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Author Archives: Lisa Kelly
When I shelved books at Beatrice Public Library, we had a separate room for biographies and all of our comfortable chairs were located there. I always wondered about the patrons that found the lives of others so fascinating, and now, I realize that person is me. Is it just one-step away from reading People magazine at your dentist office or is it something more? Since I have started reading biographies, they have become one of my favorite genres. Here are two biographies I read this summer:
Johnny Carson by Henry Bushkin
I grew up with Johnny Carson reliably making us laugh at the end of the day until his last broadcast in May of 1992 when Bette Midler serenaded him with One More For My Baby. The author is described as Johnny’s “personal legal adviser, fixer, confidant, and close friend.” Carson referred to Bushkin as his best friend. The book covers their 18-year relationship, which began when the author was 27 years old in 1970. Had the relationship not ended abruptly or acrimoniously, I wonder if Bushkin would have written this book? The author reveals Johnny’s copious generosity, his inability to be a good husband or money manager, and the psychological damage inflicted on him by his mother from which he never recovered. His mercurial temperament and his grudges were legend. This book pulled back the curtain on an icon that I would have rather left alone but through the eyes of Bushkin, I felt I got closer to the truth or at least one version of it. Despite it all, nobody hosted a show quite like Johnny and watching old clips of him still brings a smile to my face.
Kate Remembered by A. Scott Berg
I listened to Kate Remembered shortly after it was published in 2003. After I gave copies to my neighbor Mary and to my friend Vern, I thought it was time to have another listen. Incidentally, the book is narrated by the actor Tony Goldwyn who does a fair Hepburn impression. The book focuses on Berg’s friendship with Hepburn that started in 1983 and lasted until her death. Berg was Kate’s chronicler as she lavished stories upon him from her life and some episodes that I suspect she rarely shared. From the author’s book cover, “… Miss Hepburn often used our time together to reflect, an exercise in which I don’t think she indulged with anybody else.” I found Scott’s speculative answer to Kate’s question on why he thought Tracy drank so much fascinating and likely spot on. Learning about Kate through Scott’s writing, and what I hope were direct quotes of Hepburn’s, was worth a first and a second visit. After I finished, I re watched The Philadelphia Story and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner again. Time well spent.
So what is the appeal of biographies? Because there is always more to someone’s life is than meets the eye. Triumphs and tragedies are a human condition no matter your fame or infamy. We are all broken.
Bushkin, Henry. Johnny Carson. Boston, MA; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.
Berg, A. Scott. Kate Remembered. New York, NY. Putnam Adult, 2003.
Friday Reads: Susan, Linda, Nina, and Cokie: The Extraordinary Story of the Founding Mothers of NPR by Lisa Napoli
This book was released to coincide with the 50th anniversary of NPR. After reading several biographies on Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Gloria Steinem, the gender discrimination incidents presented here were not revelatory; however, the history of each of the four women was worthwhile and interesting.Their individual journeys to what their male counterparts contemptuously called the "Fallopian Jungle" (the female section of the newsroom) required tenacity and the willingness to work long hours learning on the job.
Unfortunately, one sentence derailed my experience with this book and lead me down a rabbit hole of research. In July 1974, Nina Totenberg, “polled 200 hundred people on the Hill” to write a story called “The Dumbest Congressman.”
“Among the dumb? Sen. Roman Hruska from Nebraska was so dumb he’d actually said that ‘mediocrity deserves a seat on the Supreme Court’ (Napoli, 109). I’m uncertain if this next sentence was in Totenberg’s article or added by Napoli but the charge against Hruska continues “(two strikes: Hruska owned a chain of dirty movie theaters, yet had sponsored an anti-smut bill.)” (109). Regardless who is calling out Hruska’s hypocrisy, what piqued my curiosity was getting to the bottom of the theater question. A Nebraska senator owning what I would interpret as pornographic theaters was something I’d never learned in my Nebraska history. Trust, but verify. A New York Times article from 1970 titled “Rival Charges Hruska Peddles Smut” reveals there was more to the story:
In what may be the region’s bitterest election contest, Senator Roman L. Hruska of Nebraska, a noted opponent of violence and pornography, has been labeled a smut peddler and glorifier of brutality. The man who seeks to unseat him, former Gov. Frank B. Morrison, says the 66-year old Republican is using the screens of five drive-in movie theaters he partly owns in this area to show horror scenes in such films as The Blood Drinker and lewd situations in such works as Catch 22. Despite Senator Hruska’s continued explanation that he is merely an investor in a chain of Nebraska theaters and does not participate actively in the management (Mr. Morrison) continues to imply the Senator votes against pornography on the Senate floor but peddles smut in his theaters.” (Drummond Ayres Jr.)
