Autobiographies and non-fiction are often overshadowed by fiction, but here are some I would recommend.
People are sometimes more intrigued by a made-up world, as a form of escapism instead of reality, which I completely understand. But there is something about autobiographies that makes me want to consume more.
Is it my nosy tendencies, having a desperate desire to know what goes on behind closed doors? Quite possibly, but they also raise awareness for issues I don’t usually consider in my daily life, but I know that so many people deal with. In turn, this gives me greater respect for the person whose life I’m reading about.
For the past few years, I’ve been making more of an effort to read more autobiographies — something to contrast my extensive fiction reading. I’m currently reading My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business by Dick Van Dyke as I’ve been a huge fan since I was little; I’m really enjoying finding out things I never knew about him, his career path and his family life.
Here are the top 5 celebrity autobiographies that I have read in the last few years and I definitely recommend you check out.
Becoming by Michelle Obama
Being from the UK, and not well-versed in politics, I knew little about the Obamas before reading this book, but I heard nothing but good things about Becoming. It definitely deserves the hype it receives.
Becoming is split into three sections — ‘Becoming Me’, where she reflects on her childhood and young adult life up until she meets the future president, ‘Becoming Us’, all about her relationship with Barack, and ‘Becoming More’, commenting on her political and family life, living in the White House and beyond.
I especially enjoyed reading about Michelle’s working-class background living in the South Side of Chicago and her education through Princeton and Harvard. She places great importance on family, having lived in such proximity to her family growing up (her family lived in a small apartment above another family member) and her dad’s tragic loss, something she has evidently carried through with her through her life. You can see her determination grow from a young age and how it’s shaped how she is today; it’s so inspiring to see how far she has come from having so little.
My favourite section to read about was Michelle’s relationship with Barack. I loved reading her initial thoughts on him as he worked as an intern at the law firm she was working at, and how she juggled her own work aspirations and motherhood during the course of Barack’s political career. However, what intrigued and shocked me the most was how she told of her frustrations with his job; she tells the most heartfelt story of her guilt when she just wanted a date night with him but had to have the secret service go to NYC for them. The book completely humanises them both and proves how ‘normal’ their lives are, past the presidency’s rigmarole.
It’s a very intimate re-telling of her life and not full of gossip as you would expect from a celebrity autobiography. It will definitely leave you with more admiration and respect for the Obamas and what they have done for society.
Next on my reading list — A Promised Land by Barack Obama and The Obamas: A Mission, A Marriage by Jodi Kantor.
Me by Elton John
Me was released around the same time as Rocketman in 2019, and I was quite disappointed watching the film, desperately hoping the autobiography would be better. Thankfully, I enjoyed the book so much more as it goes into a lot more detail about his life. The film doesn’t really explore many of the book’s issues, such as Elton’s relationship with his parents throughout his life.
Elton reflects on his feelings towards his sexual identity (at the beginning of his career), his drug and alcohol use at the peak of his career and his subsequent sobriety, marriage, and children in the latter half of the book; he doesn’t shy away from the mistakes he has made, which makes his later, personal achievements so impactful — altogether a compelling and authentic read.
He loves a good name drop. Granted, I didn’t know many people who influenced him and his music in the early days, but it didn’t deter from my enjoyment of reading it. If you want your celebrity gossip fix, this is the autobiography for you. There are plenty of stories about encounters with other celebrities, including Freddie Mercury, Rod Stewart, John Lennon, and Princess Diana.
I really enjoyed how the autobiography explores diverse parts of Elton’s life — not just music — but he talks about his football passions (as a former chairman for Watford FC) and his monumental work for his AIDS foundation. The only thing he doesn’t go into a lot of detail with is his marriage to Renate Blauel, which was disappointing, but I do admire his respect for their relationship and his promise not to expose it.
Spruced with lots of dry humour, (which made me realise how funny Elton John is)Me is more about the person than the ‘star’ persona of Elton John which is so refreshing to read.
Next on my reading list — Not Dead Yet by Phil Collins and A Better Me by Gary Barlow.
My Thoughts Exactly by Lily Allen
Lily Allen isn’t my favourite person in the world — I like a few of her songs, but that’s about it. She’s not everybody’s cup of tea, and she’s largely known for being a quite controversial figure in the British music industry. My Thoughts Exactly is a vessel for Lily to stand up for herself; she provides an eye-opening view on the British music industry as she reflects on the misogyny and sexism she encountered. Lily explains her views and reasoning for doing the ‘controversial’ things which have appeared in the British tabloids throughout her career.
