RaveThe Guardian (UK)A piquant reminder of the talent, musical and literary, that has always been under editors’ noses, if only they cared to look ... The best of these pieces alight on the intersection of music and identity, and how politics and personal relationships are often intertwined with our listening ... What binds these writers is their emotional connection to music, and their experience of songs as a portal to memories – whether painful or joyful – and a broader understanding of the world. This Woman’s Work is a collection of music writing, but in the loosest possible sense. Here, music is the soil in which all manner of stories take seed and bloom.
PositiveiNews (UK)That the lives depicted here are largely unremarkable is deliberate – Stibbe is as interested in the stories people tell themselves as the drama of their reality ... Susan is at once naive and observant, solipsistic and kind. Not for nothing have Stibbe’s books been compared to those of Sue Townsend, a comic writer also from Leicester who specialised in characters who could wryly see the world while struggling to know their place in it ... Certainly, Susan’s idle observations about her \'clinically irritating\' sister-in-law, or her husband’s ex who \'once forced a boyfriend to the cinema at knife point to see a film he didn’t fancy\' made me bark with laughter ... Stibbe is also queen of the brilliant blink-and-you-miss-it detail ... There are times where it feels as though Stibbe is about to dig into darker territory, particularly in repeated references to Susan’s dysfunctional childhood and her mother having had an accident, after which she developed a West Country accent and would make lewd gestures in public, though these strands are left dangling. And the final chapters, in which Roy is hospitalised with Covid-19, feel like the start of an entirely different book ... Still, no one writes the minutiae of life like Stibbe, and here she has delivered a captivating portrait of friendship that is as tender as it is funny.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)A strange and gripping account of Barker’s adventures in precognition ... Blends history and popular science with biography ... Knight tells Barker’s story in lucid, no-nonsense prose, portraying him as compassionate and progressive, with a clear stubborn streak and a taste for the limelight ... The book’s underlying inquiry – can the human mind really see into the future? – is yet to be put to bed ... Nonetheless, the most hardened sceptic can’t fail to be electrified by the stories of ordinary citizens assuaged by visions of earthquakes, tornadoes, collapsing buildings and planes falling out of the sky, and the eminent physician in their thrall. The final chapter brings a doozy of a plot twist that stretches all rational responses to breaking point.
PositiveiNews (UK)Free Love artfully delves beneath the veneer of the British middle class to tell an intimate story of generational discord, political change and sexual freedom ... These are big themes that could weigh down a novel, but they are deftly handled by the author. The queen of the domestic drama, Hadley doesn’t deal directly with events in the outside world, but rather provides meticulous portraits of those whose lives are gently nudged by external forces ... Hadley doesn’t judge, instead leaving the reader to process the biggest and most unfair taboo here: that of a mother abandoning her children and putting herself first ... If the author’s desire to wrap things up leads to an unsatisfactory twist and a sudden rush to the finish, it doesn’t diminish the power of what came before.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)Sea State is part reportage, part memoir, and the collision of the two is initially discombobulating – one moment the author is reflecting on the grotesque failures that led to the 1988 Piper Alpha disaster, which killed 167, and the next she is trying to take a photo of her breasts to send Caden on his third week offshore. It nonetheless builds a grey-hued portrait of a ruthless industry, a dour city and a breed of man who thinks nothing of calling a woman a whore for putting her hand on a man’s arm in a pub, and is shocked when she tries to buy a round of drinks ... Lasley’s methods for meeting her subjects are unorthodox, and her capacity for recklessness quite breathtaking ... The cold facts of this rarefied job hit hard, but so do the social observations gleaned in a fog of drunken chatter ... Sea State is, itself, a hybrid of sorts: an investigation that is also a confession but reads a lot like a novel. It is a startlingly original study of love, masculinity and the cost of a profession that few outside of it can truly understand. The cost to Lasley herself is yet to be revealed.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)... a small book with big ideas that provides revealing snapshots of a career in television from the vantage point of an outsider ... While the text has been updated and bookended with added thoughts and reflections (including a lengthy and not always cogent metaphor involving moths), this is not a new piece of work. Nonetheless, the problems it exposes – sexism, racism, egregious complacency – remain burningly relevant. That Coel’s original speech didn’t bring about an instant revolution in the industry would surely justify its transformation into a book ... Bringing about change can be a slow business but, in her 33 years, Coel has already achieved more than most. No one else is making the kind of taboo-breaking, paradigm-shifting television that she is, and few have fought as hard, and compromised so little, to create it on their own terms. Coel’s speech was initially aimed at those in charge of our television networks, but for the rest of us it provides a startling glimpse into the mind and practices of a remarkable talent.
