Review ~ Adelaide Herrmann, Queen of Magic

Cover via Goodreads

Adelaide Herrmann, Queen of Magic by Adelaide Herrmann, Margaret B. Steele (Editor)

Madame Adelaide Herrmann (1853-1932) was a superstar of the Golden Age of Magic and now her story is finally told, and what a story it is! Entitled “Sixty-Five Years of Magic,” Madame takes us on an amazing adventure, from her beginnings as a dancer and trick bicyclist, to her marriage to Alexander Herrmann and their subsequent tours of the U.S., Mexico, South America and Europe. She peppers her memoir with hilarious anecdotes, misadventures, accidents and the continuous outrageous antics of the husband she adored. She describes their show in minute detail, including her husband’s magic repertoire and their baffling illusions which drew standing-room only audiences wherever they went. In heartrending detail, she tells the story of her husband’s death. She then reinvents herself into the first great female magician, and takes us through yet another thirty years of solo adventures. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
This is the memoir of the greatest female magician of the early 20th century (perhaps ever). Are you kidding me?! Of course I was interested in this book!

What Worked
Often there are two kinds of magic books: the cheaply made public domain scanned reprints or the beautifully made limited editions that are beyond my budget if available at all. This book is thankfully neither of those things. It is a very nicely made trade paperback full of black and white pictures. Finding Mme. Herrmann’s memoir and collecting her writings and ephemera together was a labor of love for magician and editor Margaret Steele, and it shows. And…it’s available!  Because why wouldn’t you want to make Adelaide Herrmann’s memoir available?

The first three-fourths of the book is Alelaide Herrmann’s memoir, written by her with some editorial help. It covers her life from meeting, marrying, and becoming the assistant to Alexander Herrmann (“Herrmann the Great”) to the end of her career in the late 1920s. It covers their love story, many of their adventures, and her trials and triumphs working on her own as a performer. The last fourth of the book is articles written by and about Mme. Herrmann, including several from women’s magazines encouraging young women to take up magic.

I have often wondered why more young girls do not turn their attention to the study and practice of magic, as it develops every one of the attributes necessary to social success—grace, dexterity, agility, easy of movement, perfection of manner, and self-confidence.

Here’s Margaret Steele performing one of Adelaide Herrmann’s signature tricks:

Publishing info, my copy: trade paperback, Bramble Books, 2012
Acquired: Amazon, 12/17/16
Genre: memoir

This is 6/10 Books of Summer!
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Review ~ Believe Me

This book was provided to me by Penguin Group and Blue Rider Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Cover via Goodreads

Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens by Eddie Izzard

Critically acclaimed, award-winning British comedian and actor Eddie Izzard details his childhood, his first performances on the streets of London, his ascent to worldwide success on stage and screen, and his comedy shows which have won over audiences around the world.

Over the course of a thirty-year career, Eddie Izzard has proven himself to be a creative chameleon, inhabiting the stage and film and television screen with an unbelievable fervor. Born in Yemen, and raised in Ireland, Wales and post-war England, he lost his mother at the age of six. In his teens, he dropped out of university and took to the streets of London as part of a two-man escape act; when his partner went on vacation, Izzard kept busy by inventing a one-man act, and thus a career was ignited. As a stand-up comedian, Izzard has captivated audiences with his surreal, stream-of-consciousness comedy–lines such as “Cake or Death?” “Death Star Canteen,” and “Do You Have a Flag?” have the status of great rock lyrics. As a self-proclaimed “Executive Transvestite,” Izzard broke the mold performing in full make-up and heels, and has become as famous for his advocacy for LGBT rights as he has for his art. In Believe Me, he recounts the dizzying rise he made from street busking to London’s West End, to Wembley Stadium and New York’s Madison Square Garden. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
In 2005 (or maybe 2006), Eric and I were at the World Fantasy Convention in Madison (or maybe Austin). Seeking refuge from all the con activities, we went up to our room to rest and watch a little TV. We don’t have cable at home so HBO at a hotel is a little bit of luxury. And on HBO was a comedy special. The comedian was a man wearing heels, leather pants, a tunic blouse and a lot of makeup. He was very funny with a long-game comedy style that relies on clever call-backs. And so, Eddie Izzard gained two fans with his special Dressed to Kill.

