A palatable history lesson, by turns funny, stern, and often sad.

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SCRAPING BY IN THE BIG EIGHTIES

The charmingly personal becomes the mightily political in a muscular, well-wrought series of essays that move chronologically through an appalling decade of public and private self-indulgence.

Singer (English/St. Lawrence Univ.) was 22 in 1980 and “ready to let the transcendence begin” when this brand-new Northwestern graduate moved to Seattle with boyfriend Joe. Her plan was to get laid off and become an “evolved human,” except that Ronald Reagan was about to be elected, ushering in a war on big government and a “crisis of faith in Team America.” Singer’s younger self, the first-person protagonist of these essays, worked hand to mouth in restaurants, at an emerging HMO dubbed Group Death, and in an under-the-table hippie sweat shop assembling jewelry boxes, observing with cunning eyes the unfolding of the decade’s horrors. “Voodoo economics” (a phrase coined by the elder George Bush), which accompanied Reagan’s huge escalation in the Pentagon budget with drastic under-funding of social services, to the author meant cutbacks in the mental-health care required by her unstable and increasingly dangerous mother back in Cleveland. Singer nails the advent of televangelists and other desperate religious strivings with her account of a visit to Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh’s holy state outside of Antelope, Oregon, in the essay “Shelter.” She chronicles her newly yuppie friends’ transformation into Ollie North clones and her own resemblance to “scary babe” Fawn Hall. The crises of AIDS, Chernobyl, and the Challenger explosion are all couched within Singer’s own personal toils: heartbreaks, abortions, head wounds from a bicycle accident. “How I Survived the Crash” finds a metaphor for the country’s lack of “structural integrity” in an account of shopping for a bra with her mother in Northampton, Massachusetts. Singer has certainly done her homework for this entertaining refresher course on the decade of big hair and small mercies: the acknowledgments alone offer an excellent bibliography of an era that many readers who lived through it would rather forget.

A palatable history lesson, by turns funny, stern, and often sad.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2004

ISBN: 0-8032-4309-X

Page Count: 244

Publisher: Univ. of Nebraska

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2004

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

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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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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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