Autobiography, Memoir, Nonfiction

Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing, by Matthew Perry

It’s 1995, FRIENDS has been on the air for a year. (As soon as I saw a promo for it in 1994, I knew I wanted to watch this series. And I did–every episode of every season for ten seasons. I still kick myself that I never attended a taping.) Now I’m at Disneyland with my mom, aunt, and cousin, Laura. My aunt had recently been hired at Disney Imagineering and was able to get us into the park for free. It was a blast.

Halfway through the day we’re in New Orleans Square (my favorite section) and Laura says to me, “Hey, isn’t that Matthew Perry?” Yes, it was. Celebrity sightings–one of the perks of growing up in Southern California. There was Matthew Perry, aka Chandler Bing, wearing (I’ll never forget) a white leather letterman’s-style jacket, holding court in the middle of an entourage of 6-8 friends, with a glow and a swagger that showed he was on top of the world. The guy oozed charisma.

We headed over to the Haunted Mansion. Matthew and group probably entered through some VIP back door without waiting in line because suddenly, we were all in the “stretching room”–our group, his group, and a few other people who probably didn’t love the show FRIENDS as much as I did. I can only assume.

Yes, I stared. This was a big deal. I have a faint memory of catching his eye and a hopeful, selective memory that there was a small grin returned only for me, but it could just be my imagination. I don’t care. It was dang cool. After the ride we only saw the backs of him and his group. Moment over, but not forgotten.

Some shows are just a part of us. FRIENDS is one of those shows for me. It started right as I earned my college degree, saw me through getting my first apartment, my first “real job,” and all of those milestones that make you feel grown up (except getting married, that came later.)

Of course we knew that, of all the cast members, Matthew Perry was the one struggling the most. We just didn’t know how much. Fast forward 20+ years to last Monday, when my husband and I watched his interview with Diane Sawyer. He’s uber famous, uber wealthy, starred in one of the most beloved shows of all time, and my first thought was, “He seems like a really lonely guy.” The swagger and smirk I saw in 1995 was replaced with a man slightly older than me, but wearing decades of trauma on his face.

I had to read the book. What a life. What an exhausting, sad, tortured, lonely life. I’ve never really understood addiction, but this is probably the closest I’ll ever get. His memoir is that raw. And it is heartbreaking. As a highly sensitive empath, I absorb other people’s pain more than most, and I felt like I was right there with every relapse of drinking and pills and their accompanying horrific consequences. This book is both fascinating and painful. Never once does he play the victim.

If you’ve been on the FRIENDS journey at all since its inception, read about Matthew’s journey and see what he went through. It’s a miracle he’s even still alive. And it’s a lesson of where fulfillment can truly be found. Hint: it isn’t fame and fortune. 9/10 Stars

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Fiction, Nonfiction

Amazing Surgeons: Two Books

Two books: one nonfiction and one fiction.

Two doctors: a pediatric neurosurgeon and an embittered heart surgeon.

One goal: save the patient.

I always say that books seem to enter our lives at the right time, and these two are no different. There is something special and similar about them that made me feel they needed to be grouped together. I highly recommend both.

First, ALL THAT MOVES US, by Jay Wellons. Dr. Jay Wellons, to be exact. An experienced pediatric neurosurgeon with decades of operating and teaching experience, this is his memoir and love letter to the profession. We follow him from patient to patient, those that he saved and those he couldn’t, year after year. As expected, certain patients stand out and have left imprints on his heart. The writing is excellent and his humility is admirable. Be prepared for some detailed medical explanations, but it is never boring. A great, timely autobiography. 9.5/10 Stars

