Three decades of interviews with comedy greats conducted by writer, producer, and director Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, etc.).
The author’s sprawling and insightful collection of interviews with some of the biggest and most respected names in comedy was a project that began over 30 years ago when, as a high schooler in Long Island, he coerced various agents and managers to grant him time to speak with comedians for his school radio program. Such ambition is a testament to Apatow’s self-stated obsession with comedy and an unyielding desire to learn as much as he could about the form. The early interviews, often conducted when the author was only 15, offer a unique glimpse into the minds of the rising comedic stars of the 1980s—e.g., Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno, Paul Reiser, and Harold Ramis. Little did Apatow know that he was interviewing future megastars, and the comedians were unaware that the young man hoisting his giant tape recorder during the interview would become a comedic sensation in his own right. The author also wisely conducts follow-up interviews with several comedians for juxtapositions that are the most immediate charms in a book nearly bursting with them. The table of contents is a who’s who of major players: Martin Short, Steve Martin, Chris Rock, Mel Brooks, Sarah Silverman, Louis C.K., Jim Carrey, Seth Rogen, and Stephen Colbert, among others. For added perspective, Apatow also includes interviews with less-conventional funny people like musician Eddie Vedder, novelist and artist Miranda July, and director Spike Jonze. The persistent theme across this diverse range of interviews is the comedian as tireless tradesman constantly touring and honing his craft. The candidness of the interviews also exposes the peculiar community of comedians with anecdotes and cameos unlikely to be heard elsewhere.
A delightful and hilarious read for anyone interested in what makes comedians tick.
Oxford American humor columnist Key (English/Savannah Coll. of Art and Design) pens a memoir about his father, a man with “the emotional tenderness of a Soviet farm tractor.”
As a boy, the author was partial to sock puppets, calligraphy, and poems tapped out on an electric typewriter. Even so, “Pop” attempted to teach his son all the necessary outdoor skills so important to a growing boy, including contact sports, fishing, fighting, and the frequent employment of firearms to “kill shit.” (In a “Note to the Reader,” the author writes, “I have changed the names of many characters…because most of those people own guns.”) Those were the pertinent and suitable activities for boys coming of age in the environs of Coldwater, Mississippi. Key’s relationships with his loving mother, a badass elder brother, and, eventually, a beloved wife and cherished children all connect with Pop and the author’s position as the strange scion of a big man with a huge head on a red neck. The author eventually evolved from a blameless, scared kid to an innocent, scared adult as he learned the odd joy of danger and how to wear a bow tie. Pop evolved, as well, as the paterfamilias who learned to disregard his instinctive rule for human contact: men over here, women over there. Key had his basic training in American civilization, particularly as practiced in the not-so-long-ago South. His spouse supervised such matters as babies—how to make them, diaper them, and raise them—though she is never mentioned by name. Forget the touch of Jean Shepherd, the satire of Gary Shteyngart, or the dash of Dave Barry; Key’s talent is all his own, and it is solid. Consistently seasoned with laughs, this memoir is adroitly warm and deep when it is called for.
An uncommonly entertaining story replete with consistent wit and lethal weaponry.
A journey of self-discovery begins in family archives.
An invitation to deliver the prestigious Massey lectures at Harvard inspired photographer Mann (Sally Mann: Immediate Family, 2014, etc.) to embark on a search for her past, beginning with boxes stored in her family’s attic. She hoped to find “a payload of southern gothic”: juicy details of “deceit and scandal,” including suicides, fortunes made and lost, and even a murder. Her sources did not disappoint her, and she effectively weaves a “tapestry of fact, memory, and family legend” in this candid and engrossing memoir. An incorrigible child, Mann loved to cavort naked on the Virginia farm where she grew up. Her mother, exasperated, turned over her care to Gee-Gee, the loving African-American woman who served as the family’s housekeeper, cook, and nanny. Mann’s rebellion continued throughout high school, where she discovered a passion for writing and photography that channeled her energies. “I existed in a welter of creativity,” she recalls, “—sleepless, anxious, self-doubting, pressing for both perfection and impiety, like some ungodly cross between a hummingbird and a bulldozer.” Married at 18, she continued her creative life at Bennington College and made photography her vocation. For the next several decades, she “virtually lived in the darkroom,” dealing with “some end-of-tether frustrations” in printing her work. She was “blindsided,” she writes, when she was accused of child abuse and exploitation after the publication of Immediate Family (1992), which included nude photographs of her children. Besides revealing portraits of her parents and Gee-Gee, Mann chronicles the sordid murder-suicide of her husband’s parents; a deranged letter-writer later accused Mann and her husband of the crime. Although committed to photography as an art, Mann is troubled by the medium’s “treacheries”—i.e., its power to displace real memories.
