Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Three Celebrity Memoirs That Are Worth Your Time

In the previous post, I expressed hope but skepticism about Shonda Rhimes' upcoming book, Year Of Yes. I really want it to be good and honest and engaging and not consumer-driven "inspirational" claptrap. But I do have hope, because I have read memoirs by celebrities that are elegantly written, insightful, and tell a great story.

Here are three of my favorites.

Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi

De Rossi honestly and poignantly recounts her life in the business of modeling and acting (and why she changed her name). The main thread of the book is her struggle with body image and eating disorders. It's wonderful reading because she captures the narrative within the frame of the dysfunctional mind. She's a subtly unreliable narrator when it comes to her body.

One revealing example occurs while de Rossi is being photographed for a magazine. The photographer complements her body, saying how beautiful and healthy she is, adding that he sees a lot of sick bodies in the studio. Hearing this, de Rossi thinks to herself: I gotta get me one of those sick bodies.

From the Los Angeles Times:
In prose as simply elegant — and as powerful — as a little black dress, De Rossi weaves together three themes — the impact of a loving, but lonely girlhood as the child of a single mother, the corrosive effect of constant doubts about her appearance and the internal struggle over her sexuality

Find Me by Rosie O'Donnell

Engagingly frank and insightful, O'Donnell describes her experience getting to know a teenage girl with serious problems and doing everything she can--well beyond what was healthy--to help her. What makes the story compelling is O'Donnell's obvious struggle with setting emotional boundaries coupled with a genuine desire to help. She tells us how this dysfunctional relationship played out with just enough authorial reflection to let us know that she knows it's dysfunctional. 

But what makes this brief book extraordinary by any standard is that it captures the way a core self, a true I, can appear in the midst of the most broken life. In the kind of lean, clean, witty prose that comes only with complete honesty, Rosie imparts some unexpected truths.

Not My Father's Son by Alan Cumming

I picked this up because I love this guy. Super-talented, great accent, cute as hell. I was hoping for a great story and I was not disappointed.

Cumming had a tough childhood being regularly beaten by his father. In some cases, the beatings were brutal, causing serious bodily damage; once he was sure his father was going to kill him. While trying to survive this violence and constant fear, he makes plans to become an actor and finds his way into a performing arts school. After he finds success, he discovers secrets about his family that begin to place his parents' behavior in context, bringing new clarity to his experience.

Cumming writes with sincerity, honesty, and no sense of victimhood. It's a stunning story.

From the Chicago Tribune:
Not My Father's Son moves elegantly and with an occasional dash of humor between Cumming's childhood and the revelations of the more recent past.

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