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Posts Tagged ‘autobiography’

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The word ‘legend’ is bandied about too frequently these days – I’ve seen it used to describe reality tv stars, YouTube ‘stars’ and all manner of others which in truth it should not be used for – but sometimes the word is entirely fitting and Bruce Springsteen is one of those people truly deserving of the title. Whether you like his music or not, his songs are familiar to all, for their stories of blue-collar working class families and their struggles, from the anti-Vietnam protest song Born in the USA, to the Oscar winning Streets of Philadelphia from the groundbreaking 1993 Tom Hanks film about AIDS.

Bruce’s autobiography is a joy to read – not only does he discuss his own working class, blue collar background, and his rise to success, he is also amazingly candid about his struggles with depression and anxiety. He talks with obvious love and gratitude about his wife Patti Scialfa and their three children, and with open-ness about his troubled relationship with his father, who nonetheless he loved and loves very deeply.

His passion for his craft comes through on every page (no surprise to anyone who has listened to his music), as well as his enduring friendships with the many people who he has played with and alongside. I loved that he was starstruck, even at the height of his own success, when meeting the Rolling Stones!

Again – this will be no surprise for anyone who listens to Bruce’s lyrics – but he is a very talented author, likeable and amusing, and unapologetic…not that he has anything to be apologetic about. I always felt that Bruce was one of the good guys, and this book reinforces that view.

If you are a fan of Bruce Springsteen, or if you just really like reading autobiographies, I highly recommend this one.

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In this enchanting true story, Tom Michell relates how in the 1970s, when he was in his early 20s and teaching in an Agentinian boys boarding school, he encountered a penguin who became his best friend. He saw the penguin on a beach covered in oil and near death as the result of a recent oil slick and on an impulse decided to rescue him and clean him up, with the intention of then releasing him back into the wild. However, the penguin refused to leave his side, and so after naming him Juan Salvador, Michell became the proud adopter (or adoptee?) of his new feathered friend.

Juan Salvador soon becomes a favourite among staff and students alike at the boarding school and brings a little magic into all of their lives. Through his and Tom Michell’s story, the reader also learns a little about the Argentinian political situation at the time, and how badly inflation was affecting the poorest in the country, and there is also some insight into life in the boarding school.

Mostly though, this is Juan Salvador’s story; it is he who is the true focus of the book, and what a delight he is. Michell describes the penguin’s own little personality and quirks and really brings him to life on the page.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book – it’s a quick read, both because it is only just over 200 pages, and also because I didn’t want to put it down. Highly recommended.

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Anyone who is old enough to remember the mid-late 70s knows who John Lydon aka Johnny Rotten is. Famous – or infamous – for being the lead singer of the Sex Pistols, and then forming Public Image Ltd, Lydon is now almost as well known for his TV appearances on shows like I’m A Celebrity….Get Me Out of Here, Shark Attack, Goes Ape, and even Question Time. Not to mention those Country Life butter advertisements!

As the title suggests, this is indeed his life uncensored and in his own words. (The Anger is an Energy line comes from the PiL song Rise, which is one of my favourite songs.) So much in his own words in fact, that this book feels more like it has been dictated – I think this works, because when I am reading someone’s autobiography I like to feel that I can hear their own voice reciting it, and in this instance I certainly could.

Lydon tells the story of his life pretty much chronologically, although there are intermittent chapters where he gives his thoughts on other aspects of life. It all rattles along entertainingly though, and he is certainly not averse to naming names and giving opinions about people he has met, good or bad. He’s almost shockingly frank regarding his feelings about certain persons (Malcolm McLaren does not come out of it well, and neither does ex-PiL bandmate Keith Levene.) However, his pacifist leanings and his generosity towards others may surprise those who only know him as the angry young punk who fronted the Sex Pistols, swore on live TV and sang songs about anarchy.

I can’t say I agree with everything he says, but I do have a certain respect for him after reading this book, because at least HE agrees with everything he says – he is not in the business of false diplomacy or modesty. I enjoyed reading about his relationship with his long-term partner Nora, to who he is clearly devoted.

Overall, I would say this is an enjoyable and entertaining ride through one man’s life – it did feel like a bit of editing in the middle  of the book might have helped, but essentially, while you might say a lot of things about John Lydon, one thing you can’t say is that he is ever boring. If you have any interest in the Sex Pistols, PiL, or the music industry in general, I would recommend this book.

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After reading ‘Hatchet Job’ by Mark Kermode last year and thoroughly enjoying it, I was really looking forward to reading his other books, starting with ‘It’s Only a Movie’ which is his sort-of biography (in reality more of a collection of stories from his career; Kermode describes the book as “inspired by real events” and tells the stories as though they are part of a movie of his life – with Jason Isaacs playing the man himself).

