Saturday, April 21, 2018
Books

Review: William J. Mann's 'Hello, Gorgeous: Becoming Barbra Streisand' a brisk, great read

Sometimes the best way to tell a big story is to focus on one compelling part to paint the larger, truer picture.

Celebrity biographer William J. Mann (Katherine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor) follows that rule in his masterful Hello, Gorgeous: Becoming Barbra Streisand. In it, he captures one of the most fully realized pictures of the multihyphenate superstar to date.

Mann opts to tell the story by pinpointing a small segment of her life: the period from 1960, when the Brooklyn-born "street urchin" landed in Manhattan bent on becoming a great actor, to 1964, when she conquered Broadway in her Tony-nominated turn in Funny Girl.

These four formative years, Mann argues, formed the basis of the woman Streisand, now 70, would be ever after. She sought greatness, not mere fame, he observes. And Streisand's not done. She's on an arena tour, and she opens a movie with Seth Rogen in December. Last month she extended her Top 10 streak of albums to 32. Only the Rolling Stones and Frank Sinatra have had more.

Mann, who claims to have been a casual fan before he embarked on writing this lengthy bio, had a daunting task. Many books have been written about Streisand, but few if any put readers as close to the subject. The author uses meticulous research, intelligent analysis and a gift for depicting time and place. Most previous bios focused on tabloid stories: clashes with directors and co-stars, romances with famous men, a chronological laundry list of hits and misses.

But Hello, Gorgeous delves deeper into theater, nightclubs and television in the early 1960s. Mann sets the stage to help readers understand the drive that pushed Streisand to escape a dreary existence in Brooklyn.

History would suggest that everyone was immediately awed by Streisand's oversized talents; actually, few wanted to give her a shot. She was no one's first choice to play Fanny Brice in Funny Girl and had to fight for the part. The imperious president of Columbia Records, now Streisand's home for 50 years, turned her down more than once.

Streisand's peculiarities were such that sharp-eyed producers realized the only way Funny Girl was going to work was if writers worked more of her persona into the musical rather than relying on Brice's less interesting story.

The song If a Girl Isn't Pretty features a group of cackling hens who derisively sing of Brice's unconventional look. Nonplussed, Streisand responds I'm the Greatest Star with gale-force conviction, willing it into being. By 1964 her fourth collection of show tunes and standards, People, dethroned the Beatles at the top of the Billboard album chart.

Mann's conversational style makes Hello Gorgeous a brisk, compulsive read, and he leads readers to empathize with and grasp how Streisand accomplished the impossible. Throughout this marvelous book, we witness this kooky, original, charming, infuriating, sensuous, insecure and confident mass of contradictions coalesce into one of the greatest talents of the 20th century.

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Events: SunLit Festival concludes with Jack Kerouac event, Antiquarian Book Fair and more

Events: SunLit Festival concludes with Jack Kerouac event, Antiquarian Book Fair and more

Book Talk The fourth annual SunLit Festival concludes today with these events. For information, go to facebook.com/sunlitfestival or keepstpetelit.org/sunlit-festival. All events are in St. Petersburg. • 37th annual Florida Antiquarian Book F...
Published: 04/20/18
Review: Gilbert King’s ‘Beneath a Ruthless Sun’ a compelling, horrifying look at Florida’s racist history

Review: Gilbert King’s ‘Beneath a Ruthless Sun’ a compelling, horrifying look at Florida’s racist history

If Willis McCall were a fictional character, he’d be too far over the top to be believable. Readers (and editors) would scoff that no one could be such a monster of violent, unabashed racism — and get away with it for so long. But McCall...
Published: 04/20/18
Mystery writer Lee Goldberg, author of ‘True Fiction,’ talks Agatha Christie, and more

Mystery writer Lee Goldberg, author of ‘True Fiction,’ talks Agatha Christie, and more

NightstandLee GoldbergGoldberg, the author of 30 books, has also been a writer and producer for several TV shows, including Monk and Dial M for Murder. His new novel is True Fiction, an Ian Ludlow mystery. When we caught up with him by phone recently...
Published: 04/20/18
Notable: Advice-givers write about their own life choices

Notable: Advice-givers write about their own life choices

NotableSince you askedThree women whose jobs involve giving advice write about navigating their own life choices.Can’t Help Myself: Lessons & Confessions From a Modern Advice Columnist (Grand Central) by Meredith Goldstein, the Love Letters columnist...
Published: 04/20/18
Book review: James Comey wants to explain himself

Book review: James Comey wants to explain himself

In 2016, as the director of the FBI, James Comey publicly dissected Hillary Clinton’s email server controversy. Later, we learned that Comey was keeping to himself the beginnings of an investigation into Russia’s active interference in the U.S. elect...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Review: Richard Powers’ ‘Overstory’ an ever-branching story of humans and trees

Review: Richard Powers’ ‘Overstory’ an ever-branching story of humans and trees

Henry David Thoreau once heaved a big stone against the trunk of a chestnut tree to bring down a shower of nuts. He loved their sweet meat, but the meal filled him with guilt. "It is worse than boorish, it is criminal, to inflict an unnecessary injur...
Published: 04/18/18
Florida historian Jack E. Davis wins Pulitzer Prize for ‘The Gulf’’

Florida historian Jack E. Davis wins Pulitzer Prize for ‘The Gulf’’

Florida got a shoutout from the Pulitzer Prizes on Monday: The 2018 literary prize for history was awarded to University of Florida professor Jack E. Davis for his book The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea.Davis, who grew up in Pinellas County and...
Published: 04/16/18
Notable: Lose yourself in books that reimagine tales and legends

Notable: Lose yourself in books that reimagine tales and legends

NotableLegends 2.0Three new books offer striking reimaginings of the tales and legends of different cultures. Children of Blood and Bone (Henry Holt and Co.) by Tomi Adeyemi is a debut YA novel of epic magical adventure with characters based on the O...
Published: 04/13/18
Hey, book lovers: SunLit Festival continues with events aplenty

Hey, book lovers: SunLit Festival continues with events aplenty

Lots of things to do for literary-minded folks in Tampa Bay, and most of them are free.
Published: 04/12/18
Review: In ‘God Save Texas,’ Lawrence Wright finds the state of the nation’s future

Review: In ‘God Save Texas,’ Lawrence Wright finds the state of the nation’s future

Lawrence Wright has taken on plenty of complex and controversial topics.The New Yorker staff writer and author of nine previous books won a Pulitzer Prize for The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 and was a finalist for the National Book A...
Published: 04/12/18