Tag Archives: celebrity bios

It’s a Long Story Book Review

In the summer of 2014, I had the pleasure of seeing Willie Nelson live at Ravinia in Chicago.  Together with Alison Kraus and the Union Station band, Willie filled the night with amazing music and helped open my eyes (and ears!) to the beauty of classic country tunes.

After seeing Willie live, I ran to the store and bought two or three of his albums, including his recent duets album titled “To All the Girls” – which is fantastic, by the way.  I quickly fell in love with Willie’s unique way of singing and the wonderful stories he tells through his music.

Not surprisingly, Willie is a master of songwriting.  After all, he has 80+ years of experience to pull from!  And in his autobiography, It’s a Long Story: My Life, Willie tells the story behind the stories, diving into his own life in a series of memories told “as clear as a Texas sky and in the same rhythm that I lived it.”

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Filled with stories about growing up in Abbott, Texas, of selling vacuum cleaners and encyclopedias, of writing song after song and trying, despite all odds, to strike big in the music business, It’s a Long Story is an intimate and candid look into the life of the man who influenced the art of songwriting.

One of the most surprising things I learned in reading It’s a Long Story was the massive influence Willie Nelson has had on the music industry…not just in his style of singing or his love of musical storytelling, but in the lyrics he’s written, both for himself and other artists.  Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues”, Patsy Cline’s “Crazy”, and Elvis’s “Heartbreak Hotel” are just SOME of the popular tunes that were actually written by Willie Nelson.

A funny and honest story about true love, wild adventures, friends and family, It’s a Long Story opens the door into the life of one man who entertained millions with his tales of adventures on the road, at home, and on the road again.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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A Life in Parts Book Review

Before Lyndon B. Johnson…before Dalton Trumbo…before Walter White, Heisenberg, Hal Wilkerson, and Tim Whatley…before the Tony and the Emmy Awards, before the guest star spots, the commercials, the plays, and the soap operas, Bryan Cranston was just your average kid.

Well, sort of.

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An actor by age 7, Bryan Cranston has held many roles in his lifetime, the least of which being on the stage and screen.  Before receiving international fame with his portrayal as Walter White in AMC’s Breaking Bad, Cranston played several odd parts that helped landed him in the spotlight.  These were not unusual roles, and actually are roles several of us play in our own lives:  paperboy, farmhand, lover, husband, and father being a few.

In his intimate, funny, and inspiring memoir, A Life in Parts, Cranston takes us through his repertoire of performances, starting with his role as a son and brother, and taking us through his larger parts as father, husband, and actor.  Broken down into small chapters, each section of the book discusses a different part of Cranston’s life.  Those who have followed Cranston from his days on Loving and Malcolm in the Middle are sure to enjoy his stories about life on and off the sets…and he also gives an inspiring account of how he mentally, physically, and emotionally prepared for the challenge of playing President Lyndon Johnson in All the Way, a role that won him a Tony Award.

However, nothing came close to what he had to endure to bring the character of Walter White to life.  Fans of Breaking Bad will enjoy what Cranston has to say about his beloved cast and crew…and you’re sure to gain a new perspective on the show (and his character) after learning about what Cranston had to do, had to search for, to mentally and emotionally prepare for the role that would launch him into stardom.

Besides being a dossier of Cranston’s personal and professional achievements, A Life in Parts is also a love letter of sorts to the craft of acting.  It’s a deep and personal look into the devotion it takes to bring a character to life…the courage it takes to stand up for yourself and what you believe in…and the amount of creativity needed to really dive into a character’s motives and values.

In the great play of life, we all play many parts.  We act in our own shows and in the shows of our loved ones.  We play the hero, the villain, the friend, the comic relief.  We don masks, we hide in the shadows, we bare it all and, hopefully, don’t live to regret it.  We, as they say, wear many hats, and while some are more important than others, it’s all the roles we play – all the hats we wear – that make up our great story.  In A Life in Parts, Cranston breaks apart his life into the core characters that have molded him into who he is…it’s an intimate and honest look at the roles that have shaped him both professionally and personally and it’s an honest and true dedication to the craft he loves so dearly.

