Book reviews: Garner bio, Ephron’s latest, Whoopi, Italian crime novel, Jeanne Darst bestseller

As promised, here’s my take on James Garner’s memoir, “The Garner Files,” co-written with the marvelous Jon Winokur.

Surprises: Garner married his wife Lois in 1956 after knowing her only two weeks; he’s a regular pot smoker; money obsessed; and despite what pal Julie Andrews wants you to think, a world-class curmudgeon.

The book is divided into important chapters of Garner’s life from his dreadful childhood to Korea (he was awarded two Purple Hearts), to TV successes with Maverick and The Rockford Files, his film career (lots about “The Great Escape”) and two passions–golf and car racing.

Parts of the memoir seemed disingenuous to me—as if Garner was trying too hard to be modest and not reveal too much. Not one word about his Oscar nomination, in 1985 for “Murphy’s Romance,” nary a word about co-star Sally Field (she said he was the best kisser of all her leading men), only tidbits about the delightful romantic comedies he did with Doris Day—in fact he seemed embarrassed by them.  Stuart Margolin (Angel in “The Rockford Files”) is conspicuously absent from the praise-fest at the end of the book. I felt that Joe Santos (who played Dennis Becker on “The Rockford Files”) was the most sincere of all when he wrote, “Garner says he’s easygoing, but he’s lying.”

His comments on Jack Warner, Steve McQueen, Marlon Brando, and Charles Bronson were illuminating. According to Garner Bronson was a “bitter, belligerent SOB.” I remember seeing Bryant Gumbel of NBC’s “The Today Show,” interview, or attempt to interview, Bronson years ago. Bronson glared at him like an Easter Island figure and refused to answer any questions. It was the one and only time I felt sorry for the humble Mr. Gumbel.

Altogether a satisfying read, though.

In the fiction category:  “A Florentine Death” by Michele Giuttari is a dark disturbing crime novel set in Florence, Italy. I found Giuttari’s writing style and the translation sorely lacking. This book pales by comparison to the outstanding series about Italian police inspectors by Andrea Camillieri (Inspector Montalbano) and Donna Leon (Commissario Guido Brunetti). And how I miss the marvelous Michael Dibdin (Aurelio Zen series), may he R.I.P.

Whoopi Goldberg’sIs It Just Me? Or is it nuts out there?” not only has a repulsive cover, ironic because the book is her take on the “decline of our country’s civility,” it’s not very funny, and is rife with redundancies and outdated references. Tiger Woods was off the front page by the time this book hit the stores yet Whoopi obsesses about the man. Much of the book comes across as an angry lecture by a woman who’s out of touch with reality. She joins a long line of celebrities who get published based solely on the marketability of their names, not on the merits of their writing or insight. I was disappointed.

On the flip side, we have Nora Ephron’s witty “I Remember Nothing: and other reflections,” a follow up to her bestseller “I Feel Bad About My Neck: and other thoughts on being a woman.” Both books address issues of menopause, and are packed with amusing anecdotes about her family, celebrities, famous writers, drunks, and Hollywood types. I especially enjoyed reading about the early years of Ephron’s journalism career.

Like Whoopi, Ephron lives the privileged life of a woman of immense wealth and fame. The trick to enjoying her books is to cast aside all jealous thoughts. So what if she’s having a $300 dinner at Babbo and you’re eating a Lean Cuisine? C’est la vie, baby.

Just started “Fiction Ruined My Family,” by Jeanne Darst and am loving it. Details to follow.

Good reading.

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