Open

The Book of the Week is “Open” by Andre Agassi published in 2009. This engaging ebook tells the life story (up until his mid-thirties) of a famous American tennis player.

The author’s traumatic childhood invites the reader’s sympathy and the entertaining writing keeps the reader enthralled. Although this is a first-person account and the book is all about him, he does not come off as narcissistic. He has bragging rights as a world-class tennis player, and has done some serious introspection– he shares with the reader his emotional states while recounting his life lessons.

Agassi’s childhood was tennis-obsessed, as his father ordained that he was going to grow up to be a professional tennis player. As a powerless child, he could not argue. Besides, he told himself that he loved his father, wanted his approval, didn’t want to make him mad. His father became even more tyrannical than usual when angry. So his tennis career became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Fortunately, during his journey to the top, Agassi met friends, mentors, lovers and even opponents, who helped him to become a better athlete and a better person. When he got his first taste of celebrity, Agassi writes, “Wimbledon has legitimized me, broadened and deepened my appeal, at least according to the agents and managers and marketing experts with whom I now regularly meet.”

Grateful for his fame and fortune, the author decided to give back. He wanted to create “… something to play for that’s larger than myself and yet still closely connected to me… but isn’t about me.” He co-founded a charter school called Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy, located in Nevada.

Agassi proudly describes the school; a few aspects with which this blogger takes issue. He claims that pouring money into the school would make it a better school. He says Nevada is a state that spends less money per student on education than most other states. At least one study has shown that spending is not a factor in improving education quality.

Agassi also supplied the 26,000 square foot education complex with “everything the kids could want”– the very best entertainment and computer centers, athletic facilities, etc. On any given day, a famous politician, athlete or musician might drop by to teach the kids.

The author boasts, “Our educators are the best, plain and simple.” Yet, he goes on to write, because the school “… has a longer school day and a longer school year than other schools, our staff might earn less per hour than staffs elsewhere. But they have more resources at their fingertips and so they enjoy greater freedom to excel and make a difference in children’s lives.”

In other words, Agassi’s take on education is misguided in various ways. It seems he thinks kids will get a better education with quantity over quality when it comes to money and time. True, passionate teachers do not work solely for the money, but they value student enlightenment and recognition more than sparkling new classrooms. Admittedly, the author is a man of contradictions. Read the book to learn more about them.

All By My Selves

The Book of the Week is “All By My Selves” by Jeff Dunham, published in 2010. This is the autobiography of a politically incorrect, professional ventriloquist. He developed his career-passion as a child when, by chance, he was given a dummy as a gift.

Dunham auditioned to be a guest for The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson” nine times before he was finally accepted in April 1990. His striving to become famous took a toll on his family, but when he “made it” he was afforded an “entourage of management, agents and publicists.”

Read the book to learn of Dunham’s experiences as a professional ventriloquist, that include but are not limited to:  his decades-long struggles to achieve an act of sufficient quality to appear on television (prior to the advent of social media), his learning the hard way what not to do before performing, and being stiffed on compensation by night clubs.

Jokes My Father Never Taught Me

The Book of the Week is “Jokes My Father Never Taught Me” by Rain Pryor, published in 2006. The author is one of the daughters of the late Richard Pryor, the African American comedian; the only child of a Caucasian, Jewish mother.

During her childhood in the 1970’s, Rain struggled with her three identities:  black, white and Jewish. Her biracial appearance caused people to instantly develop biases, making it easy for them to practice tribal exclusion when it suited them. She found she could dispel the discrimination by making people laugh. Rain writes, “Comedy was about connecting with people in places so personal that it actually made them uncomfortable, and then showing the humor in it.”

Rain’s early-childhood circumstances did not allow her to develop a personal relationship with her father until she turned four. But when she finally did, he shamelessly exposed her to the birds and the bees. She commented that one redeeming trait of her father’s call girls, was that they were honest.

