Really Good Books About Real People: Part Four

Catch up with our previous memoir reading lists here, here and here!

West With the Night, Beryl Markham — Have you ever read a BAD book by a fabulous aviatrix? Be honest. This one is lush, and thick, and lyrical, and the marvelousness of Markham really shines though. She was the inspiration for Felicity in Out of Africa! She was a horse trainer! She schtupped one of George V’s kids AND Antoine de Saint Exupéry! Hemingway called her “a high-grade bitch” and said she made him feel embarrassed because he couldn’t write nearly so well. WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, Robert Caro — I do feel bad that I haven’t bothered with Caro’s thousand-part biography of Lyndon B. Johnson, I really do. But, to be honest, I have zero interest in LBJ, and a lot of interest in New York, so in a finite universe, I’m going with Robert Moses. It’s…incredible. Incredible! AND Moses was actually alive to read this whacked-out billion page takedown/tribute/thing, and thus able to write nasty letters to the New Yorker about it. For a little, tiny taste of Caro’s “magnificent octopus” (c.f. Blackadder), try this on for size.

The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Samuel Pepys — The whole thing (most editions cut out a lot, because the man never had a thought he kept to himself) is free for the Kindle, so dip in and out at your leisure. The Great Fire, the Great Plague, getting caught fingering his housemaid…it’s all here.

Down and Out in Paris and London, George Orwell — If I had to break it down, as a fond Orwellian (oooh, that sounds ominous, doesn’t it?), it would go: Down and Out in Paris and London > 1984 > Animal Farm. I read it every year, it’s fabulous. SPEAKING OF Orwell, if you’re ever in London, wander over to Malet Street, stand directly in front of Senate House, and look up. It’s Art Deco, it’s the inspiration for the Ministry of Truth, and, well, it’s really a little scary. I think it’s where the Daleks would (will) rule from. While you’re making weird pilgrimages, go see Jeremy Bentham’s mummified corpse, eh what?

Poker Face: A Girlhood Among Gamblers, Katy Lederer — Lederer is a fantastic writer, and the upside of having a bizarre, vaguely criminal, disaster-bent family is that, eventually, you get to tell us all about it. We should give thanks.

Bad Girls Go Everywhere: The Life of Helen Gurley Brown, the Woman Behind Cosmopolitan Magazine
, Jennifer Scanlon — Well, yes. Is this not relevant to your interests? Scanlon’s take on Brown’s childhood and young life will completely change the way you eye-roll at Cosmopolitan. There’s a reason Brown gives the advice she gives, and I came away feeling great warmth towards her and her life.