I am a fan of The Andy Griffith Show and all things Mayberry, so I couldn't pass up Daniel de Visé's Andy & Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American T.V. Show when I stumbled upon it on Amazon. I was a bit leery at first, worried that this would read more like a tell-all than a balanced look at two professionals' careers and personal lives. I am here to say that there's no fear to be had. This is a well written, properly researched book written with the utmost respect for its subjects.
Andy & Don was written by Daniel de Visé, who was Don Knotts' brother-in-law, having married Don's third wife, Francey's sister. This is a man who knew Don Knotts personally and therefore worked hard to ensure that this book was done with the utmost respect. According to the Acknowledgments section, Visé spent a great deal of time and energy researching his subjects, as well as speaking to well over 50 of Andy & Don's family, friends, and those that they worked closely with. While the book covers Knotts' 81 and Andy's 86 years of life, it is a fast-paced and an enjoyable read.
Visé discussed both Don and Andy's backgrounds, strengths, and friendships, as well as their flaws, mistakes, and darker sides with grace and dignity, showing his audience that both men were as human as the rest of us. He called attention to conflicting stories and theories, such as the origins of "The Pickle Story" and who persuaded Don to take his Nervous Man to Steve Allen, and presented each theory clearly, not taking one side or the other.
The center point, and indeed the highlight, of this book is the deep, enduring friendship between Don Knotts and Andy Griffith. The author mapped this decades long friendship beautifully. Along the way, Visé shares behind-the-scenes stories and information from those involved with The Andy Griffith Show, along with the men's other projects. It was interesting to read how certain gags and bits from the show, such as the "memorizing of the lawman's code" or the "sitting on the porch" bits, were developed. The master comedic minds of Don Knotts and Andy Griffith shines bright.
I wasn't familiar with Don's overall body of work or the fact that he really was the more successful of the two. I always just naturally thought Andy was, due to his lead role on The Andy Griffith Show, as well as his higher profile (to me) overall. I walked away from this book with a new found respect for Don and his comedic talents, and for that, I thank Visé.
Overall, this is an excellently done book. Well written, thoroughly researched, respectful, and enjoyable.
I give it an 8/10.
The show M*A*S*H is among my top five favorite TV shows, so naturally I started searching for books written by the cast. I wanted to get to know the actors better. This is how I stumbled upon Gary Burghoff’s (who played Radar O’Reilly) delightful memoir, To M*A*S*H and Back: My Life in Poems and Songs (That Nobody Wanted To Publish). I read through this book in about two or three sittings. It’s a quick and very enjoyable read. I found myself truly impressed with not only Burghoff’s impressive and well-rounded life, but also the intelligent, humble, and witty way in which he writes about it.
I learned a great deal about the man behind the beloved, bespectacled M*A*S*H character. Gary Burghoff was a trained stage actor and jazz musician. His claim to fame was actually the originating role of Charlie Brown on stage in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. On top of that, Burghoff is a poet, a songwriter, an inventor, a wildlife artist, an environmentalist, and as of the writing of this book, a writer. Pretty impressive, eh?
To M*A*S*H and Back is well paced, delightfully honest, and generally cuts to the point of things without too much fluff. Each chapter opens with a poem or a song that Burghoff wrote, which sets the theme/mood for that chapter. I was impressed with Burghoff’s honesty and willingness to show his vulnerability and own his mistakes. Not many men (or people in general) are willing to do so in such a public way. I was also impressed with how Gary spoke about the people in his life, even those that did him wrong, he handled the retelling with dignity and grace.
One fact that interested me as I read through this wonderful memoir was the fact that Burghoff is a Christian. I appreciated his candor and openness in discussing his spiritual/faith journey, his struggles with coming to know and understand God, and all that it entailed. The man is a true inspiration, with a resilient yet kind spirit, Burghoff is even more lovable than his onscreen character, Radar. Honest, witty, humorous, and well worded, I highly recommend this memoir.
I give it an 8/10.
I first stumbled upon Anne LaBastille about a year ago (in 2017) when I found her first memoir, Woodswoman, in an amazon search. Having grown up in the foothills of and having camped in the Adirondack Mountains annually for years now, the fact that she both lived in and was a certified guide for the Adirondacks intrigued me. I quickly read her first book and absolutely loved it. I found LaBastille fascinating.
