CURL UP WITH NONFICTION…

Even though I am not officially participating in Nonfiction November, I already have many books from that category, and I’ve been eagerly adding to that stack.

On November 12, I’ll be receiving my pre-ordered copy of Carrie Fisher:  A Life on the Edge, by Sheila Weller.

Sourced by friends, colleagues, and witnesses to all stages of Fisher’s life, Carrie Fisher: A Life on the Edge is an empathic and even-handed portrayal of a woman who―as Princess Leia, but mostly as herself―was a feminist heroine, one who died at a time when we need her blazing, healing honesty more than ever.

This morning I read a review of the upcoming release that reminded me of how much I miss this iconic writer/actor/spokesperson.

I have read her books, watched her one-woman show Wishful Drinking, and seen some of the documentaries released since her death.  She and her mother, Debbie Reynolds, were jointly and singularly impressive.  I love that they lived on the same property, with their issues overwhelmed by their mutual adoration.

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Do you love nonfiction, even when it is not November?  Which books are your favorites?  For me, memoirs of impressive celebrities/authors are at the top of the list.

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DECLUTTERING THE OBJECTS & SECRETS OF THE PAST — A REVIEW

When Lucy Bloom, personal organizer, sells her home and most of her possessions to afford her son Ash’s drug rehab, she needs a job that will bring in enough to finance her new life.

Her new job turns out to be the most challenging one she’s had: oversee the decluttering of a “hoarder” artist’s home, and do it discreetly. The downside is she has a very limited time to accomplish the task, but if she does, she’ll receive a huge bonus.

It sounds fairly straightforward, but soon Lucy discovers that her client, Marva Meier Rios, seemingly cannot let go of anything and fights her all along the way.

In the process of completing this task, what will Lucy uncover amidst the detritus of Marva’s life? What secrets from the past are informing the present? And how will Lucy finally get through to her addicted son who seems unwilling to stay in rehab?

In answering these questions and in exploring a defunct relationship that she may have ended prematurely, Lucy must discover that “there are those things you keep, things you let go of—and it’s often not easy to know the difference.”

A richly engaging story that delves into the heart of human relationships, both to other people and to the objects they possess, Objects of My Affection: A Novel was a five-star read for me.

A VIEW FROM THE TOP

A mysterious and elusive woman, Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Perennial Modern Classics), is the subject of this portrait by Charles J. Shields.

A former English teacher, Shields set for himself the task of writing Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee, this compelling biography based on hundreds of interviews, piecing together a picture of this Southern woman who began life in Monroeville, Alabama, the child of an attorney, whose mother suffered from a condition most likened to a bipolar disorder. Growing up, she was known to family and friends as “Nelle.” Lee enjoyed a tomboyish existence in the neighborhood, where she first met and became friends with Truman Capote. Their relationship lasted many years, although in later years, a strain hovered over this friendship—perhaps due to her success and his envy.

In her early years in NY, while she attempted to write her book and live the writer’s life, she became a part of a small community of like-minded friends that included her agent, Maurice Crain, and others of similar interests. Throughout her life, they would be her support system and conduit to the literary world.

At about the time her book was completed and just before its publication, Lee accompanied Truman Capote to Kansas as his assistant, to gather information on the killings of the Clutter family in Holcomb. Some say that her contribution to the eventual book, In Cold Blood, was huge (yet unacknowledged).

After the several years it took to complete To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Perennial Modern Classics), when it finally came out, Lee allegedly remarked that she hoped that some people would like it. She was definitely unprepared for its huge success, which included bestseller status almost immediately; a Pulitzer Prize; and, of course, the movie.

Throughout this compelling portrayal of a fascinating writer, I could not help but long for something more about her life. More rich details of how she lives day-to-day. From all accounts, however, she blends almost seamlessly into the life of her small community. Occasional trips to NY became less frequent. For a woman who attained a great degree of fame and wealth, she certainly reportedly lives like an ordinary person—maybe less so, since she apparently strove diligently to maintain privacy and anonymity.

And yet, in this biographical sketch, there were occasional accounts of interactions with people that might suggest a more sociable side lying just below the surface.

For the most part, however, she seems to stay connected primarily with her family, her church friends, and others in the community. I liked reading descriptions of how she would be seen sitting alone at a table in a local restaurant, eating dinner, and enjoying her own company—or how her modest home is filled with books in every room. These tidbits reveal a contented person, despite what one might conclude. I especially enjoyed reading a comment she made to someone who asked her why she didn’t write another book: “I had every intention of writing many novels,” she reportedly said, “but I could never have imagined the success To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Perennial Modern Classics) would enjoy. I became overwhelmed.” And in another instance, she was reported to have said something like…when you’ve reached the top, there’s only one way to go.

