Book Review – ‘Reckoning’ by Magda Szubanski

Enlightening personal history of identity, country and family.

Genre: Memoir, Non-Fiction, War, History

No. of pages: 400

Magda Szubanski’s childhood in a suburban migrant family was haunted by the demons of her father’s life in wartime Poland. At nineteen, fighting in the Warsaw resistance, he had been recruited to a secret counter-intelligence execution squad. His mission was to assassinate Polish traitors who were betraying Jewish citizens to the Nazis. The legacy of her father’s bravery left the young Magda with profound questions about her family story.

As she grew up, the assassin’s daughter had to navigate her own frailties and fears, including a lifelong struggle with weight gain and an increasing awareness of her own sexuality. With courage and compassion Szubanski’s memoir asks the big questions about life, about the shadows we inherit and the gifts we pass on.

Magda Szubanskiis one of Australia’s best known and most loved performers. She appeared in a number of sketch comedy shows before creating the iconic character of Sharon in ABC-TV’s Kath and Kim. She has also acted in films (Babe, Babe: Pig in the City, Happy Feet, The Golden Compass) and stage shows. Reckoning is her first book.

Magda Szubanski is an impressive woman and a magnanimous writer. Her style is beautiful, melancholic, and haunting. I was bursting with pride and envy upon reading her memoir – her writing skills are first class.

I’m not big on memoirs or autobiographies, but frequently pepper them in my reading schedule because I like to take in a wide breath of writing styles and subjects. ‘Reckoning’ first attracted me because Magda has been the one Australian actress/comedian that has been a constant with me throughout my life. I was always amazed at her work, her humour, her skills in all the endeavours she put her hand to. Then as I started to get into the memoir, I discovered that we were kin on so many other levels. Her father is Polish and served – and survived – the war; my partner is part Polish, descendant from the royal family, and served in the NZSAS, and some of the atrocities he has lived through quite frankly scare the bejeezus out of me. Magda counts herself as a part of the  LGBTQIA+ community as do I, and issues pertaining to identity, coming out, admonishing over labels and perception I can fully relate to. The loss of loved ones – check! And trying to navigate the world as a woman in male dominated industries… need I say more. Though in having said all that, ‘Reckoning’ heavily deals with history and identity of a country which was just about wiped off the face of the earth. A people who only have a history of pain, death, and displacement.

Reckoning’ is a lot to digest. It’s full of a time of humanity at its worst, mixed together with Magda coming to terms with her families role in that period, and, like a heavy sweater, something she drags around with her, trying to fit in today’s society. So I had to put this down a lot. It was emotional, difficult, and confronting subject matter. Distinctly Australian and nostalgic. But also triggering. It brought up all my insecurities again, as Magda faced hers,  and had me reliving precious childhood memories that I don’t even have the opportunity of sharing with family again because they have all passed on.

We also get snippets of her professional acting career; and not really a behind the scenes feel, but a glimpse into her emotional and mental states around those events. I loved how this is not anything like the memoirs I’ve recently read from other famous female actors and comedians. In comparison those are fluffy, feel good pieces, where ‘Reckoning’ is a soulful powerhouse.

This memoir feels more like a love letter to her father, and the Polish people. It’s about her discovering her heritage and using that as a lens to confront her own identity. Though this writing was completely unexpected, I can say with all honesty this memoir is the best of this genre I have read to date. The only down side is that it may isolate some younger readers and can get a little bogged down in history. But this is definitely a memoir I will be recommending to everyone.

Overall feeling: I stand with you…

© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Just a Geek’ by Wil Wheaton

A look into the fandom behind Star Trek, redefining identity and growing up.

Just a Geek Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Non Fiction, Autobiography

No. of pages: 267

From Goodreads:

