Librarian’s Choice: Funny Memoirs

This blog comes from Angie, an Assistant Community Librarian based in the east of Leeds.

My reading interests lean towards psychological thrillers but on occasion I like to lighten the load with something humorous. Laughing is a wonderful tonic and respite from the cares of the world and books are as mood busting as a trip to a comedy festival or an old episode of ‘Everyone Loves Raymond’
Some books are just wry and witty, some are light entertainment and others are laugh out loud “whoops there go my cornflakes all over the breakfast table” hysterical. I have often found myself involuntarily laughing out loud much to the bemusement of my fellow commuters. Below is a selection of some of my favourites, most of which are co-incidentally memoirs.

Ang Teenage RevolutionTeenage Revolution by Alan Davies

A very funny trip down memory lane, this time as an adolescent in the weird and wonderful late 1970’s early 80’s. This memoir will resonate with anyone of a similar age set against the backdrop of Thatcher’s Britain. It is a reminder that far from being the ‘time of our lives’’ it can also be a period of high anxiety, of struggling to fit in and find a purpose to life. The book is such a great and painfully honest account of being a teenager, with lots of musical references thrown in, I had to dig out my vinyl collection afterwards to recreate the mood.

ANG Wishful DrinkingWishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher

I have always been a big fan, I have enjoyed her previous memoirs films and regular TV appearances. We mourn the passing not only of a space princess but a genuine comic talent. In truth there is an element of ‘celebrity net twitching ‘ going on here which I am not immune to, but the reader is allowed this guilty pleasure since Carrie fisher’s life was full of dichotomies having enjoyed all the superficial benefits of a Hollywood lifestyle coupled with all its dysfunctions. Ms Fisher’s biographies are full of clever observations and acerbic humour.
‘Wishful Drinking’ is one of her later memoirs and as the title suggests offers an insight into her life post rehab. I read it in a hospital waiting room in 3 hours and frequently drew concerned looks from other patients as my whole body writhed with laughter. Sadly, as we now know she never did rid herself of her demons.

Ang The tentThe Tent the Bucket and Me by Emma Kennedy

As a child of the 1970’s I could so relate, my childhood and teens were similarly spent coiled in embarrassment whether by my mother’s cat suits and penchant for fancy dress parties or my dad’s moustache and permed hair, Kevin Keegan has a lot to answer for! Emma Kennedy is able to evoke such awkward but hysterical memories it almost makes me melancholic for the 3 day week and squishy cheese in a tube. The book introduces you to her eccentric family and their disastrous attempts at holidaying in a tent first in the UK then abroad. Be warned all holiday makers check that your tent is weather proof and that you take spare clothes for all eventualities including motorway service stations. This book was made into a BBC T.V series ‘The Kennedy’s, look out for any repeats, it is a must watch.

Ang How to beHow To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran

Caitlin Moran not only lets you glimpse into her past but brings you bang up to date with the trials and tribulations of being a woman in the noughties. It is one long, very funny feminist rant. Caitlin is the funniest feminist commentator of our modern times, not for the fainthearted as it is very ‘earthy’ in tone and language.

Ang Serge BastardeSerge Bastarde Ate My Baguette by John Dummer

This book was borrowed to accompany me on my travels to France a few years back. I really enjoyed this true account of ex brit musician who relocates across the channel to try his hand as an antique dealer. Along the way he meets a fellow Brocante enthusiast Serge Bastarde (Bastarde by name and by nature) and hence the drama begins. Serge reminded me of Dell Boy in ‘Only Fools and Horses’ a hopeless yet likeable rogue. As with any story set in rural France there is lots of wine drinking thrown in, what’s not to like? A very funny foray into the foibles of the French and all the more enjoyed due to a shared passion for antique hunting and flea markets.

Ang How to be a husbandHow to Be A Husband by Tim Dowling

A comical biographical journey through the life and times of 21st century man and confessed non-alpha male Tim Dowling. This books offers a very funny insight into the Guardian columnist life. Having been married over 20 years and with three sons he is more than qualified to comment on the matter. The book is essentially a collection of no-particular-order chapters of which include: “Twelve Labours of Marriage”, “Seven Ways in Which You Might Be Wrong”, “Five Things You Can Actually Fix by Hitting Them with a Hammer”. Basically Tim Dowling portrays himself as baffled and bewildered where even the family dog is a rung higher on the family pecking order.

