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. 

Rich Man, Poor Man – Irwin Shaw

Rich manGreat story spanning the time period from World War II to the beginning of the Vietnam-era about the Jordache family, headed by violent father Axel, mother Mary, beautiful but emotionally unstable Gretchen, overachiever Rudy and ne’er-do-well, yet best of them all, Thom.  Gretchen marries but is unable to sustain a relationship.  Rudy finishes college, establishing a business which makes him a millionaire.  His life is work until he meets his wife, who, unfortunately, is an alcoholic.  After years of failure, Thom finally finds his true calling, the sea, and uses money Rudy invests for him to buy a boat in the South of France.  He now has an enviable life:  a career he enjoys, a new love, a son, and good friends.  He invites Gretchen and Rudy to his wedding. Awakened late at night, Thom learns Rudy’s wife is in trouble at a local bar.  He intervenes, an action that results in terrible tragedy.  That’s a whole lotta of melodrama. Yet, somehow, it just works.