Invaluable insight into one of the major figures in American music.

A lavishly illustrated biography of the iconic country singer, with his lyrics as the focal point.

John R. Cash (1932-2003) was born in rural Arkansas in the depths of the Depression. The child of poor sharecroppers, he was also the grandson of “circuit-riding Missionary Baptist preachers.” Stielper, who has been covering Cash for 40 years, argues that these roots are evident in both the sympathy for underdogs and the spiritual aspiration that are constant themes in Cash’s music. After graduating from high school, Cash spent four years in the Air Force, stationed in Germany. After his discharge, he married his first wife and moved to Memphis, where he worked as an appliance salesman. At the time, he was busy writing songs, and he managed to convince Sam Phillips, the legendary owner of Sun Records, to let him record some of them. Eventually, he wrote more than 600, and this book includes the lyrics to 125, chosen “to explore Cash’s range as a poet and a storyteller.” Stielper succinctly covers the singer’s career, including his marriage to June Carter, his TV show and prison performances, and his numerous recordings. Cash’s son, John Carter, provides personal insights into his father’s character and intriguing analyses of his songs. Fleshing out the text are numerous photos of Cash, in performance or in more casual settings, along with handwritten lyric sheets, meditations, letters, and other documents. Many of the photos are very similar, though die-hard Cash fans may not consider this a shortcoming. Regardless, it’s the lyrics—some universally familiar, some fairly obscure—that are the true stars of the book. It’s easy to hear Cash’s voice in them, even for those readers who may not have heard him sing, and all readers will finish the book with a deeper understanding of his art.

Invaluable insight into one of the major figures in American music.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 2023

ISBN: 9780316503105

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Voracious/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: July 6, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2023


Spears’ vulnerability shines through as she describes her painful journey from vulnerable girl to empowered woman.

A heartfelt memoir from the pop superstar.

Spears grew up with an alcoholic father, an exacting mother, and a fear of disappointing them both. She also displayed a natural talent for singing and dancing and a strong work ethic. Spears is grateful for the adult professionals who helped her get her start, but the same can’t be said of her peers. When she met Justin Timberlake, also a Mouseketeer on the Disney Channel’s updated Mickey Mouse Club, the two formed an instant bond. Spears describes her teenage feelings for Timberlake as “so in love with him it was pathetic,” and she’s clearly angry about the rumors and breakup that followed. This tumultuous period haunted her for years. Out of many candidates for villains of the book, Timberlake included, perhaps the worst are the careless journalists of the late 1990s and early 2000s, who indulged Timberlake while vilifying Spears. The cycle repeated for years, taking its toll on her mental health. Spears gave birth to sons Sean Preston and Jayden James within two years, and she describes the difficulties they all faced living in the spotlight. The author writes passionately about how custody of her boys and visits with them were held over her head, and she recounts how they were used to coerce her to make decisions that weren’t always in her best interest. As many readers know, conservancy followed, and for 13 years, she toured, held a residency in Las Vegas, and performed—all while supposedly unable to take care of herself, an irony not lost on her. Overall, the book is cathartic, though readers who followed her 2021 trial won’t find many revelations, and many of the other newsworthy items have been widely covered in the run-up to the book’s release.

Spears’ vulnerability shines through as she describes her painful journey from vulnerable girl to empowered woman.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 2023

ISBN: 9781668009048

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023


What a talent, what a career, what a life, and what a treat to relive it all with this most down-to-earth of demigods.

A gloriously massive memoir from a sui generis star.

When Keith Richards and Bruce Springsteen published 500-page memoirs, that seemed long—but as we learned, they really did have that much to say. Streisand doubles the ante with 1,000 pages. In addition to chronicling her own life, the author offers fascinating lessons on acting, directing, film editing, sound mixing, lighting, and more, as revealed in detailed accounts of the making of each of her projects. As Stephen Sondheim commented about her, “It’s not just the gift, it’s the willingness to take infinite pains.” The pains really pay off. With every phase of her life, from childhood in Brooklyn to her 27-year-romance with current husband, James Brolin, Streisand throws everything she has—including her mother’s scrapbook and her own considerable talent as a writer—into developing the characters, settings, conversations, meals, clothes, and favorite colors and numbers of a passionately lived existence. In the process, she puts her unique stamp on coffee ice cream, egg rolls, dusty rose, pewter gray, the number 24, Donna Karan, Modigliani, and much more. Among the heroes are her father, who died when she was very young but nevertheless became an ongoing inspiration. The villains include her mother, whose coldness and jealousy were just as consistent. An armada of ex-boyfriends, colleagues, and collaborators come to life in a tone that captures the feel of Streisand’s spoken voice by way of Yiddishisms, parenthetical asides, and snappy second thoughts. The end is a little heavy on tributes, but you wouldn’t want to miss the dog cloning, the generous photo section, or this line, delivered in all seriousness: “Looking back, I feel as if I didn't fulfill my potential.”

What a talent, what a career, what a life, and what a treat to relive it all with this most down-to-earth of demigods.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2023

ISBN: 9780525429524

Page Count: 992

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Nov. 6, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2023

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