Next, WHEN CRICKETS CRY, by the incomparable Charles Martin. I truly believe Martin is one of our greatest living novelists, and I’ve only read four of his books with many more left to discover. It is, perhaps, a minor spoiler to identify the main character as a surgeon because he spends most of the story building and restoring boats with his brother-in-law, Charlie (who deserves his own book.) But whether he is known as “Reese Mitch: boat builder” or “Jonathan Reese Mitchell: heart surgeon extraordinaire,” he is still a lonely, broken man. When Reese meets Annie, a little girl selling lemonade who is ill and wise beyond her years, he must ask himself if the time is right to emerge from his shell of grief and uncertainty and tap into his incredible gifts. 9.5/10

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Faith, Nonfiction, Self-Help

Raising Emotionally Strong Boys, by David Thomas

AVAILABLE June 14, 2022

I am so impressed with this book! Although I’m not a parent, I have taught hundreds of boys ages 4-11 in my teaching career. I could not help but think of the variety of personalities and levels of emotional strength in my young students.

The insights and tools in this book are excellent. It emphasizes the importance of teaching boys not only to manage their emotions, but to give themselves permission to have them in the first place. It talks about how essential it is for boys to see examples of other men being vulnerable, asking for help, losing a competition, and mourning a loved one, all without compromising their manliness. That is something I appreciated greatly, being married to a very masculine, but also a sensitive man.

I also thought about the other men in my life: my second generation absent father, my brother who broke that cycle and is an extremely involved dad to his children, an amazing grandfather who often stepped into the father role, cousins and uncles, circling back to my husband, who is one of the most emotionally strong men I know.

While I welcome them, I was not prepared for the amount of Biblical references. They may, unfortunately, limit the book’s audience. The author uses Christ as the ultimate example of emotional strength. Who better to pattern your life after?

This would make a great book club selection, a terrific gift, and an interesting read for parents, grandparents, and teachers. Thank you NetGalley and Bethany House Publishers for this advanced copy in exchange for my honest review.

9.5/10 Stars

Autobiography, Faith, Memoir, Nonfiction

Hope Unseen, by Captain Scotty Smiley and Doug Crandall

“I’m not sure what God is going to do with my life, but I know that there are good things in store and that He has a purpose for me.”

I first heard about Scott Smiley a few weeks ago. He was a guest speaker at an event hosted by a state congressional candidate I follow on Facebook. I had no idea who he was and what made him so inspiring. As I learned more about him and his story, I was reminded how backwards this world is, in that so many famous people have done very little for others, basking in the light of their own glory, while those who truly deserve our attention are often relegated to smaller venues.

One of seven children, a West Point graduate who married his high school sweetheart, Tiffany, Scotty Smiley’s life dramatically changed on April 6, 2005. While leading a 40-man platoon in Iraq charged with finding car bombs stationed throughout a residential area, Smiley confronted a suicide bomber at the moment of detonation. At that instant his world went black. He was blinded and partially paralyzed.

This book tells of Captain Smiley’s journey from that day to recovery, rehabilitation, and finding a new purpose in life. Make no mistake, this man had his gloomy days–lots of them–despite being blessed with an incredible support system of family and friends. Going from an independent, highly motivated Army officer to a man who could get lost walking in a parking lot was a huge blow. It challenged his sense of self and his lifelong faith down to their very cores.

Certainly, his story is one like many veterans who return home with physical and emotional scars that can last a lifetime. Living in a country that hasn’t seen war on its own soil for such a long time can make us feel distanced from the sacrifices made on a daily basis by people who dedicate their lives to preserving freedom for ourselves and others. No doubt, his story, faith, and determination are worthy of 10 stars. As a piece of writing I do wish it was more linear with less detours. There were several, although it may be the style of his coauthor. But overall, Scotty Smiley does make you want to try harder and be better, remembering that through God, all things are possible.

8.5/10 Stars

Biography, Historical Fiction, Nonfiction

The Indigo Girl, by Natasha Boyd

I was different. Different from other women. The crushing paralysis that came from being stuck between a past I couldn’t return to and a future I couldn’t have was heightened by the realization there was nothing to be done about it. I couldn’t change the fact I was a woman.

