This book is billed as a memoir, but it isn't. It is a series of personal essays that were written at different times, can be read out of order, and aThis book is billed as a memoir, but it isn't. It is a series of personal essays that were written at different times, can be read out of order, and also therefore there are some repetitions. I read it straight through. My husband read it but jumped around from one story to next depending on which title struck him. I don't know that either of us had a better or worse experience.
Steve became a cop in New York City in the mid-1980s. The stories in the book are mostly in chronological order, so you start with the stories of his first days as a rookie, and then climbing up to lieutenant, finally managing a large squad. One advantage of the individual stories instead of a traditional memoir is that he has license to only tell the most interesting stories, and boy, he had some interesting things happen! Not the type of cop to ever voluntarily work a desk, he had the somewhat unique experience of having arrests on his first day, and his last. Some of the stories are funny, some are sad, some are horrifying.
The comparisons to Blue Blood are inevitable. The Job is not quite as well-written, and also suffers from not having a single through-narrative structure, but it is still enjoyable and gives you a great series of slices of what life as a NYC cop is like. It was a short and fascinating read about cops I used to see every day. I'm so glad they do such an important job, and I'm so glad I don't have to....more
This is a book that couldn't quite make up its mind. Is it funny? Is it a memoir? Is it a travelogue? Is it going to give straight-up history of MormoThis is a book that couldn't quite make up its mind. Is it funny? Is it a memoir? Is it a travelogue? Is it going to give straight-up history of Mormonism or slyly poke fun at it? The answer to all of these questions is unfortunately "kind of."
Last month I saw the musical The Book of Mormon and so when I saw this book was out, I jumped on it. I had heard of the author (in fact I own his first book though I haven't gotten around to it yet.) And from the cover and the description, I thought it would be funny or at least give me a better idea of the history behind Mormonism. And it was funny in moments, but it also was serious in others. Sometimes the author seemed to think the religion was crazy, and at other times he was very respectful and straightforward. He also hinted in a memoir-style about his failing marriage, but we never find out why it was failing or what happened to it in the end. And the final segment of the book, when Avi was participating in the annual pageant performed in New York State where Joseph Smith claimed to have found the golden plates from which he transcribed and translated The Book of Mormon, was marred by the author's inexplicable use of another name, which was found out right before the performance and he was kicked out. If he'd at least had a good excuse for doing that, I could have excused the deflated ending to the book, but it just felt like he'd stupidly panicked, which is not the sort of behavior we expect from a professional writer being paid to research this book.
That said, I think the musical set my bar too high. The book was very readable, entertaining and light, and I did learn a little bit about Smith and Mormonism, even if not exactly what I'd wanted to learn (I'm not sure the book I want to read exists.) I really liked Steinberg's comparisons of Smith's writing trials to that of every author's struggles to write. And it was interesting how he pointed out that for decades, the story of how Smith wrote the book was much more important than what was in the book. (Possibly still true today although in the late 1980s Mormons were finally encouraged to actually read it.) Laypeople who want to find out a little bit about Mormonism likely will enjoy this book, if they don't expect an academic treatise or a laugh-out-loud farce....more
Leah grew up in a Yeshivish household, her father a rabbi in the ultra-orthodox Jewish community. Her dream for her whole life was to marry young andLeah grew up in a Yeshivish household, her father a rabbi in the ultra-orthodox Jewish community. Her dream for her whole life was to marry young and have a dozen children. She wasn't allowed to touch boys or even be alone in the same room with one until she was married. Her mother did everything her father asked without question, and Leah felt loved and comforted in her home. But when she was a teenager, she went to England to live with cousins for a while before entering a prestigious girls seminary (Yeshivish girls don't go to college.) There, she met and hung out with another girl whose family was not as strict. And she hung out with the girl's brother. He was cute and he had radical ideas, like that if a girl wants to go to college, she should. Leah was never the same.
