In response to a negative review, Brooks wanted to tell the critic, “I meant no harm. I only wanted to entertain you.”...

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FUNNY MAN

MEL BROOKS

A biography of America’s “self-proclaimed emperor of bad taste.”

McGilligan’s (Young Orson: The Years of Luck and Genius on the Path to Citizen Kane, 2015, etc.) hefty tome about Mel Brooks (b. 1928), the director of Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, isn’t exactly a hagiography. The author ably chronicles Brooks’ career arc from the Brooklyn kid born Melvin Kaminsky to the loudest member of Sid Caesar’s writing staff on NBC’s Your Show of Shows and Caesar’s Hour in the 1950s to the driving force behind some of the most successful film comedies of his time—and the crassest, with their many fart, rape, and “fag” jokes. McGilligan also shows the ugly side of Brooks: the hard-driving businessman who berated actors when he didn’t like a performance, the disputes over writing credits that led to multiple litigations. Much of this material has been documented elsewhere—such as the story of Caesar dangling a young Brooks out a hotel window when Brooks wanted to go out for the evening (“Is that far enough?” Caesar shouted)—which makes the book overlong. In the second half, the author gets bogged down in the minutiae of Brooks' business deals, and the prose is occasionally peculiar or old-fashioned. For example, McGilligan repeatedly refers to Brooks’ first wife, Florence Baum, only as “Mrs. Brooks”; he does the same thing a couple of times with his second wife, Anne Bancroft, a far more famous figure than Baum. These choices are emblematic of the troubling tendency to represent women in biographies only in relation to the men in their lives. Nonetheless, McGilligan does a nice job dramatizing the insecurities that drove Brooks and offers entertaining anecdotes about Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, and Brooks’ other collaborators, who didn’t always speak favorably of him.

In response to a negative review, Brooks wanted to tell the critic, “I meant no harm. I only wanted to entertain you.” Readers can decide for themselves whether the Brooks who emerges in these well-researched yet sometimes-tiresome pages caused more joy than harm.

Pub Date: March 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-256099-5

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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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

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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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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