What Didn’t Work
It’s hard to say that the first part of this memoir doesn’t work. Eddie Izzard’s early years were not super happy. His mother passed away when he was pretty young and he and his older brother were sent to boarding school because his father traveled often for work. Add to that Izzard’s growing sense that he had, as he puts it, a girl mode despite being very sporty and being interested in the army and the UK version of the scouts. This isn’t material that lends itself to a comedy take. I think Izzard knows this, but he does try to add some levity in the form of digressions. I think it was this juxtaposition that didn’t quite work for me in the first half of the book.

What Worked
The pace picks up in the second half as Izzard talks about the evolution of his career and the things that have become important to him. This seems to be more comfortable territory for Izzard. If, like me, you came upon Izzard as a successful stand-up comedian, it isn’t evident that he originally wanted to do dramatic roles. The path to playing  Wayne Malloy on The Riches or Abel Gideon on Hannibal wound through sketch comedy and street performance before the stand-up stage.

…if I wish to do something, I am quite happy to go back again and again and attack the brick wall of “no” and find a way to push through to the other side.

Izzard has carried this through in his personal life as well. His career as a stand-up comedian was just taking off when he decided to come out as transgendered. It could have destroyed his career or it could have led to becoming a “niche” comedian. Instead, Izzard simply persisted in being an intelligent and absurd. One gets the feeling that if the stand-up thing wouldn’t have worked, Izzard would have pivoted to the next thing. What that might have been is a question for the ages.

Publishing info, my copy: ePub, Blue Rider Press, 2017
Acquired: NetGalley, 5/30/17
Genre: memoir

This is 3/10 Books of Summer!

Review ~ The Princess Diarist

Cover via Goodreads

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

When Carrie Fisher recently discovered the journals she kept during the filming of the first Star Wars movie, she was astonished to see what they had preserved—plaintive love poems, unbridled musings with youthful naiveté, and a vulnerability that she barely recognized. Today, her fame as an author, actress, and pop-culture icon is indisputable, but in 1977, Carrie Fisher was just a teenager with an all-consuming crush on her costar, Harrison Ford.

With these excerpts from her handwritten notebooks, The Princess Diarist is Fisher’s intimate and revealing recollection of what happened on one of the most famous film sets of all time—and what developed behind the scenes. And today, as she reprises her most iconic role for the latest Star Wars trilogy, Fisher also ponders the joys and insanity of celebrity, and the absurdity of a life spawned by Hollywood royalty, only to be surpassed by her own outer-space royalty. (via Goodreads)

I.

I started listening to The Princess Diarist as an audio book sometime back in December or January, but that wasn’t the right time for me. Instead, it wasn’t until I listened to Kevin Smith’s tribute to Carrie Fisher on an episode of SModcast that I finally really wanted to read this book.

II.

Often Doctor Who fans identify their era of Doctor Who with who their Doctor is. Is it Four (Tom Baker)? Or Ten (David Tennant)? James Bond fans do this too. (George Lazenby, anyone?) And maybe Star Wars fans will too. Is Rey your girl? Or Padme? Or Jyn Erso? Or, like me, is Leia your kick-ass, blaster-wielding diplomat alter-ego?

I was three years old when Star Wars came out. I remember seeing it at a drive-in and that was probably more than a year after it came out. I had lots of Star Wars action figures, and all the Leias.

Later in life, I remember being a little disappointed that Carrie Fisher had such a messy life. Forgive me, Carrie, I was young and dumb.

III.

The Princess Diarist is set up into three parts. In the first Fisher tells about her early education and career, getting the job on Star Wars, and how she came to be involved briefly with Harrison Ford.

The second part is the diary she kept during that period. It is, despite the singular situation, very much the diary of a 19-year-old girl. Of course, at the time, Star Wars wasn’t StarWars.  It was just some low-budget sci-fi flick that no one was getting paid very much for. It was a job and Carrie Fisher was an actress who wasn’t even sure she wanted to follow in her celebrity parent’s footsteps.

