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After sharing her life story in Becoming, former first lady Michelle Obama now offers readers an exceptional follow-up—“a glimpse inside my personal toolbox”—in The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times.

Obama describes the publication of Becoming as “one of the happiest and most affirming periods of my life so far.” That said, the night before starting her international publicity tour, she lay in bed, terrified at the thought of the arena-size audiences she would soon face. As it turns out, Obama is a worrier who understands all too well that “your fearful mind is almost always trying to seize the steering wheel and change your course.” She offers a supreme example: When her husband wanted to run for president, he first asked for her blessing. “I was pretty ready to shut it down,” she writes, because she didn’t want to launch their orderly family life into inevitable chaos. “It’s strange to think that I could have altered the course of history with my fear.”

Much later, the COVID-19 pandemic knocked Obama off her feet, sending her into what felt like a “low-grade form” of depression. During lockdown, she found salvation in an unexpected place: teaching herself to knit by watching YouTube videos. That story is one of many private moments she shares in The Light We Carry. For instance, she admits to an ongoing frustration with her husband’s lack of punctuality, writing that “when feeling cornered, it turns out, I am capable of saying some stupid, hurtful things.” It’s comforting to hear that our heroes are human, and Obama’s signature openness—in addition to her encouraging, sometimes funny, always chummy voice—make her relatable and admirable throughout the book.

The Light We Carry contains a multitude of other poignant, amusing anecdotes and helpful advice for all types of readers: anyone feeling marginalized; young people finding their way in love, education and careers; parents of young children; and just about anyone trying to keep a steady course in the world. Obama writes about the importance of forming and nurturing friendship (which isn’t easy to do when the Secret Service surrounds a potential new friend’s car) and imparts a lifetime of lessons from her parents, who showed her “what it felt like to be comfortably afraid.”

In these frequently dark times, The Light We Carry feels like a hug from a trusted advisor and a good friend. As Obama writes, “The practice I’ve had in finding and appreciating the light inside other people has become perhaps my most valuable tool for overcoming uncertainty and . . . keeping my hopefulness intact.” As one of the brightest lights in America, Obama helps shine the way for others along our shared path.

Michelle Obama’s signature openness—in addition to her encouraging, funny voice—make her relatable and admirable throughout The Light We Carry.
STARRED REVIEW

November 30, 2022

From stage to page

Give the gift of intrigue with a celebrity memoir that captures all the grisly details of glitz, glamour and fame.

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Sam Heughan, known to legions of fans as Jamie Fraser in the popular TV show based on Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, recently decided it was time to walk the rigorous West Highland Way in Scotland, a long-distance hiking trail that runs from north of Glasgow to Fort William in the Scottish Highlands. He wanted a solitary challenge and a pause in the acting career he has worked tirelessly at, and packing 96 miles into five days seemed like it would provide the right combination of endurance and introspection. In his remarkable, thought-provoking memoir, Waypoints: My Scottish Journey, he welcomes readers along for the journey.

6 more celebrity memoirs that capture the grisly details of glitz, glamour and fame

Before Heughan stepped out the door onto the West Highland Way, he was a runner, not a walker. Marathons, yes; walking slowly, not his thing. His camping and hiking experiences were limited; he even thought hiking poles were “cumbersome” and almost threw them away once he hit the trail. His overstuffed rucksack, complete with whiskey and cigars, weighed him down. The rain in late October almost ruined him on the second day, and he soon chose comfortable wayside inns over his tent. But he was nearing his 40th birthday (making him the same age as the Way) and, despite these challenges, felt it was simply time he got this done.

Bracketing Heughan’s journey is an account of his visit to his dying father in faraway British Columbia, Canada. The man was a stranger who abandoned his family long ago, but Heughan and his brother felt nonetheless compelled to offer a goodbye. Once they arrived, Heughan was stunned to learn that his father had been following his acting career all along. He recorded their visit on his phone, but later, back on the set of “Outlander,” the phone vanished. It was, he writes, “a fitting epitaph.”

