The Books That Changed My Life

posted by: April 26, 2016 - 7:00am

The Books That Changed My LifeAsk anyone the question “What is your favorite book?” and you have the beginning of an interesting conversation. But twist that question just a bit, and you get a glimpse into that person’s psyche. Editor Bethanne Patrick does just that in the essay collection The Books That Changed My Life: Reflections by 100 Authors, Actors, Musicians and Other Remarkable People. She surveyed a broad range of interesting people, imploring them to share the titles that affected their existence in an important way.

 

From the poignant to the profound, these two to three page contemplations are fascinating; and just reading them makes you feel an immediate connection to that person. Singer-songwriter Roseanne Cash, daughter of Johnny, names Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder as her life-changing book. Ma and Pa Ingalls demonstrated the day-to-day routines of a loving, dependable family, making Little House a comfortable reprieve for the modern-day Cash, raised in a spotlight of fame, instability and chaos.

 

R.L. Stine, known for the popular Goosebumps series of scary novels for kids, reminds us that the original Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi was the stuff of childhood nightmares and not the charming Disneyfied version. Many of the other essayists also chose a book from their childhood, including such classics as Grimm’s Fairy Tales (Margaret Atwood), The Little Prince (Jacob Hemphill) and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Vu Tran).

 

Others name coming-of-age adult fiction they read as teens, from Gone with the Wind (Jodi Picoult), to The Bell Jar (Meg Wolitzer). Science fiction writer John Scalzi was a precocious reader who discovered The People’s Almanac when he was just 6. The book ignited his love for trivia and curating facts of all kinds, whether or not he understood them.

 

The Washington Post BookWorld editor Ron Charles’ choice, Straight Man by Richard Russo, was a literal life changer. Then a prep school English teacher, Charles picked up the novel from a table of newly published fiction at a local bookstore and decided to write a review, his first ever. He submitted it to The Christian Science Monitor, with more critiques to follow. He ultimately gave up teaching to become their full time reviewer, ultimately landing at The Washington Post. Charles says that newspaper readers “overwhelmingly prefer to read positive reviews...Of course, they want to know which books they should read instead of books they should not read — because they’re not going to read most books anyhow.” Consider this an overwhelmingly positive review of The Books That Changed My Life. What book changed yours?


 
 

The Creative Tarot

posted by: March 9, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Creative TarotFor writers, musicians or artists, Jessa Crispin (founder of bookslut.com) introduces a unique method of working through problems in your creative life: Consult the tarot. You will learn everything you need to know in her new book The Creative Tarot: A Modern Guide to an Inspired Life.

 

Crispin begins by outlining the tarot’s murky origins as a card game and eventual transformation to a fortune-telling medium. She details her own experience with tarot readings and explains that, rather than predicting the future, the cards tell you a story about what is happening in your life. This story can differ from the story you’ve been telling yourself and help you gain a valuable perspective.

 

Essential for any book on the tarot is a detailed description of each of the modern deck’s 78 cards. An intimate understanding of each card is necessary to interpret your own tarot spreads. Many books merely explain how the card might be interpreted, but Crispin takes it a step further and includes a short section entitled “Recommended Materials” for each card. This short list of writings, music recordings, films, works of art (and more!) can be studied to better understand the particular nature of each card. She often compares the cards to various people or situations to make them less theoretical and more relatable — for example, The Star is “The Ziggy Stardust card,” in honor of David Bowie’s outrageous alter ego, while the Five of Coins is compared to painter Leonor Fini, who felt alienated from the Surrealists in 1930s Paris because she was a woman.

 

The Creative Tarot includes everything you need to get started, except the cards themselves. But Crispin talks you through choosing a deck, explain how to set up a reading and gives examples of how to interpret various spreads in reference to your own creative projects.


 
 

Movie Freak

posted by: February 26, 2016 - 6:00am

Cover art for Movie FreakFilm critic Owen Gleiberman, best known for his two-decade stint at Entertainment Weekly, reflects on his passion-turned-career in Movie Freak: My Life Watching Movies. His movie obsession began in the late 1960s when his parents loaded him and his younger siblings into the family Buick for a night at the drive-in outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan. The experience held a “disturbingly sinister excitement” for the young Gleiberman, who was just seven years-old. Did his father choose wholesome family viewing? Oh, no — these were movies HE wanted to see, with no regard for whether they were appropriate for his young children. Gleiberman recalls many adult-oriented drive-in movies he experienced as a third-grader, most notably Rosemary’s Baby and The Boston Strangler. Although they never discussed these films afterward, the experience made him feel closer to his distant parents.

