Very Quick Review: BRAT, AN 80s STORY by Andrew McCarthy (Grand Central)

McCarthyA-BratUSLumped in with the Brat Pack of the 1980s, this is McCarthy’s story of the era

Most people know Andrew McCarthy from his movie roles in Pretty in Pink, St. Elmo’s Fire, Weekend at Bernie’s, and Less than Zero, and as a charter member of Hollywood’s Brat Pack. That iconic group of ingenues and heartthrobs included Rob Lowe, Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, and Demi Moore, and has come to represent both a genre of film and an era of pop culture.

In his memoir Brat: An ’80s Story, McCarthy focuses his gaze on that singular moment in time. The result is a revealing look at coming of age in a maelstrom, reckoning with conflicted ambition, innocence, addiction, and masculinity. New York City of the 1980s is brought to vivid life in these pages, from scoring loose joints in Washington Square Park to skipping school in favor of the dark revival houses of the Village where he fell in love with the movies that would change his life.

Filled with personal revelations of innocence lost to heady days in Hollywood with John Hughes and an iconic cast of characters, Brat is a surprising and intimate story of an outsider caught up in a most unwitting success.

I spotted this book in one of the publisher’s catalogues a little while ago, but I couldn’t place the author. The cover photo didn’t call to mind any movies that I’ve seen — although, after reading Brat, that kind of made sense: I have seen surprisingly few of the movies from the Brat Pack era, despite being quite familiar with the actors’ post-1980s work. After checking IMDb, I learned that I’ve only seen McCarthy in two roles (in The Joy Luck Club and two episodes of White Collar). I have, however, seen a lot of the stuff he’s directed. When the book became available for review, I was in-between books, and decided to dive right in. It’s a short memoir, but one that does offer some interesting tidbits for anyone interested in this particular segment of movie history. Continue reading

Very Quick Review: WE THE NORTH by Doug Smith (Viking)

SmithD-WeTheNorthA reporter reflects on 25 years of the Toronto Raptors

When the Toronto Raptors first took the court back in 1995, the world was a very different place. Michael Jordan was tearing up the NBA. No one had email. And a lot of people wondered whether basketball could survive in Toronto, the holy city of hockey.

Twenty-five years later, the Raptors are the heroes not only of the 416, but of the entire country. That is the incredible story of We the North, told by Doug Smith, the Toronto Star reporter who has been covering the team since the press conference announcing Canada’s new franchise and the team’s beat reporter from that day on.

Comprising twenty-five chapters to mark the team’s twenty-five years, We the North celebrates the biggest moments of the quarter-century–from Vince Carter’s amazing display at the dunk competition to the play-off runs, the major trades, the Raptors’ incredible fans, including Nav Bhatia and Drake, and, of course, the challenges that marked the route to the championship-clinching Game 6 that brought the whole country to a standstill.

We the North: 25 Years of the Toronto Raptors tells the story of Canada’s most exciting team, charting their rise from a sporting oddity in a hockey-mad country to the status they hold today as the reigning NBA champions and national heroes.

I’ve written about how I quickly became a Raptors fan after moving to Toronto in 2014, and how the greater access to NBA games (on TV and also, occasionally in-person) made me somewhat addicted to the sport. Like many (most?) people in the city, I was swept up by the excitement of the 2019 championship run and victory. I have also been enjoying the many stories from my in-laws, who have been avid Raptor fans since the franchise was launched, who have provided some interesting and useful lessons in the franchise’s history. Doug Smith has been there from the start: the first reporter on the Raptors beat. We the North is a collection of short essays, covering various aspects of the team and its history. It’s an engaging read. Continue reading

Upcoming: THE PRINCESS SPY by Larry Loftis (Atria)

LoftisL-PrincessSpyUSI spotted this in a Washington Post article, “What to read in 2021 based on what you loved in 2020” (which has some interesting suggestions, in general). I recently picked up Ben MacIntyre’s Agent Sonya, a book about Ursula Kuczynski Burton, a Russian “spymaster, saboteur, bomb-maker and secret agent”. In the aforementioned WaPo article, Angela Haupt recommends The Princess Spy by Larry Loftis as a comparable 2021 release. After reading the synopsis, I’m intrigued:

A hidden history of an ordinary American girl who became one of the OSS’s most daring spies in World War II before marrying into European nobility…

When Aline Griffith was born in a quiet suburban New York hamlet, no one had any idea that she would go on to live “a life of glamour and danger that Ingrid Bergman only played at in Notorious” (Time). As the US enters the Second World War, the young college graduate is desperate to aid in the war effort, but no one is interested in a bright-eyed young woman whose only career experience is modeling clothes.