The award-winning actor, author, philanthropist and entrepreneur offers plenty of details of his walk to Fort William, including a daunting hike up Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the United Kingdom. Along the way, Heughan has a clear, precise and entertaining style. He is a funny man, and his encounters with roaming sheep, other hikers and clusters of mushrooms are wonderfully comic. 

If Waypoints were merely about Heughan’s walk, it would be delightful, instructive and enticing. But this is a memoir, after all, and it is his reflection on his life and work, interspersed with the challenges and discoveries of the Way, that lend his story heft and grit.

“Outlander” star Sam Heughan’s reflections on his life and work add heft and grit to his memoir about walking the West Highland Way in Scotland.

A few years after British actor Tom Felton hung up his Slytherin robes for good, he hit rock bottom. It was the first step toward reclaiming his identity, as it prompted him to ask how and when he left the wisecracking kid from Surrey behind and instead became dependent on the numbing effect of alcohol. In Beyond the Wand: The Magic and Mayhem of Growing Up a Wizard, Felton looks back in order to uncover the path forward as he candidly details the surreal experience of being a prominent part of a pop culture juggernaut.

Felton’s first major on-screen role was in 1997’s The Borrowers, an adaptation of the classic children’s book. This opened the door to other promising opportunities, notably playing The Boy Who Lived’s archenemy: sneering, peroxide-blond Draco Malfoy. At the time of his audition, 12-year-old Felton had never read a Harry Potter novel and couldn’t quite understand the breathless excitement that the books inspired.

6 more celebrity memoirs that capture the grisly details of glitz, glamour and fame

Felton spent nearly a decade immersed in the world of witches and wizards, where he became accustomed to a singular life on set. The final stretch of filming was bittersweet, and when it was through, he hoped to transition into a career brimming with star-studded blockbusters and high-end craft services. Instead, Felton’s move to Los Angeles made him feel like a rudderless ship. “I missed having an ordinary conversation with an authentic human, who didn’t know who I was, and didn’t care,” he writes.

Felton’s memoir isn’t a shameless tell-all or a cautionary tale about the ills of fame. He frequently expresses gratitude and praises the skills and professionalism of older actors who were in the Harry Potter films, such as Jason Isaacs and Alan Rickman. He has no problem poking fun at himself, but his moments of self-reflection are compassionate. Beyond the Wand may focus on Felton’s Harry Potter days, but it’s so much more than fan service. With introspection and charm, Felton’s narrative captures the growing pains of adolescence.

In his memoir, Draco Malfoy actor Tom Felton captures the growing pains of adolescence with introspection and charm.

Lauren Graham is perhaps best known for her acting, particularly her role as the young, headstrong single mom Lorelai in the television show “Gilmore Girls.” But Graham, who has a bachelor’s degree in English from Barnard College and master’s of fine arts in acting performance from Southern Methodist University, is also the accomplished author of a novel (Someday, Someday, Maybe), a collection of personal essays (Talking as Fast as I Can) and a book of advice for graduates (In Conclusion, Don’t Worry About It). 

6 more celebrity memoirs that capture the grisly details of glitz, glamour and fame

Graham’s second book of personal essays, Have I Told You This Already?: Stories I Don’t Want to Forget to Remember, is composed of 15 insightful pieces relaying impactful moments and life lessons that have shaped who she is. She explains how her creative outlook was molded by people and experiences from her youth. For example, although her mother was largely absent from her upbringing, Graham sees a positive side to this fact: “I think not growing up with my mom means I didn’t have any preconceived notions of what a mom is supposed to be!” 

Graham takes the reader on a behind-the-scenes tour of Hollywood, sharing acting jargon such as “pumpkin” (the term for when child actors have to be done working for the day) and “sold it in the room” (getting backing from someone with clout). She’s candid about the demands of show business, too, and the acrobatics that actors have to perform to fit into the Hollywood mold. In a chapter aptly named “Forever 32,” Graham reflects on aging, comparing her recollections of being a 20-something to when, at the age of 32, she realized “I had a sense of myself I’d never had before.” She also muses about her days as a young actor, hustling to various jobs while trying to make it. These stories and anecdotes are especially raw, real and humorous.

