A lively peek into literary genius.




A tour of the various sources of inspiration for beloved works of literature. 

Debut author Grogan was once given a familiar piece of advice—“Make a list of the people who inspire you, then go learn everything you can about who inspired them”—and he turned it into this unconventional and ambitious research project. He investigates the origins of 202 famous works of literature and briefly synopsizes the circumstances of each, typically in a page or so. The author focuses on the creative afflatus that preceded each work, and he attempts to pin down just how an author arrived at the general idea or a key character and why each felt compelled to pursue that particular spark of imagination. Ultimately, Grogan found that the most common seedbed of creativity is personal experience, which, as he demonstrates, can be understood broadly. For example, both Hermann Hesse and Sylvia Plath conjured stories out of their own specific forms of anguish. Alice Walker’s The Color Purple was partially based on her own encounters with racism but also on interviews that she conducted with sharecroppers who’d been threatened with eviction. Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle was largely inspired by his co-workers at General Electric, and he modeled the character of Dr. Felix Hoenikker, in particular, on Nobel laureate Dr. Irving Langmuir. Maurice Sendak loathed his weekly visits from his family members when he lived in Brooklyn, and the caricatures he drew of his relatives became the beasts in Where the Wild Things Are. Grogan’s research is meticulous and empirical—he often draws from published interviews with the authors in question and lets them speak for themselves. His own prose is more informally anecdotal than scholarly in tone, and it’s so breezily accessible that there’s no need to read the vignettes all at once or in any particular order. Some accounts are more speculative than others; for example, it’s not indisputable, for instance, that Franz Kafka was motivated to write The Metamorphosis because of his dysfunctional relationship with his father. However, even Grogan’s speculations are consistently thoughtful and enjoyable.

A lively peek into literary genius. 

Pub Date: Oct. 17, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-60433-751-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Cider Mill Press

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2017

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.


The debut memoir from the pop and fashion star.

Early on, Simpson describes the book she didn’t write: “a motivational manual telling you how to live your best life.” Though having committed to the lucrative deal years before, she “walked away,” fearing any sort of self-help advice she might give would be hypocritical. Outwardly, Simpson was at the peak of her success, with her fashion line generating “one billion dollars in annual sales.” However, anxiety was getting the better of her, and she admits she’d become a “feelings addict,” just needing “enough noise to distract me from the pain I’d been avoiding since childhood. The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at night—Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman. Those same demons who perched on my shoulder, and when they saw a man as dark as them, leaned in to my ear to whisper, ‘Just give him your light. See if it saves him…’ ” On Halloween 2017, Simpson hit rock bottom, and, with the intervention of her devoted friends and husband, began to address her addictions and underlying fears. In this readable but overlong narrative, the author traces her childhood as a Baptist preacher’s daughter moving 18 times before she “hit fifth grade,” and follows her remarkable rise to fame as a singer. She reveals the psychological trauma resulting from years of sexual abuse by a family friend, experiences that drew her repeatedly into bad relationships with men, most publicly with ex-husband Nick Lachey. Admitting that she was attracted to the validating power of an audience, Simpson analyzes how her failings and triumphs have enabled her to take control of her life, even as she was hounded by the press and various music and movie executives about her weight. Simpson’s memoir contains plenty of personal and professional moments for fans to savor.

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289996-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2020

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