Our exclusive author interview: Carol Markwell on Edwardian and Victorian Renaissance woman Blanche Edith Baughan (1870–1958)

New Zealand biographer Carol Markwell has just published her latest book – a brilliant and fascinating account of the life of Edwardian and Victorian Renaissance woman Blanche Edith Baughan (1870-1958), called Enough Horizon: the life and work of Blanche Baughan.

Blanche Edith Baughan was remarkable in many ways: she one of New Zealand’s first poets, a Victorian feminist, an active social reformer, one of the very first travel writers in New Zealand and an early environmentalist. She was, in all senses of the word, a true pioneer and a social visionary.

We recently had the pleasure of interviewing Carol about Blanche in conjunction with the Caffeine and Aspirin arts and entertainment review show on Radioactive FM. And below is the podcast of that interview for your enjoyment:

In the podcast Carol also mentions her first biography Alice, what have you done! about NZ waitress Alice May Parkinson, who shot her lover in 1915.  Carol’s work also includes poetry and fiction.

Enough Horizon : The Life And Work Of Blanche Baughan / Markwell, Carol
“Blanche Edith Baughan (1870–1958) was one of New Zealand’s first poets and travel writers –  her travel writing introduced people here and overseas to our walks and wilderness areas. Born in England, Blanche emigrated to New Zealand in 1900, settling in Sumner and Banks Peninsula, where she embraced the freedom to write and think, and formed friendships with poets Jessie Mackay and Ursula Bethell. It was here that Blanche’s interest in the environment and her advocacy for the vulnerable in society flourished. She became a botanist, conservationist and prison reformer, known for her fierce correspondence in defence of her causes. ” (from publisher)

Alice, what have you done! : the case of Alice May Parkinson / Markwell, Carol
“Napier, 1915: Alice May Parkinson shoots and kills her lover. Her trial and its aftermath cause controversy throughout New Zealand. Is she a feminist heroine or a callous killer ? Or simply a desperate woman who ran out of choices? This is her story.” (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)

Graphic novels for NZ Music Month

One of my favourite things about the art of comics is how they depict sound. Since the medium is completely mute, comic artists have to come up with novel visual tricks to portray music.

In Ed Piskor’s Hip-Hop Family Tree, the colouring will go into a shaky ‘double-vision’, giving the panel the disorienting effect of looking at a 3D movie without the glasses, to depict the rattling bass of a sound system. In Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s Phonogram, music fans called ‘phonomancers’ turn pop songs into magic spells to illustrate (without music) that feeling of power and invincibility you get from listening to your favourite song.

It seems more and more comic artists are going to bat for this technical challenge, as the graphic novel music biopic has become a popular subgenre in the 2010s. Sitting somewhere between documentary and written biography, it allows artists to exaggerate and caricature the details of an artist’s career. Mike Allred’s pop-art inspired drawing style is a perfect match for his most recent work Stardust, rayguns & moonage daydreamswhich gives David Bowie a cosmic career odyssey worthy of the work that he put into building the myth of Ziggy Stardust. Similarly, The Fifth Beatle sees the Fab Four through the eyes of their humble manager Brian Epstein; the comic’s colouring accentuates the efforts Epstein went through to take four lads with the marks of musical greatness from the grey pallor of Liverpool to the bright shiny vistas of international stardom. The graphic novel biography makes bands and artists seem larger than life in a way that photographs or concert films can sometimes struggle to capture.

From the mega-pop stars, to the unsung heroes of music history, to the fans that keep the passion burning, there’s a graphic novel for every audience in our collection!


The complete Phonogram / Gillen, Kieron
“Collected in a single volume for the first time, the first critically beloved work from the creators of The Wicked + the Divine. Includes RUE BRITANNIA, THE SINGLES CLUB and THE IMMATERIAL GIRL, with RUE BRITANNIA coloured for the first time. The world where Music Is Magic has never looked better.” (Catalogue)

Hip hop family tree [2] : 1981-1983 / Piskor, Ed
“The second instalment of this acclaimed graphic novel hip-hop history (originally serialized on the popular website Boingboing) covers the years 1981-1983. Hip Hop has made a big transition from the parks and rec rooms to downtown clubs and vinyl records. The performers make moves to separate themselves from the paying customers by dressing more and more flamboyant until a young group called RUN-DMC comes on the scene to take things back to the streets.” (Adapted from catalogue)

