REVIEW: MY LIFE TO LIVE, BY AGNES NIXON

 

Before there was Erica Kane, Adam Chandler, or Victoria Lord, there was Agnes Nixon, a young girl who dreamed up stories for paper dolls. Those tales she imagined–ones filled with ambitions, rivalries, and romances–would soon parallel her own path to success. In a memoir filled with as much drama as the soaps she penned, Nixon shares her journey from Nashville to New York City, as she overcomes the loss of her fiancé in World War II, a father intent on crushing her writing dreams, and the jealousy of her male colleagues on her way to becoming one of the most successful names in television.

While fans will delight in Nixon’s own incredible life, they will also love her behind-the-scenes insight into her most popular shows. Inside, she shares the inspiration for Erica Kane and how she cast Susan Lucci in the role; an excerpt from the never-before-seen All My Children story bible; entertaining anecdotes about her shows’ beloved casts and special guests, including Carol Burnett, Kelly Ripa, Oprah Winfrey, and Warren Buffett; and more.

But My Life to Live is also a portrait of a pioneer. Driven to use her ratings power for good, Nixon fought and broke network taboos by wrestling with controversial social issues ranging from women’s health, interracial relationships, and the Vietnam War to drug addiction, LGBT rights, and AIDS. By infusing her characters with sensitivity, humor, and humanity, she enabled millions to examine an opposite point of view. And long before Shonda Rhimes launched a golden age of female showrunners, Agnes Nixon positioned ABC to become the media giant it is today. She is a true television legend, and her candid and inspiring glimpse behind the curtain of the television industry will charm soap fans and story lovers alike.

My Thoughts: I became a fan of “soap operas” in the 1960s when I first had some time at home in the daytime. Guiding Light was one of my favorites, and Agnes Nixon was a writer on that soap for a while.

One Life to Live, another of her creations, was one I first saw in the 1970s, and then again just before the show went off the air. By the time it was canceled, I was hooked. And happy to hear that it would go online, along with All My Children, which I had just started watching. But that happy dream did not last long.

She has, rightly, been touted as the Queen of Soaps, and reading how she came to write for soaps in a world dominated by men was definitely engaging.

Her own life could have been a soap drama, with losses and conflicts, not to mention seeing racism up close and personal in her hometown. Using what she knew and what she had lived in her stories, and bringing social relevance to daytime, would be her trademark. It was how she captured the love of the fans. A memoir that drew me in from the first pages, My Life to Live earned 5 stars from me.

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REVIEW: TALKING AS FAST AS I CAN, BY LAUREN GRAHAM

In Talking as Fast as I Can, Lauren Graham hits pause for a moment and looks back on her life, sharing laugh-out-loud stories about growing up, starting out as an actress, and, years later, sitting in her trailer on the Parenthood set and asking herself, “Did you, um, make it?” She opens up about the challenges of being single in Hollywood (“Strangers were worried about me; that’s how long I was single!”), the time she was asked to audition her butt for a role, and her experience being a judge on Project Runway (“It’s like I had a fashion-induced blackout”).

In “What It Was Like, Part One,” Graham sits down for an epic Gilmore Girls marathon and reflects on being cast as the fast-talking Lorelai Gilmore. The essay “What It Was Like, Part Two” reveals how it felt to pick up the role again nine years later, and what doing so has meant to her.

Some more things you will learn about Lauren: She once tried to go vegan just to bond with Ellen DeGeneres, she’s aware that meeting guys at awards shows has its pitfalls (“If you’re meeting someone for the first time after three hours of hair, makeup, and styling, you’ve already set the bar too high”), and she’s a card-carrying REI shopper (“My bungee cords now earn points!”).

Including photos and excerpts from the diary Graham kept during the filming of the recent Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, this book is like a cozy night in, catching up with your best friend, laughing and swapping stories, and—of course—talking as fast as you can.


My Thoughts: I was probably one of the last people to come to the Gilmore Girls party, but once I discovered the show on Netflix, I couldn’t stop watching. The term “binge watching” completely describes my experience.

