This incisive, illuminating book shows the personal toll that success took on all responsible, the price paid for laughs.

LETTERMAN

THE LAST GIANT OF LATE NIGHT

The tale of a tormented TV star and his legacy.

This is a critical biography, not in the sense of being negative (although there are parts that Letterman won’t like, since he doesn’t seem to like much), but as a work of criticism that focuses on the inner workings of a TV career rather than any life away from show business. “Years before the term ‘Generation X’ moved into circulation, David Letterman made ironic detachment seem like the most sensible way to approach the world,” writes New York Times comedy critic Zinoman (Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror, 2011) in this sharp, revealing biography. Such an attitude would establish him as a generational spokesman during an era of political apathy. Yet Letterman was more obsessed than detached, a “spectacularly committed hypochondriac,” a self-lacerating critic of his own show, and a performer who had to be pushed out of his comfort zone for his paradigm-shifting innovations. Though he played his eccentricities and insecurities for laughs, they were no laughing matter for the staff that was crucial in the development of his comedic dynamic, the writers who so often found themselves isolated (or occasionally berated) by the boss they were trying so desperately to please. The most significant of these collaborators was Merrill Markoe, his partner and foil from his early stint on daytime TV, who, “as much as anyone…helped invent the aesthetic of David Letterman.” Most of the rest were men, frequently from Harvard, and the boys’ club atmosphere became more of a problem as Letterman’s sexual relations with female interns became public. Zinoman’s analysis is often refreshingly counterintuitive: Letterman was a good interviewer. He recast and renewed himself during the writers’ strike. He didn’t fail as Oscar host. He was even more miserable as the winner of the late-night ratings war than he had been as the underdog.

This incisive, illuminating book shows the personal toll that success took on all responsible, the price paid for laughs.

Pub Date: April 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-237721-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2017

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US

A MEMOIR

In her first nonfiction book, novelist Grande (Dancing with Butterflies, 2009, etc.) delves into her family’s cycle of separation and reunification.

Raised in poverty so severe that spaghetti reminded her of the tapeworms endemic to children in her Mexican hometown, the author is her family’s only college graduate and writer, whose honors include an American Book Award and International Latino Book Award. Though she was too young to remember her father when he entered the United States illegally seeking money to improve life for his family, she idolized him from afar. However, she also blamed him for taking away her mother after he sent for her when the author was not yet 5 years old. Though she emulated her sister, she ultimately answered to herself, and both siblings constantly sought affirmation of their parents’ love, whether they were present or not. When one caused disappointment, the siblings focused their hopes on the other. These contradictions prove to be the narrator’s hallmarks, as she consistently displays a fierce willingness to ask tough questions, accept startling answers, and candidly render emotional and physical violence. Even as a girl, Grande understood the redemptive power of language to define—in the U.S., her name’s literal translation, “big queen,” led to ridicule from other children—and to complicate. In spelling class, when a teacher used the sentence “my mamá loves me” (mi mamá me ama), Grande decided to “rearrange the words so that they formed a question: ¿Me ama mi mamá? Does my mama love me?”

A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-6177-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

Did you like this book?

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more