THE DANGEROUS ANIMALS CLUB by Stephen Tobolowsky

His name may not be familiar, but chances are you’ve invited Stephen Tobolowsky into your home on more than one occasion. Some nights his visit may have occurred while you were in your pajamas. That is, if you were curled up on the sofa watching television. If you’ve ever watched Thelma & Louise, Groundhog Day, Deadwood or Glee Tobolowksy has entertained you. But because his private life isn’t fodder for magazine covers you still may not be able to picture him. No matter. By the time you finish his memoir the essence of Tobolowsky—man and actor—combined with the life lessons he shares will make it impossible for you to forget him.

That said my relationship with this book was of the love-like variety. My theatre background made me long to fall madly in love, but I found it difficult to move beyond the handholding stage until chapter ten. The early chapters seemed to get lost in translation. The director inside me kept whispering, “This material would be funnier as a Stand Up Routine.” I was also disenchanted with the structure of the chapters. They often felt like a Long Island Iced Tea minus the vodka, tequila, gin and rum. What we got were childhood memories sandwiched between recent job experiences and the chronological unfolding of Tobolowsky’s acting career. These individual tales were interesting, but I hungered for a stronger trunk for the stories to hang on.

What kept me reading was Tobolowskys journey of self-discovery. For amidst, what was for me a chaotic style of storytelling, this character actor continued to unearth priceless insights about acting, relationships and identity.

Fairly or unfairly, many people are tried in life. The mistake people make is that they think the trial is a sign of failure. It’s not. It’s only a doorway that leads to who you really are.

These were the moments that led me to channel Oliver Twist, “Please, sir. I want some more.” They rattled my socks, made me take notes and offer thanks to one of my best friends for recommending the book. Tobolowsky’s wisdom also prompted me to do a bit of research and I was happy to discover his blog. His posts on acting are spot on and worthy of your time just like his memoir that is bound to encourage you to rewatch some intriguing films.

Check into The Dangerous Animals Club.


THE ART OF LEARNING by Josh Waitzkin

If you’ve ever thought success has passed you by, or you aren’t special enough to achieve your dreams, Josh Waitzkin’s memoir will rekindle your passion and prompt you to act.

The Art of Learning is divided into three sections: The Foundation—Josh’s rise to National Chess Champion, My Second Art—Josh’s assent to Tai Chi Chuan Push Hands World Champion and Bringing It All Together—concrete application of the lessons learned for repeated success. The first two thirds of the book were exhilarating in a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon flying kind of way. I moved into the last phase of the book with enormous hope and crashed immediately upon entry.

Anger crept in. I am embarrassed to say I was angry with Josh Waitzkin. In some ego-centered corner of my brain jealousy raged. “Of course, he excelled. He had the time and a support system that made his explorations possible. But would he have been able to rise to the top of the Chess and Push Hands world if he had to wrestle with a day job and raise children, while balancing the budget to pay the mortgage and keep the car running?”

Then I reminded myself of Bobby Fischer and all the chess players in Washington Square Park—Masters and Grandmasters among them—who live below the poverty line because they have devoted themselves to the art of chess. In that moment, I knew I was being unfair to Josh. I wasn’t angry at him. I was mad at myself. Josh’s fortune stems from the fact that he recognized early on, how important it was to be true to himself, his voice and his heart. I cannot say the same. I am a late bloomer. Fortunately, I am open to inspiration, something Waitzkin’s memoir offers on every page.

Waitzkin brings Self-Awareness to a new level. Although his accomplishments in Chess and Tai Chi Chuan Push Hands seem magical, his journey has not been without struggle. He admits to feelings of anger and discusses the moments when ego interfered with his game. But he never beat himself up. It takes courage not to fall under the weight of our mistakes, not to let our missteps cloud our future choices, or muck up our instincts. Waitzkin gains our admiration with his honesty, while he underscores the importance of learning through loss.

