Newest Autobiography Reviews

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Autobiography

The Puppy Diaries: Living with a Dog Named Scout by Jill Abramson

4star.jpg Pets

Jill Abramson had a dog whom she adored - a White West Highland by the name of Buddy - and after his death she wasn't certain that she wanted another dog. Would she bond with the newcomer? Would she always be comparing the pup with his predecessor? But - times change - and in 2009 Jill and her husband Henry brought home a Golden Retriever by the name of Scout. Over the following year Abramson wrote a column about raising Scout for the New York Times website and it's this column which forms the basis for 'The Puppy Diaries: Living With a Dog Named Scout'. Full review...

All in a Don's Day by Mary Beard

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Mary Beard's latest collection, 'All in a Don's Day', of her assembled blog pieces from 2009 until the end of 2011, covers similar concerns to her previous selection, It's a Don's Life. Professor Beard is a fellow of Newnham College, Cambridge and became Classics Professor at there in 2004. She is also an expert in Roman laughter, an interest which she fully indulges in the pages of her TLS blog. In her latest collection she bemoans the parlous current state of both Education and the Academy, and makes witty observations on matters as various as television chefs, what and how to visit in Rome and the art and worth of completing references in an age when only positive things may be said about postgraduate job-seekers. Full review...

Under a Canvas Sky: Living Outside Gormenghast by Clare Peake

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To many of us, the very name Peake on the cover of a book will immediately suggest the creator of 'Gormenghast' and his family. We have had the occasional biography of Mervyn Peake from others, plus the recollections of his widow Maeve, and to join them, here is the story from another perspective altogether – that of their youngest child, daughter Clare. Full review...

The Little Gypsy: A Life of Freedom, a Time of Secrets by Roxy Freeman

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Roxy Freeman, born to a life of freedom and open roads, shares a gypsy caravan with her parents, brother and four sisters. As a child she may not have gone to school but from an early age her skills, suited to living off the land, surpassed those of her more traditional peers. However, her innocence is stolen from her by family friend, 'Uncle' Tony and her childhood becomes tainted by fear and secrets. Full review...

Dotter of Her Father's Eyes by Mary M Talbot and Bryan Talbot

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If there's one person able to produce a worthwhile potted history of James Joyce's daughter, it should be Mary M Talbot. She's an eminent academic, and her father was a major Joycean scholar. Both females had parents with the same names too - James and Nora, both took to the stage when younger after going to dance school, but it's the contrasts between them this volume subtly picks out rather than any similarities, in a dual biography painted by one person we know by now as more than able to produce a delightful graphic novel - Bryan Talbot. Full review...

A Book of Secrets, Illegitimate Daughters, Absent Fathers by Michael Holroyd

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Picture the crowded atelier of the renowned sculptor, Rodin or perhaps the dimly lit corridors of Lord Grimthorpe's mansion. Perhaps you might prefer to frequent the brightly lit splendour of the balconies of the coastal villa at Cimbrone above the magnificent Gulf of Salerno. The inhabitants of such places led their tangled lives, sometimes enduring painful losses or by contrast, energetically inspired to passionate love affairs. In these stimulating environments we catch glimpses of the famous, like E.M.Forster, Virginia Woolf, sometimes accompanied by her close confidante, Vita Sackville West and then there was that tempestuous iconoclast, D.H.Lawrence. Many such lives were inspired by both landscape and lust, fashioned by each other's creative energies and endowed with artistic talents of all kinds. Here we learn of talents and beauty that inspires artistic endeavour, like the many charms of Eve Fairfax. She, who after brief affairs was gradually forced into a stoic suspension which she recorded with thoughts from her friends in the pages of annotated diaries which became A Book of Secrets. Full review...

Yossarian Slept Here by Erica Heller

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'To live forever or die in the attempt' was the essential glory in life and living that is at the heart of John Yossarian in Catch 22. This autobiography of the daughter of his creator, Joseph Heller, reveals how the same excitement and joie de vivre suffused throughout the Heller family. The harebrained unpredictability, the madcap exploits and relationships bowl us through this book with terrific pace and verve. Full review...

Pig in the Middle by Matt Whyman

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I'm so pleased I read this book. It's only the occasional writer who grabs me by the short and curlies with his observation of human nature, but accomplished children's writer Matt Whyman not only grabbed me, but sold me on the mini-pigs as well. Full review...