Billie Jean King
RaveThe Guardian (UK)... a vivid and detailed account of her rise to sporting greatness and her struggles to attain equal treatment for women in a shockingly discriminatory sport ... it’s with remarkable clarity that King recalls life-changing matches, in some cases walking us through each set. This isn’t as laborious as it sounds. King revels in drama and tension, both in her tennis and in her storytelling; given her status as a record-breaking sportswoman, her occasional lapses into bombast seem forgivable. The build-up to the famous \'Battle of the Sexes\' match, in which she played against Bobby Riggs, and the circus that surrounded it, is terrifically told ... For years, she kept quiet about her relationships with women, for fear of blowing up her career (she is now a staunch advocate of the LGBTQ community). While All In contains plenty of sporting highs and lows, it is her reflections on this denial and secrecy that gives it its emotional heft ... King writes movingly of her denials of homosexuality ... describes a life comprising one epic struggle after another, both on and off court.
Jennifer Otter Bickerdike
MixedThe Guardian (UK)Bickerdike sets out ... to lay waste to the myths and stereotypes that have clung to Nico, to cut through the misogyny and reclaim her narrative from those who see her primarily as a sexual object and muse rather than a creative force in her own right ... The book is detailed and comprehensive in its research ... Bickerdike painstakingly fills in these gaps ... It’s frustrating to find a writer tackling the sexism that made Nico’s career as an artist an uphill struggle, and the relentless fixation on her beauty, while liberally deploying gendered language ... The book gets closer to understanding Nico than most, even though, as a portrait, it isn’t always flattering.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)... a heartfelt examination of identity, place and belonging, and [Sethi\'s] discovery of greater peace of mind by drawing on the healing powers of nature ... Sethi makes no secret of her novice status as a walker and naturalist, which makes her account of her expedition that much more relatable ... it is the way Sethi’s connection to nature is refracted through her experience as a woman of colour that gives the book its rare power. Her analysis of language is particularly acute ... Sethi poignantly lays bare the aftershocks of the crime perpetrated by her abuser.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)... a tremendous catalogue of female misbehaviour. Music memoirs tend to follow similar trajectories of ambition, success and depravity followed by regret and redemption. But O’Connor doesn’t do regret, and redemption isn’t required—at least not by her ... The writing is spare and conversational, and reveals O’Connor as self-deprecating, pragmatic and a sharp observer. She is funny, too ... While her childhood and rise to fame provide rich material, O’Connor, who is 54, says she can’t remember much of the past 20 years ... As such, the final chapters, which sprint through her marriages, children, a traumatic hysterectomy and spells in mental institutions, are episodic. But they remain, like the rest of her book, full of heart, humour and remarkable generosity.
RaveiNews (UK)... a detective novel, a ghost yarn and a historical record rolled into one. Blending fact and fiction, it is an electrifying reconstruction of the reported events surrounding the Fieldings, all the while placing them in a wider context ... Summerscale resists the temptation to mine the more comic aspects of the story – her book is about more than flying teacups. She weaves in analysis on class, female emancipation and sexuality, and the collective angst of a nation ... You feel his pain, along with Alma’s, as the true story is revealed.