The third part of the book is Fisher’s musings on the celebrity that Princess Leia brought her. Imagine the nineteen year-old version of yourself being pretty much eternal. Imagine having fans who feel an intimate connection with you due to love of the film. Imagine fans who are a little disappointed that you aren’t entirely Princess Leia.

IV.

I’ll never be a blaster-wielding diplomat princess. I’m never going to be a quick-witted superstar writer either. But I wouldn’t mind being a woman who can age and keep a messy life together with and eye-roll and a glitter bomb. That’s something we can all reasonably aspire to.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle edition, Penguin Publishing Group, November 22, 2016
Acquired: Tempe Overdrive Digital Collection
Genre: memoir

This is .5/10 Books of Summer!

 

Review ~ Presto!

This book was provided to me by Simon & Schuster via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Cover via Goodreads

Presto!: How I Made Over 100 Pounds Disappear and Other Magical Tales by Penn Jillette

An unconventional weight loss tale from an unconventional personality—Penn Jillette tells how he lost 100 pounds with his trademark outrageous sense of humor and biting social commentary that makes this success story anything but ordinary.

Legendary magician Penn Jillette was approaching his sixtieth birthday. Topping 330 pounds and saddled with a systolic blood pressure reading over 200, he knew he was at a dangerous crossroads: if he wanted to see his small children grow up, he needed to change. And then came Crazy Ray. A former NASA scientist and an unconventional, passionate innovator, Ray Cronise saved Penn Jillette’s life with his wild “potato diet.”

In Presto, Jillette takes us along on his journey from skepticism to the inspiring, life-changing momentum that transformed the magician’s body and mind. He describes the process in hilarious detail, as he performs his Las Vegas show, takes meetings with Hollywood executives, hangs out with his celebrity friends and fellow eccentric performers, all while remaining a dedicated husband and father. Throughout, he weaves in his views on sex, religion, and pop culture, making his story a refreshing, genre-busting account. Outspoken, frank, and bitingly clever, Presto is an incisive, rollicking read. (via Goodreads)

I.

Presto!: How I Made 100 Pounds Disappear and Other Magical Tales is not a diet book. Indeed, in the “Disclaimer” section, Penn Jillette makes it clear: don’t take medical advice from a juggler. Instead, this is a food narrative.

We all have a food narrative: what we eat, when we eat, why we eat,  and how we eat. For some, the narrative is short and simple. For others, once health and social conventions get mixed in, it’s a bit more complicated. It’s impossible to read Presto! and not think about my own food narrative.

II.

When I was kid, I bought (or was given) a planner that had a fill-in-the-blank section at the beginning. One of the questions was: “When my family gets together, we _________ .” And I filled in “eat.” Which is a true thing. While my grandparents only lived down the street, any get-together usually involved some sort of food. Fourth of July? Burgers, hot dogs, baked beans, potato salad, chips. Birthdays? Dinner out, cake and ice cream. Christmas? Cookies, cheese & crackers, other assorted nibblies. Random Friday night? Random dessert, or maybe a trip to Taco Bell. Food remains a social thing for me. If I want to spend time with a friend, it’s over lunch or dinner.

I was a skinny kid. That changed when I hit puberty. I stopped running around outside and started spending more time sitting and reading like a good student and a proper adult. My hormones weren’t particularly kind to me either. My family are all big people; I figured that it was fairly inevitable that I would be too. I ate what I thought was a healthy diet (a friend of mine in college boggled at how I seemed to innately balance my meals) and didn’t shirk walking, but my weight gradually increased. It didn’t really bother me, but it also really did.

III.

One of the things that struck me inPresto! is that at his heaviest, Penn Jillette didn’t really feel that he was particularly unhealthy. He was on several blood pressure medications. He was suffering from sleep apnea. He didn’t feel particularly good, but it wasn’t an unlivable state. He had accepted that he was a big guy (he uses a more alliterative blunt term) and that he was playing the hand that genetics had dealt him. That is, until he suffered a serious health crisis. Penn, never one to do things in halfway, decided to take a pretty extreme measure: a diet that included a two week potato fast to jump start his weight loss and reset his sense of taste.

