A spirited, entertaining collection.

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I USED TO BE CHARMING

THE REST OF EVE BABITZ

Zesty essays by a sly observer.

Journalist and novelist Babitz (Two by Two: Tango, Two-Step, and the L.A. Night, 1999, etc.) gathers nearly 40 personal essays, book reviews, travel pieces, and celebrity profiles, published between 1976 and 1997, that give ebullient testimony to her colorful, star-studded past. “I have always loved scenes,” she writes, “bars where people come in and out in various degrees of flash, despair, gossip, and brilliance.” And she loved parties, too: “Nothing makes me feel worse than knowing I’m missing the right party.” She recounts parties galore: in Los Angeles, Hollywood, Miami, and New York; in swanky apartments, mansions, and nightclubs; attended by the rich, famous, and soon-to-be-famous—e.g., pre-Doors Jim Morrison. Babitz met Morrison at a Sunset Strip club when she was 22 and “propositioned him in three minutes, even before he so much as opened his mouth to sing.” He was sexy, seductive, and, she soon discovered, self-destructive: “Jim drank, got drunk, and wanted to be shown the way to the Next Whiskey Bar.” Sex, drugs, and rock and roll characterized “an entire generation” that became “dazzled by a drug with the density, force, and newness of LSD,” recoiled at images of napalm bombings, and surged together “As One waiting for the next Beatles album to come out.” But the generation learned a crucial lesson, as well: “that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” The collection includes a charming recollection of posing nude with Marcel Duchamp; sympathetic portraits of actors James Woods, Nicholas Cage, and Billy Baldwin; and a paean to her friend Linda Ronstadt, whose voice was “opulent with happiness and excellence.” Babitz muses on body-building gym culture; her efforts to lose weight with the help of “diet, amphetamines, and the gentle augmentation of cocaine”; the pain of yoga; and, in a particularly endearing piece, the unexpected pleasure of ballroom dancing. The title essay, never before published, recounts a 1997 accident that resulted in devastating third-degree burns.

A spirited, entertaining collection.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-68137-379-9

Page Count: 360

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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