Generously illustrated, Mann’s memoir is testimony to photography’s power to evoke tender, lucent portraits of the past.
The story of a woman with a hole in her brain the size of a lemon.
We meet Cohen when she is 26 years old. For many of those years, she has suffered from disorientation, exhaustion, and not knowing left from right, which in turn have given her a shattering combination of insecurity, fear, shame, anxiety and panic. “I can’t judge distance, time, or space, read maps, travel independently without getting lost; or drive…you would never realize that as I’m walking next to you down the street, you are leading us both,” she writes. The author is verbally dexterous, however, and her memoir is rich with yearning and ache, conveying a scrunched sense of claustrophobia and imagery of cinematic quality. Throughout the book, Cohen ably conveys the gravity of her condition: “Being a fuck-up is an excuse as flimsy as it is sturdy. It’s a container for the cluttered detritus of all my smaller mistakes”; “I am thrown into the adult world like a match into gasoline. Burning down everything in my path is an organic reaction.” This is the story of her days from her first diagnosis—with digressions into her youth, when doctors were clueless about the causes of her condition—until today, in her early 30s. She follows her tracks through college and dialectical behavioral therapy, her tender and grueling first real romantic relationship, graduate school in writing, and the simple, everyday activities that spook her, such as walking out the door. This is not a short period of time, and the writing has a vital compression and severity, which is likely the result of a lifetime of an “anger, sadness, and pain...so epic as to only be properly graphed seismically.” The author also delivers flashes of humor to add levity to the proceedings.
A beautifully wrenching memoir as piercing as smelling salts.
In her first book, Guardian Cook editor Holland salutes classic dishes from a few dozen different countries.
Much more than a cookbook, this hybrid narrative combines recipes, pantry lists, kitchen essentials, literary references, history, geography, and personal reflections on 40 culinary traditions around the globe. Holland hopes to stimulate readers’ sensory curiosity and enliven their taste buds, and her book serves as a starting point for learning about the ingredients, flavors, and highlights of various cuisines, in addition to common recipes from each country or region—e.g., tapenade from Provence, cottage pie from the U.K., kimchi from Korea, tabbouleh from the Levant, and dulce de leche from Argentina. The author focuses on cuisines from a range of regions throughout the world—Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and the Americas—and she demystifies common food-prep strategies and pantry lists. For example, if you are considering an Ethiopian dinner, you should stock up on chickpeas, peanuts, and red lentils. If you’re thinking of serving guests an Iranian meal, you will need rose water, saffron, yogurt, dried limes, cumin, and kidney beans. Holland introduces each country or region with an essay explaining how culture, history, and politics have combined to make each place and its foods unique. Weaving in her personal “culinary interests and experiences” from her travels and encounters with “talented chefs, food experts and writers, from whom I’ve taken inspiration and practical tips in equal measure,” the author delivers consistently absorbing reading. Throughout, literary references abound. Holland begins each section with a quote from a writer identified in some way with the country, adding another layer of interest to the narrative. For those hungry for more tidbits, Holland includes helpful footnotes and a reading list for additional exploration.
A culinary adventure that delights on many levels and leaves readers hungering for more.
This superpowered collection of more than 40 original, in-depth interviews explores the role of superheroes in pop culture—as told by the actors who played them.
In his impressive debut, Edlitz interviews actors who have played parts in shaping modern America’s quintessential mythology: the superhero universe. He delves into everything from the Adventures of Superman and Batman TV series of the 1950s and 1960s to the blockbuster movies of today. But this isn’t limited to heroes: interview subjects include noteworthy villains (such as Tom Hiddleston’s Loki), sidekicks (Jack Larson’s Jimmy Olsen), nonsuperheroes (Leonard Nimoy’s Spock), and writers and directors, including comic-book legend Stan Lee and Jon Favreau, director of Iron Man. He also interviews actors who appeared in less successful films, such as a never-released version of The Fantastic Four. Edlitz is clearly a superfan of superhero comics and films, and his lengthy introductions to each interview are packed with enough background info and trivia to please even hard-core fans. Interviews focus on how actors embodied these larger-than-life superheroes—the iconic costumes helped, as did the all-important secret identities—to become, in many cases, permanently identified with the roles. Lou Ferrigno, aka the Incredible Hulk, says, “I was that character all my life,” an idea echoed throughout the book. Edlitz’s insightful questions also explore weightier topics such as religion, mythology, race, and the nature of heroism, and in a battle against repetition, he often tailors questions to his subject. For instance, when talking with superheroines—such as Batgirl (Yvonne Craig) and Supergirl (Helen Slater)—he touches on issues of female role models and sexualized costumes. Edlitz frequently injects humor into his interviews, livening them up and always ending the conversation with a classic question: who’d win in a fight? “Your Batman or George Clooney’s?” he asks Adam West. “I think it depends on the circumstances,” West says. “It probably depends on the kind of battle. If it were to be a battle of charm, of course, Clooney would win.”
