Some people find that motivational literature helps them learn to live better, but personally, there’s nothing more inspiring than a real-life tale of achievement, excellence and grit. There’s much to learn from the dignity and grace of the women below, and nearly every page of the memoirs mentioned here contain valuable life lessons. Some of these works are already famous, or their authors are bona fide legends; some others are as yet undiscovered gems that contain a wealth of wisdom. Pick one, or devour all, either way you’re sure to be rewarded. 

Travelling to Infinity – Jane Hawking

Let’s start with the most famous of the bunch, the book that we’ve seen come to life in its movie version The Theory of Everything, starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. Travelling to Infinity is Jane Hawking’s record of her time with her then husband, the renowned Stephen Hawking, tracing his life after motor neurone disorder struck him, through to his ascension into one of the most brilliant minds of his day. The book contains a wealth of detail and insight that is missing from the movie; it humanizes Hawking the legend while not sparing Jane herself. It covers her attempts to carve a meaningful academic life for herself, earning a PhD in medieval Spanish poetry, while battling depression and later, a difficult divorce.

See Jane Hawking in the flesh (yes!) at her #DubaiLitFest sessions

Butterfly on a Pin – Alannah Hill

Alannah Hill designs fabulously feminine clothing with frills, flowers and flair. Her memoir however, makes it clear that underneath all that froth, lies a core of steel. Hill grew up poor in Tasmania. She was abused in her adolescence and ran away, working her way up in the fashion world before launching her eponymous label. But through it all, she struggled with the rejection she suffered at the hands of her parents, bad relationships and was haunted by imposter syndrome. In 2013, she had to reinvent herself once again when she lost control of her brand. This is a quintessential rags-to-riches story, but one told with humour, pathos, drama and rich metaphor.

Alannah Hill will be speaking about her memoir on March 2. Click for details.

Evolved – Darcey Bussell

This one is perfect for little girls who adore ballet and dream of making a career in it. It’s also a must-have for just about anyone who enjoys the art form, or has admired Darcey through her stint on Strictly Come Dancing. It shows (rather than tells) Darcey’s growth into the leading ballerina of her day, through a series of gorgeous images shot by Annie Liebowitz and Mario Testino among others. Published to coincide with her 50th birthday, Evolved celebrates Darcey’s many achievements, features gravity defying poses and behind the scenes peeks. Darcey became the principal dancer of the Royal Ballet Company at a mere 20 years of age, and this volume celebrates her many successes since.

Go deeper into the world of ballet at Darcy’s #DubaiLitFest session.

Dissonance or Harmony – Gamzi Hakli Geray

Gamze Hakli Geray is a UAE resident and practicing psychotherapist who shares her insights on life using her personal experiences. The book is divided into 21 chapters that deal with different themes. Subtitled ‘My Personal Odyssey to Inner Peace’, in it Geray attempts to understand life by relating it to music and literature, her special passions. She examines and develops her own perspectives on what she observes around her, questioning accepted wisdom and knowledge. She believes that ‘dissonance’ or ‘mess’ which we all instinctively shy away from, is in fact as crucial a part of life as harmony or positive experiences. This ‘natural chaos’ is what allows one to arrive at lasting happiness through self-discovery. In a world that is increasingly confused and intolerant, Geray’s point of view helps us move towards acceptance of this undeniable reality and build meaningful lives beyond it.

Sounds like your thing? Gamze Hakli Geray will outline her views further at her #DubaiLitFest sessions.

By Shailaja Prashanth

Shailaja Prashanth is a digital copywriter and avid reader who devours everything from literary fiction to billboards by the road.