Entries tagged with “Books”.


NUTSI took a break from my summertime reading of novels to read a memoir, My Mother Was Nuts by Penny Marshall. Miss Marshall, best known as Laverne from the hit sitcom Laverne and Shirley and later as a prominent director of popular movies, has written a very entertaining book about her life and times.

I was familiar with Miss Marshall’s career of course, I pretty much grew up with her on television. However, I really did not know much about her earlier life or what was going on behind the scenes during the height of her career. In My Mother Was Nuts, Miss Penny Marshall shares an intimate portrait of her childhood and her life when she was one of the biggest television stars in the world. By the way, she was married to Rob Reiner at the time he too was on a top sitcom, All in the Family – which makes for a very specific story of life as a 1970s pop culture icon.

About My Mother Was Nuts by Penny Marshall: “Most people know Penny Marshall as the director of Big and A League of Their Own. What they don’t know is her trailblazing career was a happy accident. In this funny and intimate memoir, Penny takes us from the stage of The Jackie Gleason Show in 1955 to Hollywood’s star-studded sets, offering up some hilarious detours along the way. My Mother Was Nuts is an intimate backstage pass to Penny’s personal life, her breakout role on The Odd Couple, her exploits with Cindy Williams and John Belushi, and her travels across Europe with Art Garfunkel on the back of a motorcycle. We see Penny get married. And divorced. And married again (the second time to Rob Reiner). We meet a young Carrie Fisher, whose close friendship with Penny has spanned decades. And we see Penny at work with Tom Hanks, Mark Wahlberg, Whoopi Goldberg, Robert De Niro, and Whitney Houston. Throughout it all, from her childhood spent tap dancing in the Bronx, to her rise as the star of Laverne & Shirley, Penny lived by simple rules: ‘try hard, help your friends, don’t get too crazy, and have fun.’ With humor and heart, My Mother Was Nuts reveals there’s no one else quite like Penny Marshall.”

As an added bonus, I took advantage of reading the Kindle version of this book in concert with the audio version from Audible.com. You can toggle back and forth from reading the book on a Kindle app to listening to it on the same device. This allowed me to hear Miss Marshall read her own work and I must tell you it greatly enhanced the experience. Having Miss Marshall’s voice (literally) in my head made me appreciate her casual writing style more and made her tale much more personal.

Like many memoirs and autobiographies, in the end My Mother Was Nuts is a snapshot of a life and not the in-depth review you would get from a more scholarly biography. Nor is this book a namedropping tell-all. Sure, Miss Marshall shares stories of her famous friends and family, but it is all part of her story and she is very respectful. My Mother Was Nuts is a charming and funny book that captures the spirit of Miss Marshall’s unique personality.

My Mother Was Nuts a memoir by Penny Marshall is available from Amazon and other fine retailers.

EOTNWhen I was a kid, my siblings and I used to joke that my father never read a book that didn’t have Nazi insignia on the cover. It is true that he loved novels, and nonfiction, about World War II and it was pretty much true that there was that certain symbol on most of the covers. One such book I remember was Ken Follett’s 1978 novel Eye of the Needle.

It is so funny, I remember the cover of the paperback very well and my dad’s excitement when the movie version came on HBO. Like most kids, the last thing I wanted to do was show interest in anything my parents did so I never picked up any of my dad’s books to read for myself.

However, in recent years I discovered the works of Mr. Follett, most notably Pillars of the Earth and his Century Trilogy. Having read and enjoyed those more recent works, I have gone back through Mr. Follett’s catalog and read some of his older novels. Recently, I was looking for a vintage best seller to read, as I like to do in the summer, and came across Eye of the Needle and I knew in an instant that I had found the perfect summer read.

Eye of the Needle is a traditional spy thriller set during World War II and although formulaic and somewhat dated, it is still a great story in the very capable hands of Mr. Follett who was at the top his game when he wrote this book.

About Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett: “One enemy spy knows the secret of the Allies’ greatest deception, a brilliant aristocrat and ruthless assassin—code name: ‘The Needle’—who holds the key to the ultimate Nazi victory. Only one person stands in his way: a lonely Englishwoman on an isolated island, who is coming to love the killer who has mysteriously entered her life. Ken Follett’s unsurpassed and unforgettable masterwork of suspense, intrigue, and the dangerous machinations of the human heart—Eye of the Needle.”

Part of the joy of reading this book for was thinking about my dad reading it all those years ago. It is one of those truisms that one appreciates his/her parents more as you get older. By reading books that I know my dad liked back in the day makes me understand him a little bit more.

Meanwhile, Eye of the Needle was the perfect escapist novel for summer reading.

Eye of the Needle is available from Amazon and other fine retailers.

TCVIt must be summer… I just finished a novel. The novel I chose was the first “adult” novel by J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame: The Casual Vacancy.

