you know, maybe it wouldn’t . . . Filled with wry observation and self-deprecating humour, this is Louis at his most insightful and honest best. The audio edition contains an exclusive additional chapter.” (BorrowBox)

Overdrive cover Where We Swim, Ingrid Horrocks (ebook)
Where We Swim ranges from solitary swims in polluted rivers in Aotearoa New Zealand, to dips in pools in Arizona and the Peruvian Amazon, and in the ocean off Western Australia and the south coast of England. Part memoir, part travel and nature writing, this generous and absorbing book is about being a daughter, sister, partner, mother, and above all a human being living among other animals on this watery planet. (Overdrive description)

 

cover imageA Conversation With My Country / Alan DuffRead by Alan Duff
“A fresh, personal account of New Zealand, now, from one of our hardest-hitting writers. Returned from living in France, he views his country with fresh eyes, as it is now: homing in on the crises in parenting, our prisons, education and welfare systems and a growing culture of entitlement that entraps Pakeha and Maori alike. Never one to shy away from being a whetstone on which others can sharpen their own opinions, Alan tells it how he sees it.” (BorrowBox)

Overdrive cover
The Girls Who Stepped Out of Line
, Mari K. Eder (ebook)
The Girls Who Stepped Out of Line are the heroes of the Greatest Generation that you hardly ever hear about. These women who did extraordinary things didn’t expect thanks and shied away from medals and recognition. Despite their amazing accomplishments. Retired U.S. Army Major General Mari K. Eder wrote this book because she knew their stories needed to be told—and the sooner the better. For theirs is a legacy destined to embolden generations of women to come.  (Overdrive description)

cover imageThe Last Days of John Lennon / James PattersonRead by Matthew Wolf, K.C. Clyde
“Enriched by exclusive interviews with Lennon’s friends and associates, including Paul McCartney, The Last Days of John Lennon is a true-crime drama about two men who changed history. One whose indelible songs enliven our world to this day, and the other who ended the music with five pulls of a trigger.” (BorrowBox)

 

 

 

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)

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.)

Modern Bodies: The Best of Dance Biographies

No art form better captures the passion and politics of humanity than dance. From the Soviet-American ballet rivalry of the Cold War to the rise of Lindy Hop in 1920s Harlem to the emergence of waacking from the LGBTQI clubs of 1970s LA, dance explores—and occasionally crosses—boundaries of nation, culture, gender and sexuality. New Zealand is no exception, and as part this year’s Dance Week we’ve got Dancing Through the Pages, a series of talks and performances by Wellington-based dancers and artists. And if you can’t wait until then, we’ve also got some great dance biographies, from Vaslav Nijinsky to Michael Jackson and beyond!


Syndetics book coverNijinsky / Lucy Moore.
“The first major biography for forty years tells the tragic story of ballet’s great revolutionary, Nijinsky. ‘He achieves the miraculous,’ the sculptor Auguste Rodin wrote of Vaslav Nijinsky. He embodies all the beauty of classical frescoes and statues. Like so many since, Rodin recognised that in Nijinsky classical ballet had one of the greatest and most original artists of the twentieth century, in any genre.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverModern bodies : dance and American modernism from Martha Graham to Alvin Ailey / Julia L. Foulkes.
“In 1930, dancer and choreographer Martha Graham proclaimed the arrival of “dance as an art of and from America.” Through their art, modern dancers challenged conventional roles and images of gender, sexuality, race, class and regionalism. Modern Bodies exposes the social dynamics that moved modern dance to the edges of society, a place both provocative and perilous.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverJosephine Baker / written by José-Louis Bocquet ; art by Catel Muller ; historical consultant, Jean-Claude Bouillon-Baker.
“Josephine Baker was 19 years old when she found herself in Paris for the first time. Overnight, the young American dancer became the idol of the Roaring Twenties, captivating Picasso, Cocteau, Le Corbusier and Simenon. After World War II, Baker devoted herself to the struggle against racial segregation, battling the humiliations she had for so long suffered. She would sing of love and liberty until the day she died.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverHe’s got rhythm : the life and career of Gene Kelly / Cynthia Brideson & Sara Brideson.
“He sang and danced in the rain, proclaimed New York to be a wonderful town and convinced a group of Parisian children that they had rhythm. One of the most influential and respected entertainers of Hollywood’s golden age, Gene Kelly revolutionized film musicals with his innovative and timeless choreography.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverDarcey Bussell / Darcey Bussell.
“Darcey Bussell is widely considered to be one of the greatest English ballerinas of all time. Her stellar career spanned two decades of magnificent dance where she worked with Dame Margot Fonteyn, observed an aging Nureyev, crossed swords with rival prima ballerina Sylvie Guillem, argued the finer points of technique with Sir Kenneth MacMillan and danced for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverMoonwalk / Michael Jackson.
Moonwalk is the only book about his life that Michael Jackson ever wrote. It chronicles his humble beginnings in the Midwest, his early days with the Jackson 5 and his unprecedented solo success.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverAmerica dancing : from the cakewalk to the moonwalk / Megan Pugh.
“An exuberant history of American dance, told through the lives of virtuoso performers who have defined the art. The history of American dance reflects the nation’s tangled culture. Dancers from wildly different backgrounds learned, imitated and stole from one another. Audiences everywhere embraced the result as deeply American.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverRemembering Nureyev : the trail of a comet / Rudi van Dantzig ; translation by Katie de Haan.
“Famously volatile, fickle in his passions for people, but with astonishing charisma onstage and off, Rudolf Nureyev is regarded as one of the greatest male ballet dancers of the twentieth century. This is a book balletomanes cannot miss, with an eagle-eyed sharpness that never dissolves into hagiography or gossip.” (Adapted from 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)

