Born Standing Up – Steve Martin

I still remember the first time I saw Steve Martin perform. He made me laugh so hard and left such an indelible impression I can only compare it to the moment I saw Michael Jackson moonwalk on TV. Martin’s material was fresh; a real departure from traditional stand up comedy. His autobiography isn’t new and I’m not sure what made me grab it but I’m very glad I did. Martin is a terrific writer which is probably the backbone of his success as a comedian. I’ve read many rags to riches stories over the years, but none manage to convey as well the Herculean effort it takes to make it in the entertainment field. Martin spent years on the road, learning his craft and honing his act. He provides in this book a visceral sense of just how awful it can be to tour, a lonely hardscrabble lifestyle which I could never endure. He also paints a very vivid picture of what it’s like to go from obscurity to “instant” stardom, and why, at the height of his stand up success, he chose to walk away. As a child, Martin had a very contentious relationship with his father. Their reconnection at the end of the book made me cry. 

Educated – Tara Westover

In this real life memoir, Tara Westover describes beautifully the difficult journey from primitive existence to the elite world of academia. Born to survivalists in Idaho, she spent her childhood stockpiling food for a disaster that never comes, helping her mother prepare herbal potions used in lieu of traditional medicine, and salvaging metal for money in her father’s dangerous junkyard. There is no healthcare, no education and she must cope with a father bent on destruction, an abusive older brother and a mother who turns a blind eye. When a sibling rebels and goes to college, Tara gets a glimpse of the outside world. With mixed emotion, she teaches herself enough to get admitted to Brigham Young. There, she takes her first steps away from dysfunction, doing so well she is ultimately admitted to both Cambridge and Harvard. But she struggles with relationships, bedeviled by religious restrictions and family abnormality reinforced every time she goes home. This biography is an intense look into the struggle of one woman to overcome impossible odds on the road to self reinvention. It’s a story of loyalty and the grief which ensues from severing our most basic of human ties.

Fire and Fury – Michael Wolff

Having read Katy Tur’s book about the tRump presidential campaign and Luke Harding’s book about tRump’s alleged dirty dealings, I wasn’t expecting much from Fire and Fury in terms of style. I was pleasantly surprised. Wolff is a smart writer and although he gets bogged down at times in observation, overall the book makes for a satisfying read as it covers the first year of the tRump presidency. The most explosive contents have already been spotlighted extensively on cable news. However, the book is a revelation as Wolff delves into the White House infighting between tRump’s closest aides. It reveals the ugly side of politics–that the presidency represents power and those closest to the president can wield it with impunity. It reveals the fight to control a man who is essentially a loose cannon and uncontrollable. It reveals how everyone had a personal agenda and how hard they fought to get it front and center. It’s an unflattering portrayal of an unpopular president who along with his aides aren’t worthy or qualified to hold positions affecting the lives of people worldwide. 

Born A Crime – Trevor Noah

Comedy Central Daily Show Host, Trevor Noah, 33, details his childhood in South Africa, first under the despotism of apartheid and then after. The son of a white father and a black mother, Noah was born a crime since race mixing was, at the time, illegal. Light-skinned, he never fit comfortably into any racial mold. This book is more a paean to his mother than anything else. Fiercely religious and a strict disciplinarian, she refused to accept the status quo and made sure he had books and an education. Though admirable, his mother had problems which culminated in her being shot by an angry ex-husband. She survived, but the ex-husband walked with three years probation since police in South Africa routinely make light of domestic abuse. Equally chilling are the racial incidents Noah describes like being stopped by cops who took him and his friends to jail for no reason other than to extort a bribe. Noah does not delve deeply into his adult success, but his mother did something right because he’s a good writer with the comedian’s ability to see irony and humor in even the most horrific situations.

Unbroken – Laura Hillenbrand

unbroken-cover_custom-s6-c10Brilliant book about Olympic runner, WWII soldier and Japanese POW Louie Zamperini.  As a child, Louie was a troublemaker.  He turns his life around through track and field, breaking high school records and going to the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936.  However, his athletic career ends when WWII breaks out.  Louie enlists in the Army and becomes a bombardier.  His plane is shot down over the Pacific.  He is one of three to survive.  One of them dies at sea, but Louie and Phil survive for 46 days only to be captured by the Japanese and placed in a series of horrific POW camps with sadistic guards until the war ends.  Back home, he tries to live a normal life, but turns to drink to deal with the memories.  Faith enables him to quit drinking, become a motivational speaker and forgive the men who wronged him during the war.  In 1998, Louie carries the Olympic torch in Japan, putting the war behind him for good.  Louie’s grit and determination are awe-inspiring.  He does indeed remain, unbroken.

Angela’s Ashes – Frank McCourt

cvr9780684874357_9780684874357_hrHumor and eloquence in the face of unimaginable poverty are the hallmarks of this Pulitzer Prize winning memoir about the author’s Irish Catholic upbringing in the slums of Limerick, Ireland.  McCourt’s mother, Angela, has no money to feed her children as his father, Malachy, drinks his wages when he gets a job — which isn’t often.  The family is forced, among other things, to gather coal from the roadside for fuel, to use rags as diapers and to beg for a pig’s head for Christmas dinner. Although at times depressing, the book is still a wonderful read and a testament to the author’s intelligence and ability to persevere.