REVIEW: KAMALA’S WAY, BY DAN MORAIN

 

A revelatory biography of the first Black woman to stand for Vice President, charting how the daughter of two immigrants in segregated California became one of this country’s most effective power players.

There’s very little that’s conventional about Kamala Harris, and yet her personal story also represents the best of America. She grew up the eldest daughter of a single mother, a no-nonsense cancer researcher who emigrated from India at the age of nineteen in search of a better education. She and her husband, an accomplished economist from Jamaica, split up when Kamala was only five.

The Kamala Harris the public knows today is tough, smart, quick-witted, and demanding. She’s a prosecutor—her one-liners are legendary—but she’s more reticent when it comes to sharing much about herself, even in her memoirs. Fortunately, former Los Angeles Times reporter Dan Morain has been there from the start.

In Kamala’s Way, he charts her career from its beginnings handling child molestation cases and homicides for the Alameda County District Attorney’s office and her relationship as a twenty-nine-year-old with the most powerful man in the state: married Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, a relationship that would prove life-changing. Morain takes readers through Harris’s years in the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, explores her audacious embrace of the little-known Barack Obama, and shows the sharp elbows she deployed to make it to the US Senate. He analyzes her failure as a presidential candidate and the behind-the-scenes campaign she waged to land the Vice President spot. Along the way, he paints a vivid picture of her values and priorities, the kind of people she brings into her orbit, the sorts of problems she’s good at solving, and the missteps, risks, and bold moves she’s made on her way to the top.

 
 
 

In Kamala’s Way, we meet an unconventional, bright, and ambitious girl who grows into a young woman on the move. A woman with goals and an intensity about achieving them. She had no problem being mentored by powerful people, including an older man who opened some doors for her.

But she worked hard and had the ability to speak out against the wrongs she witnessed in her daily life. Moving from her role as a prosecutor to attorney general of California and finally to a senate seat in 2016, she was poised to become the change that she wanted to effect in the world and was ready to correct the ills she encountered.

Sometimes her “way” put her on a path of antagonizing some, while at other times, her truly compassionate side shone through. In the end, she stayed focused and finally found her true calling in the 2020 election as the Vice President in Joe Biden’s Presidency.

Sometimes the author skipped around a lot in the telling of this story, but he always caught me up in the end. 4.5 stars.#2021ReadNonFic

 
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REVIEW: CONSENT, BY VANESSA SPRINGORA

Already an international literary sensation, an intimate and powerful memoir of a young French teenage girl’s relationship with a famous, much older male writer—a universal #MeToo story of power, manipulation, trauma, recovery, and resiliency that exposes the hypocrisy of a culture that has allowed the sexual abuse of minors to occur unchecked.

Sometimes, all it takes is a single voice to shatter the silence of complicity.

Thirty years ago, Vanessa Springora was the teenage muse of one of the country’s most celebrated writers, a footnote in the narrative of a very influential man in the French literary world.

At the end of 2019, as women around the world began to speak out, Vanessa, now in her forties and the director of one of France’s leading publishing houses, decided to reclaim her own story, offering her perspective of those events sharply known.

Consent is the story of one precocious young girl’s stolen adolescence. Devastating in its honesty, Vanessa’s painstakingly memoir lays bare the cultural attitudes and circumstances that made it possible for a thirteen-year-old girl to become involved with a fifty-year-old man who happened to be a notable writer. As she recalls the events of her childhood and her seduction by one of her country’s most notable writers, Vanessa reflects on the ways in which this disturbing relationship changed and affected her as she grew older.

Drawing parallels between children’s fairy tales and French history and her personal life, Vanessa offers an intimate and absorbing look at the meaning of love and consent and the toll of trauma and the power of healing in women’s lives. Ultimately, she offers a forceful indictment of a chauvinistic literary world that has for too long accepted and helped perpetuate gender inequality and the exploitation and sexual abuse of children.

Translated from the French by Natasha Lehrer

A father, conspicuous only by his absence, who left an unfathomable void, a pronounced taste for reading, a certain sexual precocity, and, most of all, an enormous need to be seen…here we find all the necessary elements now in place.

Thus opens the novel Consent, written by the “victim” of the piece, along with a translator.

Through the pages and in the voice of “V,” we learn the very personal story of a young girl who has found herself trapped and unable to escape. Until much later. And even as the years unfold, the shadow of her perpetrator hovers overhead, indelibly leaving his mark.

I found myself trapped as well, unable to feel anything but disgust for the “famous writer” who has taken over the life of this young woman. Silence means consent, according to the norms of the day.

