Book Review: The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher


Author: Carrie Fisher
TitleThe Princess Diarist
Narrator: Carrie Fisher, Billie Lourd
Publication Info: New York, NY : Penguin Audio, [2016]
Previously Read by the Same Author: Wishful Drinking
Summary/Review:

The late, great Carrie Fisher reflects on her life as it’s shaped by her most famous character, Princess Leia Organa. Fisher begins with growing up with her celebrity parents (and seeing their celebrity diminish) and not really wanting to go into acting.  Nevertheless, she gets a part in the movie Shampoo and enrolls in London’s Central School of Speech and Drama.

She tells the story of her Star Wars audition – which oddly enough was a 2-for-1 audition before George Lucas and Brian Depalma for both Star Wars and Carrie. What would the world be like if Carrie had played Carrie in Carrie? Her experience filming Star Wars which involved rising early to spend intimate hours with the hairdresser Pat to get the ridiculous buns.  She also relates that she and Harrison Ford had a fling even though he is much older and was already married at the time.

Despite the title, the book is mostly memoir rather than actual diaries, but a segment of Fisher’s diary is included at the time of her relationship with Ford, which she calls “Carrison.” It was quite a jarring shift to move from the Fisher’s recollections from 40-years later, filled with self-deprecating humor, to the raw emotion of her 19-year-old journals.  Oddly, this portion is read on the audiobook by her daughter, Billie Lourd, perhaps to give a younger voice to the journals, or maybe they just wanted to make her deeply uncomfortable (and the listener by proxy) reading about her mother’s sexual relations.

The later half of the book deals with life after Star Wars became a hit, starting with the whirlwind press junket Fisher, Ford, and Mark Hammil went on to promote their low-budge movie as it became an unprecedented phenomena.  Fisher remains awed by fans’ dedication to Leia and the weird interactions she has with them. She refers to participating in conventions where fans pay money and line up for autographs as “lap dances.”  And the text includes perhaps real or perhaps exaggerated conversations with fans.

Recommended Books:

Rating: ***

Book Reviews: Cartoon County by Cullen Murphy


Author: Cullen Murphy
Title: Cartoon County: My Father and His Friends in the Golden Age of Make-Believe
Publication Info: New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017.
Previously Read By the Same Author: Rubbish!: The Archaeology of Garbage (with William Rathje)
Summary/Review:

Cartoon County is a memoir/biography/history by Cullen Murphy of the comic strip cartoonists and illustrators who lived and worked in Fairfield County, Connecticut in the post-World War II era. The book focuses on his father, John Cullen Murphy, who illustrated the comic strip Big Ben Bolt and took over Prince Valiant from its creator Hal Foster in the 1970s.

I feel destined to read this book, primarily because I grew up loving newspaper comics and fascinated by their history (although these days I exclusively read the comics’ mockery blog, Comics Curmudgeon). I also grew up in Fairfield County myself, and as a kid was proud that Beetle Bailey cartoonist Mort Walker lived there. My father took us to the Museum of Cartoon Art in a castle-like house that Walker opened in nearby Port Chester, NY.  The author of this book was even of the most famous alumni of my high school – along with Broadway actor David Carroll, baseball player Tim Teufel, and publicist Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy – and a customized panel of Prince Valiant graced our school’s trophy case.

Murphy writes about growing up in a community of comics illustrators of the “Connecticut School” where his father and the other fathers he knew did not join the crowds of men in gray flannel suit taking the commuter rail to New York City.  Many of these men (and for the most part, the comics was a man’s trade) came of age during World War II where they used their artistic talents in their military service.  After the war, Connecticut was an affordable place where they could get homes with studio space near the publishing houses of New York (it’s alarming to think that Fairfield County was ever affordable!). These cartoonists include Mort Walker, Jerry Dumas, Stan Drake, Dik Browne, Ernie Bushmiller, Milton Caniff, and Crockett Johnson, among many others.  The School included daily comic strip cartoonists, New Yorker cartoonists, editorial cartoonists, and magazine illustrators.

The book covers a lot of territory.  First, it’s a personal memoir of Murphy’s father, who had the practice of using a Polaroid camera to photograph himself (and any family members or friends in the vicinity) in various poses to use as models for his illustrations. Starting in the 1970s, Murphy would work with his father as the writer of Prince Valiant.

