Essential reading about a writer whose major novels continue to command attention.

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JUST ONE CATCH

A BIOGRAPHY OF JOSEPH HELLER

How do you top Catch-22? Daugherty (English and Creative Writing/Oregon State Univ.; One Day the Wind Changed: Stories, 2010, etc.) attempts to answer that question and more in this first full-length biography of Joseph Heller (1923–1999).

When Heller’s sprawling World War II picaresque was published in 1961, few predicted it would become a defining novel of the decade, let alone add a new word to the language or still be selling a half-century later. Daugherty has a natural feel for the texture of Heller's worlds, both physical and cultural: his impoverished Coney Island youth, the gung-ho patriotic fervor of World War II, the Beat Generation and the corporate culture of Madison Avenue, where Heller worked by day while toiling on his first novel by night. Daugherty is especially good at capturing the whirlwind events of Catch-22’s publication—a “literary Manhattan Project” whipped into shape by editor Robert Gottlieb (who advised shuffling chapters to get to the funny parts quicker) and packaged and sold by superstar agent Candida Donadio. The author also has a strong sense of the 1970s cultural malaise against which Something Happened (1974) was written, and how Good as Gold (1979) anticipated a more materialistic age. Eventually, Heller’s success led to philandering, a messy divorce and estranged children; a crippling bout with Guillain-Barré Syndrome and waning critical esteem only made things worse. Throughout this absorbing biography, Heller’s moods, affability, wit, seriousness and selfishness all shine through. Daugherty’s attention to the details of his divorce and diet become mundane, and he can get a little too chummy with “Joe” the writer. However, he also has a fine sense of what Heller was up against with Catch-22, as he tried to forge a fresh, irreverent outlook—absorbed from writers such as Jaroslav Hašek, Celine and Nabokov—on a war that had already been defined by James Jones and Norman Mailer. Also, Daugherty scores some strong critical insights regarding the author’s style—e.g., “Instinctually, Joe knew the relentless rhythms of Borscht Belt jokes were like the incantatory prayers one finds in Psalms: The transition from one to the other was natural, almost unnoticeable.”

Essential reading about a writer whose major novels continue to command attention.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-312-59685-9

Page Count: 560

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2011

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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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