An investor in several drive-in theaters definitely isn’t the same thing as owning a chain of dirty movie theaters. I called Kay Schmid, the director of the Roman Hruska Public Library. She provided the following political advertisement titled “At the Movies with Roman Hruska” published in the Columbus Telegram on October 30, 1970. The advertisement quotes Jack Anderson of the Washington Post and was paid for The Concerned Citizens of Nebraska:
When Senator Roman Hruska preaches about the evils of violence and pornography, he knows whereof he speaks. He is a partner in a movie chain that has recently featured skin flicks like Girl on a Chain Gang and violence like The Blood Drinker. The pious Nebraskan has sponsored numerous bills against smut and violence but Hruska’s “common decency and good morals” apparently do not impel him when his pocketbook is affected. The senator wouldn’t say how much he gets out of the Douglas Theaters, except that it is “making a profit.” Asked whether he would make a public accounting, the crusader for public morality said, “Heaven’s No! It’s none of the public’s business as long as there is no conflict of interest.” Senator Hruska incidentally voted against a Senate Standards of Conduct Amendment, which would have required Senators to report their sources of income.
However, it was amassed, Hruska’s fortune was enough to have a public library (David City), a federal courthouse (Omaha), and law center (Lincoln), named for him. You can draw your own conclusions about Hruska’s values, but Napoli or Totenberg’s throwaway sentence about “owning a chain of dirty movie theaters” is inflammatory and inaccurate. It left me wondering if Napoli made any other statements that might require fact checking.
Napoli, Lisa. Susan, Linda, Nina & Cokie: The Extraordinary Story of the Founding Mothers of NPR. Blackstone Publishing. 2021.
Run, Rose, Run and the accompanying music cd with the same name came out just in time for me to give to my sister for her birthday. She is a big Dolly Parton fan and I was interested in reading and listening to the music at the same time. I was also interested in a book/music combination. The audiobook was read with multiple narrators including Dolly Parton whose voice I love. Unfortunately, the songs performed in the book were spoken as poetry, not sung. Inserting musical interludes in the story as they were performed could have offered a unique and brilliant audio experience. A missed opportunity in my opinion.
Even though this is a typical Patterson thriller, it was the music industry part of the novel and the character Dolly narrated (Ruthanna) that made me interested in listening. Ruthanna is a newly retired country music singer who is ready to stop touring and singing even though her fans want more. AnnieLee (aka Rose) is a young, talented, singer songwriter newly arrived in Nashville, eager to launch her career with nothing but talent, tenacity, and something she needs to leave behind.
Ruthanna takes on AnnieLee as her protégé sharing her band, her recording studio, and business saavy. After reading a romance that was low angst, it is exactly the angst of AnnieLee’s past and her secret that fuel the plot and make her run, repeatedly. Hence the title and the earworm of the song Run.
For me, the secret was predictable and fueled the finale in a chase across the country. In a thriller, the story begins like a roller coaster clicking up the incline, tick, tick, tick, tick. Then the drop begins, all hell breaks loose, and you race to the end. I read into the night and was glad to know the conclusion which was about what I predicted, almost. When my sister finished, our reactions were very much the same. As readers of mysteries and thrillers, this one didn’t stand out as something either one of us would recommend but we enjoyed talking about it together. We also enjoyed the music, given more context from the book. Reading books with one person is my new book group so I was grateful to have an opportunity to share with my sister.
Parton, Dolly and James Patterson. Run, Rose, Run. Little, Brown and Company. 2022.
Paul Farmer, age 62, died this past week. He was a man who dedicated his life to improving health care for impoverished people in the world. He came to my attention watching CBS Sunday Morning this past weekend. I want to learn more about him and realized we have a book about him in our book club collection, Mountains Beyond Mountains, written by Pulitzer Prize winning author Tracy Kidder. It’s always been on my list of titles to read and I realize it’s time to move it to the top of the list. You may want to consider this selection for your book club’s next read.
Sarah Castillo, media specialist at Logan View Public Schools in Hooper, borrowed copies of Refugee by Alan Gratz for her 4-6 Grade Enrichment Program Students from the Library Commission book club collection. This year students had 3 options to choose from: Book Club, Macrame, or creating Book Soundtracks. She sent us this photo and said “thank you again for supplying the books for us!”
Jolabokaflod, or “Christmas Book Flood” in English, is the Icelandic tradition of giving books on Christmas Eve and reading into the night. Here are two books I am gifting my friends Vern and Jon for their Christmas Eve reading.
Vern was born the same day and year as Stanley Tucci and honestly, there are some passages in Taste that make me believe there could be something to birthday twins being similar. Vern’s husband Jon is a huge Foo Fighters fan, and all the press Dave Grohl’s book, The Storyteller, received made me curious to learn more about this musician’s life. I think it is helpful (mandatory?) to read a book before you gift it because giving books can be a burden to the recipient — if you don’t believe in the book, why should they? I’m pretty certain I have a sure thing with both titles.
For those who aren’t familiar with Stanley Tucci, he became an internet sensation this past spring for his viral instructional video on mixing a negroni which is, incidentally, the very first recipe in his book. The recipe concludes with the following instructions: sit down, drink it, declaring, “the sun is now in your stomach.” Tucci’s book is a memoir through the lens of food. There are chapters on his Italian parents and their traditions; the family’s year spent living in Italy; restaurants and life in New York as a young actor; food on several film sets and locations; food with his wife, Kate; life in London with his wife, Felicity; and surviving tongue cancer. This book also complements the CNN Series Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy, which aired earlier this year and is still available for viewing on demand if you missed it the first time around. And good news, there is confirmation of season two!
I devoured this book, and knowing I would be sharing it with Vern I consumed it with anticipatory glee, imagining his reactions. And even though I listened to Tucci narrate the audio edition of his book, I used post it notes to mark certain passages in Vern’s print edition that I hoped would stand out. I predict the New York chapter and the Meryl Streep Julie and Julia chapter will be favorites. I read a review of this audiobook that said “listening to this memoir is not a completely successful experience,” but in my opinion that reviewer is simply wrong. While it’s nice to have the recipes in print, listening to Tucci speak Italian and curse makes the audio preferable to me. During the pandemic, armchair travel was all many of us could do, and if Italy is on your list? Get Tucci’s book, watch his series, boil some pasta, and you’ll be halfway to celebrating la dolce vita!
As a former musician, I found Grohl’s process of coming to music as a vocation fascinating. Like the Beatles and my personal favorite, James Taylor, Grohl never learned to read music
. Dave taught himself to play by fastidiously listening to music and literally making the drum sounds with his teeth, leading his dentist to wonder what caused his early dental deterioration. Because he couldn’t rely on written music, there was a memorization that made the music a part of him. He does admit to taking one drum lesson where he was told he was holding his sticks wrong, but that was his only formal education. Grohl also described how he experienced music through synesthesia – a process when hearing music makes you see shapes or smell something specific. It is, quite literally, “a neurological condition in which information meant to stimulate one of your senses stimulates several of your senses.”
The relationship between Dave and his mom is also one to cherish. Her counsel and support to a son who was danger prone (a frequent visitor to the ER) and not driven to scholarly success was affirming to read, especially knowing that it all worked out in the end. As a single mom, he describes her as his best friend. This famous relationship is documented in a book written by Virginia Grohl: From Cradle to Stage: Stories from the Mothers Who Rocked and Raised Rock Stars .
After reading several memoirs and biographies, I have to comment that Dave’s attention to his relationships lacks details. Describing a particular recording session, he mentions his marriage was falling apart, and unless I missed it there was no prior mention of a marriage. He begins another paragraph with a phone conversation to his mom by saying, “Mom, we’re having a girl.” It’s possible wives past and present wanted little mention in the book or maybe that’s just the way Dave rolls. The overall takeaway for me is that Dave is driven and deeply introspective in a way that has served him well. I admired his ability to make and maintain friends throughout his life and his tenacious optimism.
And – if you’re wondering what my neighbor Mary is reading? Once I found the very first book in the Mitford Series in her book stacks, she was completely engaged with these characters and the North Carolina setting. She read all of the books in a couple of months. She followed the series by reading the Stanley Tucci book I loaned her and has now started on the Louise Penny Inspector Gamach series. I gave her a copy of Rosamund Pilcher’s Winter Solstice for her birthday in October and we read it together for the holiday, a book that I learned she had purchased years ago and I located recently, tucked away in her collection. I only brought back to her what she had already found but had forgotten about. Happy Jolabokaflod everyone!