All-out victory for fans, though even pop-culture newbs will enjoy the ride.
Intellectually complex life of Otis Redding (1941-1967), the doomed King of Soul.
It’s a supreme irony, at least of a kind, that Redding never lived to see his “Dock of the Bay” hit the mainstream pop charts, as it did just after he died in an icy plane crash. “Redding seemed primed to carry some sort of soul mantle,” writes Ribowsky (The Last Cowboy: The Life of Tom Landry, 2013, etc.) of the period when Redding’s star was just rising. Though it lasted just a couple of years, that period irrevocably changed the face of American pop, when AM radio played black and white music side by side, Creedence next to James Brown next to the Beatles. Redding was a slightly more countrified progeny of Brown’s who, like so many other soul singers, defied expectations and sometimes confounded fans. As Ribowsky remembers, Redding was friendly with a white supremacist sheriff who would later issue shoot-to-kill orders on blacks suspected of looting. Was that Uncle Tom–ism? Redding was so smart that there must have been a method to that particular madness, something that went along with his pointed habit of counting box office receipts after a show, pistol in waistband. Ribowsky serves up some tantalizing what-if scenarios: if Redding had not been in that plane crash, would he have drifted into jazz or soft pop—or even country? Might he have found common cause with Jimi Hendrix, who seemed so much his opposite at Monterey Pop, Redding sweaty and masterful, Hendrix “soldering generational nihilism with undefined sexual rage,” both blowing the collective minds of the audience. Ribowsky considers Redding in the context of racial justice and injustice, the civil rights movement, and, most important, popular music as it spread through a nation hungry for the message brought by the preacher’s son who “had precious little time to enjoy the air up there.”
Excellent from start to finish, demanding a soundtrack of Stax hits as background listening.
Vanhoenacker’s workplace is the cockpit of a 747. Leaving a contrail of information with lapidary prose, he shows why he loves his job.
The author takes his readers on a journey that is far removed from terrestrial concerns, part memoir of wanderlust and part handbook of professional flying. Before each trip, there is the gathering of the crew, numbering in the teens, who may never have met before, and the aircraft is inspected. Vanhoenacker describes some of the electronic instrumentation aboard a modern airliner, as well as the process of lifting the massive plane into another world where there is no local time. The author notes that there are various compass headings that show diverse ways north, and each may be useful. In the sky, nearly everyone uses English, whether they are from Tokyo, Amman, Beijing, London, or countless other global cities. When the autopilot is disengaged before landing, an alarm sounds to verify that flying manually is really intended. At a critical point during the descent, the pilot is ordered by the computer to decide whether to touch down or head up again. Vanhoenacker also informs us that airports are distinguished places—in Japan, ground crews have been seen bowing to departing 747s. For those not privy to the view from the cockpit, the calculus of flight is fascinating. The author artfully considers geography and aerodynamics, but there is more. He reflects aloft what earthbound readers seldom think about, and his engaging essays consider the texture and weight of air and clouds and the essence of speed, place, night, day, and time. This pilot is an accomplished stylistic acrobat who flies—and writes—with the greatest of ease.
The anatomy of an airliner and peripatetic aerial travel, as well as a sophisticated worldview, combine for first-class reading—sure to enhance your next flight.
An affecting memoir about a remarkable man who raised three sons to become baseball champions.