Graham’s writing is fresh, sharp and very funny, with fast, staccato sentences that evoke what it must be like to have a conversation with her. Her voice invites the reader in, emanating a refreshing openness that will make them want to be her best friend. Have I Told You This Already? is an enjoyable, amusing revelation.

Actor Lauren Graham’s second collection of essays is fresh, sharp and very funny, with staccato sentences that evoke what it must be like to have a conversation with her.
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Oh, Lord Grantham, patriarch of Downton Abbey! We feel as though we already know you, with those twinkling eyes and deep, reassuring voice. In Playing Under the Piano: From Downton to Darkest Peru, stage and screen actor Hugh Bonneville shares what he calls “a series of snapshots I’ve taken along the way,” allowing us to know him more truly. As you might expect, his account is intriguing, breezy and full of intellect and humor. It’s also a delicious stroll down a red carpet lined with big names, including Hugh Grant, Julia Roberts, Laurence Olivier, Celia Imrie, Leonardo DiCaprio and many more.

6 more celebrity memoirs that capture the grisly details of glitz, glamour and fame

The memoir is divided into sections discussing Bonneville’s childhood, theater years and film roles. His father was a urologist and his mother a nurse—or so he thought before learning after her death that her second job was with MI6, the British Secret Service. “I may not have been born with a silver spoon in my mouth but I realised I had a nice set of crockery compared to so many others,” he writes. Early on, he began thinking of the theater as a “magic toybox,” although he originally thought he would become a lawyer and also contemplated theology until drama school beckoned.

There’s no mean-spirited gossip in this memoir, just plenty of humorous self-deprecation and some laugh-out-loud anecdotes—like the time an actor in a live theater performance was popping peanuts while making a confession and ended up choking and passing out. Or the time Judi Dench dropped a note that said “Fancy a shag?” in the lap of an audience member she thought was a friend. Turns out, the man was not her pal.

Bonneville’s years of rich stage, television and film performances are nicely detailed, including amusing audition mishaps and disappointments. Although he offers a number of anecdotes about his parents, siblings, wife and son, he remains largely private about his personal life. But the “Downton Abbey” stories are wonderful, even if rabid fans like myself will wish for more. We shouldn’t complain though, given tidbits like Shirley MacLaine’s comment, “I had lovers all over the world. Overseas was fun. This one time, three in a day.” To which Maggie Smith responded, “Oh darling, you have been busy.”

Playing Under the Piano is a must-read for Bonneville fans, as well as an excellent look at the ups and downs of being an actor. Now excuse me while I go watch Paddington again.

Hugh Bonneville’s memoir is intriguing, breezy and full of intellect, a delicious stroll down a red carpet lined with big names and laugh-out-loud anecdotes.

Actor Paul Newman was known for many things: acting, car racing, philanthropy through his Newman’s Own food business and, of course, his rugged good looks and piercing blue eyes. He was a beloved Hollywood icon, but he didn’t think of himself that way. In fact, he wrestled with internal demons throughout his life.

Newman’s memoir, The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man, composed posthumously from interviews he began conducting in 1986 with the help of screenwriter and close friend Stewart Stern, is raw, honest and revealing. Through his own reminiscences and those of his contemporaries, including Elia Kazan, Stuart Rosenberg, Eva Marie Saint and Tom Cruise, the book provides a firsthand glimpse of Newman’s life and how his choices affected those around him. His upbringing, military service in World War II, first marriage to Jackie Witt, second marriage to actor Joanne Woodward, six children and professional and personal endeavors are all laid out on the table.

6 more celebrity memoirs that capture the grisly details of glitz, glamour and fame

Even after he became famous, Newman was often unsure of himself. Part of this stemmed from the fact that he likely had a learning disability. The way he was treated by his parents, especially his mother, was also detrimental. She could be hurtful and treated him like a dress-up doll rather than a son. Newman’s memories of his father depict the man as an indifferent alcoholic. Unfortunately, this contributed to Newman’s own problems with alcoholism, as well as his son Scott’s substance issues and depression—burdens Newman carried his whole life.

