James Samson Book Club 2015
It’s the most wonderful time of the year… to stay inside, cosy by the fire with a good book. While the rain looms outside transport yourself away to another time and place. 2015 has been a bestselling year for autobiographies and memoirs, and here is our well-rounded selection of some of the year’s most notable titles.
Legendary British photojournalist Don McCullin CBE has been capturing the nation with his unapologetic war photography for over half a century. His long awaited autobiography Unreasonable Behaviour His collection includes his most famous works from bloody battles to urban strife, unique peoples and the reality of poverty. As an observer of Don McCullin’s career, the book provides an insight into the psychology of a war journalist, and the burdens that they must endure. As a fellow photographer it gives key insights into the struggles and pains of the artist, as well as astoundingly beautiful shots. The lucid style of writing keeps you hooked from one anecdote to another, like a gripping action film. Don McCullin has created the archetypal photojournalist memoir for generations to remember. The Sunday Correspondent commented that ‘If this was just a book of McCullin’s war photographs it would be valuable enough. But it is much more’.
Aged 13, Yeonmi Park and her mother fled their poverty-stricken lives in North Korea in search of freedom. In Order to Live is Park’s critically important documentation of her journey across the world and the life she left behind. Fearing death around every corner, Park’s mother smuggled herself and her daughter into nearby China in search of refuge. What they found instead was human traffickers running forced marriage and prostitution rings. Yeonmi Park writes, ‘Until I started to write this book, I didn’t know what trauma was, I didn’t know what a counsellor did, because in North Korea we don’t have these words, we don’t have these jobs. I didn’t know what post-traumatic stress disorder was and I didn’t think I had it’. While the storyline is overwhelming, it shows an admirable strength of character which holds intrigue and insights throughout the story. The Observer recommends Park’s autobiography as a ‘Clear-eyed and devastating’ read.
Nick Frost is one of Britain’s most loved comedic actors and screenwriters, best known for his work in Spaced, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. So how do you come up with such a crazy cast of characters like frost? Frost’s new memoir Truths, Half Truths, and Little White Lies is a darkly funny tale of his turbulent rise to fame. As Nick Frost says himself, ‘If I’m going to tell the story of a life, my life, then I need to tell it warts and all. If the tale is too saccharine sweet then what can the reader take away from it? What do they learn about you?’. He speaks honestly, as he recalls his childhood blighted by one misfortune after another, leaving him aimlessly skipping from job to job with few prospects ahead of him. However in conversation there is little trace in his tone, his delivery, of these demons of his past. He beams whole-heartedly, telling the truth about happiness as frankly as sadness. Similarly his memoir is an uplifting tome full of stories guaranteed to make you laugh out loud. Nick Frost’s story will resonate with many of its readers, including Jonathon Ross who found it ‘Very funny and very honest…I can’t recommend it highly enough’.
Even if you have never watched Great British Bake off, her humbling adventures in Asia, or her witty comedy pieces, it is impossible not to fall in love with Sue Perkins. Her long-awaited autobiography, Spectacles, details the quirky upbringing of an equally bizarre yet captivating writer. The memoir is written by two sides of Sue; the witty, dynamic, cheeky comic who bounces onto our screens with palpable joy… and the emotive, empathetic, profound and marvelled TV presenter finding her way in the world. This results in a raw, unabashed narrative which swoops you along for an emotional rollercoaster that will leave you feeling like you’ve made a new accomplice in this game of life. The novel covers many aspects of the human journey which affect us all, but with an arm round your shoulder and a giggle to boot. Sue Perkins’ book is described as ‘Relentlessly cheering, Spectacles is as charming and funny as Perkins herself. Like going for a long, slightly drunken lunch with your naughtiest friend’ by Red Magazine.
Mary Portas, retail mogul and entrepreneur, is one of the most prominent women in business today. She found fame transforming names like Harvey Nichols into brands recognisable the world over, and turned her expert hand to revitalising charity shops across Britain. The makings of this strong character is mapped out in Mary Portas’ recent memoir, Shop Girl. Born into a large Irish family in a small Watford semi, the purse strings were always tight. Yet, each chapter is marked with those products which made the 1970’s, and is followed with a demonstration of how brands can affect our memories and feelings. After the death of her mother Mary takes it upon herself to provide for the family, and steps into Harrods to begin her legendary career. This novel is a true blast from the past, and Mary illustrates her home life in a surprisingly charming, soulful manner. It is an episodic saga which makes for an easy read that can be picked up at any time. The Independent commented that ‘Shop Girl is a testament to survival. But most of all it is a love letter to her mother. Every joke, argument, cake baked, tenderness proffered, sings off the page. And we are lucky to read it’.