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Home. A Memoir of My Early Years by Julie Andrews

Next in line for memoirs by inspiring female public figures. To not take away the many tantalizing and surprising bits, it was a filling, eye-opening read from an artist known not only for her unique singing voice, but cheery public image. I grew up with watching The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins, and while I was mesmerized by Julie Andrews’ singing, since I was little I had always noticed, that when she smiled, her smile reached her eyes. Not many people have that quality. That’s what makes it all the more fascinating, as well as grounding, to discover the hardships that she faced throughout her childhood and youth, filled with work. Despite the very real challenges in her life, what stands out is her enjoyment of life and people, her matter-of-fact descriptions of hard times, and the seemingly natural taking on of staggering responsibility for both her family and her career. Never once does she turn away, and when she describes her theater experience, you get the sense that she was simply where she was meant to be. Reading and writing defined her almost as much as singing did, in fact. Whatever life threw her way, and as much as she had to carry on her shoulders even when she was just a girl, she was always capable of having fun.

She also presents valuable insights on the ever current topic of what it’s like for a woman to work in the entertainment industry, and some experiences that she recounts are not that far removed from what we hear about today. One of the passages that I couldn’t stop thinking about after reading it (after the first preview of the US performance of My Fair Lady): “Everyone rushed to Rex’s dressing room to congratulate him. I slumped in my chair, thinking, ‘I don’t believe we did it…’ at which point my door was flung open and Cecil Beaton flew in. The little hat that I wore with the yellow suit was lying on my dressing table. It was an oval shape and flat like a saucer. In he haste of pinning up my hair and the hat going on my head in the quick change, it had been put on back to front. It was the only thing that night that hadn’t been done correctly. Beaton picked up the hat and slammed it on to my had. ‘Not that way, you silly bitch – this way!’ he snapped. I nearly burst into tears.”

If you’re wondering, she doesn’t elaborate any further on this incident, or recount how she felt when she got home, or indeed the next day. But as she says later in the book, “When actors work together there is a tacit understanding that the show and its message are what matters above all else. Personal issues are set aside once the curtain is up.”

Cue massive Sound of Music nostalgia (though she rarely mentions the film in her memoir).

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The Only Pirate at the Party. By Lindsey Stirling and Brooke S. Passey

Lindsey Stirling is one of my favourite artists on the planet. So when I heard that she was co-writing a memoir with her sister, I knew at once that I would have to get my hands on it. It must have been the fastest pre-order I ever placed. When it arrived, I read it in a day.

The book is a crowd-pleaser for her fans, just as her performances are. It’s all that Lindsey is herself: lively, warm, attentive, dedicated and sparklingly engaging. It’s also a written extension of her talent to observe, process and create.

The relationship with her sister and co-author Brooke is a guiding factor throughout her life, work and the book. In fact, some of the most interesting chapters, besides the ones about her work and life as a performing artist, are those where she talks about her family and siblings. The searing depiction of the influence of her eating disorder on her life and how she reclaimed being a sister left me floored, blinking back tears.

I nearly jumped when I read the the title Chapter on my Young and Carefree Drug/ Alcohol Escapades – was there something I had missed? To everyone’s relief, and subtly pointing out certain expectations regarding famous people, Lindsey writes, “I have never done drugs or consumed alcohol, so this chapter is really short.”

As happy and as positive both her personality and her work are (not without effort), several chapters of the book are darkly honest, though while being direct, the stories and struggles Lindsey touches on are not delivered to shock – they are part of the journey that led her to being herself, and she chose to include them.

One can’t help feeling admiration for the amount of work Lindsey put in, continuing to tour and make videos while working on the book with her sister, especially considering the devastating loss of her keyboarder and close friend Jason Gaviati to cancer shortly before the book was published.

The Only Pirate at the Party¬†is full of moments both heart-wrenching and endearingly funny. There were times when I wanted to shout, “Lindsey! Don’t base anything you do on some of those mean comments! And certainly not on those reviews in the paper! They just don’t get it!” or “Don’t you see, those other musicians were just jealous of you!”

I was very fortunate to see Lindsey play live two years ago. The keen feeling for beauty that she carries inside herself translates not only to her art, but to the way the book is written. By the end of it you understand who this girl is, and why she is the only pirate at the party.

I hope she will always know just how incredibly, uniquely gifted she is.

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Why Not Me? By Mindy Kaling

A logical sequel to reading Kaling’s first book was reading her second. Luckily it had already come out by the time I finished Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns).

Why Not Me? is described as a “second coming-of-age”, and in the modern world it might as well be. Kaling started writing about her life and work experiences in her first book, and she made it clear at the end of it that she wasn’t finished. Which was nice to read – you wanted to hear more from her. “If my childhood, teens, and twenties were about wanting people to like me, now I want people to know me. So, this is a start.”

While still familiarly funny and recognizable in Kaling’s both snappy and flowing prose, the book makes a more paced, thoughtful impression. The simple dedication, “For my mother”, and subsequent poignant chapter are an example of further examining deep and tested relationships that filled the author’s life. Youth and experiences described in Kaling’s first book are still not at all far away, but she is at a different level of depth. She also takes a more detailed look at phases that were mentioned in the prequel.