But Newman also had more positive traits, from charisma and humor to compassion and business savvy. These qualities pop up throughout the book and were obvious to those who knew him. But even after all his success, he just couldn’t seem to shake his feelings of self-doubt. “If I had to define ‘Newman’ in the dictionary, I’d say: ‘One who tries too hard,’” he writes. The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man is a humble and candid look into the life of a celebrated but often misunderstood man.

In Paul Newman’s posthumous memoir, his upbringing, military service, marriages, children and professional endeavors are all laid out on the table.

Nothing could have prepared Melanie Jayne Chisholm—aka Sporty Spice—for the loneliness, isolation and debilitating episodes of imposter syndrome that accompanied the extreme highs (and lows) of fame. In The Sporty One: My Life as a Spice Girl, the singer, songwriter and tracksuit-wearing Brit carefully unpacks her nonlinear journey toward self-acceptance while pinned under the glare of the spotlight.

The Spice Girls were a pop culture supernova at the turn of the new millennium. Contrary to the narrative wrought by the misogynistic media, the group was not the brainchild of industry executives. After answering a magazine advertisement, Victoria Adams (Posh), Geri Halliwell (Ginger), Melanie Brown (Scary), Michelle Stephenson and Chisholm came together to form the band Touch. When Stephenson proved to be a weak link, Emma Bunton (Baby) was recruited. It would take a pivotal name change and the reclamation of creative autonomy from their early male managers, but the Spice Girls would go on to smash records and, even more importantly, disrupt the cultural and musical landscape.

6 more celebrity memoirs that capture the grisly details of glitz, glamour and fame

This type of rise at a young age leaves a few scars, and Chisholm isn’t afraid to recount her personal battles. The pressures of being a ubiquitous pop star coupled with her innate perfectionism brought on depression and severe anxiety. At one point after the Spice Girls had gone on hiatus and Chisholm had embarked on a successful solo career, she was nearly agoraphobic and plagued by incessant panic attacks. And despite her public image of health and fitness, the singer was secretly contending with disordered eating, which eventually led to anorexia and binge eating disorders. In 2009, Chisholm gave birth to her daughter, Scarlet. Motherhood wasn’t a cure-all for her mental health issues, but this new caregiver role allowed her to appreciate the extraordinary power of her body and all she has put it through.

Chisholm’s narrative voice is warm, funny and unabashedly real. Fans will feel as though they’ve been invited to an enlightening soul session with a close friend. Hard truths about patriarchal oppression and the fickle nature of celebrity are examined with sympathy and understanding. The Sporty One is more than the memoir of a pop star; it’s an emotional revelation.

Melanie Chisholm, aka Sporty Spice, unpacks her nonlinear journey toward self-acceptance while pinned under the glare of the spotlight.

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Give the gift of intrigue this holiday season with a celebrity memoir that captures all the grisly details of glitz, glamour and fame.

The art of letter writing seems all but doomed in our age of digital communication, and one wonders where future literary biographers will turn for the singular insights that a writer’s correspondence affords. Scholars of John le Carré will have no such concerns. Le Carré, real name David Cornwell, who died in December 2020, was perhaps the most thoughtful and erudite purveyor of the spy novel in the second half of the 20th century, a crackerjack storyteller who elevated the thriller to literary heights. He was also a prolific correspondent, and in A Private Spy, Tim Cornwell has assembled a generous collection of his father’s letters spanning a lifetime.

Fans of le Carré’s fiction know the outline of his own story—how, when working for British intelligence, masquerading as a junior diplomat in postwar Germany, he began to publish espionage novels that precipitated the end of his budding career as a spy but rapidly brought him fame and unaccustomed wealth. The letters from this seminal period paint a portrait of an enthusiastic and ambitious young man not fully comfortable in his new garb. Some of that discomfort, we discern, stemmed from the lingering effects of an alienated childhood and his god-awful relationship with his huckster father, Ronnie, whose unwelcome presence, both real and psychic, hovers over much of le Carré’s early story. The letters also imply that another casualty of le Carré’s newfound success was his first marriage; but while Cornwell fills in gaps with helpful background commentary, the letters often skim the surface about this and other personal events. Not for nothing is the book called A Private Spy.