Although she never consciously decides, "I disagree with this religion and I'm not going to do what they say," she subconsciously does just that. But because it is subconscious, it is more complex and more drawn-out. She continues to try to fit in, visiting her older sister in Israel, until her letters to the boy are discovered, causing such a shocking scandal that her family basically casts her out and treats her like she's dead. Her parents arrange an apartment and a job that doesn't quite pay for the apartment in Brooklyn, and then write her off. Even when she's been admitted to the hospital for a suicide attempt, her parents refuse to help or visit. And while she does attend college and wears jeans for the first time and learns who the Beatles are, she still dreams of marrying an ultra-orthodox husband and having a large family. What is difficult both for Leah and for the reader to realize for a long time, as Leah stumbles around blindly in the secular world, is that simply casting off a belief does not mean that she will fit in or understand. She has to in some ways start over, learn what the normal secular world is like and how people function in it.
The book is at times harrowing, at times humorous, and always honest. Leah tells stories where she doesn't come across well at all, and yet you empathize with her innocence and misguided trust, her complete lack of guile, and her sad lack of friends. I wanted to befriend her and help her navigate through her new reality, and I really wanted to punch her parents. This was a very fast read giving a peek into a normally closed and secretive community, Leah seems to have come out the other side and I for one am cheering for her to continue to prove to her family that she isn't evil and nothing bad will happen to her, just because she disagrees with them and has different beliefs....more
I had an unusual experience with the book. The woman who loaned it to me had said that she was "dipping in and out of it" and internally I made a faceI had an unusual experience with the book. The woman who loaned it to me had said that she was "dipping in and out of it" and internally I made a face as I never, ever do that (in fact, I even stopped flipping around in Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography and started reading it straight through!) But I think that is a great way to read this book.
I was under the mistaken impression that the book was about Ms. Mayes's moving back to the South (North Carolina) as an adult (after her sojourn in Italy). Instead, that bookends the memoir, but the book is about her growing up and ends when she's about 22. From Fitzgerald, Georgia (one college professor upon hearing the name of her hometown did remark "Isn't that a bit much?"), she was the much youngest (eight years behind her nearest sister) daughter of a couple of fought bitterly and dark heavily. Her father ran his father's fabric mill, and her mother was a good housewife of the 1950s, painting her nails, baking brownies, and recovering furniture (with the help of an African-American maid.) Frances never quite fit in. Chomping at the bit to get out from her small town and repressive family from a young age, she did eventually get to go away to college (first Randolph-Macon and then the University of Florida) but she seemed never to feel completely free of the South until the death of her parents. It seems as if only when that last tie was severed, could she make the choice to return without repercussions.
The book is filled with languid tales of floating down rivers in summer, buying Capezios and going on dates, sneaking out of the dorms to have fun and party. It also has sordid stories of mental abuse, withholding, manipulation, and other trials of familial love gone wrong. Each chapter stand on its own and can be read as an essay. They are in chronological order in the Book, but the past doesn't inform the future much. A few characters do progress--most often by deterioration, not growth--but for me it did not gel as a single narrative. Instead, I found that when I tried to read it straight through, I did not enjoy it. But when I read it in short bits here and there, I did. That's strange. Most books improve with a large block of time when you can delve deeply into it, but this one didn't. When I tried that, the stories felt repetitive, unremittingly cruel, and a little boring. But when I switched back to the short stretches of reading, it improved immensely. Maybe you need to digest the parts. Or maybe you need to stay on the surface and not delve too deeply. Whatever the reason, this is the perfect book if you know you don't have a lot of time and are looking for a book which you can set down and it won't suffer from the delay. This one improves....more
From the minute I heard about this book, I knew it would be genius. I was already psyched about a memoir by Neil Patrick Harris, and when I heard it wFrom the minute I heard about this book, I knew it would be genius. I was already psyched about a memoir by Neil Patrick Harris, and when I heard it would be a Choose Your Own Adventure format? Awesome. I had no idea how that would be pulled off but I also knew that if anyone could do it, it would be NPH.
