Confession: I don’t read enough. Worse, I don’t read well. I’m always anxious about getting to good sections or flipping past unnecessary text, and I lose the fun of reading, uh, for fun. That’s why I’ve come up with a quick summer reading list that I think the AfterElton demographic will love specifically. These five books have come out within the past year, they’re all well-reviewed, and they’re all as titllating and flavorful as an average Matt Bomer photo shoot. I say we give these tomes a whirl.
I’ve chosen non-fiction, entertainment biz selections only. We’re all still compulsively into that stuff, right? I sure am.
1. Diane Keaton, Then Again
Description: The Oscar-winning actress writes candidly about her inspiring mother, her self-consciousness, her harrowing battle with bulimia, and famous paramours including Woody Allen and Warren Beatty.
Why We Care: Among celebrities, Diane Keaton’s always been one of the more private stars, so it’s surprising to learn that she’s released a very revealing memoir — and that she has a very specific reason for doing so. Speaking of her mother’s own unfulfilled desire to write a memoir, Keaton says, “I wish she had. And, because she didn’t, I’ve written not my memoir but ours.” Sentimentality gives way to eye-popping personal recollections, including — wait for it — complete lists of foods she consumed and purged as a bulimic in the ’70s. Dinner, she says, would routinely include “a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, several orders of chips with blue cheese and ketchup, a couple of TV dinners, chocolate-covered almonds, a large bottle of 7Up, a pound of peanut brittle, M&Ms, mango juice, one Sara Lee pound cake, and three frozen banana-cream pies.” WHAT. HELP. S.O.S. Unbelievable. The book manages to be a compelling testatment to her mother and a great read for fanatics of celebrity culture. It’s as sensitive or star-studded as you want it to be. And bulimia-y.
2. The Age of Movies: Selected Writings of Pauline Kael (edited by Sanford Schwartz)
Description: A collection of the legendary film reviewer’s smart, often incendiary critiques, writings and essays.
Why We Care: It’s been so long since I picked up an anthology I truly sat down and read. I have to be completely signed on to the author as a persona in order to care, you know? It can’t just be somebody talented; they’ve gotta be special. I bought a Dorothy Parker collection some years ago (“Time doth flit; oh, sh*t.”), and I find myself returning most often to her play reviews — gloriously scathing writeups that predate the work of the kickass Pauline Kael. Kael’s movie reviews are like scholarly, equally unpretentious expansions of Parker’s style, and I love seeing her exercise total literary control when writing about some of the best movies at the time of their release. Her Bonnie and Clyde essay is legendary, but I love, love, love her analysis of Julia, which is perhaps the Jane Fonda movie I stil think about most. Speaking of Fonda as playwright Lillian Hellman, Kael says, “Bette Davis in all her movies put together couldn’t have smoked this much — and Fonda gets away with it. It’s in character. She creates a driven, embattled woman — a woman overprepared to fight back.” YES.
3. Frank Langella, Dropped Names
Description: The Tony-winning, Oscar-nominated Frost/Nixon actor talks about fellow (often more famous) actors and spares no detail in discussing his bisexual escapades with, oh, most of them.
Why We Care: God, I love sleazy namedropping. I love when a celeb just commits, throws you 100 tales of 100 different Hollywood weirdos, and feels no shame over it. Langella loves talking about his unyielding horniness, and that’s clearly entertaining, but I can’t get enough of the wacky dalliances themselves. A threeway with Raul Julia and Jill Clayburgh? Check. A request from Anthony Perkins to drop his drawers? Check. And he seems to have a great time calling legends like Richard Burton “a crushing bore.” It’s all wonderful. Let’s read this one in a circle together.
4. Scotty Bowers, Full Service
Description: Starting in the late ’40s, Bowers arranged secretive gay trysts for Hollywood’s elite actors and luminaries. And he’s had more than a few (hundred?) himself. Here, over 60 years after he started as a pimp, the unassuming gent opens up about all of his famous tricks.
Why We Care: OK, so this doesn’t have the literary sizzle of Langella’s tell-all, but it does have some ASTOUNDING stories. Bowers set up Katharine Hepburn with hundreds of lesbian lovers and hooked up with everyone from Elizabeth Taylor to Montgomery Clift.
Did I say astounding? I did. Hope you aren’t a fan of Tyrone Power, because you won’t be able to watch Witness for the Prosecution again once you hear what HE’s into.
There will probably be no better, more comprehensive detailing of Hollywood’s gay underbelly, so snatch this up.
5. Carole King, A Natural Woman
Description: The legendary singer-songwriter tells her life story, opens up about her marriage to collaborator Gerry Goffin, and takes into the writing of her most beloved alum Tapestry.
Why We Care: Anyone else here completely fascinated by American songwriting history? I loooove hearing about Tin Pan Alley of the ’20s and ’30s (Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, etc.), or the Brill Building era of the ’50s and ’60s that produced hits for everyone from girl groups to teen idols. The idea of songwriters plugging away in obscurity, like dock-workers, trying to craft Billboard hits is just a wild idea to me. One Brill Building songwriter was Carole King, who penned her first #1 hit (“Will You Love Me Tomorrow” by the Shirelles) when she was 19 years old. I’d say that King’s songwriting was a turning point in popular music, when ballads and breakup tunes suddenly became articulate and mature. “It’s Too Late” is still the best breakup song ever — sweet and sad and triumphant and adult. As her blockbuster album Tapestry proved in ’71, no one is better equipped to sell Carole King’s sentiments than Carole King herself. Can’t wait to find out if Aretha Franklin’s scene-stealing work on “(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman” at VH1’s Divas Live was inspiring or traumatizing!
What are you reading this summer? I’ll join you, dammit.