The sweep of le Carré’s formidable 60-year career resists easy encapsulation, but through these letters readers encounter a panoply of the interesting people he called his friends and colleagues: fellow MI6 agents; writers such as Graham Greene, Ian McEwan and Tom Stoppard; actors Alec Guinness and Gary Oldman, who each portrayed le Carré’s best-known recurring character, George Smiley. There are many insightful letters to his stepmother, Jean, another survivor of the Ronnie long game, that reveal le Carré as a man who often contributed to his family’s well-­being by assuming the roles of benefactor, confessor and substitute patriarch. Letters to publishing colleagues on both sides of the Atlantic, while more formal than the personal missives, offer a window into a literary life pursued with meticulous and demanding professionalism.

“I hate the telephone. I can’t type. Like the tailor in my new novel, I ply my trade by hand,” le Carré once wrote. The engrossing letters in A Private Spy—curated with great affection and care by Cornwell, who sadly passed away in May 2022 before seeing the book published—are not unlike an exquisite bespoke suit crafted by a master: careful to both accentuate the assets and conceal the flaws.

The collected letters of John le Carré, master of the spy novel, reveal and conceal in equal measure.

Actor Constance Wu (known for her lauded roles in “Fresh Off the Boat,” Crazy Rich Asians and Hustlers) narrates her thoughtful and revealing memoir in essays with an endearing blend of passion and playfulness. 

Throughout her career, Wu has learned that life is a series of scenes that shape us; we don’t shape the scenes. She shares memories of people and events that have influenced who she is, including humorous and heartwarming tales of her parents’ assimilation into American culture, humbling mistakes she’s made in love and work, an unexpectedly touching goodbye to her black Toyota Prius and insightful commentary on technology, American culture and Asian diaspora.

Evocative, provocative and always heartfelt, Making a Scene (8 hours) is worthy of an encore. It’s a great match for fans of Michelle Zauner’s Crying in H Mart.

Evocative, provocative and always heartfelt, Constance Wu’s Making a Scene is worthy of an encore.
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Evette Dionne’s anticipated second release after her celebrated children’s nonfiction book, Lifting as We Climb, is a bracing essay collection on the dangers of fatphobia and her personal resistance to its claims. The former editor-in-chief of Bitch magazine braids the personal with the political in Weightless: Making Space for My Resilient Body and Soul, breaking down society’s deep-seated beliefs about fat people and setting new standards that allow her to thrive as she is.

Dionne takes up a variety of interconnected themes, such as the meaningful representation of fat women in media and equitable access to spaces that are meant for all of us. She writes about her first experiences of ostracization as she struggled with agoraphobia as an adolescent—which was also one of the first moments her decision-making agency was challenged in a medical setting. Despite her parents’ support, Dionne was met by doctors with indifference and even hostility, a pattern that reached its nadir when a doctor failed to promptly diagnose her heart failure, pointing instead to her size as the issue. These personal encounters with fatphobia are part of a continuum of discrimination that Dionne locates in pop culture, as well—from people’s obsession with celebrities’ weight to the preoccupation with policing fat bodies in shows like “My 600-Lb. Life.”

Dionne incorporates extensive research into Weightless, from the economic underpinnings of Reagan-era reductions to well-balanced free lunch programs and medical professionals’ widely held biases. All of these topics point to one sobering fact: Profound disgust toward fat people in American society circumscribes their lives in potentially lethal ways. However, despite these grave threats, Dionne is not hopeless. In fact, Weightless is a testament to resilience and an offering of realistic optimism. In the essay “I Want a Love Like Khadijah James,” Dionne remembers the first time she saw a woman whose body looked like hers on television: Queen Latifah as Khadijah James on “Living Single.” This feeling of being recognized lit Dionne’s world with the bright glow of possibility, and it has continued to transform her understanding of what her life could look like if she settles for nothing less than what she deserves, whether in terms of medical care, romantic relationships or professional endeavors.