We might believe that V was complicit in these events, but not when we study the whole of her situation. I could feel nothing but sadness for her, but jubilation in her final escape. A brilliant read. 5 stars.#2021ReadNonFic

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REVIEW: LIFE IN PIECES, BY DAWN O’PORTER

From reflections on grief and identity, bad hair and parenting, sleep and spirituality, to the things we can control and the things we cannot, Dawn has been doing a lot of thinking about life in lockdown. Mostly from a cupboard. Discover the daily diaries that track the journey – for a hilarious, heartbreaking and highly entertaining glimpse into the new normal.

‘There’s been a lot of well-meaning but mad advice on how to contend with the strangest period of human history any of us has ever lived through. Dawn O’Porter redresses the balance by telling it as it really has been: holding out for 5pm to crack open the tequila’ Mark Watson

As soon as I began reading Life in Pieces, I was smiling and sometimes laughing at her view of 2020. Unlike her, I am not a mother of small children, but a senior citizen; however, having been in that role, I could definitely imagine how the year would play out from her perspective.

Her occasional jabs at those in charge in this strange new world particularly resonated with me. None of us are happy to learn that politics has played such a role in how events unfolded for us.

Now I am just hoping to make it through the year…and beyond, if necessary, but it is great to read books like this one along the way.

I like her description of events: “I am speaking to my family more. I am working on my marriage more. I am nesting, organizing, preparing for disaster, making sure that, if the world goes to shit, we will survive. I am loving harder than I’ve ever loved in my life. I was alone with my grief, but now the whole world is grieving too. A solidarity that we can’t deny.”

I love when a book pulls it all together so nicely, reminding us that, in the midst of uncertainty and chaos, there is a silver lining. 5 stars.

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REVIEW: TOO MUCH & NEVER ENOUGH, BY MARY L. TRUMP, PH.D.

In this revelatory, authoritative portrait of Donald J. Trump and the toxic family that made him, Mary L. Trump, a trained clinical psychologist and Donald’s only niece, shines a bright light on the dark history of their family in order to explain how her uncle became the man who now threatens the world’s health, economic security, and social fabric.

Mary Trump spent much of her childhood in her grandparents’ large, imposing house in the heart of Queens, New York, where Donald and his four siblings grew up. She describes a nightmare of traumas, destructive relationships, and a tragic combination of neglect and abuse. She explains how specific events and general family patterns created the damaged man who currently occupies the Oval Office, including the strange and harmful relationship between Fred Trump and his two oldest sons, Fred Jr. and Donald.

A firsthand witness to countless holiday meals and interactions, Mary brings an incisive wit and unexpected humor to sometimes grim, often confounding family events. She recounts in unsparing detail everything from her uncle Donald’s place in the family spotlight and Ivana’s penchant for regifting to her grandmother’s frequent injuries and illnesses and the appalling way Donald, Fred Trump’s favorite son, dismissed and derided him when he began to succumb to Alzheimer’s.

Numerous pundits, armchair psychologists, and journalists have sought to parse Donald J. Trump’s lethal flaws. Mary L. Trump has the education, insight, and intimate familiarity needed to reveal what makes Donald, and the rest of her clan, tick. She alone can recount this fascinating, unnerving saga, not just because of her insider’s perspective but also because she is the only Trump willing to tell the truth about one of the world’s most powerful and dysfunctional families.


From the very first page of Too Much and Never Enough, the author spoke to us from her position inside the family, as well as by way of her clinical training.We learn how Donald Trump was taught by his father that lying is okay and admitting that you are wrong is a sign of weakness. We also see how his arrogance is a defense against abandonment (by his mother) and an antidote to his lack of self-esteem.Why do so many with access to him now, in his position, enable him? Their futures are directly dependent on his success and favor.The author talks about his response (or lack thereof) to Covid-19 and how it underscores his need to minimize negativity at all costs. Fear, the equivalent of weakness in his family, is as unacceptable to him now as it was when he was three years old.

The toxic positivity that his father deployed within the family is the very same thing now driving the man who has placed the country and the democracy in danger. Let us not be complicit in the destruction by ignoring it.

A great read that kept me turning pages and earned 5 stars.

Read for the Nonfiction Challenge. –#2020ReadNonFic

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REVIEW: HUNGRY HEART, BY JENNIFER WEINER

Jennifer Weiner is many things: a bestselling author, a Twitter phenomenon, and an “unlikely feminist enforcer” (The New Yorker). She’s also a mom, a daughter, and a sister, a clumsy yogini, and a reality-TV devotee. In this “unflinching look at her own experiences” (Entertainment Weekly), Jennifer fashions tales of modern-day womanhood as uproariously funny and moving as the best of Nora Ephron and Tina Fey.

No subject is off-limits in these intimate and honest essays: sex, weight, envy, money, her mother’s coming out of the closet, her estranged father’s death. From lonely adolescence to hearing her six-year-old daughter say the F word—fat—for the first time, Jen dives into the heart of female experience, with the wit and candor that have endeared her to readers all over the world.

