Book Review

Beach Chair Reading

By Jack Neworth

Summer is coming. I can tell by all the weight loss commercials urging us lemmings to get in shape for beach season. Fat chance. (Pun intended.)  It’s the beach, not a model’s runway! Trim or chubby, I’ll be on the sand taking a good book with me. Here are a few you might want to check out.

The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption and Pee, is by Sarah Silverman, the sexy, outrageously filthy, and yet innocent comedienne. Silverman is also the co-creator and star of Comedy Central’s  “The Sarah Silverman Program,” an Emmy nominated sitcom in its 4th season.

With her signature taboo-breaking humor, Silverman describes being a bedwetter well into high school. She was plagued with guilt and fear, especially on sleepovers and overnight camp. And yet, she manages to joke about the shame she endured.

As a teenager Sarah also was in therapy for depression. Once, while waiting for an appointment, she was informed that her shrink had just hung himself. Lovely. Meanwhile Sarah had an hour to kill (no pun intended) until her mother was picking her up.

Another shrink put Sarah on 16 Xanax a day. Fortunately, a sane psychiatrist weaned her off the medication or she might have wound up on “Celebrity Rehab.”

Sarah eventually outgrew the bedwetting, and focused on more important issues, i.e. her lifelong struggle with hairy arms. (“There’s not enough wax in the world.”)

Following a stint in college, she braved the daunting world of standup. After a childhood traumas, including the tragic death of her infant brother, the stress of being funny in front of strangers paled in comparison. The Bedwetter, published by Harper-Collins, is surprisingly poignant and still laugh-out-loud funny. (Also includes an afterword written by God!)

When the Game Was Ours follows the lives of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. For any fan of basketball, or of unlikely friendships, it’s a compelling read.

Bird and Johnson’s rivalry, which bordered on hatred, began in the historic 1979 NCAA Championship game, in which Magic’s Michigan State beat Larry Bird’s Indiana State. The rivalry was so intense it’s been compared to Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier’s, but without the gloves.

Magic and Bird’s arrival into the NBA is credited with saving the sport from its twin epidemics of drug abuse and uninspired play. Their rivalry ushered in an NBA golden era.

In 1980 Bird was Rookie of the Year but Magic exacted his revenge. Playing center for an injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic led his Lakers to the NBA Championship over the 76ers with a 42-point performance. Bird and Magic met face to face three times in the NBA finals, with the Lakers winning two out of the three. And now, of course, the Celtics and Lakers are meeting once again.

The two couldn’t have been more different. Brooding, Bird shunned the limelight. Ebullient, Magic was the limelight. But, after retirement, they discovered that they had shared small town roots and childhood poverty.

When Bird was 19 he was devastated by his father’s suicide, committed largely over financial issues. (Sad irony, in a few years Bird would be a millionaire.) Bird acknowledges that the only other time he felt as hopeless as after his father’s death, was when Magic contracted HIV.

A fascinating and touching read, “When the Game was Ours” by Bird and Magic, was co-authored by Jackie MacMullan. (Whom I suspect did the bulk of the writing.) It’s published by Houghton Miffin Harcourt.

“And No More Sorrow,” written by Santa Monica author Liliane Pelzman, is a powerful and poignant memoir about her mother’s heroic survival from Auschwitz. But the subtitle suggests the more universal story: “A mother, her daughter, their war.”

Sonja Rosenstein suffered unimaginable horrors during the Holocaust. But for many survivors’ children, it was their war, too. As in ‘normal” families, parents often pass their life traumas onto their children. But, after decades of distance, Liliane spent years interviewing her mother, and in the writing of the book, was able to finally heal their relationship. And No More Sorrow is published by Llumina Press.

Mark Twain once opined, “History is only the winner’s version.” A People’s History of the United States, by the late and legendary Howard Zinn, reaffirms that profound quote. And another: “Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.”

From Columbus to Clinton, Zinn’s masterpiece gives the reader insight into American history far different from what we were programmed to memorize in school. A People’s History is published by Harper & Row, HarperCollins. (It’s also available free online at:

All the above are available at bookstores, and the public library. So, this June, while you’re busy getting your body in beach shape, why not do the same for your brain? Read a book or three. And, above all, have a great summer.

Categories: Book Review