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)

A Bit Of Rough And Some Refinement: Biography Picks For April 2014

Sometimes I feel we don’t have enough books for blokes on these pages. Librarianship is still a predominantly female calling and perhaps we are biased in favour of books which interest us. This month we are going to break the mould and feature some tooth-and-claw material which may appeal to the male of the species. B.A.O.R.: British army on the rampage is such an item, its bright red cover gives some hint of what is contained within, (much of which seems very shocking to me). I am assured it is very typical of everyday army life, while on active service anyway. Perhaps it isn’t but it makes for a rattling good story! A couple of older Boys Own books are shown at the bottom of the page.
We have not neglected the gentle sensibilities of our women readers. They may be interested in Sheila; the Autralian ingenue who bewitched British society,the love story Romany and Tom,or a new biography of Princess Louise — Queen Victoria’s rebellious daughter. The memoir of the well-known New Zealand columnist Valerie Davies may also take their eye.

Syndetics book coverB.A.O.R. : British Army on the rampage / Sean Connolly.
“It’s the autobiographical novels that tell it how it was – warts and all. This is what the British Army really got up to in Belize! British Army on the Rampage is a down-to-earth, witty account of a humble British soldier on his tour of duty in the Carribean country of Belize in 1982. It is the first military account of this operational tour, detailing how the task was carried out by an individual and a ‘team of lunatics’, under difficult and sometimes stressful conditions. It takes more than training, education, teamwork and leadership to make it through a squaddie’s working day. B.A.O.R. proves that sometimes, it is only with sheer determination, camaraderie and a sense of belonging to the ‘military family’ that pulls soldiers through the difficult times they often face.’ (Abridged summary from Amazon.co.uk)

Syndetics book coverSheila : the Australian ingenue who bewitched British society / Robert Wainwright.
“Sheila wedded earls and barons, befriended literary figures and movie stars, bedded a future king, was feted by London and New York society for forty years and when she died was a Russian princess. Vivacious, confident and striking, Sheila had torrid affairs with Rudolph Valentino and Prince Obolensky of Russia; and among her friends were Evelyn Waugh, Lord Beaverbrook and Wallis Simpson…A woman and a life unknown to most Australians, ‘Sheila’ is a spellbinding story of a time and a place and an utterly fascinating, extraordinary woman.” (Adapted from Books In Print summary)

Syndetics book coverRomany and Tom / Ben Watt.
“Both Ben Watt’s personal journey and a portrait of his parents, ‘Romany and Tom’ is a vivid story of the post-war years, ambition and stardom, family roots and secrets, life in clubs and in care homes. It is also about who we are, where we come from, and how we love and live with each other for a long time.’ (Summary from Books In Print)

Syndetics book coverThe vampyre family : passion, envy and the curse of Byron / Andrew McConnell Stott.
“In the spring of 1816, Lord Byron was the greatest poet of his generation and the most famous man in Britain, but his personal life was about to erupt. Fleeing his celebrity, notoriety and debts, he sought refuge in Europe, taking his young doctor with him. As an inexperienced medic with literary aspirations of his own, Dr Polidori could not believe his luck. That summer another literary star also arrived in Geneva. With Percy Bysshe Shelley came his lover, Mary and her step-sister Claire Clairmont. For the next three .” (Publisher’s description)

Syndetics book coverLaura Knight : a life / Barbara C. Morden.
“This much-anticipated, long overdue and highly readable authorised biography of the painter Dame Laura Knight (1877-1970) – one of the leading British painters of the twentieth century – covers her long productive career of 80 years and probes the myths and fictions that have [been] and continue to be woven around the artist.” (Book cover)

Syndetics book coverConfessions of a mediocre widow : or, How I lost my husband and my sanity / Catherine Tidd.
“At 31, the author of this heartfelt and surprisingly humorous memoir is the happily married mother of three children under the age of five. In the very first pages, however, her world turns upside down when her 34-year-old husband dies from a brain injury following a motorcycle accident. But the grim and shocking opening (she spends three days in the ICU with her husband, emerging as a widow) is followed by an ultimately uplifting story, and thanks to Tidd’s keen sense of humor her tale never becomes maudlin. (Abridged summary from Books In Print)

Syndetics book coverThe mystery of Princess Louise : Queen Victoria’s rebellious daughter / Lucinda Hawksley.
“The secrets of Queen Victoria’s sixth child, Princess Louise, may be destined to remain forever hidden. What was so dangerous about this artistic, tempestuous royal that her life has been documented more by rumour and gossip than hard facts? When Lucinda Hawksley started to investigate, often thwarted by inexplicable secrecy, she discovered a fascinating woman, modern before her time, whose story has been shielded for years from public view.” (Summary from Books In Print)

Syndetics book coverThe sound of water / Valerie Davies.
“The sound of the sea echoes through every day of this part diary, part journal, part memoir. It’s a contemplative book about mindfulness, in the broad sense that it is about being aware and being conscious of the present. It savours day-to-day life, the little details as well as the vast panorama of history – in fact, it’s a celebration of life with some humour, some sadness and much enjoyment! In the introduction, Valerie quotes the poet Antonio Machado saying ‘Travellers, there is no path, paths are made by walking.’ This is her walk.” (Summary from Amazon.co.uk)

Syndetics book coverWhat if… : a lifetime of questions, speculations, reasonable guesses, and a few things I know for sure / Shirley MacLaine.
“What if? Taking this as her starting point, Shirley explores a wide range of matters-spiritual and secular, humorous and profound, earthbound and inter-galactic, personal and universal. From big questions about family, friendship, politics, war, and religion, her gaze lifts even higher. A famous trailblazer in making topics such as reincarnation and past-life therapy mainstream, Shirley now takes the lead in opening her mind to crucial questions about the existence of life on other planets, what that means for those of us on Earth, and about the true genetic ancestry of humankind.” (Summary from Books In Print)

Syndetics book coverPinkerton’s great detective : the amazing life and times of James McParland / Beau Riffenburgh.
“”The story of the legendary Pinkerton detective who took down the Molly Maguires and the Wild Bunch The operatives of the Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency were renowned for their skills of subterfuge, infiltration, and investigation, none more so than James McParland. So thrilling were McParland’s cases that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle included the cunning detective in a story along with Sherlock Holmes. Riffenburgh digs deep into the recently released Pinkerton archives to present the first biography of McParland and the agency’s cloak-and-dagger methods. Both action packed and meticulously researched, Pinkerton’s Great Detective brings readers along on McParland’s most challenging cases.” (Abridged from publisher information).

Other Bios For Blokes:Syndetics book coverMad, bad and dangerous to know / Ranulph Fiennes.
“He has travelled to the most dangerous places on earth, almost died many times, raised millions of pounds for charity and been awarded a polar medal and an OBE. In his autobiography he describes how he led expeditions all over the world and became the first person to travel to both poles on land. He tells of how he discovered the lost city of Ubar in Oman and attempted to walk solo and unsupported to the North Pole – the expedition that cost him several fingers, and very nearly his life.But Ranulph Fiennes’ life shows no sign of slowing down. Three months after his heart attack and double bypass, he completed seven consecutive marathons in seven days on seven.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

 

Syndetics book coverMud, sweat and tears / Bear Grylls.
“How did Bear Grylls become one of the world’s toughest adventurers? This is the thrilling story of everyone’s favourite real-life action man. From secret childhood missions to climb the town’s school buildings and steeples, to starring in his own global TV series and becoming Chief Scout. Known and admired by millions, Bear Grylls has survived in dangerous environments few would dare to visit. Find out what it’s like to take on mountaineering, martial arts, parachuting, life in the SAS–and all that nature can throw at you!” (Library catalogue)

Introducing our newest reading tool – Book Psychic!

We have many great reading tools available to you through our website. One of the newest additions to the gadget family is Book Psychic. Book Psychic allows you to get book recommendations in the right place at the right time! Most fiction titles are included, along with some popular nonfiction, including biographies. This tool is available as a stand alone website, we’re hoping to include BookPsychic within our Easyfind catalogue very, very soon.

Here’s what Book Psychic provides:

  • Personalises book recommendations based on what you have read.
  • Feeds you recommendations based on your entire reading history
  • The more books you rate the more personalised your list will become
  • You can use your Goodreads and/or LibraryThing accounts to build on your recommendations

Want to check it out? Book Psychic doesn’t require a login: point your browser here and start browsing and rating books.

Biography picks: survivors of the Titanic, Joan of Arc & Yolande of Aragon, and more!

It’s Big Wednesday in the biography world this month – we have just received Michael Holroyd’s acclaimed biography of Lytton Strachey, which has attracted rave reviews and has been chosen as the New York Times book of the year. At the Edinburgh Book Festival last year Michael Holroyd described the biography as a genre in crisis, particularly “those with a single name on the cover”. Well at Wellington City Libraries we can give lie to that – biographies are consistently one of the most popular choices of reading material, with one or several names on the cover! Come, good book-lovers and sample our selections this month.

Syndetics book cover“Albert : a life / Jules Stewart.
“Albert: Prince Consort to Queen Victoria, social and cultural visionary in his own right, was born in the Saxon duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld but defined the culture and direction of 19th century Britain – a superpower at the zenith of its influence – more than any other British royal or politician. Although he pleaded with his wife that no monument to his memory should be left (a plea that was to go unheeded by his grieving widow) the role he played in shaping Victorian culture stands today as indisputable proof of the enduring legacy of a man who spent just two decades of his short life in England.” – (adapted from Global Books in Print summary)

Syndetics book coverThe maid and the queen : the secret history of Joan of Arc and Yolande of Aragon / Nancy Goldstone.
“Joan of Arc’s visionary leadership and legendary courage exemplify the medieval belief in the power of divine revelations and miraculous events that alter human history. At the height of the English siege of Orleans in 1428, a young woman mysteriously appeared in the court of Charles VII, urging him to march against the English troops and reclaim the crown of France. Yet, as Goldstone so forcefully reminds us in this tale of madness, mysticism, intrigue, and courage, we might never have heard of Joan of Arc if Yolande of Aragon, Charles’s mother-in-law and powerful queen of Sicily, hadn’t needed to convince him of his legitimate claim to the throne and bolster his courage in battle.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverSilver like dust : one family’s story of America’s Japanese internment / Kimi Cunningham Grant.
“Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, wanting to fit in, Grant felt far removed from her Japanese heritage, including the internment of her grandparents during WWII. She’d visited Obaachan (which means grandmother ) in Florida since childhood but did not feel close to her. Later, with a new, burning curiosity about her family and that chapter of their history, Grant was compelled to visit as an adult and draw her reluctant grandmother into remembrances of the past. Slowly, Obaachan recalls the family’s immigrant history, the segregation and limited prospects even before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and the internment of Japanese in the U.S.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverLytton Strachey / Michael Holroyd.
“Lytton Strachey, genius, wit, iconoclast, biographer, pacifist, and homosexual campaigner, was at the nexus of the literary and artistic life of Bloomsbury. In the 1960s he was seen as a progenitor of the hippy cult. Now he appears as a far more subversive and challenging figure. He revolutionised the writing of biography and smuggled deviant sexual behaviour into our history in his reassessment of Elizabethan and Victorian times. For this re-telling of his story Holroyd has had access to published and unpublished material unavailable in the 1960s when his biography of Strachey first appeared.” – (adapted from Global Books in Print summary)