It is the mid 1700’s, closer to the American Revolution than the American Civil War. Sixteen-year-old Eliza Lucas has been set a daunting task. While seeking to advance his military commission in Antigua, her father wants her to take charge of the business dealings of their three plantations in South Carolina. This will involve supervising planting, harvesting, selling, bartering with buyers, managing multiple accounts, sparring with violent overseers, and dealing with slaves and their internal dynamics and hierarchy. Her mother, on the other hand, has only one goal for Eliza–find a husband.

Colonel Lucas has every reason to feel confident in his daughter, but no one can predict the amount of obstacles Eliza will encounter, some of which her father creates. An unmarried teenage girl who cannot vote or own land holds little sway in the business world. Only the most intelligent, respectful, progressive individuals will see past her age, gender and marital status. They are few and far between.

With rice being the main cash crop of the region, Eliza sets a new goal. Indigo. It is a revolutionary idea, one that requires ideal conditions and knowledge of the plants and how to transform them into marketable dye cakes. Success eludes her again and again. But never tell a smart, determined woman that something cannot be accomplished. That will only kindle the fire within her.

This is a true story, which makes it even more remarkable, and perfect for March–Women’s History Month. The real Eliza left behind writings which were, aptly, passed from mother to daughter for generations. Details lost to time are woven in elegantly by the author. The story is inspiring and the writing is marvelous. Very highly recommended and a terrific read for book clubs.

~I found miracles every day and I clung to them…~

9.5/10 Stars

Autobiography, Memoir, Nonfiction

Val Kilmer: I’m Your Huckleberry, by Val Kilmer

Do you ever finish a book and sit in awe at the beauty you’ve just witnessed? That is how I feel having just completed Val Kilmer’s autobiography. It is, hands down, the best memoir I’ve ever read.

If you’ve ever seen him as Doc Holliday in Tombstone (the greatest modern western EVER) or his embodiment of Jim Morrison in The Doors, you know that Val Kilmer is a dynamic force onscreen, able to morph into a character while he, himself, disappears. Like his idol and mentor, Marlon Brando, he purposefully chose parts that were difficult. If you’re not constantly challenging yourself, what’s the point?

Then his greatest tool, his voice, was cruelly taken away by throat cancer and its subsequent treatments. The swagger is gone too, replaced by introspection and humility. Why do the great ones lose what’s most important to their work? It seems so unfair. I was reminded of Beethoven losing his hearing and Renoir’s hands crippled by arthritis. Except a true artist will carry on, as exemplified here.

This is a brilliant man who peppers his book with words like equanimity, quixotic, autodidact, and digestif. Thank goodness for the Kindle dictionary link. But not once do you feel you are being talked down to, instead, you’re being elevated and forced to challenge yourself as well. And the profanity that often slithers into celebrity autobiographies? There is none. A wordsmith like Val has no use for curse words in telling his story. They are for the lazy.

Connections to people, nature, and art in all its forms constantly propel him. I loved learning about his devotion to Mark Twain’s writings, his Christian Science faith, and his adoration for his children, Mercedes and Jack. I’ve seen them interviewed and the feeling is clearly mutual. He’s worked hard not to repeat the tenuous relationship he had with his own father.

I can understand why this book was a bestseller. It isn’t just because he starred in several blockbusters. People may buy it for that reason, but they will read it and recommend it for another. It is masterful. Just because his voice is gone, does not mean Kilmer will be silenced. Stay strong, Val. We can still hear you.

10/10 Stars

P.S. I’m going to do something I’ve never done, and that is to provide a link to my highlights. Visit it. You’ll see what I mean. https://www.goodreads.com/notes/48670913-i-m-your-huckleberry/2633306-kristie?ref=bsop

Autobiography, Entertainment, Memoir, Nonfiction

Born Standing Up, by Steve Martin

If you grew up in the 1970s and 80s, you will remember a specific group of comedians that rose to fame during that time. There was the unparalleled original Saturday Night Live cast and there were those who worked from a different direction, like Robin Williams, Andy Kaufman, and Steve Martin to name a few.