One of my favourite chapters was A Day in the Life of Mindy Kaling, because it answered the questions all readers probably have when buying a book of this kind. You have a voice, a vision, an identity – how do you do the things you do? How do you see life and work? What is it like beyond what we see of you in public?

But my absolute favourite is 4 A.M. Worries. This is another chapter in which Kaling is plainly vulnerable and simply writes down things that many people can identify with. Perhaps not always at 4 A.M., but Kaling nails describing those deep-seated, sometimes hidden worries so well, you almost think you just spent an hour talking to her.

But even those 4 A.M. worries don’t diminish the sassy, intelligent optimism Kaling exhibits. The coming-of-age does take place, yet again. “And these days, I find I’m caring less and less about what people think of me. Maybe it’s my age, maybe it’s my security in my career, maybe it’s because I’m skrilla flush with that dollah-dollah-bill-y’all, but if I had to identify my overall feeling these days, it’s much more “Eh, screw it. Here’s how I really feel.”

Here’s how I really feel: I would read this one again too.

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Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

The New York Times review quote on the cover, while intentionally good, only makes me disagree with it. Mindy Kaling is not “like Tina Fey’s little sister.” Mindy Kaling is Mindy Kaling.

Kaling herself pokes fun at this in her opening chapter. Answering a probably typical question about her book, “This sounds okay, but not as good as Tina Fey’s book. Why isn’t this more like Tina Fey’s book?”she says, “I know, man. Tina’s awesome.”

One of the most pleasant impressions from this book was of intelligence and humour, which permeated the pages, easily mixing and trading places with each other in Kaling’s written delivery. She is truthful and frank, but, to a reader’s relief, neither coarse nor crude.

Most good memoirs seem to have a common denominator: witty and natural self-deprecation. Which in turn might also be a form of owning being bullied in the past, another thing the authors of said memoirs often have in common. Kaling is able to laugh at parts of her childhood and youth which are, from a matter-of-fact point of view, not funny at all, but she is in control of her narrative and easily shares the laughter with her readers. A description of a horrifying incident had me in unexpected stitches: “The sight of a fat child falling, lifeless, from a high distance into a pond, is kind of an amazing sight, I’ll bet.” More so it wasn’t due to the wording, but to the fact that Kaling was being humorous and still making room for a serious statement in an enganging way.

She pauses plenty of times for self-reflection, and you wait for it every now and then, you come to expect that paragraph that makes you either nod or shake your head, but you understand it. “A note about me: I do not think stress is a legitimate topic of conversation, in public anyway. No one ever wants to hear how stressed out anyone else is, because most of the time everyone is stressed out. Going on and on in detail about how stressed out I am isn’t conversation. It’ll never lead anywhere. No one is going to say, “Wow, Mindy, you really have it especially bad. I have heard some stories of stress, but this just takes the cake.

Kaling is yet another female voice with a sense of self expressing hope for something. When reading, inner responses range from, “Girl, why?!” to “Yes, same here!” “I’m kind of a mess,” she admits candidly. But a successful, hard-working, driven mess. Taken separately from the TV shows she was involved in, the book in itself also showcases how Kaling creates and carries her own project. She is definitely as chatty as she is known to be, but her chatter is clear-spoken and attention-grabbing.

An ultimately amusing and touching non-fiction read, which I would pick up again.

 

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Grace’s Guide. The Art of Pretending to be a Grown-Up

As I’ve said before, I’m on a memoir/ non-fiction kick right now, so the latest read in my stack selection was the aforementioned book by Grace Helbig. The Internet knows of her YouTube channel, it’s Grace, as do I.

The book is fun to look at. Even before you start reading, you leaf through it to see all the what you quickly realize to be quintessentially Grace photos and inserts. A bit of colour never hurt, and for someone who still loves holding an actual book copy, this one was enjoyable to pick up.

Grace’s personality and the characteristics that set her channel and her content in general apart reflect in the structure of the book – the self-proclaimed love for to-do lists is evident in every chapter. As a fellow list-maker I enjoyed this immensely, especially since her lists were in line with what (I think) she wanted to say in the book, thought through and clear. They were also summarized at the end with amusing acronyms that softened and further humorized the “self-help” part. “How to throw an adult party: Fist Biscuit.”

In fact, regarding the self-help genre/ category, Grace is frank and disarming in her foreward, making it clear that this is not another one of those books: “What you’re about to read is (hopefully) a fun and funny Millenial’s handbook… I’m going to try to help you with school, work, social activities and lifestyle stuff to the best of my dubious abilities. Trust me, I don’t have definitive answers, but I do have plenty of misadventures and lessons learned the hard way to share.”

Finally, not a book that promises (and then fails to deliver on) immediate success in something without practical tips, or rocketing to sky-high levels of whatever the author thinks you should aim at. Grace’s Guide is an honest, thoughtful, funny, individual, but very relatable look at being yourself while navigating life, and growing without compromising your core (though not grossing or freaking people out while doing that is also something she succesfully stresses).

It’s interesting to see what seems to be an increasing trend towards writing down life, including the neurotic moments, the worries, the awkwardness, the daily struggles and concerns modern society brings with it, while at the same time making clear that all this does not take away the possibility of enjoying yourself. Those I-know-this-too moments occur regularly while reading Grace’s Guide.

And iust like the rest of us, Grace also has screws left over when she finishes assembling a piece of furniture from IKEA.

“Being an adult is both super cool and super scary.”

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