The fifth Beatle : the Brian Epstein story / Tiwary, Vivek J.
“The Fifth Beatle is the untold true story of Brian Epstein, the visionary manager who discovered and guided The Beatles — from their gigs in a tiny cellar in Liverpool to unprecedented international stardom. Yet more than merely the story of “The Man Who Made The Beatles,” The Fifth Beatle is an uplifting, tragic, and ultimately inspirational human story about the struggle to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. Brian himself died painfully lonely at the young age of thirty-two, having helped The Beatles prove through “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” that pop music could be an inspirational art form. He was homosexual when it was a felony to be so in the United Kingdom, Jewish at a time of anti-Semitism, and from Liverpool when it was considered just a dingy port town.” (Catalogue)

Blue in green / V, Ram
“The dark and haunting portrayal of a young musician’s pursuit of creative genius — the monstrous nature of which threatens to consume him as it did his predecessor half a century ago. From creators Ram V (Grafity’s Wall, These Savage Shores) and Anand RK (Grafity’s Wall). BLUE IN GREEN is an exploration of ambitions, expectations, and the horrific depths of their spiraling pursuit.” (Catalogue)

Bowie : stardust, rayguns & moonage daydreams / Allred, Mike
BOWIE: Stardust, Rayguns, & Moonage Daydreams chronicles the rise of Bowie’s career from obscurity to fame; and paralleled by the rise and fall of his alter ego as well as the rise and fall of Ziggy Stardust. As the Spiders from Mars slowly implode, Bowie wrestles with his Ziggy persona. The outcome of this internal conflict will change not only David Bowie, but also, the world.” (Adapted from catalogue)

Gunning for hits. music thriller / Volume 1, Slade : / Rougvie, Jeff
“In the 80’s NYC music business, Martin Mills, a record company talent scout, jumps at the chance to make a comeback album with his favorite rock legend. When it goes sideways, Martin is forced to use deadly skills from his past” (Catalogue)

Redbone : the true story of a Native American rock band / Staebler, Christian
“Brothers Pat and Lolly Vegas were talented Native American rock musicians that took the 1960s Sunset Strip by storm. Determined to control their creative vision and maintain their cultural identity, they eventually signed a deal with Epic Records in 1969. But as the American Indian Movement gained momentum the band took a stand, choosing pride in their ancestry over continued commercial reward. Created in cooperation with the Vegas family, authors Christian Staebler and Sonia Paoloni with artist Thibault Balahy take painstaking steps to ensure the historical accuracy of this important and often overlooked story of America’s past. Part biography and part research journalism, Redbone provides a voice to a people long neglected in American history.” (Adapted from catalogue)

Total jazz / Blutch
“In these freewheeling short stories, vignettes, and sketches that originally appeared in Jazzman magazine, the famed French cartoonist examines not only the genre and its creators but the nature of the subculture. The grumpy festival-goer, the curmudgeonly collector, the anxious auditioner, and many others are his targets. As improvisional as Coltrane and Mingus, Blutch captures the excitement of live performance and of creating and listening to music.” (Catalogue)

Topp : promoter Gary Topp brought us the world / Collier, David
“As with all of Collier’s work, his latest graphic novel is a combination of memoir and biography. This time, he explores his involvement in the cultural landscape of Toronto in the 1970s and 80s, specifically focusing on the life of Gary Topp, a concert promoter and founder of the pioneering Canadian repertory cinema. Topp emerged from an immigrant background, abandoned the family textile business, and became an influential figure in the lives of an entire community. He was also Collier’s first boss and mentor. Though outspoken and opinionated, Gary Topp inspired love and devotion, not only in those who worked for him, but also in the acts he booked — including the Ramones, The Police, and the Dixie Chicks. This graphic novel looks at a rapidly disappearing past and uses Topp’s ability to see beyond the mainstream for a look at where our culture is heading.” (Catalogue)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life after End Times: New Biographies

No one tells you this

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Becoming–with Michelle Obama!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Backstairs of History: The Best of Recent Biographies

I am, I am, I am Cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swimming suffragettes: New biographies

Staying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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