Fast forward to this past summer (2018), my father gave me LaBastille's second book in her Woodswoman series, Beyond Black Bear Lake. I had stacks of other books that I had to read through before this one, books from authors and publishers that had to take priority, so I didn't actually have a chance to read it until just recently. It was certainly worth the wait.
Continuing on where Woodswoman left off, in Beyond Black Bear Lake LaBastille takes the reader through more of her life. She details the life of a freelancer and how she manages such a demanding, busy schedule all the while living off the grid. She explains how she deals with calls, mail, and invasive fans. LaBastile also shares her quest and journey to retreat even more into the wilderness and live the way Thoreau did over a 100 years before her, detailing the construction of her second cabin, Thoreau II.
I found the chapters in which LaBastille discusses her research on acid rain and its effects on the environment, particularly the Adirondacks, and her fight to keep nuclear waste out of the Adirondacks both fascinating and eye-opening. Other chapters I found most interesting were where she wrote about her dogs, the loss of Pitzi, which moved me to tears, and the gain of Condor and Chekika, and the bonds that she shared with these beautiful shepherds.
I highly recommend this book. It is a superb memoir, that also serves to educate the public on environmental concerns and conservation. Excellently written, well researched, Beyond Black Bear Lake finds LaBastille writing from her head and her heart.
I give it a 9/10.
I'm officially hooked on LaBastille's writing and will continue on in her Woodswoman series. Next up: Woodswoman III. ;)
I started really digging into Katharine Hepburn's film catalogue this Fall. I'm not sure why I chose that time to do so, but I've always found Hepburn vaguely interesting and decided that I wanted to learn more about her. After watching several of her films, I decided to see if she had ever written an autobiography or if there was a good biography on her. I found both. I quickly realized that I had A. Scott Berg's Kate Remembered on my shelf already, therefore I started with that one.
Kate Remembered is more of a memoir than biography, though it does detail Hepburn's life. The book is written through the lens of one of Hepburn's close friends and includes conversations and antidotes that would have been lost if the book had been written strictly as a biography.
Berg came into Hepburn's life in her later years, but developed a quick and, by all accounts, deep friendship with the actress. Known for being deeply private, getting to know Hepburn on a deeper level is quite a feat.
I love the way Berg outlined the book, flashing back and forth from the "present" time of his friendship with Kate to other times in her life, weaving the chapters into a nice flow. It made sense and, I believe, made it easier to digest the details and information about her life and career in between their conversations, dinners together, etc. The book definitely gave the reader a deeper understanding of the Hollywood and stage star, and maybe even helped the public feel closer to her.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I couldn't put it down and found it absolutely fascinating. I enjoyed Berg's writing style and his personable voice. It felt very much like he was sitting in a warm parlor, recounting his friendship and knowledge of Hepburn. It is the best "biography" of Katharine Hepburn I've come across and a must have for any fan.
I give it 8/10.
I've been digging back through my TBR pile this past year, making an attempt to read through the backlog more regularly. I've accumulated quite a large pile as of late, due to inheriting a good number of books from my grandmother and of course picking up more books here and there that I'd like to read at some point. My latest read was Lauren Bacall's autobiography, By Myself, which came from my grandmother. It's worn, old, and the pages are yellowed, and you can tell it has been read multiple times...….. and I love it.
It always brings me great joy to read books that my grandmother owned, handled, and loved. It makes me feel closer to her. My grandmother had a love for Old Hollywood movies and enjoyed reading biographies and autobiographies about the various stars of the era, a trait she passed down to me. I've enjoyed Bacall's movies, particularly the ones that teamed her up with Humphrey Bogart. Therefore, I was interested to read her autobiography.
Bacall seems to focus more on her personal life, her thoughts and feelings, her journey to becoming to woman she became, rather than a detailed report of her movie career, which is usually the standard for actors. The only movies where she goes into great detail are To Have and Have Not, which was her first role, the one that made her a star, and the one that started her relationship, both on and off screen, with Humphrey Bogart; and The African Queen, which she didn't star in but accompanied Bogart during the filming in Africa, London, and Paris. Her over films were glossed over with just a few words and details.
Bacall doesn't hold back throughout the telling of her life. She bares her vulnerabilities, her mistakes, and flaws for all to see, and she does it with no regrets and loads of dignity. She's frank and honest. The most interesting part of this book, for me, was when Bacall detailed Bogart's cancer diagnosis, his last months/days, and ultimately, his death. I literally balled my eyes out while reading the detailed account. I could feel the emotion, the gut-wrenching loss, and the void he left. It was beautifully and honestly done. I applaud her frankness, I'm sure it must have been difficult to relive.