Ang The HusbandNot to be confused with the equally funny ‘The Husband’, part of a spoof collection of ’How It Works’ Ladybird classics also available in Leeds Libraries

Ang Lady in the vanThe Lady In The Van by Alan Bennett

Camden is my old stomping ground and indeed my children were born there. I am familiar with the uniqueness of London, where the uber rich live cheek by jowl with the homeless. This is such a poignant and funny account of trying to put your principles into practice, the desire to be a good neighbour and humanitarian whilst also begrudging the consequences. For anyone who hasn’t seen the film or play this memoir revolves around a homeless eccentric old lady who lives in a van and after the threat of eviction becomes a sitting tenant in Alan Bennet’s front drive. This is classic Bennett, full of awkwardness and honest self- effacing northern humour

Happy Reading!

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Girl in the Dark – review

 Girl in the darkGirl in the dark by Anna Lyndsey  What’s the worst thing you could be allergic to? Pets? Peanuts? Pollen? You would need to change your lifestyle but there can’t be many allergies more disruptive than a severe aversion to light. The cover is a clue to this extraordinary story.

Anna Lyndsey was living a normal life. She enjoyed her job; she was ambitious; she was falling in love. Then the unthinkable happened. It began with a burning sensation on her face when she was exposed to computer screens and fluorescent lighting. Then the burning spread and the problematic light sources proliferated. Now her extreme sensitivity to light in all forms means she must spend much of her life in total darkness. This is the astonishing and uplifting account of Anna’s descent into the depths of her extraordinary illness.

She became a prisoner of her own skin, the only thing she could do was to black out her bedroom completely and retreat into the darkness. The book tells the story of how reading a book, preparing a meal or leaving the house became impossible. How  she finds audio books and listening to the “trivial earnestness” of Radio 4, a lifeline and how music is a no-go. When heard in solitary darkness, she says, it “becomes devastating in its power … only a few bars are necessary to dissolve my careful stoicism into wild tears”.

 

‘Love, Nina’ to be on TV

Love, Nina: despatches from family lifeNina Stibbe’s prize-winning book ‘Love, Nina’ is being turned into a five part drama of thirty minute episodes to be shown on BBC One. It won the non-fiction Book of the Year award at the Specsavers National Book Awards 2014.

Nick Hornby will adapt it, his first drama for TV. He said: “Love, Nina has already attained the status of a modern classic, and I am so happy that I’ve been given the opportunity to adapt it. We want to make a series that is as charming, funny and delightful as Nina Stibbe’s glorious book.”

Love, Nina: despatches from family life by Nina Stibbe – In the 1980s Nina Stibbe wrote letters home to her sister in Leicester describing her trials and triumphs as a nanny to a London family. There’s a cat nobody likes, a visiting dog called Ted Hughes (Ted for short) and suppertime visits from a local playwright. Not to mention the two boys, their favourite football teams, and rude words, a very broad-minded mother and assorted nice chairs. From the mystery of the unpaid milk bill and the avoidance of nuclear war to mealtime discussions on pie filler, the greats of English literature, swearing in German and sexually transmitted diseases, ‘Love, Nina’ is a wonderful celebration of bad food, good company and the relative merits of Thomas Hardy and Enid Blyton.

 

Not the Tudors.

King John: England, Magna Carta and the making of a tyrantDid anyone watch David Starkey’s Magna Carta on BBC2 a few weeks ago?

If you enjoyed the story of King John being bullied by his barons into agreeing that life, liberty and property were ‘no longer wholly at the king’s untrammelled disposal’ you might enjoy this new biography ‘King John –England, Magna Carta and the making of a tyrant’ by Stephen Church.

Billed as a definitive and ‘visceral’ biography of King John, it’s published to mark the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. The author draws on contemporary sources to tell John’s story from childhood to accession, rebellion and civil war and explains what went wrong.

Thomas Cromwell – anything like Mark Rylance?

 

Bring up the bodiesSo farewell Wolf Hall (until Hilary Mantel finishes the third part of the Wolf Hall, Bring up the Bodies trilogy ‘The Mirror and the Light’). Was Thomas Cromwell as enigmatic as Mark Rylance’s portrayal or was he much more a real baddie? Thomas Cromwell: Henry VIII's henchman

Here’s some biographies of the main protagonists ….

