A sturdy, sympathetic biography about one of pop culture’s rangiest creators.

MIKE NICHOLS

A LIFE

A full-dress biography of a quintessential artist who mastered stage, screen, and (especially) comedy.

Mike Nichols (1931-2014) was a one-man argument against auteur theory: What aesthetic sensibility unifies his spiky routines with Elaine May, the gentle Neil Simon comedies he directed, films like The Graduate and Working Girl, and his epic TV adaptation of Angels in America? In this thorough and compassionate life, Harris doesn’t search too hard for a common thread; more than anything, it seems, Nichols was hungry for an audience’s attention and had an innate enough grasp of staging and actors to (usually) get it. The son of German immigrants, he was a college dropout who formed a tight (but not romantic) bond with May, who shared his taste in brainy comedy and disaffection with 1950s supper-club stand-up. Their success in New York gained him entry to Broadway and then Hollywood, where his acclaimed adaptations of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Graduate made him a household name. Just as important for Nichols, success opened doors to high society, where he was guided by photographer Richard Avedon. (Harris debunks reports they had a sexual relationship.) Nichols ran hot and cold professionally, and the author is refreshingly honest about creative low points like Day of the Dolphin as well as his mercurial, addictive personality. He could be snappish and patrician with casts and crews, and by the 1980s, he had developed a Halcion addiction and a crack habit. Nichols’ scattershot output makes him difficult to pin down, and by structuring the biography around his projects, Harris underdevelops his subject’s inner character; we learn nearly as much about his prized Arabian horses as his children. It may simply be that Nichols’ life was his work, but focusing on his creative triumphs at times obscures the man who made them.

A sturdy, sympathetic biography about one of pop culture’s rangiest creators.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-399-56224-2

Page Count: 688

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

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GREENLIGHTS

All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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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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UNTAMED

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 Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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