Ok, let me get this out of the way first: this book is just about as far a departure from the fantasy of the Potter world as you can imagine. The Casual Vacancy is a sober novel about contemporary English society – a genre I happen to like, in the vein of Nick Hornby or Will Self.

When I first dove into the novel it was on my mind that the author was the creator of the Harry Potter phenomenon and it was a distraction. However, once I got into the story and the well-crafted plot and cast of characters, the book carved out a niche of its own. It is clear that Ms. Rowling is a gifted writer no matter the genre.

About The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling: “When Barry Fairweather dies unexpectedly in his early forties, the little town of Pagford is left in shock. Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils…Pagford is not what it first seems. And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations? Blackly comic, thought-provoking and constantly surprising, The Casual Vacancy is J.K. Rowling’s first novel for adults.”

The Casual Vacancy is a story about ordinary people dealing with circumstances in their world – in other words, it’s about Muggles. I do have to say that Ms. Rowling’s seems to delight in writing about the real life of teenagers in this book. The school-aged kids in The Casual Vacancy deal with all the reality you can imagine, from drugs and sex to alienation and bullying – they are most certainly not looking for a magical spell to save wizardry.

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling is available from Amazon and other fine retailers.

pilgrimOn the eve of Thanksgiving, there is a lot of talk of the Pilgrims who celebrated the first feast in Plymouth.  For today’s Read, I feature a book about a different kind of pilgrimage.

I am a huge fan of master photographer Annie Leibovitz and have loved her work as long as I can remember. Like many, I came to know her work from her iconic photos of the superstars of popular culture over the past 30 odd years (notably featured in Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, et al). However, I have also admired her pure talent of composition and artistic interpretation whether it be in a photo of a rock star or an automobile.

In her book Pilgrimage, Ms. Leibovitz leaves behind the conceits of celebrity culture to document subjects that are much more meaningful to her and shares her journey with us through her amazing lens.

About Pilgrimage by Annie Leibovitz: Pilgrimage took Annie Leibovitz to places that she could explore with no agenda. She wasn’t on assignment. She chose the subjects simply because they meant something to her. The first place was Emily Dickinson’s house in Amherst, Massachusetts, which Leibovitz visited with a small digital camera. A few months later, she went with her three young children to Niagara Falls. ‘That’s when I started making lists,’ she says. She added the houses of Virginia Woolf and Charles Darwin in the English countryside and Sigmund Freud’s final home, in London, but most of the places on the lists were American. The work became more ambitious as Leibovitz discovered that she wanted to photograph objects as well as rooms and landscapes. She began to use more sophisticated cameras and a tripod and to travel with an assistant, but the project remained personal.”

Pilgrimage is a wonderfully personal book despite the great production values. Ms. Leibovitz’s photos are amazing and though the subjects she picks may not be as well-known as her past celebrity models, she manages to make most every image compelling.

Having experienced this book my admiration of Ms. Leibovitz has been further cemented and I am happy to have taken this journey with her.

Pilgrimage by Annie Leibovitz is available from Amazon and other fine booksellers.

grimmI believe that every house should have a nice bound volume of The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, whether or not there are kids around.  The original text of these stories is still wonderful to read as an adult and you will find many of the stories much darker and nuanced than the Disney-fied versions we are most familiar with.

The awesome publishing house, Taschen, has produced a wonderful bicentennial edition of brothers Jacob and Wilhelm’s enduring tales. In Taschen’s volume, many of the Brothers Grimm stories have been compiled along with an incredible collection of the artwork that has been created to adorn these stories over the centuries.

About Taschen’s collection of The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm edited by Noel Daniel: “In honor of their 200th anniversary, The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm brings to life twenty-seven of the most beloved Grimm stories, including classics such as Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Hansel and Gretel, in a vibrant and meticulous new translation commissioned for this publication.  Containing a selection of charming vintage illustrations from the 1820s to the 1950s by true masters of pictorial invention-—the legendary Kay Nielsen, bestselling children’s books author Gustaf Tenggren, British artists Walter Crane and Arthur Rackham, and giants of nineteenth century German illustration Gustav Süs, Heinrich Leutemann, and Viktor Paul Mohn, as well as many new discoveries—this compilation also features historic and contemporary silhouettes that dance across the pages like delicate black paper lace.”

The new translation and the classic artwork make the Taschen version of The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm a nice way to bring these stories into your home.  Or, if you like the hunt, look for a nice vintage version as you go about your picking rounds. But beware, not all Grimm books are the same.  With the tales long in the public domain there are many versions out there with little provenance to the original text.  This being one reason Taschen’s book is so great.

This book may also help me fill in some of the blanks I have watching NBC’s hit series Grimm – which I love.

Taschen also offers a wonderful The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm calendar featuring some of the great vintage artwork from their compilation book.