Wil Wheaton has never been one to take the conventional path to success. Despite early stardom through his childhood role in the motion picture “Stand By Me,” and growing up on television as Wesley Crusher on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” Wil left Hollywood in pursuit of happiness, purpose, and a viable means of paying the bills. In the oddest of places, Topeka, Kansas, Wil discovered that despite his claims to fame, he was at heart “Just a Geek.” In this bestselling book, Wil shares his deeply personal and difficult journey to find himself. You’ll understand the rigors, and joys, of Wil’s rediscovering of himself, as he comes to terms with what it means to be famous, or, ironically, famous for once having been famous. Writing with honesty and disarming humanity, Wil touches on the frustrations associated with his acting career, his inability to distance himself from Ensign Crusher in the public’s eyes, the launch of his incredibly successful web site, wilwheaton.net, and the joy he’s found in writing. Through all of this, Wil shares the ups and downs he encountered along the journey, along with the support and love he discovered from his friends and family. The stories in “Just a Geek” include: Wil’s plunge from teen star to struggling actor. Discovering the joys of HTML, blogging, Linux, and web design. The struggle between Wesley Crusher, Starfleet ensign, and Wil Wheaton, author and blogger. Gut-wrenching reactions to the 9-11 disaster. Moving tales of Wil’s relationships with his wife, step-children, and extended family. The transition from a B-list actor to an A-list author.

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Being close to the same age as Wil Wheaton, and growing up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, reading ‘Just a Geek’ was a little like flipping through my own photo album. There were a lot or parallels: I too was a big nerd, loved all things computer-orientated and writing… but the similarities ended there.

Just a Geek Book Review Pic 03 by Casey CarlisleThe tone of ‘Just a Geek’ is witty and charming. It’s easy to relate to with Wil’s honesty and detailed histology of acting and the movie industry. Not to mention Conventions and the etiquette involved. You can peek under the polished, candy-coated façade that Hollywood puts on everything and see the politics, back-room negotiations, and marketing ploys the Powers That Be pull in order to churn out the next million dollars or so: and the participants (actors) are merely fodder for the machine. But that is the bleakest part – and it rightly so causes depression and anxiety for someone who is trying to make a living and provide for a family.

But on the other hand you see a community form. And said community starts to depict the terms to the industry – it felt like a nerd revolution. I really enjoyed reading all of the mechanics that make up the Trekkie-dom.

I was expecting a bit more about the Wheaton family, more anecdotes, and some more about his acting jobs. Plus, I wanted to hear more about his writing other than WWdN… but this was published over ten years ago, and likely that didn’t really exist then. But ‘Just a Geek’ is a fun juxtaposition to where Wil Wheaton has now become a much larger celebrity and acted in many other fandoms like ‘The Big Bang Theory’ and ‘Eureka.’ Plus all those picture memes with Will Wheaton heads on everything has me in stitches every time. He’s evolved from the adult that has finally embraced his Wesley-dom, a Wheaton movement.

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While his narrative is amusing – I wouldn’t call it gut-busting. I guess you had to be there. What I’ve seen from him on screen, he is quite the hilarious character, and can guess the descriptions of his improv troupe don’t do them justice.

It was a lovely trip down memory lane, though I must admit, at times his writing felt a bit dry and repetitive – it is still very entertaining and offers great insight to not only the movie industry, but the human spirit. Honestly I’d love to read something of his that is not a memoir, the mechanics of his writing suggest there is a great talent there.

An easy autobiography to read, but if you weren’t a Star Trek fan I don’t think you would get much from this novel – because it primarily deals with Wheaton redefining his relationship to the character Wesley Crusher he played on the series, growing up, and developing a different approach to the industry while being a husband and father. But if anything ‘Just a Geek’ shows Wil Wheaton for the extraordinary human being he is. Intelligent, hilarious, compassionate and a loving family man.

Overall feeling: Oh my stars!

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© Casey Carlisle 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Bonkers – My Life in Laughs’ by Jennifer Saunders

A woman who is a quiet pioneer, and simply loves to laugh and see the best in any situation…

Bonkers Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Non Fiction, Autobiography

No. of pages: 320

From Goodreads:

‘As the steady march of time takes its toll on my memory and the vultures circle, I thought I should have a stab at recollecting how it all happened. . .’

Jennifer Saunders’ brilliant comic creations have brought joy to millions for three decades. From Comic Strip to Comic Relief, from Bolly-swilling Edina in Absolutely Fabulous to Meryl Streep in Mamma Mia, her characters are household names.

But it’s Jennifer herself who has a place in all our hearts. This is her funny, touching and disarmingly honest memoir, filled with stories of friends, laughter and occasional heartache – but never misery.

From her childhood on RAF bases, where her father was a pilot, to her life-changing encounter with a young Dawn French, on to success and family, the book charts her extraordinary story, including the slip ups and battles along the way.

Prepare to chuckle, cry, and whoop with delight.

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It’s very amusing, a light tone oozing through the narrative. Life is always painted in positivity and promise. It was very, dare I say, English.