 

By junior high he was addicted to monster movies, and then in high school he gravitated to scandalous films like Last Tango in Paris and A Clockwork Orange, which left a big impression. But the movie that shifted his entire worldview was John Waters’ Pink Flamingos, which he admits scared the “bejesus” out of him, and fulfilled his craziest drive-in dreams for the extreme.

 

His first forays into criticism came during college at The University of Michigan. He was obsessive in his film viewing, referring to it as “the religion that sustained me.” He muses that the true movie buff leads a solitary existence, even when they are with other people. Movies help you leave yourself behind, and the essential experience has almost nothing to do with the quality of what you’re seeing.

 

Readers who love pop culture will enjoy Movie Freak. Gleiberman has always been a critic who speaks his own mind, proud of the fact that he doesn’t go along with the crowd when it comes to his reviews. He isn’t swayed by the Hollywood machine — he calls it as he sees it, even when that leaves him as odd man out, as it did when he panned the Julia Roberts/Richard Gere romantic comedy Pretty Woman. He is proud of championing indie films like the documentary Crumb, and unapologetic in his general dislike of foreign films.

 

Digressions into his personal life could have been left out, but when Gleiberman sticks to the business of Hollywood and the changing face of film criticism in the time of relentless blogging and social media, Movie Freak shines.

 


 
 

My Father, the Pornographer

posted by: February 18, 2016 - 7:00am

My Father, the PornographerIn the small Kentucky town where the miner’s son grew up to be a miner and the bootlegger’s son grew up to be a bootlegger, no one was surprised when the writer’s son grew up to be a writer in Chris Offutt’s new memoir My Father, the Pornographer.

 

Imagine that your father dies and you, as the eldest son, are tasked with the responsibility of cleaning out his office. Now imagine discovering that your father, who passed himself off as a science fiction writer, also wrote hundreds of pornographic novels. After clearing out decades’ worth of garbage and searching the vents for hidden treasure that turns out to be nothing more than his father’s last practical joke, Offutt quickly realizes that his father’s writing career wasn’t merely supplemented by pornography — it was the bulk of it. In an attempt to understand his deceased father’s perverse obsessions, he packs and transports nearly two tons of his father’s work from his childhood home to his current residence in Mississippi.

 

But more than just a story of Andrew Offutt’s career as a pornographer, this is also the tale of Chris Offutt’s childhood and a meditation on his contentious relationship with his father. As Offutt acts as archeologist, reconstructing his father’s career and life, he realizes just how much they have in common. Offutt is struck by his father’s unique writing method: He kept a catalog of descriptions filed under various (frequently vulgar) categories and when writing a novel he plugged the passages in where needed. When the younger Offutt considered joining the military, he prepared for basic training by filling a notebook with amusing anecdotes pilfered from Reader’s Digest’s “Humor in Uniform,” divided into specific categories, that he could pass off as his own experiences in letters he wrote to his family back home. Although he himself is not a purveyor of pornography, Offutt is dismayed at the similarities he finds. He isn’t sure what he hopes to learn from immersing himself in his father’s “private and unfiltered fantasies,” but the deeper he digs, the harder it is to walk away.

 

For another memoir about the father/son relationship, check out Nick Flynn’s Another Bullshit Night in Suck City.


 
 

The State of Play

posted by: February 9, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for The State of PlayVideo gaming is one of the most rapidly growing and ever evolving hobbies of the 21st century. The gaming industry grosses more money each year than the movie and music industries combined. With figures like this, it’s no surprise that a gaming counterculture has arisen, eager to create and share games that shun traditional styles in favor of a more indie appeal. In The State of Play: Creators and Critics on Video Game Culture, notable game designers, players and critics sound off their opinions on the current trends and directions of both the AAA and indie game movements.

 

One of the topics most frequently discussed in The State of Play is the concept of player identity. Evan Narcisse’s “The Natural,” Hussein Ibrahim’s “What It Feels Like to Play the Bad Guy,” and Anita Sarkeesian and Katherine Cross’ “Your Humanity Is in Another Castle” all make great arguments for more diversity in every aspect of the characters players control and interact with.

