Everyone hopes that love will last forever, that only other people’s loves will fail. But what if the unthinkable happens to you?
Ringwald's (Getting the Pretty Back, 2010) debut novel employs a series of interlaced stories with a constellation of characters at different stages of life facing varied obstacles (many self-created) in the path of love. Among the characters fumbling to understand their own behavior and bewildered by the consequences of their actions is Greta. She and Phillip have built a secure, happy marriage, one that helps her endure the indignities of a third round of fertility injections and the difficulties of raising their energetic 6-year-old daughter, Charlotte. When Phillip confesses he has cheated on her with Theresa, Charlotte’s 19-year-old violin teacher, Greta is staggered. She returns to her mother, Ilsa, who faces her own challenges in love, including her plan to take in Greta’s drug-addicted nephew, Milo—Milo, who is so difficult that his own mother has run away to join a New-Age yoga practice. Ilsa challenges Greta: Doesn’t everyone deserve a second chance? But Greta cannot forgive Phillip. As she tries to repair her life, Greta embarks on a relationship with the much younger Peter. Estranged from Greta, Phillip forges a friendship with Marina, whose son, Oliver, is a friend of Charlotte’s. Oliver, however, likes to dress up in Charlotte’s clothes, which leads to his being attacked by older boys. Ringwald deftly weaves together the threads of these stories, creating a tapestry that captures the emotional landscape of both young and well-worn relationships. Amid the dust of that landscape lies a sort of letter to Theresa, a letter that exposes the myriad emotions swirling in the aftermath of a betrayed love.
This is a beautiful exploration of how the heart’s irrational responses to love and betrayal can stand in the way of forgiveness.
Veteran character actor Tobolowsky, perhaps best known for his role in Groundhog Day, offers a beguiling collection of autobiographical essays detailing his experiences in and out of show business.
The actor has plenty of rich material to mine—he has been held hostage at gunpoint by a lunatic, suffered an apocalyptic infestation of fleas, barely eluded a goring by a bull, and auditioned with a broken neck—but the delight of the book is the author’s voice: wry, discursive and full of generous spirit and curiosity. Tobolowsky recounts his various heartbreaks, struggles as a young artist and status as a bemused member of the human race with unfailing wit and gratitude for the richness and strangeness of life, marveling at the small miracles and surprising reversals that inform relationships and careers. Occasionally the author’s observations skirt along the fringe of New Age platitudes, but a leavening lack of pretention prevents the spiritual content from curdling, and there is always another jaw-dropping anecdote around the corner to carry the proceedings. Tobolowsky contributes intriguing insights into the absurdities of TV and film production (his description of acting against a green screen is particularly amusing), the politics of graduate school life and the perils of pet ownership, endowing both the most mundane and rarified endeavors with equally close attention and appreciation. His reminiscences of the early days of the AIDS crisis and the decline and death of his mother provide the collection with profound emotional ballast, but even in the heavier sections Tobolowsky’s light touch and effortless empathy delight and sustain readers’ engagement.
A copiously examined life rendered with humor and heart.
With the assistance of Dunn (Why Is My Mother Getting a Tattoo?: And Other Questions I Wish I Never Had to Ask, 2009, etc.), Lauper tells her alternately harrowing, hopeful and hilarious life story.
The author left her home in Ozone Park, Queens, at age 17 to escape a sexually abusive stepfather and the limitations on life—especially for women—imposed by a hardscrabble working-class neighborhood and male-dominated family culture. “As a kid,” she writes, “I heard a lot of sad stories about women.” What followed was years of marginal existence, odd jobs (including a stint as a topless dancer) and very little money. Her life change in 1983, however, with the release of She’s So Unusual, which garnered four top-five hits and made Lauper an instant star. Other hits followed, including the anthemic True Colors (1986). Inevitably, her superstar aura faded, but her eclectic musical output did not. Throughout, she struggled to remain true to her artistic values. In the music industry, she was “surrounded by men,” most of whom were “trying to remake me…and I didn’t want to be remade.” Regardless, Lauper continued to release significant albums, ranging from pop to club music to standards to blues, all of it infused with her own musical vision and a penchant both for remembering the flawed beauty of Ozone Park (“I always felt I could find Shakespeare right in my neighborhood”) and a determined identification with outsiders—especially women and members of the GLBT community. This identification turned into activism as her True Colors Foundation has worked to help and protect GLBT youth and promote tolerance. Though not as literary, Lauper’s story echoes the hopes of a struggling artist portrayed in Patti Smith’s Just Kids.
One of the world’s cleverest comedy writers debuts with a frequently hilarious memoir.