PositiveiNews (INDO)Out of Sands’ exhaustive research comes an intimate love story—despite Otto’s infidelities, he and Charlotte remained devoted to one another, and she defended his wartime actions long after his death—and a tale of deception, as Otto strived to cover up his crimes and hide from those who would bring him to justice ... The parallel narratives of Sands’ meetings with Horst and the story of his Nazi father unfold like a thriller and make for tense and often remarkable reading.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)Girlhood paints a disturbing if familiar portrait of female adolescence ... The inclusion of fictional stories is important – art reflects real life but also goes a long way in helping us to analyse and understand it ... Even with the clarity of adulthood, such conditioning can be hard to undo. Nonetheless, in writing from the vantage point of her 40s, now in a stable job and relationship, Febos shows how she has been battered by her teenage experiences but not felled ... I doubt there’s a woman in existence who can’t relate to one or several of Febos’s experiences with boys and grown men who have habitually put their own needs first. Perhaps, using her example, they might finally learn to utter the word that has been on their lips all along: no.
John Cooper Clarke
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)It’s impossible not to hear Clarke’s voice, rhythmic and deadpan, while reading his memoir. Like his poetry, his prose style is wry and dry. At nearly 500 pages, the book is long though the language is succinct. Mad anecdotes and whimsical gags abound, but wisdom often lurks beneath the wordplay. Clarke has his unreconstructed moments, but any mockery is at his own expense ... Those hoping for extensive analysis of Clarke’s working methods will need to look elsewhere ... He is more expansive on the social and cultural developments of his youth. Indeed, you’d struggle to find a more comprehensive and entertaining account of 60s and 70s popular culture as he contemplates fashion, hair styles, hats, comics, breakfast cereals, magazines, domestic colour schemes and architecture ... Clarke doesn’t deal in regret, and recalls his lean years with good humour ... a rare misty-eyed moment. Elsewhere, though, he remains bullishly unsentimental.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)Part memoir, part manifesto, it tackles such thorny issues as anal sex, smear tests, hangovers, teenagers, ageing parents, careers, the tyranny of the to-do list, big bums and the moment when your entire wardrobe seems to turn against you ... Those who read her newspaper columns will know that Moran – who is also a screenwriter and novelist – is great at the observational stuff. Elaborate metaphors abound ... She is also very funny, locating the absurd in everyday situations ... Threaded through the narrative is Moran’s commonsense feminism, underpinned by the principle that if men aren’t having to put up with this crap, then neither should we ... She has seen first-hand the catastrophically damaging effects of this demand for perfection through her own Instagram-loving children; indeed, the parts about raising teenagers provide the book’s real emotional punch ... We see Moran at her most serious and embattled, at sea in the face of illness and a child that she can’t reach.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)Kleeman, a journalist and documentary-maker who specialises in tech and social affairs, makes a compelling and thoughtful attempt to understand where such inventions might lead us. Her book is less a pearl-clutching polemic against progress than a concerned squint at what the future might hold ... Kleeman approaches her subject with a winning scepticism ... Reading her book, you are left dismayed not so much by what lies ahead as by the current reality of the men with planet-sized egos vying with one another to control birth, food, sex and death. It’s a habit that’s as old as the hills.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)Rock memoirs are traditionally full of myth-building and depravity, but Lanegan’s account of his tenure in the proto-grunge quartet Screaming Trees sidesteps the myth-building and rushes headlong into grand guignol scenes of degradation and self-abuse. Rare in its rawness and candour, the book is a brutal chronicle of addiction ... He makes no attempt to disguise or justify his behaviour, which includes habitually lying and cheating those close to him out of money, though his openness about his basest moments is disarming ... Despite the tragedies, an arch humour characterises a lot of the writing...
RaveThe Guardian (UK)... poignant and hugely entertaining ... an examination of the masks women wear to meet social expectations, occasionally prompting them to forget who they are entirely ... The book bursts with brilliantly gossipy titbits, recounted with wry understatement ... There is a dispassionate matter-of-factness to Moore’s prose as she relates her most traumatic moments. Self-pity isn’t her style ... In Miss Aluminium, her tales of the Hollywood high life certainly provide giggles and glitz, though the darkness is never far from the surface.