“They weren’t there because they loved my Daddy, and they didn’t pretend to love my Daddy… That was life with Richard Pryor. Sex and violence, puctuated by rare moments of family happiness.” In addition, over decades, her father went through five wives, who bore a total of seven children.

Although as a young child, Rain witnessed the seamy side of the adult world, she enjoyed a sense of love and belonging from a large family on both her parents’ sides. Another lucky aspect of her life was that of her father’s fame and fortune. He could afford to, and did take her and her siblings on various luxurious domestic and international trips.

Read the book to learn more about Rain’s issues with her own ethnicities, her father’s and her own addictions, his multiple sclerosis, and her family crises.

Promises to Keep

The Book of the Week is “Promises to Keep” by Joseph Biden, published in 2007.  This is the autobiography of Joe Biden, who is America’s Vice President at the moment.

Biden has a reputation for putting his foot in his mouth by being overly honest. In addition, he does not let his personal beliefs interfere with the enforcement of the law. For instance, although he, as a Catholic, disagrees with the doctrine behind Roe v. Wade, he understands it is the law and does not dispute its enforcement.

Read the book to learn about his senatorial career and his run for president; plus his personal life, which included a family tragedy and his bout with a life-threatening medical condition.

Maybe You Never Cry Again

The Book of the Week is “Maybe You Never Cry Again” by Bernie Mac with Pablo F. Fenjves, published in 2003. This is the autobiography of a man who heeded his mother’s wisdom in achieving his life’s dream of becoming a famous comedian.

Foremost, Mac’s mother taught him to be self-reliant. One of her sayings was, “If you want a helping hand, look at the end of your arm.”

Mac listed the four kinds of standup comedians:  mediocre joke tellers, political commentators, observers of human nature, and tellers of personal stories. He exemplified the fourth kind, making audiences of mostly his own ethnicity laugh by comparing his African American experience to that of Caucasians without mincing words. “The most personal is the most universal.”

For example, he told the reader that, as an adult, he became as excited as a kid in a candy store when he flew in a plane for the first time. He said, “White people wouldn’t understand that feeling. White people get on planes all the time. They born on planes. Same thing with photographs. White people, they got pictures of themselves every minute of their lives. Here’s little Libby…Black people, they lucky to have one or two pictures of themselves.”

Read how Mac put his mother’s teachings to use to get through the trials and tribulations he suffered on the way to stardom.

Backing Into Forward

The Book of the Week is “Backing Into Forward” by Jules Feiffer, published in 2010. Feiffer ran with a creative crowd who lived through the historically tumultuous 20th Century years of poverty, anti-Fascist and anti-Communist hysteria and wars.

As a kid, Feiffer had a passion for comic strips. He did an easy stint in the military and kicked off his career in the 1940’s working as an unpaid intern of sorts, at Will Eisner’s illustration studio.  He later graduated to submitting cartoons to the radical newspaper, The Village Voice, which, when founded in the 1950’s, did not pay its contributors. After two years of boosting readership, he finally started to get paid.

After achieving fame, Feiffer also delivered college lectures, although he himself never attended college. Nevertheless, he had political smarts, and told the students that policies in Washington were made by an old boy network that would never admit wrongdoing in crises that were handled poorly. And there were many crises in the 1960’s and 1970’s. To add insult to injury, the shameless perpetrators would simply switch government positions, except for a few who resigned to escape further embarrassment at getting caught.

Read the book to learn of Feiffer’s family life, and adult adventures creating comics and writing plays and children’s books.

One More Time

The Book of the Week is “One More Time” by Carol Burnett, published in 1986.  This is an emotionally rich, memorable autobiography. Its author had a tough childhood, as the older daughter of two alcoholic parents. Raised by her grandmother on welfare in Texas, she enjoyed a few happy times nevertheless.

Burnett experienced excellent luck on days when it was pouring rain. For example, on a rainy day, a benefactor appeared in her life to allow her to pursue her dream of becoming an actress. He provided her with two years’ worth of funding in which to succeed. She met the deadline.

Read the book to learn how her life experiences provided tons of material for her comedic TV show.