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Tag Archives: Non-Fiction

It’s really awesome to learn so much at work.  I don’t mean employer-sponsored training in this case although that is an outstanding thing which I do wholeheartedly support.  No, I’m talking about ingesting so much fabulous information (and trying to retain at least a small portion of it) contained in awesome books written on interesting subjects.

Last year – yes, I’m way behind on my posts here – I got to read/narrate The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham by Selina Hastings.  Wow, was that a fascinating and informative read!

A Synopsis —

He was a brilliant teller of tales, one of the most widely read authors of the twentieth century, and at one time the most famous writer in the world, yet W. Somerset Maugham’s own true story has never been fully told. At last, the fascinating truth is revealed in a landmark biography by the award-winning writer Selina Hastings. Granted unprecedented access to Maugham’s personal correspondence and to newly uncovered interviews with his only child, Hastings portrays the secret loves, betrayals, integrity, and passion that inspired Maugham to create such classics as The Razor’s Edge and Of Human Bondage.

Hastings vividly presents Maugham’s lonely childhood spent with unloving relatives after the death of his parents, a trauma that resulted in shyness, a stammer, and for the rest of his life an urgent need for physical tenderness. Here, too, are his adult triumphs on the stage and page, works that allowed him a glittering social life in which he befriended and sometimes fell out with such luminaries as Dorothy Parker, Charlie Chaplin, D. H. Lawrence, and Winston Churchill.

The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham portrays in full for the first time Maugham’s disastrous marriage to Syrie Wellcome, a manipulative society woman of dubious morality who trapped Maugham with a pregnancy and an attempted suicide. Hastings also explores Maugham’s many affairs with men, including his great love, Gerald Haxton, an alcoholic charmer and a cad. Maugham’s courageous work in secret intelligence during two world wars is described in fascinating detail—experiences that provided the inspiration for the groundbreaking Ashenden stories. From the West End to Broadway, from China to the South Pacific, Maugham’s restless and remarkably productive life is thrillingly recounted as Hastings uncovers the real stories behind such classics as “Rain,” The Painted Veil, Cakes & Ale, and other well-known tales.

An epic biography of a hugely talented and hugely conflicted man, The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham is the definitive account of Maugham’s extraordinary life.

If you’ve read this blog before, you probably know that among the performance jobs I pursue is book narration.  In that job, I get the chance to read many books I wouldn’t have otherwise picked up at the bookstore.  When I read a book strictly for personal pleasure, I tend to go for a good mystery or a fascinating bit of non-fiction.  Celebrity autobiographies aren’t usually on my list.  That’s why getting to narrate ME, Ricky Martin’s memoir, is such a change of pace for me.

Although I only began studio sessions on the book last week, it’s already an interesting endeavor.  While not a rabid fan, I definitely enjoy Ricky Martin’s music quite a bit.  I’ve also seen an odd interview of him here and there as he’s been in the public eye for almost his entire life.  Reading the book is very much like hearing him speak.  It has a definite conversational style and evokes a feeling of Ricky bringing the reader into his confidence as he shares his life story with you.

I’m not done reading ME yet, so there is more about Ricky Martin that this reader has to learn.  But it’s an easy, enjoyable read.  And while this isn’t a tell-all expose’ exactly, there have already been a few stories that were unexpected.  Anyone who is a Ricky Martin fan should certainly find it an enjoyable book.

Here’s what publisher Celebra/Penguin Group (USA) says about the book and author:

International superstar, Ricky Martin, who has sold more than 60 million albums worldwide, opens up for the first time about memories of his early childhood, experiences in the famed boy band Menudo, struggles with his identity during the Livin’ la Vida Loca phenomenon, reflections on coming to terms with his sexuality, relationships that allowed him to embrace love, and life-changing decisions like devoting himself to helping children around the world and becoming a father. Me is an intimate memoir about the very liberating and spiritual journey of one of the most iconic pop-stars of our time.