My dear friend Mary, who lives two floors above me, suffered a television outage last winter. This was catastrophic since her TV is always on, serving as companion, entertainer, and white noise. Out of desperation, Mary–who in recent years earnestly believed she’d lost the concentration needed to read an entire book—picked up the copy of Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer that I’d given her. She read it cover to cover; it reminded her of her home in North Carolina, and she loved it! More importantly, she felt triumphant, proving to herself that she COULD still read books!
I wanted to keep her reading momentum going so when Nigella Lawson, a favorite food writer of ours, released a new book called Cook, Eat, and Repeat: Ingredients, Recipes, and Stories, I ordered two copies. We kept a running commentary as we consumed the pages. An entire chapter on anchovies? Are they REALLY the bacon of the sea? Saving and cooking with banana peels was a zero waste solution? Not something either of us will try. But her essay on food as a guilty pleasure? That was worth rereading together.
Nigella’s book made me think of Ruth Reichl’s My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life: A Cookbook, and I bought it for Mary and I listened to my copy a second time. This lead to conversations about Ruth’s other books, many of which Mary owned. Just as she’d somehow missed My Kitchen Year, I’d missed For You Mom, Finally, so Mary happily lent me her copy.
I turned to Mary’s own book stacks for my next recommendation, handing her an unread copy of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer. As a faithful letter writer and a lover of stationary, I had a feeling she would enjoy this epistolary book. She did and was ready for more.
After I finished reading Andre Leon Talley: The Chiffon Trenches: A Memoir, I thought it would be a good fit for Mary knowing she had been a Women’s Wear Daily and Vogue subscriber. An added bonus was Andre’s North Carolina nativity. After reading the first chapter she told me she was purposely taking it slow to make it last. Mary took a reading break to watch Wimbledon but once she was finished with Andre, I handed her I.M.: A Memoir by Isaac Mizrahi because I could tell she was still in the mood for fashion designers and had a penchant for biographies.
We next tackled, The Barbizon: The Hotel That Set Women Free by Paulina Bren, recommended by a coworker. This safe haven for modern, working women was the home to many celebrities including Sylvia Plath, an author Mary had previously researched. We both finished and thought the book was interesting and worthwhile but the finest takeaway was our discussion afterwards. I was able to ask Mary questions no one had ever asked her before, and she answered them. It was an intimate communion and an evening I will never forget.
Floundering over what to offer Mary next, I ended up loaning her my copy of The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, continuing with the theme of female solidarity. Mary initially greeted this selection with reticence because she grew up in a house with hired help. However, because I’d earned her trust with my previous recommendations, she acquiesced and agreed to try it. She was hooked from the first page! When she finished it a week later, she returned it with high praise and a heartfelt thank you note I will treasure forever.
Having spotted two Rosamunde Pilcher paperbacks in Mary’s collection, I gave her a copy of the The Shell Seekers, confident she would appreciate Penelope, the bohemian protagonist, and the English locations. She finished in a week, sad for it to be over and sharing that she usually skips over description but she read every word in this book. She then expressed concern that she was now spending too much time reading, but she also wanted more Pilcher books!
Most recently–and just in time for the U.S. Open Tennis tournament–I presented her with the new Billie Jean King autobiography, All In. The next day she told me she stayed up way too late the night before, using the index to cherry pick stories, and that she really needed to get more sleep! My copy of All In is on hold at the library, and I’m eager to read it so we can discuss this amazing icon of tennis and gender equality.
I have never experienced this kind of simpatico with another reader. Whatever aligned for us to enjoy so many of the same books at the same time has been a luxury. Our discussions have been a respite from the pandemic and the news, but the biggest gift is learning more about each other and deepening our friendship. It has been such a pleasure to plot Mary’s reading through these last several months, and I must say I’m so grateful Mary’s television stopped working!
Who hasn’t heard of 60 Minutes, the iconic show that begins with the sound effect pronouncing Sunday night more effectively than any other time-keeping device ever could? Ira Rosen, a longtime producer, pulls back the curtain on his years working with the famed newscasters. If you don’t want to know the dirt on these storied men, and it was all men at the beginning, this may not be the book for you. But I think you’ll want to know.
This iconic news program debuted in 1968, created by Don Hewitt and Bill Leonard. The now familiar magazine style newscast pioneered many techniques of investigative journalism including hidden cameras and “gotcha journalism”, the now infamous ambush visits to a home or office of an investigative subject.
Ira Rosen survived 25 years working behind the scenes of 60 minutes and was first assigned to Mike Wallace who said to Rosen “I know what I can do for you. What can you do for me?” I shouldn’t have been surprised by the description of the smoke-filled, misogynist work place Rosen described. Oversized egos lead to thieving stories and unforgivable, sometimes inhumane behavior. With story after story, what is clear is that Mike Wallace was a horrible man with tremendous journalistic skills.
Certain parts of this book will make you cheer for journalism the way All the President’s Men and Spotlight did in cinema. That news can be a force for good and actually make a difference is something I often forget. The heart of a good journalist is not about tabloid questions but actually making a difference. In his years in the news business, Rosen and his colleagues did just that.
Rosen, Ira. Ticking Clock: Behind the Scenes at 60 Minutes, New York: St. Martin’s Press 2021,
My colleague Tessa Terry reviewed the Inspector Gamache series in 2018. This book is the latest (#16) in the series and takes place in Paris. It begins with the entire family walking home from a bistro dinner only to witness Armand’s godfather; Stephen Horowitz, violently hit and run over by a van. To Armand’s eyes, this is no accident, but the French Police aren’t convinced.
Series readers love the stability of spending time with beloved characters in a familiar place. This book leaves the usual setting of Three Pines (a small town in Quebec) and takes place primarily in Paris. French names were a challenge, keeping track of who was friend or foe, which was part of the plot twist. Working out of his jurisdiction Chief Inspector Gamache relies upon his librarian wife, Reine-Marie, a local librarian, and his family members to help discover the truth about his godfather’s attacker.
Tessa mentioned the narrator Ralph Cosham in her first review. From Audiofile Magazine: We are saddened that Ralph Cosham passed away in September 2014. His voice for Gamache is described as one that “combines British intellectual with a Frenchman’s warmth … it’s as if those two got married–and Gamache would be their son.” From Louise Penny’s newsletter: “after this tragic loss, we finally have our new voice for the books … he’s a British actor named Robert Bathurst, best known in North America for his role in Downton Abbey.” I was delighted that Bathurst recently beat Tom Hank’s in this past year’s Audie Awards for best Male Narrator for his recording of Louise Penny’s Kingdom of the Blind. For a devoted series reader/listener, the narrator is as important as the text. I can personally vouch for both narrators.
If you are looking for some Pandemic reading (or listening), that will take you away from your living room to a small Canadian town with colorful characters, look no further. Here is the series listing if you prefer to read them in order.
Penny, Louise. All the Devils are Here Minotaur Books. 2020.
After 23 years as the Director of the University of Nebraska Omaha’s Library Science Education programs, Dr. Becky Pasco is retiring on December 18, 2020 and heading off to new adventures. Dr. Sara Churchill is taking over as the Director of the Graduate School Library Education program at UNO. Erica Rose will continue as the Coordinator for the Undergraduate Library Science Education programs at UNO. Inquiries for information regarding the UNO Library Science Education programs should be directed as follows:
Dr. Sara Churchill
Graduate School Library program
Undergraduate Library Science programs
More accurately described – Friday listens, this title is available exclusively from Audible.com. Break Shot was recorded by James in his home studio, TheBarn in western Massachusetts and released in conjunction with his 19th studio album, American Standard. At only an hour and a half, I listened twice, enjoying it even more the second time. It begins with the following: “I’m James Taylor and I’m a professional autobiographer. I usually talk about myself with a guitar in my hand and I have one now.” James explains that the title is an analogy for his tight knit family that eventually split apart “like a break shot in the game of pool … when you slam the cue ball into the fifteen other balls and they all go flying off.” James and his four siblings were raised with great privilege in North Carolina in the ‘60’s but the family fell apart. Three of the four kids ended up in psychiatric hospitals. Drug and alcohol addiction took their toll.
Despite coming from a family of doctors and lawyers, James wasn’t interested in college. His parents supported his decision to spend tuition money on a flight to London. This trip provided the pivotal moment of his life. Through life-long friend Danny Kortchmar, James met with Peter Asher, the head of A&R (Artist & Repertoire) at Apple Records and played his demo tape. Peter liked what he heard and recalls calling out, “is there a Beatle in the house?” James auditioned for Paul McCartney and George Harrison with the song Something in the Way She Moves. James’ first album James Taylor, was the first recording by a non-British artist released by Apple Records in 1968.
Break Shot didn’t provide a great deal of revelatory information, so much of James’ life is in his lyrics, but the storytelling intertwined with the recorded songs provided an experience you can’t have with a printed book. This audio memoir was for me, a private concert. This recording is part of a new series, Words+Music, Audible’s musical storytelling initiative. With other exclusive music biographies by Tom Morello, Common, St. Vincent, Sheryl Crow, and T Bone Burnett, I hope other audio publishers will begin providing similar recordings.
