No one gets through childhood without an emotional scar or two. What matters is how we respond to those scars.
Finding Me is Viola Davis‘s memoir/autobiography. To say that her childhood was far from idyllic is an understatement. The last to youngest of five children, she grew up with an alcoholic father and a mother who was forced to scrape the bottom of the economic barrel to get by. Living in Rhode Island, Davis was one of a handful of black children in the community and was bullied for her skin color.
As she got older and started on the path to becoming a successful performer, she was forced to reckon with her demons. It was only when she sat down and dealt with her past did she finally make peace with it.
In telling her story, Davis is raw, emotional, and unapologetically open. It is a tale of perseverance, strength, and the willingness to move beyond what is holding you back.
I loved it. This is not an award-winning actress talking. This is the real person underneath the Hollywood glam machine. I find her journey to be an inspiration. If Davis was able to heal her wounds, make her inner child smile, and have it all, then maybe the rest of us can.
Child stars have a certain reputation. They are either super successful when they are young and then burn out as adults. The other narrative is that due to a number of factors, they are able to continue their career and be seen as a performer, not just a child performer.
From an early age, McCurdy learned to yes to the authority figures around her and put aside her own needs. Developing an eating disorder as a pre-teen, she was convinced that she needed to be a certain weight. It was only after her mom died that was she able to confront the physical and mental health issues that had been thrust upon her.
While listening to this book, I had two reactions. The first was that I wanted to shake her mother and knock some sense into her. I also wanted to hug McCurdy and show her the love that she was sorely missing from her life.
The abuse that was put upon this girl was mouth-dropping. With every chapter, I could feel the level of uncomfortableness rise. By the time the book ended, I could feel the relief flooding through me. Somehow, McCurdy was able to come through all of this with inner strength and confidence is awe-inspiring.
Do I recommend it? Absolutely. I would advocate that it is one of the best books of the year.
I’m Glad My Mom Died is available wherever books are sold.
The book is an autobiography and the story of Angelou’s childhood. Born to a poor African American family, Maya and her brother Bailey spend the first years of life living with their grandmother in a small town in the American south. Though she is dealing with abandonment issues and the pervasive prejudice of the time (which unfortunately still exists today), Maya still finds joy and pleasure in learning.
Her life is forever altered when she is assaulted by a much older man after returning to her mother in St. Louis. Later, as a teenager who by then is living in San Fransisco, she discovers the power of literature and the strength that comes when you learn to love yourself.
Why I have never read this book, I don’t know. But I am glad I did.
Her experience as a girl is both universal and powerfully specific to the era she grew up in. Finding confidence, especially after a hard girlhood, sometimes only occurs long after we have grown up. Looking back at my own teenage years, I wish I would have had the ability to develop that same self-belief that Angelou was able to manifest at that same age. Perhaps some things might have turned out differently.
I can only imagine the emotional digging it took to excavate the crap from her youth and put it into a narrative that we can all find something in common. It takes courage to do that. When it is done well (as she obviously has accomplished), it opens the door for readers to possibly do the same with their own lives and emotional baggage.
Do I recommend it? Absolutely.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is available wherever books are sold.
There are two ways to look at life. The first is a series of potholes that we stepped in and learned from. The second is to always be the optimist. My view is a combination of them both. Life is a combination of good experiences and bad experiences. What matters is how we deal with the outcomes of those events.
His life and career is nothing short of a roller coaster. As an LGBTQ activist, Fierstein has paved the way for this generation of queer young people to be out and proud of who they are. As a writer and actor, he has become well known and respected for his body of work: Independence Day, Newsies, Mrs. Doubtfire, Hairspray, etc.
Fierstein’s story is one of acceptance, change, and dealing with both the highs and lows that come with living a colorful life on your own terms.
I loved this book. In his trademark voice, Fierstein is funny, sarcastic, open, heartbreaking, and real. This is a man who has been to Hades and back and still finds joy in the little things. He is more than an icon in this book. He is a human being who has inspired us, made us laugh, made us cry, and most of all proved that we can be ourselves and thrive.
Do I recommend it? Absolutely.
I Was Better Last Night: A Memoir is available wherever books are sold.
