Category Archives: Biographies and Memoirs

Review: The Narrow Door, by Paul Lisicky

indexWhen I first tucked into Paul Lisicky’s new memoir The Narrow Door, I assumed that it would be a tribute to his late writer friend Denise Gess, who lost her battle to cancer in 2009.  But we soon learn that Lisicky’s loss of Denise is compounded by a deteriorating relationship with his partner of sixteen years, poet Mark Doty.  Without veering into overly maudlin territory, Lisicky uses this perfect storm of catastrophes to reflect on losses of all magnitudes.  It is the disasters beyond our power that Lisicky fixates on most—natural disasters, the senseless murder of Marvin Gaye—as his own surroundings spiral out of control.  Sound like a downer?  True to its title, the book does offer a shaft of light through the narrow door.  Beyond loss and pain, there is always the possibility of something better.  Recommended for those who enjoyed Ann Patchett’s This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, or Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams.

RATING: * * * * Very, very good

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Reviewed by: Susannah B.

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Review: Yes Please, by Amy Poehler

Did you know that Amy Poehler was born right here in Newton? In her memoir, Yes Please, Poehler shares her own personal anecdotes of growing up in nearby Burlington, Massachusetts, attending Boston College and going on to her comedy career at the Upright Citizens Brigade and Saturday Night Live. Poehler also gives her audience a look into her personal life as an adult as well, talking about her marriage to Will Arnett as well as being a mother to two small boys. This memoir is candidly refined and will give you insight into Poehler’s life without being an expose of her life in celebrity life in Hollywood.If you enjoy Amy Poehler on screen, you will surely enjoy Poehler on the page. The audiobook, playaway or digital audiobook version of this book is highly recommended, as Poehler reads it herself, and it is with hearing her voice that her words really come to life.

ADDITIONAL INFO: Through OverDrive, you can download the digital audiobook copy.

RATING: * * * A good read

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Reviewed by: Laura

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Review: The Life and Works of Chopin, by Jeremy Siepmann

This is a set of 4 CDs that alternately feature Chopin’s biography and his music. It really is an easy and interesting way to learn more about the 19th century’s greatest composer for the piano. Born in Poland, he lived the majority of his life in Paris. He was quite a dandy with his white gloves and the daily services of a hairdresser. Most of his income came from the piano lessons he gave to the well-to-do daughters of the Parisian upper class. He died in Paris at the age of 39, probably from tuberculosis.

RATING: * * * A good read

Reviewed by: kh

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Review: Shakespeare: The World as Stage, by Bill Bryson

This volume is one of the Eminent Lives series by Harper Collins Publishers. At 250 pages or less, they are much shorter that most of the currently produced biographies. Bryson lays out the known facts of Shakespeare’s life and skewers some of the popular myths concerning the Bard of Avon, including a chapter on why William Shakespeare actually wrote his own plays. He is enthusiastic about seeing the plays in production and not just reading them. Actors bring the plays to life and make us enjoy and appreciate Shakespeare in spite of the 400 years that separates us from his time in Elizabethan and Jacobean England.

RATING: * * * * Very, very good

Reviewed by: kh

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Review: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou

I read this book several years ago and just listened to the book on CD version which was read by the author. Angelou with her background as an actress and poet gives an excellent reading of her work. This is the first of the eventual seven volumes she wrote about her fascinating life. This book is often found on high school reading lists and is one of the most challenged. Angelou, born in 1928, grew up in the pre-Civil Rights era in Stamps, Arkansas, St. Louis and San Francisco. The blatant, institutional racism of that time is graphically described. The author finds strength in her family, especially her mother, grandmother and brother and in her love and studies of literature including Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe and Paul Laurence Dunbar.

RATING: * * * * Very, very good

Reviewed by: kh

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Review: Never Turn Your Back on an Angus Cow: My Life as a Country Vet, by Dr. Jan Pol, with David Fisher

I enjoy Dr. Pol’s reality TV show, “The Incredible Dr. Pol” on the Nat Geo Wild channel. This book sounds like Dr. Pol had several conversations with co-author Fisher who then whipped the material into publishable shape. Dr. Pol tells about his youth in the Netherlands, his veterinary education there, and how he ended up in rural Weidman, Michigan, where he has practiced since 1981. The practice is a mixture of large (cows, horses, llamas, pigs, alpacas etc.) and small animal patients. Dr. Pol practices “old-fashioned” veterinary medicine; plenty of controversy about that on the Web. This book was not as funny or endearing as the one by James Herriot who was a vet in Great Britain after World War II, but I did like it.

RATING: * * * A good read

Reviewed by: kh

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Review: Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson

I liked this book more than I thought I would. Isaacson covers Jobs’s personal and pre-Apple life but the focus is on his role in developing Apple, Pixar and NeXT as companies and the beautifully designed products he and his team were responsible for. As a person Jobs certainly had significant shortcomings with mean, unfeeling behaviors toward his subordinates and temper tantrums regularly thrown when things didn’t go his way in such matters as time lines for new products. However on the business-computer side Jobs did grasp the significance of breakthroughs like the graphical user interface, the desktop we are all familiar with today that was originally developed by Xerox at their Palo Alto Research Center. I enjoyed this book that recounts the personal computer history of our times and the way that computers and other electronic devices (like the iPod, iPad and iTouch) have transformed our lives.

RATING: * * * * Very, very good

Reviewed by: kh

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