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Book Review: ‘Cosby: His Life and Times’
Learn what that TV show almost was
For many years, you spent every Thursday night in the living room of a friend - and you never left your easy chair.
Those Thursday nights were appointments you wouldn’t think of missing, and you always left with a smile. The Huxtable family was just like your family. And in the new book “Cosby: His Life and Times” by Mark Whitaker, you’ll learn what that TV show almost was, and more.
William Henry Cosby, Jr. was born into a storytelling family.
Though his father was mostly absent, young Cosby was heavily influenced by his paternal grandfather, a spiritual man who loved telling Bible stories. Cosby sometimes had a hard time understanding his grandfather’s Southern accent, but the elder man’s methods of holding an audience stuck with him forever.
c.2014, Simon & Schuster $29.99 / $35.95 Canada 544 pages
After dropping out of high school, and once home from a stint in the Navy (where he worked in the Hospital Corps and got his GED), Cosby left Philadelphia and headed to New York City.
There, he slept on the storeroom floor of a Greenwich Village club, and performed on a rickety stage beneath a leaky ceiling. Eventually, it paid off: word got around that he was a funny guy, one who didn’t rely on profanity or racial material to get laughs. Cosby soon had a manager, a wife, and a seat next to Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show.
For Cosby, personally, it was a golden time: his comedy career was soaring, he was starring in a TV crime-drama, and he’d become a father. Offstage, however, the nation was working its way through the Civil Rights Movement and for Cosby, that created a stronger urge to help his “people.” As much as possible, he insisted on hiring more African Americans backstage, and assisted many in their show-business careers. He was also fierce about education (he had once wanted to be a teacher), and created children’s programming with that in mind.
In 1984, having heard that Bill Cosby was open to the possibility of a sitcom, Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner asked for a meeting. They had something in mind for a different kind of comedy.
Cosby had some ideas of his own…
Reading “Cosby: His Life and Times” is kind of like visiting your childhood on paper. Who among us hasn’t felt like we’ve always known Fat Albert and the Huxtable family? Who didn’t want to run away and live with Cliff and Claire?
Not many, I’d guess, and that’s why readers will be surprised at what author Mark Whitaker uncovered. Not only are we treated to the good in Cosby’s life, but Whitaker includes the warts, both onstage and off, as well as the what-ifs within Cosby’s career – and I just couldn’t get enough of it. What if, for instance, Cliff Huxtable had been a limo driver?
Are you shaking your head now? Me, too, as I devoured this comfort-food biography – and if that sounds tasty to you, then here’s your next book. Grab “Cosby: His Life and Times” and head for your easy chair.
Book Review: ‘Five Days Left’
Mara Nichols has five days to wrap up her life
Grandma was right. Darn it.
Every year, when November rolled around and you longed for the holidays, she told you not to wish your life away. Time moved fast enough, she said, and it went faster the older you get.
Back then, a week lasted forever; today, you blink and where did it go? And in the new novel “Five Days Left” by Julie Lawson Timmer, even that’s not enough time.
Texas lawyer Mara Nichols always did her research.
It was something she prided herself on – until Huntington’s Disease robbed her of her moods, memory, and then her job. What horrified her more than this loss of identity, though, was that, if her disease progressed as she understood it, she would lose control of her body more and more, little by little, until there was no Mara left. She’d be a burden to her husband, Tom, and an embarrassment for their daughter, Lakshmi – and that, to Mara, was unacceptable.
Four years prior, when she received her diagnosis and knew what was to come, she made a decision: if symptoms progressed beyond a certain point, she would take her own life. That was best – a gift, really – for her parents, and for Tom and Laks.
She could never tell them this, but they’d understand later.
She now had five days to wrap up her life.
Laurie Coffman always wanted a family but fostering a grade-school child from inner-city Detroit wasn’t what she had in mind – particularly since she was pregnant with her first baby. For her husband, Scott, though, having Curtis for a year was so incredibly rewarding.
It had been a challenge, for sure; Scott was happy to get advice from friends on an online forum, and it really helped him and Laurie to raise Little Man. Scott fell hard for Curtis in the past, fleeting year, but he never forgot one thing.
Curtis wasn’t his son. And in five days, the boy would return to his mother…
Here’s one thing you might as well warm up to: you will cry when you read “Five Days Left.” You. Will. Cry.