Overall, this autobiography is a sound, well written account of Bacall's life. It was fascinating, frank, real, and an interesting read. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who loves biographies/autobiographies and/or Old Hollywood.
I give it a 7/10.
Beauty in the Breakdown: Choosing to Overcome by Julie Roberts releases a week from today, on September 18th. It is a truly inspirational, fascinating story of hope, struggle, faith, resilience, and perseverance.
Julie Roberts certainly has lived an interesting but hard life. She achieved country music fame with her breakout single "Break Down Here" in 2004, which was a Top 20 hit, and her album by the same name, which was certified gold. She released her Men & Mascara album in 2006, which ended up charting even higher than her Break Down Here album. I personally became a fan after hearing "Break Down Here" for the first time, and have been a fan ever since. Needless to say, I was very excited to hear that Julie was releasing a book about her life.
Julie has lived an inspirational life so far. She survived a household that experienced domestic abuse at the hand of her alcoholic father, has navigated the whirlwind music industry with getting record deals, tours, promos, and losing record deals, to the diagnosis of MS, and surviving a horrific flood...… Every time, Julie has come back strong in her resilience and her faith. I would highly recommend this book to any country music fan or anyone looking for a great memoir. I look forward to hearing more from Julie, especially musically. ;)
I give it an 8/10.
As an aspiring photographer, I latched onto Ansel Adams’ work early in my photography journey. He has become my greatest inspiration/role-model for photography. I am forever in awe of his artistic ability and his work. Among my favorites of his photographs are his stunning photographs of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, in California. He had a true talent for making photographs, the kind of talent that seems rare these days. All this said, I was surprised to find out that he had written an autobiography, and more surprised that I hadn’t heard about it up until a month ago!
I actually spent July reading both versions of Adams’ autobiography, the paperback and the hardcover “coffee table” version. The only difference between the two is the fact that the hardcover features a great deal more photographs and is of far better quality. The paperback is a great option for those who want a book that can be easily held in your hands and one that you can carry with you with ease, while the hardcover is a must have for diehard fans who want the information housed in a book of excellent quality and to peruse the accompanying photographs while reading through the chapters. The hardcover is one you’ll want to leave out on a table or stand for guests to look through. The reader can choose which one fits their needs/wants best.
This book is extremely well written and has stayed true to Ansel Adams’ personal style and voice. You are immediately struck by the sheer intelligence Adams’ possesses. He is a well-rounded, cultured, learned individual. I found his life story absolutely fascinating and inspiring. He holds nothing back and gets very candid in his autobiography. He makes no effort to sugar coat things and you get the feeling that he has painstakingly made sure to speak the truth of his life. The chapters are arranged, not chronologically, but are organized under categories that are named for important periods, places, and people in his life.
I thoroughly enjoyed learning about his background history and his childhood/education, which spans the first four chapters. Adams had a fascinating and unconventional education, one that will leave you with envy. He devotes several chapters to particular people who have had a great influence on him, such as Stieglitz & O’Keefe (chapter 10), Edward Weston (chapter 16), and The Newhalls (chapter 14), along with places such as Yosemite (chapter 5), The Sierra (chapter 11), and Carmel (chapter 21).
This is a book that you will not be able to put down. I just couldn’t read enough! Far from dry and boring, this autobiography reads like a superbly interesting, animated conversation. I was thoroughly impressed with Adams’ honesty, wit, humor, and intelligence. I would HIGHLY recommend this book to Adams’ fans, photography fans in general, and those readers looking for a great autobiography to read. You will definitely not be disappointed. I find myself already wanting to read it again, and predict that this will be a multiple read for me.
I give this book a 9/10.
John Wayne: Made in America was recently released by the Editors of the Official John Wayne Magazine, on May 8th . With a small introduction by John Wayne’s youngest son, Ethan Wayne, the book is a wonderful addition to any fan’s collection. John Wayne: Made in America features photos that span Duke’s life and career, along with pictures of scripts and other memorabilia from Duke’s personal collection. The book also takes the reader through a broad biography of Duke’s life and career.