Syndetics book coverThe life in my years / Virginia McKenna ; [foreword by Joanna Lumley].
“Coincides with the 25th Anniversary of the Born Free Foundation, which Virginia McKenna chairs.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)
“It is a must read for all animal lovers & conservationists, movie buffs and fans of Virginia McKenna.
Author Info. Virginia McKenna OBE is perhaps best known for her role as Joy Adamson in Born Free, one of many films she made with her late husband Bill Travers. Her other films include Carve Her Name with Pride, A Town Like Alice, The Smallest Show on Earth and Ring of Bright Water.” – (author information from Global Books in Print)

Syndetics book coverDangerous ambition : Dorothy Thompson and Rebecca West : new women in search of love and power / Susan Hertog.
“Hertog looks at two women writers born at the end of the Victorian era who tried boldly, if not always successfully, to negotiate the post-Victorian social upheavals. Although they lived on opposite sides of the Atlantic, Rebecca West and Dorothy Thompson were confidantes with much in common. Pioneering feminists, their professional successes couldn’t compensate for massive personal unhappiness.” – (adapted from Global Books in Print)

Syndetics book coverShadow of the Titanic : the extraordinary stories of those who survived / Andrew Wilson.
“There’s just no rowing away from the 1912 shipwreck’s tragic backwash in this melodramatic biographical sketchbook. Journalist Wilson (Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith) surveys Titanic survivors’ after-stories and chalks up everything he can-suicides, accidental deaths, public disgraces, divorces, remarriages, frigid failures to marry, feelings of angst, embracings of life-to the disaster’s legacy. He sometimes visits steerage but focuses on flamboyant first-class passengers like White Star Lines chairman Bruce Ismay.” – (adapted from Global Books in Print summary)

Syndetics book coverGraven with diamonds : the many lives of Thomas Wyatt : courtier, poet, assassin, spy / Nicola Shulman.
“Learned divines despised it, sober heads ignored it, but for Henry VIII poetry made things happen. It affected his wars, his diplomacy and his many marriages. In this book, Nicola Shulman interweaves the bloody events of Henry’s reign with the story of English love poetry and the life of its first master: Sir Thomas Wyatt.” – (adapted from Global Books in Print summary)

Syndetics book coverA good mail : letters of John Mulgan / selected and edited by Peter Whiteford.
“Your letter of November 1st makes sad reading. I’m no believer in the joys and comforts of correspondence. My life seems to have been spent in separation from the people I liked and cared about.” – John Mulgan to Gabrielle Mulgan, Jan 12th, 1944. The enigmatic figure of John Mulgan remains a striking presence in New Zealand culture, his sole novel, Man Alone, a landmark in the emergence of local literature. A GOOD MAIL presents a generous selection of his letters home – letters to those he cared about, but from whom he felt a permanent separation. When he left New Zealand in 1933, he had declared “I think I’m going to have the best year of my life”. That confident expectation carried him through the first half of the thirties, but the growing political unrest in Europe severely dampened his enthusiasm.” – (adapted from Global Books in Print summary)

Syndetics book coverThe last colonial : curious adventures and stories from a vanishing world / Christopher Ondaatje ; images by Ana Maria Pacheco ; [introduction by Michael Holroyd].
“Christopher Ondaatje is a true child of the British Empire. Born in Ceylon in 1933 and brought up on a tea plantation, he was sent as a teenager to boarding school in England. But soon after Ceylon was granted its independence in 1948, his family found themselves destitute, and the young Ondaatje left school and got a job. In 1956 he made his way to Canada with just thirteen dollars in his pocket. From this improbable beginning there followed a series of commercial triumphs until 1988 when he abruptly abandoned high finance at the peak of his career and reinvented himself as an explorer and author, focusing mainly on the colonial period.” – (adapted from Global Books in Print summary)

The 25th of January is Robert Burns Day

Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns was born on the 25th of January 1759, and the 25th of January every year is now celebrated as Robert Burns Day. Traditionally marked with a Burns supper, enthusiastic Burns Clubs all over the world will be celebrating tonight with a good measure of whisky.

