Annal: 2008 Costa Book Award for Biography

Results of the Costa Book Award in the year 2008.

Book:Somewhere Towards the End

Somewhere Towards the End: A Memoir

Diana Athill

Diana Athill will be ninety in December, 2007. “Somewhere Towards the End” tells the story of what it means to be old: how the pleasure of sex ebbs, how the joy of gardening grows, how much there is to remember, to forget, to regret, to forgive—and how one faces the inevitable fact of death. Athill has lost none of her skill or candour as a writer, her love of the intimate detail. Her book is filled with stories, events and people, and the kind of honest, intelligent reflection that has been a hallmark of her writing throughout her long career. ‘We rarely did anything together except make ourselves a pleasant little supper and go to bed, because we had very little in common apart from liking sex,’ she writes of her last affair, when she was in her late sixties. ‘We also shared painful feet, which was almost as important as liking sex, because when you start feeling your age it is comforting to be with someone in the same condition.’Diana’s previous books are: “Instead of a Letter”, “After a…[more]

Book:Bloomsbury Ballerina

Bloomsbury Ballerina: Lydia Lopokova, Imperial Dancer and Mrs John Maynard Keynes

Judith Mackrell

Vivacious and charming, ballerina Lydia Lopokova leapt to the height of fame with Diaghilev’s legendary Ballets Russes. Then, a surprising marriage to renowned economist (and former homosexual) John Maynard Keynes catapulted her into an entirely different universe. Her extraordinary story is told here for the first time: it links the world of ballet with the Bloomsbury group—including such remarkable individuals as Nijinsky, Picasso, Stravinsky, and Virginia Woolf—and spans the past century’s most dramatic social, political, and cultural upheavals. Quoting from many of Lydia’s own writings, Judith Mackrell captures her intensely captivating, eccentric, and irreverent personality…and claims her as a major character in both dance and world history.

Book:Chagall

Chagall: A Biography

Jackie Wullschlager

"When Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what colour really is.”

Picasso said this in the 1950s, when he and Chagall were eminent neighbours living in splendour on the Cote d’Azur. Born the son of a Russian Jewish herring merchant, Chagall fled the repressive “potato-coloured” czarist empire in 1911 to develop his genius in Paris. Through war and revolution in Bolshevik Russia, Weimar Berlin, occupied France and 1940s New York, he gave form to his dreams, longings and memories in paintings which are among the most humane and joyful of the 20th century.

Wullschlager has had exclusive access to hundreds of hitherto unseen and unpublished letters from the Chagall family collection in Paris, lending Chagall’s own unique voice to this account. Drawing also on numerous interviews with the artist’s family, friends, dealers, collectors, and illustrated with two hundred paintings, drawings and photographs, this elegantly written biography gives for the first time a full and true account of Chagall the man and the artist—and of a life as intense, theatrical and haunting as his paintings.

Book:If You Don't Know Me By Now

If You Don't Know Me By Now: A Memoir of Love, Secrets and Lies in Wolverhampton

Sathnam Sanghera

“Stop laughing so much. You’ll only cry twice as much later”, my mother says. Mum is never more anxious than at a celebration, hovering around us with red chillies to frighten away evil spirits. I hate that I’ve inherited this attitude: sometimes I can feel the end of good things before I’ve even had a chance to enjoy them. But finally I understand why my mother was so fond of the phrase: that’s how life was for her. For years, for every one shot of happy, there would be two shots of sad.

When Sathnam Sanghera was twenty-four years old he made a discovery about his family that would both darken, and illuminate his life. It would set him on a journey into his family’s past: from his father’s harsh life in rural Punjab, to the terrifying early years of his parents’ marriage in England; from his mother’s extraordinary resilience as she brought up her young family in a foreign land, without any knowledge of its language, to the author’s happy memories of his own childhood—his obsessions…[more]

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