Category Archives: Autobiography and memoir

‘What’s the point of a risk-free life?’ – Deborah Levy on starting again at 50

At 50, two decades of stable family life fell apart. In this extract from her memoir, the novelist recalls finding strength in the chaos – and a new voice

As Orson Welles told us, if we want a happy ending, it depends on where we stop the story. One January night I was eating coconut rice and fish in a bar on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. A tanned, tattooed American man sat at the table next to me. He was in his late 40s, big muscled arms, his silver hair pinned into a bun. He was talking to a young English woman, perhaps 19 years old, who had been sitting on her own reading a book, but after some ambivalence had taken up his invitation to join him. At first he did all the talking. After a while she interrupted him.

Her conversation was interesting, intense and strange. She was telling him about scuba diving in Mexico, how she had been underwater for 20 minutes and then surfaced to find there was a storm. The sea had become a whirlpool and she had been anxious about making it back to the boat. Although her story was about surfacing from a dive to discover the weather had changed, it was also about some sort of undisclosed hurt. She gave him a few clues about that (there was someone on the boat who she thought should have come to save her) and then she glanced at him to check if he knew that she was talking about the storm in a disguised way.

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Source: gad

Unmasked by Andrew Lloyd Webber – digested read

‘Beethoven telephoned to say that the key change in Don’t Cry for Me Argentina was like a message from God himself’

I had originally intended to write my autobiography as a single, slim volume. But then I remembered how marvellous I had been throughout my life and have ended up with a 500-page doorstop that judders to a halt with the first night of Phantom of the Opera, my record-breaking musical of 1986 about which no less a talent than Mozart was moved to write: “Andrew Lloyd Webber is a genius.”

I grew up in South Kensington. By the age of eight, many of my teachers considered me to be a prodigy. My essay on Victorian churches won several global prizes and the opera I composed for the school play was premiered at the Royal Albert Hall, with Arturo Toscanini, no less, conducting. Afterwards I was lucky enough to converse with Sergei Prokofiev whom I consider to be the 20th century’s greatest melodist. Present company excepted, of course.

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Source: gad

The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantú review – life as a US border patrol agent

A lyrical and moving account from a third-generation Mexican-American who spends four years seeing for himself the horrors endured by ‘crossers’

In January an Arizona humanitarian organisation issued a report citing numerous instances of border patrol agents slashing water containers left for undocumented migrants crossing the desert on foot. The agents’ actions have been officially disowned, but the US’s arid southern borderlands have long been deployed as a natural barrier against unwanted incomers. In 1994 the Clinton administration instituted a strategy called Operation Gatekeeper, the purpose of which was to “harden” security in towns close to the Mexico border, thereby funnelling those determined to cross unofficially into more arid and isolated parts of the desert, where they were more likely to die. The wanton waste of lifesaving water, in other words, is consistent with preserving the desert’s lethality.

In his memoir of his nearly four years as a border patrol agent, Francisco Cantú describes the borderlands and his work there with a raw-nerved tenderness that seems to have been won from both the landscape and the violence he was implicated in. Told in three increasingly soul-searching parts, The Line Becomes a River frequently feels momentous.

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Source: gad

Michelle Obama announces memoir will be called Becoming

Former US first lady hopes her story, released worldwide in November, will inspire others

The former US first lady Michelle Obama has announced the name of her anticipated memoir.

Becoming will be published globally in 24 languages on 13 November by Penguin Random House, which acquired world publishing rights to both Michelle and Barack Obama’s memoirs in a deal rumoured to be worth $65m.

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Source: gad

The parent trap: can you be a good writer and a good parent?

Doris Lessing left her marriage and children to write. Seventy-five years on, Lara Feigel examines the author’s maternal ambivalence and explores her own struggle to balance motherhood and freedom

When I tell people that I’m writing a book about freedom and Doris Lessing, their first response is often the same. “Didn’t she abandon her children?” Implicit is the assumption that freedom, in whatever complex ways she sought it, came at too high a cost: she paid the price of unwomanliness, even of monstrousness. When I say I’m writing the book partly as a memoir, and that it began with a process of intense identification with Lessing, I feel implicated in the judgment. Defending her actions, stressing that they didn’t result from a straightforward absence of maternal love, it can feel as though I’m admitting to such a deficiency myself.

It’s partly because these questions are so difficult that I decided to write my book as a memoir and to investigate Lessing’s attempts to seek social, sexual, political and psychological freedom through the lens of my own life. The book began with a summer of going to too many weddings while reading The Golden Notebook, Lessing’s 1962 exploration of the artistic and sexual life of a “free woman” prepared to sacrifice happiness for liberation.

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Source: gad

Coal Black Mornings by Brett Anderson review – a memoir not just for Suede fans

A rich evocation of the singer’s youth, parents and life in a council house

Brett Anderson, lead singer of Suede, has been thinking about his band’s backstory for a long time. In 1994, less than a year after their self-titled LP had become the UK’s fastest-selling debut since Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s Welcome to the Pleasuredome, he told a journalist from New Musical Express: “The history of this fucking band is ridiculous. It’s like Machiavelli rewriting Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It involves a cast of thousands. It’s always been fiery and tempestuous and really on the edge and it never stops. I don’t think it ever will. It would make a fucking good book.”

