Tag Archives: biography

A seasoned film critic eyes TV’s biography

At 75, David Thomson is the sultan of cinema criticism. British-born but long based in America, he is the author of nearly two dozen film-related books including “Moments that Made the Movies,” “’Have You Seen…?’: A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films” and “The New Biographical Dictionary of Film.”

Now Thomson has switched his gaze, and his analysis, to the TV medium.

In “Television: A Biography” (Thames & Hudson, $34.95), David Thomson focuses on TV from its individual genres to its broad social impact during the past 70 years. As ever, his writing is bright, puckish and reader-friendly.

At 400 pages, the book is a bit weighty, but not the prose.

But what made Thomson, who had never before put his take on TV between covers, decide to change channels? During a recent interview, he explained.

“I was at a point where I felt that the movies were not really going anywhere very exciting, and that if you were looking for the best American movies, you probably needed to look at television. ‘The Wire,’ ‘The Sopranos,’ ‘Breaking Bad’ — they were so much more ambitious than anything made for theaters.

So I began to develop an historical perspective on TV that I had had on the movies for a long time. I’m much more interested now in thinking about and writing about TV than the movies.”


“You may have watched a lot of TV but never thought systematically about it. I wanted to do a book which would give you a sense that the totality of the medium had been addressed. Not covered, but addressed. And if you have never watched television, after you read this book I think you can say, ‘I understand what television is.””


“Our relationship with TV is different than with almost any medium we’ve had before. It’s all well and good for something on TV to be so riveting that you don’t want to miss a moment. But when you tune in to watch one show, you may end up just watching TV overall. There’s such a lot on television that is sort of tidal — it just washes in and out, over you. You turn it on like you would turn on a light, and you may be doing other things. But even if you’re not watching, it enters into you in ambient ways.”


Thomson, film’s consummate list-maker, shared “off the top of my head” a few pick TV hits:

“Monty Python’s Flying Circus” … the BBC version of “The Singing Detective” … live coverage of the funeral of President John F. Kennedy … “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” … “a couple of episodes of ‘All in the Family’ where Edith is just sublime” … the ESPN documentary series “O.J.: Made in America,” which he calls “a major work” … and, of course, “Breaking Bad.”

“But this time tomorrow,” he cautions, “I would revise the whole list.”


“With Donald Trump in the White House, I think we’re going to get more of the same as with the campaign: His administration will have to be judged as an ongoing TV show. He is a television person, so I think it’s going to be a presidency of shows and moments. My instinct is, in terms of policy, he’s doing to be dreadfully disappointing to his supporters. But on TV, I think it’s going to be amazing _ until it becomes grotesque.”


“We watch stories and stars, but it’s more and more evident that, as TV viewers, we go where the technology takes us. My sense of television is that technology has always driven the whole thing, and I think that will continue. I think more sophisticated, interesting fusions of what we still call television with the computer are going to occur. That will be more important than any sort of new genre or new narrative form in entertainment. And I see the end of the movie house. But it’s inevitable that a cellphone will be built into our hands. So maybe a screen could be implanted in our heads. I think that will happen!”


Getting it right: Writing your own obituary

When Edna Briggs dies, she doesn’t want a well-meaning loved one to whitewash the ups and downs of her life. To avoid that, she is writing her own obituary.

Briggs, who is 69 and lives in Los Angeles, wants her farewell to offer insights into why her life turned out the way it did. Her two children might not understand how certain events — her father forbidding her from trying for a scholarship to Howard University, for example, or the pride of earning a prestigious internship — affected her path, so she’s handling it herself.

“I will describe my life the way I want it described,” says Briggs, a health care administrator and passionate genealogist. “I believe in having the final say.”

It’s an idea with which many Baby Boomers can identify, says Katie Falzone, spokeswoman for Legacy.com, a website that partners with newspapers and funeral homes to publish obituaries.

“Baby Boomers are comfortable talking about themselves in a way that previous generations never did,” says Falzone. “They’re used to defining their lives,” and to challenging the status quo.

While less than 1 percent of the obituaries on the site are self-written, the number is growing, she says.

Last year, the site ran about 525 self-penned obits, compared to only about 165 a decade ago.

The number has doubled in the last five years.

Who better to recount your story than yourself, says Sarah White, a writing coach in Madison, Wisconsin, who teaches a “selfie obituary” writing class online and at senior centers and libraries.

“Who knows all the parts of your life? Your children know you as a parent. Your co-workers know you professionally. Your spouse probably knows very little about your life at work. They say your siblings are the people with you your whole life,” she says. “I wouldn’t leave this up to my siblings. They don’t know anything about me.”

Kerry Kruckmeyer, who died unexpectedly in April, wrote the obituary that recently appeared about him in the Arizona Daily Star.

