An engrossing, well-documented biography of a largely forgotten writer and his place within a quickly changing period of the...

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LEAVING THE GAY PLACE

BILLY LEE BRAMMER AND THE GREAT SOCIETY

A political and pop-cultural view of midcentury America in relation to the enigmatic life of a Texas-bred political journalist and novelist.

Outside of Texas and certain literary circles, Billy Lee Brammer (1929-1978) may not evoke the cult recognition shared by his contemporaries, such as Ken Kesey or Tom Wolfe. In this entertaining and colorful new book, fiction writer and biographer Daugherty (Emeritus, English/Oregon State Univ.; Let Us Build Us a City, 2017, etc.) goes a long way toward elevating Brammer’s status. He also offers a generous glimpse into the political and personal life of Lyndon Johnson. In the mid-1950s, Brammer started working as a staff writer for Johnson, then a Texas senator, after gaining Johnson’s attention with favorable articles he wrote while an editor at the Texas Observer. Together with his first wife, Brammer maintained a demanding schedule, and he developed what would become a lifelong dependence on amphetamines, sustaining him while he also worked on his fiction. Eventually, these efforts led to his groundbreaking 1959 novel, The Gay Place. Focusing his central character largely on Johnson, Brammer’s only published novel encompasses three related novellas. Together with fellow natives such as Larry McMurtry, Brammer would alter the narrow backwoods perception of Texans. “His arch storytelling style seemed unique,” writes Daugherty, “because other writers had not yet exploited Texas’s rich hypocrisies—the bad behavior of its politicians and religious leaders. Demographically, Texas became more urban than rural in 1950. A decade later this population shift was producing striking cultural changes. Brammer was the most sophisticated, most literary example of a Texas boy from an essentially rural background to adopt an urban lifestyle, to loosen his grip on the culture’s cherished traditions, to explore the latest fashions, gadgets, art, and music.” His increasing drug dependency, which overtook any further writing ambitions, served to firmly position him within the center of the evolving 1960s counterculture movement, as he explored various underground venues and encountered such icons as Janis Joplin.

An engrossing, well-documented biography of a largely forgotten writer and his place within a quickly changing period of the 20th century.

Pub Date: Oct. 17, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4773-1635-1

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Univ. of Texas

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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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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