Aline’s life changes when, at a dinner party, she meets a man named Frank Ryan and reveals how desperately she wants to do her part for her country. Within a few weeks, he helps her join the Office of Strategic Services — forerunner of the CIA. With a code name and expert training under her belt, she is sent to Spain to be a coder, but is soon given the additional assignment of infiltrating the upper echelons of society, mingling with high-ranking officials, diplomats, and titled Europeans, any of whom could be an enemy agent. Against this glamorous backdrop of galas and dinner parties, she recruits sub-agents and engages in deep-cover espionage to counter Nazi tactics in Madrid.

Even after marrying the Count of Romanones, one of the wealthiest men in Spain, Aline secretly continues her covert activities, being given special assignments when abroad that would benefit from her impeccable pedigree and social connections.

Filled with twists, romance, and plenty of white-knuckled adventures fit for a James Bond film, The Princess Spy brings to vivid life the dazzling adventures of a remarkable American woman who risked everything to serve her country.

Larry Loftis’s The Princess Spy is due to be published by Atria Books in North America and in the UK, on February 9th, 2021.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

Upcoming: FOUR LOST CITIES: A SECRET HISTORY OF THE URBAN AGE by Annalee Newitz (WW Norton)

NewitzA-FourLostCitiesUSPerhaps best known to readers of CR as the author of the acclaimed novels Autonomous and The Future of Another Timeline, Annalee Newitz is taking a different tack for their next book: Four Lost Cities. I first learned of this book from a podcast interview with the author, quite some time ago. (I wish I could remember which one.) It is a book that explores four abandoned cities and tries to ascertain why their inhabitants abandoned them. Here’s the full synopsis:

A quest to explore some of the most spectacular ancient cities in human history — and figure out why people abandoned them.

In Four Lost Cities, acclaimed science journalist Annalee Newitz takes readers on an entertaining and mind-bending adventure into the deep history of urban life. Investigating across the centuries and around the world, Newitz explores the rise and fall of four ancient cities, each the center of a sophisticated civilization: the Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük in Central Turkey, the Roman vacation town of Pompeii on Italy’s southern coast, the medieval megacity of Angkor in Cambodia, and the indigenous metropolis Cahokia, which stood beside the Mississippi River where East St. Louis is today.

Newitz travels to all four sites and investigates the cutting-edge research in archaeology, revealing the mix of environmental changes and political turmoil that doomed these ancient settlements. Tracing the early development of urban planning, Newitz also introduces us to the often anonymous workers — slaves, women, immigrants, and manual laborers — who built these cities and created monuments that lasted millennia.

Four Lost Cities is a journey into the forgotten past, but, foreseeing a future in which the majority of people on Earth will be living in cities, it may also reveal something of our own fate.

Annalee Newitz’s Four Lost Cities is due to be published by W. W. Norton in North America and in the UK, on February 2nd, 2021.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

Upcoming: AFTER THE FALL by Ben Rhodes (Random House)

RhodesB-AfterTheFallUSBen Rhodes was one of President Obama’s longest-serving aides, and is a frequent contributor to various Crooked Media podcasts — in particularly, Pod Save the World. He is also the author of the excellent The World As It Is, his memoir of government service and also examination of foreign policy during the Obama years. In 2021, he has a new book coming out, which I am very eager to read: After The Fall: Being American in the World We Made.

Why is the world turning away from liberal democracy? And what can we do about it? The former deputy national security advisor to President Barack Obama and New York Times bestselling author of The World as It Is travels the globe in a deeply personal, beautifully observed quest for answers.

In 2017, as Ben Rhodes was helping former president Barack Obama begin his next chapter, the legacy they worked to build for eight years was being taken apart. To understand what was happening in his own country, Rhodes decided to look outward, at the wider world. Over the next three years, he traveled to dozens of countries, meeting with politicians, dissidents, and activists confronting the same forces that produced the Trump presidency: spreading nationalism, authoritarianism, and disinformation. Along the way, he was spied on by former Mossad operatives and the Chinese government, met with Hong Kong protesters and Russian oppositionists, and found people from Europe to Asia to the United States struggling to reconcile their own identities with the crude nationalism of their leaders — all while pursuing new strategies to fight back.

Equal parts memoir and reporting, After the Fall is an ambitious and essential work of discovery. Throughout, Rhodes reflects on how the 2008 financial crisis completed a collapse of public confidence in America, globalization, and democracy itself, opening a door to the wave of strongman leaders who have transformed our world — men like Viktor Orban in Hungary, Vladimir Putin in Russia, and Xi Jinping in China. He wrestles with how peoples’ yearning for identity and belonging has been weaponized by nationalists. And he learns from a diverse set of characters — from Obama to rebels to rising politicians–how we can choose a more hopeful story going forward.

Ben Rhodes’s After the Fall is due to be published by Random House in North America, on June 1st, 2021. (I couldn’t find any details of a UK edition at the time of writing.)