 

I waited a long time before reading Hungry Heart; (I purchased the book in January 2016). I waited because that’s what we sometimes do to our books to be read, and a nonfiction title occasionally gets ignored for a while. I love her writing and kept reading her fiction along the way.

Just as her fiction grabs me, so did her memoir, and I couldn’t stop turning the pages while she told her story. She is a great storyteller, as we know, and I liked how she approached each topic, not necessarily in chronological order, but in just the right order to leave the most impact. Her college and writing life came first, and I couldn’t wait to learn about how she created Good in Bed and In Her Shoes, not to mention her subsequent titles. I also enjoyed learning about the pieces she wrote for magazines and her time working as a journalist.

Her marriage and childbirth stories came along at the right time, too, and eventually, other climactic moments showed up near the end: details about her father’s abandonment, hoarding, and horrific death, and the emotional losses created by his behavior.Early on we watch as she grapples with her food and weight issues, and later we smile as she shares her social media experiences, including some tweet storms.

Even her special pets get their time in the spotlight. Throughout, her humorous and sometimes snarky voice shines through, making me want to keep going. A book that earned 5 stars from me.#2020ReadNonFic

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REVIEW: CARRIE FISHER: A LIFE ON THE EDGE, BY SHEILA WELLER

 

Weller traces Fisher’s life from her Hollywood royalty roots to her untimely and shattering death after Christmas 2016. Her mother was the spunky and adorable Debbie Reynolds; her father, the heartthrob crooner Eddie Fisher. When Eddie ran off with Elizabeth Taylor, the scandal thrust little Carrie Frances into a bizarre spotlight, gifting her with an irony and an aplomb that would resonate throughout her life.

We follow Fisher’s acting career, from her debut in Shampoo, the hit movie that defined mid-1970s Hollywood, to her seizing of the plum female role in Star Wars, which catapulted her to instant fame. We explore her long, complex relationship with Paul Simon and her relatively peaceful years with the talent agent Bryan Lourd. We witness her startling leap―on the heels of a near-fatal overdose―from actress to highly praised, bestselling author, the Dorothy Parker of her place and time.

Weller sympathetically reveals the conditions that Fisher lived with: serious bipolar disorder and an inherited drug addiction. Still, despite crises and overdoses, her life’s work―as an actor, a novelist and memoirist, a script doctor, a hostess, and a friend―was prodigious and unique. As one of her best friends said, “I almost wish the expression ‘one of a kind’ didn’t exist, because it applies to Carrie in a deeper way than it applies to others.”

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.

As a fan of Carrie Fisher’s books, screenplays, and documentaries, I couldn’t wait to dive into A Life on the Edge. I was not disappointed. I learned new details about her life, her friends, and her work, not to mention how she peeled back “the edifice of her glamour…insisting we meet the messy, funny, flawed woman underneath….” thus becoming her own legend.

Throughout the book, and with the mention of other parts of her celebrated, yet vulnerable and troubled life, I felt even more connected to her. After her death, I watched her One Woman Show Wishful Drinking again, along with Bright Lights, a documentary that reveals so much of the unique relationship between Carrie and Debbie. Yes, they had issues and troubling times, but always they were connected in such a deep way that it was not surprising to those who knew them well that Debbie died one day after her daughter. They could not be separated, even in death.

In one of her letters to the mother of a dying friend, Carrie wrote: “There’s a chance that there’s peace at the end of the march. Peace and companionship with old friends, waiting eagerly for your arrival. Yes, you will be missed. But the best of those who love you will always carry a part of you …You exist as a soft smile…in the midst of a fond memory.”

Carrie’s work, and how she conveyed herself as someone “famous for just being herself,” will keep her alive for those of us who will hang onto the brightness in her as we continue to read and view her works. 5 stars.

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REVIEW: TOUCHED BY THE SUN, BY CARLY SIMON

 

Carly Simon and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis made an unlikely pair―Carly, a free and artistic spirit still reeling from her recent divorce, searching for meaning, new love, and an anchor; and Jackie, one of the most celebrated, meticulous, unknowable women in American history.

Nonetheless, over the next decade their lives merged in inextricable and complex ways, and they forged a connection deeper than either could ever have foreseen. The time they spent together–―lingering lunches and creative collaborations, nights out on the town and movie dates―brought a welcome lightness and comfort to their days, but their conversations often veered into more profound territory as they helped each other navigate the shifting waters of life lived, publicly, in the wake of great love and great loss.

An intimate, vulnerable, and insightful portrait of the bond that grew between two iconic and starkly different American women, Carly Simon’s Touched by the Sun is a chronicle, in loving detail, of the late friendship she and Jackie shared. It is a meditation on the ways someone can unexpectedly enter our lives and change its course, as well as a celebration of kinship in all its many forms.