The son of a tenant farmer in Ayrshire and a pre-Romantic poet, Robert Burns is a cultural icon in Scotland and the Scottish Diaspora around the world for his poetry and songs in both English and the Scots language (not Gaelic). An interesting New Zealand connection, is that his nephew – Thomas Burns – immigrated to New Zealand and was a prominent religious leader in the early settlement of Otago. There are many memorials to Robert Burns all over the world, and if you’ve visited Dunedin you will have seen the statue of Robert Burns in the Octagon that commemorates him there.

In lieu of celebrating with the more traditional haggis and whisky, we thought we’d collect together some books and web links to commemorate the Ploughman Poet. Enjoy!

Syndetics book coverRobert Burns / selected by Donald A. Low.
“Let other poets raise a fracas ‘Bout vines, an’ wines, an’ drucken Bacchus, An’ crabbit names an’ stories wrack us, An’ grate our lug: In glass or jug.–from “Scotch Drink”. Robert Burns, the son of a tenant farmer in Ayshire, Scotland, endured great hardship before emerging as a poet and songwriter in his native dialect, as well as in English. This “Bard of Scotland” caught the spirit of his country, as these 23 verses and songs so vividly show. Though his works frequently focused on two of his greatest pleasures–women and Scotch–he also found inspiration in local subjects. His “Tam O’Shanter” is one of the finest examples of narrative verse ever written: it vividly evokes the Scottish landscape and weather, the native inns and native folk, all while telling a compelling, almost supernatural story of the drunken Tam. From “The Twa Dogs” to “Death and Doctor Hornbook,” this colorful collection is a pure delight.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe bard : Robert Burns, a biography / Robert Crawford.
“Biographies of Burns are as plentiful as hangovers after Burns Suppers, and some of them are equally unrewarding. But this one is genuinely useful. Evenhanded and earnest, it isn’t the raciest version of Burns’s high-octane career: Those who want a simplified story can look elsewhere. But The Bard, while approachable and concise, sets a new standard for scholarly readings of Burns’s life. This biography is enlightening and entertaining, a good read in a gray month.” (Amazon.co.uk)

Syndetics book coverDirt & deity : a life of Robert Burns / Ian McIntyre.
“July 21, 1996, is the 200th anniversary of the death of Scotland’s great national poet, Robert Burns, which is reason enough to bring McIntyre’s exhaustively documented–indeed, for all practical purposes, documentary–biography, first published in England last year, to America. But besides marking the occasion, the book has strong virtues to commend it, too. McIntyre strives mightily to tell the facts about Burns; to that end, he constructs a fabric made up of excerpts from letters, recollections of those who knew Burns, occasional public records, and the testimony of Burns’ poems. He stitches these materials together with clear, precise prose, concisely sketching Burns’ historical and cultural milieu as he proceeds; and he refrains from speculating about cloudy details in Burns’ life or interpreting Burns’ works. He doesn’t coddle old legends or foster new ones but reinforces the familiar image of Burns as a sparkling conversationalist, something of a rake (as were several friends), and, unfortunately for his longevity (he died at 37), rather a boozer–and, supremely, what Jews call a mensch, for a’ that.” (Booklist)

Syndetics book coverRhymer Rab : an anthology of poems and prose / Robert Burns ; edited by Alan Bold.
“The poems and songs of Robert Burns are known throughout the world, yet many people are unaware of the wealth of writing of all kinds which he left at his death in 1796. This is a collection of verse and prose which gives insights into Burns’s complex and contradictory character. It includes some of his most revealing letters, ranging from formal appeals to potential patrons, to bawdy accounts of sexual conquests; from the elevated passion of the “Clarinda” letters to the touching domesticity of notes to his wife and family; and from fiery political satire to poignant pleas sent in the final days of his life. Here also are extracts from commonplace books, passages from travel journals and other significant pieces, including the complete text of the Autobiographical Letter, Burns’s only extended account of his meteoric rise to fame.” (Amazon.co.uk)

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