My favourite memoirs!

I’m very excited for this post, because one of my great joys in reading these days discovering people’s true stories. There will be some crossover with my must read non fics, because, well, I can’t help it! 😉 I will, however, resist the urge to mention Man’s Search for Meaning for the millionth time… although I kinda just did 😉

Eat, Pray, Love– part self-help, part memoir, this was really worth reading. Not just because it offers a trip across the globe at the budget price of a book, it also offers a lot of positivity and spiritual guidance.

This is Going to Hurt– this one absolutely will sting a bit. Not just for the personal stories, but how it points to the current state of the NHS and what a junior doctor goes through. However for all of the discomfort and emotional moments, this does offer some medicinal humour to make the pill less bitter.

Educated– I didn’t review this, because the experience of reading this was so unusual that I couldn’t quite pin down my thoughts. What’s interesting about this memoir is that Westover doesn’t give her retrospective feelings or impose her will on the writing- she let’s you draw your own interpretations from events. It is a unique way of telling a lifestory and all the more compelling for it. It also happens to be a memoir that occupies my thoughts long after reading.

Infidel– it’s been a long time since I mentioned this- however I can’t think of many books more important. This is the origin story of a champion of free speech and a woman of tremendous courage. Before this, she was a refugee, an intellectual and a former member of the Dutch parliament.

March– I read this in the graphic novel version. And I found this moving and important and well worth reading.

Maus– speaking of graphic novels, this was a book that proved to me how great the format can be. It was heartbreaking, powerful and original. I loved how this intertwined Spielberg’s parents painful experiences with his own story growing up with them. It was beautiful how the narrator came to understand them with the telling of it. I can’t recommend it enough.

In Order to Live– I’ll admit I had this in the last list, but I simply couldn’t leave it out! Park is a North Korean defector and she gives a peek behind the iron fences of that regime. Her perseverance in the face of such adversity is inspiring beyond belief.

Wild Swans– this family epic made me so emotional. Spanning three generations of Chinese women, it gives a close look into China’s history, including of Maoist China. It’s not just worth reading for the personal stories, but for the significance of the history. It can help understand the modern context of China.

Man in the White Sharkskin Suit– oh this one made me cry- for many, many reasons. Telling of the 20th Century exodus of the Jews from Egypt, it has a personal touch, developing Lagnado’s relationship with her family across its pages. Beautifully written, it was not a book I expected to love quite as much as I did, and yet it had a great impact on me. 

Becoming– I listened to the audio version of this and completely get the hype around it. What’s interesting is I found the parts pre-presidency far more compelling (mostly because, for good reason, there were a lot of things in those 8 years she couldn’t talk about) and I recommend it more for her story than anything else. 

Inheritance– this is a book I read recently and can’t get out of my head. In this genealogical detective story, Shapiro discovers the truth about her parentage. Fundamentally, it is asking the question “who am I”, but I felt like it was answering the question “who are we”? It explores everything that goes into making us who we are and how we guide each other through life.

*BONUS!!!*

I Partridge, We Need to Talk About Alan- AHA we have a winner! Okay, yes, this isn’t a real memoir, but it is a damnably hilarious parody of celebrity memoirs! Definitely worth a read- but all the more fun if you’re at all familiar with the character Alan Partridge!

And that’s all for now! Have you read any of these? What did you think of them? And what are your favourite memoirs? Let me know in the comments!

The Churchill Factor by Boris Johnson

the-churchill-factorCredit to BoJo- this is a very engrossing book. I’d say it’s probably a better book to read if you have some foreknowledge of modern European history- otherwise blanket statements- some of which I agreed with and others I did not- may seem contentious. However, if you know even a little, it will not take you aback when he skims over, say, the origins of the First World War.

One interesting thing about this book that you will not get in a lot of biographies is that it delves in a little counterfactual history and asks the question what would the world have been like without Churchill? And let’s be honest the picture he paints is not pretty and conclusion he reaches is pretty dark: “With their superstitious habit of imputing justice and rightness to the course of history, human beings would have absorbed a dismal lesson: that the gods had smiled on the tyrannies, and that tyranny was therefore what our incompetent species required”. Now having seen such justifications for tyranny in modern regimes, I would contend Johnson’s vision of a fascist Europe is accurate. It’s not hard to imagine what Nazis would have done in peace given what they were able to do in war. That’s why the story of Winston Churchill is so important. It is the story of how one man can remake history.

churchillEvidently, this post could easily become more devoted to Churchill than the book. And I am prepared to admit that my admiration for the man knows no bounds. As Johnson said, “He had the gift of language to put heart into people and to breathe some of his courage into others”. His words resonate with us still. Yet while this is mostly a positive view of the man, there were some hard things to read- namely about Bolsheviks being compared to monkeys. Such an injustice to monkeys! But no- in all seriousness, Johnson doesn’t gloss over the attack on Mers-el-Kébir and Churchill’s uglier role in the war. This book in no way tries to hide from Churchill’s complexities as a human being. He was the man that was capable of making the difficult decisions to win the war- and yet he was the man who cried when everyone else saw it as a victory.

This journey through history gets to the complexities of the man. It humanises him, talking of his difficult relationship with his father and loving partnership with his wife. More than that- the duality that is within all of us is brought to light. One can see this in the two sides of Churchill’s character- his bombastic pride and his insecurity that he would never live up to his family’s name. More than that, Johnson shows the contrast between the Churchill who argued against war in 1914, and the Churchill who knew they had to fight in 1939. Too often Churchill is painted as a warmonger by people who would rather praise the appeasers- and yet clearly he was not a man who hungered for war, he was a man who had seen too much of it. No one could argue with this knowledge that Churchill relished these decisions- but none could argue that he made the wrong choice.

boris-johnson1What’s most interesting about this book is how revealing it is of Boris Johnson. This is not just biographical, but also autobiographical. Johnson is a politician and like any politician he spends an awful lot of time defending and condemning Churchill, in equal measure, to our modern sensibilities (not often the practice of historians)- it is this obsequiousness that makes me think BoJo does not have what it takes to be a great statesman. He admires the man but constantly feels the need to justify it. Even in this he is playing the political game. It is most revealing then how he describes Churchill of being constantly aware of how he might be perceived- for this is Johnson’s method in politics.

Overall, I’d say this is a great biography of Churchill and easy to read if biographies, or even history, aren’t your usual cup of tea.

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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So will you be giving this a go? Let me know in the comments!