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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Born Standing Up Book Review

This year I had the absolute joy of seeing three of my favorite standup comedians on stage.  The adventure started in Milwaukee to go see one of the best, Brian Regan.  From there, it was down to Chicago to catch Louie CK (a bucket list item crossed off!), then finally up to Madison to chill with Bill Burr.  It was a great lineup of amazing talent…and I loved each performance for different reasons.

Though I don’t have experience in standup comedy, I do have experience in writing…and I know how challenging comedy writing can be…ESPECIALLY standup.  It takes a special person to take on that task, and it’s become quite clear to me overtime that, while all standup entertainers may technically be “comedians”, not all comedians can do standup.  It’s a skill, a talent, that only few and far between can do and do well.

And before all the great comedians of today, there was a little twirpy dude who put on some bunny ears, hopped up on stage and hoped for the best.  Little did he know that he would soon become the biggest concert draw in the history of standup comedy.

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Filled with hilarious stories of failures and successes and told in the unique voice of the author himself, Born Standing Up is an eye-opening autobiography from famed entertainer, Steve Martin.  Though most people today may know him as a banjo player/movie star/author, Steve Martin actually got his start doing standup shows…and Born Standing Up is an intimate look at why he decided to do standup, then walk away forever.

Steve Martin has quite the resume.  His “professional” life started at age 10 when he worked selling guidebooks at the newly opened Disneyland theme park.  A decade later, he worked the Bird Cage Theatre at Knott’s Berry Farm where he got his taste for magic and comedy.

Throughout the rest of his years, Martin worked to fine-tune his skills, highlighting in his book the sacrifices, discipline and originality that helped make him an icon.  By the early 70’s, Martin was the biggest concert draw in the history of standup and enjoyed massive success during his run on Saturday Night Live.

But, as we all know, heavy is the head that wears the crown…and as most talented performers will tell you, it’s quite lonely at the top.  In 1981 Martin made the choice to quit standup forever…and as a true and gifted writer, explains his story and his reasonings with elegant prose and lovely language.

A superb testament to the sheer tenacity, concentration and focus it takes to be one of the greats, Born Standing Up helps peel back the layers to this multi-talented performer and shows the world, with great gusto, one wild and crazy guy.

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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Creativity Inc. Book Review

In my 30 or so years of existence, I’ve spent a good 15 to 20 years in the work force.  I’ve had good bosses and bad bosses.  I’ve had co-workers I’ve loved and who I consider family…and I’ve had co-workers I probably will never see again.  I’ve worked as a minion, a trainer, a key holder, and a manager.  I’ve had jobs that have changed me as a person and jobs that are completely weird and unique.  But in every job, no matter what it is, I need to be inspired.  I need to feel like I can make a difference and challenge myself to do better.  This is a feeling that has forced me in and out of companies and has helped influence several decisions I’m both proud of and ashamed of…

During a particular difficult time in my professional career, I was given the book, Creativity Inc. by my dad.  It was a pre-run copy that he got from the library where he worked and he allowed me to read it in the hopes it would inspire me to get out of my funk.  What resulted after reading Creativity Inc. was a life-changing moment…a defining moment…in my career.  It completely changed the way I view management, work life, and the humanity (or lack thereof) of corporate America.

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Written by Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios, Creativity Inc. sets out to explore how we can bring fun and creativity back into the workday.  Meant for managers who want to lead their employees to new heights, this manual of sorts aims to train individuals to inspire originality and positivity in the workforce.  By using examples of how he manages at Pixar, as well as how day-to-day operations are led at the studio, Catmull teaches readers how to build a creative culture, no matter what your company aims to do or sell.

It’s no secret that Pixar is a behemoth in the animation industry.  With 30 or so Academy Awards and movies that almost guarantee a box-office hit, Pixar knows what they’re doing.  So what’s the secret?  Why is Pixar so widely admired…and so profitable?  The answer is simple…the employees.

