ME, MYSELF AND I
It’s a great time of year to immerse yourself in not only your own life, but in the big and small themes of the lives of inspirational others. Here’s our shortlist of some of the best recent memoirs
UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL
A top pick is Michelle Obama’s candid, funny and uplifting Becoming. This woman can write. She describes feeling like a poppy seed in a bowl of rice as a student at WASPy Princeton. She paints fascinating behind-the-scenes stories of raising a family in the White House. In her new iteration as author, the former White House mom-in-chief demonstrates once again she is an articulate and inspiring advocate for women and girls.
Becoming, Michelle Obama, Penguin Books, $39.99
INTO THE LIGHT
Gregory P. Smith was born into a life of violence and sent by his parents to an orphanage where he suffered institutionalised violence.
Later, drugs, alcohol and incarceration led him to homelessness and he retreated to live “in the wild” for 10 years.
Calling himself Will Power, he lived in near-total isolation in northern NSW, foraging for food, eating bats and trading for produce. When he finally emerged from the forest, emaciated and close to death, he reclaimed his life. Smith went to university and gained an undergraduate degree in social science followed by a PhD, in which he investigated the impact of institutional life.
He is now an academic.
Out of the Forest, Gregory P. Smith, William Heinemann Australia, $34.99
David Sedaris, one of America’s funniest and smartest writers, makes the unintended point in this collection of essays that there is no light without dark. Sedaris is from an eccentric family and he writes about them, and his partner Hugh, with wry affection, but not always. “Why don’t you go back to your room and write some more about being a faggot?” his sister Tiffany yells at him during a fight. Tiffany died by suicide and her death comes up in various ways, as does his adored mother’s alcoholism and his aged father’s misanthropy. Sometimes though, just being ridiculous is enough and nothing beats the Tokyo shopping spree where the Sedaris siblings spend a fortune on clothes “that absolutely refuse to flatter you, that go out of their way to insult you, really, and still my sisters and I can’t get enough.”
What a delight.
Calypso, David Sedaris, Little, Brown, $29.99
After a near-death experience giving birth to her second child, journalist Leigh Sales found herself becoming fixated on stories about people whose lives had changed in an instant.
This sent her looking for answers about how vulnerable each of us is to a lifechanging event, asking “what are our chances of actually experiencing one? What do we fear most and why? And when the worst does happen, what comes next?”
In these intimate interviews, she talks with people who have faced terrorism, natural disasters and other experiences following from being in the wrong place at the wrong time, including at Port Arthur on the day of the massacre. Along the way, she writes about her own challenges and what she’s learnt about coping. This is an insightful memoir about the art and struggle of being a teacher. Stroud had taught in schools in NSW and abroad before she deserted the classroom exhausted and disillusioned. Her stories range from hilarious to heartbreaking. Her writing is eloquent and engaging, both when it is personal and when it is about how the current system is failing children. As we get to know a few memorable students, we learn about the pitfalls of standardised tests and the hidden toll of teaching.
Teacher, Gabbie Stroud, Allen & Unwin, $29.99
WEIGHT IS RIGHT
In a must-have for racing fans, the Herald Sun’s Andrew Rule gets a behind-the-scenes look at the world’s greatest racehorse, including unprecedented access to the champion mare’s owners, trainer and jockey.
Winx: The Authorised Biography, Andrew Rule, Allen & Unwin, $45
FROM CULT TO CULTURED
This is the moving story of a Cambridge graduate who grew up off the grid in Idaho. Tara Westover, 31, was raised preparing for
the End of Days in a Mormon Survivalist family. Home-schooled and without a birth certificate or any medical records, she didn’t officially exist on paper. At 16, Tara decided to educate herself. This is her extraordinary story, beautifully written.
Educated, Tara Westover, Hutchinson, $32.99
HEAR HER ROAR
Seasoned feminist Anne Summers encourages younger women to find the courage and drive to make their lives extraordinary.
A policy maker, political adviser, board member, editor, journalist, publisher, bureaucrat, political advocate and author, Dr Summers has embraced challenges the whole way along. Unfettered and Alive: A Memoir, is her exhilarating story of a meaningful public life. She also frankly explores her own family story, personal anxieties and mistakes. Unfettered and Alive, Anne Summers, Allen & Unwin, $39.95
HALF A CENTURY
In his 50th year and more than a decade after shelving the international ball, you might expect mature circumspection from Warne. You won’t find it in this autobiography, but you will enjoy a line-up of stories covering a brilliant career blotted by the odd scandal. The silliest involves a three-in-a-bed romp while he was playing English county cricket.
No Spin, Shane Warne, Penguin, $50
Former First Lady Michelle Obama signs books during an appearance for her memoir, Becoming, in New York.