The Art of Learning dispels the notion that success comes from luck or some secret formula not accessible to the masses. Waitzkin shows by example that his achievements in the world of chess and martial arts are the result of hard work, or rather his commitment to understanding his game from the inside out. In other words—homework. The task we dreaded all through school and hoped we would never have to indulge in again once we received the diploma.

Yet, homework is just another word for studying the intricacies of the game, the art or the craft we love. Isn’t homework the very thing Jackson Pollack and Vincent Van Gough did, on a daily basis, to uncover their own unique form of expression through the medium of paint? If we really love what we are doing and if we allow our hearts to guide us, going deeper will never be a chore because there is no other choice.

There is a powerful moment in the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer when Fred Waitzkin tells his son, who has fallen into a slump, that he doesn’t have to compete.

Fred: You don’t have to do this anymore. You can give it up and that’s all right with me.

Josh: How can I do that? I have to win.

Fred: But you don’t…

Josh: But I do, I do.

Fred: But why? It doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a game.

Josh: No, it’s not.

When we have found what it is we are meant to do, from programming a computer to figure skating, the hours needed to excel no longer matter. In fact, the hours we put in never seem enough because we are doing what we love. Our passion drives us to find the art in what we are doing.

What Josh Waitzkin presents to readers in The Art of Learning is nothing that hasn’t been done by others like Picasso or Mozart. But what he has done, that these and other masters of their craft haven’t, is share his discoveries and provide us with a plan to uncover our own system for success. This is another lesson that comes through in Waitzkin’s book. In order to excel in our chosen fields we must find ourselves in the work, bring our personality into play and let our voices resonate.

The Art of Learning is a book to reference again and again. It will inspire, guide and ground you when the inner critic rises to snuff out your passion and halt your progress.  I can’t guarantee that the application of Waitzkin’s discoveries will lead to World Champion Success. However, I am willing to bet this new perspective will make your journey a happier one. I will recommend this book for the rest of my life.

Rise to your next level of excellence with The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance.

Happy New Year!


SEARCHING FOR BOBBY FISCHER by Fred Waitzkin

If you write, my recommendation is to watch the film before reading Fred Waitzkin’s memoir. I know this is a bizarre request, but trust me the reverse order will pay off.

If you read the memoir first, throughout the film you’ll say: That’s not how the events unfolded, or that never happened.

However, if you see the film—and I hope it is many times over—when you read you’ll be flooded with “Aha!” moments like…So, this is where that moment in the movie came from. That entire scene developed out of this tiny interchange. Wow, that movie character is really a combination of about ten real-life characters.

All of these realizations will shake you out of your writing rut. You’ll gain a new appreciation for the power of extrapolation, discover the importance of truth in fiction and rediscover the key to drama lies in fictionalizing the truth.

By comparing Fred Waitzkin’s memoir to the movie you will also see how simple pieces of any life can evolve into an action packed story without the weight of backstory. Strong action is the result of material chosen wisely.

And for writers addicted, or rather dependent, on workshops and craft books there is no better advice than that of Josh’s teacher Bruce Pandolfini: I am only here to help you look. You have to find the answer yourself.

But Searching for Bobby Fischer is a compelling read even if you don’t write. And an ability to play chess isn’t a requirement to appreciate the journey of this father and son.

Readers will invest in Josh and Fred Waitzkin because they are flesh and blood, flawed and conflicted. Their shared goal, which becomes an obsession, leads Fred to fear he may fail as a father. While Josh—who plays like a Russian grandmaster at the age of seven and is adamant about hanging on to first place because “only first place means anything,”—sometimes only wants to act his age. “If I do good, will you buy me a vanilla shake at Bob Smiths?”

We root for Fred and Josh no differently than we do for the most complex of fictional characters. Their journey becomes our own. Even after seeing the movie countless times, I still couldn’t turn the pages fast enough—especially near the end.

I can’t imagine anyone reading this memoir without being moved. The single-minded passion of Fischer, the Waitzkins’ love of the game, and the sacrifices of the chess players in Russia and Washington Square Park in New York are an inspiration to everyone with a dream.