People at Pixar are encouraged to brainstorm.  They are encouraged to take risks.  They are encouraged to fail and encouraged to dream.  THEY LIKE WORKING THERE.  They’re committed to doing their best and pushing themselves because their success is everyone’s success.  There are no scary labels there.  No “rules” about who you can and can’t talk to.  Do yourself a favor and Google “Pixar Offices”…you’ll see that nearly everyone surrounds themselves with things they love, people they love, objects they love.  It’s a company that knows it’s only as good as the people that work there…and the people that work there love and respect that.

That’s not to say the path has been easy.  Pixar wasn’t always the amazing company it is today, and it took a long time, and a lot of training, to get leadership to where it is today…but when a company has leaders that believe in the message and that work WITH the team instead of ABOVE the team, well, then you are on the way to greatness.

At its core, Creativity Inc. begs to answer the following question:  What does it mean to manage well?  Everyone has their own idea of what a GOOD manager is, but what qualities in a leader make a team successful?  How does one learn those qualities and use them in a way that will encourage the team to motivate each other and encourage each other to succeed?  Filled with all kinds of helpful quips and tips, this book attempts to offer some suggestions on how to manage, how to lead, how to inspire, and how to motivate.  If a leader doesn’t lead or isn’t trusted, the results can be detrimental.

After I read Creativity Inc., I quit my job.  I came to realize that I was not happy and was not being encouraged and motivated in the ways I knew I needed to be.  After checking Pixar’s employment page (because I mean, I’d wash floors just to work there!), I embarked on a job search to find something I could stand behind, a company I believed in and a job I could be proud of…and I found it.  And everything changed.  My stress levels plummeted.  My interest in work and success improved.  Hell, my desire to just do my daily job was fueled by the fact that I was HAPPY.  This is the secret, folks.  Whatever it is that makes you happy, that will help fuel your success no matter what it is you do.  Pixar knows it.  Google knows it.  More and more companies are FINALLY coming to realize that when their employees are happy, the company benefits…and if companies big and small make this a priority in how to improve their business, well, I think corporate America can make a huge change for the better…and as individuals, we can make changes that will help us for the better, too…both personally and professionally.

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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Gumption Book Review

There’s only one word that comes to mind when I think of Nick Offerman: MAN. Not at all unlike the gruff but loveable Ron Swanson on NBC’s Parks and Recreation, Offerman is a man obsessed with nature, good whisky, and fine meat. He loves his country and the people that built it and is a true-blooded American all the way.

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He prides himself on his abstinence from technology and his hobby, no, passion for creative art. Whether it’s making cards for his wife (aww!) or crafting a boat out of wood, Offerman is a down and dirty man’s man. I mean, look at the sexiness oozing from this GIF:

nick offerman drinking whiskey scotch whisky

STAAAHHHPP!! I’m seriously in love with him.
PS-If you haven’t seen this Nick Offerman Yule Log special, pour yourself a nice glass of whisky and treat yo self to it.  It will warm your heart and soul.

But when he’s not working in his workshop or acting on stage or screen, Offerman spends his time with the written word. After the great success of his first book, Paddle Your Own Canoe, Offerman embarked on another collection of stories, this time focusing on those tried and true Americans that helped turn this country into the place it is today.

In Gumption: Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America’s Gutsiest Troublemakers, Offerman takes us on a tour of American history, highlighting 21 creative, bold, and brilliant Americans who were trailblazers in their own right. Told with witty deadpan comedy that can only come from Offerman, each essay in Gumption aims to showcase how these individuals molded and paved their way through life, often battling controversy to realize their potential.