I watched every episode of "Doogie Howser M.D." I watched every episode of "How I Met Your Mother." I haven't seen him in any stage productions unfortunately (I have seen several that he was in, including "Proof" and "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," but not with him in them.) And I am a fan. After seeing him last month in "Gone Girl," I am also just so impressed with his range. But he also seems like such an interesting guy. And he is!
It's refreshing to read a Hollywood bio that doesn't have a horrible childhood. He grew up in New Mexico with a great older brother and great parents, who were supportive and helpful all along the way. He started acting in a school play and then went to acting summer camp, and the rest is history. The director of the summer camp was casting for a movie, which was "Clara's Heart" starring Whoopi Goldberg, and Neil got the part. He never looked back. Although he did have to fight hard after "Doogie" to not be typecast. Playing the lead in "Rent" definitely helped (I remember hearing about that at the time and being baffled by what seemed like really bad casting, because I too had pigeonholed him.) Meanwhile, he was coming to terms with his sexuality, eventually meeting David and having twins (I'm not giving away anything that you don't already know from People Magazine.) And he does magic.
So, how does the Choose Your Own Adventure format work? Well, there are about 8 fake endings, which are just a single page each and pretty funny. Otherwise, while you can skip around in the normal CYOA way (To get into a fight with Scott Caan, turn to page 20.) Some of them just lead you down different paths to the same ending (you might first learn about his acting, then his personal life, then his magic. Or first his magic, then his personal life, and the acting last.) But the truth is, you really can just read straight through. I was concerned about missing anything. I am a complete-ist (if I am going to finish the book, that is) and it was so funny that the last thing I wanted was to miss any jokes. For a while I used two bookmarks, one to mark the last page sequentially that I had read, and the other to mark where I was with following the CYOA jumps. But eventually (about halfway in) I just started reading straight through and it was perfectly fine that way (although some of those fake endings seemed to come out of nowhere and were abrupt. But that was just funny, too.) He also includes about ten essays from friends, fellow actors, and so on, such as Sarah Silverman and Penn Jillette. And he includes a couple of drinks recipes, a recipe for David's fresh pasta with Bolognese sauce, and a crossword. Also a few magic tricks. Seriously, he tells you what to do, and at the end he tells you what card you picked. It's impressive for a book! There are sketches throughout (I was disappointed they weren't by NPH) and one chapter is annotated by David and there are other unusual meta-bits and silliness. I have never had so much fun reading a celebrity memoirs. And the book's not just ridiculous and fluffy--he does actually get through all the facts and details along the way.
So notice is now out: NPH has raised the bar for celebrity memoirs, and I hope everyone else steps it up to compete, because the reading world will be the richer for it....more
I heard the author interviewed on NPR's Fresh Air and I knew I had to read this book. The audio is narrated by the author which is risky when the authI heard the author interviewed on NPR's Fresh Air and I knew I had to read this book. The audio is narrated by the author which is risky when the author isn't a professional performer, but he did a great job.
Bryan Stevenson is a black man who went to Harvard Law School and started a non-profit in Alabama, defending criminals on death row. Alabama has more death row inmates and commits more executions per capita than any other state. And it doesn't have public defenders. Some of the private lawyers with no experience defending capital murder cases are paid as little as $500 to do so. It's not too shocking that a lot of innocent people are convicted, or people are convicted of capital murder when they should have been up for manslaughter.
Bryan spends fully half the book on one tragic case, that of Walter McMillian, who was convicted of murder, despite having had several dozen eyewitnesses to his whereabouts at the time of the crime (among many extenuating circumstances that should have lead to him not being convicted.) The chapters about Walter's case alternate with chapters about the scores of other clients Bryan has dealt with over the years who deserved much more mercy than they were shown by the system. There is a woman who was convicted of murdering her child, even though she had never been pregnant (she'd had a tubal ligation years earlier.) There was the pre-teen who shot and killed his mother's abuser after he had brutally beaten her (and the boy thought she had been killed) and who was given murder one because the abusive boyfriend was a cop. There are children and the mentally handicapped who he fought for, winning Supreme Court cases that overturned dozens of convictions across the country (creating a massive amount of work for Bryan and his non-profit as each and every one of those convictions needs to be individually appealed after the ruling. Those "overturns" are far from automatic.) Bryan fights the good fight with respect, empathy, and what must be an endless supply of energy. He continues on despite numerous occasions of racism directed at him (one judge yells at him for being in the courtroom instead of in holding with the other prisoners, assuming he must be the defendant. SWAT officers surround his car, handcuff him, and illegally search his car which was parked in front of his home, because he was sitting in it organizing paperwork and listening to the radio at the end of a long day.)
