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)
An engrossing tale of exploration in the Amazon. It focuses on Colonel Percy Fawcett, who disappeared with his son while searching for the titular "lo...moreAn engrossing tale of exploration in the Amazon. It focuses on Colonel Percy Fawcett, who disappeared with his son while searching for the titular "lost" city.
A Victorian geographer, Fawcett served in the British Army before entering explorer school with the Royal Geographical Society, later embarking on a series of punishing expeditions. He and his party are beset by horrible diseases and nearly starve while mapping parts of the Bolivian and Brazilian rainforests that had never been seen by Europeans. Only Fawcett seems immune to the parasites and fevers, remaining remarkably healthy as he pushes his men to the brink of death.
Then World War I interrupts his travels. Fawcett returns to England to serve, spending years directing artillery brigades outside the trenches. When the war in over, support for his kind of expeditions has diminished considerably. By this point, though, he's become obsessed with the thought of a grand lost city in the jungle, and he embarks on a couple journeys that collapse due to lack of funds, nearly killing him. After nearly a decade, nearing sixty, he embarks on one last expedition with his son, Jack, and one of Jack's boyhood friends, and they disappear, never to be seen again, despite decades of rumors as well as doomed expeditions to find them.
Grann does a wonderful job evoking Fawcett's expeditions, drawing on the explorer's journals and those of his companions to evoke near-suicidal travel, including vampire bats, flesh-eating parasites, anaconda encounters and foolhardy first encounters with hostile tribes. He does a great job chronicling both Fawcett's open-mindedness and his subscriptions to the prejudices of the era. He outlines the man's uncompromising drive but also makes clear how it alienated him from the companions he needed to rely on in the jungle.
"The Lost City of Z" also includes a lot of fascinating information about the Amazon, beginning with first contact in the conquistador days, which included tales of vast cities in the jungle. Our author outlines the region's geography, going so far as to venture into the jungle himself to try to retrace Fawcett's last journey. The book also chronicles changing attitudes about the Amazon rainforest's potential to support humans, moving from earlier notions of it being a "false paradise" unable to support another more than roaming hunters and gatherers to current notions that humans substantially transformed the Amazon before being decimated by European diseases.
It's a great read, offering both a burst of adventure and the thrill of encountering new regions and cultures. Grann is an engaging writer, carefully consulting his sources but using a clear, steady voice to breathe new life into old accounts.(less)
A fun reference for the Lego fan or nostalgist looking to visit his or her youth--and see what they've come up with since then! The majority of the mi...moreA fun reference for the Lego fan or nostalgist looking to visit his or her youth--and see what they've come up with since then! The majority of the minifigures the company has created are broken out year by year, highlighting the slow evolution from the original smiling yellow face to the riot of licensed figures produced today. The photos are good, and the captions are mediocre; given how many "swap a hat" variants they have to cover, the authors go for a lot of cheesy gags, which miss more than they hit. The book delivers what it promises, though, and is great to browse through, even if you don't end up reading the whole thing.(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)