Presto! is written in cable-TV-Penn style, which means it’s solidly NSFW. If you’ve watched Penn & Teller: Bullshit! or ever listened to the Penn’s Sunday School podcast, you know  what I mean. Presto! is full of sex, no drugs, rock & roll, and occasionally magic as well as Penn’s crazy diet journey. Some of the stories felt repetitive to me, probably because I do listen to Penn’s Sunday School, which is the only place Penn’s really mentioned his weight loss prior to this book. And, as much as I generally like him, Penn’s bombastic tone wears on me occasionally. I might have put this book down a couple of times, but then I’d come on a chapter where Penn talks about being alive for his kids or how insanely better he feels instead of only existing in a “livable” state. It was those smaller/bigger notions that made Presto! work for me.

IV.

The way I remember it, there was no particular reason why decided to lose weight aside from I had weight to lose. During my last summer in college, I was working full time on my feet and lost about 10lbs. The next semester I took a physiology class and met Eric. In a sort of parallel to Penn and Ray Cronise, Eric wondered, based on what we’d learned in class about metabolism, if I could lose weight by eating a high-protein low-carb diet. This was about five years before the Atkins diet became popular. I lost another 45, down to about 120lbs. My weight loss numbers here are approximate because, like Penn and like so many others, I didn’t really weigh myself at my heaviest. Also let me say here: Eric never asked me to lose weight, never pressured me. It was mostly, to my recollection, an experiment.

Seventeen years later, I don’t eat the same high protein diet and I’ve, of course, gained some of the weight back. Right now, I’m about 133±2 depending on how active I am. I don’t think there’s one right way to change your food narrative or sustain your narrative if health or looks or whatnot gets in the way. I know that I like running around and playing ultimate frisbee. I can’t imagine that would be as fun if I were carrying around an extra 40lbs. I know I also like donuts and beer and having dinner with family and friends. My narrative, like all of our narratives, continues on.

Publishing info, my copy: eARC, Simon & Schuster, Aug. 2, 2016
Acquired: NetGalley
Genre: memoir

Review ~ I Lie for Money

Cover via Goodreads

I Lie for Money: Candid, Outrageous Stories from a Magician’s Misadventures by Steve Spill

In this funny, irreverent, unique, eccentric memoir, magician Steve Spill reveals how he managed to survive decades inside a rarely profitable, sometimes maddening, but often deliciously rewarding offbeat showbiz profession—magic!
Spill tells of how his tailor grandfather sewed secret pockets in a magician’s tuxedo back in 1910, which started his childhood dream to become a magician. This dream took Spill on a journey that started with him performing, as a young boy, at a “Beauty on a Budget” neighborhood house party to engagements in Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean, to today in Santa Monica, California, where he’s been starring in his own shows since 1998 at Magicopolis, the theater he designed and built himself.

Being a magician has given Spill the opportunity to interact with the world’s most famous and fascinating people. In his memoir, Spill reveals the many unique encounters that his profession has led him to enjoy and endure: hosting Sting as his opening act one night, spending two days on camera with Joan Rivers, and selling tricks to Bob Dylan, as well as encounters with Adam Sandler, Stephen King, and other celebrities.

I Lie for Money is a literary magic show that captures the highs and lows of an extraordinary life that will delight and amaze you with wit and wickedness. This book should be an obligatory read for anyone considering a creative career, and it serves as an inspiration to those who desire to craft an independent life. (via Goodreads)

Steve Spill is a working magician. He’s spent five decades not only honing his magic skills, but his skills as a performer. He’s worked every sort of venue you might associate with magicians…and a few you wouldn’t. He has stories about some of the great magicians of the 20th century and even some celebrity dish. He designed and runs his own theater in LA. All that is interesting and entertaining, but the parts of I Lie for Money that spoke to me weren’t the stories about achievements. They were the stories about failures. Not every performance goes smoothly, and not every trick is a good one. Spill isn’t shy about those things, but his success proves that setbacks aren’t the end of the line. *That* is what makes this book a good read for anyone in a creative endeavor. It’s certainly something I need to be reminded of.

