2017 – A Year in Books

In 1987, I began keeping a list of the title and author of every book I finished reading. I started near the back of a notebook/journal and, in August 1998, I filled the last page. So I went back to the first page of my list and started filling in pages going backwards toward the front of the notebook from there. In 2017, I still have a few more blank pages left before I run into other content, and when I do I’ll have to figure out how to keep going. Sometimes I think about rewriting the whole list in a new blank notebook, and I guess that will ultimately have to be the solution – or at least keep going in a whole new notebook. Anyway, I have a couple of years before I have to decide.

Meanwhile, 2017.

My list of books does not contain the date I finished a particular book. I just have at the top of each page the range of dates. I write the month and year I finished the first book on that page, and when I get to the bottom of the page, add that month and year. So my last three pages are marked “April 16 – February 17,” February 17 – October 17,” and the current partially filled page “October 17 –       .”

Part of the pleasure of the list, for me, is looking at titles and thinking about where/when I read them. I can’t always pinpoint even a month, especially going back a few years. But looking at the 2016-2017 page I know clearly which books were the first I finished in 2017. The first was James, a novel written by my then 10 year old son. It is eight chapters (and consequently eight handwritten pages) long. It tells the story of a runaway slave during the Civil War and my son would really like me to type it up and make it for sale on Amazon. I am so proud and amazed that he finished it and am, frankly, jealous that I never finished writing a novel until high school. He is so far ahead of me in so many ways.

The next book I read (and I promise I’m not going to go over every single one) was Make ‘Em Laugh by Debbie Reynolds. At the time I, along with the rest of the world, was still reeling from the loss of Debbie and her daughter. I had, coincidentally, just finished reading one of Carrie’s books about a month before they died. Sigh. I now cherish even more the autographed photo of Debbie I have stored in a closet somewhere.


When I count them all up, it looks like I read a total of 72 books this year. That includes audiobooks.I was reluctant, for many years, to include audiobooks in my main list. But I eventually started consuming a lot more audiobooks (thanks largely to the wonderful Hoopla app tied to my local library) and in 2016 began listing them just like any other book.

Here are a few of the books I read last year that stick out to me when I read through my list.

Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon. Very inspirational about creating things and, particularly, about not being afraid to share your process.

Sapiens by Yuval Harari. Fascinating book about how our ability to believe in fictions defines our species.

The Hunter by Richard Stark. Several years ago I read The Score, an excellent thriller about a criminal named Parker. This year I saw audiobooks of the series available on Hoopla and began listening to them from the beginning. They’re relatively short and always enjoyable. I think I’m up to number 11 in the series now. I intersperse a Parker novel here and there amongst the others. I guess I’ve averaged about one a month, probably more since I began them in February or March.

Infinite Tuesday by Michael Nesmith. A sort of memoir by my favorite Monkee. He’s had a fascinating life and I think the audio version is definitely the way to go. I loved hearing him tell his own story.

Dreaming the Beatles by Rob Sheffield. Loved it. I listened to it on audio and had to also go buy the print edition so I could reread sections at my leisure.

South Pole Station by Ashley Shelby. I wrote about this one when I finished it. Terrific. It would make a great setting for a TV series.

Fantasyland by Kurt Andersen. Explains how we got to this surreal moment in history.

Vacationland by John Hodgman. Another one I highly recommend on audio. Hodgman has a great voice anyway, and listening to him tell these stories adds an extra dimension. He’s a charming, funny, and wise person, as well as a great storyteller, and all those qualities come through here.

I look at my list and I keep seeing more and more books I loved. I could go on and on. It’s been a good year of reading for me.

What are your favorite 2017 reads?


School of Rock and On Your Feet

The last two shows I’ve seen were touring Broadway shows. I reviewed both of them for BroadwayWorld.


School of Rock “School of Rock isn’t about plot or spectacle or insight orcharacterdepth. School of Rock is about rock and roll. About that heavy metal spirit. About stickin’ it the The Man.”

On Your Feet! “Filled with fantastic music performed by an amazingly talented cast and on-stage band, On Your Feet delivers a timely story of emotional – and physical – triumph against overwhelming odds.”


GLOW Lyric Theatre

When Les Miserables came through town recently, I found out that one of that production’s actors, Felipe Bombonato, was a veteran of a local company, Glow Lyric Theatre. I’ve long enjoyed the work GLOW does (and actually got to appear as Doc in their production of West Side Story a couple of summers ago).

I met up with GLOW’s founding power couple, Jenna Tamisiea and Christian Elser, to talk about their upcoming season and their memories of Felipe. I also talked to Felipe on the phone and then put together this story for the Greenville Journal.

Song for Claudine

I was thumbing through a notebook just now and saw a note that reminded me of this song.

Back in February, a social media friend lamented that no one had ever written a song for her, so I did. One of her points was that her name is not pronounced in the typical fashion claw-deen. So I tried to pronounce it the way I thought it was pronounced based on what I’d seen. And I think I did it completely wrong. I think, now, that the first syllable is pronounced “cloh” (rhymes with low). But I somehow got it into my dumb head that it was “clow” (rhymes with cow).

So on the plus side, I wrote her a song. On the way big minus side, I — like every other casual acquaintance in her life — screwed up the pronunciation of her name.

Sorry Claudine.

(Also I asked my son to hold the camera when I shot this, so, it’s not as steady as your average viewer might like.)



Today I started listening to the book How Music Works by David Byrne.