Perhaps best known to mass audiences for her writing and performances on Saturday Night Live, Fey’s most inventive work is likely her writing for the critically acclaimed TV show 30 Rock, in which she stars alongside Alec Baldwin and fellow SNL alum Tracy Morgan. In typical self-deprecating style, the author traces her awkward childhood and adolescence, rise within the improv ranks of Second City and career on the sets of SNL and 30 Rock. The chapter titles—e.g., “The Windy City, Full of Meat,” “Peeing in Jars with Boys” and “There’s a Drunk Midget in My House”—provide hints at the author’s tone, but Fey is such a fluid writer, with her impeccable sense of comic timing extending to the printed page, that near-constant jokes and frequent sidebars won’t keep readers from breezing through the book with little trouble, laughing most of the way. Though she rarely breaks the onslaught of jokes (most at her own expense), she does offer an insightful section on the exhaustively analyzed concept of the “working mom,” which she finds tedious. (Even here, the author finds plenty of room for humor—not wanting to admit she uses a nanny, Fey writes, “I will henceforth refer to our nanny as our Coordinator of Toddlery.”) Fey may not sling a lot of dirt about her many famous co-stars in Second City, SNL and 30 Rock, but her thoughts on her geeky adolescence, the joys of motherhood and her rise to TV stardom are spot-on and nearly always elicit a hearty laugh. Even the jacket copy is amusing: “Once in a generation a woman comes along who changes everything. Tina Fey is not that woman, but she met that woman once and acted weird around her.”
Highly recommended, even for those who have already read the excerpts in the New Yorker. Fey is one of the funniest people working today.
From the former Talking Heads frontman, a supremely intelligent, superbly written dissection of music as an art form and way of life.
Drawing on a lifetime of music-making as an amateur, professional, performer, producer, band member and solo artist, Byrne (Bicycle Diaries, 2009) tackles the question implicit in his title from multiple angles: How does music work on the ear, brain and body? How do words relate to music in a song? How does live performance relate to recorded performance? What effect has technology had on music, and music on technology? Fans of the Talking Heads should find plenty to love about this book. Steering clear of the conflicts leading to the band’s breakup, Byrne walks through the history, album by album, to illustrate how his views about performance and recording changed with the onset of fame and (small) fortune. He devotes a chapter to the circumstances that made the gritty CBGB nightclub an ideal scene for adventurous artists like Patti Smith, the Ramones, Blondie and Tom Verlaine and Television. Always an intensely thoughtful experimenter, here he lets us in on the thinking behind the experiments. But this book is not just, or even primarily, a rock memoir. It’s also an exploration of the radical transformation—or surprising durability—of music from the beginning of the age of mechanical reproduction through the era of iTunes and MP3s. Byrne touches on all kinds of music from all ages and every part of the world.
Highly recommended—anyone at all interested in music will learn a lot from this book.
Lyricist, producer, business mogul and self-proclaimed hustler Jay-Z has all but dominated the rap scene since his 1996 debut, Reasonable Doubt. During the last decade-plus, his singles have not only owned the urban airwaves, but have crossed over into the mainstream. This book provides a two-pronged attack, in which narrative chapters alternate with in-depth explanations of the lyrics to his favorite compositions. Not formatted in chronological fashion, Jay-Z’s stories ramble pleasantly from one topic to the next, including his difficult childhood in the projects, his road to creative fulfillment, his encounters with A-list celebrities and public figures and how he deals with the ins and outs of the record industry. Hardcore hip-hop heads will be drawn in by Jay-Z’s obvious love, respect and knowledge of his chosen genre. In fact, his incisive reminiscences of the lives and/or music of Run-DMC, Big Daddy Kane, the Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur are alone worth the price of admission. Though engaging, his meticulous dissections of his lyrics could be off-putting to the casual fan, but that’s mitigated by the fact that his complex personality shines through every page. One minute, he’s boasting as if he’s in the midst of a rap battle with his pal Eminem, and the next he’s chiding himself for a minor musical, personal or business transgression. The book is creatively designed, filled with pull quotes, sidebars and photographs. Ardent Jay-Z followers may be disappointed by the lack of gossip—there’s no mention of his infamous battle with fellow New York rapper Nas; the specifics of his thug life are thin; and there’s nary a word about his wife, Beyonce—but the sharpness of his social observations and his palpable adoration for all that is hip-hop make this a must-have title for all pop-culture aficionados.
Heartfelt, passionate and slick—an essential hip-hop book.
Comedienne Wentworth revisits her privileged and precocious early years.