MixedThe Guardian (UK)... the memoir is based on a series of lengthy interviews, which makes for a conversational style, though anyone looking for an excavation of the soul might be disappointed. Harry has rock ’n’ roll stories to burn but the memoir as a confessional isn’t her style. For the most part, the Blondie character remains ... somewhat detached ... Whether reflecting on her fruitless search for her birth parents, or the New Jersey ex-boyfriend who stalked her and threatened her with a gun, or the close shave with a man who offered her a lift, and whom she believes to have been the serial killer Ted Bundy, Harry allows no room for shock, sadness or vulnerability. This is, of course, the author’s prerogative and doesn’t mean that the book is without depth or charm. She can be caustic and funny, and is drily unfazed by the antics of her mostly male peers ... Inevitably, Harry’s tales of her solo ventures and Blondie’s eventual reunion lack the atmosphere and excitement of the early years, and it’s with more than a little awkwardness that she shoehorns in details of her current day-to-day life to spice things up ... But when not resorting to padding, Face It makes for an engaging and occasionally surprising read. It’s a shame that Harry passes up the chance to dig deeper into her experiences of objectification and the nature of fame, but more disappointing is that we learn so little about her interior life, and how she really thinks and feels. Perhaps that’s to be expected from a notoriously private star with such an acute understanding of image. Rather than expose her inner workings to the world, Harry has determined to stay mysterious to the last.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)... often maudlin, a reflection both on mortality and of the times in which Smith finds herself, but rich in detail ... the narrative moves constantly between reverie and memory; it’s invariably left up to us to work out which is which ... Both mundane and magical, this book is a world away from Just Kids...though the unique artistry of her prose remains ... Smith lives much of her life in the past but her account of her wanderings shows us who she is now, and the stories and dreams that occupy her.
PositiveThe GuardianThis is no chronological plod through the classic western \'women in rock\' narrative ... [Goldman\'s] aim is to amplify female voices across cultures, continents and generations and to understand the relationship between genre and gender, all the while showing how oppression and hard-won freedoms have yielded some of the most electrifying music ever made ... The language is urgent, often furious, sometimes funny and full of piquant turns of phrase ... While Goldman isn’t especially interested in trying to define punk...her understanding of it is wide-ranging and determinedly global, travelling way beyond the old DIY cliches ... Goldman’s punk, then, is a broad church, including as it does those with views that seemingly go against the liberal punk grain. All the stories and voices here are linked by a defiance, both musical and ideological, born from thousands of years of patriarchal oppression
RaveThe GuardianWe’re hardly short of books by doctors describing difficult work carried out in straitened circumstances, but Nott’s is something else entirely. Where most people strive to avoid trouble, he actively goes in search of it ... His stories of courage and compassion in the face of seemingly certain death are breathtaking ... Nott is unsparing in his descriptions of civilian injuries...All make for astonishing and distressing reading ... While this is far from a straightforward memoir – his childhood plus his years of medical training speed by in a single chapter – we nonetheless get a vivid sense of his energy, his determination and his desperate, howling rage at the cruelty that humans wreak on one another ... If a film about [Nott\'s] life isn’t already in development, someone’s missing a trick.
MixedThe Guardian\"Tweedy’s playing down of his own suffering is an enduring motif and, on occasion, leads to the odd narrative glitch. At one point he starts to refer to one of his brothers, Greg, in the past tense, but omits to tell us when and how he died ... Elsewhere, Tweedy’s hesitant tone reveals the push and pull between his desire to be as honest as possible and wanting to draw a veil over his less salubrious moments ... Vulnerability may be Tweedy’s calling card as a songwriter, but he takes a long time finding it here.\
PositiveFinancial Times\"Longworth’s book is exceptionally well timed, arriving in the wake of the #MeToo movement during which women in Hollywood have exposed the men using power, wealth and influence to abuse and silence them. As shown here, such stories are as old as the hills ... Thus, far from a showbiz tell-all, Seduction is a vivid, insightful and often disturbing examination of male power and the commodification of women in 20th-century Hollywood ... While the 50 or so pages of references at the end of Seduction attest to Longworth’s scrupulous fact-checking, she isn’t wholly immune to gossip.\
PositiveThe GuardianBrennan-Jobs doesn’t berate or make excuses for her father ... Small Fry isn’t about eliciting sympathy or seeking revenge. Instead she tries to get to the bottom of a relationship mired in awkwardness and unpredictability. In exposing her father’s more unpleasant traits, her language betrays her trepidation. Not given to drama or sentimentality, it is sparse though precise. The more shocking the anecdote, the more economical her description, though her wounds are clear ... In memoirs, as in life, one person’s fact is often another’s fiction. Brennan-Jobs doesn’t emerge smelling of roses either ... Given all she endured, who could begrudge his daughter the last word?
PositiveThe Guardian...a heartfelt and thoughtful meditation on what parenthood asks of a man. Rather than focusing on the next generation, the book is about the experience of being in the previous one, and observing one’s slow-burning irrelevance ... While no great parenting secrets are uncovered in this slim volume, Chabon has a knack of locating the fundamentals of the parent-child relationship in the innocuous and the everyday.
Andrew Lloyd Webber
PanThe GuardianAs well as reinforcing his position as the leading light of musical theatre, Unmasked cements his status as king of the humblebrag ... his breakdown of each song as it appeared on the album [for Evita], specifically how it was conceived and its role in the narrative, is enough to make even the most ardent fan swear off musicals forever ... There are some juicy anecdotes here but the pacing is all over the place. Lloyd Webber may know a thing or two about theatrical narrative, but he’s yet to learn that, when telling his own story, less is definitely more.
RaveThe GuardianAs well as making sense of the extraordinary, O’Farrell’s expertise lies in finding significance in the ordinary, making connections and finding clarity where most might find fog ... O’Farrell hopscotches across the decades, offering us a series of hugely evocative vignettes that point to multiple lives and identities. Thus, we meet her as a daughter, a student, an office worker, a mother, a wife and a traveller. We are privy to various moods and mindsets: in love, heartbroken, lonely, restless, rebellious, scared, purposeful. I Am, I Am, I Am isn’t purely about peril, it’s about the life lived either side of it. These snapshots, shared in extreme closeup, reveal a thoughtful and determined writer who, despite frequent trauma, remains resilient and unbowed.
RaveThe Guardian\"Sedaris’s observations continue to sharpen throughout the 1980s and there are stories here about women being beaten by their boyfriends and African Americans being racially abused that are as effective as any sociopolitical polemic. And yet it’s either a result of the times in which Sedaris is writing, or his own naivety, that his observations about race can prompt discomfort, too ... vignettes are often achingly funny and, even when leading us into the darker corners of the Sedaris psyche, they can still make you gasp ... Ultimately, his masterstroke is in acting as a bystander in his own story. It’s other people’s lives that Sedaris finds most fascinating and, by extension, so do we.\
MixedThe GuardianThis readiness to dig deep, to peel back his insecurities and reveal the less flattering parts of his personality, is what gives Nevertheless its moments of clarity and charm ... his flaws are examined thoughtfully and with disarming candour. While some are treated with wryness or a resigned shrug, other more serious ones, such as his accidental drug overdose in his 20s, are offered up with a heartfelt desire to do better ... [the] acerbic moments are amusing enough but they are at odds with his earlier reflectiveness. A shift in tone between Baldwin’s pre- and post-fame existence is inevitable, though the difference here is marked, and the litany of slights, publicity cock-ups and professional hiccups tip him from self-aware to self-absorbed..
PositiveThe GuardianOn the fame front, Fisher, who is now 60, is typically sardonic, adeptly capturing the unexpected madness of Star Wars ... Fisher also includes her original diary entries, which are rambling, repetitive, overwrought and ultimately not worthy of the generous space that they are given ... Diaries aside, however, her writing is mostly smart and funny. The pages crackle with self-deprecating one-liners, chatty observations and the singular wisdom that comes with being forever immortalised in the minds of teenage boys in a metal bikini and chained to a slug.
PositiveThe GuardianAn Abbreviated Life is a powerful and frequently devastating account of a childhood without boundaries and dominated by loneliness, chaos and fear ... Leve is a journalist and she brings a reporter’s curiosity and diligence to her subject. Not always trusting her own version of events, she seeks the testimony of others ... Leve’s recollections can be brutal but are made digestible by the elegant sparseness of her prose. There are times, however, when the injustice of it all overwhelms her and her sentences begin to bubble and spit. You get a sense of a writer forever trying keep a lid on her fury.