Beginning Monday July 6th, the Nebraska Library Commission will be open by appointment only. Appointments can be made by calling 402/471-2045, 800/307-2665, or emailing email@example.com. Staff will be wearing masks to protect you, and we ask that you wear a mask to protect staff. If you do not have a mask, one will be provided. Use of hand sanitizer is required of all visitors upon entry. Public restrooms and water fountains will be unavailable to visitors so please plan accordingly. All pickups and drop offs can be transacted at a designated table near the front door.
I read this novel for my book club and was grateful to have discovered the Montana author, Ivan Doig, who unfortunately died in 2015. The Bartender’s Tale is a slow and pleasant read. It has the pace of a nice morning walk through a small rural Montana community where everyone knows your business.
The book takes place in 1960 and begins with Tom Harry, the owner of a well-worn bar called The Medicine Lodge as he drives to his sister’s home in Arizona to reclaim his 12-year-old son Rusty. The atypical single father and son forge a new life together based largely in and around the bar. At The Medicine Lodge, life-long lessons in treating people right are more than just good business practice. Tom is something of a local ombudsman in every way but by election.
Rusty knows that his mother and father split the blanket shortly after he was born but nothing much beyond that. Rusty befriends Zoe, the daughter of the couple who own The Spot – an average eatery down the street – who is also new to town. Their jokes, laughs, and shtick are typical of kids coming of age. Their favorite thing to do is to listen to conversations through the vent in the back room of the bar; an activity that provides a curriculum of adult vocabulary and sex education.
When Del Robertson shows up with a grant-funded project through the Library of Congress to record people’s stories, there is a shift of focus for Tom and Rusty. They assist Del in helping persuade often-unwilling volunteers agree to participate. Then, another disruption named Proxy (a nickname for her hair color) arrives in a red Cadillac with her moody 21-year-old daughter in tow. Proxy has a past with Tom, from another bar named The Blue Eagle, and everyone seems to know that these still waters run deep.
This was a book I was sad to finish. Despite Doig’s death, I’m grateful to know that he completed 12 books in this series. Even though this book is 10th in the series, this book worked quite well on its own.
Doig, Ivan. The Bartender’s Tale. Riverhead Books, 2012
Mo Rocca is a multi-talented actor, humorist, and journalist on various radio and television programs. I became a fan listening to him on National Public Radio’s Quiz Show – Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! and watching him on CBS Sunday Morning. Because Mo is the narrator, I knew I would not be disappointed with this audiobook.
A Mobituary, as Rocca defines it, is “an appreciation for someone who didn’t get the love she or he deserved the first time around.” What I particularly loved about this book is that Mo’s cultural points of reference often parallel mine. A good example was the love shown for Audrey Hepburn who died the day of Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993. Hepburn’s younger son, Luca Dotti, explained, “his mother suffered from severe malnourishment at the end of World War II, weighing only 88 pounds… the stress of the war stayed with his mother the rest of her life, but she hid it well. My mother was then a survivor … you always have this duality – you are happy to be alive, but you have this sense of guilt because the person next door didn’t make it.” Hepburn’s older son Sean Ferrer, explained: “I think that this is one of the reasons why she wanted to do the UNICEF work, is that she remembered so vividly herself and her emotions as a little girl and living through the war.”
This book sheds light on many other celebrities, politicians, landmarks, trends, and trees. While not nearly as much in love with Barbra Streisand as Mo, (a very alive Streisand is included in the Fanny Brice chapter), I laughed out loud listening to Mo’s ruminations on both women. I had no idea Herbert Hoover saved Europe from starvation during WWI using his engineering abilities before he became a US President. Also laudable are the Mobituaries on the historic figures memorialized by rest stops on the New Jersey Turnpike, the death of several fashion trends, and the loss of Auburn University’s famed oak trees. Mo completes his book with a Mobituary on his father Marcel (1929-2004) who resumed his teenage trumpet playing at age 50 in the cellar of their home. It was because of his father that Mo learned to love obituaries. A fitting end to an excellent collection of remembrances. https://www.mobituaries.com/
Rocca, Mo. Mobituaries: Great Lives Worth Reliving. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2019
I discovered Graham Norton watching his talk show on BBC America many years ago. I downloaded his latest novel, A Keeper, looking forward to another story set in Ireland where Norton was born and raised. A Keeper begins with Elizabeth Keene, a college professor living in New York City, separated from her husband, raising their 17-year-old son on her own. She returns to the house of her recently deceased mother in a small Irish village. While sorting, she discovers a group of letters that begin to reveal more questions than answers about Elizabeth’s uncertain paternity. The letters tell a story of Elizabeth’s mother Patricia, forty years earlier, communicating with a man named Edward Foley through a lonely-hearts ad in the Farmers’ Journal. When Elizabeth inherits a property that belonged to Edward Foley, she begins a journey to gather more information.