Thomas Cromwell: Henry VIII’s henchman by Patrick Coby. Thomas Cromwell served as chief minister of Henry VIII from 1531 to 1540. Many of the momentous events of the 1530s are attributed to his agency. This biography shows the true face of a Machiavellian Tudor statesman of no equal

Thomas Cromwell: the untold story of Henry VIII’s most faithful servant by Tracy Bowman. Reviled as a Machiavellian schemer who stopped at nothing in his quest for power, Thomas Cromwell was also a loving husband, father and guardian, a witty and generous host, and a loyal and devoted servant. With new insights into Cromwell’s character, his family life and his close relationships with both Cardinal Wolsey and Henry VIII, the book, examines the life, loves and legacy of the man who changed the shape of England forever.

Henry VIII: the life and rule of England's NeroHenry VIII: the life and rule of England’s Nero by John Matusiak. 500 years after he ascended the throne, the reputation of England’s best known king is, it seems, being rehabilitated and subtly sanitised. Here, Tudor historian John Matusiak paints an absorbingly intimate portrait of a man wholly unfit for power: his personality, his beliefs, his relationships, his follies, his hollow triumphs, his bitter disappointments.

The divorce of Henry VIII: the untold story by Catherine Fletcher. The backdrop is war-torn Renaissance Italy, combining a gripping family saga with the highly charged political battle of the Tudors & the Vatican, it reveals the extraordinary story of history’s most infamous divorce

Our man in Rome: Henry VIII and his Italian ambassador by Catherine Fletcher. Set against the backdrop of war-torn Renaissance Italy, ‘Our Man in Rome’ weaves together tales from the grubby underbelly of Tudor politics.

The creation of Anne Boleyn: in seach of the Tudors’ most notorious queen by Susan Bordo Part biography, The creation of Anne Boleyn: in search of the Tudors' most notorious queenpart cultural history, ‘The Creation of Anne Boleyn’ is a fascinating reconstruction of Anne’s life and an illuminating look at her afterlife in the popular imagination

The Boleyns: the rise & fall of a Tudor family by D. M. Loades. The fall of Anne Boleyn and her brother George is the classic drama of the Tudor era. The Boleyns had long been an influential English family. This title tells the tale of family rivalry and intrigue set against Henry’s VIII’s court

 Mary Boleyn: ‘the great and infamous whore’ by Alison Weir Mary Boleyn: 'the great and infamous whore'Mary Boleyn is remembered by posterity as a ‘great and infamous whore’. She was the mistress of two kings, Francois I of France and Henry VIII of England and sister to Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife. She may secretly have borne Henry a child and it was because of his adultery with Mary that his marriage to Anne was annulled.

 Catherine of Aragon: Henry’s Spanish queen: a biography by Giles Tremlett Reformation, revolution and Tudor history would all have been vastly different without Catherine of Aragon. This biography is the first in more than four decades to be dedicated entirely to the tenacious woman. It draws on fresh material from Spain to trace the dramatic events of her life through Catherine of Aragon’s own eyes

 

Impress your friends! Check out our politics book list

The politics bookElection Day is drawing ever closer. If you’re interested in finding out more about political science, the party leaders or how the British political system works, these 10 books offer a great place to start.

Books on how it all works:

The Politics Book by Paul Kelly. Covering everything from the dawn of political thinking to modern day spin this is a brilliant choice for those who really want to dive head first into the subject. Brimming with over 100 ground-breaking ideas and masses of graphs and step by step summaries to help you get to grips with them. You’ll have facts at your fingertips after this read.

British Politics for Dummies by Julian Knight. Packed with bite sized facts and easy to follow information this is the perfect place to start if you are new to politics or simply want to brush up your knowledge in an easy to digest and entertaining way.

An introduction to the party leaders:

The Establishment and how they get away with itCameron: The Rise of the New Conservative by Francis Elliott and James Hanning. Just how did the relatively unknown Cameron rise through the Tory ranks to lead his party to government via coalition with the Liberal Democrats in 2010? This well researched and informative biography sets out to answer that question and give an insight into the man behind the politician.

