James Lipton is the host of the Bravo network's Inside the Actor's Studio, a show in which performers and directors discuss their lives and craft. InsJames Lipton is the host of the Bravo network's Inside the Actor's Studio, a show in which performers and directors discuss their lives and craft. Inside Inside is Lipton's account of the events in his life that lead him to found the show and a reflection on some of the program's most memorable moments.
The subject matter of the book covers three primary sections. In the beginning, he discusses his relationship with the Actor's Studio and the founding of its Drama School, of which the show is a part. He includes here some historical information on acting and explains why the Stanislavski method in which the school is based was so revolutionary. These discussions were particularly interesting to me as they made sections of the show in which actors discuss these subjects more accessible.
From there, Lipton moves back in time to trace the events in his own life that led him to the position of founding the Actor's Studio Drama School. Lipton has led a remarkably charmed life, and the stories he tells include entertaining musings on the soap operas that supported him and many other Broadway actors, the odd series of events that led up to his writing of the best-selling An Exaltation of Larks, fascinating glimpses of careful cultural negotiations during his production of Bob Hope's Road to China special in the early days after Nixon's visit, and how he came to be married to Miss Scarlet from the Clue board game.
In the final section, Lipton revisits some of the 200 guests who have been interviewed on the show, telling behind-the-scenes stories of their visits and recapping some of the highlights. As an avid watcher of the show, some of these snippets were already familiar to me, but others came from segments of the four-to-six hour interviews that didn't make it into the 45-minute television program. This section also includes a particularly fascinating gender analysis of the answers to the Pivot question "What is your favorite curse word?"
Whether or not one will enjoy reading this book will depend on two things: their level of interest in the performing arts, and their tolerance for Lipton's particular quirks of self-expression. There is no question that the man has a lot of interesting stories to tell, but his writing can mirror the overwrought, fawning tendencies for which Will Ferrell has so infamously pilloried him on SNL. Lipton has learned, however, to turn these potential weaknesses into strengths; the sections in which he recounts his own interview by Ferrell-as-Lipton and explains the series of events that led up to him dancing with the Horny Manatee on Conan O'Brien are particularly entertaining. Whatever else one might say about James Lipton, it's clear he has a sense of humor about himself.
Michael Tonello never planned to start a business selling Hermès on eBay; he stumbled into it when he began offloading his own designer duds to raiseMichael Tonello never planned to start a business selling Hermès on eBay; he stumbled into it when he began offloading his own designer duds to raise cash after he found himself jobless in Barcelona. This memoir about how his personal closet-cleaning lead to a lucrative career procuring and reselling Hermès' elusive Birkin bag is a highly entertaining, funny, and unexpectedly exciting read.
Though the book got off to something of a slow start for me, by the time he got to writing about sticker shock on his first visit to Hermès (on comparing a $4,770 leather jacket to his own "investment quality" Prada, he writes "…what more could this one do? Take out my f*ing trash for me? Shine my shoes? Maybe it doubled as a parachute…") Tonello had my attention and wouldn't let it go. Anybody who has ever gotten caught up in the thrill of an eBay auction will easily relate to Tonello's growing excitement as he discovers American Hermès collectors will pay big mark-ups for merchandise he can easily access from his new European location. He has a nice little business hunting down back stock scarves for his wish-list customers when he gets his first request for a Birkin, the ultimate designer handbag that has a waiting list of two years. Though it takes Tonello some time to crack the Hermès fortress, he eventually stumbles across "the formula" and soon finds himself the Birkin bag it-boy.
Though not written as a how-to manual, Tonello's book showcases the recipe he used to become such a big success in his luxury niche. Luck, and being in the right place at the right time, clearly had a lot to do with it. But it was Tonello's business savvy that really catapulted him into the big time; he took the niche he'd stumbled across and ran with it, learning everything he could about Hermès in the process. Reading about the strategies he employed to liberate the elusive bags from their gilded prisons is detective story fascinating, and only becomes more so when one of his $22,000 croc bags suddenly becomes the subject of what he referred to as an "international hostage situation."
Tonello's witty storytelling, combined with the addictive nature of quests and auctions, made this book particularly hard to put down. I can't say it made me want a Birkin, though. ...more
Avery Jankowsky is a middle-aged, free-lance writer whose world is upended when his younger lover informs him that she has had an affair. To help himAvery Jankowsky is a middle-aged, free-lance writer whose world is upended when his younger lover informs him that she has had an affair. To help him move on, a generous uncle offers him a spot on a high-end Scandinavian sex tour. Though Avery's original intent is to participate in the tour only as a detached undercover journalist, it's not long before he is swept up in a riptide of events well beyond his emotional control.
Willing got off to a promising start for me. Spencer is a skilled wordsmith who rewards his readers with beautiful turns of phrase. I was quickly pulled into the story and grew sympathetic to Avery's muddled attempts to cope with the affair. I was also intrigued by Avery's first flirtations with the paid sex industry; the inner battle between his idealistic beliefs and the forces of rationalization was fascinating. These things kept my interest level high enough that I was willing to overlook the fact that Spencer dispensed with the conventions of normal dialogue and crammed his characters' verbal exchanges into quoteless, run-on paragraphs that made the book distractingly hard to read at times.
