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Humans of New York

posted by: November 24, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Humans of New YorkIt’s very easy to get caught up in the lives of fictional characters in novels or celebrities on TV. However, photographer Brandon Stanton’s new book Humans of New York: Stories uses stunning portraits and personal anecdotes to show that the most interesting and compelling stories can come from everyday people around us. Stanton originally began photographing the citizens of New York as part of a project to create a visual census of the city. His pictures wound up becoming the wildly successful blog, Humans of New York. As his project grew, he went from including one-line captions on his photos to entire paragraphs of stories the people he met on the street would tell him.


While his first book, Humans of New York (2013), focuses more on photography and includes just a few captions, this book contains many more of the personal and in-depth stories found on his blog today. The stories range from devastatingly sad to chillingly insightful to warmly endearing, while the people photographed cover a variety of races, ages, social classes and genders.


It’s hard not to get absorbed into Stanton’s book and the beautifully poignant stories within. Individually, an anecdote from a stranger might not be much to consider, but together, they create a broad spectrum of captivating stories that truly reflect both the intricacy and brevity of human life.


Judge This

posted by: October 8, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Judge ThisDo you often judge based on first impressions?


I do and so does Chip Kidd, the designer who has made many recognizable book covers. In his latest book, Judge This, Kidd validates our snap decision making. As with his earlier, all-ages introduction to graphic design, Go, which was previously reviewed, Kidd empowers those of us who aren’t in the industry to think critically about the way information is visually transmitted and received. He points out how necessary it is, in our modern age, to make the information we are constantly transmitting appealing and easy to understand. He presents a simple question for analyzing the success of virtually any design: Is it mysterious or clear? Kidd proves his point by illustrating examples of design from his daily life, critiquing everything from Diet Coke cans to pop-up ads. He also shows his own portfolio of work and explains the thought processes involved in their creation.


This book is one of a growing trend being published based on TED Talks and commencement speeches delivered by their authors. Constrained to an easily accessible, fun-sized format reminiscent of inspirational books like O’s Little Book of Happiness, and sourced from influential experts in their fields, they are philosophical texts for all of us with busy, complicated lives. NPR listeners will be familiar with many of the names coming from other publishers, including Make Good Art by Neil Gaiman, Very Good Lives by J K Rowling and We Should All Be Feminists by Chiamanda Ngozi Adichie.





The Game Believes in You

posted by: September 10, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Game Believes in YouJournalist Greg Toppo, author of the new book The Game Believes in You: How Digital Play Can Make Our Kids Smarter, has experienced both sides of the highly polarized and controversial status quo of video gaming. While some abhor games, believing them to be time sinks that are slowly brainwashing our youth, others value them as unique forms of highly engaging media capable of reaching an audience that is notoriously unengaged. In The Game Believes in You, Toppo analyzes current efforts to blend education and recreation into perfect learning tools for plastic minds.


The Game Believes in You is comprised of 12 chapters. The majority focus on the positives and argue that games could — and should — be used in public school classrooms, and a few debunk falsities that have stigmatized games in recent years. Toppo profiles visionaries who are championing Pokémon as the nation’s answer to No Child Left Behind, teaching curriculums entirely from within the realms of World of Warcraft, renting land in Second Life to serve as virtual Open Door space and even developing methods to mentally control games as a form of therapy to treat ADD, ADHD, PTSD and depression.


Games can also become new means to teach the classics. Walden, a game is volunteer-developed and aims to condense Henry David Thoreau’s social experiment into a replayable, decision-driven adventure. Lexica is a tablet-based MMO (massively multiplayer online game) in which players create avatars and help classic literary characters who have been sealed away in a gigantic library to be forever forgotten. Both games draw heavily from source texts for inspiration, and Lexica even includes entire books to be read for quest credits to level up and unlock new content.


Toppo posits that games are becoming more accessible to children at even younger ages as the 21st century progresses, and educators everywhere should be taking advantage of this. Rather than lambasting our youth for staring at their beloved screens all day, we should be using those screens as conduits to their malleable minds and showing them that education can be just as fun as their favorite games.




Behind the Big Screen

posted by: July 17, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for We Don't Need RoadsCover art for As If!

In 1985, the first Back to the Future movie was released and was an instant blockbuster. Two sequels followed and the trilogy remains popular. Ten years later, Amy Heckerling’s Clueless, a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma, was released and became a touchstone for a generation. Two new books go behind the scenes of these seminal movies and offer gossipy tidbits, interviews, photographs and more.


We Don’t Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy by Caseen Gaines explores the time-travelling vehicle which brought us Marty McFly and catapulted Michael J. Fox to superstardom. More than 50 original interviews were conducted with key players, including director Robert Zemeckis, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson and Huey Lewis. Gaines shares insider information about the movie, including details of the recasting of Eric Stoltz and the resulting domino effect, but he also looks at the staying power and devoted fan base of these three inventive films.


