Posts Tagged With: biography

A Brief Guide to Jane Austen: The Life and Times of the World’s Favourite Author by Charles Jennings

Title: A Brief Guide to Jane Austen: The Life and Times of the World’s Favourite Author
Author: Charles Jennings
ISBN: 978-1780330464
Publisher: Robinson
First Published: 5 February 2013 (paperback) / 15 November 2012 (Kindle)
No .of pages: 288

Rating: 5/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
Jane Austen is a mystery. The first incontrovertibly great woman novelist, she is, among other things, one of the finest prose stylists in literature; the first truly modern writer, the Godmother of chick lit. She is also the greatest enigma (next to Shakespeare) in English literature. Soldiers in the First World War sat in the trenches and read them for the civilising comforts they provided. Hard-nut literary critics such as F. R. Leavis lauded their austere complexity. World Book Day, 2007, found that Pride and Prejudice was the one book ‘The nation can’t live without’. In this witty, accessible guide, Charles Jennings goes in search of this enigma through her words as well as her times, including a short biography, an overview of the novels, as well as the world that she inhabited. Finally, the book contains Jane’s very own words of advice for the modern life.

Review:
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a reader with a complete lack of shelf space must still be in want of yet more books! It is also universally acknowledged that Jane Austen, after 200 years, still features on the top ten favourites lists of readers all around the world. She is an enduring icon, a woman whose writing has stood the test of time despite being very much of its time, and this brief guide examines some of the reasons behind that.

Set out in four distinct sections, the guide covers Jane’s life, her novels (in order of publication), the Regency period that her novels have come to so beautifully represent, and the after effects of her work on the world of literature.

Never before have I had so many people interested in the book I am reading – I read this in various public places and could barely finish a page without someone asking which Austen novel I was reading or if I was enjoying the book – even those who professed not to like her novels asked what it was I so loved.

I’ll confess, I’m only partially a Janeite – I find Persuasion slow, Sense and Sensibility dull and Emma infuriating. However, I grew to love Mansfield Park, delight in Pride and Prejudice, and hold Northanger Abbey among my all time favourites. Her Juvenilia, I find, is hit and miss, underdeveloped and very much a product of a writer still trying to develop her craft, but all this is beside the point. The fact remains that people couldn’t resist quizzing me the moment they saw me holding a book bearing the name of Jane Austen – she truly is the world’s favourite author.

This brief guide to Austen and the world around her is absolutely fascinating. Janeites will devour it, but even those of us who have mixed reactions to her work will find themselves pulled into the genteel world of the lady who left us six of the best-loved books the world has ever known.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan by Howard Sounes

Down the Highway is a biography of Bob Dylan, which spans his early life, through to the beginning of his career to music, and his subsequent rise to his current status, which it is no exaggeration to say, is probably that of legend.  

The book has obviously been meticulously researched, and is crammed with facts and figures.  It pulls no punches in describing the low times in Dylan’s career, as well as the highlights.

I am not generally a fan of biographies, but this one was a fascinating read.  Although, as stated earlier, it is stuffed full with facts, the writing is not ‘dry’, and the story of Dylan’s life unfolds at a satisfying pace.

What I found particularly interesting is that Dylan himself doesn’t really come out of this biography very well!  He appears at best a mass of contradictions, but prior knowledge of him suggests that that is no fault of the author – it’s just representative of what Dylan is like.  It is refreshing to read a biography that is not constantly gushing about it’s subject.

Sounes interviewed fellow musicians, past lovers and family members for the book (although, not surprisingly, there is no contribution from Dylan himself).  As with any biography, the book will be more interesting to fans, but even for someone with just a passing interest in Dylan’s music, this is an interesting read.

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Leading With Billy Graham by Jay Dennis

I have never come across the author Jay Dennis before but we are often being encouraged to read biographies of leading and influential Christian’s, so when I saw Leading With Billy Graham, T.W. Wilson’s biography, I thought I would give it a go, and on the whole it is a good, useful book.

Amazon synopsis:

Now available in trade paper, “Leading with Billy Graham” will help readers discover a new way to lead – from the background. Many Christians who want to impact the world mistakenly assume that influence belongs only to the front-man. But the life of T. W. Wilson proves otherwise. As Billy Graham’s closest friend and longtime personal assistant, T. W. Wilson turned his own valuable leadership skills to the task of supporting Billy and ended up influencing thousands of lives both directly and indirectly. His life is an inspiring testimony to the power of “next-level” servanthood to maximize the power of the church for the twenty-first century. Filled with interviews and stories from many of Billy Graham’s associates and eight pages of photographs, this book offers a fascinating look inside the most successful evangelistic ministry of modern times as well as an inspiring blueprint for purposeful servant-leadership.

Overall, this is a good book. Dennis retraces Wilson’s life as he serves God and helps Billy Graham in his ministry. Dennis teaches how to be a next-level influencer – someone who is there helping people and doing God’s work, but without recognition. I found a lot of this teaching helpful and have already put some into practice, such as daily Bible reading and sorting out being accountable to someone.

Dennis explores Wilson’s life well through interviews and extracts, however, I sometimes got lost and didn’t understand where the story fitted in with what Dennis was saying.

It is not a long book, 200 pages, but there were times when I felt the book dragged a bit and Dennis seemed to repeat himself a little.

7/10 – it was a helpful and interesting book, but not the easiest to read

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Chanel – A Woman of Her Own by Axel Madsen

Date of Publication: 1990, Henry Holt and Company

Number of Pages: 337

Synopsis: Chanel. The name alone evokes fashion and perfume, emancipation and allure. In this revealing, intimate biography, Axel Madsen brings to life Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, who was born an illegitimate pauper and rose to become the reigning queen of fashion, revolutionizing women’s style forever.

Madsen traces Chanel’s extraordinary life, from her beginnings as an orphan, to the first small boutique she opened in 1910 (using her lover’s financial backing), to the founding of the House of Chanel where she altered the look of fashion entirely, inventing sportswear, the “little black dress,” costume jewelry, and the perfume that Marilyn Monroe said was all she wore to bed. Although loved by many men, Coco remained wed only to her business, and when she died in 1971, at the age of eighty-eight, she was wealthy, and international celebrity, and utterly alone. ~Blurb from back cover

Review: As an enthusiastic admirer of Coco Chanel’s style and of the fashions she created, I was excited to read this book. I was surprised to find out that Chanel was an immensely complex and interesting person, even aside from her creative life. She came from very humble beginnings, lived through two world wars, survived tragedies, heartbreaks, and scandals, and through it all, she worked hard to realize her dreams of success. She is someone whom even non-fashionistas can admire. She was tenacious and clever, and her innate sense of style came through in everything she did.

This book features wonderful photographs of Chanel, a handy index, and even a guide to the author’s sources. For anyone who is even remotely interested in fashion, this book is a god-send. For everyone else, this book tells the story of a courageous and complicated woman who fought for her success and did things her own way. This was one of the best books I read in 2007, and I will definitely re-read it in 2008!

Rating: 10/10

Reviewed by Sarah

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