A nice history of Chicago's famous improv comedy troupe. The book does a good job delving into Second City's origins, calling up Chicago's theater sce...moreA nice history of Chicago's famous improv comedy troupe. The book does a good job delving into Second City's origins, calling up Chicago's theater scene in the early 1950s as well as the acting "games" that inspired the group's original approach.
From there, author (and longtime Second City creative director) Sheldon Patinkin takes us to the present day, pausing to catch up with famous alumni, notably the Murray-Belushi-Ramis core in Chicago and the Akroyd-Candy-Radner glory days in Toronto. There are tons of familiar faces in here, from Alan Arkin to Tina Fey, and it's fun to see how they intersected with Second City (sometimes briefly) before moving on to other things.
The lifers have a presence as well, including original owner (and occasional director) Bernie Sahlins, producer Joyce Sloan and actor/director/madman Del Close. It may just be effective PR, but the book does have a nice familial feel, emphasizing the ties, and the occasional fights, that drew these disparate performers together.
The book is more a history than a humor collection; jokes and bits are interspersed throughout its pages, but it's more a collection of memories. There's often a lot going on--actors coming and going, new playhouses opening in different spots to try to make some money. The narrative sometimes seems reduced to just a sequence of events--"this happened, then this happened, etc." But the performer profiles sprinkled throughout and the clear reverence for what the group accomplished offer a unifying thread.
Hardly a tell-all, this is still a good read for comedy fans interested in the institutional side of things. It probably helps to be a Chicagoan...or at least a Torontonian.(less)
A small sliver of the French Resistance, told from the perspective of a respectable, middle-aged American woman who's settled in Paris after the death...moreA small sliver of the French Resistance, told from the perspective of a respectable, middle-aged American woman who's settled in Paris after the death of her husband. Her housemate is British, and after a failed attempt to flee the Nazi invasion, they find themselves part of a conspiracy to smuggle British soldiers out of the country.
What starts with one airman impulsively hidden in their trunk becomes a far-flung operation. They collaborate with French partners, including a country priest who gathers the men, a disfigured World War I veteran who arranges for them to travel to the border and a patriotic old farmer who lets them sneak across on his land. There's plenty of tense moments and near misses with the Gestapo. The author, Etta, is the worrywart, always trying to rein in her partner Kitty, who flirts with recklessness.
Stylistically, it's very proper and melodramatic--a match for the era, but a little forced for today's readers. Instead of natural dialogue, this memoir has a flair for speeches and big, dramatic moments.
It's a little distracting at first, but the tone serves the material well when things go wrong. Etta's proper voice keeps the narrative grounded as she descends into prison, starvation and the brutal authoritarianism of the Nazi justice system. It's a stunning reversal, and it makes for gripping reading.
Finshing "Paris Underground," you have to wonder how strictly accurate it is. Etta Shiber existed, but there doesn't seem to be much of a historic record online. She notes that details are scrambled to protect her collaborators, but they may also be altered to heighten the tension and cast an already-horrid enemy in an even worse light.
Who knows? The basic outline of the tale seems bolstered by the prisoner exchange that brought Etta back to the United States. Even if some details are heightened, it's a gripping read, one that illuminates the danger--and evils--of its time.(less)
A brisk coda to Vonnegut's life in letters. He reflects on storytelling, politics, his upbringing, and the fact that the whole damn thing seems to be...moreA brisk coda to Vonnegut's life in letters. He reflects on storytelling, politics, his upbringing, and the fact that the whole damn thing seems to be going to hell. There's humor here, but there's also a fierce anger too, reflecting the outrages of the Bush era and, likely, his impending mortality and his uncertainty at the world he'd be leaving behind. The anger is so palpable that it can be distressing for a fan, but the voice is his, and while "A Man Without a Country" is a quick work, it's an enjoyable one too.
"I think novels that leave out technology misrepresent life as badly as Victorians misrepresented life by leaving out sex."
"And I really like Strauss and Mozart and all that, but the priceless gift that African Americans gave the whole world when they were still in slavery was a gift so great that it is now almost the only reason many foreigners still like us at least a little bit."(less)