Thursday, June 21, 2018

Book Shelf: Guy Branum, Jim Hart, David Sedaris and Eric Poole Are Your Summer Reads

'Tis the season for lying on the beach reading -- so here are four (and a half) book suggestions to help you achieve your golden tan.

Have been a fan of Guy's since his days on the "Chelsea Lately" roundtable. These days I enjoy his periodic essays and Twitter feed -- and can't wait to see if his memoir addresses his rumored fallout with Ms. Handler over her relationship with raging homophobe 50 Cent. (They've clearly dissed and made up!)

From a young age, Guy Branum always felt as if he were on the outside looking in. Self-taught, introspective, and from a stiflingly boring farm town, he couldn’t relate to his neighbors. While other boys played outside, he stayed indoors reading Greek mythology. And being gay and overweight, he got used to diminishing himself. But little by little, he started learning from all the sad, strange, lonely outcasts in history who had come before him, and he started to feel hope. In this collection of personal essays, Guy talks about finding a sense of belonging at Berkeley -- and stirring up controversy in a newspaper column that led to a run‑in with the Secret Service. He recounts the pitfalls of being typecast as the “Sassy Gay Friend,” and how, after taking a wrong turn in life (i.e. law school), he found stand‑up comedy and artistic freedom. He analyzes society’s calculated deprivation of personhood from fat people, and how, though it’s taken him a while to accept who he is, he has learned that with a little patience and a lot of humor, self-acceptance is possible. Written with Guy’s characteristic blend of wit, guile, and rumination, "My Life as a Goddess" is an unforgettable and deeply moving book by one of today’s most endearing and galvanizing voices in comedy.

I'm three chapters into this memoir by Carly Simon's follow-up single to James Taylor -- and I must say that if I'm this captivated even before getting to the part where he realizes he's gay and begins "partying and playing," you know it's a must-read.

"Lucky Jim" is Jim Hart’s memoir, the story of how he survived a violent childhood home, found incredible words inside him, created a love that was both so right and so wrong, and finally found the strength to be his true self. Jim is a master at building relationships. Charming, funny, and a great listener with a guru’s insight, his success in life and business was based on his ability to connect with others, from people recovering in 12-step groups in Upstate New York to those living in the rarified air of Martha’s Vineyard. But after 20+ years sober, one slip-up triggered an active addiction that threatened his relationships with his then-wife, singer-songwriter Carly Simon, his recovery friends, his severely disabled son, and even with himself as he began to confront his sexuality.

Yes, I'm just another gay devotee of Amy Sedaris's brother. But if his latest examines "the bonds of siblings, the trials and comforts of domesticity, the general confusion of the world, his family’s extremely weird sense of humor and his troubled sister's suicide" -- as promised -- then I can't wait to dig in.

If you've ever laughed your way through David Sedaris's cheerfully misanthropic stories, you might think you know what you're getting with "Calypso." You'd be wrong. When he buys a beach house on the Carolina coast, Sedaris envisions long, relaxing vacations spent playing board games and lounging in the sun with those he loves most. And life at the Sea Section, as he names the vacation home, is exactly as idyllic as he imagined, except for one tiny, vexing realization: it's impossible to take a vacation from yourself. With "Calypso," Sedaris sets his formidable powers of observation toward middle age and mortality. Make no mistake: these stories are very, very funny--it's a book that can make you laugh 'til you snort, the way only family can. Sedaris's powers of observation have never been sharper, and his ability to shock readers into laughter unparalleled. But much of the comedy here is born out of that vertiginous moment when your own body betrays you and you realize that the story of your life is made up of more past than future. This is beach reading for people who detest beaches, required reading for those who loathe small talk and love a good tumor joke. "Calypso" is simultaneously Sedaris's darkest and warmest book yet--and it just might be his very best.

Eric Poole's debut memoir, "Where's My Wand?," was truly one of the funniest books I've ever read. (His mother gives Molly a run for her money!) That's reason enough to be excited about his followup:

In 1977, Eric Poole is a talented high school trumpet player with one working ear, the height-to-weight ratio of a hat rack, a series of annoyingly handsome bullies, and a mother irrationally devoted to Lemon Pledge. But who he wants to be is a star…ANY star. With equal parts imagination, flair, and delusion, Eric proceeds to emulate a series of his favorite celebrities, like Barry Manilow, Halston, Tommy Tune, and Shirley MacLaine, in an effort to become the man he’s meant to be -- that is, anyone but himself. As he moves through his late teens and early twenties in suburban St. Louis, he casts about for an appropriate outlet for his talents. Will he be a trumpet soloist? A triple-threat actor/singer/dancer? A fashion designer in gritty New York City? Striving to become the son who can finally make his parents proud, Eric begins to suspect that discovering his personal and creative identities can only be accomplished by admitting who he really is. Picking up at the end of his first acclaimed memoir, "Where’s My Wand?," Poole’s journey from self-delusion to acceptance is simultaneously hysterical, heartfelt, and inspiring.

And as always, please consider reading my beach-friendly book of essays. And if you already had, a quick review on Amazon would be much-appreciated!

In the summer of ’77, while other boys in the Midwest were busy playing Little League and flocking to see "Star Wars," young Kenny Walsh was obsessed with Chris Evert and Woody Allen movies -- and daydreamed about moving to New York City. But when his family headed west from the suburbs of Detroit to Phoenix, it was the first in a series of events that set his Big Apple ambitions on the wrong course. In this funny and moving memoir, Walsh recounts an idiosyncratic childhood that included an attempt to track down a crazed serial killer, a First Amendment battle with his fourth-grade principal, running the local KKK (that’s Kenny’s Kid Kare) babysitting service -- and the mysterious disappearance of his father. Post-college jobs took him to Hollywood and Washington, D.C. -- where trouble followed (porn stars, celebrity doppelgängers, anxiety disorders) -- yet he still didn’t feel at home. Walsh finally arrived in Manhattan the week of his thirty-first birthday … but was tomorrow as wonderful as he dreamed it would be?


JimmyD said...

I highly recommend the audiobook version of 'Calypso.' I love hearing Sedaris reading/performing his material.
I'll listen to Guy's book too.
There's something great about biographical books read by that person.
So, Kenneth... where's your audiobook?!

Matt said...

Love pictures of bookcases and personal libraries. Sometimes when I read David Sedaris I wanna throw the book across the room.