My memoir summer ended on a high note,with one of the best I've read yet. Keep reading for details ...
I got Michael Ian Black's "You're Not Doing It Right" on a bit of a whim. I had read about it briefly in the New York Times, then Michael saw me looking at in Barnes and Noble on Fifth Avenue and bought it for me as a surprise. I mainly know Black from his VH1 punditry -- plus I've watched most of "The State" since discovering that Joe Lo Truglio is my cousin -- and though I didn't know what to expect, I imagined it would be delivered in the same dry wit that has made him famous. Boy was I wrong. It turns out the book is far more serious than funny, or even sarcastic: His parents divorced when he was young and his mom became a lesbian; shortly thereafter, his dad suddenly died; he gets the girl of his dreams, but never really saw himself getting married or having kids, yet he finds himself a husband and father (of two). Even though these issues are mostly serious business, I expected him to find the humor in them. Yet for most of the book he plays it surprisingly straight. He barely mentions his career at all, other than to say his "disappearing" to work is a source of tension at home. But just when I was l losing patience -- page after page of marriage drama, colicky babies, and sleepless nights, all the stuff I have gone out of my way to avoid in my own life, so why would I even want to read about it? -- he managed to tie it all together rather nicely in the end. Part of me thinks I might have enjoyed it more if I had read it with fewer expectations, but then I remembered I didn't have any to begin with. Don't know what else to say -- it's a strange book from a strange guy. Buy HERE.
Had a lot more fun with "But Enough About Me," a memoir by Jancee Dunn. In it, the former Rolling Stone writer, MTV2 host and "Good Morning America" correspondent -- who I had never heard of until a friend recommended this to me -- alternates stories of growing up in suburban New Jersey in the '80s with celebrity encounters and "recommendations" on dealing with superstar musicians and actors. The back-and -forth works -- one minute the coolest girl in school is inviting her to go to the Cyndi Lauper concert (oh-my-god!), and then the next she's in the reception area of Maverick Records about to interview you-know-who. I'm guessing she sold the book more on her A-list stories about Bruce Springsteen, Brad Pitt and Madonna than her childhood memories, yet surprisingly it was the tales of an overzealous JC Penney manager father and traditional mom that I found most endearing. (Translation: I could have gone for a full-on memoir minus the bold-faced names.) Buy HERE. (Next up for Dunn? She is the co-author of Cyndi Lauper's memoir!)
I've had Chelsea Handler's behemoth bestseller, "Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea," on my nightstand for years, yet consistently found something I'd rather read more. I finally buckled down, though, and decided to find out how this thing could have sold a million copies. It turned out not to be so easy. The first story has a great premise -- she lies to her classmates that she's been cast to play Goldie Hawn's daughter in the sequel to "Private Benjamin" -- but the writing was so sophomoric and the jokes so obvious. By the time I was halfway through, I was almost ready to throw in the towel. But then I was watching "Chelsea Lately," a show many of you know I love, and I realized I was doing it wrong. She isn't the female David Sedaris -- she's Chelsea Handler. I then read the second half of the book in her unique "voice" -- imagining the eyes rolls and exaggerating pronunciation of keys words -- and the whole thing started being far more enjoyable. The story about the guest nugget from "Girls Behaving Badly" was particularly good, which I later learned was going to be an entire book on its own at one point. (Probably before what happened happened.) I won't be reading Chelsea's other books -- I realized she's much more fun to watch than trying to act our her shtick while reading -- but I do acknowledge that you can't argue with this kind of success. Buy HERE.
My final memoir was "The Kids Are All Right," a two-person point of view story (or four, depending on your point of view) about an upper-middle-class family in Bedford, New York, whose dashing father and soap-opera actress mom both died within a couple years of each other, causing their four children to each end up in separate new living arrangements. The book is primarily written by youngest child Diana (who winds up with a bit of a kook new "mom"), and second-oldest Liz (a kindhearted traveler) -- both of whom are journalists now -- but it includes extensive interviews/chapters with oldest sister Amanda and brother Dan, to create a fascinating perspective of how four different people lived through and then recall the same events. That Amanda is a New Wave music freak who spent the 1980s sneaking into clubs in the city for concerts, and that Liz is a blond beauty who was considered for the role of Mariel Hemingway's younger sister in "Star 80" only ups the Kenneth quotient of this one -- a moving piece of work about family bonds that will wipe the self-centered look off every only child in the world. Buy HERE.