A Qualified Win for "Unqualified", by Anna Faris - Book Review

I’ve always envisioned that Anna Faris– Anna pronounced like “Donna” not like “Manna” – was sweet and gracious. Her book confirms as much. She adores her still happily married parents and credits them with her success, stating repeatedly that their encouragement to pursue the acting gig was what kept her at it. What I didn’t expect was her edginess and guile which, honestly, just made her more likable. I felt like I was sharing a drink with her as she regaled me with stories.

Unqualified
By Anna Faris

Though her book name and mantra is that she’s unqualified to give advice, that is exactly what she does. While she doesn’t have letters behind her name, what she does have is compassion and strong feelings about important topics. But her soft side coexists comfortably with her feminist side. Not at all afraid to call men out on crappy behavior, she’s similarly happy to admit that she loved it when her then husband would send her a huge flower arrangement before every taping of her tv show, “Mom.”

She discusses a broad range of topics including the following: losing her virginity, how terrible she was at dating, managing Hollywood stardom, and how she’s not really a comedic actress. She also has lots to say about love: when it’s right, when it isn’t, whether you should move to be with a guy (who isn’t your husband), the “wedding hoopla”, how to deal with a breakup, and how to make your man into the person you want him to be (you gotta read it to realize she gives solid advice on this one and it’s not about control).

To further demonstrate her likability, she had her soon to be ex-husband, Chris Pratt, write the foreword to the book after they had agreed to divorce. Between that and her words of love to him in her acknowledgements, I finished the book in tears. How can two people who clearly have so much love and respect for one another not have lasted? Well, because they’re people and being famous doesn’t make them any more or less likely to stay together. But, they are clearly good people which makes this book by yet another actress worth a turn.

This is an easy, quick read from a vibrant, caring, and funny woman.

Published:  2017
Publisher:  Dutton

Elizabeth's rating: 3.5 stars

When You're "Born a Crime", by Trevor Noah - Book Review

Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime is fierce and heartbreakingly hilarious, just like he is. The son of an unmarried South African black woman and a much older Swiss man, Noah was literally “born a crime” under South African law. His birth was not by accident; his mother purposefully conceived him knowing full well the difficulties to which it could lead. But Noah’s mother refused to be bound by rules, laws, and religious tenets that did not make sense to her. And she was the definitive architect of Noah’s upbringing and ultimate success.   

The entire book is really an homage to his mom. Even as he portrays her at her harshest, which will be hard for some to read, his reverence for her is ubiquitous. He gives all credit to her. She read to him, encouraged him to learn as many South African languages as he could (plus English, of course) and let him know that he was free to do WHATEVER he wanted in life. She also chased after him A LOT because, in his own words, he was naughty as shit. “We only moved forward and we always moved fast.”  

Trevor, by his own description was ugly and ridiculous looking, but he found a way to use that to his advantage. Being a clown can garner attention and he used that attention to develop industrious business opportunities in some of the poorest neighborhoods in the world. Despite his present polish, in his writing he occasionally reverts to slang, starting sentences with “me and him.” As annoying as this grammatical error is to me, somehow, it’s endearing from Noah. It reminds you of where he’s been and what he’s gone through to get to where he is now.

Through his own life story, Noah tells the more general story of apartheid and the plight of the truly poor in South Africa. Noah realized early on that having money gave you choices. “People don’t want to be rich. They want to be able to choose.” And, the “teach a man to fish” parable? Noah suggests that’s nice, but you need to give him a fishing rod too. He uses his own illegitimate birth to lay out the racial caste system in the country and to demonstrate how his mixed race secured him advantage in some circumstances and utter discrimination in others.   

Although his adolescence was an incredible struggle, Noah infuses humor and camaraderie into his story telling. He may have been the gawky clown, but he had friends and love and, even in the darkest of times, hope. Trevor Noah has been a force to be reckoned with since he was a boy. I expect he will continue to be for as long as he’s around.

Published: 2016
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Elizabeth's rating: 4 ½ stars

Exploring The Bahamas with “Out-Island Doctor”, by Evans W. Cottman - Book Review

Out-Island Doctor is the autobiography of Evans Cottman, starting out as a lonely biology teacher in Indiana. Cottman led a quiet, and by all accounts rather dull, life. His focus was teaching and caring for his aging parents and aunt with whom he lived. Cottman had a strong sense of adventure and hungered to break free from such a conventional lifestyle. Thus begins his exploration and eventual transplant to the exotic islands of the Bahamas.

