The Non Fiction Challenge – Just Kids – Patti Smith

2016 Nonfiction Challenge

Genre: Autobiography / Memoir

Narrative Style: First personUnknown

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2010

Format: Paperback

Reading Challenges: The Non Fiction Challenge

Synopsis: Patti tells of her relationship with the artist Robert Mapplethorpe and their time in New York in the late sixties and early seventies, just before both of them became famous. 

It is apt that I discovered Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe together and to me they have always come as a pair. In 1992, my then boyfriend bought a copy of Horses (On vinyl, of course. That’s the sort of students we were.) and we rushed home to listen to it. The music blew me away. I had never heard anything like it. But I was also really taken with the photo of Patti on the front (taken by Mapplethorpe) which seemed to encapsulate something of the music. Patti was all PattiSmithHorsesmasculine elegance, a look I was trying – with less success – to pull of myself. (This was a time when I thought I was Jim Morrison and wandered around in outsize men’s shirts and leather trousers.) I quickly discovered it was by Robert and was soon as fascinated by his photography as I was by Patti’s music.

I knew a little of their relationship already, having read a biography of Patti Smith some years ago but it was interesting to hear it from the horse’s mouth, as it were. It isn’t just the relationship between Patti and Robert that is so interesting but also her description of the times which saw them mixing with Warhol and the members of The Factory and staying at the Chelsea Hotel to name but two things.

Of course, the whole thing is tinged with sadness. At the end, Patti says that Robert asked her to write the story of them and it had taken her until then to be strong enough to do it. (He died in 1989 and this was published in 2010) Her longing for Robert to still be alive is in every word of this and it seems apparent that she misses him still. When I was approaching the end, I found myself preparing for the horror of his death. My relationship with his work has always been tinged with sadness as by the time I discovered him, he was already dead and I was sad to think there would never be any new work from this amazing artist. It was an emotional end and not at all easy to read. You get a real sense of how difficult it must have been for Patti to carry on afterwards.


Non Fiction Reading Challenge – My Own Story – Emmeline Pankhurst

2016 Nonfiction Challenge

Genre: Autobiography / memoir

Narrative Style: First person

Rating: 4/5

Published: 1914

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: A personal account of the meetings and actions of the W.S.P.U. and also an explanation for these actions. 

Reading Challenge: The Non Fiction Challenge.

When I was a student, I did some modules on the suffragettes and when the film came out last year, it re-sparked my interest in this part of history. So when this came up on Amazon, I didn’t hesitate.

It was a very good read. It showed the power and passion of Pankhurst herself as well as the rest of the W.S.P.U. quite clearly. Pankhurst seems to have been an incredibly charismatic leader as well as being clearly intelligent and determined. She must have been a force to be reckoned with.

In one sense, this is an uplifting read. I’m not sure that I could have kept going in the face of forcible feeding and the cat and mouse act but these women were not going give up, no matter what. It was inspiring to think of them fighting back especially considering they had no real political power. They had to find other means to make their voices heard.

For the most part though, it is a difficult read. Pankhurst writes of thirst and sleep strikes where she was so weak she could barely stand but still she attempted to walk the length of her cell and not rest. The politicians do not come out of this well. Lloyd-George and Asquith particularly prove themselves to be duplicitous and uncaring. They treated the women as if they were hysterical and ignored their demands whereas male rebels (such as those in Ireland who opposed home rule) were taken seriously.

Mrs Pankhurst’s style is conversational and so is easy to read. However, speeches and political discussions are often recorded in full and are sometimes a little dry. There is a lot of talk about motives for action but the actions themselves are not always described. This slows the pace a little. However, as an insight in the workings of such an important political organisation, it is definitely worth the read.

Books Read in 2015 0 8. Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys by Viv Albertine

Genre: Autobiography, Music

Narrative Style: First Person NarrationBlav494CIAA1lWx.jpg-large

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2014

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: Viv Albertine used to be in The Slits. This charts her life before, during and after, looking specifically at the three things mentioned in the title. It is an honest and at times emotional journey through one woman’s life. 

I love The Slits. They are one of my favourite punk bands. So last year, for my birthday, my husband bought tickets to go and hear Viv Albertine read from Clothes, Clothes, Clothes… and then he bought the book for me. Albertine was entertaining and her life has certainly been interesting but I didn’t completely take to her. I felt similarly when I was reading the book. I’m not entirely sure why but I could never completely relate to her.

The book is written with humour and is self-depricating as if all the way through writing, Albertine couldn’t quite believe that anyone would want to read it. She begins with school days, moves through her parents divorce and her entrance into the punk scene then through the domesticity and illness that followed after up to the present day. I found my interest peaked and fell at various points in the book and sometimes I didn’t really want to pick it up at all.

It is best – perhaps obviously – when Albertine is talking about the punk scene and her experience with The Slits. Personal descriptions of the stars  of the scene – Rotten, McLaren, Thunders, Jones, to name but a few – are all entertaining and added to my understanding of the scene and what it was like for a woman at those times. I was less interested in what came after. I guess that makes me pretty shallow but I would happily have read more about those times and less about her family life.

Not that those times didn’t warrant describing. Albertine had early experience of the difficulties of IVF and then discovered she had cancer and her marriage broke down. All of which are described with an emotional honesty it is rare to find. I’m just not very interested in the long fight to have a baby. I have no children and at forty two, it is unlikely I will now. I wouldn’t really choose to read about these experiences if it weren’t for Albertine’s status as punk legend.

For me, my interest picked up again towards the end when Albertine starts to perform and record again despite her crippling anxiety about how good she was. It was rewarding to see her confidence build again and she finally seemed happy with her life.   There is no doubt that Albertine is a strong woman to have come through all she has and also to be able to be so open about what she perceives as her faults but I still felt at the end as if I hadn’t quite got it, as if I still couldn’t really understand her.


Books read in 2014 – 12. Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins – Rupert Everett

Genre: Autobiography, film, glbt
narrative style: first person, mostly chronological
Rating: 4/5
Format: Paperback
Published: 2006

Synopsis: Everett recounts his life in film and theatre with amusing rupert everett_vividness. This takes the reader from the very beginning to the Hollywood years and beyond. Full of vignettes and asides about various stars and directors.

I’ve been a fan of Rupert Everett since I was a teenager and saw Another Country and Dance with a Stranger in close succession – both of which feature stunning performances from Everett. Even though his career has been patchy – to say the least – when he is good, he is very good. Of course, he is also intensely outspoken (as his recent comments about gay marriage show) and so it could be assumed that this would be an exciting read.

And so it was. Everett is a consummate story teller. His tales are full of vivid detail and are often at his own expense. He spares himself no humiliation in describing his own diva tendencies and ability to choose the wrong script. Where he is most amusing is in his descriptions of the stars that he met and worked with. (Who’d have thought that the cocky arrogance that led to Live Aid was due to Geldof literally having a big one.) There were a number of laugh out loud moments. This was delightfully camp and intelligently witty.

There are also a number of tender moments. Everett’s description of his relationship with Paula Yates, for example, was particularly poignant as was his description of a holiday with his ageing father. Everett certainly knows how to draw the reader in and there were times when this felt like an intimate chat with a good friend.

However, there is a limit. This is very much a Hollywood memoir and it is great as far as that goes. You are left with a feeling that there is more to Everett than this but you aren’t going to get to see it. And maybe that is fair enough. After all, we are only the audience and this is only one more great performance.