The novel weaves two stories labeled – NOW and THEN – with Elizabeth and Patricia respectively navigating their lives through difficult if not perilous circumstances. Elizabeth’s conversations with those who knew her mother and Edward Foley provide some never known information and with each new fact, there are more questions. A young Patricia arrives for a visit to meet Edward for a second date and his overbearing if not mentally deranged mother creates a scenario that is both unexpected and terrifying.
What Norton does so well in his books is reveal family secrets that are often difficult with deftness and humor. The inner thoughts of characters and dialog are strengths of his writing. Thinking I might be alone in my appreciation of his latest two fiction novels, I discovered A Keeper was shortlisted for in the fiction category for the National Book Awards and his first novel, Holding won an Irish Book Award for Popular Fiction. Graham Norton shows us his comic talent on his talk show but there is much more to him than witty banter. His writing and narration skills are also laudable.
Norton, Graham. A Keeper. Atria Books, 2019.
I read Heart Land to highlight this author’s visit to our upcoming Nebraska Book Festival September 7th in Lincoln. I could have easily shared this book with my mom as it fits into the genre of authors she liked including Jan Karon and Rosamunde Pilcher. This book follows the Hallmark movie recipe of an urban woman interrupting her hectic life to return to her rural hometown. Upon her arrival, she discovers love and a new appreciation for a slower pace of life.
Such is the case with Grace Kleren, who graduated top of her class from the Fashion Institute of Technology with dreams of being a successful clothing designer. Having lost both of her parents in a car crash as a teen, she suffered a crisis of faith. Grace is fired from her job after pitching her clothing line to the boss, and unable to pay the bills, she returns to her Iowa hometown to live with her Grandma Gigi. On her first day job hunting, she almost runs over her high school boyfriend Tucker. Happily, there are no injuries but finding a way to earn a living requires some ingenuity.
Working with Gigi, the Church Sewing Club, and some vintage fabric, Grace finds a new and lucrative way to exhibit her design creativity. A few postings on Etsy prove that others also appreciate her design aesthetic. Soon she receives national attention in an online fashion magazine and an invitation to New York. As Grace navigates the conflicts between her head and her heart, her journey is about finding her own truth and what matters most. All of this happens with the encouragement of those who have always loved her in rural Iowa, where life is less exciting, but a good place to sort out Plan B.
Stuart, Kimberly. Heart Land. Howard Books (2018)
Beloved, 21 copies
The Bluest Eye, 13 copies
Home, 1 copy
Jazz, 5 copies
A Mercy, 2 copies
Paradise, 11 copies
Song of Solomon, 8 copies
Sula, 12 copies
“If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.” – Toni Morrison
When I shelved books as a high school student at the Beatrice Public Library, there was an entire room dedicated to biographies and I never understood the popularity. Sometime around the beginning of the millennium, I started listening to this genre and now I understand the appeal, especially when the author has the required talent to read his or her own material. Learning about the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of someone else’s life can give perspective to your own. Recently I listened to Isaac Mizrahi read his autobiography, I.M: A Memoir. As a gentile from the heartland, learning about a young Syrian Jew growing up in Brooklyn was a little like binge watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, except from a gay male perspective.
Isaac shares stories of his life with two older sisters and his fashion forward mother, Sarah. Fabric and clothing design were passions as a young boy as was constructing puppets with the sewing machine his father gave him. Isaac provided critiques on his sisters’ ensembles for the high holidays and paid close attention to how his mother shopped, accessorized, and was stylish on a budget. His father, Zeke, manufactured children’s clothing, selling coats and suits to stores like JCPenney and Sears. This was Isaac’s first exposure to the retail industry. Isaac’s relationship with his father was often difficult. At Yeshivah of Flatbush, an Orthodox Jewish school, the faculty told Isaac that God hated homosexuals and his father’s sentiments echoed this intolerance. The early death of Zeke demanded many religious obligations for Isaac to perform none of which he was able to complete with total conviction. This loss gave Isaac the opportunity to come out to his family, but remaining faithful to Judaism in the long term was untenable.