Henry's Demons: Living with Schizophrenia. a Father and Son's Story by Patrick Cockburn and Henry Cockburn

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In February 2002 Patrick Cockburn was in Kabul, reporting to The Independent on the fall of the Taliban. While he was there he called his wife Jan at home in England, and was shocked to learn that their 20-year-old elder son Henry had been rescued by fishermen after coming close to death while swimming, fully clothed, in the icy waters of the Newhaven estuary. The police had decided that he was a danger to himself, and he was now in a mental hospital. Full review...

Out of the Ashes: Britain After the Riots by David Lammy

4.5star.jpg Politics and Society

Just about everyone in the country was shocked as pictures of the 2011 riots (which began in Tottenham and spread to other major cities in the UK) unfolded on our television screens. Everyone, that is, except David Lammy, MP for the area. He might not have known when it would happen or what would trigger the riot, but a year before, he said that it would happen. This wasn't a lucky guess: Lammy was born in Tottenham and brought up on the Broadwater Farm Estate as one of five children raised by his single-parent mother and he knows what's happening on the ground. Full review...

A Dancer in Wartime: One Girl's Journey from the Blitz to Sadler's Wells by Gillian Lynne

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At eight years old, Gill Pyrke was driving her parents crazy, as she couldn't sit still and was nicknamed wriggle-bottom. Her mum took her to see the family GP and told him in great detail how annoying she was. The doctor asked if he could talk to Gill alone and put on some music. She started to dance around and climbed on to his desk. He prescribed ballet classes. She started off in a Bromley dance class where one of her classmates was later to be the famous ballerina Beryl Grey. This story is lovely and funny, and has lots of elements of a dream story, yet is told in a very down to earth style which makes it very convincing. The same could be said of the whole of Gillian Lynne's memoir of her early years, starting out on a brilliant career in dance. Full review...

You Are Not Alone: Michael Through A Brother's Eyes by Jermaine Jackson

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It is inevitable that the books we have already seen about Michael Jackson in the two years since his sudden passing will be merely the tip of the iceberg. Yet for those which comprise and are based on first-hand knowledge of his life and death, there will surely be few if any to rival this account by his brother Jermaine and ghostwriter Steve Dennis. Full review...

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson

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I saw the BBC's 'Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit' a semi-autobiographical account of Winterson's childhood. This book's title is equally memorable and unique and we learn that it's a line Mrs Winterson said to the young Jeanette. Full review...

The Frog Princess by Angie Beasley

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I expected a tabloid expose of the beauty queen industry, or a spirited defence against feminist ethical attacks of the past few years from one of its successful 'victims'. Best of all, I enjoy an ordinary person telling an authentic emotional tale, whatever their circumstances or personal history. Sadly I'm afraid that this book fell rather short on these attractions. At first I felt that Angie Beasley deserved a lot more editorial help in developing her manuscript. Then I realised that the story was ghost written, which explains the lack of authentic voice fairly neatly. Full review...

MetaMAUS by Art Spiegelman

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Before the Holocaust was turned into a child-like near-fable for all, and before it was the focus of superb history books such as this, it became a family saga of a father relating his experiences to a son, who then drew it all - featuring animals not humans - Maus. To celebrate the twenty-five years since then, we have this brilliant look back at the creation of an equally brilliant volume. Full review...

The Smile on the Face of the Pig: Confessions of the Last Cub Reporter by John Bull

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John Bull was born in the mid thirties – old enough to be able to say that he was bombed in his cradle but young enough not to be directly involved. He was one of the last cub reporters – after that they changed the name – and 'The Smile on the Face of the Pig' is the story of his time as a reporter, a National Serviceman, a husband and father in the nineteen fifties. It's a gentle, nostalgic look back at a decade when life was different. There might have been more hardships – but it's difficult to say that it was harder and this book is a reminder for those of us who were around at the time of what it was really like. Full review...

Supper With The President by Ian Mathie

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It's such a pleasure to read an Ian Mathie book, so I really looked forward to 'Supper with the President'. No surprises, then, to find this book every bit as delightful, intriguing and informative as his others. Ian Mathie knows exactly how to stitch up a good story; the occasional photographs - proving the stories are not fiction – come almost as a surprise. The books are helpfully illustrated with simple maps placing the stories in geographical context. To me, Ian Mathie is simply the best of the relatively unknown writers I have come across as a reviewer. Interestingly, the two men in my household grab and devour Ian Mathie's books, and I imagine anyone interested in development issues and/or Africa would welcome one or two of his titles for Christmas. Full review...