While I agreed with a good selection of the people Offerman included in this list, specifically Frederick Douglass, Eleanor Roosevelt, Carol Burnett, and Conan O’Brien, it started to become quite obvious that Gumption was turning into a place for Offerman to talk about all the people who helped mold and shape his own life. Offerman even owns up to his selfish ways, saying this book was the perfect excuse for him to “…meet his heroes and idols”, a notion I certainly can’t fault him for, because he has a great selection in Gumption. However, if his main goal was to really talk about the troublemakers that molded and shaped America, I think a few of his choices missed the boat. Sure the creative minds of Yoko Ono, Thomas Lie-Nielsen, Nat Benjamin, and George Nakashima have done amazing things, but do they belong in the same list as visionaries like Theodore Roosevelt, Wendell Berry, Willie Nelson, and Benjamin Franklin? While a lot of Offerman’s heroes in Gumption certainly were trailblazers in their own right, I felt some gutsy Americans were missing from this list.

But my own personal aggravation was just that, my opinion. I can think of a good handful of people that would be on my gumption list that might not make it onto yours, namely Sammy Davis Jr., George Carlin, and Abraham Lincoln. But, all things considered, Gumption offers readers an intimate and personal look into the American heroes that made Offerman the man he is today. Conversational, honest, and laugh-out-loud funny at times, Gumption proves, once again, that there really is nothing that Nick Offerman can’t do.

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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10 of My Favorite Audiobooks

Whether you’re driving, flying, running, walking, biking, or hiking, listening to an audiobook is a great way to help pass the time. As a commuter by choice and for pleasure, I greatly enjoy listening to audiobooks, and I’ve gathered a few of my fave’s here below.

Most of these are great for shorter trips and are easy to digest and understand (maybe safe A Song of Ice and Fire for those longer vacations). Read by actors, authors, and other celebrities, these 10 audiobooks hold a special place on my digital shelf of books I find myself returning to again and again.

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harry-potter

The Harry Potter series
Written By:
J.K. Rowling
Read By: Jim Dale
Why I Love It: In a word, Jim Dale’s voice is magical. It’s even easier to get lost in the magical world of Harry Potter when you’re listening to Dale read to you. Character voices and an attention to inflection make this one of the most enjoyable audiobook series ever.

choose-your-own-autobiography

Choose Your Own Autobiography
Written By:
Neil Patrick Harris
Read By: Neil Patrick Harris
Why I Love It: It’s simply ADORKABLE. With his genuine wit and good humor, NPH’s Choose Your Own Autobiography is a fun romp through the life of this multi-talented entertainer. Best of all, it’s interactive! To be honest though, the book is totally worth reading, too…as it also includes fun drawings and photos you obviously miss on the audiobook.

hitchhikers-guide-to-the-galaxy

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Written By:
Douglas Adams
Read By: Stephen Fry
Why I Love It: A weird and wacky tale to begin with, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is made all the more fantastic with Stephen Fry behind it. With laugh-out-loud humor, Fry brings this intergalactic story to life…and his interpretation of Marvin is simply glorious.

game-of-thrones

A Song of Ice and Fire series
Written By:
George R. R. Martin
Read By: Roy Dotrice
Why I Love It: I have to say, I don’t think I would enjoy the A Song of Ice and Fire series if I wasn’t listening to it on CD. Told with amazing attention to detail and character, Roy Dotrice continues to astound me with his reading of George R. R. Martin’s series. Dotrice actually earned a place in the Guinness World Records in 2004 for the highest number of character voices by a single actor (he voiced 224 unique characters in A Game of Thrones alone!).

world-war-z

World War Z
Written By:
Max Brooks
Read By: Alan Alda, Mark Hamill, John Turturro, Max Brooks, Nathan Fillion, Rob Reiner, Frank Darabont, Carl Reiner, and many more
Why I Love It: Wow. This was a unique experience. Told by an entire cast of characters, only a handful of which are listed above, World War Z is one of the best zombie novels of its genre. Told from the perspective of several people all over the world, each of which are experiencing a different part of this apocalyptic world, World War Z is a must-listen for fans of zombie lore.