 

 

I was caught up in the author’s thoughts about her relationship with Jackie in Touched by the Sun. I discovered a few tidbits about Jackie in Carly Simon’s narrative, but more than anything, I could see who Jackie was from Carly’s perspective.

If I was hoping for more layers about Jackie, however, I did not find them in this book. I was glad to see Jackie from Carly’s point of view, and this glimpse of Jackie and their friendship was a treasure because I do admire Carly Simon, and enjoyed her thoughts and feelings. Therefore, I kept reading until the very last page. 3.5 stars.

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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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REVIEW: QUEEN MERYL, BY ERIN CARLSON

 

Meryl Streep is the most celebrated actress of our time. She’s a chameleon who disappears fully into each character she plays. She never tackles the same role twice. Instead, she leverages her rarified platform to channel a range of dynamic, complicated women—Joanna Kramer, Karen Silkwood, Julia Child, Margaret Thatcher, Katharine Graham—rather than limit herself to marginal roles for which other actresses must settle: Supportive Wife. Supportive Mother. Supportive Yet Utterly Disposable Love Interest. Streep will have none of that.

The once-awkward, frizzy-haired suburban teen blossomed into a rising ingénue on the stage at Vassar College and the Yale School of Drama. She came of age during the women’s movement of the ’60s and ’70s, and has worn her activism on her sleeve even when it was unfashionable. When she reached 40, the age when many leading ladies fade away, Streep plunged forward, taking her pick of parts that interested her and winning a pile of awards along the way. Meanwhile, she remained an unlikely box-office draw, her clout even managing to grow with age: The Devil Wears Prada, starring Streep as the Anna Wintour avatar Miranda Priestly, scored $326 million worldwide.

Journalist and author Erin Carlson documents all of Streep’s Oscars, accents, causes, memes, friendships, and feuds; also exploring the “off-brand” forays into action-adventure (The River Wild) and musicals (Mamma Mia!), and how Streep managed to sneak her feminism into each character. In the spirit of nontraditional bestsellers like Notorious RBG and The Tao of Bill Murray, Queen Meryl is illustrated by artist Justin Teodoro and filled with fascinating lists and sidebars, delivering joy in homage to its unique and brilliant subject.

To describe Queen Meryl as an ode to an amazing actor and person would be an understatement. While there were some details of occasional movies or experiences that I might call slightly tedious, the overall experience of reading about Meryl Streep was something to truly enjoy.

To add to my delight were the drawings that accompanied each chapter.

My enjoyment of her movies, most of which I’ve seen, was enhanced by some personal touches, like how she starred with her toddler daughter Mamie in Heartburn, then her daughter as an adult in Evening, and finally in Ricki and the Flash. I may have missed a few appearances. Personal favorites also included the movie Silkwood and The Devil Wears Prada. Who can deny how Meryl immerses herself fully into her roles?

If you are a fan of the actor, or even some of her personal beliefs about the industry or life in general, you will probably enjoy this book which I give 5 stars.

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REVIEW: INSIDE OUT, BY DEMI MOORE

 

For decades, Demi Moore has been synonymous with celebrity. From iconic film roles to high-profile relationships, Moore has never been far from the spotlight―or the headlines.

Even as Demi was becoming the highest paid actress in Hollywood, however, she was always outrunning her past, just one step ahead of the doubts and insecurities that defined her childhood. Throughout her rise to fame and during some of the most pivotal moments of her life, Demi battled addiction, body image issues, and childhood trauma that would follow her for years―all while juggling a skyrocketing career and at times negative public perception. As her success grew, Demi found herself questioning if she belonged in Hollywood, if she was a good mother, a good actress―and, always, if she was simply good enough.

As much as her story is about adversity, it is also about tremendous resilience. In this deeply candid and reflective memoir, Demi pulls back the curtain and opens up about her career and personal life―laying bare her tumultuous relationship with her mother, her marriages, her struggles balancing stardom with raising a family, and her journey toward open-heartedness. Inside Out is a story of survival, success, and surrender―a wrenchingly honest portrayal of one woman’s at once ordinary and iconic life.

Demi’s tumultuous journey is one I’ve read about in occasional magazine pieces, so I enjoyed the opportunity to follow her story told in her own voice in this memoir, Inside Out.

I had already been aware that her childhood was fraught with abuse, abandonment, addictions, and the low self-esteem that explains a lot about some of her actions and her choices. Her in-depth exploration that led to her current feelings of peace and self-acceptance was insightful and truly rewarding.

Some believe that celebrity status offers its own rewards, but the glaring exposure that accompanies these so-called gifts can chip away at any feelings of bliss and comfort.

I enjoyed learning more about Demi’s family life and how she and Bruce Willis co-parent from small-town Hailey, Idaho, where their family compound offers a place to retreat. Her story spotlights her life with all its flaws and vulnerabilities, bringing everything out into the open, from the “inside out.” 5 stars.

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