Before I found myself a real fan of this show, I had already discovered Lauren Graham in movies and on Parenthood.

Now, in Talking as Fast as I Can, I liked discovering her personal take on her movies, TV shows, and relationships. Her self-deprecating voice kept me smiling, even as I felt like someone who was having a conversation with her.

I liked learning how she came to start writing, and enjoyed her descriptions of her writing process, which included tidbits from someone whose process became part of her writing style.

But my favorite moments were the peeks behind the scenes on the sets, especially the ones related to the Gilmore Girls reboot. Special moments involved the connections with the cast who felt like family, and the emotions they experienced as they wrapped up the show. As a reader, I felt like I was part of it all. 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: UNSINKABLE, BY DEBBIE REYNOLDS

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A story of a star from the Golden Age of Hollywood, Unsinkable brings us the inspirational tale of Debbie Reynolds, a woman who rose above the adversities that life offered…and soared. She truly excelled at finding the bright spots in her life, even though she was betrayed by the men she married.

Her children, Carrie and Todd Fisher, are truly the lights of her life, and despite Carrie’s struggles with mental health issues and addiction, she, too, has managed to turn darkness into humor and creative accomplishments.

There are also the stories of friendships, torn and mended, like the one between Debbie and Elizabeth Taylor. After Eddie Fisher left Debbie for Elizabeth, there would naturally be a rift between the two, but Debbie forgave Elizabeth and the two became friends and colleagues again, in a movie Carrie produced, These Old Broads. Debbie, Elizabeth, Shirley MacLaine, and Joan Collins portrayed former stars reuniting when one of their movies becomes a cult hit.

Debbie’s efforts to create a museum for her astonishing collection of movie memorabilia, like costumes from films that spanned decades, became a pursuit that would lead her to explore many venues. When all efforts failed, she bravely did something she had never imagined she would do.

Surviving a career that began with the studio system, facing betrayal and financial upheavals, and still finding a way to keep her sense of humor and grace is a testament to Debbie’s spirit. A fascinating story that kept me intrigued throughout. 4 stars.

ratings worms 4-cropped***

REVIEW: BORN WITH TEETH: A MEMOIR, BY KATE MULGREW

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The first daughter of Joan and Thomas Mulgrew came into the world with four tiny baby teeth, and while the parents were amazed and crowed over her beauty, the friends and neighbors in Dubuque, Iowa, worried that being so proud of her looks would bring nothing good.

Eventually, however, the tiny teeth were removed by the doctor, and the baby grew normally, developing a zest for solid food.

Thus began the life of Kate Mulgrew, who was followed by several more babies, until the family eventually moved to a larger house in the country, one they came to call Derby Grange.

Born with Teeth is a memoir, but it reads like a fictional story at times, and I held my breath, wondering what would unfold next. Not having read much about this actress before this book, I was drawn into the story of how she came to attend Stella Adler’s Studio of Acting as a teenager; how she starred in various productions through the workshop; and eventually joined a soap opera called Ryan’s Hope. While on that show, she fell in love with a young man…and got pregnant. The pregnancy was written into the show, but sadly, afterwards, she gave up the baby, a girl, for adoption. This loss would follow her throughout the years.

Theater was her first love, but she came to appreciate television production, and went on to be a part of another TV show called HeartBeat, in which she starred as a doctor. I remember this show, and enjoyed watching her perform.

Love came along, too, and two beautiful sons. But the marriage would not survive….and she escaped to Ireland to heal. Where she met her true soul mate. But would that relationship survive, with all the obstacles that stood in their way?

Meanwhile, her biggest show yet was about to come. Star Trek: Voyager would come to be one remembered by most people. The show was on for seven seasons.

Now she is a wonderful star in Orange Is the New Black, where she inhabits the role of Red as only she can.