Second, it’s a broader history of the Connecticut School cartoonists who were his father’s friends and colleagues. Murphy details their experiences in WWII, settling in Connecticut after the war, and the interplay between their comics.  Events like Look Day at the New Yorker (the one day each week when cartoonists gathered in New York to show their gags to the magazine’s editors) and National Cartoonists Society brought together cartoonists for business with a heavy side of socialization. The men came together for parties and games of golf (which seems to be the origin of the all-too-many golf gags in newspaper comics) as well.

Finally, the book is a tribute to newspaper comics as a unique American art form of the 20th century.  Murphy has some interesting observations on the cartoonists.  While his father was a strong Republican, most of the cartoonists were politically liberal and lived lives of noncomformity for their time. Sentaro Este Kefauver conducted a congressional investigation of the comics industry in which Pogo creator Walt Kelly declared that being a “screwball” was a badge of honor for cartoonists. The comics were innovative for time, and I learned about a short-lived strip of the 1960s called Sam’s Strip (predecessor to Sam & Silo), which Jerry Dumas created as post-modern, metatextual experiment that left comics readers scratching their heads. And yet newspaper comics on the whole tended to be conservative, and as the generation of cartoonists died (many passing on the legacy strips to their children and grandchildren) and newspapers themselves went into decline, comics failed to adapt to the new reality. Murphy mourns the past but still sees hope in the underappreciated work of graphic novels.

This books is richly illustrated with comics panels, original works of art, and photographs.  It’s a great way to dip one’s toe into a time and place when kids gleefully anticipated the Sunday papers wrapped in the full-color comics section.  It tells the story of the men who brought this joy and some of the behind the scenes secrets of their craft.

Recommended books:

  • Krazy Kat: The Comic Art of George Herriman by Patrick McDonnell
  • Chuck Amuck: The Life and Times of an Animated Cartoonist by Chuck Jones
  • The Mad World of William M. Gaines by Frank Jacobs

Rating: ****

Book Review: You’re On An Airplane by Parker Posey


Author: Parker Posey
Title: You’re On An Airplane: a self-mythologizing memoir
Narrator: Parker Posey
Publication Info: Penguin Audio, 2018
Summary/Review:

Parker Posey, once known as the “queen of independent movies,” has starred in many movies that I enjoy.  Party Girl, for one,  played a not insubstantial part in my choice of career.  In this unconventional memoir, Posey addresses the reader directly as if one is sitting next to her on an airplane (and in the audiobook, this comes complete with the sound effects of the airplane taking off and a flight attendant serving drinks). After the first chapter, this affectation of writing in second person only pops up from time to time, but nevertheless, this is a stream-of-conscious memoir.  Posey tells stories of her Catholic, Southern gothic childhood in a family of “characters” and her experiences on the sets of various films, including her work with directors like Richard Linklater and Christopher Guest.  She also writes extensively about working with Woody Allen (and humorously impersonates his voice). While many actors have justified working with Allen, and its understandable that an independent actor would want to work with a notably independent director, I found it deeply unsettling that Posey doesn’t even address that Allen is an accused child rapist.  In other chapters, Posey goes into deep detail about her yoga practice, her work with ceramics, and her dog. It’s clear that this book is meant to show that Posey is as quirky and funny as her movie characters, but sometimes its hard to tell if the self-absorption in these chapter is parody or for real.

Favorite Passages:

It’s an industry (an art, hopefully) full of orphans left to create their own worlds with one another. I don’t feel glamorous, I feel like a possum—the animal born clinging to its mother’s tail, that grows up by falling off it, and probably too soon. Acting is the possum’s defense.

Recommended booksYou’re Never Weird on the Internet (almost) by Felicia Day, Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick,  and Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher

Rating: **

Book Review: An American Childhood by Annie Dillard


Author: Annie Dillard
TitleAn American Childhood
Narrator:  Tavia Gilbert
Publication Info: [Ashland, Or.] : Blackstone Audio, Inc., p2011.
Summary/Review:

I read Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek many years ago and so I’ve long meant to read another of her books.  An American Childhood is a memoir of growing up in Pittsburgh in the 1950s and 1960s.  The early chapters are vivid descriptions of her inner life as a child focusing on her imagination. A particular compelling passage describes her horror at a figure crossing her room at night which later realizes is only light from passing cars, but nevertheless she continues to imagine that something is really in her room.  From an early age, Dillard is fascinated by nature and she describes learning about it from books at the library and experience much of nature even in her urban environment.  As she gets older the narrative grows into more of a traditional memoir more focused on people in her life and her experiences at school and church.  Dillard’s prose is beautiful, but I didn’t find this book nearly as engaging as Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.

