After being called a serial reader, So many books, so little time, doesn’t apply to me, reading nonstop regardless of where I am.
That’s the key, to have one with you at all times so you can sneak a page anyplace you happen to be….on the train, in line at the post office, even in bumper to bumper traffic.
Here are some of my winter reads to share.
Shockaholic, by the late, great Carrie Fisher (2011), the second of her trilogy after Wishful Drinking (2008), the last, The Princess Diarist (2016) and my favorite of the three. Her candor can be uncomfortable, but so what, it’s what all writers strive for, to be able to slice a vein on the page, smiling while we bleed.
Take your broken heart, make it into art, is her legacy.
She Made Me Laugh, Richard Cohen (2016). A tribute to his best pal, Nora Ephron, another late great, that is more than worth it’s time. He tells you everything – the good, the glamorous, the not so good, but isn’t that what friendship is all about…to witness it fully without edit? I’d like to think Nora and Carrie are someplace right now collaborating, sending laughter our way, right through the ethers.
Last Girl Before Freeway, Leslie Bennett (2016). A kickass bio on our third fallen heroine, comedian Joan Rivers, from soup to nuts, Bennett telling all, even more than you may wish to know. Many of her friends who, I’m guessing figured, well now that she’s gone we can come clean, certainly did. You can’t libel the dead, so Joan, who held nothing sacred, would certainly understand.
Parnassus on Wheels (1917) and The Haunted Bookshop (1919) Christopher Morley. Every once in a while, if you’re lucky, you stumble upon pulp jewels, like pearls in an oyster. Parnassus, about a traveling bookshop, and it’s sequel, when it settles in Brooklyn, might be right up there with Pride & Prejudice in it’s spare, timeless simplicity. They’re short, not too much to invest, reaping a dividend that will keep you and your reading muscle nice and oiled, yearning for more. Morley wrote a good 15 books, alas, all available for pennies, on Amazon.
The Swans of Fifth Avenue, Melanie Benjamin (2016). A great beach read if there ever was one. A historical novella, when writer, Truman Capote, betrayed his harem of socialite pals in his infamous essay, La Cote Basque, and how they turned on him like Chaneled cobras, rightfully so. The likes of Babe Paley, Pamela Harriman, Slim Keith and a host of others all come to life like it’s the Day of the Dead of the Upper East Side. Capote was a sneak, but a talented one, who never quite regained himself after the loss of his swans.
Palm Beach Babylon, Murray Weiss and Bill Hoffman (1992). Did I love this after finding it lolling on the library shelf like a drunken showgirl. Palm Beach, known for it’s perfection, turns out, is not so perfect after all. Essays on murder, vice, rape, as in William Kennedy Smith, and Donald Trump buying Mar-A-Lago for a song before the presidency (sigh), peel off the page like a fake tan.
Heiress: The Rich Life of Marjorie Merriweather Post, William Wright (1978). Better known as actress Dina Merrill’s mother, and the billion dollar heir to General Foods, was a Palm Beach icon at her Mar-A-Lago estate way before Donald Trump came’a trespassin. Dying at 86 after 7 husbands (possibly from exhaustion), she gave being rich a whole new spin.
Great Dames: What I learned From Older Women, Marie Brenner (2000). I’m a big fan of the essay, so her collection featuring Jackie Kennedy, Marietta Tree and Clare Booth Luce, to name three, are beautifully penned with the right amount of intimate detail, to make you feel you know these legendary women just a bit better.
An Abbreviated Life, Ariel Leve (2016). What a story, about growing up with a talented, narcissistic poet of a mother. If you, like me, had a vain mom who wasn’t exactly June Cleaver, this book’s for you. Heartbreaking yet hopeful, Ariel Leve, is truly a gifted storyteller.
KILL ‘EM and LEAVE: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul, James McBride (2016). James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, led an exceptional yet tragic life that had me on the edge of my seat. 232 pages beautifully penned, remarkably documented, a recommendation to all R&B fans as well as the rest of us, who just enjoy well-written history .
Michael Jackson…Unauthorized, Christopher Anderson (1994). It begins with the child abuse M.J. weathered from his parents, bringing him right up to speed as an accused child molester never really proving otherwise. Anderson’s gift…he’s such a good writer, you don’t realize you’re reading The National Enquirer, just beautifully bound. Elizabeth Taylor is pivotal as an extra attraction, and you have to wonder, why she defended Jackson’s alleged behavior, as though it were nothing more than another version of his moonwalk that could have easily been, a perp walk.
Altamont…The Rolling Stones…The Hells Angels and the Inside Story of Rock’s Darkest Day, Joel Selvin (2016). I had never seen The Rolling Stones film, Gimme Shelter, released in 1969, chronicling the free concert they gave in Northern California where attendance hit 300,000, and four people died, including the murder of a young Black man caught on film. The narrative by Selvin is riveting, taking you there as only a good writer can.
