Saturday, September 27, 2008

Story of Your Life

I've realized that nearly every book I've read this past year, or am currently reading, has been/is a memoir or a biography. So I shall talk about what I've read so far...

*Helping Me Help Myself, by Beth Lisick

On January 1, 2006, author Beth Lisick realized she wanted to make some life changes, so she set off on a year-long journey to do just that. Throughout the year (and the book), the author seeks help for various things, including disorderliness and hoarding, parenting, her financial situation, and success. She reads self-help books by leading gurus and attends seminars and conferences, then summarizes all the information she's gathered and puts it in simple terms for us readers, all the while adding her own insight and reactions.

The journey begins immediately and starts out slowly, and at times I wasn't sure what the author was going to learn or accomplish. But things start to get rolling around the "April" chapter, in which she goes on a "Cruise To Lose" and encounters the one and only Richard Simmons. The whole experience is fun to read about, and though I'm not sure how badly she needed Richard's help in the first place, it doesn't matter. How many of us have secretly wondered what happens on those cruises? It's like a tell-all.

Lisick is a funny writer, and while sometimes she goes off on tangents that don't seem relevant, she always comes back to the point. In some ways it was inspiring, and even though I couldn't pick this woman out of a lineup, I rather enjoyed reading her tale.

--adapted from my review of the book on

*Home: A Memoir of My Early Years, by Julie Andrews

I was excited to read Julie Andrews' memoir because I'm a big fan of her work, especially in Mary Poppins. I quickly discovered, however, that I knew very little about the real Julie Andrews. I didn't know about her unusual and sometimes tumultous home life. I didn't know she'd been a child star (at least on the stage) in her native London. I didn't even know what kind of personality she had when not in front of the camera.

I enjoyed reading her accounts of performing in Camelot and My Fair Lady. But the story ends after she is cast in Mary Poppins, leaving me to wonder about her experiences working on that film, as well as The Sound of Music, and leaving me to wonder how she met her current husband. I assume she may be writing a sequel; but until then, the life of Julie Andrews -- at least in literary form -- seems incomplete.

*Burnt Toast (And Other Philosophies of Life), by Teri Hatcher

I must begin by saying I spent my teenage years devoted to the TV series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, in which Teri played Lois Lane. It remains one of my all-time favorite shows. When this book was published in 2006, I wanted to buy it, but couldn't find it anywhere. Finally, this year, it occurred to me to check it out of the library. And so I did.

Reading Burnt Toast is like listening to a one-sided conversation with a girl friend. Teri addresses you (the reader) as if you are a good friend, and yet, it feels like one of those conversations where it's All About Her. Mostly, it's about Teri's troubles with men and the fact that being a mom is the most wonderful thing ever. So wonderful, in fact, that anytime she can possibly mention her philosophies toward mothering, she does. Her parents? They did all sorts of things wrong. She blames them, even now. But now that she has a daughter, she's going to do things right. We get to hear about all the things she does that are so awesome for her daughter. But wait -- she is not a perfect mother, she admits! She explains this in one sad chapter, in which she talks about the time she made a terrible mistake with her child. Yes, one time... she... wait for it... she snapped at her daughter! SNAPPED AT HER!! Then she felt terrible and apologized profusely and everything turned out okay. Lord, we should all have such terrible mothers.

I respect Teri's work as an actress, but the book was a bit much. She may have a hit TV show (moreso a hit when the book was released) and she may have won a few awards, but I closed the book, going "Wow." And not a good kind of "wow," either. They'll let any celeb write books these days, and I think that's got to stop. A memoir is one thing, but this isn't one. Teri barely touches on her childhood, and she glosses over most of her work as an actress (save for Desperate Housewives, which she wants us to be sure to know was the most amazing career opportunity anyone could ask for. Which is probably true for her, but come on. Enough.) If it's not a memoir, then what IS it? An inspirational book of life lessons? Not really. Teri comes across as someone who is needy and overly sensitive. She's 40+, and she still hasn't figured very much out. Maybe when she's 80 and writes Really, REALLY Burnt Toast. With Jam, I'll pay more attention.

*You'll Never Nanny In This Town Again!, by Suzanne Hansen

Just out of high school, Suzanne Hansen went to Nanny School. After graduation, she decided she wanted to be a nanny in the L.A. area. She quickly landed a job working a rich and powerful Hollywood agent, taking care of his three kids. Like the Beverly Hillbillies, Suzanne had to make the adjustment to this crazy new life, working for spoiled kids and even more-spoiled parents in a land of glitz, glamour, plastic, and bizarre social practices. Parts of her tale are hilarious, others are painful. If you've ever spent any time with people in a higher social class, you can probably relate. They think we're crazy, we think they're crazy, and the ensuing clash can be absolutely priceless. Hansen's method of recounting her tale drew me right in, and I was rooting for her all the way.

*Child Star, by Shirley Temple Black

I watched Shirley Temple movies as a child and enjoyed them. I also watched a PBS biography of her (actually, we taped it, and I watched it dozens of times). I've also seen the TV-movie that was inspired by this autobiography. But I'd never read the book. Unfortunately, I believe it's out of print. Our library system didn't even have it -- I was lucky enough to get a used copy through a book-trading website.

What we have here is Shirley's account of her childhood, based not only on her uncanny memory, but accounts of others and historical fact. Parts are fascinating. Others are dull as dishwater. It's interesting to learn about Shirley's relationships/encounters with her co-stars on movies in the 30's and 40's. I also liked hearing about how she dealt with being a celebrity -- and not just any celebrity... for a time, she was one of the most famous actors in the world. It was surprising to learn that Shirley was kind of a tomboy -- and definitely not as sweet and innocent as she appeared on-screen.

However, there are many times when she drags us into the financial/accounting aspects of her career, as well as studio goings-on and a bunch of technical stuff. Intriguing to the most dedicated history buff, perhaps -- but not to the everyday Temple fan. At the end of the paperback edition, we are told a sequel is being written. But that was 20 years ago, and it doesn't look like it's likely to happen. Oh well.

I am currently reading the following, and will try to discuss them further when I'm finished:

*A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes: My Story, by Annette Funicello

*Anne Frank: Diary Of A Young Girl

*Looking For Anne Of Green Gables, by Irene Gammel
(Essentially a biography of Lucy Maud Montgomery)

If you have any recommendations for me, please share. I especially like to read memoirs about writers, but actors and actresses are okay too. (In the past, I have enjoyed Beverly Cleary's two memoirs, as well as Michael J. Fox's Lucky Man.)