Most avid fans will have already seen the majority of the photos featured in this book, especially if you’ve read or own both Michael Goldman’s John Wayne: The Genuine Article and John Wayne: The Legend and The Man released by John Wayne Enterprises, and probably won’t learn anything new from the biography information included. That’s not too say this isn’t something you shouldn’t add to your collection.
What John Wayne: Made in America brings to the table, as far as fresh material goes, is its incorporation of historical details. The book brings together Duke’s personal history and that of America’s to showcase the similarities of the two entities. The book is divided into decades for the most part, with each section dedicated to a time period spanning a decade. It then takes each section/ chapter and showcases where Duke was in his life at that time and where America was as far as progress, wars, economy, or another big event.
I found this approach fascinating and illuminating. It’s a unique and fresh take on tackling a biography of John Wayne. The information and details were interesting and helpful, it allows the reader to come out with a better overall understanding of the time periods that shaped Duke’s life and career. I would recommend this to any John Wayne fan. It is definitely a great addition to any fan’s collection.
I give it an 8/10.
I happened upon this book through a search on Amazon and it piqued my interest, so I took a chance on it. I’m glad I did because it was a thoroughly enjoyable and interesting read. Anne LaBastille earned a PH.D. in wildlife ecology and was a Commissioner of New York State’s Adirondack Park Agency for over 17 years. She was a licensed guide specializing in wilderness trips. When she and her husband divorced, she needed a place to live. She found the ideal spot: a twenty-acre parcel of land in the Adirondack Mountains, where she built the cozy, primitive log cabin that became her permanent home. Miles from the nearest town, LaBastille had to depend on her wits, ingenuity, and the help of neighbors for her survival. She chronicles her adventures on Black Bear Lake, capturing the power of the landscape, the rhythms of the changing seasons, and the beauty of nature’s many creatures. Most of all, she captures the struggle to balance her need for companionship and love with her desire for independence and solitude.
LaBastille writes in a way that is enjoyable for the reader to read and informative. I found her detailed thoughts and plans regarding the construction of her cabin and maintenance of it fascinating. I couldn’t help but feel a kinship with the author when she spoke about her love and awe of the natural beauty of the Adirondacks and her desire/need for independence. LaBastille is real, honest, upfront, but respectful to her story and those who ended up in it due to their close proximity with her. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in wilderness, the Adirondacks, and overall just going off the beaten trail.
Maureen O’Hara was a part of the Golden Age of Hollywood (1930s – 1970s), and has starred in icon movies such as The Quiet Man, Miracle on 34th Street, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, How Green Was My Valley, McLintock, and The Parent Trap. She has worked with legendary directors such as John Ford and Alfred Hitchock, and legendary actors such as John Wayne, Tyrone Power, Charles Laughton, James Stewart, and Henry Fonda. The tough, independent Irish actress made a name for herself on and off the screen by standing up for herself and staying true to her beliefs and principles.
‘Tis Herself is an absolutely delightful read. The book is told in Maureen’s own voice and takes the reader through the story of her life. When reading this book, you feel as though you’re sitting on the porch with Maureen, as she tells you the story of her life. It’s an easy read that flows and is more conversational than dictatorial. O’Hara’s personality is front and center throughout the book, as she shares her triumphs and her struggles. She works to clear up any misconceptions and rumors that may be floating around about her, the people she worked with, and the movies in which she starred. I enjoyed the behind the scenes stories O’Hara shared with us, particularly the ones revolving around the making of The Quiet Man. She also shares never before told stories and insights about several industry people she worked with, the most intimate and surprising ones revolving around legendary director John Ford. As a fan of his work and someone familiar with his reputation, I found Maureen’s insights both a little shocking, but necessary to better understand the man himself. I also loved all of her stories regarding legendary actor John Wayne. As most people know, O’Hara and Wayne shared a long and deep friendship, and getting to read about it in her own words was a treat, particularly when she talked about her last moments with Wayne.
This is an absolute must read for any fan of Old Hollywood, and truly an enjoyable read for anyone. O’Hara has led such a colorful and inspirational life, and she doesn’t sugar coat any of it. I highly recommend this book. It is indeed one of the best autobiographies I’ve read to this date.
Grab this wonderful book here: https://www.amazon.com/Tis-Herself-Autobiography-Maureen-OHara/dp/0743269160/ref=sr_1_sc_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1491679837&sr=8-1-spell&keywords=Tis+Herslef
Liz Austin. Bibliophile. Writer. Book hoarder. I would rather be reading....