The older I get, the more I appreciate Steve Martin’s brand of comedy, which has also matured. His depth and brilliance is equally apparent when he takes on serious film roles. If you’ve never seen him in The Spanish Prisoner, see it. Recently I watched Shopgirl for the first time, with a screenplay written by Steve Martin based on his novella of the same name. These are worthwhile departures from his earlier films and he surrounds himself with cerebral, high quality actors in both.

I knew Steve Martin was originally from Waco, Texas. I knew he once worked in the magic shop at Disneyland. I knew he played the banjo with great proficiency. I knew it was a delight and an honor to see him perform live twice with the Steep Canyon Rangers (in Los Angeles and Eugene, Oregon.) But I knew nothing about his childhood and the years of paying his dues.

Like many comedians, Steve Martin’s humor was born out of pathos and melancholy, partly innate and partly inflicted upon him by others. His mother was his shining light while his father was critical, moody, and envious.
Success brought other demons, as it often does.

In a brief two hundred pages and with a deft, fluid style, we travel in that time machine called memory back to simpler decades when a young boy and then young man sought escapism and validation through performing. Never delving much into his personal life except when it intersected with his career, Martin confirms his status as one at the top of his profession. He is a student of the science of comedy, always working to refine, improve, and evolve his technique. In a time where modern celebrities are often famous because of their lifestyles, it was refreshing to read about someone whose success came because of tenacity and a doggedly determined work ethic. In this ever-increasingly serious world, we need people like this.

9/10 Stars

Biography, History, Nonfiction, Series & Collections

Alan Turing, by Hourly Histories

After watching The Imitation Game again, I felt like it was time to learn more about Alan Turing, one of those essential people in history whose story was suppressed for decades after his death. In doing so I happened upon the Hourly Histories series.

These books, which focus mostly on war and film figures of the 1940s are truly excellent. In about 80 pages they describe much about the subject, getting to the heart of what made them who they were and the importance of their contributions. I’ve read a few others and was equally impressed.

Like many geniuses, Turing was a brilliant man with a tragic life, but as the father of the modern computer–upon which we all rely–his name needs to be known and recognized.

Hourly Histories books will interest a variety of readers of different ages. They would make great additions to a classroom or home library and digital versions are available to borrow if you have a Kindle Unlimited subscription.

8.5/10 Stars

Autobiography, Faith, Memoir, Nonfiction

River of Fire, by Sister Helen Prejean

While exploring new podcasts I came across one called Everything Happens, with Kate Bowler, out of Duke University. She often focuses on Catholic themes, but not always, and she has an intelligent, soft-spoken style of interviewing that draws you in while making the interviewee feel comfortable.

One of my favorite episodes was the Helen Prejean interview. You may not think you know who Helen Prejean is, but you probably do if you’ve heard of the biographical film Dead Man Walking, with Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. Sister Prejean, a Catholic nun from the Deep South, has made it her life’s work to befriend and advocate for prisoners on death row.

However you may feel about the death penalty–hot button topic that it is–you will enjoy River of Fire, Sister Prejean’s autobiography. Her warm, Southern, conversational drawl permeates through the pages as you travel with her back to Louisiana in the early nineteen forties and fifties. You read about her childhood, her funny relationship with her sister, and her personal vocation to serve others as a nun. You’ll also learn about the dramatic shift brought on by Vatican II and the necessary adjustments required of those in the Catholic ministry.

I admire Sister Prejean’s tireless efforts to serve the poor, the disadvantaged, and the marginalized. The world needs more people with her compassion for others.

9/10 Stars

Listen to the podcast episode HERE. (25 minutes)

Autobiography, Nonfiction

The Wilding Way, by Michael Wilding

Just like there are talented musicians on YouTube who you will never see in a large venue or at the Grammys, there are actors with witty charm who can hold their own with the biggest names and never quite become big names themselves.

