Anna Campbell

August 2020

August 2020 – Recent Reads Part 2

If you’re a regular reader of this column, you’ll know I love memoirs. So I thought today I’d give you a taster of four recent memoirs that I really enjoyed.

I’m going to start with a humdinger of an autobiography, Me by Elton John (2019). I picked this up after watching Rocket Man on the plane to Europe in 2019 (no Europe trip this year, sob).

I’m of an age when I grew up with Elton John’s brilliant songs and both the movie and the autobiography are a wonderful reminder of what a great backlist Elton has. It’s also a reminder of scandals that I read about at the time but I’d largely forgotten.

This one’s pretty warts and all which I liked, and it describes an era in music history that won’t come again. Full of drama, glamour, tragedy and conflict, this one will keep you turning the pages.

The next one is also a great read, if a slightly older one, published in 2008. Entirely Up to You, Darling is the really charming and moving memoir from Richard Attenborough, the great actor and film director, and older brother of the wonderful David Attenborough (who scored a My Favorite Things column of his own back in 2011:

A lot of the book relates to Attenborough’s struggles to have his masterwork Gandhi made, but in between he works with most of Hollywood’s great and good and suffers an appalling family tragedy that had me crying when I read it. What I’d heard about the late Richard Attenborough is that he was a very nice man and a pleasure to work with. That definitely comes across in this book so this ends up feeling like a good natter with a friend.

My next choice, Fake: A Startling True Story of Love in a World of Liars, Cheats, Narcissists, Fantasists and Phonies (how’s that for a title?) came out in 2019 and is a horrifying depiction of the dangers of the modern dating game.

Stephanie Wood is a successful journalist in Australia and she fell into the clutches of a compulsive liar and fantasist when she started internet dating. For several years, he led her on purely to build his ego (there didn’t seem to be any financial motive in his scam) and even when she’d discovered the awful truth about her boyfriend, she still had trouble breaking free.

This one left me boggling at how this man manipulated and deceived the writer, who was an intelligent, sophisticated woman. It also left me feeling sorry for her because her desire for a relationship was so powerful that she deliberately ignored so many signals that her lover wasn’t telling her the truth. It’s compulsive reading and a real warning for women out there in these times when it’s so easy for a man to speak to female fantasies and adopt a false identity.

My last choice of memoir for this short list is Unfollow: A Journey from Hatred to Hope by Megan Phelps-Roper, a former member of the notorious Westboro Baptist Church sect. It came out in 2019.

This is another horrifying read as you discover what life is like as part of the Phelps family who form most of the church’s congregation. Megan was brought up to hate homosexuals, Jews, Muslims, liberal society, and pretty much anything and anyone who didn’t fit the mold that Fred Phelps, the terrifying patriarch decided was good and Christian.

But Megan gradually found herself questioning the values she’d been taught and eventually she breaks free from her family, at enormous personal cost to herself. This one will wrench your heart. It’s another warts and all, searingly honest account of a remarkable life, and it’s a book I’ve thought of often since I finished it.