As If!: The Oral History of Clueless As Told by Amy Heckerling and the Cast and Crew by Jen Chaney delivers on its title’s promise with an in-depth account of this innovative movie told by the people who were there. Chaney’s interviews garnered information about casting, costume design, soundtrack and setting, all of which were so vital to the film’s message and success. It appears that this Beverly Hills comedy of manners holds up after 20 years as it remains one of today’s most streamed movies. Chaney includes never-before-seen photos, original call sheets and casting notes, along with ideas as to why the movie continues to have such a powerful pop culture presence. Think you’ll find a more fun summer read? As Alicia Silverstone’s Cher would say: As if!


Audrey and Bill

posted by: May 7, 2015 - 7:00am

Audrey and Bill by Edward EpsteinThe Golden Age of Hollywood introduced us to luminary icons of the 20th century whose influence radiates to this day; perhaps none more than Audrey Hepburn. Edward Epstein’s new biography Audrey and Bill focuses on Hepburn’s brief affair with the “Golden Boy” of Hollywood, William “Bill” Holden.

Unlike today when we are inundated with facts about celebrities every time we turn on our TV’s, computers or phones, the publicists of the 1950s worked overtime to insure the personal lives of the studio’s stars did not invade the public consciousness. And while Audrey and Bill’s whirlwind romance that blossomed when they met on the set of the Billy Wilder classic Sabrina was well-known in Hollywood circles, it was kept largely out of the public eye.


Epstein sheds light on the fact that their affair, though brief, shaped many of both Audrey and Bill’s relationships and marriages moving forward in their lives. Both actors, however, never really turned out to be very happy in love despite their tremendous professional successes.


There’s plenty more gossip about some of the biggest names of the 20th century in this book that will not disappoint the curious: Humphrey Bogart hated both of his costars! Nancy Reagan tattled to Bill’s wife about his numerous affairs! Bill dated Grace Kelly! Audrey sang to JFK on his last birthday to take away from the intense scrutiny from the Marilyn Monroe version the year before!


At times, the book reads like two separate biographies, following each actor through their career missteps and triumphs, through other relationships, children and illnesses. Holden’s death in 1980 due to liver disease and Hepburn’s death in 1993 due to cancer are also chronicled.


Perfect beach reading for those who are fans of either star, or just interested in the Hollywood glamour of a bygone era, will find this story of Audrey and Bill a compelling look into the romantic lives of two of Hollywood’s greatest stars.



Cover art for You Might Remember Me

For eight seasons on Saturday Night Live, Phil Hartman’s comedic genius delighted audiences. Known as “The Glue” among his castmates, Hartman’s many impersonations and broad characters revitalized the show after one of its darkest periods. Beyond SNL, Hartman was a beloved voice on The Simpsons as well as the bombastic Bill McNeal on the critically lauded show NewsRadio. Poised to make a superstar breakout in several summer films of 1998, life was great for the comedian.


But in the early morning hours of May 28, 1998, police released the shocking news that Phil Hartman had been killed by his wife, Brynn, in their home while their children slept. For such a funny man to meet such a tragic end seemed unbelievable as fans, friends and costars tried to make sense of the loss to the comedy world at large. In You Might Remember Me: The Life and Times of Phil Hartman, biographer Mike Thomas stresses that what a person thinks of when she or he thinks about Phil Hartman isn’t his death, but the life of a performer whose talent gave laughter to so many.


Chock-full of interviews with family and famous friends, the book delves into Hartman’s childhood — as one of eight children, he often had to “perform” to be noticed. It also highlights his early career as a successful graphic artist (he designed album covers for bands like Poco and America) to his breakthrough with The Groundlings. From helping Paul Reubens hone the character of Pee-Wee Herman to developing his own popular character Chick Hazard, Phil Hartman seemed an enigma: someone committed to performing without really wanting to stick to it for long. He was someone waiting for the next big thing, but only if the next big thing fit in with the lifestyle he wanted.


You Might Remember Me paints a picture of a man searching for an identity: one that he could never quite completely cover with wigs and prosthetic noses. It is a great read for fans of Hartman’s work and for those who enjoy biographies of complicated, delicate genius, both in the moment and ahead of its time.



Leslie Knope Approved This Message

posted by: November 25, 2014 - 7:00am

Cover art for Yes Please by Amy PoehlerAmy Poehler wants you to know that writing a book is very, very hard to do. She handles the pressure well in her memoir, Yes Please.


Delving into her deep-rooted love for all things comedy, Poehler shares hilarious stories from her performing past. She shares how, as a 10-year-old playing the role of Dorothy in a school production of The Wizard Of Oz, she was able to get her first audience to laugh and how she has been chasing that feeling ever since. From her college years through her work with improv troupe (and later Comedy Central show) The Upright Citizens Brigade, Poehler stresses the value of hard work as the source of her success. Fans of her work on Saturday Night Live and Parks and Recreation will not be disappointed either — several chapters share inside jokes, back stories and funny mishaps on the sets of both beloved shows.