Enter Michael Wilding, best known (sadly) as Husband #2 of Elizabeth Taylor. Their marriage lasted a bumpy 5 years, where he sacrificed a very promising British film career to follow his young bride to America. He is the father of her two sons, Michael Jr. and Christopher. But Hollywood didn’t quite know what to do with him, and his star faded like a blinking light bulb, while Taylor’s became stratospheric.

I went down a rabbit hole a few months ago that led me to this autobiography of an actor who is so self-effacing and charming, I began a quest to find his films. It isn’t easy. Most are unavailable or Region 2 DVDs (Europe,) but I did manage to find a few, especially his starring turns with Anna Neagle (wife of Herbert Wilcox, who is the father of Wilding’s coauthor.) They were the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan of their day and the films I did find with the two of them are positively delightful. (Spring in Park Lane and Maytime in Mayfair, both with the same main cast, on DVD only. I found them on eBay.)

Unlike Elizabeth Taylor, whose childhood was anything but conventional, Michael Wilding came from a stable family whose parents allowed him to explore his interests. This led him on a fascinating life journey through four marriages and a myriad of film and TV genres, putting him in the company of some exceptional people like Noel Coward (check out In Which We Serve, on Amazon streaming–it’s excellent) and Alfred Hitchcock (I liked Stage Fright, but found Under Capricorn tiresome.)

Michael Wilding with his future and final wife,
Margaret Leighton, in Under Capricorn

Despite being saddled with epilepsy, Wilding remained dignified and roguish until the very end, which came too soon. Other films I’ve enjoyed are The Law and the Lady with Greer Garson, The Glass Slipper with Leslie Caron (skip the ballets, trust me,) and the semi-campy Torch Song with troublesome Joan Crawford. These last three, plus his films with Anna Neagle, are his best.

What I liked best about The Wilding Way was that he never once plays a victim of circumstance, always taking responsibility for his failures. There is a breezy grace to the way he moves onscreen and in his life, never taking it too seriously. A cross between Cary Grant, Danny Kaye, and Laurence Olivier. An impressive (and fun) mix.

8.5/10 Stars

Nonfiction

The Menopause Manifesto, by Dr. Jen Gunter

Time to play catch-up! There are several reviews that will appear soon on this blog. Get ready! Here we go:

I remember a scene in Father of the Bride Part 2 when Diane Keaton was looking at books on the bed table of a house where she and her husband were staying. All of them were on menopause. I’m sure I chuckled about this upon my first viewing of the movie. Who would want to read a book on menopause? The book title that comes to mind in that stack is “The Silent Passage.”

The operative word being “silent.” Menopause is a subject rarely discussed unless one seeks it out. That is maddening, because few of us–myself included–are prepared when it happens to us. In a few weeks I turn 51, the average age of menopause, yet I’m ashamed to admit that I knew little about it, including those several years leading up to it, called peri-menopause. (To be clear, one has experienced “menopause” when 12 full months have elapsed since the last menstrual period. Symptoms up until that point are “peri-menopause.”) So am I experiencing menopause right now? No.

The Menopause Manifesto was recommended to me last week by a Facebook group acquaintance. I devoured it in two days, focusing mostly on sections that pertain specifically to my own experience. Dr. Jen Gunter, an OB/GYN with decades of experience treating patients, covers A LOT. It’s her manifesto because she frustratingly reveals the plight of menopausal women filtered through a profession dominated by men. It’s not to hate on men, but it is the reality that people who will never experience menopause have, historically, treated those who will go through the physical/emotional/mental/sexual changes caused by this phenomenon.

Yes, phenomenon. Women’s bodies are amazing! They are so much more than objectified, CGIed, Photoshopped 2-dimensional objects in magazines and film. And, as progressive as we would like to think modern society is when it comes to our bodies, we have a long way to go. Women are just as much to blame as men in this respect. We deserve better and we need to do better. All women’s bodies are beautiful. Say it with me: ALL WOMEN’S BODIES ARE BEAUTIFUL.