The story really begins in 1939, when Cottman decided he wanted to visit the out-islands of the Bahamas - lesser inhabited settlements dotting the larger islands and cities. He started a letter writing campaign to commissioners of the islands themselves to arrange visits, and they were very accommodating. In visiting the islands that first summer of 1939, and during subsequent journeys, he came to love the adventure, the climate, and the people. And they returned the admiration for him.

Out-island Doctor
By Evans W. Cottman, Wyatt Blassingame

In discovering his love of his new home, we follow Cottman through turbulent sailing trips, severe seasickness, blistering heat, harsh storms, and insect-ridden abodes. It would be quaint to call his living conditions rustic - they were often in poverty, yet part of the native Bahamian landscape. Eventually, Cottman transitions from summer visits to permanent residence and must determine how to make a living to supplement his modest teachers’ pension.  He settles on medicine, as the remote, out-islands have little or nothing in the way of healthcare, and he takes on a regimen to learn the profession, achieving a doctor’s permit.

Cottman’s story is extraordinary. The physical move to this remote location is one thing, but he continues to surprise by embracing his circumstances - sometimes living in squalor, teaching himself to practice medicine, learning to sail, adventuring the unknown. Cottman continues to bring us along as he builds a home, a profession, and a family, with exceptional determination and perseverance. 

Throughout the book, I often questioned his sanity. However, I couldn’t help but admire his drive to chase his dream. While not a writing masterpiece by any means, the tale is an interesting one of life-changing events and a happy outcome. If you have any interest in the Bahamas, adventure, or simply overcoming the odds, Out-Island Doctor may be a fun read for you.

Published: 1963 / 1989
Publisher: E.P. Dutton & Co. / Media Publishing

Vickie’s rating: 3 stars 

A Great Sports Memoir in "Slow Getting Up: A Story of NFL Survival from the Bottom of the Pile", by Nate Jackson - Book Review

This is a true football story. Slow Getting Up: A Story of NFL Survival from the Bottom of the Pile is the memoir of a veteran player. I picked this book up after recently seeing the tail end of an interview with author Nate Jackson, and the commentator mentioned the book. I’m a football fan, but as an east-coaster, I’ve never heard of Nate Jackson, tight end for the Denver Broncos for six years, and with the San Francisco 49ers before that. So as we welcome in a new season, I thought I’d give it a shot, expecting little.  I got a lot.

It was a nice surprise that Jackson can write (without a ghost writer). Throughout his career, he took to writing as an outlet. After his NFL career ended, he enrolled in writing classes and pens football-oriented articles for Deadspin and other publications. Lucky for us, out of his articles emerged his memoir and a book deal.

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Love Life, by Rob Lowe - Book Review

Knowing Rob Lowe as the gorgeous Brat Pack bad boy with a sex tape that almost derailed his career, I began Love Life, Lowe’s most recent autobiography, with low expectations. But this book changed my mind entirely. Intellectual, insightful and funny, Lowe uses his life experiences to give his reader tips for living a fuller and richer life and shows how he’s managed to navigate the Hollywood world with his family, mind and sobriety in tact.

Love Life
By Rob Lowe

Lowe relishes in the successes of his career but is also quick to point out the one offs. Turning down the role of Dr. Derek Shepard on Grey’s Anatomy to star on a show that was cancelled almost immediately might seem a failure to most. But to Lowe, it was a learning experience that positioned him for the next right role; a nine year stint on Parks & Recreation as the consummate optimist, Chris Trager.

Emphasizing the significance he places on being a dad and crediting his wife for his biggest successes in life, he shows his true heart lies with his family. His chapter about taking his eldest son to college will leave you teary eyed.

Meanwhile, his anecdotes about his first trip to the Playboy Mansion, his beyond awkward ‘love scene’ with Jewel and his off screen antics with Matt Damon on the set of Behind the Candelabra are laugh out loud funny.

Lowe is not without a touch of arrogance about his successes in show biz but, seriously, would we expect any different from a man who truly seems to get better looking with age? He also had me writing down some of his sayings in my journal, poignant to the last page. “Be creative in adding drama and scope to your life,” he says, and through his prose demonstrated he did just that for himself. 

Published:  2015
Publisher:  Simon & Schuster

Elizabeth's Rating: 4 Stars