Taschen’s The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm is also available from Amazon and other fine booksellers.

CONSTITUTIONI feel strongly that every citizen of the United States should read the Constitution from time to time to ensure an understanding of the foundation of this great nation.  As the Presidential Election looms, and debates go on about interpretations of this seminal document are discussed, we can better make informed decisions if we come to our own individual view of what we are all about.

OK, enough of the non-partisan preaching.  Taken as just a historical document, the U.S. Constitution is an interesting read.

You can certainly find the text of the Constitution on the internet and in multiple – and free – printed forms.  However, I recommend investing in a nice bound edition like the U.S. Constitution Pocket Sized Book available from Portland OR-based Canoe (and other fine retailers).

About the U.S. Constitution Pocket Sized Book“The subject of controversial interpretations throughout its history (perhaps never more than today), the U.S. Constitution remains the chief rights and governing document of the United States. This 192 page, pocket sized, leather bound edition contains the complete Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and every constitutional amendment to the present day. Also included is an impressive array of documents, revealing the ideas, aspirations, and differing views of the founding fathers, including the Declaration of Independence.”

See the U.S. Constitution Pocket Sized Book all the really neat products curated by Canoe here.

DRNOI am kicking it old school with this week’s read, Dr. No by Ian Fleming.  I came across an old paperback version of this classic James Bond novel while I was sorting through some old books out in the barn.  I put the book aside and thought it might be fun to read at some point because it was relatively short and I had never read a Bond novel before.

So a few weeks ago I picked up the well-worn paperback and sat down to read it.  Maybe it was my mood, or maybe it was my newfound fascination with Mr. Fleming’s real-life exploits or maybe even a penchant for rediscovering the manly pursuits of the Mad Men-era, I ate it up and read it pretty much straight through.

About Dr. No by Ian Fleming: “James Bond travels to the Caribbean to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a secret service team. As he uncovers the astonishing truth about strange energy waves that are interfering with U.S. missile launches, he must battle deadly assassins, sexy femmes fatales, and even a poisonous tarantula. The search takes him to an exotic tropical island, where he meets a beautiful nature girl and discovers the hideout of Doctor No, a six-foot-six madman with a mania for torture, a lust to kill, and a fantastic secret to hide.”

Dr. No was not the first James Bond novel, although it was the first to be made into a film starring Sean Connery.  Growing up, my brother was big Bond fan and watched the old movies all the time. However, I really never got into them.  Even today I am not really a fan of the Bond series, even though I can’t deny their success and the lasting effect they have had on popular culture for over 50 years.

But by going to the original text, I was able to see the character Mr. Fleming was trying to create minus all the Hollywood pretensions.  The story is a very basic, if not a simplistic spy adventure.  However, in the hand of Mr. Fleming, it is a very entertaining story and surprisingly witty and well written.

Reading Dr. No today, versus when it came out in the late 1950’s, is also like stepping into a time capsule.  In addition to Cold War fears, there is a sexist, ignorantly racist and definitely non-PC tone – and it is oddly refreshing when viewing it through a contemporary lens. 

Dr. No by Ian Fleming is still in print and available in its many incarnations (including Kindle) from Amazon and other fine booksellers.

sidewalksI love taking long walks whenever I can.  Living in the woods of New Hampshire, my walks are often called “hikes” but whatever you call them, I enjoy getting out and discovering everything I can by walking around old favorite routes as well as new ones.

When traveling to a new city, I generally like to learn all about it by walking around as opposed to seeing it from a cab or bus.  In addition to getting good exercise, there is no better way to get a true sense of a place than by walking around it.

I recently came across an intriguing book, Sidewalks: A Journal for Exploring Your City by Kate Pocrass, which is a charming resource for making even the most well-tread walk around your hometown more interesting.

About Sidewalks: A Journal for Exploring Your City by Kate Pocrass: “This charmingly illustrated journal encourages users to discover the hidden and extraordinary details of one’s own city. Filled with unique explorations and quirky prompts, it’s the perfect place to keep track of favorite local haunts, as well as a starting point to experience one’s neighborhood in a whole new way.”

It may seem like a strange subject for a book and you may think it unnecessary, but Ms. Pocrass provides food for thought for making an adventuring out of the routine.

Meanwhile, the publisher – Chronicle Books – has a great line books all about walks and walking – mostly travel books with walking as a main focus.

Sidewalks: A Journal for Exploring Your City by Kate Pocrass is available from Amazon and other fine booksellers.

Check out Chronicle Books’ great collection of books about walks here.

ONELEGI promise my tiresome reminiscences of my vacation are coming to a close soon. However, I am still basking in the post-vacation light and want to make that last as long as I can. Which brings me to today’s Weekly Read, The One-Legged Man …who Came out of a Well by Robert Holland.