I have a soft spot for ducks (and geese, I suppose). Here’s Steve Spill and the mind reading goose, a performance from the mid-1980s.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle ebook, Skyhorse Publishing, 2015
Acquired: July 20, 2015, Amazon (I bought this book a year ago!)
Genre: memoir

Review ~ Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty

Cover via Goodreads

Most people want to avoid thinking about death, but Caitlin Doughty—a twenty-something with a degree in medieval history and a flair for the macabre—took a job at a crematory, turning morbid curiosity into her life’s work. With an original voice that combines fearless curiosity and mordant wit, Caitlin tells an unusual coming-of-age story full of bizarre encounters, gallows humor, and vivid characters (both living and very dead). Describing how she swept ashes from the machines (and sometimes onto her clothes), and cared for bodies of all shapes and sizes, Caitlin becomes an intrepid explorer in the world of the deceased. Her eye-opening memoir shows how our fear of dying warps our culture and society, and she calls for better ways of dealing with death (and our dead). In the spirit of her popular Web series, “Ask a Mortician,” Caitlin’s engaging narrative style makes this otherwise scary topic both approachable and profound. (via Goodreads)

When asked if there are books that have changed my life, that have caused a paradigm shift in the way I think about something, Mary Roach’s Stiff is high on the list. That might seem to be an odd choice, but Roach’s book on “the curious life of human cadavers” was the first time I had considered what I would prefer to have done with my earthly remains and start having conversations with my loved ones about it. Roach’s book is practical in approach—the writer is a curious investigator into the ways to make the object of a corpse useful post-death rather than the usual burial or cremation.

In Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, Caitlin Doughty moves past the more clinical corpse-as-object point of view. She uses personal memoir to examine what we humans routinely do with our dead and how that reflects our attitudes toward death itself. Because of this Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is probably less for the faint of heart than Stiff. On one hand, when Doughty tells of her work at the crematory, you do get the almost comforting sense that no matter what the job is, it’s a job. On the other, all her stories are personal in nature. She knows the names of the dead and often their circumstances. Those details are in mind when she relates the details of the death industry.

I was familiar with Doughty’s “Ask a Mortician” videos and her Order of the Good Death manifesto before her book came out. Simply, Doughty theorizes (and Roach to some extent, as well) that our very hands-off approach to dealing with the dead is a reflection of our own fear of mortality. Within the last hundred years, the funeral industry has grown and made its services seem necessary—that a dead body is a dangerous thing that should only be taken care of by professionals. We (primarily this is an American “we”) have gladly bought into this notion for better or worse. Doughty’s aim is to educate and to bring about death positivity. Everyone dies eventually, so why should it be something filled with fear or, weirdly, shame?

Does Smoke Gets in Your Eyes do a good job advocating her position? Doughty tries to cover a lot of ground in 270 pages: her own experiences in the industry, some of the history of the industry, other death rituals throughout the world, and her Order of the Good Death philosophies. I think it’s a good addition to her other media work, but I’m not sure that it’s enough of any one of these things to do work beyond an introduction to Doughty herself.

Publishing info, my copy: Overdrive browser app, W. W. Norton & Company, Jul 30, 2015
Acquired: Tempe Library Overdrive Digital collection
Genre: nonfiction, memoir

The Reason I Jump ~ Discussion Part 2

BookClubLogoSpecificBook-1-e1461544983919
Info on The Reason I Jump
Info on the Nonfiction Book Club
My post for Part 1

Questions

What did you think of the short stories Naoki included?

I wasn’t particularly fond of them. They were…short stories written by a thirteen year-old. Also, by the last short story I was really thinking about the issue of translation. Translators make decisions. I’ve read different translations of Pushkin’s poems and been amazed at how different the same poem can be in English. I don’t doubt that Higashida is a smart, well-“spoken,” young man, but I think it’s important to remember that this is a translation.

I know some of us talked about this already, but I’m still curious – what did everyone think of his use of the word “we” to describe his feelings and experiences?

The “we” really bugged me, moreso in the second half when things got more spiritual/nature-oriented—things that seem perhaps more culturally-oriented than autism-oriented. (Also, is the “we” Higashida’s word or Mitchell and Yoshida’s word?)

When talking to my husband about this last night, he commented, “It’s like that story about the autistic kid with the dog. Now, suddenly, every autistic kid needs an animal in their life.”

What did you think of the book overall?

Continue reading “The Reason I Jump ~ Discussion Part 2”