One major discovery from this book: Ancestral family medical history plays absolutely no role when it comes to menopausal symptoms. Just because a mother had hot flashes doesn’t mean her daughter will too. Every menopausal body is unique, and the closest indication of what to expect–but by no means a guarantee–is between sisters, not mother and daughter.

The predictable unpredictability was another. Basically, menopause is a roller coaster of one’s very own. Nature’s tailor-made experience. But that experience can affect others, so the chapter on how peri-menopause and menopause affect sexual desire is one that I highly recommend couples read together.

I’m so grateful this book was recommended to me. It holds a wealth of knowledge, situations, and medical information that will be helpful to ANYONE who reads it. But if you are in your early forties and menopause is on the horizon for you, it is essential and invaluable.

9.5/10 Stars

Biography, Nonfiction

Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson

The story of an adopted son of a blue-collar family becoming founder and CEO of the most successful company in the world is nothing short of epic. But the journey getting there is just as intriguing. Knowing the cancer he’d been battling for years would eventually win, Steve Jobs took control in the only way he could, enlisting a hand-picked biographer to take charge of his story, in effect, getting ahead of those who would dissect his life after his passing.

No matter what kind of smartphone you use, you’re Team Apple whether you realize it or not. Those clicks, pinch zooms, and swipes that are second nature to all of us started with the iPhone and morphed into every smartphone brand available. The App store, the Cloud, digital music, digital animation–all of these and more were refined by Steve Jobs and his “A team.” Refined, but not necessarily invented. He gave us simplicity in our devices we didn’t even know we wanted until we owned one. The artistry he demanded in every detail of Apple’s technology and aspect of the company is both the root of his brilliance and the target of criticism. Yet, for those of us deeply embedded and loyal to Apple’s integrated ecosystem, it wouldn’t even be possible without that controlling grip upon which Jobs tirelessly insisted.

Issacson’s biography, written after dozens of interviews with Jobs, his family, and colleagues, is as unvarnished as it gets. Intimidating, moody, exhausted and exhausting, changeable, eccentric, we see all sides of Jobs. From his adoption, to garage inventions with Steve Wozniak, to the building and rebuilding of Apple, to his family and friend relationships, to his health challenges and everything in between, we ride alongside this man whose quest for excellence and vision has permeated into nearly everything that involves personal technology. The legacy he left behind, as well as trusted lieutenants like current Apple CEO Tim Cook and former VP of Design Jony Ive show that all of the blood, sweat and tears–lots of tears–was worth it.

9.5/10 stars

Biography, Faith and Religion, Nonfiction

In the Hands of the Lord: The Life of Dallin H. Oaks, by Richard E. Turley, Jr.

It is late June 2015. My husband and I are visiting Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah. It’s his first time there. We’re surrounded by pretty flowers, curious visitors, the indescribably beautiful temple and other impressive buildings.

As we face the street, we see a lean, spry, older man hop the curb and sprint right by us. It was Dallin H. Oaks. “It’s Elder Oaks!” I exclaimed. Of course, he was long gone by then.

Rewind to August 12, 1932 when Dallin H. Oaks was born. His mother, Stella, named him Dallin in honor of the sculptor, Cyrus Dallin, for whom she was the artist’s model for the statue, The Pioneer Mother. The “H” stands for Harris, the last name of his 2nd great-grandfather Emer Harris, brother to Martin Harris. Martin was one of the Three Witnesses of The Book of Mormon, but even better known for losing the 116 page manuscript when the Prophet Joseph Smith was beginning his translation of the plates that became that book. Dallin H. Oaks gave a wonderful talk in 1999 (I highly recommend it, click the link) called The Witness: Martin Harris, in which he focuses on the sacrifices Harris made during the early days of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A great reminder that a moment of weakness should not define us.