Unfortunately, the story began to fall apart for me as soon as the sex tour began. Part of this stemmed from Avery making an early choice to send a life-altering e-mail that struck me as inexplicably out of character. Most of it, however, came from the fact that he is primarily passive in his response to the unfolding events. The only exceptions seemed to be driven more by primal emotion and sleep deprivation than actual growth as a person. This made him significantly less interesting to me as the book wore on. By end of the story, I no longer cared enough about Avery to be upset that Spencer ended his story with some disturbingly large questions unanswered.
This was an unfortunate disappointment given the promising start. I've noticed, however, that some of Spencer's fans have commented that this is not one of his best. Given the strengths that he clearly has as a writer, I would be interested to check out some of his other work. ...more
I had no idea dead bodies could be so fascinating. In Mary Roach's capable hands, however, the subject of what happens to our physical selves after weI had no idea dead bodies could be so fascinating. In Mary Roach's capable hands, however, the subject of what happens to our physical selves after we die is page-turning reading.
I always thought it basically came down to burial or cremation. But I now know I also have the option of becoming a crash test dummy, a bit of chemically rendered goo, or some hearty memorial compost.
As this book explores everything from organ donation to anatomy labs to cannibalism to the budding "head transplant" movement, I learned an astounding number of things. Many of these things were not exactly comfortable to consider (I will never look at Chinese medicine the same way again), but Mary's sharp wit and ability to keep the tone light despite the subject helped me get past the parts I personally found most difficult.
I can't say that what I learned is really of much practical value, however, unless I ever find myself in the position of hoping to dispose of a dead body at the bottom of a lake. Turns out that's not such a good idea, as dogs trained to find human remains are able to smell the decomposition gasses as they bubble up to the surface. Who knew?
Upon finishing it, however, I can say that this book has gotten me to think a lot more about the possibility of donating my body to science after my demise. While it's not exactly comfortable to read about all the various things that are done with donated remains, the wealth of knowledge that has been gained from those who have made that choice is truly astounding.
The book closes with the author's reflection on what to do with her own remains. Her discussion of the impact of that choice on those who are left behind is valuable reading for anyone considering end of life planning, as well as for those of an environmental inclination who may not have yet considered the planetary impact of their choice. After all, just because you can be plastinated to last 10,000 years like the folks in Gunther Von Haagen's BodyWorlds exhibits, that doesn't necessarily mean you should....more
I learned a number of interesting things reading Mary Roach's survey of the historical and scientific efforts to prove the existence of a soul.
Her diI learned a number of interesting things reading Mary Roach's survey of the historical and scientific efforts to prove the existence of a soul.
Her discussion of the scientific inquiries into stories of reincarnated children provides an excellent example of the difficulties of trying to objectively prove something when your main resource is the shaky memories of those who are already convinced of whatever it is you're trying to prove.
Though I was already familiar with the theory that infrasound (sound at a frequency too low for humans to hear) can cause the experience of ghostly phenomenon, I was intrigued to learn that a tiger's roar contains infrasound and some theorize that the fear we feel in the presence of infrasound is left over from days when escaping tigers was a high evolutionary priority.
I also learned more than I ever wanted to know about the various ways spiritualist mediums faked the extrusion of ectoplasm.
Despite the interesting nature of the topic, however, I didn't love this book as much as I hoped. There were moments in which the narrative got bogged down as the author detailed a few too many historical efforts to prove the existence of the soul.
In addition, I struggled with the tone of the book. Roach admits to being a skeptic, but she said her goal was to explore this topic with an open mind. In this I don't think she really succeeded. Though she does acknowledge some inexplicable events, she spends more time poking cheap fun at many of her subjects. In some circumstances, I can imagine the temptation was hard to resist, but this semi-snarky tone felt a little too easy. A few moments of genuine humor combined with her generally readable style, however, made me want to seek out her first book, which I've heard is much better. ...more
In Unaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lahiri returns to the short story format of her Pulitzer prize-winning first book, Interpreter of Maladies. Like IoM, th In Unaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lahiri returns to the short story format of her Pulitzer prize-winning first book, Interpreter of Maladies. Like IoM, the stories in UE explore the experiences of Bengali immigrants in America, and the ways in which the intersection of cultures plays out in the lives of those who do not fully belong to either land.
Each story focuses a lens on a different aspect of the Indian immigrant experience. In the title piece, the fully Americanized daughter of a widower struggles with the traditional Indian duty to invite her father to live with her family. Other stories look at a son coming to terms with a life that did not live up to his parent’s expectations; an accomplished sister’s troubled relationship with the brother who failed to find his own way, and a mother’s struggle to find meaning in a culture awash in the freedom that she was denied in her own.
Lahiri’s smooth, rich prose is as good as ever here, and within just a few lines of each tale I felt drawn in to the lives of people I enjoyed getting to know. Though all of the main characters are defined in some way by their heritage, their struggles felt more universal to me than her previous books, not quite so exotic as before. Her tale told from the perspective of an American PhD candidate who struggles with information about his Indian housemate’s Egyptian boyfriend was particularly effective in showing the universal emotions underneath cultural differences.
Though the luxurious writing made this book a genuine pleasure to read, these stories live on the more melancholic end of the emotional spectrum. Though they may not always be happy, they are incredibly rich, and I am glad to have read them. ...more