Ed: The Millibands and the Making of a New Labour by Mehdi Hasan and James Macintyre. Surely no recent party leadership battle has been as personal as that between the Milliband brothers. How Ed came to pursue the same path into politics as his older brother David and ultimately defeat him to become the next Labour Party leader is charted in this enlightening biography.

Nick Clegg: The Biography by Chris Bowers. Riding a tidal wave of popular opinion in 2010 Clegg lead his party into an unexpected coalition government with the Conservative Party. Since then he has come under widespread criticism over U-turns and broken manifesto promises. This biography charts his epic rise to become the second most powerful politician in Britain and equally epic fall from the public’s grace.

Fighting Bull by Nigel Farage. As UKIP take up more and more space on the centre stage of politics it is impossible to overlook this larger than life new fixture of the political right. This book offers a chance to find out what Farage thinks of Farage and his place in British politics today.

British politics today:

Sex Lies and the Ballot Box: 50 Things You Need to Know About British Elections by Philip Cowley and Sex, lies & the ballot box: 50 things you need to know about British electionsRobert Ford. 51 essays on how we vote and why. Examining everything from the effects of a candidate’s sex appeal on their electoral success to why so many of us lie about who we voted for. This is a thought provoking read and timely conversation starter.

Understanding British Party Politics by Stephen Driver. As the idea of a single party leadership, which for so many years dominated British Politics, seems to be drifting into a bygone age and with the country poised for another coalition government this book takes a closer look at recent events which have led to such a significant shift in voting habits and changed the political landscape as we knew it.

In It Together: The Inside Story of the Coalition by Matthew d’Ancona. Have you ever wondered what really goes on behind the scenes of the current coalition government? This book pulls back the curtain to reveal the struggles behind the smiles.

The Establishment and How They Got Away With It by Owen Jones. Just how democratic is our democracy? That’s the question Jones asks as he explores the often shadowy influence of the upper class establishment on all areas of British life from Parliament to press to banks.

Thanks to Gemma Alexander from the Information and Research Library

 

Music Books due out in 2015

Love & death: the murder of Kurt CobainKurt Cobain – ‘Montage of Heck’ will be a companion book to a documentary about Cobain 21 years after his suicide and is named after a mixtape he made. The documentary has taken eight years to make and will be screened in UK cinemas after its TV broadcast in the US in May. And if you’re a fan

Love & death: the murder of Kurt Cobain by Max Wallace & Ian Halperin published last year. Did Nirvana rock icon Kurt Cobain commit suicide on that fated day in April 1994, or was he brutally murdered?

Gareth Murphy’s ‘Cowboys and Indies: The Epic History of the Record Industry’ about to be published

Grace Jones – Her memoir ‘Miss Grace Jones’ is to be published in September

Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon – ‘Girl in a Band’ due out 24 February

Patti Smith’s – ‘Just Kids’ is a memoir about her time with Robert Mapplethorpe

Bedsit disco queen: how I grew up and tried to be a pop starTracey Thorn from ‘Everything But the Girl’ has written ‘Naked at the Albert Hall’ which examines singing, stage fright etc. due out 30 April. Highly rated previous books include Bedsit disco queen: how I grew up and tried to be a pop star

 

Lynyrd Skynyrd ‘Whiskey Bottles and Brand-New Cars: The Fast Life and Sudden Death ofJacket Image Lynyrd Skynyrd’ by Mark Ribowsky due 1 April.

Philip Glass, composer, has written a memoir, ‘Words Without Music’ due out 2 April spanning his works and times. It will “recall his experiences working at Bethlehem Steel, travelling in India, driving a cab in 1970s New York and his professional collaborations with the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Ravi Shankar, Robert Wilson, Doris Lessing and Martin Scorsese”.

Ray Davies’ volatile relationship with his brother Dave will feature in Johnny Rogan’s biography ‘Ray Davies: A Complicated Life’ due 5 March.

Sandy Denny, brilliant singer of the British folk-rock movement in late 1960s has been written about by folk rock fan, journalist/-biographer Mick Houghton in ‘I’ve Always Kept a Unicorn: The Biography of Sandy Denny’ due out 5 March.

Finally, ‘How Soon Is Now’ by Richard King looks at independent record shops “combining memoir and elegiac music writing”.