The best parts, I found, had to deal with the behind the scenes stuff about becoming a comedian, getting the gigs, and inventing new material for her career. Anecdotes with Dawn French, Ruby Wax, Joanna Lumley and Goldie Hawn are brilliant, and are like your sitting there having a natter over a glass of champagne. Jennifer Saunders work ethic, being an artist at heart, is blunt and honest and has cemented Sandwich as a girl after my own heart. Endearing.

Dealing with elements of communication from the past – before technology butted in and removed much of the need for the written word are instilled with Jennifer’s particular brand of silliness. It reminds me of the notes I used to pass between my girlfriends in high school classes.

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The narrative tends to wander a bit. Following Saunders train of thought before being dragged back to finish the story in earnest. Sometimes it was with a delicious side story, sometimes with some backstory, and sometimes with something nonsensical, mildly interesting, bordering on dull.

For the most part I found ‘Bonkers – My Life in Laughs‘ entertaining and educational. But in some parts, and more frequently towards the end, a little waffly.

I especially loved the chapters over Jennifer dealing with cancer. How she got through it, what happened, and how it affected her life a short time after. It was personal for me. I could relate to so much of it having experienced my own journey. It is also a tale to promote for all women to get regular mammograms. Many stories I’ve read about cancer suffrage deal with being sick and feeling shite. But Saunders kept her positive outlook powering right on through. As I did. My strongest memory is still pissing myself laughing at episodes of ‘Glee‘ on my laptop in attempts to keep up the positive energy and distract from what I was told of an unavoidable 6 month expiration date.

Overall feeling: Positively funny

 Bonkers Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns)?’ by Mindy Kaling

Dissecting a modern day woman’s brain – it’s just so fluffy!.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me Book Review Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpgGenre: Memoir, Comedy

No. of pages: 222

From Goodreads:

Mindy Kaling has lived many lives: the obedient child of immigrant professionals, a timid chubster afraid of her own bike, a Ben Affleck–impersonating Off-Broadway performer and playwright, and, finally, a comedy writer and actress prone to starting fights with her friends and coworkers with the sentence “Can I just say one last thing about this, and then I swear I’ll shut up about it?” 

Perhaps you want to know what Mindy thinks makes a great best friend (someone who will fill your prescription in the middle of the night), or what makes a great guy (one who is aware of all elderly people in any room at any time and acts accordingly), or what is the perfect amount of fame (so famous you can never get convicted of murder in a court of law), or how to maintain a trim figure (you will not find that information in these pages). If so, you’ve come to the right book, mostly!

In Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Mindy invites readers on a tour of her life and her unscientific observations on romance, friendship, and Hollywood, with several conveniently placed stopping points for you to run errands and make phone calls. Mindy Kaling really is just a Girl Next Door—not so much literally anywhere in the continental United States, but definitely if you live in India or Sri Lanka.

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A pleasant light-hearted look at a woman’s point of view about everything – not to say that it offers advice or opinions, because it’s not. It’s simply a glance inside Mindy Kaling’s head… and it seemed a lot like mine in there.

Some parts were random lists or stories about things, which had me laughing my guts out. Simply because they were random. And funny. And how I too suddenly blurt out the most obtuse and inappropriate things. Mindy Kaling is me and a brave woman suit! Heck no, Mindy Kaling is my spirit animal.

I wouldn’t go so far to say this book in hilarious. I don’t think that was her goal in writing this book. Just like as a performer or comedian we’re not meant to be performing monkeys ‘on’ all the time just for your enjoyment. It was like sitting down on the lounge floor in you pj’s and having a gasbag with your girlfriends.

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I love how the structure was broken up into flashbacks, lists, stories and comments on pictures… it really was like how evenings go with my girlfriends, clutching a glass of bubbly reminiscing and making each other cackle until we snort.

I did want it to be funnier though. Or more engaging. But I understand in doing so it would have either been too serious, or too silly. This that the right amount of everything to kick back and relax, and to just enjoy reading.

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I appreciate how Mindy simply blurts out what’s on her mind. It’s finding a voice for much of my internal dialogue; and whether she intended the book to be like this or not, after reading it, I felt that if we were to run into each other at a party would become fast friends. And that is a great tone to have of a memoir. Masterfully done.

So many hot key topics discussed without being pretentious. I recommend this to anyone who loves memoirs, or just loves being a girl.

Overall feeling: Damn girl!

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© Casey Carlisle 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.