The Letters of Samuel Beckett: Volume 2, 1941-1956 by Samuel Beckett, Martha Dow Fehsenfeld, Lois More Overbeck, George Craig and Dan Gunn

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Despite the title, Volume 2 really begins in 1945. During the war, Beckett was working with the French Resistance, and had to go into hiding. In order to keep the picture reasonably complete, there is a chronology of the war years, and the introduction includes a lettercard sent to James Joyce in February 1941, a pre-printed postcard presenting prefabricated phrases which the sender could strike out as appropriate. During the war only the mildest of family news could be sent through the mail, and even this was subject to censorship. Joyce never received the card, as he died the day after it was written. Full review...

Under the Sun. The Letters of Bruce Chatwin by Elizabeth Chatwin and Nicholas Shakespeare (ed)

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Bruce Chatwin was best known as a travel writer – this collection both confirms his 'wanderlust' but also clearly establishes that his writing was far more of a creative process than the usual journalistic approach to travel writing. Nicholas Shakespeare’s selection and passages of narration makes this a mix of the biographical and the autobiographical, a fascinating insight into a restless spirit, but also into the experimentation and literary reflection that made him outstanding amongst his peers. Full review...

Of Boys, Men and Mountains - Life in the Rhondda Valley by Roy Tomkinson

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Roy Tomkinson comes over as pretty sentimental about aspects of his childhood. He was born into a family of boys, and surrounded by an extended family spread along the valley. He was a child in the nineteen fifties, when post-War austerity was still a feature of life in Wales. Nevertheless, discipline, love and understanding were meted out by his parents in equal measures to provide a strong platform for his childhood adventures. Roy and his gang grew up free-ranging the valley, teaching their dogs and ferrets to catch rats, trespassing on industrial land, learning about girls, and entirely missing the growing affluence of central Britain. For them, it was idyllic, and the author makes it clear, many times, how lucky he feels to have enjoyed such a stable childhood environment. Full review...

Eat, Pray, Eat by Michael Booth

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I really enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Initially I thought I'd picked up a Me too variant with Eat, Pray Eat and must admit to my heart sinking. But no, here is a different personality with another story and writing style and after a few, doubting pages, I was away. This is a story of a family adventure to India, a hard-fought encounter with yoga, and some culinary interest thrown in. But like Elizabeth Gilbert, like most other visitors, India moved his life-view dramatically and for the better. Full review...

What to Look for in Winter: A Memoir in Blindness by Candia McWilliam

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When you know that a biography tackles alcoholism, a mother's early death, feelings of loneliness and worthlessness, culminating in going blind, you expect that this is going to be one of two types of book – the misery memoir, or the positive 'all ends well' tale. 'What to Look for in Winter: A Memoir in Blindness' is neither. It is a book which is as complex as the life it relates, and as deep. Full review...

Man in a Mud Hut by Ian Mathie

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Ian Mathie deserves a wider audience. I can't understand why he hasn't been leapt upon by Radio 4 , Saga Magazine, the Sunday papers, the Daily Mail, Uncle Tom Cobley and all since the publication of Bride Price in January. Here is a fine new Voice who is completely his own man. His writing is spare, uncomplicated and unassuming. Now Ian Mathie has taken a dusty-dry civil servant and turned him into a hero. Desmond's first visit to Africa is the theme of the dramatic Man in a Mud Hut story. Set in the 1970's, the intrigue and suspense sort of reminded me of The Spy who came in from the Cold - and it all happened. Full review...

A Walk-on Part: Diaries 1994 - 1999 by Chris Mullin

4.5star.jpg Politics and Society

We tend to remember where we were and how we heard about the deaths of people like John F Kennedy, Elvis Presley and Princess Diana, but I'd add another person to the list: John Smith. I remember sitting in my office and a colleague coming in to tell me. She added 'I suppose we'll have that dreary Gordon Brown as leader now'. We'd many angst-ridden miles to go before that came about but Smith's death is the opening entry in this, the third volume (but first chronologically) of Chris Mullin's Diaries. This book covers the first period of 'New Labour', from Smith's death until Mullin's assumption into government in July 1999. Full review...

In The Seventies: Adventures in the Counterculture by Barry Miles

3.5star.jpg Autobiography

The sixties, argues Barry Miles, did not end in 1969. For him, they began as a definable period of cultural history in 1963 and lasted until 1977. During that time he worked on and with various underground and counter-cultural activities in London, among them the founding of 'International Times' and of the Beatles' spoken word label Zapple. Full review...