First-time author Julie Lawson Timmer hasn’t merely just penned a good novel; she leaps out of the chute here with this keeps-you-guessing story of two people who have a finite time – real or imagined - to spend with those they love. It’s that guessing part, the will-she-won’t-she on Mara’s behalf, and the frustration from Scott that kept me turning pages well into the night. I also found myself wondering what I’d do if I was in their shoes, which led me to ignore my clock as I got wrapped up in their lives and this story – and if that’s not the mark of an exceptional novel, well, then I don’t know what is.
This is one of those winners that’ll be passed from reader to fan to book group and beyond. It’s a novel that people will buzz about awhile. Start it, and I think you’ll agree that “Five Days Left” is a right fine read.
“Being Miss America : Behind the Rhinestone Curtain” by Kate Shindle
c.2014, University of Texas Press $24.95 / $30.95 Canada 236 pages
Elbow, elbow, wrist-wrist-wrist.
It’s like icing a cake with your hand, they say, and you practiced that wave aplenty when you were young. You never knew when you might find yourself walking down a long stage with roses in your arms and a crown on your head.
Millions of young women try. Only one per year becomes Miss America – most of the time. In “Being Miss America ” by Kate Shindle, you’ll peek behind the brocade curtains to learn more.
Growing up in New Jersey, in a family that often volunteered for the Miss America Organization, Kate Shindle had a first-hand, on-the-ground look at making a pageant. That knowledge obviously didn’t scare her: she later entered a local Illinois pageant, won, and won again to eventually become Miss America 1998.
Pageant fans know that the first Miss America was crowned in 1921, in an effort to keep tourists on The Boardwalk a little longer. Only one woman won the title twice (1922 and 1923). There’s been one Jewish winner (1945) and one Native American title-holder (1927), but no Muslims or lesbians (yet) to wear the crown. Scholarships weren’t given until Miss America 1943 suggested them. The pageant schedule, originally set for mid-September-ish, has often been in flux; in fact, it was completely cancelled for a few Depression-Era years.
In the beginning, there was no “platform” (it seems to have “become a thing of the past” today). Swimsuit parades clashed with feminism, racism quietly lingered as “an ugly underbelly,” countdowns were tweaked, and the pageant once endured an attempt at reality TV. Political maneuvers and corporate rules now determine things.
Today, Shindle still gets the “What was it like?” question, and it’s complicated.
At first, travelling was fun and receiving gifts was interesting. Both became tedious pretty quickly. She was happy to have a chance to work with HIV awareness, but was often instructed on what she couldn’t say. Winning the pageant was empowering, but with the growing popularity of the internet then, it was too easy to find forums filled with vitriol and even easier to fall into an eating disorder…
It’s very safe to say that the majority of us never were Miss America material. That never stopped us from dreaming, though, which is why a behind-the-scenes book like “Being Miss America ” is so fun to read.
Author Kate Shindle takes the (elbow-length) gloves off in this book, and tells the truth as she knows it: the good and bad of wearing the crown, the humor and difficulty of being an “ideal” woman, changes that title-holders have made within pageant workings, and the struggles some have endured. She does this with wit and passion, as well as with sadness; Miss America ’s future, as Shindle sees it, isn’t quite so rosy but, with work, “she can become something greater than ever.”
I liked this book for its lightly-scandalous humor and its tarnished-crown honesty, and if you’re a pageant-watcher, I think you’ll like it, too. Grab “Being Miss America ,” and you can wave the hours good-bye.
“Joe and Marilyn: Legends in Love” by C. David Heymann
c.2014, Emily Bestler Books $27.00 / $32.50 Canada 438 pages
Can’t live with him, can’t live without him.
That’s apparently, according to headlines, what your favorite star thinks of her first, third, and next husband – who happens to be the same man. It’s kinda silly. You can practically set your calendar by their splits and reconciliations. You shake your head.
Can’t live with him. Can’t live without her. It happens, as you’ll see in the new book “Joe and Marilyn: Legends in Love” by C. David Heymann.
The first time Joe DiMaggio met Marilyn Monroe was on a blind date. He’d began “thinking” about Marilyn once he saw publicity photos of her with another ball player, and he asked a friend to set them up. She pretended not to know who the great Yankee ballplayer was. He sat mute nearly the whole evening.