Fans have always been intrigued by baseball families—the DiMaggios, the Alous, etc.—and the foremost family act of our era is undoubtedly the Molinas. Brothers Bengie, José, and Yadier, all catchers, together have six World Series rings. All are known as consummate professionals and outstanding defensive specialists. With the help of Ryan (The Water Giver: The Story of a Mother, Her Son, and Their Second Chance, 2009, etc.), Bengie Molina, the oldest, tells the story that accounts for their success. For 30 years a factory worker, Benjamin Molina Santana, “Pai,” coached his sons and others on the field across from their home in Puerto Rico, teaching lessons about punctuality, hard work, humility, teamwork, integrity, and respect. On that same field, he died of a massive heart attack at 58. As a youth, he’d played second base “like a scorpion,” but he never made the minor leagues. What kept him from even showing up at a Milwaukee Brewers tryout in 1973? What kept this man, who appeared to love baseball above everything, from fulfilling his dream? For years, Bengie strove to win his father’s respect, working hard to achieve the financial and professional success Pai never had. His account covers all the usual stops and stories attending any ballplayer’s rise through college, the minors, and his tenure with three major league teams. He includes some personal tales about his brothers, his own bitter divorce and eventual remarriage, but these are all incidental to his larger obsession: his relationship with and final assessment of his father. He comes to understand that he was entirely mistaken about his beloved Pai’s ambition, that it was likely no accident the Molina brothers all became catchers. After all, these are the men who, on the baseball field, are the coaches, the caretakers, the fathers, the ones who protect home.
A simply told, deeply moving story, quite unlike the usual baseball book.
Mystery writer Ross MacDonald, the pen name of Kenneth Millar (1915-1983), first wrote to Eudora Welty (1909-2001) in 1970 about her novel Losing Battles; it was a “fan letter” thanking her both for that book and her mention of his work to a New York Times reviewer. That letter began a 13-year correspondence that lasted until Millar’s death from Alzheimer’s disease. Edited, helpfully annotated, and sensitively introduced by Welty’s biographer Marrs (English/Millsaps Coll.; What There Is to Say We Have Said: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and William Maxwell, 2011, etc.) and MacDonald’s biographer, Nolan (Artie Shaw, 2011, etc.), the letters offer eloquent testimony to the writers’ deep affection. “I’m so grateful that we understand each other and feel alike,” Millar wrote. “Your letters are like tokens of goodness and kindness coming to me out of a terrible world,” Welty replied. In 1971, the two met for the first time in New York. “I feel that there wouldn't ever have been a time when we wouldn’t have been friends,” Welty wrote afterward. But they saw each other only rarely: in 1975, both were headliners at a writers conference in Santa Barbara, where Millar lived with his wife. Although Millar wrote about her affectionately, the editors reveal that the Millars’ marriage was strained, and Millar apparently had hidden Welty’s correspondence, discovered by a friend after his death. Both exulted in nature, especially birds: Millar noted white-crowned sparrows and a horned owl, Welty, warblers, kinglets, and gnatcatchers. The flight of sandhill cranes, Millar wrote, “was the greatest natural sight I ever witnessed.” They shared news of writing, reading, triumphs, and loss: Millar’s daughter died; Welty’s friend was murdered. In the late 1970s, to Welty’s dismay, Millar wrote of a “shadow on my memory and therefore on my mind.” He soon could not write, even to his beloved friend.
Intense, deeply detailed, and compassionate account of the atomic bomb’s effects on the people and city of Nagasaki, then and now.
The generation of hibakusha, or atomic-bomb survivors, is sadly passing away, as journalist and artistic director Southard (Essential Theatre, Tempe, Arizona) acknowledges in her tracking of the experiences of five who were teenagers in the once-thriving port city of Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945. As the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the bomb over Nagasaki approaches, the author aims to enlighten her American audience, whose largely unequivocal stance about the rightness of forcing Japan to capitulate and the ignorance regarding radiation exposure the U.S. government took great pains to promote have kept readers unaware, she believes, of the magnitude of this nuclear annihilation—“a scale that defies imagination.” These five teenagers, and many like them, had all been enlisted in the war effort, as had their families in Nagasaki, one of Japan’s first Westernized cities, containing the largest Christian population. One of the teens delivered mail, one was a streetcar operator, and several worked in the Mitsubishi factories that lined the river. When the bomb obliterated the Urakami Valley, where many of them lived, all lost family members and were horribly injured and scarred for life. Southard’s descriptions stick to the eyewitness accounts of these and other survivors, and they are tremendously moving, nearly unbearable to read, and accompanied by gruesome photos. She alternates first-person accounts—e.g., reports by the Japanese doctors who first treated the burns and identified the subsequent radiation “sickness”—with an outline of the political developments at the war’s conclusion. The author emphasizes the postwar censorship imposed by the U.S. occupying force in Japan regarding the discussion of the bombing or radiation effects (see George Weller's First into Nagasaki), as well as the bravery of the hibakusha, who were determined to speak the truth.
A valiant, moving work of research certain to provoke vigorous discussion.