 

Zoe Quinn, creator of the notable indie game Depression Quest, details her harrowing experiences developing, launching and living through her game and gives readers a glimpse into what it was like to come under fire during the infamous #Gamergate movement of late 2014. Merritt Kopas’ essay “Ludus Interruptus” makes a great argument for much more open-minded views of sexuality and acts of sex in Western gaming. Despite making massive strides in both technical and creative compositions in the past few years, video games have still remained very old-fashioned when it comes to sex and how it’s initiated, portrayed and perceived in media.

 

Readers who identify as gamers or are interested in the increasingly complex culture of video games should read The State of Play. Games are currently one of the most powerful creative mediums for expression, offering users the chance to become fully immersed in their experiences through interaction. The State of Play is a fantastic, unprecedented collection of reflective literature on different experiences from every angle. Every essay is spliced with Internet links and footnotes leading to resources for further exploration, and there is much to be learned.
 

Tom

Tom

 
 

But Enough About Me

posted by: January 7, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for But Enough About MeBut Enough About Me: A Memoir is Burt Reynolds' no-holds-barred account of the people he has known throughout his life, including childhood friends, mentors and, of course, Hollywood celebrities. Sharing both his viewpoint and notable stories, you learn as much about those he has come in contact with as the man himself.

 

Told mostly in chronological order, Reynolds begins with his childhood in Rivera Beach, Florida, just south of Palm Beach. He then moves on to his time as a football player for the Florida Seminoles, with the remainder of the book focused on his career as a Hollywood stuntman and actor. Stories about the movie Deliverance, Gore Vidal and Johnny Carson are mesmerizing.  You will savor his thoughts on Bette Davis, Paul Newman and Clint Eastwood. And you will feel his strong sense of regret as he discusses his relationships with Dinah Shore and Sally Field. Sparing no details, he also shares the embarrassing aftermath of posing nude for Cosmopolitan magazine, and the hesitation he had about working in the movie Boogie Nights, the role for which he received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nod.

 

If you are a fan of Reynolds or just like Hollywood stories, you'll enjoy this memoir. You'll smile, laugh and at times shake your head in disbelief! Reynolds delivers an entertaining yet honest portrait of himself and those he has known over the years. Humorous and even embarrassing, this book is definitely worth the read!

 

Readers who like this book may also want to check out Make ‘Em Laugh: Short-Term Memories of Longtime Friends by Debbie Reynolds or Judy & Liza & Robert & Freddie & David & Sue & Me: A Memoir by Stevie Phillips.


 
 

Almost Interesting

posted by: January 4, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Almost InterestingIs David Spade’s memoir Almost Interesting? No way, I say! It's actually extremely interesting. Filled with hilarious childhood stories, Saturday Night Live anecdotes and embarrassing tales of life in Hollywood, it's both entertaining and quick to read. He serves up his life story, warts and all!
 

Told chronologically, he takes us on wild ride through his childhood in Arizona, to his days as a struggling L.A. comic, followed by his tenure at SNL and ends with his life as a Hollywood celebrity. Uncontrollable laughter will overtake you as you read his account of pledging a fraternity, losing his newly purchased car in Hollywood and being catfished by a model’s parody account. Seriously, that happened, and quite recently, too! Even the story of his crazed assistant Skippy attacking him is hilarious. You'll also enjoy his tales of working on SNL. He candidly offers up both his favorite and least favorite hosts and musical guests. Trust me, he goes there! My favorite is his account of the infamous Sinead O’Connor performance. Finally, you will feel his overwhelming sense of loss when he discusses his best friend, Chris Farley.
 

If you’re a fan or just like to read about celebrities, I encourage you to get your hands on a copy of Almost Interesting. I’m not kidding. Do it! You can read it in quick bursts or in one long sitting, but since Spade is a comedian be prepared to laugh out loud, and even more so if you listen to the audiobook, since he narrates it. Be forewarned though, at times he is raunchy, but nothing wildly inappropriate. To see Spade in action on SNL, check out the DVD Saturday Night Live: The Best of David Spade. Knowing the backstories makes it much funnier.
 


