Books of the year 2013: Celebrity
Arifa Akbar is literary editor of The Independent and i newspapers. She has worked at The Independent since 2001 as a news reporter and arts correspondent before joining the books desk in 2009. She was a judge for the Orwell Prize for books 2013, and the Fiction Uncovered Prize 2014.
Friday 29 November 2013
Rejoice! it was the year that a Pakistani teenager who stood up to the Taliban became a celebrity, and one with a real story to tell. What a breath of fresh air in a genre crowded out by middle-aged TV personalities. Malala Yousafzai invigorated the "all about me" genre with I Am Malala (Orion, £18.99, with Christina Lamb), a tale of immense courage and conviction which begins as she is shot for campaigning for the rights of girls to an education ("My friends later told me the gunman's hand was shaking as he fired"). The memoir rewinds to early life in the Swat valley; people commiserated the birth of a girl when Malala was born. Being Pushtun and female got tougher when the Taliban arrived. She was 10 by that time and busy reading the Twilight novels.
The first part of Angelica Huston's memoir, A Story Lately Told (Simon & Schuster, £16.99) does not enter high-octane Hollywood territory proper, ending in her modelling years. Born into showbusiness – her father was the director, John Huston – she grew up in remotest Ireland and London, where she attended the local comprehensive. Huston's wit and a vividly captured childhood raises the book above the dross of Hollywood look-backs.
Some choose to reveal themselves though investigations into subjects other than themselves. Al Murray describes his childhood through the prism of war films in Watching War Films With My Dad (Century, £16.99). What comes through is his curious self-effacement, his anorak's passion for "the war" and he gets extra points for challenging Nietzsche's wisdom at the start.
Jazz singer, George Melly, also comes at his life askance in Don't Tell Sybil (Atlas, £15) about his love of surrealism, first glimpsed at Stowe in a rude portrait by Magritte, while Damian Barr remembers family breakdown set against Margaret Thatcher's rise in Maggie & Me (Bloomsbury, £14.99) an affecting memoir without clichés. While the fans might have queued round the block for David Jason's My Life (Century, £20), the life story to envy was the latest Bridget Jones book "mashed-up" with Jason's life story. A celebrity memoir on the edge of reason.
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