He crafts detailed portraits of the faces of injustice, without ever sounding bitter or angry. I was occasionally angry on his behalf or on behalf of his clients, who certainly got the short shrift in life. But I feel that once Bryan comes into their lives, things will be better. He doesn't win every case, and some people he just can't help, but he still provides solace and these prisoners still finally feel heard and respected for the first time, even if ultimately he can't help them all to not be executed.
A powerful and enraging portrait of the failures of our much-vaunted justice system, which does sometimes fail us. I hope Mr. Stephenson continues to have great success and I hope he writes follow-up books as his writing skills are equally as masterful as his legal skills....more
The minute I heard about this book, I knew I'd have to read it. It's about an agency assistant (basically an editorial assistant but at a literary ageThe minute I heard about this book, I knew I'd have to read it. It's about an agency assistant (basically an editorial assistant but at a literary agency instead of a publishing house) in NYC in 1996 (the year after I graduated from college.) It sounded so familiar and yet, I'm always incredibly curious about what would be different from my own experience.
Joanna dropped out of graduate school without finishing her Ph.D. and like all English majors (especially those from New York), Publishing called to her. Through an employment agency, she quickly landed a job as an assistant at an old-school literary agency in midtown. And it is seriously old-school. I thought my old publisher was antiquated because they forced the last hold-out editor to get a computer in 1999 and there was still one form that was on carbon paper and needed to be typed. This agency in 1997 just got their first computer, and still thought of the photocopier and fax machine as new technology. So poor Joanna was manually retyping a form letter over and over on a Selectric typewriter every day. I feel so cutting edge since I had my first computer around 1987 and my first laptop in 1991.
So on her first day at this new job, the only thing her new boss very explicitly explained to her was how to deal with "Jerry," Joanna didn't get it at first, but by the end of the day she had connected the dots and came up with J.D. Salinger. Yep, the agency represented him (and other estates from his era like Fitzgerald.) And he is famously reclusive and cantankerous so placating him is a high priority at the agency.
Meanwhile, Joanna pretty much immediately upon moving back to NYC, met and moved in with an older guy, Don. He's a writer, like Joanna (she: poetry; him: fiction). He's a socialist and mocks her for bourgeoisie tenancies. They move into a terrible apartment in Williamsburg with no kitchen sink and no heat.
The book is a lot about Joanna's year working at the agency. It's a great view into that world for anyone thinking about going into publishing. I really enjoyed those parts of the book. Don I enjoyed much less. He was an ass. Very snobby. Joanna was snobby enough with her literary tastes, but he was much worse and meanly teased her for any interest in any commercial fiction from the last century. And I had to sigh when she lamented not having read the complete works of Dickens. She does acknowledge at one point the irony of preferring to work with dead writers... while wanting herself to be a live writer (ditto for Don). But that revelation was immediately forgotten. He even dismissed her liking of Jane Austen as liking of something commercial and trite. Seriously? He seemed to think unless you were reading Kant, you were worthless. I have no time for idiots like that.
But often in our early 20s, we do date idiots. And I should cut Joanna slack and I'm not sure my circa-24 boyfriend would look much better under a spotlight. But like I said, I preferred the majority of the book that was set at her work. And that's why you should read the book. It is witty, interesting, with a kooky cast of characters (including Jerry himself who does make a cameo) and gives a great insider's view of the world of literary agencies, circa 1970 (because that's really how this company functioned.) It was a fast, easy read and I thoroughly enjoyed it....more