Category Archives: Biography

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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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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Lucinda Williams' memoir will target 'unfriendly record industry'

The US songwriter’s life story, due for publication in 2020, will also detail her childhood in the deep south

Songwriter Lucinda Williams is to publish a memoir in 2020, detailing her childhood in the American south and her experiences “navigating an unfriendly recording industry”, the New York Times reports.

“I have a lot to say and a big story to tell,” Williams said in a statement. “I want everyone to know what’s behind the songs and to know more about me than what people previously thought they knew. It’s time to tell my truth.” Henry Holt & Co will publish Williams’ memoir in the US. Details of the British publication have yet to be announced.

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'A stab at truth': my grandmother and the problem with family histories

Secrets, missing pieces and shocking opinions: writing a family’s story is never simple. Can a biographer tell the truth without rewriting the past?

In his mid 30s Michael Ondaatje, who grew up in Sri Lanka but was by then living in Canada, realised he had “slipped past a childhood I had ignored and not understood”. So he returned, determined to talk to his relations and “touch them into words”, which is a kind of comprehension. Those words became Running in the Family, which conjures up a vivid world of rackety, racy, disappearing privilege, of overgrown garden and monsoon, of generous, eccentric people given to amateur dramatics and a kind of wild, untethered, grief-laced chasing of fun. So vivid, in fact, that a note in the acknowledgements comes as a slight shock: “I must confess that the book is not a history but a portrait or ‘gesture’. And if those listed disapprove of the fictional air I apologise and can only say that in Sri Lanka a well-told lie is worth a thousand facts.” Which feels like a bit of a last-minute rearguard self-defence – but also a serious acceptance that writing about family is a complicated thing, and not always for obvious reasons.

Late in Running in the Family, too late in some ways, as the book is nearly done, Ondaatje’s brother Christopher, who has been helping with the research, voices a warning. “‘You must get this book right,’ my brother tells me. ‘You can only write it once’” – which is true both for Michael, and perhaps for his whole family.

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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

The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers review – smell the coffee

Dave Eggers’s remarkable tale of a Yemeni immigrant chasing the American dream offers hope in the age of Trump

The culture war dividing the US is being fought over the relevance of empathy. On the one hand a president and a ruling party that denies the imaginative possibility – or importance – of trying to walk in another’s shoes; on the other, a liberal tradition that celebrates America as the all-born-equal nation and believes understanding is synonymous with compassion.

Some of the recent writing of Dave Eggers is a kind of thought-experiment in that latter position. Since the success of his fortune-making memoir about bringing up his kid brother, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, he has been moving as far as he can from the notion of an insistent “I” in his books. Instead, he is on a mission to use the platform he has created as a writer/activist to give direct voice to the marginalised or unheard.

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Source: gad

The 100 best nonfiction books of all time: the full list

After two years of careful reading, moving backwards through time, Robert McCrum has concluded his selection of the 100 greatest nonfiction books. Take a quick look at five centuries of great writing

1. The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert (2014)
An engrossing account of the looming catastrophe caused by ecology’s “neighbours from hell” – mankind.

2. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (2005)
This steely and devastating examination of the author’s grief following the sudden death of her husband changed the nature of writing about bereavement.

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Source: gad