Dionne writes, “I never thought I could do better because I rarely saw a fat Black woman modeling that reality for me.” With Weightless, Dionne is the model she so desperately needed, and one that other fat girls and women deserve. Her assertion of liberation for fat people brings us one important step closer to achieving it.

Evette Dionne braids the personal with the political in Weightless, breaking down society’s beliefs about fat people and advocating for new standards that allow them to thrive.

In her debut essay collection, comedian and actor Natasha Leggero muses, often hilariously, about what it’s like to have a baby at 42 and find your way as a mom. “It’s hard raising a child with a man,” she writes in the opening essay of The World Deserves My Children. “One day I asked my husband to give the baby a bath. I came into the kitchen to find my daughter sitting in a sink full of dishes while my husband scrubbed her and a plate at the same time. Don’t use Dawn on her! She’s a baby not a duck after an oil spill. I would have to be very drunk to do any of that.” Leggero’s style is breezy, sometimes over-the-top, with punchline quips punctuating her anecdotes. She’s like the funny friend who’ll say anything after a cocktail or two.

Leggero details her grueling path to pregnancy and her first few years as a parent with humor and insight. She contrasts her own scrappy childhood in Rockford, Illinois, parented by a single mom who struggled to make ends meet, with the minute concerns of the uber-privileged Los Angeles parents she encounters as an adult. As in a stand-up routine, the essays digress, often charmingly, to memories of things like her dad’s family’s Italian Christmases. While some subjects will be familiar to parents—the difficulties of breastfeeding, the search for a preschool—the collection really hits its stride in the essays on discipline and fear. Leggero writes that, as a child, she was “pretty obnoxious and tended to say whatever popped into my head—sort of like a male comedian.” Unlike a male comedian, however, Leggero had to write “I will not disrespect my mother” a thousand times as punishment for “telling it like it is.” Noting the variety of permissive parenting styles she encounters in LA, Leggero says she strives for an approach to discipline that’s somewhere in the middle.

Near the collection’s end, Leggero includes a Q&A with her husband, Moshe Kasher, also a comedian. She asks him how they differ as parents and what he thinks of her as a mother, and his answers are funny and touching. The World Deserves My Children is a book with a lot of heart and even some wisdom, perfect for fans of Jessi Klein’s I’ll Show Myself Out.

In her debut essay collection, comedian and actor Natasha Leggero muses, often hilariously, about what it’s like to have a baby at 42.

In How to Stand Up to a Dictator: The Fight for Our Future, journalist Maria Ressa, winner of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize, gives readers a riveting inside view of what it’s like to be a dissident fighting authoritarianism. This engrossing book is a political history of the Philippines and an intimate memoir, but it’s also a warning to democracies everywhere: Authoritarianism is a threat to us all.

Since the 1980s, Ressa has been a journalist who speaks truth to power, but her path to success unfolded almost by accident. Born in the Philippines, Ressa was brought at age 10 to the United States, where she was raised by her mother and stepfather. When she first arrived, she felt like a confused outsider but quickly realized she felt comfortable at school and could thrive there if she followed these rules for herself: Always choose to learn, embrace your fear, and stand up to bullies. Those courageous lessons would follow her throughout her life as a journalist and a critic of dictators.

Upon returning to the Philippines as an adult, Ressa worked for CNN and then ABS-CBN, where she was head of the news division while the political climate in the Philippines was becoming more and more volatile. She later co-founded her own news service, Rappler, with the intention of integrating social media, citizen journalism and data into old-fashioned journalism. However, she increasingly found that social media, Facebook in particular, and corrupt politicians made for very dangerous bedfellows. Through Rappler’s data-collecting and help from her readers, Ressa discovered that social media was helping to fuel fascism in the Philippines. Disinformation spread quickly and widely because people tended to share information (even lies) when strong emotions were attached to the content. When she brought this to Facebook’s attention, they dismissed her concerns.

With the help of these disinformation campaigns, Rodrigo Duterte was elected president of the Philippines in 2016. He won in a landslide based on false promises of fighting crime and corruption. In reality, he was shutting down press freedoms, ordering gruesome extra-judicial killings and handing out government positions to loyalists and corrupt officials. Ressa’s scrutiny of his administration has led to two arrests for cyber libel; she has been convicted and is currently awaiting her appeal.

The exceptional details in this memoir are both tactile and persistent; you can almost feel and smell the blood as Ressa describes a crime scene. Her ability to recount the finer details of some of the scariest moments of her life (such as witnessing a military coup) is nothing short of breathtaking. Highly researched yet accessible, How to Stand Up to a Dictator is a plea to the world: The best way to maintain a democracy is a strong press, free from corruption and disinformation.

Maria Ressa’s book is a political history of the Philippines and an intimate memoir, but it’s also a warning to democracies everywhere: Authoritarianism is a threat to us all.
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Sam Heughan, known to legions of fans as Jamie Fraser in the popular TV show based on Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, recently decided it was time to walk the rigorous West Highland Way in Scotland, a long-distance hiking trail that runs from north of Glasgow to Fort William in the Scottish Highlands. He wanted a solitary challenge and a pause in the acting career he has worked tirelessly at, and packing 96 miles into five days seemed like it would provide the right combination of endurance and introspection. In his remarkable, thought-provoking memoir, Waypoints: My Scottish Journey, he welcomes readers along for the journey.

6 more celebrity memoirs that capture the grisly details of glitz, glamour and fame

Before Heughan stepped out the door onto the West Highland Way, he was a runner, not a walker. Marathons, yes; walking slowly, not his thing. His camping and hiking experiences were limited; he even thought hiking poles were “cumbersome” and almost threw them away once he hit the trail. His overstuffed rucksack, complete with whiskey and cigars, weighed him down. The rain in late October almost ruined him on the second day, and he soon chose comfortable wayside inns over his tent. But he was nearing his 40th birthday (making him the same age as the Way) and, despite these challenges, felt it was simply time he got this done.

Bracketing Heughan’s journey is an account of his visit to his dying father in faraway British Columbia, Canada. The man was a stranger who abandoned his family long ago, but Heughan and his brother felt nonetheless compelled to offer a goodbye. Once they arrived, Heughan was stunned to learn that his father had been following his acting career all along. He recorded their visit on his phone, but later, back on the set of “Outlander,” the phone vanished. It was, he writes, “a fitting epitaph.”

The award-winning actor, author, philanthropist and entrepreneur offers plenty of details of his walk to Fort William, including a daunting hike up Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the United Kingdom. Along the way, Heughan has a clear, precise and entertaining style. He is a funny man, and his encounters with roaming sheep, other hikers and clusters of mushrooms are wonderfully comic. 

If Waypoints were merely about Heughan’s walk, it would be delightful, instructive and enticing. But this is a memoir, after all, and it is his reflection on his life and work, interspersed with the challenges and discoveries of the Way, that lend his story heft and grit.

“Outlander” star Sam Heughan’s reflections on his life and work add heft and grit to his memoir about walking the West Highland Way in Scotland.
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All hell broke loose when Casey Parks came out to her family. But amid all their weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, there was a bright spark that came to dominate Parks’ personal and professional life for over a decade, which she recounts in Diary of a Misfit (14.5 hours). Parks’ stern, conservative grandmother took her aside and told her a secret: “I grew up across the street from a woman who lived as a man.” Parks’ search for this person sent her back to her childhood homes in Louisiana and Mississippi, and her investigation becomes entwined with her own story of growing up gay in the Deep South.

Parks has been deeply wounded by her family and her church, and as both author and narrator, she tells her story at some remove, as if she’s faithfully recounting it to a friend or therapist while trying not to relive her pain. Ironically, her restraint makes the scars she bears more evident—but it also makes her reconciliation with her past more triumphant.

Read our starred review of the print edition of Diary of a Misfit.

As both author and narrator, Casey Parks’ restraint makes the scars she bears more evident—but it also makes her reconciliation with her past more triumphant.

A few years after British actor Tom Felton hung up his Slytherin robes for good, he hit rock bottom. It was the first step toward reclaiming his identity, as it prompted him to ask how and when he left the wisecracking kid from Surrey behind and instead became dependent on the numbing effect of alcohol. In Beyond the Wand: The Magic and Mayhem of Growing Up a Wizard, Felton looks back in order to uncover the path forward as he candidly details the surreal experience of being a prominent part of a pop culture juggernaut.

Felton’s first major on-screen role was in 1997’s The Borrowers, an adaptation of the classic children’s book. This opened the door to other promising opportunities, notably playing The Boy Who Lived’s archenemy: sneering, peroxide-blond Draco Malfoy. At the time of his audition, 12-year-old Felton had never read a Harry Potter novel and couldn’t quite understand the breathless excitement that the books inspired.

6 more celebrity memoirs that capture the grisly details of glitz, glamour and fame

Felton spent nearly a decade immersed in the world of witches and wizards, where he became accustomed to a singular life on set. The final stretch of filming was bittersweet, and when it was through, he hoped to transition into a career brimming with star-studded blockbusters and high-end craft services. Instead, Felton’s move to Los Angeles made him feel like a rudderless ship. “I missed having an ordinary conversation with an authentic human, who didn’t know who I was, and didn’t care,” he writes.

Felton’s memoir isn’t a shameless tell-all or a cautionary tale about the ills of fame. He frequently expresses gratitude and praises the skills and professionalism of older actors who were in the Harry Potter films, such as Jason Isaacs and Alan Rickman. He has no problem poking fun at himself, but his moments of self-reflection are compassionate. Beyond the Wand may focus on Felton’s Harry Potter days, but it’s so much more than fan service. With introspection and charm, Felton’s narrative captures the growing pains of adolescence.

In his memoir, Draco Malfoy actor Tom Felton captures the growing pains of adolescence with introspection and charm.

Nothing could have prepared Melanie Jayne Chisholm—aka Sporty Spice—for the loneliness, isolation and debilitating episodes of imposter syndrome that accompanied the extreme highs (and lows) of fame. In The Sporty One: My Life as a Spice Girl, the singer, songwriter and tracksuit-wearing Brit carefully unpacks her nonlinear journey toward self-acceptance while pinned under the glare of the spotlight.

The Spice Girls were a pop culture supernova at the turn of the new millennium. Contrary to the narrative wrought by the misogynistic media, the group was not the brainchild of industry executives. After answering a magazine advertisement, Victoria Adams (Posh), Geri Halliwell (Ginger), Melanie Brown (Scary), Michelle Stephenson and Chisholm came together to form the band Touch. When Stephenson proved to be a weak link, Emma Bunton (Baby) was recruited. It would take a pivotal name change and the reclamation of creative autonomy from their early male managers, but the Spice Girls would go on to smash records and, even more importantly, disrupt the cultural and musical landscape.

6 more celebrity memoirs that capture the grisly details of glitz, glamour and fame

This type of rise at a young age leaves a few scars, and Chisholm isn’t afraid to recount her personal battles. The pressures of being a ubiquitous pop star coupled with her innate perfectionism brought on depression and severe anxiety. At one point after the Spice Girls had gone on hiatus and Chisholm had embarked on a successful solo career, she was nearly agoraphobic and plagued by incessant panic attacks. And despite her public image of health and fitness, the singer was secretly contending with disordered eating, which eventually led to anorexia and binge eating disorders. In 2009, Chisholm gave birth to her daughter, Scarlet. Motherhood wasn’t a cure-all for her mental health issues, but this new caregiver role allowed her to appreciate the extraordinary power of her body and all she has put it through.

Chisholm’s narrative voice is warm, funny and unabashedly real. Fans will feel as though they’ve been invited to an enlightening soul session with a close friend. Hard truths about patriarchal oppression and the fickle nature of celebrity are examined with sympathy and understanding. The Sporty One is more than the memoir of a pop star; it’s an emotional revelation.

Melanie Chisholm, aka Sporty Spice, unpacks her nonlinear journey toward self-acceptance while pinned under the glare of the spotlight.

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