“I thought this would be different, amusing and enjoyable,” he wrote. He concluded that he had lived “a very good and blessed life for which I am most thankful.”

Kruckmeyer had distributed the document to his family about a decade ago, says his brother, Korey Kruckmeyer of Tucson, Arizona. “It’s typical of him,” Korey says. “It reflects his sense of humor.”

And the self-written obituary struck a chord with readers. “I’ve gotten a bunch of calls from people who don’t know me or Kerry just wanting to talk about it,” Korey Kruckmeyer says.

Writing such an essay — whether or not it’s actually published someday as an obituary — can be “very affirming,” White says. “It always seems to add up to more than the person realized.”

The writing process got Jim Weber of Tumwater, Washington, thinking about his future as well as his past.

“You may find you have some unfinished business,” says Weber, 60. “It may cause you to make decisions about how you want to spend the rest of your life.”

In his self-written obituary, he notes a strained relationship that he would like to see healed. He also pokes fun at his life, connecting his pursuit of a law degree to hours spent watching “Perry Mason” with his mother, and pointing out that he met his “third and final wife” in the freezer section of the local grocery.

White’s own selfie obituary highlights her love of traveling with her husband, her career as a commercial artist and writer, and her passion for her pets and the outdoors. “She also camped frequently in Wisconsin’s north woods,” she writes, “but would not reveal her favorite campsite even upon her deathbed.”

Putting your life down on paper is also an opportunity to share family history with future generations, she said. “I think people should leave a record of their life,” she says. “Be the ancestor you wish you had.”

Taking White’s class made Pattie Whitehouse of Victoria, British Columbia, realize she had a lot she wanted to say. She ended up with a document of more than 900 words, and intends to continue editing until she meets her ultimate deadline. Whitehouse injected some humor in the piece, which focuses on her passion for the environment. For now, the final line reads: “As she wished, Pattie’s remains were chipped and used as mulch.”

“Which tells you a lot about me,” the 65-year-old says. “The people who know me will recognize me in it.”

She plans to give the document to her partner, Robert, and her sisters to distribute upon her death.

Briggs, a widow, is putting everything in writing because her daughter doesn’t want to discuss the matter, she says. As a genealogist, Briggs says, she has seen too many erroneous obituaries. She also knows that handling the task now will make things easier for her daughter when she passes.

Alan Gelb, 66, of Chatham, New York, began thinking about preparing his final words when he started attending more funerals.

“When I would go to services, I found myself missing the voice of the person who was not with us,” he says.

Gelb, who helps high school students draft college entrance essays, decided that older adults could benefit from a similar task. In his book, “Having the Last Say: Capturing Your Legacy in One Small Story” (Tarcher Books, 2015), he encourages readers to write a story that captures some of their core values, to pass it on to future generations. Gelb recommends having the story read at your funeral. The exercise is a good segue into obituary writing, he says.

“Writing your own obituary is sort of like voting for yourself whenßyou run for office,” he says. “It may be a bit self-serving but it is fully warranted, and it can make all the difference.”

Rich season of fiction expected this fall

For the weightiest novel this fall, or most any season, Alan Moore has the grandest ambition.

“The intention was to somehow combine four or five different books or impulses for books into one coherent whole,” the author known for the graphic novels Watchmen and V for Vendetta says of Jerusalem, a 1,266 page words-only union of science and fantasy that references everyone from Albert Einstein to Oliver Cromwell.

Moore worked a decade on his all-encompassing tale, set in his native Northampton, England.

“This is the book in which I have written most directly about the things that are most central to my life, these being my family and the place that I emerged from. By making the narrative so personal and specific I hoped to conjure a kind of universality, an evocation of the families and places that we all come from at some point in our ancestry, irrespective of who or where we are, but the fact remains that the materials of ‘Jerusalem’ come from a source very close to me.”


Big books

Fall is the time for “big books,” whatever the page length, and some of the top fiction authors from around the world have new works coming, including: Ian McEwan, Zadie Smith, Margaret Atwood, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Rabih Alameddine, Emma Donoghue, Jonathan Safran Foer and Michael Chabon.

Ann Patchett, owner of Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee, looks forward to selling Jacqueline Woodson’s autobiographical novel Another Brooklyn and Colson Whitehead’s celebrated, Oprah Winfrey-endorsed historical novel about slavery, The Underground Railroad.

Ann Patchett, the author, will be promoting her novel Commonwealth, although she’ll keep it low-key at Parnassus Books.

“I’ll sign them, put them in a linen bag, send them off with a picture of my dog Sparky. Sparky is the ‘value added’ element,” she says.

Another author-book store owner, Jeff Kinney, has completed Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Double Down, the 11th installment in his multimillion selling series. He will tour worldwide on behalf of Double Down, but at Kinney’s An Unlikely Story, in Plainville, Massachusetts, the message is “try not to overdo it on the Wimpy Kid front.”

“We have two small roller units with my books, and that’s about it. I don’t think someone coming off the street would know I own the bookstore if they hadn’t heard beforehand,” Kinney said.

Whitehead’s novel is among several notable accounts of black life, past and present.

Wesley Lowery’s They Can’t Kill Us All is The Washington Post reporter’s book on the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Fire This Time, edited by Jesmyn Ward, includes essays and poems on race by Isabel Wilkerson, Kevin Young and 16 others.

Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures, which has been adapted for a feature film, documents the historic contributions made by black women mathematicians to the country’s space program.

Douglas R. Egerton’s Thunder at the Gates tells of the black Civil War soldiers made famous in the movie Glory, which he calls a “powerful, beautifully acted” production that “manages to get absolutely everything wrong.”

Egerton says fiction and nonfiction on slavery and the Civil War have become more prominent in recent years.

“When I was younger, novels that wrestled with slavery were few and often published by obscure presses,” he says. “That appears to be no longer true. Perhaps also the sesquicentennial of the war and the dawn of Reconstruction has led … to a rebirth of scholarship about black history. One of the depressing things about going to conferences now is to wander through the book exhibit and realize how many new books there are that I need to read!”

Two books that could contain tough words for presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are scheduled for Nov. 15, the week after Election Day: Bernie Sanders’ Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In is expected to include his thoughts on his surprisingly competitive primary battle with Clinton, while Megyn Kelly’s Settle for More will likely recount her feud with Trump and her thoughts on ousted Fox News chairman Roger Ailes.

In music, Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run could be the hottest rock memoir since Keith Richards’ Life was released in 2010.

The Band’s Robbie Robertson offers Testimony this fall, while My Life with Earth, Wind & Fire is a posthumous release from Earth, Wind & Fire founder Maurice White, featuring an introduction by Steve Harvey and foreword by producer David Foster.

Brian Wilson and fellow Beach Boys founder (and first cousin) Mike Love continue their long-running and occasionally litigious family competition as Wilson releases I Am Brian Wilson and Love has Good Vibrations.

Often cast as the business-minded Beach Boy, at odds with the visionary Wilson, Love provides detailed accounts of how he wrote the lyrics to many of the Beach Boys’ best-known songs.

“The problem is you have hundreds of thousands of words about us, not always by people who were actually there,” Love says. “I wanted to show how I was actually working on the songs with my cousin, writing the lyrics while he was creating those incredible chord processions and harmonies.”

Other musical memoirs are coming from Tom Jones, songwriter Carol Bayer Sager and the Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones.

Beatle fans with some extra cash might consider A Hard Day’s Night: A Private Archive, a $125 volume of photographs, documents and memorabilia about the 1964 film that stunned critics and delighted fans. Annotation is provided by one of the world’s foremost Beatle experts, Mark Lewisohn.

“It isn’t only the end-product that’s extraordinary, it’s the background story, too. It always comes down to the people, to the four guys themselves,” Lewisohn told the AP.

“Why was A Hard Day’s Night their first film when it could have been their third or fourth? They’d had movie offers for six months before this one and turned them all down, because The Beatles were always innately clear on what not to do as well as what to do. They were prepared to risk never appearing in a film at all than say yes to something ‘soft,’ which in their vocabulary meant ‘stupid.’”

Joel Grey, now unburdened and emboldened, tells his story

At a cafe the other day, Joel Grey was drawn to an item on the menu that was both confusing and intriguing.

He called over a waiter and asked: “What is this thing? The herbed goat cheese with chili flakes and pomegranate syrup?” The waiter was stumped. “OK, I’m going to take a chance,” said the Tony-and Oscar-winning actor.

Grey, 83, was in high spirits this day, which marked the publication of his memoir, “Master of Ceremonies.” For a performer who hid who he was for decades, Grey is now unburdened and emboldened.  

“Let’s put it this way: I really feel good. But I have been feeling good for a long time. I don’t think I could have written this book if I’d had axes to grind,” he said. “I don’t like that in a book.”

The memoir traces his childhood in Cleveland, his rise as a nightclub performer and his breakthrough both on stage and film as the Emcee with rouged cheeks and cupid’s-bow lips in “Cabaret.”

It also examines his 24-year marriage to actress Jo Wilder and a long internal struggle with his attraction to men, which triggered feelings of self-loathing and proved his mother’s love was not unconditional.

Grey, who loved men and women, tentatively calls himself a “closeted bisexual” but language comes up short: “I never really thought that any of the names were exactly right for me,” he said.

A complex portrait emerges of Grey in black and white. He reveals he’s had a nose job, slept with a stripper, fought with legendary director Bob Fosse and once lugged his dirty laundry on a plane.

“I’m not that good. I’m just like the rest of you,” he said. “Maybe worse.”

Colin Dickerman, the editorial director of the Macmillan division Flatiron Books, which published the 230-page book, said it’s not a tell-all or a collection of funny stories, but an attempt to explore the roots of the man behind some beloved characters.

“He wanted to be as honest as he could be and I think the book really reflects that,” said Dickerman. “It really goes into some personal places and I think does so remaining incredibly respectful to everyone in his life.”

Grey’s story also mirrors the evolution of American entertainment, from vaudeville to nightclubs to Broadway and Hollywood, weaving both his personal and professional lives. It reaches a peak in 1985 when Grey started thinking about coming out while starring in the AIDS play “The Normal Heart.”

The book was written over 2 1/2 years with the help of Rebecca Paley and Grey consulted with his brother and his daughter — “Dirty Dancing” star Jennifer Grey — on parts of the manuscript. He said he was inspired, in part, by reading Andre Agassi’s very honest 2010 memoir “Open: An Autobiography.”

“I didn’t see that I could tell the story of my career and not my life because they were so intertwined. And I also saw myself as maybe an example and maybe, in some small way, helping one person,” he said. “I like that idea.”

Grey writes that he was attracted to boys as early as 8 — one of his first crushes was a 16-year-old bellboy — but being openly gay wasn’t an option. Physical violence and closed doors would have been his life.

“The price was very high,” he said. “There would be no career. Look how long it’s even taken for there to be a few out gay people. In the last 10 years, maybe. The last five, maybe.”

His embrace of his sexuality was also complicated by the fact that he desperately wanted to be a father. “It was something I was meant to do along with acting. However, it was a strange time,” he said. “Now gay people are having babies all over the place.”

Grey has since forgiven his mother, restored cordial relations with his ex-wife and is next focusing on his fifth book of photographs. The parts of his life that were volatile and complicated have gone.

“It seems to have all very much quieted down,” he said with a wry smile. 

What will you be reading this fall? New books from Selznick, Franzen, Kaling and more

Brian Selznick and Edwidge Danticat, authors of two of the fall’s most anticipated works for young people, both know something about living in multiple worlds.

Selznick has been traveling, in his mind, among movies, printed books and digital texts. He worked on drawings for The Marvels, a 600-page adventure across the centuries that alternates between text and illustrations, while adapting his novel Wonderstruck for a planned feature by Todd Haynes. He has also finally allowed his distinctively illustrated stories to be released as e-books, and upon completing The Marvels thought of how he could convert it for digital readers.

“The challenge is always to make the story feel like it can only be told in the medium it appears,” Selznick says. “When I’m creating a new story, it always begins as a book, but once it’s finished, figuring out how to adapt it to other media is a fun challenge.

“In the end, storytelling is storytelling, and each medium has its own demands and opportunities unique to it.”

Danticat’s Untwine is narrated by the teen daughter of Haitian immigrants as she recovers from a serious car crash. Untwine was a switch in style for Danticat (best known for such adult works as the novel The Dew Breaker and the memoir Brother, I’m Dying). It was also a journey back to a younger self.

“I had to ask a lot of questions and do a lot of observing. Each story requires you to inhabit a character and I had to come as close as possible to becoming the narrator,” Danticat says.

The next few months will feature books for all ages by authors of all ages — from a new Rookie Yearbook by teen star Tavi Gevinson to a memoir by the 100-year-old Pulitzer Prize winner Herman Wouk — with a few Nobel laureates in between.

Wouk, a published author for nearly 70 years, shares his rare perspective in Sailor and Fiddler: Reflections of a 100-Year-Old Author. Near contemporaries also have books out. The Rev. Billy Graham, 96, collaborated with son Franklin on Where I Am. A.E. Hotchner, 95, writes of his late friend Ernest Hemingway in Hemingway in Love. Stan Lee, 92, tells his story in words and illustrations in Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir.

Punk and New Wave music are old enough that some of the leaders are writing memoirs, from Elvis Costello and Chrissie Hynde to Patti Smith and Carrie Brownstein. A classic rock ‘n’ roller, John Fogerty spares no one in Fortunate Son, while the man who helped discover such Fogerty heroes as Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis, Sun Records founder Sam Phillips, is the subject of Peter Guralnick’s Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Actors also are looking back, including Debbie Reynolds, Burt Reynolds (no relation) and Drew Barrymore. Mindy Kaling offers the latest on her life in Why Not Me? Mary-Louise Parker addresses friends, family members, lovers and other men in Dear Mr. You, a series of intimate and polished essays that have received blurbs from Mary Karr and Leslie Jamison. Jesse Eisenberg’s humor pieces, many of which ran in The New Yorker, are collected in Bream Gives Me Hiccups.

The fall is publishing’s prime showcase for literary fiction, with novels by Jonathan Franzen, David Mitchell and Elena Ferrante, along with works from Nobel laureates Patrick Modiano, Orhan Pamuk and Kenzaburo Oe. Posthumous work is coming from Lucia Berlin and Oscar Hijuelos, and the writings of the late Primo Levi are being issued in a three-volume set, with an introduction by Nobel winner Toni Morrison.

David Lagercrantz continues the late Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series with The Girl in the Spider’s Web and Anthony Horowitz has written a new James Bond novel, Trigger Mortis. J.K. Rowling resumes her alternate life as crime writer Robert Galbraith with Career of Evil. George R.R. Martin explores the back story of Westeros in A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms. Margaret Atwood, author of such dystopian novels as The Handmaid’s Tale, conjures more nightmares in The Heart Goes Last.

“It’s getting easier (to create dystopias),” said Atwood, whose new book features a community of rotating prison inmates. “You’re just putting together a mosaic of what’s around you, putting together things that are already happening somewhere or have happened and seeing what this mix produces.”

Current events will be reviewed from the left by David Brock in Killing the Messenger: The Right-Wing Plot to Derail Hillary and Hijack Your Government and from the right in Exceptional, by former Vice President Dick Cheney and daughter Liz Cheney. Chelsea Clinton’s It’s Your World: Get Informed, Get Inspired & Get Going! is a primer for civic engagement. Her mother, presidential contender Hillary Rodham Clinton, contributes a foreword to Fast Forward: How Women Can Achieve Power and Purpose, by Melanne Verveer and Kim K. Azzarelli.

Other nonfiction releases include memoirs by Gloria Steinem and Donna Karan and a biography of former President George H.W. Bush by Pulitzer winner Jon Meacham. Stacy Schiff, whose books include the best-selling Cleopatra and the Pulitzer-winning Vera, looks back to the 17th-century witch trials in The Witches: Salem, 1692.

“The similarities between the oral culture of that time and the Internet are approximately 100 percent,” Schiff says. “Something is mentioned once and suddenly it’s everywhere. It’s amazing the way slanderous news travels. And what we say is indelible. That’s what happened in the 17th century. Witchcraft accusations wouldn’t go away.”

Madeline Kahn biography goes beyond the laughs

She was delightful in “Paper Moon” and “Blazing Saddles,” then uproarious as the monster’s tuneful bride in “Young Frankenstein.” Yet Madeline Kahn often didn’t seem to appreciate her comedic talent, even though it kept her close to the hearts of audiences for three decades.

That’s just one of the many sad notes that arise from “Madeline Kahn: Being the Music, A Life,” William V. Madison’s well-researched and insightful biography of Kahn, once hailed by New York Times critic Vincent Canby as possibly the funniest woman in films. Imagine getting such an accolade if being funny isn’t really your goal.

Performing wasn’t Kahn’s idea of a career anyway, at least not in the beginning. Boston-born and raised in New York City, she discovered theater at the boarding school where her self-centered mother had all but dumped her to pursue her own theatrical ambitions. The stage became little Madeline’s means of self-expression, but her mother pushed voice and music lessons.

Paula Kahn was a manipulative force throughout Madeline’s life. She drove away her daughter’s birth father and later her adoptive father, then relied on Madeline for money. Her daughter the star seldom said no, even when Paula included bills with a birthday card or expected Madeline to finance a one-woman show to display Paula’s talents, such as they were.

Madison connects Kahn’s insecure childhood to her grown-up insecurities onstage and off. “As an adult, Madeline was often wary of people, and not just in the expected way of a star concerned that others will try to exploit her celebrity,” he writes. “Even with close friends, she could remain guarded, and her romantic relationships were marked by varying degrees of mistrust. She balked at the idea of marriage, almost to the end of her days.”

Kahn planned to go into teaching. Encouraged by her high school drama teacher, she performed a dramatic monologue as part of an audition for a drama scholarship at Hofstra College. But it was her second monologue, a comic one, that drew a response – laughter – from the professors sitting in the darkened theater.

Her voice had the range for opera, Madison writes, but even with more training it lacked the muscle needed to project in an opera house. Working in stage musicals and at the New York cabaret Upstairs at the Downstairs, Kahn drew positive reviews for sketch work and humorous songs.

She had the good fortune in the early 1970s to work with two filmmakers at their best. She appeared in Peter Bogdanovich’s “What’s Up, Doc?” (1972) and “Paper Moon” (1973) and in Mel Brooks’ breakout hits, “Blazing Saddles” and “Young Frankenstein,” both in 1974. Nominated for supporting actress Oscars for “Paper Moon” and “Blazing Saddles,” she was pegged as a gifted laugh-getter.

Still, vulgar flourishes before the cameras didn’t come easily to Kahn. Naturally reserved, she was bothered that people assumed she was a bawdy, slightly ditzy woman. Brooks tells Madison, “Intellectually and mentally, she was probably superior to anyone and everyone she worked with, and actually probably had to hide her brilliance a little.”

She had more than her share of bad luck professionally. Appearing in the Richard Rodgers’ production “Two by Two” in 1970, she watched its insecure star, Danny Kaye, pare down her role. The 1978 musical “On the Twentieth Century” was a legendary Broadway disaster for her – she left the show two months into its yearlong run at the request of the producers. Mediocre to bad movies and TV shows threatened to overwhelm her credits even as they provided money for her and her mother.

In Madison’s telling, Kahn was full of anxieties when it came to performing and often lacked confidence in her own abilities. A hard worker who could rise above bland material, she performed steadily through the 1980s and 1990s. Her Tony-winning turn in “The Sisters Rosensweig” in 1993 and the little-seen indie movie “Judy Berlin” in 1999 hinted at what else she could do.

Kahn died of ovarian cancer at 57 in 1999. She never had children and married her longtime boyfriend just two months before her death, thus shielding her actors’ pensions from the tax man. People who like to laugh lost a welcome presence in their lives. They will never know how much more Kahn could have given them if she’d had the chance.

Douglass K. Daniel is the author of “Tough as Nails: The Life and Films of Richard Brooks” (University of Wisconsin Press).

A colorful account of the birth of modern art in Paris

At the dawn of the 20th century the Parisian district of Montmartre was still largely rural, a hillside village dotted with windmills, vineyards and tumbledown shacks.

There, a ragtag band of young artists, many of them foreigners, gravitated to the district’s cheap studios and galleries to nurture their artistic ambitions and, at night, divert themselves at its seedy bars and cabarets.

Their ranks included the likes of Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Kees van Dongen, Andre Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck, Georges Braque and Amedeo Modigliani, to name just a few, and by now, more than a century on, their stories have been told many times.

In her latest book, “In Montmartre: Picasso, Matisse and the Birth of Modernist Art,” the British writer Sue Roe offers a lively and concise account of their lives during a 10-year period when they struggled to find new ways to express themselves and, in the process, rocked the foundations of Western art. It was a time when beauty itself “was open to redefinition,” Roe writes in a chapter describing Picasso’s momentous first encounter with African art in the Musee du Trocadero.

Like her previous book on the Impressionists, “In Montmartre” is a bit of a group biography, focusing mainly on a half-dozen artists and weaving in details about friends, families and business associates.

While she doesn’t break much new ground, she’s very good at synthesizing and distilling complicated art movements and ideas without getting bogged down in technical details or jargon. And she offers up plenty of juicy tidbits about the artists’ love affairs, infidelities, opium parties and eccentric habits.

Also, Roe gives the women in the story their due, not just the artists but also the models and muses. We get vivid portraits of the American expatriate writer Gertrude Stein, her companion Alice B. Toklas and some lesser-known figures in the Montmartre crowd, including Picasso’s model and lover Fernande Olivier, who wrote memoirs of their life together, and the French painter Marie Laurencin.

Roe’s book is a great introduction to one of the most pivotal periods in 20th century art. Even those familiar with the era will likely find that it broadens their understanding of key players and events. And for art lovers who can’t get enough of this intoxicating decade in Paris on the eve of the First World War, the lengthy bibliography will suggest new avenues for exploration.

Review: ‘Goldeneye’ explores Ian Fleming’s Jamaican retreat

James Bond is a British icon, but the fictional spy hero really was born in Jamaica, just as the Caribbean island gained its independence from the waning British empire.

The relationship between Bond’s author, Ian Fleming, and the island where he sought to escape from dreary post-war Britain is explored in Matthew Parker’s unique biography, “Goldeneye.”

Fleming wrote all the Bond short stories and novels, which inspired an ongoing series of blockbuster films, at his Goldeneye estate on Jamaica’s northern shore. He spent two months every year, from 1946 through his death in 1964, at Goldeneye, and for a while his own boozy, cigarette-fueled seductions rivaled those he created for Bond.

Fleming’s neighbor in Jamaica was the British actor and playwright Noel Coward, and Parker carefully compares and dissects how the island and its residents are depicted in each man’s writing. Mostly, they viewed Jamaica as a backdrop, at best, where the “island natives” are cheerful and sexy but never threatening.

The fading of an empire weighed on Fleming as he developed escapist fantasies for Bond, the paragon of British intelligence and power. He found rich source material in Jamaican waters for Bond’s underwater action scenes, but he rarely troubled himself with island drama beyond his jet-set social circle.

Parker explores where Fleming would not, delving into Jamaica’s politics and economy, the legacy of 300 years of colonial rule and the emergence of the island as a tourist destination, a development fueled partly by the glamour projected by Fleming and his friends. He also spells out what Coward and Fleming didn’t see coming _ that their tropical-yet-British hideaway would be short-lived, and the island was ready for a change.

Parker’s “Goldeneye’” is an appealing Caribbean history dressed as pop culture, and he adds complexity to Bond’s legacy of vodka martinis, car chases and women in bikinis.

A look at the new books offered this fall, fiction, non-fiction and in-between

So many memoirs are coming out this fall, written in so many ways.

Neil Patrick Harris, for instance, decided that his early 40s was too young for a “life” story, even for a Tony- and Emmy-winning actor. So he has completed “Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography,” in which Harris steps back into the second person to allow you to imagine yourself onstage, on television, or, in November 2006, on edge as you prepare to tell the world you’re gay. 

“I couldn’t wrap my mind around a structure that made sense to me — to pass on words of wisdom or to write some salacious tell-all. My life hasn’t been like that,” Harris said during a recent interview.

“So I came upon this conceit of ‘choose your own adventure,’ to allow readers to choose which autobiography they were interested in. You can have poignancy; you can have funny remembrances, or whatever path you want to follow.”

Lena Dunham of “Girls” fame has written “Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s ‘Learned,’” a non-advice advice book in which she hopes that readers will know when and when not to emulate “a girl with a keen interest in having it all.” Amy Poehler’s “Yes Please” promises a “big juicy stew of personal stories, funny bits on sex and love and friendship and parenthood and real life advice.”

Keith Richards, having taken care of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll in his million-selling “Life,” turns sentimental with the picture book “Gus and Me,” a tribute to his grandfather, musician Gus Dupree. Neil Young honors a favorite hobby in “Special Deluxe”: cars. “Jimmy Page” is a “photographic autobiography” by the Led Zeppelin guitarist. “Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story” is not entirely in his own words, alternating between first-person memories and third-person accounts by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author-journalist Rick Bragg.

Former President George W. Bush already has written a memoir, “Decision Points,” so for his new book (currently untitled) he tells the story of his father, George H.W. Bush. “Steve Jobs” author Walter Isaacson returns to the virtual world with “The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution.”

Fiction readers can look forward to books from Stephen King, Janet Evanovich, John Grisham and David Baldacci, among others. Anne Rice brings back the undead for “Prince Lestat: The Vampire Chronicles” and “Game of Thrones” author George R.R. Martin shares some of the back story in “The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire).”

Some of the top literary writers also have books out. David Mitchell of “Cloud Atlas” fame has written “The Bone Clocks” and fellow British novelist Ian McEwan’s latest is “The Children Act.” Hilary Mantel, a two-time Man Booker Prize winner for her novels about the court of King Henry VIII, names names in the 20th century with the story collection “The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher.” Denis Johnson’s “The Laughing Monsters” is the author’s first full-length work of fiction since “Tree of Smoke” won the National Book Award in 2008. Marilynne Robinson returns to the Iowa setting of her Pulitzer-Prize-winning “Gilead” with “Lila.”

Six years ago, few noticed when Garth Stein had the bright idea to write a novel told from a dog’s point of view, “The Art of Racing in the Rain.” Thanks to 4 million copies sold, and more than three years on The New York Times’ best-seller list, Stein should have plenty of attention for “A Sudden Light,” which features a boy and a mansion.

“It’s what every writer dreams of, to be talked about as much as I was for ‘Racing in the Rain,’” Stein says. “But I’m a writer, and a writer’s got to write and I finally had to announce my retirement from ‘Racing in the Rain.’ As I said to my publisher, ‘I have to go in the cave. Don’t come in here. I’ll come out of the cave when it’s time.”

For some books this fall, the bold-faced name isn’t the author.

“The Monogram Murders” is a new mystery featuring Agatha Christie detective Hercule Poirot. Christie gets star billing on the cover, but the writer, approved by the Christie estate, is Sophie Hannah. “Robert B. Parker’s Blind Spot” offers a new case to solve for baseball star-turned police chief Jesse Stone, the sleuth of nine novels by Parker, who died in 2010. The author this time is Reed Farrel Coleman.

Sidney Sheldon lives on, at least in name, through British author Tilly Bagshawe. Her latest is “Sidney Sheldon’s Chasing Tomorrow,” a novel written “in his inimitable Sheldon style,” Bagshawe promises on her website. Dick Francis died in 2010, but a new thriller is called “Dick Francis’s ‘Damage”” in U.S. editions. The author’s son, Felix Francis, wrote the novel and prefers the British title: “Damage,” with FELIX FRANCIS printed above the title and “A Dick Francis Novel” at the bottom.

“It’s a Dick Francis novel in that it’s got horses and was written in the first person and the main character is both courageous and loyal,” Felix Francis said.

“I like the idea that I am giving my father immortality, or perhaps I am keeping his name alive. I just hope that if it goes on it becomes a little bit smaller and mine a little bit bigger.”

WNBA star Brittney Griner writes about bullying, sexuality and sports

Brittney Griner had a busy WNBA offseason. She played in China, vacationed in Miami and watched from courtside while favorite player LeBron James beat her hometown Houston Rockets.

Now the slam-dunking Griner is signing copies of her book at the Women’s Final Four in Nashville, Tenn. “In My Skin,” released today (April 8) by HarperCollins, chronicles her struggles with bullying, sexuality and family acceptance.

Her motivation was to “help other people in need, especially youth, who didn’t have anybody to look up to,” she recently told The Associated Press by phone. “I get a lot of kids writing to me – some adults, too – telling me what they’re going through, asking me for advice.”

Griner, who led Baylor to a 40-0 season and the 2012 NCAA title, came out last April after her final season at the Baptist school that prohibits premarital sex and homosexuality. She writes that she had a positive relationship with Baylor coach Kim Mulkey, but it became strained during her senior season.

Turning pro as the No. 1 pick by the Phoenix Mercury in the 2013 WNBA draft allowed the 6-foot-8, bow-tie wearing Griner more freedom of expression. That includes showing off the cascading floral tattoos on her shoulder and working on anti-bullying campaigns.

The 23-year-old Griner has evolved from the middle school girl taunted for her size and androgynous look. She would write about her feelings and dark thoughts, then toss or hide the notes. This week, she’ll be talking about her life at bookstores in Phoenix and Houston.

Five things to know about Griner, who says her next goal is earning a spot on the U.S. team for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

CHINA SYNDROME: Griner experienced “culture shock” moving from Waco, Texas, to play in the China Women’s League from November through February. She competed overseas against WNBA stars, including Maya Moore and Nneka Ogwumike.

“She’s a player who makes you better,” said Ogwumike, a Los Angeles Sparks forward. “She helps you be a little more creative.”

ABUSE: The bullying started in sixth grade – name-calling, mocking, fights. A “nervous and scared” Griner began writing as a way to cope.

She writes of her father, who works in law enforcement. When he found out she was a lesbian during her senior year in high school, Griner moved out because of the verbal hostility. She lived with an assistant basketball coach until her father agreed to try to accept her sexuality.

Her mom had a different response to the “I’m gay” news three years earlier: “She smiled, hugged me and told me she loved me,” Griner writes.

Her relationship with her father has improved.

“He’s come a long way. He just wants the best for me,” said Griner, who rides four-wheelers with him while staying in Houston until training camp begins April 27.

THERAPY: After Griner punched a taunting Texas Tech player during a game her freshman season, her coach made her see a therapist. Griner, who endured racial and homophobic slurs from fans at opposing arenas, stuck with the therapy after the mandatory sessions were up.

“It’s just a safe zone,” she told the AP. “It’s nonjudgmental. It felt good, somewhere I could go and talk and get good advice.”

EXPRESS YOURSELF: At Baylor, Griner had to remove Twitter messages and photos of her girlfriend. She also had to cover her tattoos during games because she was told such images might damage the program.

After college, she became the first openly gay athlete to sign with Nike and model apparel. Griner moved from the baggy-boy look to preppy to her current athletic style.

OPENING DOORS: Griner says she’s received support from Sheryl Swoopes, who is 2005 became the first active WNBA player to come out, her Mercury teammates and the league. She has a love-hate relationship with social media. She reads and deletes vulgar comments.

Griner feels that along with Jason Collins, the NBA’s first openly gay player, and Michael Sam, who may become the first openly gay NFL player, they’re helping make sexuality in sports less of an issue.

“With more and bigger athletes coming out – especially when athletes on the men’s side come out – that’s a big push,” she told the AP. “When we’re on the field or court or ice or whatever surface we play on, our sexuality really doesn’t make or break us.”

She says parents tell her that their daughters look up to her, and adult fans express similar sentiments.

“They’ll come up and shake my hand and whisper, `Thank you, you’re helping out a lot,'” she said.