Ricky Martin
Joining Latin pop group Menudo at the age of 12 as lead singer, Martin had scored countless #1 singles globally prior to making his mark in the US with his worldwide hit, “Livin’ La Vida Loca.” Throughout his 25-year musical career, he has sold over 60 million albums and has won numerous GRAMMY awards, American Music Awards and Billboard Awards. Martin is also a devoted humanitarian, having established The Ricky Martin Foundation. He lives between Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

I am currently narrating an interesting non-fiction book titled, “Let This Voice Be Heard: Anthony Benezet, Father of Atlantic Abolitionism” by Maurice Jackson.

Who would have thought that a French emigre’ would have had such a profound effect on the abolitionist movement in the 18th century?  I have to admit that I had never heard of the man.  But Dr. Jackson makes a clear case for the subtitle of his book.  Mr. Benezet was so dogged in his lifelong efforts to abolish the peculiar institution that he had a profound affect on the debate – even managing to persuade such influential men as Benjamin Franklin to the cause. 

With such an interesting topic, the book is chock full of amazing facts and historical tidbits that make it a fascinating discovery of little-known American (and international) history.  It is an academic book.  It doesn’t have the page-turning pace of a murder mystery novel.  And the use of actual quotes from the historical figures discussed can make deciphering the text a challenge here and there (as spelling and terms in common use have changed a bit in the last 200+ years).  But I think that can also be part of the enjoyment.

Dr. Jackson has done an amazing job of amassing supporting and explanatory notes which are collected at the back.  Clearly the man did exhaustive research in preparing this book.  The only criticism I would have is with the editor.  There are some typographical errors in words and names which could cause a little heartburn.  And, yes, I know they are typos because – for instance – the names of two authors being cited are both spelled significantly differently within one footnote.

Nonetheless, it is an interesting book.  If you enjoy history and interesting discoveries in the historical record, you’ll like what Dr. Jackson has given us.  You can see more about the book by clicking on the picture above.

Actually, it’s Supersense: Why We Believe In The Unbelievable – a book by Bruce M. Hood.  I’ve just begun reading this, and it looks very intriguing. 

Mr. Hood is Director of the Bristol Cognitive Development Centre in the Experimental Psychology Department at the University of Bristol.  He has also been a research fellow at Cambridge University and University College London, a visiting scientist at MIT and a faculty professor at Harvard. 

As a result, he takes a scientific but very interesting and insightful look at the working of the human mind (brain) and it’s affect on our beliefs in the supernatural (in the broadest sense of that term).  Briefly, Mr. Hood says of his book

In the vein of Blink, I explore how we may be pre-wired with a mind design that creates our SuperSense that shapes our intuitions and superstitions and is essential to the way we learn to understand the world and in binding us together as a society.

Click on the cover photo at right to learn more about the book and Bruce Hood.

I just completed narration work on an interesting non-fiction book by author Jeff Sharlet called The Family

With such a cryptic title, it’s hard to tell just what the subject matter might be.  Could be anything from cosa nostra to a “how to” on family dynamics.  Well, the full title is, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism At The Heart Of American Power.  Here’s how Publisher’s Weekly describes the book.

Checking in on a friend’s brother at Ivenwald, a Washington-based fundamentalist group living communally in Arlington, Va., religion and journalism scholar Sharlet finds a sect whose members refer to Manhattan’s Ground Zero as “the ruins of secularism”; intrigued, Sharlet accepts on a whim an invitation to stay at Ivenwald. He’s shocked to find himself in the stronghold of a widespread “invisible” network, organized into cells much like Ivenwald, and populated by elite, politically ambitious fundamentalists; Sharlet is present when a leader tells a dozen men living there, “You guys are here to learn how to rule the world.” As it turns out, the Family was established in 1935 to oppose FDR’s New Deal and the spread of trade unions; since then, it has organized well-attended weekly prayer meetings for members of Congress and annual National Prayer Breakfasts attended by every president since Eisenhower. Further, the Family’s international reach (“almost impossible to overstate”) has “forged relationships between the U.S. government and some of the most oppressive regimes in the world.” In the years since his first encounter, Sharlet has done extensive research, and his thorough account of the Family’s life and times is a chilling expose.
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It’s an interesting read, weaving historical information with present-day personal accounts from the author.  It must be selling well: a woman at the Iota open mic actually started talking about this book without provocation.  I can’t even remember how it could have segued into the conversation.  But she had just finished reading it, and it clearly stuck with her enough to want to discuss it.