Recommended booksOne Writer’s Beginnings by Eudora Welty, Colored People: A Memoir by Henry Louis Gates Jr., and Memories of a Catholic Girlhood by Mary McCarthy
Rating: ***

Book Review: Spinning by Tillie Walden


Author: Tillie Walden
TitleSpinning
Publication Info: First Second (2017)
Summary/Review:

Walden’s illustrated memoir tells of several years in her childhood when she was a dedicated figure skater and synchronized skater which involved rising early to get to the rink, extensive travel to tournaments, and a discomfort with the performative femininity expected of her.  Outside of skating, Walden moves from New Jersey to Austin, TX and has to adjust to a new school, deal with a bully,  and come out as a lesbian.  It’s an insightful and meditative look back on the choices made in childhood and their long lasting effects.

Favorite Passages:

“I’m the type of creator who is happy making a book without all the answers.  I don’t need to understand my past fully in order to draw a comic about it.  And now that this is a book that other people will read, I feel like it’s not really my turn to answer  that question.  It’s for the reader to decide, to speculate, to guess.  It reminds me of how in English class in high school we would always talk about the author’s intentions in every moment.  And I used to always wonder if there was ever an author who really didn’t mean any of it, and the meaning found its way in by accident.  I think I’m that author.”

Recommended booksFun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher


AuthorCarrie Fisher
TitleWishful Drinking
Narrator:  Carrie Fisher
Publication Info: S&S Audio (2009)
Summary/Review:

Based on her stage performance, the delightful Carrie Fisher wryly reflects on her celebrity upbringing, her marriages and relationships, her mental health problems, and substance abuse issues.  An interesting memoir for fans and non-fans alike.

Recommended booksFuriously Happy by Jenny Lawson, Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh, and You’re Never Weird on the Internet by Felcia Day
Rating: ***

Book Review: Papi: My Story by David Ortiz


Author: David Ortiz with Michael Holley
Title: Papi: My Story
Publication Info: Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017.
Summary/Review:

I know that David Ortiz is a prodigious slugger, has a big heart, and a potty mouth.  From his baseball memoir, I’ve also learned that he holds a grudge.  A bit too much of this book is full of Ortiz’s resentments against his manager in Minnesota (and two different managers in Boston), the Red Sox front office, the Boston media, and everyone who suspected him of PED use.  Granted he actually is justified in his anger against these people, but it weighs down what is otherwise an insightful book about his life in baseball.  I particularly enjoy what Ortiz says about how he became a student of the game and studied pitchers while on the bench so that he could become a better hitter.  He talks of learning a lot from fellow players, especially Manny Ramirez and Pedro Martinez. And then he passes along that knowledge to younger players from Dustin Pedroia to Andrew Benentendi.  Outside baseball, Ortiz reflects on his marriage to his wife Tiffany and how he was contending with their marriage falling apart right around the same time as the magical 2013 series.  It’s an entertaining book and a must read for fans of Big Papi and the Red Sox, and baseball fans in general.

Favorite Passages:

“I’ve always been amazed at people who criticize baseball players for showing emotion, especially in playoff games. What do they expect when every move you make is with the game on the line?  You’re a competitor.  You want to be sucessful for your team and your city.  You’re not supposed to respond when everyone is losing their minds in the stands, to the point where you really can’t hear anything?