 
 

HAPPY 100TH Birthday, Frank Sinatra!

posted by: December 8, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Sinatra the ChairmanDecember 12 marks the 100th anniversary of Frank Sinatra’s birth, and three new books celebrate his legacy. Ol’ Blue Eyes remains an iconic figure in American culture with his mystique enduring long after his death in 1998.

 

Sinatra the Chairman by James Kaplan is a detailed examination of the life and career of this legendary performer. By delving into his complex relationships and prolific career, Kaplan exposes the multi-faceted layers that made this man —singer, actor, mogul, friend and lover. This is the follow-up to 2010’s Frank: The Voice and picks up in 1954, after Sinatra won an Academy Award and was firmly re-entrenched as a top selling recording artist.Cover art for Why Sinatra Matters

 

Award-winning author Pete Hamill’s Why Sinatra Matters was first published in 1999 and is being re-issued in time for the anniversary of Sinatra’s birth, along with a new introduction from the author. This book serves as both a unique homage and an insightful portrait of a complex man. Hamill’s beautifully written portrait brings to life a man whose entertaining touched so many generations. 

 

Cover art for Frank & Ava: in Love and WarFrank & Ava: In Love and War by John Brady fully explores this volatile relationship which shaped both their lives. Ava had two short-lived marriages behind her and a succession of high profile suitors when she and Frank met. The spark was instantaneous and the two began a tempestuous affair, despite Frank’s marriage which ended soon after in divorce. Frank and Ava’s subsequent marriage was a series of fights, separations and reconciliations which ultimately ended in divorce. Despite the not-so-happy ending, Brady’s exploration of this glamorous couple is compelling. Gossip columnist Liz Smith said of this duo, "If I had to go back in Hollywood history and name two people who were most desperately and passionately in love with each other, I would say Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner were it." 

 

Want more? Check out this list of music, movies and more books featuring the Chairman of the Board.
 


 
 

Humans of New York

posted by: November 24, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Humans of New YorkIt’s very easy to get caught up in the lives of fictional characters in novels or celebrities on TV. However, photographer Brandon Stanton’s new book Humans of New York: Stories uses stunning portraits and personal anecdotes to show that the most interesting and compelling stories can come from everyday people around us. Stanton originally began photographing the citizens of New York as part of a project to create a visual census of the city. His pictures wound up becoming the wildly successful blog, Humans of New York. As his project grew, he went from including one-line captions on his photos to entire paragraphs of stories the people he met on the street would tell him.

 

While his first book, Humans of New York (2013), focuses more on photography and includes just a few captions, this book contains many more of the personal and in-depth stories found on his blog today. The stories range from devastatingly sad to chillingly insightful to warmly endearing, while the people photographed cover a variety of races, ages, social classes and genders.

 

It’s hard not to get absorbed into Stanton’s book and the beautifully poignant stories within. Individually, an anecdote from a stranger might not be much to consider, but together, they create a broad spectrum of captivating stories that truly reflect both the intricacy and brevity of human life.


 
 

Judge This

posted by: October 8, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Judge ThisDo you often judge based on first impressions?

 

I do and so does Chip Kidd, the designer who has made many recognizable book covers. In his latest book, Judge This, Kidd validates our snap decision making. As with his earlier, all-ages introduction to graphic design, Go, which was previously reviewed, Kidd empowers those of us who aren’t in the industry to think critically about the way information is visually transmitted and received. He points out how necessary it is, in our modern age, to make the information we are constantly transmitting appealing and easy to understand. He presents a simple question for analyzing the success of virtually any design: Is it mysterious or clear? Kidd proves his point by illustrating examples of design from his daily life, critiquing everything from Diet Coke cans to pop-up ads. He also shows his own portfolio of work and explains the thought processes involved in their creation.

 

This book is one of a growing trend being published based on TED Talks and commencement speeches delivered by their authors. Constrained to an easily accessible, fun-sized format reminiscent of inspirational books like O’s Little Book of Happiness, and sourced from influential experts in their fields, they are philosophical texts for all of us with busy, complicated lives. NPR listeners will be familiar with many of the names coming from other publishers, including Make Good Art by Neil Gaiman, Very Good Lives by J K Rowling and We Should All Be Feminists by Chiamanda Ngozi Adichie.

 

Liz

Liz

 
 

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