Searching for Bobby Fischer reminds us to remember the love of the quest, for love is what carries us through the highs and lows.

Strengthen your openings and master your endgame with Searching for Bobby Fischer.


NOT YOUNG, STILL RESTLESS by Jeanne Cooper

When I was ten Dark Shadows premiered. My mother, oblivious to Daytime Television, suggested I watch it because it was about a Governess, Victoria Winters and her charge, David Collins. (It would also keep me out of my mother’s way on that particular summer day.)

I watched and was immediately transformed into a soap opera junkie. Through the years I’ve watched them all at one point or another. I even remember seeing the premieres of One Life to Live, All My Children and Young and the Restless. And like thousands of fans I was witness to the most famous wedding in daytime, the union of Luke and Laura on General Hospital.

Fortunately I have a life, so there were many years when I never even thought of the soaps, and some years when I banned myself from following. Yet, I’m still a die-hard fan with friends in the business. So as soon as I saw Jeanne Cooper’s memoir, Not Young, Still Restless in the bookstore I couldn’t leave without it.

The memoir follows Ms. Cooper from her eighth grade stage debut in Annabel Steps In to her current status as the Grande Dame of Daytime, thanks to her award winning role as Katherine Chancellor on Young and the Restless.

But Jeanne Cooper’s memoir is not about stardom. Hers is an earthy account of a woman who fell in love with the theatre and has spent a lifetime nurturing the magic which happens between actor and audience.

Not Young, Still Restless is a delight. An honest account of happiness and darkness. And here is the twist. Unlike other memoirs that languish in the dark to underscore the narrator’s courage, Ms. Cooper’s journey is a buoyant celebration of life. She holds nothing back in those dark moments, but she doesn’t dwell. Dark periods of life or illness are combatted with light. In her words…

don’t lose sight of the power you have…starve your fear and your illness out of existence by surrounding it with a small, impenetrable psychic circle that prevents it from ever becoming part of who you are.

Words to live by. Whether you’re a daytime fan or not Jeanne Cooper’s life will entertain and inspire.

Click for a Restless joy ride.


I REMEMBER NOTHING by Nora Ephron

I Remember Nothing appeared on bookshelves in 2010. If I remember correctly (ha-ha!), I pre-ordered and consumed Ephron’s musings like a child who has just discovered solid food. When I learned of her death on June 26, 2012, I thought there was no better tribute than to reread every morsel she wrote.

A bittersweet read this time, knowing that Ms. Ephron had already been diagnosed with leukemia when she wrote about getting old, and what she would or wouldn’t miss once her time with us was over. My laughter and tears whipped together like a frozen daiquiri—chilling my heart yet warming my soul.

I’ve spoken of Ms. Ephron’s honesty. Her truth skewers us and we rejoice over the fact that we are not alone. Our crazy hopes and our outlandish expectations are shared. But what supersedes the honesty throughout the essays is the presence of courage.

How many of us are willing to expose our secrets to strangers? My guess is few. When confrontation arrives we’d much rather dress our hidden thoughts with a veil than walk them into the spotlight.

I Remember Nothing, like all of Nora Ephron’s written work is a touchstone for humanity. She reminds us to humble ourselves in each other’s presence while rejoicing in our unique quirkiness. So, in memory of Nora, be true, honest, brave and read good books.

Read I Remember Nothing with just one click.


I FEEL BAD ABOUT MY NECK by Nora Ephron

One of the fastest and funniest reads ever. All the horrible and outrageous thoughts you’ve ever had about life as a woman are splattered on the page for everyone to enjoy.

My son says, “It’s women’s humor.” I say, “It’s true.”

And there’s the rub. When Nora Ephron writes, all that is on the page is raw truth and, because she’s so serious about what she believes, I can’t stop myself from laughing out loud.

A little over a month has gone by since Nora passed away. I am crushed that she is no longer with us. But forever grateful she chose to share her quirky life wisdom with us in print and on the screen, so we can relive the joy of Nora again and again.

Experience the joy of Nora with one click.



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