Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Mini-Reviews: Non-Fiction Round-Up

Thank the Lord for audio books or else my reading slump would be even more dire than it already is.  I've been on a bit of a non-fiction kick of late.  Here's a round-up of the most recent listens:

Leading Lady: Sherry Lansing and the Making of a Hollywood Groundbreaker by Stephen Galloway

Dang if I can remember where I heard about this book now, but it was mostly likely through work-related reading.  I vaguely recognized Sherry Lansing's name, but knew nothing about her and a Hollywood biography sounded appealing.  I ended up liking this book a lot, although some will likely find it problematic.  Lansing started out as an actress and moved through the ranks to become the first ever female studio head (at 20th Century Fox).  Ultimately she retired as CEO of Paramount.  She produced such movies as Fatal Attraction, The Accused and Indecent Proposal - and was instrumental in green-lighting  Forrest Gump, Saving Private Ryan, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and keeping Titanic afloat.  She ultimately left Hollywood to pursue her philanthropic endeavors (which are varied and vast - she considers former President Carter a mentor).

That being said, readers looking for a feminist read may be disappointed.  Lansing was a ground breaker, but in typical fashion it's not like her and the other female studio execs in Hollywood were all that chummy early on.  There's no backstabbing here - but it doesn't occur to them that there's room for all of them at the table (this is honestly very typical regardless of the field.  Women getting pitted against each other or trying to survive on their own means they don't think to band together).  Also, Lansing has worked with Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson and....has stood by them both. That's an automatic nope for a lot of readers I know.

Final Grade = B

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

I don't watch The Daily Show.  I have never watched The Daily Show (outside of the occasional viral clip).  I can't watch political shows.  Even ones that skewer politics.  It just makes me too angry.  So I keep abreast of political shenanigans by reading about them and avoid TV.  Why did I pick up this book?  Well, KristieJ loved it and my Mom bought it and I kept hearing about it - and OK, I was curious.

I really, really enjoyed this.  It's funny and touching and sad and makes you think.  Childhood stories have this amazing universal appeal.  Noah may have been born and raised in South Africa, in the shadow of Apartheid, but the tales of his childhood were amusing and interesting and approachable to this white girl from the American Midwest. 

My only quibble?  The way Noah chooses to end this story.  You end up feeling pure, unadulterated rage for what happened to his mother and what she (and her family) have had to endure.  Yes, it was real life and yes, Noah definitely should have put it in the book, but to end the book with it?  It overshadows the joyful moments and leaves the reader on a "down note."  I would have restructured the book and put that story earlier on.  I'm sure the decision by author and editor was to put it at the end for the greatest emotional impact.  But, quibble.  Go read it. 

Final Grade = B+

Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens by Eddie Izzard

It's seems impossibly stupid of me now, but I went into this expecting a straight-forward memoir.  Instead it was the audio book equivalent of herding cats.  Have you seen Izzard's stand-up?  Basically it was that.  If I heard "footnote," "end of footnote," or "long windy footnote" one time, I must have heard them 6549 times.  He'd start by, presumably, reading his book and then it would be like, "Squirrel!" and off Izzard would go on a tangent.  Some of these tangents apparently are in the print book, and some aren't.  So the audio book does have "exclusive content" - rambling though it may be.

If you're a fan of Izzard's stand-up, this likely won't be a stumbling block for you.  I have liked some of his stand-up, but I'm a bigger fan of his dramatic work (go watch The Cat's Meow and OMG, he's playing Edward VII in the upcoming Victoria and Abdul!).  I wanted more of that.  But in between the ramblings you do learn about Izzard's childhood, the death of his mother, his years spent in boarding schools, the early days of his comedy career and his sheer tenaciousness.  It wasn't what I wanted, but it was still OK.

Final Grade = C


azteclady said...

I'm very intrigued by both Eddie Izzard's and Noah Trevor's biographies, not so much about Lansing's. Partly, it's because of her support of Cruise and Gibson, but because I'm not that into current Hollywood stuff.

Good haul, regardless, no?

Caz said...

I am a huge fan of audiobooks - I normally listen to at least 2 a week and I find that mixing it up between print and audio means I've been able (so far) to avoid any serious slumps.

Jazz Let said...

I first encountered Eddie Izzard at a comedy festival in the 80s on a bill with two or three other more conventional comics and it was a bizzare experience but a compelling one, I might well pick that one up, though I don't usually like audio books. But you can listen and knit which is good.

azteclady said...

I looked Believe Me up in amazon, and they don't offer the audiobook as an option, at least not that I could see. Gave me a sad :-(

Wendy said...

Caz: I mostly listen during my commute, although also occasionally while cleaning the Bat Cave.

Jazz: He calls those his "wilderness years." Basically he went nowhere fast in the 1980s, and it wasn't until the early 90's when he started to gain some traction.

AL: It's available via Audible, but here is the link for the CD version http://goo.gl/xd3wz7

The Trevor Noah book is also quite excellent. And if you go with audio - he narrates it.

Jill said...

I loved Trevor Noah's audio book and I'm only a casual fan of the show. Between the various languages and accents he sprinkles in, I cane imagine anyone else reading it

Wendy said...

Jill: It was a great audio book! Noah's and Mayte Garcia's book have been the two best celebrity bios I've listened to this year. They both deserve Grammy nominations.

cleo reader said...

I used to really love biographies and memoirs but haven't read many recently. I've been curious about the Trevor Noah - I am a Daily Show fan. Thanks for the warning about the ending so I can prepare myself.

Wendy said...

Cleo: It's an excellent read!

Sigh, I'm not sure what the answer would be. The genre reader in me didn't like how the book closes out - but the librarian in me understands that that particular episode *needed* to be at the end for maximum emotional impact. Another instance of where Real Life really, really sucks sometimes.

azteclady said...

Wendy, I'm dying of embarrassment: I cannot believe I switch Trevor Noah's names!

(take pity on me and, if you can, please fix that?)

Wendy said...

AL: Sadly, I cannot. No edit feature on Blogger comments (which blows!). Don't worry, you're not alone. I can't tell you how many times I almost reversed his name just typing up my short review. Sigh.