Peppermint Lounge: The Mob, the Music, and the Most Famous Dance Club of the 60s, Joel Selvin and John Johnson Jr. (2012). The Sopranos meet Bandstand, blasts across it’s cover, taking you back to 128 West 45th Street, now a parking garage (yes I went there), where limos lined up so the rich and famous alongside the average, could come do the twist. Funny, factual and gory in spots, but boy, you’ll twist again, like you did last summer.
The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother, James McBride (1996). A memoir written, 20 years before his recent James Brown bio, has dueling stories. His white, Jewish mother’s from the south, married to two Black men, one being James’s father, and James’s own, both penned with heroic hearts.
67 Shots, Howard Means (2016). On May 4, 1970, The National Guard at Ohios’s Kent State University, in 13 seconds, shot their guns 67 times killing four students, wounding nine others. It’s our history, at it’s saddest, that every American should know because the way things are going, it could easily happen again.
American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst, by Jeffrey Toobin (2016). It was February 4, 1974, when Patricia Hearst, a sophomore at the University of California, Berkeley, and heiress to the Hearst family fortune, was kidnapped by a group called the Symbionese Liberation Army and held for ransom. The twist to Patty’s tale, is when she decides to join them, resulting in the name change of Tania, sporting a beret while robbing a bank, brandishing a gun the size of her trust fund. Wow…they sure must have had some amazing drugs to get her to change hats that way, if you know what I mean.
Tender is the Night, F.Scott Fitzgerald (1934). Next to Gatsby, probably his best novel, some say was based on him and his crazy wife, Zelda who, once you read between the lines, will hold responsible for his death in 1944, at the age of 44. It’s good to read a classic once in a while, cleansing one’s literary palette.
Kennedy Without Tears, Tom Wicker (1964). A tiny volume dedicated to JFK’s humor and lighter side letting you know, our fallen hero never took himself too seriously. Wicker, who knew him, said, he’d be acutely embarrassed to see so many things named after him, especially an airport. A little gem of a read.
American Legacy: The Story of John and Caroline Kennedy, C. David Heymann (2007). What is it about them that chronically fascinates us so? Heymann begins at the beginning…their parent’s wedding, their births three years apart. The assassination, growing up in history’s afterglow, right up to John Jr.’s fatal plane crash…Caroline, the last one standing. Stirring, sad and senseless, making one wonder if father and son had lived, what might have been.
Washington Schlepped Here, Christopher Buckley: Walking In The Nation’s Capital (2003). A written walking tour through D.C., highlighted by her illustrious history with the added boon of Buckley’s notorious wit, not sidestepping any of it’s poignancy. He’s the tour guide, we all dream of.
The General VS. The President: Macarthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War, H.W.Brands (2016). It’s amazing, as a country, how many times we’ve dodged a bullet. Brands, a favorite of mine, is a history professor at the University of Texas in Austin, who can weave history like nobody’s business. Truman comes off fine while Macarthur, a shit, our government doing the limbo, never letting us see it sweat.
Killing the Rising Sun: How America Vanquished World War II Japan, Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard (2016). Not a big fan of O’Reilly’s and his big-winded bluster, but his Killing series (Lincoln, Kennedy, Reagan), has it’s place. Blunt, even shameless at times, your attention can’t help but be held, wondering if all, or any of it for that matter, is true.
Almost Golden: Jessica Savitch and the Selling of Television News, Gwenda Blair (1988). She was young and blonde, a tigress in a man’s domain determined to break through. High, and allegedly anerexic before it even had a name, Jessica Savitch was the Janis Joplin of news, dying in a grisly car accident in 1983, at the age of 36. The book also, providing a history of the field she so passionately briefly passed through, made me see, even back then, it was dog eat dog…LIVE…on-air.
Settle For More, Megyn Kelly (2016). Who would’a thought in order to report the news, you’d need a whip and a chair. Ms Kelly, with her Catholic roots and carefully chosen candor, took on Donald Trump before, during and after the election as a blonde, doe-eyed lion tamer fending off his Tweets like cyber BBs. He comes off even more ridiculous where once again you ask yourself, how the fuck did he ever get elected?
Pete the Cat: Rocking In My School Shoes, Art by James and Kimberly Dean…Story, Eric Litwin (2011). There’s something to be said about a little light reading, so there’s nothing like a kid’s book to rock you to sleep. Pete is such a pal, not to mention the coolest of cats who plays guitar, philosophizes and wears Chuck Taylors everyplace he goes.
All’s good, as Pete likes to say,
and I’ll add, especially when you have a book.