How intimidating this degree of success must have been for a woman with no pretensions, who had hoped to achieve her dream of writing a book (or several), and then, in one fell swoop, achieves the totally unexpected feat of becoming the creator of the most widely read American novel ever. To reach this level of success and then to live with it afterwards had to be the greatest accomplishment of all. In another quote from Lee that occurred a little more than a year after her book was published, she said: “People who have made peace with themselves are the people I most admire in the world.”

She seems to belong in that company of admirable people.

Five stars.

ALWAYS AUDITIONING

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Barbara Walters’ memoir encompasses her more than forty years of television journalism interviewing heads of state, world leaders, movie stars, criminals, murderers, inspirational figures, and celebrities of all kinds. Finally she turns her gift for examination onto herself to reveal the forces that shaped her extraordinary life.

We learn about her childhood with a father whose love of show business first brought the glamour and risk-taking of that life into her world and a mother, supportive, but often frustrated by the numerous times the family had to uproot in order to follow his dreams. We share her pain as she describes what it was like growing up with a mentally disabled sister whom she loved, but with whom she could share very little as they grew older. Despite her own ambitions, Ms. Walters made sure that her family was cared for during the lean times.

Her love affairs, her marriages, her child—we find out about each event in her life as she tells us in an anecdotal way, almost as if we’re having a conversation.

That is what I most enjoyed about this book…the feeling that I, as the reader, had somehow been granted admission into her living room or dining room while she described in detail the numerous aspects of her life. Her efforts to achieve recognition in a journalistic world that often overlooked women; the competitive moments; her occasional mistakes along the way—all shared with candor, humor, and insight. Her awesome and inspiring climb to a success that has included not only the famous interviews, but the numerous shows she has hosted, from the Today show, 20/20, the Specials…and now The View.

I must admit that the political aspects of the memoir were less-fascinating to me than the celebrity features, but it was clear that she is knowledgeable and that she very diligently did her homework for each and every assignment. And obviously she has kept impeccable records over the years to be able to recount all these moments with such detail.

A most admirable and extraordinary tome, Audition (Vintage), by its very name, sums up an aspect of the author that, perhaps, can shed light on this unique individual. In her own words, she talks about having to “audition” constantly, in the sense that she had to stand out and shine in order to achieve her goals. She had to be better than the best in a highly competitive world, and she excelled.

If I could, I would give this book ten stars, but I will settle for five.

A FICTIONALIZED VERSION…

In this exciting book, Black Water (Contemporary Fiction, Plume), we glimpse events that culminated in a disastrous leap into the black waters surrounding an island in Maine. It is a fictionalized version of an episode well-known to Americans who followed the frightening and horrifying plunge that turned a politician’s world upside down.

Joyce Carol Oates has created a tradition of taking real-life events and turning them into fiction. In the process, she adds insights that surface from behind the familiar news stories and creates questions about what might have happened.

In this particular story, we follow a young girl, Kelly Kelleher, who is wide-eyed with admiration for the charismatic Senator. They leave a party to rush to the ferry, and along the way, the car crashes through the guard rail and into the waters.

What sets this story apart is the back and forth meanderings of the girl’s mind as she recalls how she came to meet the Senator, moments they shared, her dreams for future events…all flashing “before her eyes” in a slow-motion kind of way.

I kept thinking maybe this story would turn out differently, just like when we watch a movie over and over, hoping for that happily-ever-after. But the conclusions we can draw are really all about those thoughts and feelings that flow like a slideshow of episodes and memories.

BEHIND THE PINK DOOR — A Review of “Girl (maladjusted)”

Molly Jong-Fast’s memoir chronicles her childhood and young adulthood as the daughter of famous writer Erica Jong (Fear of Flying) and grandfather Howard Fast (Spartacus), with all the aspects, good and bad, of that celebrity existence.  Living in a “townhouse with a pink door and paintings of ladies playing naked Twister,” her childhood also featured many visits to therapists, numerous nannies, and private schools where she felt like a misfit most of the time.

Much of what she describes is told in a wry, self-deprecatory fashion, and she habitually renames her celebrity acquaintances and therapists (like calling one woman Adolf Hitler), allegedly to avoid lawsuits, but I also think she enjoyed the comic value of such renaming.

Some parts of “Girl (maladjusted)” were enlightening and enjoyable, while other sections seemed so uneventful as to be irrelevant.  I skimmed these sections, I must admit.  With most of this book seemingly dedicated to what it was like to be the daughter of a celebrity, there were surprisingly few descriptions of mother/daughter interactions.  In fact, the few descriptions that did come across seemed like footnotes to the real story, whatever that was supposed to be.

This book was only mildly interesting, which is why I’m awarding it three stars.