Her vast work experience isn’t the only engaging part of this memoir: Poehler also gets personal. Her reflections on motherhood and raising her two boys, Archie and Abel, demonstrate her creativity in parenting. She doesn’t directly address her divorce with comedian Will Arnett, but does offer a hilarious chapter on some divorce books she would like to someday write, such as “I Want a Divorce! See You Tomorrow!” and “The Holidays Are Ruined!” There are lots of stories about her friendships with recognizable names, like Tina Fey and Louis C.K. Best friend Seth Meyers also contributes a short chapter.  


Inter-chapters feature some interesting “advice,” and the book shows off some great keepsakes: a letter from Hillary Clinton welcoming Archie into the world, a signed photo of The Wire’s Michael K. Williams and many photographs and relics from her childhood, including poems she wrote when she was little.


This memoir is perfect for any fan of Amy Poehler, her work or comedy in general. Her wealth of experience in a variety of venues and acts will inspire and educate those looking to “break into the biz,” and her ideas about everything from performing sketch comedy nine-months pregnant to how our cell phones will eventually kill us will amuse and entertain any reader. After reading, pick up some of her best work, like Parks and Recreation or Saturday Night Live: The Best of Amy Poehler on DVD.



posted by: November 3, 2014 - 6:00am

Cover of As You Wish by Cary ElwesIf you know the name Inigo Montoya, the secret to a nice MLT and never to go against a Sicilian when death is on the line, this book is for you. Cary Elwes takes readers behind the scenes of the cult classic movie The Princess Bride in As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride. Elwes, who played the film’s hero Westley, was a fan of William Goldman’s novel long before he auditioned for the film. When he was approached about the role, he was thrilled. After meeting with Goldman and director Rob Reiner, Elwes was offered the part, and he became part of the 1987 movie which also featured Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Peter Falk, Billy Crystal, Fred Savage, Wallace Shawn and Andre the Giant.


Moderately successful in theaters, The Princess Bride wasn’t the blockbuster that the studio hoped it would be. However, when the movie was released on video it truly found its audience. As home video collections became popular, VHS copies of The Princess Bride started selling better than anyone could have expected, and the movie’s popularity took on a life of its own.


In As You Wish, Elwes brings fans behind-the-scenes photos and stories told by the film’s cast. Elwes depicts the joy of making this film that has endured and captured the imagination of so many fans. Elwes recently called the book “the quintessential making-of memoir.” As You Wish is a must-read for fans of The Princess Bride, and it will definitely lead to re-watching this beloved movie.


While We Sleep

posted by: September 26, 2014 - 7:00am

Cover art for NocturneAward-winning photographer Traer Scott brings nocturnal wildlife to vivid life in Nocturne: Creatures of the Night, her fascinating book of animal portraiture. A detailed introduction explains the processes that Scott went through to compose and best feature the animals, including how her husband constructed black foam core boxes to provide fully black backgrounds for the smaller creatures. She also describes in detail the experiences of corralling a little brown bat on to its “stage”; the short, vivid life of a luna moth and how she felt obligated to photograph and release it humanely; and the first defense porcupines use when feeling threatened – a pungent odor she found herself covered in when going for the perfect shot leaving her barely able to breathe.


The bulk of the lovely book, of course, is the stunning photographs themselves. Each portrait of the featured beings comes with a short explanation of some of the animal’s more captivating nocturnal behaviors. The author also conveys that the habitats of too many of the animals presented are being destroyed as humans encroach on their environment. From the well-known, such as species of owls, bats and raccoons, to the various felines, snakes and amphibians that stalk the darkness, Scott’s photographic subjects glow with life. The fur, scales and feathers of the studies catch the light against the black, becoming brilliant and almost tangible. An easy-to-hold size makes Nocturne a beautiful package to pore over with amazement at the photographs and the animals contained within.


In Memory of Maya Angelou

posted by: May 28, 2014 - 2:51pm

Today, the world lost Maya Angelou. Yet we will never lose the irreplaceable voice she used to shape our world to make it a more compassionate and stronger place.


She is most widely known for her first memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, in which she reveals the hardships she endured being both an African-American and a girl in the Jim Crow South. In her memoirs, she expresses such complicated themes as race, identity and womanhood in an honest style that illuminates the human condition. In her last book, Mom & Me & Mom, Angelou investigated the loving yet complex relationship she had with her robust mother, an exceptional person in her own right.


Along with telling her own story, Angelou used her unique voice in other transformative ways. She was a poet. Her stimulating poetry is gathered in The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou. She was a singer, a dancer, an educator and her voice continues to reach far beyond the literary realm. Angelou was a vigorous civil rights advocate, working alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Multiple presidents honored her linguistic power by having her speak as the heart of the nation. In her words and throughout her life, Angelou proved "one isn't necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can't be kind, true, merciful, generous or honest." She embodied these virtues and instilled them in others, to the benefit of us all.



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