In the weeks leading up to the trip, my friend Lynda and I thought it would be fun if everyone on the trip read the same book, so we can have a rolling book club type of discussion and have something to share.

We toyed around with many titles from classics (Dickens, Dumas, Bronte made the short list) to mid-century compilations (Dylan Thomas was the frontrunner) to contemporary books (there were many options).

However, a stop at Titcomb’s Bookshop in East Sandwich, MA on our meandering trip to Wellfleet changed everything. It was there we found The One-Legged Man …who Came out of a Well by Robert Holland after browsing the “young adult” section for a while. We thought a book aimed at younger readers may be more accessible and better suited to casual vacation reading.

We were attract to the book by the promise of a mystery with a baseball subplot – two things we all liked in a story.

About The One-Legged Man …who Came out of a Well by Robert Holland: “Nick Rivers is a ballplayer with a strong sense of injustice and when he discovers that a great many people in town think that his neighbor, an inventor named Augustus Bede, murdered his wife, despite the fact that he was never brought to trial, Nick decides to set things straight. But the murder occurred over forty years before and Nick faces a cold trail and the anger of the people who still believe that Augustus Bede murdered his wife. The question is whether he did and what might happen if Nick uncovers the real murderer but still can’t prove it, because then he ends up with an enemy who is already a murderer and has nothing more to lose.”

Let me say out the outset that not all our traveling companions read the book, and of those who started it, no one finished it. I finished the book in short time after returning home. I found it hard to read it on vacation where I felt I was competing with my co-readers. That said, the idea of reading a common book was a good one and we selected a book I would have never picked up otherwise and enjoyed it.

After reading the book, I tried to do some research on its author, Robert Holland. I was shocked to find out that the book was not available on Amazon. I believe this is the first time I ever looked for a book that was not available in some form on Amazon. It would appear the Mr. Holland, and his publisher, Frost Hollow Publishers, are one in the same. Or at the very least it is a boutique business that markets the author’s books exclusively.

According to its website, Frost Hollow Publishers “specializes in books that boys will read, and is the only publisher producing novels aimed exclusively at boys. All you have to do is try one and your school book report worries are over.” An admirable pursuit indeed.

Meanwhile, the book itself? I enjoyed it for what it was – a book aimed at young readers. It reminded me of the Hardy Boys books I devoured when I was young, which is not a bad thing and it provided a nostalgic aura. Aside from a petty annoyance of the narrative sounding like an old man trying to provide a voice for a young protagonist, the story was entertaining and enjoyable.

The One-Legged Man …who Came out of a Well by Robert Holland is available directly from Frost Hollow Books and small retailers like Titcomb’s Bookshop in East Sandwich, MA.

STEALEvery time I go off on vacation, especially in the summer, I pack a few books and load up the Kindle with the great intent to read as much as possible as I relax. Inevitably, I end up reading a lot, but hardly ever the stuff I brought with me.

While traveling, it seems I get exposed to new and different books that seem to scream out at me. Often the vacation homes we rent have a ton of compelling books on hand, and my traveling companions always have books that look better than the ones I brought. Meanwhile, if you travel with the crowd I was with in Wellfleet, MA for vacation last week, books are one of the most common gifts exchanged.

Such was the case last week when my friend Lynda came back from a short shopping trip in town with a gift for me, Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon. She saw the book and instantly thought I would like it, and she was right.

About Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon: “You don’t need to be a genius, you just need to be yourself. That’s the message from Austin Kleon, a young writer and artist who knows that creativity is everywhere, creativity is for everyone. A manifesto for the digital age,Steal Like an Artist is a guide whose positive message, graphic look and illustrations, exercises, and examples will put readers directly in touch with their artistic side. When Mr. Kleon was asked to address college students in upstate New York, he shaped his speech around the ten things he wished someone had told him when he was starting out. The talk went viral, and its author dug deeper into his own ideas to createSteal Like an Artist, the book. The result is inspiring, hip, original, practical, and entertaining. And filled with new truths about creativity: Nothing is original, so embrace influence, collect ideas, and remix and re-imagine to discover your own path. Follow your interests wherver they take you. Stay smart, stay out of debt, and risk being boring—the creative you will need to make room to be wild and daring in your imagination.”

In Steal Like an Artist, Mr. Kleon really doesn’t share anything revolutionary about being artistic and the creative process, but he does present a nice template to gather your thoughts and act on your creativity. I guess that’s the point – nothing is original so why not just repackage it?

In short, Mr. Kleon sort of gives us permission to be the artist we want to be. If the world needs anything it is more people with imagination and the freedom to express themselves.

Steal Like an Artist is not a long narrative, the thoughts and exercises are presented in short burst with great design in a nice small format. Which means I polished this puppy off in no time but know I will be returning to it many times.

Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon is available from Amazon and other fine booksellers.