When that didn’t come to pass, Rainbow took the out-of-work actors’ career route: working both at a restaurant and as a receptionist. Using his MacBook and the news as his raw material, he started creating videos. His career took off at the start of the 2016 Presidential election and the announcement that you know who was the Republican nominee. From there, he became the satirist, comic, and musical genius that has kept us laughing and sane for the last six years.
I loved this book. Rainbow is candid, funny, and authentic. He is uniquely himself in a way that is both universal, endearing, and charming. There is something universal in his struggle that I think we can all learn from while getting a few giggles in the process. And if anyone is still asking, that is his real name.
Do I recommend it? Absolutely.
Playing with Myself is available wherever books are sold.
Whoever said women can’t be funny has never seen Molly Shannon perform. This actress, comedienne, and Saturday Night Live alum have been making audiences laugh for more than twenty years.
Her new autobiography, entitled Hello, Molly!: A Memoir, which was co-written with Sean Wilsey, was published last month. Her life was forever changed at the age of four when her mother, younger sister, and cousin were killed in a car crash. Her father was behind the wheel. Raising his surviving daughters as best he could, Molly had a unique childhood that opened the door to her future career as a performer. While becoming a celebrated actor/comedienne, she struggled with the loss of her mother and her complicated relationship with her father.
I loved this book. It is candid, it is funny, and it speaks to the power of belief and rising above tragedy. What hooked me was her ability to deal with grief in a way that was not overpowering or stopped her from living.
Do I recommend it? Absolutely.
P.S. I cannot end this post without talking about my favorite character of Molly’s, Mary Katherine Gallagher. Mary Katherine was the rare comedic combination of insecure, fearless, and not afraid to be herself. The comedy love child of Lucille Ball and Chris Farley, this character never failed to make me laugh.
Hello, Molly!: A Memoir is available wherever books are sold.
The word “genius” is often thrown around without anything to back it up. One of the few people who can legitimately be given that title is Mel Brooks. He has made audiences laugh for 70+ years, taking comedy in a direction that few have dared to.
In his mid 90’s, he has more energy and gusto many are half his age. It was an incredible insight into a man who has made generations of audiences laugh. What I loved was the revelation of the man behind the jokes. He reminds me of someone’s old uncle who is not quite politically correct. They know that they are crossing the line. But it is not out of spite or to cause trouble. It’s to make the audience laugh and while they are laughing, perhaps think about the message behind the joke.
As I read the book, two things jumped out at me. The first was that there was no mention of his first wife and not a lot of time focused on his older children. The second is that he refers to almost every woman first by her looks and then by her talent. Maybe it’s me or maybe it’s a generational thing. I get that it could be construed as a compliment, but I would rather be known for my abilities first and my looks second.
Other than that, do I recommend it? Absolutely.
All About Me!: MyRemarkable Life in Show Business is available wherever books are sold.
We’ve all read our fair share of celebrity biographies, memoirs, and autobiographies. They range from being a dry retread of what we know about them to drowning in the overbearing “look at me” type profile.
I loved this book. I could hear her voice through the pages. It is honest, raw, emotional, messy, and most importantly, authentic. Her story is the story of a generation of women who fought for their rights, and in doing so, paved the way for future generations to do the same. For me, it is a reminder of how strong we are and how much we can accomplish when we stick to our guns.
The relationship with our parents is not always black and white. We love them, we respect them, and we are grateful for what they have given us. But we can also be plagued by their flaws and what we wished we had received from them as children.
Trying to live up to the ideals that her mother believed in, Tovah never quite received the emotional support she craved. It was only years later after her father had died that mother and daughter finally had the connection that did not exist in Tovah’s childhood. Balancing work, marriage, and motherhood, she finally understood Lily in a way that only occurs in adulthood.
This is easily one of the best books of 2021. It’s heartfelt, its humorous, and authentic. Though the details are specific to her life, it could easily be the story of any complicated parent/child relationship. What I took from the book is that it is possible to move beyond the unspoken words between us and our parents. It would have not been unexpected to slide into CEN (Childhood Emotional Neglect). But the fact that they were able to not only get along, but understand each other, is a testament that it can be done.
I had the pleasure of seeing Ms. Feldshuh play Golda Meir in Golda’s Balcony years ago. It was one of the most powerful and enduring performances I have ever seen on stage.