After a harrowing birth that made his physician father, Lloyd Oaks, and others present wonder if he would even survive, Dallin entered a remarkable life of hard work, service, and accomplishments. Widowed in 1939 when Lloyd died of tuberculosis, Stella Oaks was left to raise her children alone. She overcame much, but eventually finished her schooling and became involved in local education and civic leadership. She was a terrific example of resiliency and service. Being raised by a single mother gave Dallin a great respect for women and he has constantly worked for fairness and recognition of women’s achievements throughout his life.

Author Richard Turley, former Assistant Church Historian and long-time friend of President Oaks, does a marvelous job outlining the life of this amazing man. We learn about his early family life while advancing his admirable legal career. I was delighted to learn about his years as president of my alma mater, Brigham Young University–about a decade before I attended–and the effects of his tenure there, making much-needed changes that are still in place today.

Of course, Latter-day Saints know Dallin H. Oaks (now “President Oaks”) best as the Senior Apostle of the Quorum of the Twelve and next in line to be President of the Church. We see him speak twice a year (either in person or televised) at General Conference. For most of us, seeing him only in that setting has created an image of his overall personality in our minds. We hear his booming voice and think of adjectives like stern, instructive, even a bit intimidating. The best part of this biography was learning about the man behind the scenes. His family adores him and say he’s actually a pretty funny man. I loved reading about his first few years as an Apostle. His mentors, not surprisingly, were Neal A. Maxwell (a personal favorite) and Bruce R. McConkie. It is a life-long calling he had to grow into and takes very seriously. There were bumps along the way, but he works very hard, always reminding himself that, ultimately, he answers to the highest authority.

Towards the end of the book, aside from reading about his second marriage in 2000 to Kristen McMain Oaks after the death of beloved wife June in 1998, I loved reading responses to letters from church members. Like everything else he does, President Oaks answers with love, no matter the subject.

President Oaks is truly someone who leads by example. I am inspired by his work ethic, wisdom, devotion to family, and constant striving for personal improvement. He is a humble man who loves the Lord. I feel honored that this book gave me the opportunity to know him better.

9.5/10 Stars

Biography, Black History, Entertainment, History, Nonfiction

Mobituaries, by Mo Rocca

You might recognize Mo Rocca and wonder where you’ve seen him before. It could be on The Daily Show or CBS News Sunday Morning. Maybe you’ve heard his unique voice on NPR. He’s a very smart, Harvard-educated, somewhat caricature-ish person, a description I think he would embrace. Funnily enough, I first saw him as the dimwitted newscaster, Ted Willoughby, on The Good Wife.

So imagine my surprise when I was browsing podcasts, looking for something that didn’t have an “E” for explicit language attached to it, and found that Mo (short for Maurice Alberto) hosted a show called Mobituaries. I listened to the episodes on Lawrence Welk, Audrey Hepburn, Marlena Dietrich, the Bunker Brothers (the original Siamese twins,) and a few others that escape me at the moment. They were clean, they were entertaining, and they were really interesting. When I found out he had a book that delved even deeper into these “great lives worth reliving,” I did what I rarely do…I actually bought the book.

Mo has vast interests, but his favorites are pop culture and US presidents. He also likes people who were the first to do something (Jackie Robinson and Rosa Parks were preceded by others, who knew?) and famous siblings (Billy Carter, we hardly knew thee…) There are those famous people who died the same day, one always eclipsing the other (Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett both died on June 25, 2009. You can guess who took “center stage.”) There are also those people for whom the term “disambiguation” was created. (I’ll give you a second to look it up.) I’m talking about Audrey Hepburn vs Katherine Hepburn, Joan of Arc vs Joan Van Ark (do people really get those two mixed up?) and the whole Andrew Johnson/Andrew Jackson/Stonewall Jackson confusion. Honestly, distinguishing the difference between any of those people is not something that has ever kept me up at night, but it’s still fun.