cuckoos-calling

The Cuckoo’s Calling
Written By:
Robert Galbraith
Read By: Robert Glenister
Why I Love It: I have to admit, it took me a while to really get into The Cuckoo’s Calling, but it was Robert Glenister’s voice that kept me tuning in day after day. Written by Robert Galbraith (a pen name for Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling), this mystery thriller does take a while to hook you in, but Glenister’s voice will sooth you through to the end.

hunger-games

The Hunger Games series
Written By:
Suzanne Collins
Read By: Suzanne Collins
Why I Love It: While she’s no Roy Dotrice or Tina Fey, author Suzanne Collins still does a great job in bringing The Hunger Games story and its characters to life. Great for road trips and short flights, this audio series is easy to follow and enjoyable for boys and girls of all ages.

a-walk-in-the-woods

A Walk in the Woods
Written By:
Bill Bryson
Read By: Bill Bryson
Why I Love It: If you’ve never read or listened to A Walk in the Woods, I suggest you do so immediately. Known as one of the best travel writers of today, Bill Bryson’s account of his journey into the Appalachian wilderness is perfect for a long family road trip. Told with brutal honesty and humor that any traveler can relate to, A Walk in the Woods is an easy audiobook that listeners of all ages are sure to love.

bossypants

Bossypants
Written By:
Tina Fey
Read By: Tina Fey
Why I Love It: I mean, doesn’t Tina Fey say it all? Told with the same wit and wisdom we’ve come to know and love, Fey’s account of Bossypants is the perfect way to indulge in this wonderful book. From her start in Chicago (represent!!) to her successful runs on SNL and 30 Rock, Fey shares all the tips and tricks she’s learned along the way to becoming a strong, powerful, and sexy-ass lady of laughs.

beloved

Beloved
Written By:
Toni Morrison
Read By: Toni Morrison
Why I Love It: You thought her prose was smooth and silky? That’s nothing compared to her voice. The heartbreaking story of Beloved is made all the more enticing by the sultry voice of Toni Morrison. This beautiful novel is read at a slower pace, allowing the words of Morrison’s tragic and beautiful story to soak deep into our skin. Take the time to enjoy this one, guys. Listening to Morrison read this novel is truly an amazing experience.

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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As You Wish Book Review

There are five movies that I basically know from beginning to end. Movies I’ve seen WAY too many times and will easily (and perhaps annoyingly) quote in any conversation when given the chance:

  • When Harry Met Sally
  • Mary Poppins
  • Forgetting Sarah Marshall
  • What’s Eating Gilbert Grape
  • The Princess Bride

It’s an eclectic line up, but one that has given me a very unique and unrealistically awesome view on the world (I mean, I know all about friendship, motherhood, heartbreak, family drama, and love just from this list!). To quote, it’s practically perfect in every way. 😉

Even though these movies are all very near and dear to my heart, there’s only one that I can watch over and over again no matter what the time, day, season, reason, or occasion: The Princess Bride.

This movie is classic cinematic gold. Though it suffered terrible reviews when it was first released, it’s grown to become one of the most well loved fairy tales of all time. How did it do that, you ask?

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Filled with fun facts, sweet stories, and precious photos of the cast and crew, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride is a true treat for fans of all ages. With his mysterious mask removed, actor Cary Elwes takes readers on a first-person adventure through the making and production of this cult classic film. From casting to credits, this delightful book gives readers an inside look at how the ROUS scene was filmed, the insane amount of training that went into every sword fight, how producers finally found the perfect Princess Buttercup, and proves, once and for all, the power of true love.

Throughout As You Wish, fellow cast members chime in with stories, memories, and fun facts about the filming of this movie.  Robin Wright, Billy Crystal, Mandy Patinkin, Wallace Shawn, Fred Savage, and many more share their feelings about their fellow actors (NOTHING BUT LOVE, YOU GUYS!) and the unexpected success of the movie.

In truth, I don’t have enough good things to say about this book.  Warm, delightful, and fun to read, As You Wish is the perfect happily ever after to this magical love story.

And, in case you die-hard fans were wondering, this is not a kissing book.

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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