Must You Go? by Antonia Fraser
Lady Antonia is a marvel all-round when it comes to non-fiction – l loved her Marie Antoinette, obvs – but it’s this one that I have read (and reread) most recently and has probably made the most impact on me. It’s not a memoir in the usual sense, as it’s not so much about her but about the life that she shared with Harold Pinter (who, I had never quite realised until I saw the photos included in this book, was incredibly sexy – the two of them just looked so cool together). It’s utterly fascinating, as well as heart-wrenching and just as elegant as you would expect, especially the portion that concerns the scandal that ensued when they first got together – it seems amazing now to think that two forty-something ‘serious’ writers could be at the centre of such a tabloid storm, that made them pretty much the Jordan and Peter of the day. I went to see Lady Antonia doing a talk on this last year and I basically want to be her when I grow up.
An Education by Lynn Barber
Lynn Barber features highly on my long list of heroines – I reread her newspaper interviews quite a lot. An Education is that intriguing mix of a story that feels like it could be about you, whilst at the same time being absolutely extraordinary. If you’ve seen the film (which I really enjoyed, especially for Carey Mulligan) then you’ll know that it mostly centred around Lynn’s (or ‘Jenny’s’) schoolgirl affair with an older man. The book spans a much longer period and, in my opinion, is all the better for it – the later chapters are my favourites.
The Hacienda by Lisa St Aubin de Teran
Another one about an ill-advised affair, this one spiraling into something far worse that makes Lynn’s look like a lucky escape. Lisa St Aubin Teran is an amazing woman and all of her writing is sublime. This one is especially gripping, and pretty inspirational.
Blow by Blow by Detmar Blow
We all know how I feel about Issy Blow. This is how her husband felt about her. If you don’t know all about her extraordinary life, or if you have even a passing interest in fashion, it is well worth a read. Being by her husband of nearly twenty years, this of course contains many facts and anecdotes that were not previously in the public domain. It is sometimes subjective enough to be absolutely infuriating – I for one was slightly appalled by the kicking that Detmar gave McQueen here, as it was no secret that the two of them just didn’t get on, and obviously Lee is not around to give his side. Still, a bit of a must for any fans. Martina Rink’s coffee table book of memories and photographs is also fantastic, but by definition a bit more of a visual skate through Isabella’s fabulous life and hats.
All That Glitters by Pearl Lowe
For some reason – it’s not exactly high art – I find this book utterly gripping and reread it often. Although Pearl Lowe was only a pretty minor player in the 90s, and you kind of had to be there, I’ve always been a bit of a fan and she’s had an interesting ride, as much for all of the personal details as the public ones. It’s that classic tale of the girl desperate for fame and excitement, who goes spectacularly off the tracks in the process. It’s an archetype that I love in all its forms, and in this one there is something so charming about Pearl that you find yourself hoping for her happy ending.
Courtney Love: The Real Story by Poppy Z. Brite
So crazy it just might work – get a pulpy vampire novelist to write a novel-style biography of our most interesting rock star. It’s just the sort of rock biography that I like best – it perpetuates all the myths and legends, and makes no effort to debunk any of the hyperbole. Also, worth it alone for the gorgeous snatches of Courtney’s own writings and diary extracts, which are unfailingly beautiful.
Heavier than Heaven by Charles Cross (the ultimate Nirvana book; see also Come As You Are by Michael Azzerad – the only two worth reading).
Faithfull by Marianne Faithfull (I first read this on holiday when I was thirteen, and it made me want to be her – reread it as an adult and appreciated how sad and interesting a life she has led).
Dear Boy: The Life of Keith Moon by Tony Fletcher (I like a good rock bio on holiday, it would seem – I read this one in Cyprus a good few years ago, thoroughly enjoyed the tales of Moon and Oliver Reed best of all, and wished I could skip the sad end. Made me want to get a tortoise and call it Ashtray).
A Lover of Unreason: Assia Wevill, Sylvia Plath’s Rival and Ted Hughes’ Doomed Love by Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negav (It’s no secret that I am a Plath/Hughes obsessive, and while this book didn’t change my views on Assia Wevill, it was fascinating to have some light thrown on this hitherto shadowy character) .
Your Voice in My Head by Emma Forrest (A beautifully written memoir that drove me mad because I could relate to it way too much, but as such equally vindicated itself with its sensible, triumphant and quite inspiring ending).
The Silent Twins by Marjorie Wallace (I love a good mystery – this one, about twins who had a secret language and ended up in Broadmoor, is a great one).
And I Don’t Want to Live This Life by Deborah Spungen (Originally due to my obsessions with all things Chelsea Hotel-related, I became fascinated by Nancy, while at the same time astounded and appalled that she could have been treated the way she was by the world at large, even after she was dead – this incredibly interesting book by her mother settles the score a bit).
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell (It’s been said that Malcolm Gladwell is great because when you finish one of his books, you’re left feeling not that he’s really clever, but that you’re really clever – which is fun, as is this book that examines why people are really good at stuff).