There are places in the book that, admittedly, I skimmed. Some chapters are identical to their podcast counterparts. Some just didn’t interest me. The more I read, the more I realized that this would make the ideal “bathroom book.” That’s the book you put on the back of the commode where you and your guests can read whatever chapter they prefer when they need a little extra time to do their business.

If I had to choose between the Mobituaries podcast and the book, I would probably choose the podcast for two reasons. 1. It’s more succinct. The book gets a bit wordy. 2. Just to hear Mo’s voice. There is no comparison. Still, it’s a fun read, probably a good gift for certain history buffs, and a great literary addition to your bathroom.

8.5/10 stars

Here is a fun interview Mo does with Trevor Noah talking about Mobituaries, the book:

Autobiography, Entertainment, Nonfiction

No Time Like the Future, by Michael J. Fox

Confession: Michael J. Fox was my childhood celebrity crush. When Family Ties hit the airwaves in 1982 I was 11 years old and I…was…hooked. Alex P. Keaton was the MAN–smart, charming, and oh, so cute. When teen magazines were the rage (Teen Beat, Tiger Beat, etc) my friends and I would divide up the photos. Ricky Schroeder went to my friend, Cathy. Tom Selleck to my friend, Carol. John Taylor of Duran Duran went to my friend, June. Michael J. Fox went to me. My bedroom wall was nothing short of a shrine. Even his birthday–June 9, 1961–has been branded in my mind since I was a kid.

Movies, starting with the blockbuster Back to the Future trilogy, followed the TV show. And, while shooting Doc Hollywood in 1990, Michael was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He was 29 years old and had only been married to his wife, Tracy Pollan (girlfriend Ellen on Family Ties,) for a couple of years. Everything changed.

This book, No Time Like the Future, is Michael’s fourth autobiography, so the reader will not be getting a lot of the history of his Parkinson’s diagnosis, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting. It starts with his recovery from the latest of many surgeries. Most are to either slow the effects of Parkinson’s or mend the results of multiple falls. But this one was delicate surgery to remove a tumor on his spinal cord. What was he told after this most recent surgery? “You have one job. DON’T FALL.” What does he do? You guessed it.

The rest of the book is a series of, for lack of a better word, anecdotes. Some involve family vacations, some involve work projects, some involve hospital stays and home health care. All of them show the way Parkinson’s and its effects are a part of everything Michael does. Standing, walking, playing golf, going up and down stairs, traveling, timing his medication, the list goes on and on. His life truly revolves around his incredible family (his wife and 4 kids are AWESOME,) work, Parkinson’s, and his foundation to raise money for Parkinson’s research. They’re a set. (FYI, his foundation has raised more than $800 MILLION. Impressive.)

Like many other celebrity autobiographies, there is some language. I would rate it a PG13 level. But I hung in there until the end because, hey, it’s Michael J. Fox. I haven’t seen all of his movies and I was never a Spin City fan, but I loved it when he guest starred on The Good Wife, one of my all-time favorite shows. He played slimy lawyer Louis Canning, who suffers from tardive dyskinesia. The effects are similar to Parkinson’s and Louis completely exploits his condition, using it to every advantage in court. He’s awful, but you love him. Why? Because it’s Michael J. Fox.

Although I cannot see myself reading it again, I found No Time Like the Future enjoyable. I listened to it on audio (which I recommend doing with headphones because the Parkinson’s has affected his voice.) I felt myself emotionally invested in his medical highs and lows, grateful that he has an amazingly supportive wife (they’re going on 35 years together) and kids, happy to see how much he loves his feisty 90-something mother, and inspired by his optimism. Although not a religious person, it is very obvious that Michael knows he is blessed, and so are his enduring fans.

9/10 stars

Visit the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research HERE.

I watched several videos of MJF promoting his newest book on the talk show circuit in late 2020. This is one of my favorites: