The Astronaut Wives Club

By Lisa Koppel

“On his previous Apollo 10 mission, a “dry run” for Apollo 11, Geno had radioed back to Houston that riding around the Moon was a piece of cake. “It was definitely not a piece of cake for me,” said Barbara. “If you think going to the Moon is hard, try staying at home.”

This book was very much a page-turner for me. At turns funny, dishy, and sad. It’s a great thumbnail sketch of what women’s lives were like in the ’60s. It would have been improved had the author scaled down a bit and focused more on the original 7 or maybe 9 and gone deeper.

I picked this up because I loved The Right Stuff and have read it several times. I would have liked to have had more of the wives’ reaction to that book which really defined them in the public eye in such an irreverent but ultimately respectful way. The only mention was when the author reported that one of the women threw TRS across the room because of her objection to Tom Wolfe comparing their group to the Officers Wives Club. Huh? That’s what was cherry-picked? And what is the name of this book again? It seems very self-serving of Koppel to only use this reference to Tom Wolfe’s book when any book on the astronauts or their wives owes so much to it.

The Right Stuff really gave the Astronaut Wives their due in both lyrical and hilarious prose. Many of the anecdotes were first told in Wolfe’s masterpiece and told much better. The dramatic confrontation between John Glenn trying to protect his shy wife from the press and Vice-President Johnson made you bite your nails and then stand up and cheer. Especially when the other 5 had his back regardless of their rivalries and jealousies. Tom Wolfe’s incisive reveal of the travails of Betty Grissom, and their self-aware inside jokes such as Mr. and Mrs. “Primly and Squarely Stable” when they were anything but are included here. I wish it had taken off from there and gone deeper rather than lamely rehashing entertaining but old material. I would have loved to read what Wolfe would have had to say about Pat White and her ultimate suicide, Alan Shepard barring one of the widows from her dead husband’s things, the interesting characters of Buzz Aldrin, Edgar Mitchell, and Alan Bean, and many others.

That being said, I have to hand it to Lily Koppel: she does give a glance at some of the quirkiness and bizarre personality traits some of the wives had to cope with in their husbands. Unfortunately, it is only a glimpse. It is more of reportage rather than interpretation and insights into the great drama and comedy it was. The book would also have benefited from getting some of the men’s perspectives and musings, now that they are old.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

July 17, 2013

The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase

By Mark Forsyth

“if you say, ‘Full fathom five thy father lies’, you will be considered the greatest poet who ever lived. Express precisely the same thought any other way – e.g. ‘your father’s corpse is 9.144 metres below sea level’ – and you’re just a coastguard with some bad news.”

This is a very clever and funny book about the wonders of rhetoric. This book is to be enjoyed for the overall appreciation it will give you for the myriad ways great writers wrote and why they were effective and why we remember their thoughts, sentences, lyrics, and paragraphs today. A little tweak here and there and many immortal passages would have perished in the ashes of time. If your goal is to learn specific vocabulary words and be able to give examples of each and every type of rhetorical conceit, you will be disappointed unless you have a photographic memory. My advice is: don’t even try to memorize the elements in order to, what? pull erudite and esoteric knowledge out at cocktail parties? Just enjoy. The great strength of the book is the many examples, perfectly chosen, of each trick and technique great writers used to get their point across. From the Bible to the Beatles; from Shakespeare to Lewis Carroll and Bob Dylan, Mr. Forsyth leaves no secret or subtlety unrevealed. His tone is full of fun, irreverent, and even joyful, even as its scholarship is impeccable. I’ll include one more long quote:

“John Ronald Reuel Tolkien wrote his first story aged seven. It was about a “green great dragon.” He showed it to his mother who told him that you absolutely couldn’t have a green great dragon, and that it had to be a great green one instead. Tolkien was so disheartened that he never wrote another story for years.
The reason for Tolkien’s mistake, since you ask, is that adjectives in English absolutely have to be in this order: opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose Noun. So you can have a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife. But if you mess with that word order in the slightest you’ll sound like a maniac. It’s an odd thing that every English speaker uses that list, but almost none of us could write it out. And as size comes before colour, green great dragons can’t exist.”

I also want to include a remarkable review by another reader which ably and cleverly summarizes the books contents:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

June 17, 2015


By Drew Barrymore

“And this filmmaker has the most extraordinary epiphany! He realizes that there is as much merit in trying to ease people’s suffering for a moment as there is in “focusing” on it. To ease someone’s pain through a distracting, silly, joyous laugh is his lesson. I know there is suffering, so to escape it for a second is truly powerful. That is one church I am staying loyal to. The Church of Laughing.”

Like everyone who wanted to read this book, I am a big fan of Drew as an actress and a person. She came through her difficult childhood, drug addiction, her terrible parents, and other major life challenges and bad choices to emerge a happy successful actress and producer with a sunny outlook. She seems very sweet and kind, and takes full ownership of how her life has turned out so far. She didn’t use her genetic disposition to alcohol and drugs and her incompetent parents as excuses end up in the gutter, as her father literally did. In addition, she is responsible for some of my favorite movies.

However, most of the stories in this book are rather dull. We hear nothing of her unusual marriage choices, relationship with David Crosby, who by all accounts took her under his wing and helped her beat her recurring drug and alcohol addictions for good. Remaining sober must be a daily struggle. I would have liked to hear more about that. I would have liked to hear more about her mother. There is a nice chapter on Adam Sandler, Steven Spielberg, her father’s last days, and an outward bound type trip with Lucy Liu and Cameron Diaz. I would have liked to read behind the scenes stories on the movie set.

I guess the fact that this is not a Hollywood tell-all reflects very positively on her and negatively on me! But I would have liked to read something more along the lines of Rob Lowe’s books, which managed to be juicy, without being distasteful or mean.

I hope she is successful in maintaining the strong family life she has currently, as it clearly means the world to her.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

November 23, 2015

The Stars in Our Eyes: The Famous, the Infamous, and Why We Care Too Much About Them

By Julie Klam

This was an highly readable exploration about the nature of fame and celebrity. I finished it in one day. Nice juicy interviews with, and anecdotes of, those who are semi-famous, are friends with the famous, were once famous, and are still famous. Most interesting are insights into child stars that now lead normal productive lives outside the glare of celebrity. The interview with Tim Hutton was particularly insightful: He was the son of a famous actor, married and had a child with someone famous, and won an Oscar at a very young age. Another favorite was Quinn Cummings, who actually provided a review on Goodreads.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

July 21, 2017

Steve Jobs

By Walter Isaacson

“Some people say, “Give the customers what they want.” But that’s not my approach. Out job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!'” People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

I read this a while back.
This Biography reveals what a piece of work Steve Jobs was. And not in a good way. He was a genius in many ways, but a huge failure as a man. Those who idolize Jobs will be ruffled by this book. I do give credit to Jobs for choosing a biographer who was not afraid to be balanced and reveal his flaws as well as his genius and successes. And this fits with his character. He would not have tolerated a sycophantic puff piece. Even though he mellowed in later years, he was not a good man. It is telling that I have not heard or read of anyone who was close to Steve Jobs come out to condemn or dispute any of its facts or revelations.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

September 14, 2020

The Diana Chronicles

by Tina Brown

I picked this book up from the library; my interest prodded by Sally Bedell-Smith’s incredibly and obviously resentful and contemptuous take on Diana and mushy worshipful view of Queen Elizabeth. I was looking for a more balanced view of both women. The only quibble I have is how quickly Diana goes from a sweetly dumb romantic (and slightly “off”) teenager to a scary sophisticated savvy and strange woman. Perhaps the progression is unknowable; it seems to be a whole series of tipping points. But boy, it happened quickly! The writing is witty and engaging. Another thing that stands out so is how close the two might have been to making a go of it or at least hung on longer and made their time together much happier and more tolerable. If only Diana had gotten psychological help. If only Camilla Parker-Bowles had just backed off. If only Charles had not been such a jerk. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

February 12, 2012

I Do and I Don’t: A History of Marriage in the Movies

by Jeanine Basinger

“Marriage,” said Eddie Cantor, long wed to his Ida and the parent of five daughters, “is not a word. It’s a sentence.”

This is a fun read for old movie lovers. That’s lovers of old movies, not movie lovers who are old. As a fan of romantic comedies and dramas, women’s films, and movies with families, I was amazed at the depth and breadth of the knowledge displayed by the author. Or at least her research capabilities. There were a few minor inaccuracies (Scarlet O’Hara did not have 4 husbands in the novel [but she did have 3 children!]) It was a lot of fun to revisit so many of my old favorites, both important classics and the little known or forgotten. Some of the stand-out pieces in my view were the comparisons between the 3 versions of The Painted Veil, Lucy and Ricky, Friday Night Lights, her attention to the movies of the great Doris Day, Carole Lombard, Myrna Loy, Irene Dunne… gee the list goes on and on. I don’t think she neglected any movie that marriage was a focus. The book combines a scholarly bent with a sense of humor and irreverent asides and comments. If a reader is not familiar with the movies discussed, and I venture a lot of readers would not be, the book would probably become tedious, but for me there was a treat on almost every page.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

February 14, 2014

The Girl Sleuth

by Bobbie Ann Mason

Bobbie Ann Mason’s book on Girl Sleuths crystallized for me why I loved Trixie Belden and why Nancy Drew left me kind of cold. Any girl (or boy) that grew up on these series books will find a lot to love and relate to in this volume. As well as very illuminating, it is, at times, laugh out loud funny. You will find yourself cringing and shaking your head in wonder at some of the excerpts from the unrevised versions of the stories from the ’30s and ’40s.

If only I had been introduced to Judy Bolton instead of Nancy Drew! Where was she? Did my library even have her? Did I just overlook her? It’s a mystery, but I am sad for my younger self for being deprived of her adventures when I really would have just gobbled them up and waited in suspense for the next one. Well, this book has made me think maybe it’s not too late…I’m bidding on a lot offered on eBay today!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

April 20, 2014

Nancy Drew and Her Sister Sleuths

by Michael G. Cornelius and Melanie E. Gregg

This book consists of 12 or so essays of diverse, and at times, unusual subject matter. Of course one would expect an essay on race and xenophobia (which yielded unsurprising conclusions), but how the french translation quixotically at times altered “Nancy’s” family origins and relationship to her father? The history of the Stratemeyer syndicate was interesting, dispelling many myths about the series (originating from taking information from interviews of Mildred Wirt and Harriet Adams at face value, not accounting for memory lapses or spin.) The essay claiming Nancy Drew was afraid of technology was poorly supported and weakly exampled. I don’t buy it and I had the feeling that another scholar could have made the opposite case. Of particular interest were the forays into the “sister sleuths” Cherry Ames, Trixie Beldon, and Linda Carlton: In many ways, they were better written and the heroines more interesting and more worthy to be role models than Nancy Drew. The essays range from academic and too serious to fun and amusing. But all were very educational and had interesting insights. Being a Marshmallow and a Potterhead, I did enjoy the occasional mentions of Veronica Mars and the essay on Hermione Granger. Surprisingly, there was little to nothing regarding the great Judy Bolton series.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

April 9, 2014

High Society in the Regency Period 1788-1830

By Venetia Murray

My interest in this entertaining history stems from my love for Georgette Heyer and some of her followers’ novels. It really illuminates that the Regency world of Georgette Heyer was indeed her version of that period of history: a much gentler, sanitized, and proper version. So many things in her portrayal of that time were very accurate, but it was the aspects of those times that she skirted around, ignored, or romanticized that interested me much more.

The most surprising thing I learned was how the ton wore their emotions on their sleeve. Apparently, it was not uncommon for men to publicly burst into tears and weep and wail when they were frustrated or angry. Venetia Murray supports this with numerous references in letters and other contemporary accounts. It is pretty obvious that Georgette imbued the Regency period with the “stiff upper lip” values of her generation.

Gluttony is another thing that GH did touch on in passing, but is explored in detail here. 2 or 3 or more enormous steaks at one sitting, conservatively, for example. The obsession with sauces and gastronomy and gourmet meals was amazing. Menus with literally over a hundred dishes. The extravagance and the waste in all areas of daily life. The over-indulgence in drink. Murray writes that it was common, indeed, fashionable for certain segments of male high society to be drunk, or tipsy all day long. High society as a whole were bored or idle all of the time. Meals were often the highlight of their day and would last for hours and hours.

And the immorality, of course. Discreet or not, married lovers and mistresses were not shunned and neither were courtesans. They were known and accepted in the highest levels of society.
It is much easier to understand and be sympathetic to the Victorian mindset as being a reaction and rejection of the ways of Regency England after reading this book.

The choices of illustration are curious. All of the plates are caricatures, cartoons, and drawings. I wish she had chosen more realistic portraits of some of the interesting people she discussed.

Yes, Georgette Heyer did romanticize and ignore some certain truths about high society while being very historically true in most things. Frankly, I’m glad she did!**4 out of 5 stars**

June 20, 2017