Gypsy Boy on the Run by Mikey Walsh

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I was surprised to find that 'Gypsy Boy on the Run' is Mikey Walsh's second autobiographical book. The book stands alone as a very satisfying read,and there isn't really any feeling that vast chunks of his life have been left out – although presumably his first book 'Gypsy Boy', has more detail on Mikey's childhood as a travelling Romany Gipsy. Full review...

A Broken Childhood: A True Story of Abuse by Lydia Ola Taiwo

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Mojisola – known to everyone as Ola – was born to a Nigerian couple in London in 1964 and spent the first five years of her life in a foster home in Brighton. Here she was loved, looked after and lived her life in a genuinely good family. This wasn't an unusual arrangement as it allowed the biological parents to earn money without worrying about childcare – and Ola was happy. It was all the more cruel when her biological father arrived to take her 'home' for the weekend – a weekend which would stretch into seven years of abuse and neglect. Full review...

The Doctor Will See You Now by Max Pemberton

3.5star.jpg Politics and Society

The NHS is one of those things that everyone seems to have an opinion about, and this of course includes those of us who work for said organisation (the world's 3rd largest employer, don'tcha know). Max Pemberton is one of those people: a doctor, though despite what you might assume from the title, not a GP but a hospital medic. This is his third book on the subject of life (and death) within the walls of a hospital, plus the odd excursion to rather misnamed Care Homes, and it's not a bad read. Full review...

Teach Us to Sit Still: A Sceptic's Search for Health and Healing by Tim Parks

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Self-help books are pretty polarising when you think about it. I mean, would you tell somebody that you were reading a self-help book if you had no idea how they were going to react? On the one hand there must be people who devour these kinds of books one after the other, searching for that mystical formula that will bring about profound inner change. At the other end of the scale are readers that steer well clear of self-help or anything else that isn't rational and based on proper scientific research and evidence. Entrenched views are what makes this title an interesting proposition. A sceptic's search for health and healing which alludes to meditation? Surely much more interesting than a new age guru who already believes wholeheartedly that their insights will transform YOUR life and enrich their bank balance. I want to know how the sceptic was convinced, not the guy who entered the room wearing healing crystals. Full review...

Black by Design: A 2-tone Memoir by Pauline Black

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As the front cover of this volume of reminiscences reminds us, Pauline Black is remembered first and foremost for fronting The Selecter, one of the few 2-Tone ska bands to enjoy fleeting chart success at the end of the 1970s. Yet reading this reminds us that that was only the tip of the iceberg. Full review...

Townie: A Memoir by Andre Dubus III

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The book opens with Andre and his father taking a jog. Seems a normal and natural activity - what's to write about here, you could be asking. Well, I'll tell you. By this time the father no longer lives in the family home, the mother is struggling to pay the bills and to put food on the table - and the author, Andre is too embarrassed to admit to his father that he doesn't own a pair of jogging shoes. He's borrowed his sister's even although they're about two sizes too small, he's in agony seconds into the jog but is he going to own up? Nope. Bloody feet and pain are a by-product of precious time with his father. So straight away, I'm getting the gist of the book and the relationship between father and son. Full review...

No Off Switch: The Autobiography by Andy Kershaw

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'The boy Kershaw' as his hero and later friend John Peel sometimes wryly referred to him on air, has had a pretty remarkable life. He's been – taken a deep breath – a concert promoter while studying politics at Leeds University, Billy Bragg's driver across most of Europe, a presenter on BBC TV and successively also on Radios 1, 3 and 4, a news correspondent reporting from Iraq, Haiti, Angola and Rwanda, and also done time as a guest of Her Majesty. Full review...

Signs of Life by Natalie Taylor

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Natalie Taylor was just twenty four years old, and five months pregnant, when her husband died in a tragic accident. This memoir takes us from the day she found out he was dead through to her son's first birthday. Natalie's situation is horribly sad. I can't even begin to imagine what I would have done in her place. The record of her grieving process is very raw and honest. Based upon her journals that she kept through this time her pain leaps off the page and makes you feel sick inside for the horror she's facing. I liked that she doesn't seem to be advocating a correct way to grieve. She simply states how she felt, how she reacted at each moment, be that calmly and quietly or with raging, screaming tears. Luckily she had an extremely supportive family and a good group of friends and it is interesting - if rather disturbing - to follow her progress as she deals with her life without her husband. Full review...