For anyone who doesn’t know who Mark Kermode is, he is a well known and popular British film critic, and half of Kermode and (Simon) Mayo’s Film Review programme on BBC Radio 5 Live, and this book relates the story of how he got there, starting off as an enthusiastic journalist for various regional magazines – amongst other things, he describes being humiliated by Helen Mirren, a wholly unenjoyable and ultimate fruitless journey to Russia to do an on-set report about the film Dark Waters, and how celebrated director Werner Herzog was shot at mid-interview!

If anything I enjoyed this book even more than I enjoyed Hatchet Job. Kermode is a self-deprecating and often very funny narrator, with a tendency to veer off at tangents halfway through any given story, but he always comes back to the point he is making, and always in a very entertaining fashion. His passion for films – in particular splattery gory horror movies – is clear to see, and even if I didn’t always agree with his opinions on certain films, I certainly enjoyed reading them.

It’s an entertaining and easy read, and I would definitely recommend it, particularly to film fans.

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This is the story of Henri Charierre, known as Papillon (which is French for butterfly – he had a butterfly tattoo on his chest) and his incarceration in a French prison in 1930 for a murder which Papillon has always denied committing.  During his subsequent years of imprisonment, he spent time in many prisons and penal colonies, which had varying degrees of cruelty and inhumane treatment.  Papillon made several attempts to break out of the various institutions, with varying degrees of success.

The veracity of the story has often been questioned, with Papillon himself saying that it is about 75% true, while more modern researchers believe that parts of his story which he claims happened to him, were actually about other prisoners.  Either way, it’s an interesting adventure, and you have to admire his grit and determination to become a free man.

I enjoyed the book overall, although I found it took a long time for me to read.  There was so much information in parts that I had to take it slowly, to make sure I took it all in.  Charierre himself is an engaging, if occasionally self-aggrandising character, and certainly a good storyteller.  I liked the fact that although – especially in the beginning of the story – he was concentrated on his anger on the people who had wrongly incarcerated him (such as the Judge, prosecutor and people on the jury during his trial), and his determined to exact his revenge, over the passage of time, he came to focus on the kindnesses shown to him by various people, and was not lacking in compassion for others.

This was definitely a book worth reading, and the ending was particularly uplifting.  I would definitely recommend it.  (However, readers ought perhaps to be aware that the author occasionally uses some outdated and distasteful racial descriptions.)

 

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Robert Vaughn has had a long and successful acting career.  As well as being The Man from U.N.C.L.E., he was also one of The Magnificent Seven, and in more recent times, was a main cast member on the BBC show Hustle.  But in addition to such achievements, he has also starred in countless other films, and appeared on stage many times.  In this book, he describes his life, from his childhood with a mother and step-father who were also actors, to his unconventional adolescence, to his ascension to genuine Hollywood star.

However, this book also covers much more ground than just his acting career.  With a keen interest in politics (he is a staunch Democrat), Vaughn also describes his friendship with Robert F. Kennedy, and his theories on the truth behind RFK’s assassination.  There are fascinating tales of being trapped in Czechoslovakia at the time of the Soviet invasion, and being placed under house arrest while filming in South America.  Amongst all of these stories are of course, anecdotes from Vaughn’s lengthy career, in which he talks about many of his friends, famous and otherwise, including Natalie Wood and Steve McQueen.

Vaughn is clearly a highly intelligent and thoughtful man, and he has written an absorbing autobiography.  I had only seen him in the aforementioned Hustle, and more recently on stage in a (breathtakingly wonderful) production of Twelve Angry Men, and was large unfamiliar with his earlier work, but the stories from that part of his career made for interesting reading.

I would certainly recommend this book to fans of Robert Vaughn, but also to anyone who enjoys reading autobiographies.

 

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David Niven tells his life story (or at the least the first part of it) in this book, and he does it in wonderfully entertaining, genuinely amusing and often quite touching fashion.  From his early life with a distant stepfather, through his life in the Highland Light Infantry, before deciding to give up a military career to try his luck in Hollywood (although he returned to Britain to fight in World War II), Niven takes the reader on a journey packed with anecdotes and funny interludes.

As he explains in the introduction, he drops names all over the place, particularly while talking about his film career, but he remains respectful throughout, and his genuine affection and respect for many of his contemporaries comes through.  His stories – both of his Hollywood life, and his military career – are peppered with laugh-out-loud one-liners; several times I would burst out laughing and then insist on reading bits out to my husband.  Niven is truly a wonderful storyteller and raconteur – he is also self-effacing and honest about his own shortcomings, and modest about his talents as an actor.

Details of his film career also reveal some of Hollywood’s machinations, and by the end of the book – which was published in 1972 – it’s clear that he is unhappy about a changing film industry.

Unlike many such memoirs, Niven did not use a ghostwriter – the writing is his own – and he has a lovely turn of phrase, but is also capable of showing genuine emotion, such as when he describes the tragic death of his first wife, which had me struggling to hold back tears.

If you are at all interested in David Niven, or Hollywood in the 40s – 60s, I would definitely recommend this book.

 

 

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