Follow the Author: Goodreads, Twitter

Upcoming: STEVE KERR: A LIFE by Scott Howard-Cooper (William Morrow)

HowardCooperS-SteveKerrUSHCLast year, I started reading a lot of books about the NBA. In particular, I read four books about the Golden State Warriors — one each on Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala (a superb memoir), and another that covered KD’s winning tenure with and departure from the team. Like pretty much everyone else with even an slight interest in basketball, I also watched The Last Dance. In all of these, Steve Kerr featured quite prominently — as a teammate of Michael Jordan’s, and later as the successful coach of the Warriors. He was, however, not the focal subject of any of these books or TV series. This year, Scott Howard-Cooper‘s biography of Kerr is due to hit shelves, and I’m very much looking forward to reading it. Here’s the synopsis:

Few individuals have had a career as storied — and improbable — as Steve Kerr. He’s been part of eight NBA titles, General Manager of a franchise, and a respected broadcaster. Playing under three Hall of Fame coaches, including Phil Jackson, and a fourth destined for enshrinement, Gregg Popovich, Kerr was on five championship teams before winning three more as one of the most accomplished coaches in the NBA, with three NBA titles. Kerr’s teammates have included the greatest of the greatest: Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson, and Dennis Rodman.

In this fascinating biography, Scott Howard-Cooper looks at the man and the facets of his unusual life that have made him a legend, from his childhood growing up in the Middle East as the son of academics, to the tragedy of his father’s murder by terrorists; the inauspicious years of his early career at the University of Arizona and in the NBA; his championship-winning seasons with the Chicago Bulls and the Antonio Spurs; his success as head coach of the Golden State Warriors, leading the team to the NBA title in his first year, and adding two more championships in the next four seasons. 

The only NBA coach other than Red Auerbach to lead a team to the Finals five consecutive seasons, Kerr seems destined for the Basketball Hall of Fame. Steve Kerr is his incredible story, offering insights into the man, the game he personifies, and what it takes to be — and make — a champion.

Scott Howard-Cooper’s Steve Kerr is due to be published by William Morrow on June 15th, in North America and in the UK.

Follow the Author: Goodreads, Twitter

Quick Review: THE BIG THREE by Michael Holley (Hachette)

HolleyM-BigThreeUSHow three of the NBA’s best players dominated the league and lead the Boston Celtics to their first championship in more than two decades

The first of “The Big Three” was Paul Pierce. As Boston Celtics fans watched the team retire Pierce’s jersey in a ceremony on February 11, 2018, they remembered again the incredible performances Pierce put on in the city for fifteen years, helping the Celtics escape the bottom of their conference to become champions and perennial championship contenders. But Pierce’s time in the city wasn’t always so smooth. In 2000, he was stabbed in a downtown nightclub eleven times in a seemingly random attack. Six years later, remaining the sole star on a struggling team, he asked to be traded and briefly became a lightning rod among fans.

Then, in 2007, the Boston Celtics General Manager made two monumental trades, bringing Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett to Boston. A press conference on July 31, 2007 was a sight to behold: Pierce, KG, and Ray Allen holding up Celtics jerseys for the flood of media. Coach Doc Rivers made sure the team bonded over the thought of winning a title and living by a Bantu term called Ubuntu, which translates as “I am because we are.” Rivers wanted to make it clear that togetherness and brotherhood would help them maximize their talent and win. What came next — the synthesis of the Celtics’ “Big Three” and their dominant championship run — cemented their standing as one of great teams in NBA history, a rival to Kobe Bryant’s Lakers and LeBron James’s Cavaliers.

The story of the 2007-9 Celtics has popped up in a couple of NBA books that I’ve read recently, and thought I wanted to learn some more — more than I could learn from the internet, certainly. I saw that this book was on the way, and was lucky to receive a review copy. It’s a well-written and balanced story, told with authority and also affection — for the team, the players, and the sport. I really enjoyed this. Continue reading

Very Quick Review: GREENLIGHTS by Matthew McConaughey (Crown Publishing/Headline)

McConaugheyM-GreenlightsA lively, entertaining memoir

I’ve been in this life for fifty years, been trying to work out its riddle for forty-two, and been keeping diaries of clues to that riddle for the last thirty-five. Notes about successes and failures, joys and sorrows, things that made me marvel, and things that made me laugh out loud. How to be fair. How to have less stress. How to have fun. How to hurt people less. How to get hurt less. How to be a good man. How to have meaning in life. How to be more me.
 
Recently, I worked up the courage to sit down with those diaries. I found stories I experienced, lessons I learned and forgot, poems, prayers, prescriptions, beliefs about what matters, some great photographs, and a whole bunch of bumper stickers. I found a reliable theme, an approach to living that gave me more satisfaction, at the time, and still: If you know how, and when, to deal with life’s challenges — how to get relative with the inevitable — you can enjoy a state of success I call “catching greenlights.”
 
