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All About Me

TheaterMania reviews new books by Ricky Martin, Lady Antonia Fraser, and Mike Birbiglia. logo
In his new memoir Me
, Ricky Martin -- who will return to Broadway in 2012 as Che in the revival of Evita -- does much more than offer a chronological list of accomplishments; instead, the singer-actor focuses on themes and periods of his life and their emotional impact. And while he only does an adequate job with the exposition of the events, it is clear to see that Martin's real joy as a writer comes in the reflection.

Me traces Martin's life from his childhood in Puerto Rico to his teenage years with the Latin boy band Menudo to his meteoric rise to fame in the United States with "Livin' La Vida Loca." But for many readers, the book's real interest lies in the chapters on his role as a father to twin boys and his recent decision to come out of the closet as a gay man.

Scandalmongers will undoubtedly be disappointed by Martin's authorial debut. He is reticent to get into details about his private relationships and absolutely hell-bent on not dropping any names. Intrepid readers will just have to use their imaginations when picturing the handsome and charming American DJ who was Martin's first serious male lover, or the fiery married Mexican woman who was a source of so much of Martin's affection when he was a young man. Rather than pulling out to tell their stories, the crux of Martin's focus remains inward.

Conversely, Martin revels in describing his first trip to India and the impact Swami Yogeshwarananda Giri had on his spiritual awakening. While Martin subscribes to no religion, his personal beliefs derive from a combination of many world faiths and spirituality is a major subject of the book. It is clearly a major source of strength for Martin, who struggled with the pressures of fame and a music industry hungry for more of his time and energy than he was ultimately able to give. One can feel his claustrophobia in the chapter that covers the height of his fame circa 1999-2001.

Since Me takes us all the way through 2010, the reader gets the curious experience of watching an author grapple with experiences that still seem too fresh for serious reflection. For instance, in explaining why he chose to finally come out of the closet publicly last March, at the age of 38, Martin offers a host of theories, starting with his anger at a series of anti-gay hate crimes (including the tragic murder of Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado, a young Puerto Rican man who was beheaded when his killer found out he was gay) and ending with his unwillingness to ask his two sons to be complicit in his lie as they got older. Martin is still young and it will be interesting to see such an introspective author revisit this issue with more clarity once he has more distance from it. In so many ways, Martin's story is just beginning.

Reading Lady Antonia Fraser's memoir, Must You Go? My Life with Harold Pinter
is itself like starting a new relationship. It begins a bit dry and awkward on the surface, but with generous subtextual intrigue as Pinter and the author embark on an illicit mid-life love affair (which eventually culminates in marriage). As the pages turn, one cannot help falling in love with their glittering, historic, and at times charmingly simple life. These two acclaimed writers shared a profound, but not out of the ordinary love for each other. Indeed, what is extraordinary is their mutual ability -- particularly displayed in Pinter's poetry -- to express that love in the written word.

For her part, Fraser brings decades of experience in biography writing to this endeavor, and it shows. While the book is mainly comprised of Fraser's old diary entries with commentary interjected by the contemporary author, it is curated in such a way as to provide absolute clarity.

Fraser begins chronologically in recalling her and Pinter's initial meeting and courtship. For the long middle part of their marriage -- or "high noon" as Fraser puts it -- she focuses more on themes like their writing careers or political activism, sometimes jumping entire decades from one diary entry to the next. The third part, which returns to a more chronological form, concerns Pinter's gradual decline in health and climactic acceptance of the Nobel Prize in literature. These three parts are masterfully woven together to create one seamless narrative.

An added benefit of Must You Go is that it not only serves as a window into the intimate life and work process of one of the greatest playwrights in modern time, but also as a record of the first generation of truly globalized and political literary elite. The couple were close friends with Samuel Beckett, Tom Stoppard, and Salman Rushdie. They lived with Vaclav Havel immediately before and after the Velvet Revolution. The Pinters' legacy of global awareness, both in literature and politics has set a precedent for all those who come after them.

In his literary debut with Sleepwalk With Me and Other Painfully True Stories
, comedian Mike Birbiglia brings his affable and distinctive voice to the page in this breezy, trim and hilarious collection of stories. Indeed, anyone familiar with Birbiglia will instantly recognize his stand-up material incorporated into the "painfully true stories" that populate this book. Nonetheless, Birbiglia offers up plenty of new material which he weaves into a comedic biography of his life and his journey to becoming a working comic.

Some of his best material comes from working the college circuit to make ends meet. Birbiglia has appeared at college study halls, lunchtime cafeterias, and lip-synching competitions, just to name a few. Sure, New York comedy clubs can have tough crowds, but what about a seven-hour walkathon for Lupus? Birbiglia has done it all.

Many of the book's later chapters take the form of David Sedaris-esque essays: they're still hilarious, but they address more serious topics like cancer and Birbiglia's own very dangerous battle with sleepwalking, which once landed him in a Walla Walla emergency room. He has an acute talent for turning scary and potentially life-threatening situations into laugh-out-loud moments and then immediately circling around to appreciate the severity of the situation.

Particularly touching is the chapter "My Hero," which is a tribute to Birbiglia's comedy hero, the late Mitch Hedberg. Birbiglia owes a lot to Hedberg and the other quirky, non-sequitur spouting Gen-X comics that came before him, but his voice is distinctly his own.

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