A slightly jumbled but moving call for a fresh American philosophy, one with “music in our parlors and love in our hearts.”

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A Rose and Spider Web for America's Troubled Heart

An examination of America’s shifting moral values, conducted through the lens of cultural analysis and autobiography.

Somer opens his encyclopedic analysis of American cultural priorities with two stark stories about the deaths of his son and wife, and he skillfully broadens the impact of these tragedies by then shifting his narrative back to his boyhood in the 1940s rural Midwest. His childhood memories evoke pleasures of simpler times—family dinners around a communal table or sitting on a front porch. He contrasts these reminiscences with the often frenetic pace of life and change that has gripped the country ever since (“it was as though the future was thrusting itself upon people so quickly,” he writes, “that they had to discard past pleasures to experience pleasures they had never anticipated, like air conditioning”). He diagnoses a fundamental shift in the values that characterized the America of his youth, and like many a writer before him, he locates that shift in the 1950s and early ’60s, when a new materialism swept the country and a youth-mania was born out of the virtual creation—and commercialization—of a new kind of consumer: the teenager. Seminal figures—Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy, Elvis Presley and James Dean—are inspected for the new ideas they seemed to embody, and transformative literary works, such as On The Road, are given detailed and sympathetic new readings. Somer studies the existentialism of Kierkegaard with the same energy he devotes to the religious beliefs of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and although this intellectual latitude can at times be too diffuse for its own good, the opinions are never dull. Ultimately, it’s Somer’s optimism that pulls together the disparate threads of his study; “After all,” he writes, “America’s hope, even though it was compromised the moment it was inaugurated, seems to continue to be the world’s best hope.”

A slightly jumbled but moving call for a fresh American philosophy, one with “music in our parlors and love in our hearts.”

Pub Date: Aug. 24, 2014

ISBN: 978-1500749200

Page Count: 232

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 20, 2014

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

OPEN BOOK

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: yesterday

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Honest messages from one of America's best known women.

WHAT I KNOW FOR SURE

A compilation of advice from the Queen of All Media.

After writing a column for 14 years titled “What I Know For Sure” for O, The Oprah Winfrey Magazine, Winfrey brings together the highlights into one gift-ready collection. Grouped into themes like Joy, Resilience, Connection, Gratitude, Possibility, Awe, Clarity and Power, each short essay is the distilled thought of a woman who has taken the time to contemplate her life’s journey thus far. Whether she is discussing traveling across the country with her good friend, Gayle, the life she shares with her dogs or building a fire in the fireplace, Winfrey takes each moment and finds the good in it, takes pride in having lived it and embraces the message she’s received from that particular time. Through her actions and her words, she shows readers how she's turned potentially negative moments into life-enhancing experiences, how she's found bliss in simple pleasures like a perfectly ripe peach, and how she's overcome social anxiety to become part of a bigger community. She discusses the yo-yo dieting, exercise and calorie counting she endured for almost two decades as she tried to modify her physical body into something it was not meant to be, and how one day she decided she needed to be grateful for each and every body part: "This is the body you've been given—love what you've got." Since all of the sections are brief and many of the essays are only a couple paragraphs long—and many members of the target audience will have already read them in the magazine—they are best digested in short segments in order to absorb Winfrey's positive and joyful but repetitive message. The book also features a new introduction by the author.

Honest messages from one of America's best known women.

Pub Date: Sept. 2, 2014

ISBN: 978-1250054050

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Flatiron View Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

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