Why not?” – p. 76

“To me, Pedroia is the prototype.  I’d never met anyone like him in baseball.  It’s hard to explain.  For example, I love baseball.  Love it.  But what I saw from Pedroia made it clear to me that his connection to baseball was beyond everyone else’s.  It was so much more than just love for the game.  He was the game. Seriously.  Everything that was good and true about baseball was in Dustin Pedroia.  He breathed it.  He lived it.  He’d do anything to play it, to be around it, to talk about it.He was such a force of energy, talent, and humor that it lifted our entire clubhouse.” – p. 116

“I believe the Boston media is powerful when it comes to the fans and, in some ways, influential when it comes to the way the team is managed.  When the media make a big deal about something, when they create a problem or issue, what are the fans supposed to think?  They figure that these people are around the team 24/7, so they must know what they’re talking about.  But they don’t.” – p. 151

Recommended booksBecoming Manny: Inside the Life of Baseball’s Most Enigmatic Slugger by Jean Rhodes, Pedro, Carlos, and Omar: The Story of a Season in the Big Apple and the Pursuit of Baseball’s Top Latino Stars by Adam Rubin, and Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season by Stewart O’Nan
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Secret Lives of Bats by Merlin Tuttle


AuthorMerlin Tuttle
TitleThe Secret Lives of Bats 
Publication InfoHoughton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
Summary/Review:

I remember one time as a child playing lawn darts at dusk in my neighbors’ yard.  I lost sight of the dart and then noticed that it seemed to be flying up, only to realize that it was actually a bat.  My friend and I ran screaming indoors, not realizing that game we were playing was probably more dangerous than our neighborhood bats.  Over time, I grew to admire bats partly for their contributions to a healthy ecosystem, but mostly for being marvelous creatures.  In this wonderful memoir, Merlin Tuttle, founder of Bat Conservation International, details his lifelong love of the flying mammals and constantly running up against the fear and hatred of bats in his fellow humans.  As a child, Tuttle crawled through local caves to tag migrating bats, his descriptions giving me vicarious claustrophobia.  All through the book Tuttle extols the virtues of bats, from consuming tons of pestilent insects to spreading the seeds of plants, and even affecting the mating rituals of frogs.  In addition to traveling the world to study bats, Tuttle taught himself how to photograph the animals, inventing tricks of the trade to create compelling photographs published in National Geographic, or elsewhere.  If you love bats, you’ll love this book, and if you fear bats, well this book may change your mind.

Rating: ****

Book Review: Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein


Author: Carrie Brownstein
Title:  Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl
Narrator: Carrie Brownstein
Publication Info: Penguin Audio (2015)
Summary/Review:

I know Carrie Brownstein as a sometimes music critic on NPR’s All Songs Considered (as well as her work on Portlandia – a show I find only moderately funny) so I knew that her memoir of her life and work with the band Sleater-Kinney would be an interesting work.  Brownstein explores the effect of her childhood in which her mother suffered anorexia, her father repressed homosexuality, and Brownstein herself seeks to entertain as way of transforming the sadness around her.  A lot of this books is about identity and the Brownstein analyzes her own   search for identity in raw detail.  The music of Sleater-Kinney is similar in its naked emotion and self-expression and Brownstein details the autobiographical detail that went into that songs.  Sleater-Kinney also had to deal with the typecasting and prejudice of being an all-woman band, when Brownstein wants people to recognize them as simply a great rock band.  Brownstein also relates her own struggles touring with the band that resulted in anxiety and physical illness.  This a very honest and introspective addition to the rock memoir oeuvre.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Clancys of Queens by Tara Clancy


Author: Tara Clancy
TitleThe Clancys of Queens
Publication Info: New York : Crown Publishers, 2016.
Summary/Review:

Tara Clancy is one of my favorite storytellers from shows like The Moth, Risk, and Snap Judgment, so I was delighted to receive a free advanced review copy of her memoir through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.

Clancy describes her childhood in New York City in the 1980s and 1990s moving around to live with her cop father in a repurposed boat shed in Broad Channel, a virtual commune of elderly relatives at her Grandparent’s house in Brooklyn, and weekends at her mother’s wealthy boyfriend’s estate in the Hamptons.  Young Tara navigates these three different worlds with aplomb and even with the tough challenges of poor kid in the city manages to maintain a sense of humor and adventure.  This is an inspired memoir and a joy to read.
Favorite Passages:

“By then, age ten, I was already a tried-and-true child chameleon, a real-life little Zelig who knew how to go from being barfly at a Queens local hangout to a summertime Bridgehamptonite to an honorary septuagenarian at the drop of a dime.  Despite all that (or maybe  because of it), there was one role I didn’t always like to play: kid.  More specifically, rule-abiding kid.”  – p. 111-112

Recommended books:

Talking to Girls About Duran Duran by Rob Sheffield, Lost In Place by Mark Salzman, and All Souls by Michael Patrick MacDondald

Rating: ****1/2