So I took a one-way ticket to the desert and wrote this book: an album, a record, a story of my life so far. This is fifty years of my sights and seens, felts and figured-outs, cools and shamefuls. Graces, truths, and beauties of brutality. Getting away withs, getting caughts, and getting wets while trying to dance between the raindrops.
 
Hopefully, it’s medicine that tastes good, a couple of aspirin instead of the infirmary, a spaceship to Mars without needing your pilot’s license, going to church without having to be born again, and laughing through the tears.
 
It’s a love letter. To life.
 
It’s also a guide to catching more greenlights — and to realizing that the yellows and reds eventually turn green too.
 
Good luck.

An entertaining, quite uplifting memoir. I listened to the audiobook edition of the book, brilliantly and enthusiastically narrated by the author. I thoroughly enjoyed this. Continue reading

Review: RAPTURE by Nick Nurse & Michael Sokolove (Little, Brown)

NurseN-RaptureNick Nurse’s long journey to the NBA and how his experiences led to the Raptors’ Championship

Nick Nurse distills the wisdom, insight, and experiences that helped him lead the Toronto Raptors to the NBA championship in his first year as head coach.

NBA fans had modest  expectations for rookie coach Nick Nurse and his Toronto Raptors. But what those naysayers didn’t realize was that Nurse had spent the past thirty years proving himself at every level of the game, from youth programs and college ball to the NBA D League and Britain’s struggling pro circuit. While few coaches have taken such a circuitous path to pro basketball’s promised land, the journey-which began at Kuemper Catholic high school in Carroll, Iowa-forged a coach who proved to be as unshakable as he is personable.

On the road, he is known to bring his guitar and keyboard for late-night jazz and blues sessions. In the locker room, he’s steadfast and even-keeled regardless of the score. On the court, he pulls out old-school tactics with astounding success. A rookie in name but a veteran in attitude, Nurse is seemingly above the chaos of the game and, with only two seasons on his résumé, has already established himself as one of the NBA’s most admired head coaches.

Now, in this revealing new book — equal parts personal memoir, leadership mani­festo, and philosophical meditation — Nurse tells his own story. Given unprecedented access inside the Raptors’ locker room, readers get an intimate study of not only the team culture he has built, but also of a rookie coach’s unique dynamic with the star players — such as Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Low­ry, and Pascal Siakam — who helped trail-blaze the 2019 championship run. As much for readers of Ray Dalio as for fans of John Wooden and Pat Summitt, Rapture promis­es to be a necessary read for anyone looking to forge their own path to success.

I’ve been looking forward to this ever since it was announced (which was, I think, shortly after the Raptors’ NBA victory last summer). I started reading this a couple of days after it came out, and zipped through it. Written in an inviting and engaging style, Rapture is a quick and interesting read. I enjoyed this. Continue reading

Quick Review: THE SIXTH MAN by Andre Iguodala & Carvell Wallace (Blue Rider Press)

IguodalaA-SixthManUSPBA superb memoir that is also a passionate, engaging meditation on race in America

Andre Iguodala is one of the most admired players in the NBA. And fresh off the Warriors’ fifth Finals appearance in five years, his game has never been stronger.

Off the court, Iguodala has earned respect, too — for his successful tech investments, his philanthropy, and increasingly for his contributions to the conversation about race in America. It is no surprise, then, that in his first book, Andre, with his cowriter Carvell Wallace, has pushed himself to go further than he ever has before about his life, not only as an athlete but about what makes him who he is at his core.

The Sixth Man traces Andre’s journey from childhood in his Illinois hometown to his Bay Area home court today. Basketball has always been there. But this is the story, too, of his experience of the conflict and racial tension always at hand in a professional league made up largely of African American men; of whether and why the athlete owes the total sacrifice of his body; of the relationship between competition and brotherhood among the players of one of history’s most glorious championship teams. And of what motivates an athlete to keep striving for more once they’ve already achieved the highest level of play they could have dreamed.

On drive, on leadership, on pain, on accomplishment, on the shame of being given a role, and the glory of taking a role on: This is a powerful memoir of life and basketball that reveals new depths to the superstar athlete, and offers tremendous insight into most urgent stories being told in American society today.

I’ve been on a bit of a basketball kick, recently. The NBA’s restart in Orlando has been playing in the background since it began (except for Raptors games, which I give the games my full attention). I decided that it was time to read The Sixth Man, Andre Iguodala’s acclaimed memoir. Co-authored by journalist Carvell Wallace, I had pretty high expectations. The book completely blew these expectations out of the water, and I blitzed through it. A superb book about basketball, life and race in America. Continue reading