I read Paula Byrne’s biography earlier this year, one concentrated mainly on his friendships and influences for Brideshead Revisited, and enjoyed it so much I was keen for more of Evelyn Waugh’s extraordinary life. Eade takes the more traditional, birth to death approach, and comprehensively presents Waugh’s life in all its complexity. Like Byrne, he shows that snobbery was not Waugh’s defining trait, though his rudeness, arrogance and cruelty are more obvious in this book, but he also emphasises his humour and extraordinary writing. This is a fascinating look at the man, but also at the time in which he lived and his literary legacy.
I love a story of belonging, and that’s what this is; one man’s sense of his family’s place in the world. It’s extremely local – shepherds in the Lake District – but very relatable. We go through the seasons on his family farm, getting to know its rhythm, his family members and an awful lot of detail about sheep. Somehow, it just works. It encourages us to look more deeply at landscapes we are drawn to, to value history and historical practice, and to be community minded. It’s cold, wet, muddy, bloody and smelly, but the view and sense of purpose, are glorious.
I think I liked this book mostly because in it, the author does something I would very much like to do; she takes a year off work and regular life, to travel. The title makes it sound like she just floated on the wind, which isn’t true. She had plans for where she was going, but while she was there, she learned to relax and be open to adventure, friendship and love. It’s about a journey to rediscover self, but it isn’t preachy or new agey, neither is it about the destination. It is certainly a dreamy journey that I am glad to have shared.
Caitlin not only covers her work at a crematorium, but also how societies view and deal with death. Although covering a morbid subject it was interesting and engaging.
Maggie O’Farrell is one of my favourite authors, so I was really looking forward to this, her unconventional memoir. Seventeen brushes with death sounds like an awful lot, and it is, but some of them are the sort we all experience. For all that is about her near death experiences, the book is a reflection on life; its tenacity, young people’s carelessness with it, the difficult, the baffling, the beautiful. It is very personal, very relatable, and beautifully written as always.
“Wildflower” by Drew Barrymore is not, she insists, a memoir, as that seemed too heavy for her. She wanted something light, so this book is a collection of short stories about her adventures, challenges and incredible experiences of her earlier years. Being aware of her life as a troubled Hollywood child star, this collection is very light-hearted, and not being in chronological order, it can be a little confusing to determine when each story takes place compared to the last. But if you are fond of Drew, it is an entertaining, funny and insightful glimpse into how she evolved into the happy mother, actress, author, director, model and producer she is today.
Not the most beautifully written, A Long Way Home is an extraordinary story of a very small, lost, boy holding tight to his memories, being supported by his adoptive parents and using technology methodically and painstakingly to find his family. It is uplifting and hopeful, if not very revealing of personality.
Insomniac City is a love story, about a man who falls in love with New York City and Oliver Sacks. It must be more than twenty years since I read my first Oliver Sacks book, and I have read many since, feeling so drawn to this gentle, ever curious, genius of a man. And, while I am not especially keen on the US as a whole, New York is different, magical somehow. So, this memoir of Bill Hayes’ moving to New York and loving Oliver Sacks until his death, was totally captivating to me. A whimsical , quirky, deeply moving book about love, loss and life well lived.
Being memoir, my favourite genre, ‘Working Class Boy’ is a book I considered many times but, not really a fan of Jimmy Barnes and or knowing anything about his life, it really didn’t appeal to me. Not until, that is, he won the biography category at the Australian Book Industry Awards, and then I quickly borrowed the ebook before anyone else could!
‘It is the story of what shaped my life,’ Jimmy said. ‘The good, the bad and the very, very ugly.’
His brutally honest storytelling, about things I would rather not know, made this a difficult book for me to read, and I felt he wasn’t giving me any credit as a reader, repeating things and telling me not showing me. After the third time he wrote, ‘as I said before …’ I vowed to quit if he wrote it again. But he didn’t, and I became captivated by the sense of healing I was witnessing as Jimmy searched for hope in his story, quite often using a wicked sense of humour at what seemed inappropriate times. I soon realised this was his way of coping with the ugliness of it all. The book felt like a confession, an opening up by Jimmy. At first he sounded hesitant and unsure, but I could sense him settling into his new role as an author and imagined the healing tears flowing along with the healing words.
When Breath Becomes Air is the memoir of a man who realises that his life is to be cut short, dramatically. Paul Kalanithi was 36, and about to complete his training as a neurosurgeon, when he found out he had terminal cancer. I didn’t find the book as emotionally harrowing as I thought I might. It is the story of a man with many gifts and interests, who strived to find the best way to help people make life meaningful. At the very end of his medical training, before he was able to bring to fruition all his plans, he was given a terrible gift; that of experiencing life as a patient facing his own death. It is, of course, very sad, but it is also hopeful, and uplifting, and encourages the reader to live thoughtfully.