In this satirical dissection of class and privilege, the author, daughter of President Ronald Reagan’s social secretary Muffie Cabot, mines a childhood spent among America’s elite. By the time she landed a role on the sketch show In Living Color, Wentworth had already put on vaudevillian after-dinner performances for Henry Kissinger. As a socialite in training, she keyed into a number of important life lessons—e.g., “There’s a fine line between WASP victuals and white-trash cuisine.” Wentworth’s glib take on America’s social hierarchy might initially seem like a blue blood’s guide to slumming it, but her savvy understanding of what she’s been given versus what she’s earned makes for a sharp critique of class and power. She probes her marriage to former political operative and current TV newsman George Stephanopoulos for insights about pregnancy, child-rearing and compromise. Her understated prose and deadpan humor go a long way toward making this account of life among the one-percenters easy to swallow. If readers aren’t taken with her charm, they’d be well advised to follow her mother’s catch-all advice: “Just go to the Four Seasons.” Nothing’s better than blocking out the world behind silk curtains, sinking into crisp linen sheets and ringing for tea and crumpets. Wentworth would likely suggest the same remedy to readers who aren’t immediately enamored with her collection of vignettes. She’d be winking slyly as she did, though.
A triumphant memoir recounting the inner struggles of one of the most versatile actresses working today.
The breakout star of TV’s Glee on and the hit movies Best in Show and Role Models recounts her past as an archetypical tragic clown—laughing on the outside but highly anxious on the inside. Growing up in suburban Illinois, Lynch always dreamed of becoming an actress. But at the outset of her career, the author was so wracked with fear, anxiety and self-doubt, she almost derailed her own ambitions. Crushing on the gals at school instead of the guys—and trying to hide her sexuality—didn’t help. Desperately wanting to belong, Lynch only alienated herself from the people with whom she sought connection and camaraderie. The author delves into these topics, and many more, with a well-earned sense of self-awareness. When she finally attains not only love, but a whole new family, and achieves fulfillment in her career, readers cannot help but share in her obvious joy. The screwy sense of the preposterous imbued in so many of Lynch’s on-screen characters is in full effect here, even when the author recalls some of her darkest moments—like those times when she sought to kill the long, solitary hours between live performances with over-the-counter tranquilizers.
Achingly sad and sweetly comic at the same time.
Actress, producer and director Marshall's frank and funny memoir about the path that led her from an ordinary childhood in New York City to Hollywood stardom.
Marshall never planned to get into acting. But her mother, who ran a neighborhood dance and acrobatics school for children in the Bronx, always believed that "every child should know what it feels like to entertain.” So she began teaching her daughter the rudiments of physical movement before she was 1 year old. By the time Marshall was a teenager, she and the other girls her mother taught had performed at churches, charity events and telethons; they had even appeared on the Jackie Gleason Show. Dancing, however, was not Marshall's passion. A mediocre student with no idea what she would do with her life, she went to the University of New Mexico, a college that "accepted anyone from out of state.” A few years later, Marshall was a divorced UNM dropout who had lost custody of her child, but she had also started to find her niche as an actress through involvement in community theater. She went to Hollywood to join her brother Garry, who was building a career as a comedy writer for TV and got bit parts in such classic TV shows as That Girl and The Odd Couple. She finally came into her own in the mid-1970s as the star of the hit sitcom Laverne & Shirley, and then in the ’80s and early-’90s as the director of the hit films Big and A League of Their Own. Marshall is as candid about her failures (which include a painful second divorce from writer/comedian Rob Reiner) and her weaknesses (like the one she developed for drugs) as she is about her successes. With gratitude for a life lived on her own terms, she writes, "I've been given my five minutes…and then some.”
The lighter side of obsessive-compulsive behavior.
What a joy the novella is. It may not be the best deal out there in terms of dollars-per-page, but many authors would give better value if they realized they had only a long story’s worth of material and stuck to it. Martin’s second short fiction (after Shopgirl, 2000) is an impressively economical and yet by no means limited piece of light comedy. Although Daniel Cambridge doesn’t have a job, he keeps himself pretty busy. See, Daniel is chock-full of obsessive little tics that would drive the ordinary person insane. For instance, the combined wattage of all the lights turned on his Santa Monica apartment at any one time must be 1125, and he often leaves his apartment (not stepping off curbs) for the sole purpose of satisfying his need to touch the corner of every copying machine at Kinko’s. Daniel also has an elaborate fantasy life involving women he sees passing his window. Fortunately, his grandmother back in Texas sends him money every so often: “She is the one family member who understands that my insanity is benign and that my failure to hold a job is not due to laziness.” As always in stories about a closed-off neurotic of this kind, the world in all its chaotic glory must come crashing into his life in multiple ways, first in Daniel’s sputtering imaginary relationship with a local real-estate lady and then something much more tangible with Clarissa, his social worker. Although Martin succumbs to a banal plot choice later on, when his neurotic goes on a road trip, this is a genuinely funny and surprisingly touching tale. By letting Daniel speak for himself, the author enables the reader to experience his neuroses from the inside and to witness them as the strangely reassuring, though assuredly life-limiting, rituals that they are.
As compassionate as it is funny, and never overstays its welcome.