And yet, Marilyn (born Norma Jeane Baker) thought he was “different” and wanted to spend more time with him. He was equally smitten and, on an after-date drive, he opened up to her like he’d never done with any other woman. He was reserved and gentlemanly. He called her again the morning after, and romance blossomed.
But there were problems. Joe “didn’t know if he could deal with her voracious appetite for public exposure.” For Marilyn, being center of attention was as necessary as oxygen and, though she said she wanted to settle down and “have a boatload of babies,” she was, down-deep, not willing to give up her career.
Part of the problem, says Heymann, is that there were “two Norma Jeanes” – a little girl who craved love, and a mercurial and complicated woman who’d do anything for the limelight – even if it meant sleeping around.
Another part of the problem was that Joe was hot-headed and controlling. He grew to detest publicity, and resented that his star had fizzled while hers was rising. Marilyn was more famous than he, and it rankled Joltin’ Joe aplenty.
She called him “Pa,” and warmly embraced the son he mostly ignored. He advised her in the career he hated. They fought, reconciled, fought more, and wed in early 1954.
It was a marriage that wouldn’t last the year.
Let’s start here: I liked “Joe and Marilyn.” I really, really liked it because, while rabid fans of either DiMaggio or Monroe won’t find much new here, I did and I liked the way it was presented.
The late author C. David Heymann was, in telling this long, scandalous saga, balanced and informative without being sensational. Readers become privy to private issues, as well as behind-closed-doors activities that led to even more issues, yet we come to see the deep devotion that lingered for the lifetimes of DiMaggio and Monroe, even though they clearly couldn’t ever live together.
That makes this an excellently-heartbreaking love story, a juicy gossip piece, a slice of culture, and sports – all rolled into one. And if you’re a fan of those, of DiMaggio, Monroe , or Hollywood of yore, then “Joe and Marilyn” is a book you really can’t be without.
“Shots Fired” by C.J. Box
c.2014, Putnam $26.95 / $31.00 Canada 288 pages
Trapped in an elevator, office, front seat of a car, wishing you were someplace, anyplace, else. The people with you are getting on your last nerve. You’ve heard the same phrases over and over and over and you want to scream.
We’ve all been there. We’ve all lived through the irritation, but what’s funny is that it’s not at all chafing to read about it happening to someone else. And that’s just one of the themes in “Shots Fired,” a book of short stories by C.J. Box.
Throughout the years, says Box, fans have asked where they could find some of his shorter works, wondering why there wasn’t an anthology.
Now there is, with favorite characters and a few new faces.
Take, for instance, “ One-Car Bridge ,” in which a ranch owned by a big-city bully is on the edge of Game Warden Joe Pickett’s territory. Joe has bad news for the owner, but it could be worse news for the ranch’s manager: he could lose his job over something that’s not his fault. Could help come from the U.S. Mail?
Pickett, of course, is one of Box’s best-loved characters – maybe because Joe cherishes his neighbors so much. In “Dull Knife,” one of Wyoming ’s finest basketball players is dead. Joe remembers the girl, and he mourns what she could have been. How she died is an even bigger issue.
Joe’s friend, Nate Romanowski also appears in this book and he’s loaded for bear – or, in this case, for a rich Saudi who seems to think he owns the rogue falconer and can buy what he demands. In “The Master Falconer,” fans will be surprised to see that Nate tows the line. Or not.
Revenge is a dish best served cold, they say, but not necessarily in a canoe. In “Every Day is a Good Day on the River,” a long-awaited fishing trip turns into a nightmare when something unexpected shows up on the waters.
And in my favorite story here, “The End of Jim and Ezra,” two trappers are caught for the winter in a cabin high in the mountains. It’s 1835 and it’s been Three. Long. Months of living practically on top of one another.
Stir-crazy ain’t the word for it…
You know how it is when you want a book, but not the whole book? That’s when you reach for this: with its ten short stories, “Shots Fired” will just fill that nagging want-to-read hunger.
And yet, what’s nice about this book is that you can make it last. Most of author C.J. Box’s tales are short enough to read in one sitting, but not so involved that you won’t feel bad putting a bookmark in them for a minute. And that’s about how long you’ll need a bookmark – a minute – because these mystery-western-human-interest tales are awfully addicting.
If you’re a Box fan, this is a must-have. If you’ve never read his works, you’ll be a fan in short order because what’s inside “Shots Fired” will have you stuck to your seat.
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