Would Kate eventually find the happiness and love she longed for? Would her life settle into something peaceful? Turning the pages was a very satisfying experience for me, as I wanted to find the answers, too, and I enjoyed her writing style, which felt as though we were having a conversation. Then, in the final, suspenseful chapters, I felt a wonderful satisfaction about the events that unfolded. 5 stars.

CURL UP WITH “WHAT REMAINS”

 

 

 

 

Welcome to another Tuesday celebrating bookish events, from Tuesday/First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea; and Teaser Tuesdays hosted by A Daily Rhythm.

Today’s featured book is a memoir by Carole Radziwill:  What Remains.

 

 

 

 

Intro: (Prologue)

Friday, July 16, 1999

Three weeks before my husband died a young couple smashed their plane into the Atlantic Ocean, off the Massachusetts shoreline, well after the mid-July sun had set.  It was reported in the news as 9:41, but I knew the general time, because I had spoken to the woman less than an hour before.  The pilot was my husband’s cousin, John Kennedy.  His wife, Carolyn Bessette, was my closest friend.  She was sitting behind him next to the only other passenger, her sister, Lauren.  A still, hot summer day had melted into a warm and sticky night.  A quiet night, unremarkable except for the fog, which rolls in and out of New England like a deep sigh.

While we were still making plans, before they took off from Caldwell, New Jersey, she called me from the plane.

“We’ll fly to the Vineyard tomorrow, after the wedding.  We can be there before dinner.”

***

Teaser:  There are three places that define my early life, and you can drive to all of them in half a day.  The city, where I live now; the Rockland County suburb where I grew up; and another small town about an hour’s drive upstate. (p. 21).

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Blurb:  What Remains is a vivid and haunting memoir about a girl from a working-class town who becomes an award-winning television producer and marries a prince, Anthony Radziwill. Carole grew up in a small suburb with a large, eccentric cast of characters. At nineteen, she struck out for New York City to find a different life. Her career at ABC News led her to the refugee camps of Cambodia, to a bunker in Tel Aviv, and to the scene of the Menendez murders. Her marriage led her into the old world of European nobility and the newer world of American aristocracy.

What Remains begins with loss and returns to loss. A small plane plunges into the ocean carrying John F. Kennedy Jr., Anthony’s cousin, and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, Carole’s closest friend. Three weeks later Anthony dies of cancer. With unflinching honesty and a journalist’s keen eye, Carole Radziwill explores the enduring ties of family, the complexities of marriage, the importance of friendship, and the challenges of self-invention. Beautifully written, What Remains “gets at the essence of what matters,” wrote Oprah Winfrey. “Friendship, compassion, destiny.”

***

I have had this book for a while…and now, for some reason, it seems to be clamoring to be read.  What do you think?

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ONE WOMAN’S SOJOURN THROUGH THE GREAT RECESSION — A REVIEW

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In late 2008, the world as most Americans knew it folded in on itself. The Great Recession began.

For Amy Wolf, the author of Don’t Let Me Die In A Motel 6 or One Woman’s Struggle Through The Great Recession, a memoir, nothing could have been more shocking. She had been enjoying the good life, with a well-paid position at Washington Mutual; she lived in a big house; had many advantages; and had always counted on being gainfully employed.

Over the subsequent pages, we learn how the author dealt with events, passing through her days almost like someone in the stages of grief, from anger to acceptance. But along the way, she is tossed about through various degrees of homelessness, living hand to mouth, with occasional (but grudging) assistance from wealthy relatives. Her quest for full-time employment met with constant disappointment.

Her travails were not limited to the financial ones. Her battles with depression, near suicide, and ultimately, a return of the cancer she had fought years before were like a painful backdrop to her troubles with her out-of-control teenage daughter.

Almost like a female modern-day Job, the author plunges ahead, determined to survive. She tells her story with candor and humor, and when she describes how she came out the other end a nicer person, she shows us exactly what she means by that.

Not a tale for the faint-hearted, it was definitely one I won’t forget. Yes, there were poor choices along the way, but Wolf fully admits to all of them, and then demonstrates how she learned and grew from the experiences. 4.5 stars.