Isaac worked for Perry Ellis, Ralph Lauren, and others, leading him to begin designing his own clothing. He debuted his first signature line in 1987. Many of us remember Joan Rivers asking “who are you wearing?” to be answered with the name Isaac Mizrahi. The nature of life in a clothing design studio can be frenetic and unhinged, racing to meet deadlines and trying to satisfy high profile and often-difficult clients. The 1995 documentary Unzipped is an iconic representation of this period in fashion featuring many of the supermodels and personalities of the ‘90s. It highlights Isaac preparing for his 1994 fall collection after receiving critical reviews from his previous show.
Struggling with his own body image and insomnia were constant difficulties in his multi-faceted career, from hosting talk shows to cabaret singing. Ending his clothing line and transitioning to other projects, the speed of life settled into a more comfortable and healthy pace. Now Isaac is a spokesperson for his brand on QVC and is a judge on Project Runway All Stars. He continues to live in New York City with his husband Arnold and their two rescue dogs. Since his birth, the world has been Isaac’s stage. I only wish the stages were a little closer to the Midwest.
Mizrahi, Isaac. I.M.: A Memoir. New York: Flatiron Books, 2019
This book came to me by way of a recommendation from a book club member who also reads mysteries and series. I have read Nordic Noir authors Jo Nesbo, Steig Larsson, and Henning Mankell, but I had not read any books from the Department Q Series by the Danish author Jussi Adler-Olsen. All of the authors have a reputation for their dark descriptions of crime, twisted plots, and grizzled detectives. This book follows a popular recipe for sleuths: troubled personal relationships, inability to get along with co-workers, abuser of substances, and a brilliant deductive mind. The plot goes back and forth between the last week Detective Carl Mørck was a homicide detective and the present, when he is assigned to lead a newly created Department Q – a literal closet in the basement of the police department where the most difficult cold cases reside.
Thinking this is a promotion, Carl soon realizes this position will take him out of action. The first case he selects from boxes and boxes of cold cases involves trying to find a missing politician captured five years ago and assumed by many to be dead. Carl is assigned a staff of one – a man with a mysterious past named Hafez el-Assad. Initially Carl views Assad as not much more than a driver and personal assistant, but Assad makes himself a real partner in solving cases and becomes invaluable to the department. At home, Carl is separated from his wife Vigga, is a sometimes guardian to his stepson, and is in need of the rent that is paid by his opera-loving lodger to make ends meet. This book will take you on a ride that is sinister and horrifying. Expect that with Nordic Noir.
For those who have Amazon Prime, the first three books in the Department Q series are also films in Danish with subtitles. I found the casting to be spot on and the Danish countryside both beautiful and foreboding.
Adler-Olsen, Jussi, The Keeper of Lost Causes: The First Department Q Novel. New York: Dutton, 2011.
Who knew Tom Hanks was an author? Even though his writing has appeared in The New York Times, Vanity Fair, and The New Yorker, my introduction came through his book entitled Uncommon Type: Some Stories – a collection of seventeen short stories written (and read in the audio form) by Tom Hanks. This review is specific to the audio version and each short story revealed itself to me as a brief movie performed by Hanks. Tom’s narrative is visual and I saw characters and entire sets because his voice is so closely associated to the medium of film. Interestingly, when one of his stories intersected with subject matter Hanks had previously portrayed in a movie (space travel for example), I could not help but think of that particular corresponding movie and this was not an interrupter, but an enhancement. This book was enjoyable if only for the sake of having Tom’s voice in my ear. Just like listening to Steve Martin, Robin Williams, Tina Fey, or Carol Burnett read their own work, it is the quality, comfort, and familiarity of the voice that adds pleasure to the text.
Some stories were more enjoyable than others were and the ones that I really enjoyed have stayed with me. Hank’s first story is about two best friends from elementary school who turn their life-long friendship into a romance against their friend’s advice. The second is about a WWII veteran who makes an annual Christmas Eve call to his friend who saved his life in battle on Christmas Eve not so many years ago. Another story is about a newly divorced woman with clairvoyant skills who moves with her three children to Green Street. The acceptance she feels from her new neighbors helps her embrace her new life. I am typically not very excited about a collection of short stories, but I very much enjoyed my time with these.
Hanks, Tom. Uncommon Type: Some Stories. New York: Knopf. 2017