It’s no surprise that Helene Wecker’s first novel, The Golem and the Jinni, won the 2014 Harold U. Ribalow prize. This adult fairy tale reminds the reader of the works of Kafka or Isaac Bashevis Singer. At turns it is funny but it can be dark. The Golem (Chava) is a creature made out of clay and the Jinni (Ahmad), born of fire, has been trapped inside a copper flask for many generations. It’s 1899 in New York City with a focus on the streets and rooftops of Manhattan. Immigrants abound.
Aretha Franklin, Queen of Soul, was born to gifted and well-to-do parents. Her mother was a singer and her father was a well-known preacher who marched alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Civil Rights movement. Life wasn’t a piece of cake. Aretha’s mother left the family when she was young leaving the father as a single parent. Her father showcased her childhood talent by waking her up in the middle of the night to play piano and sing for his party guests.
Diego Rivera was twice the size and age of Frida Kahlo when they married in August of 1929 but they seemed destined to be together. Rivera was a famous Mexican muralist who used the fresco method of painting on wet plaster. Kahlo was known for her self-portraits showing her suffering due to internal injuries resulting from a bus accident and for her depictions and deep love of animals. As a child, she contracted polio. She had always been sickly. Reef has written a book about one of the most interesting artist couples in history.
Janet Leigh was best known for her portrayal of Marion Crane in the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock classic thriller, Psycho and her eleven-year marriage to Tony Curtis. She starred in mostly low-budget films throughout her film career which spanned from 1947-1999. Hollywood film moguls were attracted to her natural beauty. She endured the unwanted attention of Howard Hughes.
This book reminded me a bit of watching West Wing. We don’t realize how the White House is buzzing 24/7. Kantor takes us inside for an eye-opening expose of life in America’s most famous mansion. Michelle and Barack Obama managed to adapt to a very dramatic change in their lifestyle with grace and maturity. But it wasn’t all rosy.
Those of us of a certain age grew up to the strains of comma comma down dooby doo down down, comma comma, down dooby doo down down, breaking up is hard to do. That is Neil Sedaka’s signature song, Breaking up is Hard to do. It was released in 1962. Podolsky tells the story of Neil’s early days in Brooklyn. He started his musical training at the prestigious Juilliard School at the tender age of seven.
Richard Nixon graduated number three from his Duke University Law School class. Thelma (Pat) Ryan was an orphan in Depression-era California yet she attained the equivalent of a master’s degree in merchandising and she taught high school typing and shorthand classes. Swift tells the story of the Nixon courtship, political life and death after 53 years of marriage. Along the way we read about Nixon’s involvement with the Communist scare, 1960 presidential election footing Nixon against John F.
Hilburn delivers a highly detailed but readable account of the legendary country singer, Johnny Cash. Virtually every aspect of his career and personal life is covered including his boyhood in Dyess, Arkansas, his admiration for Jimmie Rodgers, the start of his recording career with Sun Records, Cash’s first gold record (the album Ring of Fire), his marriage into the Carter family, and his highly acclaimed video of Hurt which was produced by Rick Rubin.
Donald Spoto’s account of the Redgraves has the feel of a readable “intellectual” soap opera, for the talented Redgraves were well known for their work in the theatre and film world but their private lives were anything but conventional. There are many instances of infidelity, divorce, dysfunctional parenting, and the insecurities that resulted from these issues.
Kenneth Ray Rogers traveled a long way from roots in the “projects” of Houston Texas. He knows what it is like to eat beans and rice for dinner, father a child while a senior in high school, suffer through multiple divorces, feel guilt over estrangement of his older children, and he was downright broke when most of us would think he was living well. His is a true rags to riches story of overcoming adversity with a lot of bumps along the road. Rogers got his start performing in a high school band called The Scholars, even though the band members were all C students.
Bergstein explains why women, in particular, absolutely love shoes. Even more than our clothing, shoes offers us a means to communicate who we are as individuals. But Bergstein goes beyond the stories of various cobblers who became famous for their footwear. She also describes the behind the scenes machinations that brought about the famous Ruby Slippers in The Wizard of Oz. They were actually silver in L. Frank Baum’s book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz but red would be more of a contrast against the yellow brick road filmed in Technicolor.
Meredith Baxter was no stranger to show business. Her mother, Whitney Blake, was an American television/film actress who appeared in Hazel, Perry Mason, and multiple westerns over the years. Meredith’s Pasadena, California family life was highly dysfunctional. Her mother was distant and often was secluded behind a closed bedroom door which Meredith was forbidden to enter. After divorcing Meredith’s father, Blake married Jack, a militaristic man who meted out severe punishment to Meredith and her older two brothers. He also made unwelcome sexual advances toward Meredith.
You might ask…what is Rock and Roll’s Best-Kept Secret? Read this book and find out! Here’s a clue…most of the finished product from studio recordings was performed by behind the scenes session musicians. Some of those musicians ultimately became famous in their own right. Think Glen Campbell, Leon Russell, and Neil Diamond, to name a few. Hartman leads us through the stories behind Phil Spector’s wall of sound, and Sonny and Cher’s rise to fame with their signature song, I Got You, Babe.