Reading this book, I was surprised to find out how personal it was, rather than being full of gossip. She’s at her most vulnerable when she discusses her necessity for co-dependency and her tragic experience of her stillbirth — it was so upsetting to read. Still, I have a lot of respect for raising awareness of these issues, normalising conversations for other women going through similar experiences.
It’s quite a dark read; there is hardly anything ‘light’ in the entire book. Stemming from her relationship with her dad, Keith Allen, and his narcissism and absence in her life, she reflects how this affected her career and experience and struggles with alcohol and drugs. In My Thoughts Exactly, Lily is definitely self-aware; she owns up to her privilege but stresses the struggles she’s faced through her life — she isn’t afraid to throw herself under the bus and admit that she’s done wrong.
Her aim in My Thoughts Exactly is to show the world the difference between ‘Real Lily’ (her true self) and ‘Cartoon Lily’ (the media’s Lily). I think her views come across really well as it has given me a lot more respect for her as an artist.
Next on my reading list — Bossypants by Tina Fey and Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business by Dolly Parton.
Home: A Memoir of My Early Years by Julie Andrews
If you know me, you’ll know all about my love for musical theatre, so I was thrilled to find out Julie Andrews had written an autobiography as she’s my favourite actress of all time. Home is all about Julie’s life until being cast in Mary Poppins — including her time on Broadway in My Fair Lady and Camelot.
I had no idea about this time period of her life as I came to love her because of her role as Mary Poppins, so I didn’t expect her to have such a troubling upbringing. It was interesting to learn about how she lived through the Blitz in WW2 and how she was often required to support her family financially due to her success as a child star. I was particularly shocked to discover how her gawdy mum and stepdad (an alcoholic who made sexual advances on her) heavily controlled her early life before moving to New York.
Julie Andrews has such a distinct voice and way of speaking, which comes across so perfectly in her book. Her style of writing is so personable, and you read it exactly as she would say it. She is just as you would expect her to be. She doesn’t really complain or talk ill about anyone; the book is very much matter of fact, which is frustrating because, as a reader, I wanted to know what was going through her head at her most challenging of times.
Whilst this was quite a difficult read at times, it’s definitely worth a read — especially if you’re a fan of her work, like me.
Next on my reading list (the follow up to Home as it ends quite abruptly) — Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years by Julie Andrews.
Sorry Not Sorry: Dreams, Mistakes, and Growing Up by Naya Rivera
I’m a fan of Naya’s due to her stellar performance as Santana Lopez in Glee but didn’t know anything else about her. Looking at reviews, Sorry Not Sorry isn’t often regarded very highly; many people criticise it for being too gossipy, but I quite enjoy that now and then.
It was interesting to read about her struggles about being a mixed-race actress, especially from a young age. In the book, she is completely open about her difficulties in paying her bills, her taxing relationship with her mother, and most shockingly her anorexia as a teenager and her abortion later in life which she regretted. Each chapter ends with a list of things that she is sorry and not sorry for, as a sum up of what she’s discussed in that chapter. It was so refreshing to read about a celebrity who isn’t afraid to speak her mind, even when I disagreed with some of the cultural and political points she made.
I knew about Naya as Santana’s role, so I was a bit disappointed when she didn’t discuss her Glee years a lot. My favourite part about the whole autobiography was her heartfelt stories about her relationship with Cory Monteith (who played Finn on the show) and how she felt when he died. It brought back all my feelings as a young Glee fan when he passed and got me pretty emotional.
I read this book in January last year before the tragic news of Naya Rivera’s death but reflecting upon it now; her writing becomes so much more poignant and powerful now — exceeding the idea that it’s simply a celebrity gossip autobiography.
Next on my reading list — Brunette Ambition by Lea Michele and Happy Accidents by Jane Lynch.
Don’t be ashamed of your reading palette, if people think it’s trashy and gossipy then so what?
I hope my recommendations encourage you to broaden your literary horizons, read more autobiographies and allow you to feel more connected to the celebrities we see in the media every day.
Fancy reading some more non-fiction? Check out our recommendations: