What the Stars Read

Do you ever wonder what the movie and TV stars read?

After too long a break, I traveled once again to a multi-media convention in the Baltimore area as both a panelist and guest, giving me unique opportunities to learn about books, movies, television, actors, and other forms of popular media.

Among the topics discussed were the interactions of cyberpunk (tech-heavy stories) and the modern world, stories that cross genres and copyright laws (Is there anyone Scooby Doo didn’t meet? Why is there a Terminator in Wayne’s World?), trends in speculative fiction (Lunarpunk, anyone?), and more. And those were only the ones I was able to attend.

The best part of such gatherings is meeting the guests of honor. Guests can change at any time due to filming schedules or illness (Robert Duncan McNeill was replaced at the last second by John Billingsley, a phenomenally entertaining actor in person, due to McNeill testing positive for Covid), but there are always a number of interesting people making appearances. This year, among many outstanding actors, the guests included Adam Baldwin (Firefly, Chuck, The Last Ship) and Summer Glau (Firefly, Sarah Connor Chronicles, Sequestered, Arrow), and I was able to speak with both of them.

Summer Glau has put acting on the back burner for the moment as she home-schools her children. She herself was home schooled due to an overriding love of ballet, and thus was able to pursue dance more in depth with the flexibility of home schooling, though she admits there are gaps in her learning. I asked her who her favorite authors were, and what she likes to read. Glau is a fan of Steinbeck, especially East of Eden, as well as the classic Russian novelists like Tolstoy, and of course Jane Austen. She prefers her children have a more classical education, and that includes classical literature. She’s been reading books on farming, with daydreams of someday having a small farm (she is originally from Texas).

Adam Baldwin was a delight (No, he is no relation to Alec Baldwin and brothers). At 23, he appeared in the classic Kubrick film Full Metal Jacket, which is one of my favorites, and we discussed different war films we had each seen. He told me to watch The War Machine with Brad Pitt, I told him to watch 9th Company, an excellent Russian film about their 1980 invasion of Afghanistan. We talked about the WWI epic 1917. Baldwin admits he never made it to college, going into acting by the age of 18. His favorite authors? He likes reading Michael Crichton‘s best sellers such as Congo and Sphere, as well as Tom Clancy, and classic Stephen King, such as The Shining. By his own tale, he informed Stanley Kubrick that his film adaption of the The Shining was not as good as the book, which didn’t put him into Kubrick’s favor (Stephen King has been rather vocal on how much he himself disliked the film, despite it being ranked among the greatest horror films of all time).

In public, actors are always answering questions about their work, things they’ve done or would like to do, or nitpicky trivial questions about a single line of dialogue from decades ago that they can’t remember. Finding out what they like to read is a question they haven’t heard a thousand times, and brings out different aspects of the person behind the tabloid reports. Actors are more than just the roles they play, and finding something in common with them reminds us that off camera, they are people just like us!

Short Stuff

I’d like to read more, but I don’t have time to read a long, involved story.

There’s a solution for that. It’s called a short story.

 Short stories are those that can be read in under an hour – often not more than 5,000 words (beyond 7,500 is called a novella, and they are often published alone in little books, like Stephen King’s The Shawshank Redemption,  J.A. Jance’s The Old Blue Line, or Shirley Goodness and Mercy by Debbie Macomber) and they are often grouped together in anthology volumes, anthology meaning, literally, a collection of stories, the same way a CD album is a collection of individual songs.

Short stories are an art form of their own, still carrying the same structures of their longer novel cousins (plot, themes, metaphors, etc) but in a very short package. Some are complete stories (think of Ray Bradbury’s All Summer in a Day, or Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery) while others might just give you a slice of life, a few hours in the life of an individual with no clear beginning and no clear end, leaving you to wonder what might come next (some stories by Anton Chekhov, or Ernest Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants). They can be happy or sad, comic or dramatic, or full of irony (The Necklace, by Guy de Maupassant). Sometimes an anthology might consist of short stories on a single theme (love, loss, westerns, adventure), or they could be a mix of anything. And the beauty of an anthology is you can read one or two stories, or the whole thing, depending on your time and interest.

But short stories don’t carry the same weight as novels.

Of course they do! Many writers are known more for their short stories than for their novels – Alice Munro is considered one of the premier short story writers, having won the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature in part for her short stories. Ray Bradbury is another prolific short-story writer, not quite horror, not quite science fiction, not quite fantasy, just imaginative. His philosophy was to write one short story a week, because out of 52 short stories, you were bound to have three or four that were really good. Short stories are easier to sell, if not to anthologies then to magazines – many a writer got their start in The New Yorker, Collier’s, or Atlantic, let alone Good Housekeeping and Readers’ Digest. Some of the most popular authors – Isaac Asimov, Dashiell Hammett, and Raymond Chandler – carved their name writing for pulp fiction magazines.

Short stories don’t always stay short, either. Many popular films started out as short stories – The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (published in The New Yorker) (Did you realize this one takes place in Waterbury, Connecticut?), All About Eve, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, 3:10 to Yuma, Shawshank Redemption, Minority Report, Brokeback Mountain, Rear Window, Total Recall, and many, many others.

A little story can go a long way. If you’re pressed for time, check out the stories in these collections, and more!

Best Short Stories of Jack London

Ray Bradbury Stories: 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales

Collected Short Stories of Louis L’Amour, Vol. 4

Children of the Night: Best Short Stories by Black Writers

Dancing Through Life in a Pair of Broken Heels

No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Short Stories

Beautiful Days

Amish Front Porch Stories

Bring Out the Dog: Stories

Complete Stories of Edgar Allen Poe

Cutting Edge: New Stories of Mystery and Crime by Women Writers

20th Century Ghosts

New Trends in Science Fiction

Say Science Fiction, and most readers will make a face as images of bad 50’s movies, computers and technobabble, and Star Wars arguments come to mind. “I don’t read Science Fiction,” but chances are, you do. Science Fiction simply means a story that more or less follows the laws of science as we know them, as opposed to fantasy, which drags in magic and elves and things that don’t normally exist on Earth. The material is as broad as anything else in fiction.

Science Fiction has come a long way since 1977, and is almost unrecognizable to the campy 50’s tin-can imagery. Like rock music, science fiction has a hundred sub-categories, and chances are you’ve read – and liked – at least one. Here are some of the newest trends you may not know about.

Soft Science Fiction:  “Soft SF” isn’t new, but the definition is newer. Soft SF doesn’t deal with “hard” techno stuff, but concentrates on people, societies, psychology, and intrigue.  Cloud Atlas, The Handmaid’s Tale, Flowers for Algernon, Yiddish Policemen’s Union, The Time Traveler’s Wife, and Alas, Babylon all fall under “Soft” SF. Half of Stephen King can be categorized here. You could make an argument for Jason Bourne, too.

Gender-Focused: These stories explore cultures and people who may have a single gender, multiple genders, or are genderless entirely. Check out Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, Seveneves by Neal Stephenson, Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller, or the Grandmama of them all, The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin.

Afrofuturism: Representation of minorities is growing in SF, and with it new ways of seeing inclusion in the future. Check out top authors like N. K. Jemisin, Colson Whitehead, Nnedi Okorafor, P. Djeli Clark, and Octavia Butler.

International: There’s a huge influx of stories being translated from other countries. While America may be stuck on space opera and predictable heroes, other countries aren’t, and offer a refreshing break from the Same Old Thing. Try The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin, Master and the Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, The Witcher Series (yeah, the TV one) by Andrzej Sapkowski, The Lost Village by Camilla Sten, or Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruis Zafon.

Generation Ship fiction: No faster than light ships here, but pressure-cooker stories onboard ships making a long haul. Dangers take on a whole new meaning when you’re dependent on your ship for years on end. Check out Across the Universe by Beth Rivis, Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke, Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson, or Ship of Fools by Richard Russo.

New Space Opera: Space opera traditionally involves weapons, danger, heroes, and rescued damsels (Star Wars being a perfect example, among many), but newer stories are throwing in more gritty realism. They’re a higher quality of writing, more scientifically plausible, and tend to address more social issues under the guise of “fiction.” Grown-up SF. Try the Leviathan Falls series by James Corey, Hail Mary by Andy Weir, the Thrawn series by Timothy Zahn, The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey, or Winter’s Orbit, by Everina Maxwell.

Climate SF:  With the doomsday clock ticking down the moments to an expected 6th mass extinction, climate SF may be the most relevant wave of stories to hit shelves, and can fully include apocalyptic virus stories. Read them!  State of Fear by Michael Crichton, New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson, The Overstory by Richard Powers, Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver.

Science Fiction isn’t the same old trope you’re used to, but a growing, evolving body of literature with numerous authors, styles, and focus – and guaranteed there’s one right for you!

Celebrities – They’re Just Like Us! The 10 Best Celebrity Memoirs of 2021

We seem to be in the midst of a celebrity memoir boom. Seems like every celeb with time on their hands during the height of the pandemic used that time to write their memoirs. Of course, not every famous person’s story is interesting enough to devote an entire book to, but we’ve picked out 10 from 2021 that we think are worth the page count. There is something really appealing about a candid celebrity memoir that reveals the real person behind the “persona”, be prepared to be entertained, and even inspired, by these celebrity stories.

The Beauty of Living Twice by Sharon Stone. She was one of the most renowned actresses in the world–until a massive stroke cost her not only her health, but her career, family, fortune, and global fame. Stone talks about her pivotal roles, her life-changing friendships, her worst disappointments, her greatest accomplishments, and ultimately, how she fought her way back after devastating illness.

Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci. Tucci reflects on the intersection of food and life, filled with anecdotes about his growing up in Westchester, New York; preparing for and shooting the foodie films Big Night and Julie & Julia; falling in love over dinner; and teaming up with his wife to create meals for a multitude of children. A gastronomic journey through good times and bad, five-star meals and burned dishes.

Just As I Am by Cicely Tyson. Her memoir was released just days after the 96-year-old actress passed away this year. The Academy, Tony, and Emmy Award-winning actor and trailblazer tells her stunning story, looking back at her life and six-decade career. President Barack Obama said of her: “In her long and extraordinary career, Cicely Tyson has not only succeeded as an actor, she has shaped the course of history.”

Broken (in the best possible way) by Jenny Lawson. As Jenny Lawson’s hundreds of thousands of fans know, she suffers from depression. In Broken, she brings readers along on her mental and physical health journey, offering heartbreaking and hilarious anecdotes along the way. Jenny humanizes what we all face in an all-too-real way, reassuring us that we’re not alone and making us laugh while doing it.

Trejo : My Life of Crime, Redemption, and Hollywood by Danny Trejo. You may not know him by name, but character actor Danny Trejo has one of the most recognizable faces in film and television. On screen, the actor played scores of bad guys, and has been killed at least a hundred times. This is an inspirational story of a journey from crime, prison, addiction, and loss to unexpected fame as Hollywood’s favorite bad guy with a heart of gold.

Forever Young by Hayley Mills. Under the wing of Walt Disney himself, Hayley Mills was transformed into one of the biggest child starlets of the 1960s through her iconic roles in Pollyanna, The Parent Trap, and many more. This memoir is a behind-the-scenes look at the drama of having a sky-rocketing career as a young teen, as well as the challenges of dealing with an industry that wanted her to remain to bound to a wholesome, youthful public image.

All In : An Autobiography by Billie Jean King. In this spirited account, Billie Jean King details her life’s journey to find her true self. She recounts her no only her groundbreaking tennis career–six years as the top-ranked woman in the world (twenty Wimbledon championships, thirty-nine grand-slam titles) , but also her activism as a feminist and social justice fighter in the wake of her coming out as gay at age 51.

Going There by Katie Couric. For more than forty years, Katie Couric has been an iconic presence in the media world. In her brutally honest, funny, and sometimes heartbreaking memoir, she pulls no punches as she reveals what was going on behind the scenes of her sometimes tumultuous personal and professional life.

The Storyteller : Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl. The legendary American musician, singer, songwriter and documentary filmmaker offers a collection of stories that focus on the memories of his life, from his childhood to today. With his reflections on touring with Scream, joining Nirvana and watching it all crumble, creating Foo Fighters when his life was at a crossroads, and now crisscrossing the world as a family man, Grohl offers an honest portrait of an extraordinary life made up of ordinary moments.

The Boys : A Memoir of Hollywood and Family by Ron Howard & Clint Howard. What was it like to grow up on TV? For Ron, playing Opie on The Andy Griffith Show and Richie Cunningham on Happy Days offered fame, joy, and opportunity, but also invited stress and bullying. For Clint, a fast start on such programs as Gentle Ben and Star Trek petered out in adolescence, with some tough consequences and lessons. By turns confessional, nostalgic, heartwarming, and harrowing, The Boys is a dual narrative that lifts the lid on the Howard brothers’ closely held lives.

 

Some of Your Favorite Authors Have New Books Coming Out This Month!

September’s got some great new releases heading to our shelves. Here are eight that we’ve been eagerly anticipating, put your name on the hold list for your favs, if you haven’t already!

The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell. From the New York Times bestselling author of Then She Was Gone and The Family Upstairs comes another riveting work of psychological suspense. One year after a young woman and her boyfriend disappear on a massive country estate, a writer stumbles upon a mysterious note that could be the key to finding out what happened to the missing young couple.

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty. A family of tennis stars debate whether or not to report their mother as missing because it would implicate their father in this new novel by the New York Times bestselling author of Big Little Lies and Nine Perfect Strangers.

Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead. A furniture salesman in 1960s Harlem becomes a fence for shady cops, local gangsters and low-life pornographers after his cousin involves him in a failed heist, in the new novel from the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys.

Bewilderment by Richard Powers. A widowed astrobiologist and single father to a troubled son contemplates an experimental neurofeedback treatment that trains the boy on the recorded patterns of his mother’s brain in the new novel from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Overstory.

The Wish by Nicholas Sparks. From the author of The Longest Ride and The Return comes the story of successful travel photographer Maggie Dawes, struggling to come to terms with a sobering medical diagnosis, who is unexpectedly grounded over Christmas with her young assistant and begins to tell him the story of the love that set her on a course she never could have imagined.

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr. The novel follows four young dreamers and outcasts through time and space, from 1453 Constantinople to the future, as they discover resourcefulness and hope amidst peril in the new novel by the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of All the Light We Cannot See.

Matrix by Lauren Groff. Lauren Groff returns with her exhilarating first new novel since the groundbreaking Fates and Furies. Cast out of the royal court, 17-year-old Marie de France, born the last in a long line of women warriors, is sent to England to be the new prioress of an impoverished abbey where she vows to chart a bold new course for the women she now leads and protects.

Fuzz by Mary Roach. Join New York Times bestselling science author Mary Roach as she tags along with animal-attack forensics investigators, human-elephant conflict specialists, bear managers, and more. Combining little-known forensic science and conservation genetics with a motley cast of laser scarecrows, langur impersonators, and mugging macaques, Fuzz offers hope for compassionate coexistence in our ever-expanding human habitat.