December Chat: Biographies

Pageturners had a great chat about biographies they read for the December meeting. Many took the opportunity to explore the life of a celebrity or person they were keen to know more about. Here is the list of books from the discussion:

A Recipe for Life – Mary Berry – “very entertaining and witty”. 3.5 stars. In this touching, evocative and fascinating memoir, we accompany Mary on her journey of nearly eighty years; a life lived to the full, with a wicked sense of fun and an eye for the absurd, it is the life of a delightfully traditional but thoroughly modern woman.

Redback One – The True Story of an Australian SAS Hero by Robert Macklin – “true story of Nev Bonner, insight into the SAS”. 4 stars. Elite SAS Patrol Commander Stuart ‘Nev’ Bonner takes us inside the extraordinary and dangerous world of secret combat operations in this explosive, behind-the-scenes look at life inside the SAS. A world where capture means torture or death, and every move is trained for with precision detail to bring elite soldiers to the very peak of fighting ability.

Beyond the 39 Steps Life of John Buchan by Ursula Buchan , “personal aspects of his life keeps you reading.” 4 stars. John Buchan’s name is known across the world for The Thirty-Nine Steps. In the past hundred years the classic thriller has never been out of print and has inspired numerous adaptations for film, television, radio and stage, beginning with the celebrated version by Alfred Hitchcock.

Yet there was vastly more to ‘JB’. He wrote more than a hundred books – fiction and non-fiction – and a thousand articles for newspapers and magazines. He was a scholar, antiquarian, barrister, colonial administrator, journal editor, literary critic, publisher, war correspondent, director of wartime propaganda, member of parliament and imperial proconsul – given a state funeral when he died, a deeply admired and loved Governor-General of Canada

Elizabeth the Great by Elizabeth Jenkins – “loved it, so much detail” 4 stars. A revealing study of the Queen and her court–their daily lives, concerns, topics of conversation, meals, living condition, travels, successes and failures–that places them firmly within the historical context of 16th century Britain. “…gives us the most intimate portrait…An outstanding and fascinating book.”–Punch.

Facundo – Domingo Faustinao Armento –3 stars. An educator and writer, Sarmiento was President of Argentina from 1868 to 1874. His Facundo is a study of the Argentine character, a prescription for the modernisation of Latin America, and a protest against the tyranny of the government of Juan Manuel de Rosas (1835–1852). The book brings nineteenth-century Latin American history to life even as it raises questions still being debated today—questions regarding the “civilised” city versus the “barbaric” countryside, the treatment of indigenous and African populations, and the classically liberal plan of modernisation. Facundo’s celebrated and frequently anthologised portraits of the caudillo Juan Facundo Quiroga and other colourful characters give readers an exhilarating sense of Argentine culture in the making.

Becoming by Michelle Obama – “really good, her personal story”. 5 stars. In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerising storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her-from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it-in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations-and whose story inspires us to do the same.

Bonkers – My Life – Jennifer Saunders – “it’s laugh out loud funny.” 4.5 stars. Bonkers is full of riotous adventures: accidentally enrolling on a teacher training course with a young Dawn French, bluffing her way to each BBC series, shooting Lulu, trading wild faxes with Joanna Lumley, touring India with Ruby Wax and Goldie Hawn.

There’s cancer, too, when she becomes ‘Brave Jen’. But her biggest battle is with the bane of her life: the Laws of Procrastination. As she admits, ‘There has never been a Plan. Everything has been fairly random, happened by accident or just fallen into place. I’m off now, to do some sweeping…’ Prepare to chuckle, whoop, and go bonkers.

Daisy Bates in the Desert: A Woman’s Life Among the Aborigines by Julia Backburn– “a difficult read, bit disjointed, but enjoyed it, found out about Daisy Bates”. 3 stars. In 1913, when she was 54 years old, Daisy Bates went to live in the deserts of South Australia. And there she stayed, with occasional interruptions, for almost 30 years. She left a detailed record of her life in her letters, her published articles, her book The Passing of the Aborigines, and in notes scribbled on paper bags, old railway timetables and even scraps of newspaper. But very little of what this strange woman tells about herself is true. For her there were no boundaries separating experience from imagination; she inhabited a world filled with events that could not have taken place, people she had never met. In Daisy Bates in the Desert Julia Blackburn explores the ancient and desolate landscape where Mrs Bates says she was most happy.

The Man Without a Face: the unlikely rise of Vladimir Putin by Masha Gessen. “He’s an interesting man and I was interested in Russia.” The Man Without a Face is the chilling account of how a low- level, small-minded KGB operative ascended to the Russian presidency and, in an astonishingly short time, destroyed years of progress and made his country once more a threat to her own people and to the world.

In Extremis: The Life and Death of the War Correspondent Marie Colvin by Lindsay Hilsum, “really fascinating life. She was passionate about life and right and wrong from an early age.” 3.5 stars. There is also a movie of her life call A Private War. Marie Colvin was glamorous, hard-drinking, braver than the boys, with a troubled and rackety personal life. She reported from the most dangerous places in the world and her anecdotes about encounters with figures like Colonel Gaddafi and Yasser Arafat were incomparable. She was much admired, and as famous for her wild parties as for the extraordinary lengths to which she went to tell the story. Fellow foreign correspondent Lindsey Hilsum draws on unpublished diaries and interviews with friends, family and colleagues to produce a story of one of the most daring and inspirational women of our times.

Next meeting:

The first Pageturners meeting of the New Year will be held on the second Wednesday of the month 12 February 2020 from 5.30pm – 7pm at Orange City Library to discuss The Weekend by Charlotte Wood. Until then Merry Christmas and see you in the New Year!

PS. Here is a list of descriptive words known as the Vocabulary of Appeal to help you talk about your latest read. Which ones apply to The Weekend?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s