Coal Black Mornings is not that book. That’s to say it’s not, in his phrase, “the usual ‘coke and gold discs’ memoir”. Rather it’s a pre-history, a ruminative and often gorgeously written meditation on his early life: before Suede released their first single; before, without having released a note of music, they appeared on the cover of Melody Maker hailed as “The Best New Band in Britain”; before they were yoked into a still violently argued debate about national identity and guitar music. Anderson, who describes himself as “hunched over the fossils of my past”, claims early on that he’s writing “a book about failure”.

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Source: gad

Educated by Tara Westover review – escape from a Mormon fundamentalist family

A coming-of-age memoir that chronicles a young woman’s efforts to study her way out of a tough childhood in Idaho and find herself through books

We hear a lot about the edges of the US these days. Geographically, these places might be in the middle of the continent, but they are on the periphery of the country’s economic life, and often the social one too. The people who live there are desperate and pitiable, we are told, just as much as they are brutal and superstitious.

Tara Westover’s memoir is about being from just such a place and people. She was born to Mormon fundamentalist parents in Idaho, the youngest of seven. Her father Gene was the prophet of their small family, convinced the world was going to end at the stroke of the millennium. (When it did not, the author observes, the “disappointment in his features was so childlike, for a moment I wondered how God could deny him this”.) He does not believe in sending his children to school, but does believe that dairy products are sinful, owing to a message from God. “Isaiah doesn’t say which is evil, butter or honey,” is how he delivers the good news. “But if you ask, the Lord will tell you!”

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Source: gad

Brave by Rose McGowan review – Hollywood’s avenging warrior speaks out

This may not, in time, be the best book about the Weinstein scandal, but it will surely remain the most visceral – anger burns from every page

In the week that I read Rose McGowan’s memoir, Brave, I went to see All the Money in the World, the Getty biopic that originally starred Kevin Spacey, before he was hastily swapped for Christopher Plummer after Spacey was publicly accused of groping multiple men in the past. I downloaded some shows made by Amazon Studios, which is no longer headed by Roy Price, as he resigned last year after a producer accused him of sexual harassment. I read an interview with Uma Thurman in which she called out her former longterm collaborators, Harvey Weinstein and Quentin Tarantino, accusing the former of sexual assault and the latter of life endangerment, when Tarantino asked her to drive a car she felt was unsafe while shooting a movie (and which Thurman then crashed). And I saw pictures from the red carpet: at the Golden Globes, female actors wore black as a sign of solidarity with victims of sexual assault, while at the Grammys singers carried white roses for the same reason.

In the last six months the entertainment world has changed almost beyond recognition, and one person who has done more than most to bring about this change is McGowan.

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Source: gad

Amy Tan: ‘Writing it was exhilarating, but I wish it hadn’t been published’

The author of The Joy Luck Club talks about her favourite authors – and why she has misgivings about her own new book

Amy Tan is the author of six bestselling novels, including The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God’s Wife and The Bonesetter’s Daughter. She has also written a memoir, The Opposite of Fate, and two children’s books, The Moon Lady and Sagwa. She co-produced and wrote the Bafta-nominated film adaptation of The Joy Luck Club and wrote the libretto for the opera version of The Bonesetter’s Daughter. She has served as lead rhythm “dominatrix”, backing singer and second tambourine with the literary garage band the Rock Bottom Remainders, whose members have included Stephen King and Scott Turow. Their yearly gigs raised more than $1m for literacy programmes. Tan’s latest book is another autobiography, Where the Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir (4th Estate, £18.99). She lives with her husband and two dogs in California and New York.

Your first memoir was published in 2004. What made you want to return to life writing?
It wasn’t a conscious decision. I was between novels and I needed to write a book that could withstand interruption, because I was on a book tour. It started off as a record of emails about the process of writing between me and my editor, but that was an awful idea. It fell to pieces. Then it turned into something much more personal, about how I write and what inspires me. But once it was done I realised you shouldn’t explain the magic tricks. Writing shouldn’t be dissected and pulled apart. So I hate that this is out there. I told my editor how I felt but he persuaded me it was wonderful and I caved in. I found writing it exhilarating. But I wish it hadn’t been published.

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Source: gad

Beastie Boys to publish long-awaited memoir

Announced in 2013, the autobiography will be ‘unlike any other music book’ according to Mike D of the hip-hop trio

The two remaining members of the Beastie Boys, Michael “Mike D” Diamond and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz, are to publish a memoir chronicling the history of the New York hip-hop trio.

The publication follows a 2013 book deal. In an interview on Beats 1, Diamond said: “Like many things we embark on, there are many false starts and, honestly, [there were] directions we went in that we realised were not the directions we should be going in.” He said the book will finally be published in autumn 2018.

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Source: gad