I was struck by the opening sections, by the thesis he lays out, and am looking forward to hearing how he develops it further.

context largely determines what is written, painted, sculpted, sung, or performed. That doesn’t sound like much of an insight, but it’s actually backward from conventional wisdom, which maintains that creation emerges out of some interior emotion, from an upwelling of passion or feeling, and that the creative urge will brook no accommodation, that it simply must find an outlet to be heard, read, or seen. The classical composer gets a strange look in his or her eye and begins scribbling furiously. The rock-and-roll singer is driven by desire and demons, and out bursts this amazing song. This is the romantic notion of how creative work comes to be, but I think the path of creation is almost 180º from this model. I believe that we unconsciously and instinctively make work to fit preexisting formats.

My thoughts immediately drifted to the theatre, and how certain choices – particularly the choice of where you stage your show – determine a lot about the overall shape of the production. I also thought about theatre classes I took in college, and the methods of play analysis I learned. Essentially, the whole point of the classes was learning that the context of the play’s creation – the historical and cultural forces at work when the play was written – are fundamental pieces required to help understand the work itself.

These are just half formed thoughts, typed here while one of my kids babbles to the dog in a very annoyingly distracting singsong voice, so I can barely think at all. So that’s the context of this blog post and the reason why it’s likely not coming together as a coherent piece.

One Day More

Last night I saw (for – shockingly – the first time), a production of Les Miserables. This was the current North American tour and it was pretty darned good. 

One moment, at the opening of act two, Phoenix Best as Eponine sings “On My Own.” At one moment, she holds a note. The music stops. Then she stops and in otherwise utter silence, her last note echoed, resonated, lingered through the Peace Center auditorium. It was quite literally breathtaking. 

I can see why people get emotionally attached to Les Miz. 

Here’s my review of Les Miserables on BroadwayWorld

Act One

I’m currently reading (listening to, actually) Act One, an autobiography by Moss Hart. It’s both a seminal theatre work and a highly enjoyable read (listen).

Moss Hart co-wrote several classics, including You Can’t Take It With You, a play I did in high school (which reminds me of a line from the New York Times review of a recent revival: “Those who saw, or performed in, You Can’t Take It With You in high school should not let that trauma taint the Broadway revival of that show.”).

Hart also directed the original productions of My Fair Lady and Camelot, so the guy was no slouch.

This is a book that, frankly, I wish I’d read when I was young and impressionable. His drive and ambition, as well as his ability to keep going despite setbacks, is inspirational. I suspect this book resulted in a lot of people moving to NYC over the years, in pursuit of theatrical careers. But few of them had Hart’s talent or – as he would likely be the first to admit – his luck. It’s a wonderful story, well told.


I finished this afternoon and the ending is fantastic. What a story. What a life.

Frank Rich wrote this about Act One, and it encapsulates the book’s appeal: “Hart’s memoir is one of the great American autobiographies because it gives a certain kind of reader hope. It says you can escape a home where you feel you don’t belong, you can escape a town you find suffocating, you can follow a passion (the theater, but not just the ­theater) that is ridiculed by your peers, you can—with hard work, luck, and stamina—forge a career doing what you love. However modest or traumatic your beginnings, you can find your way to Oz—and you don’t have to go back to Kansas anymore.”

Interview with Cosette

When I found out that Jillian Butler was in Chicago, I immediately had to ask her one important question: “Have you seen Hamilton?”

Butler plays Cosette in the new touring production of Les Miserables that opens at the Peace Center in Greenville on October 31, 2017. I talked to her on the phone last week, when the show was still playing Chicago.

“I did see Hamilton!” she told me. “We got here on a Monday and we had a Tuesday free, so a bunch of us got to see it on Tuesday night the first week we were here. It was amazing.”

How lucky we are to be alive right now.

We chatted about Hamilton for a few moments, then moved on to the real subject of the call, her experience playing an iconic character in an epic musical. Butler’s joy of performing really came through in her voice as well as her words, and I truly enjoyed talking to her. She was a real delight and I can’t wait to see her – and the rest of the cast – perform.

You can read the full interview on BroadwayWorld.

Fun Home, starring my Close Personal Friend, Kate Shindle

A couple of weeks ago I saw the musical Fun Home and it was terrific.

Quick back story: in early 1999, I went on a Birmingham TV news show to promote a production of Picasso at the Lapin Agile (I played Einstein in the show). In the green room, I met Miss America, Kate Shindle. She was clearly smart and quick-witted as well as friendly and charismatic and I liked her immediately. So when I saw that Kate was starring in Fun Home, I began to really look forward to seeing it. And I was not disappointed. She was fantastic and so was the show.

There are so many things to unpack, so many layers, so much truth. My close personal friend Kate is excellent. I was also impressed with the actress who played young Alison as well as the dad and the mom and the girlfriend, Joan. But more than any of them I really loved Abby Corrigan as the college-aged Alison. There’s something about her that really stands out. A fantastic performance. It’s also got a great set and lighting. It’s the kind of show I want to write a college essay about. If it comes to your town, see it.

Ghost and Mrs. Manwaring

Last night I saw a dress rehearsal for Ghost – The Musical, which opens this week at Centre Stage in downtown Greenville, SC.

Since this was technically still a rehearsal, it wouldn’t be fair to write a full review. But I can report that some wonderful performances anchor the production and that the audience absolutely loved it.

Paige Manwaring and David Bean head the ensemble as Molly and Sam (played in the original movie by Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze). I loved their chemistry, their emotion, and their strong, evocative voices. Honestly, they are two of my favorite local performers and they instantly won over this audience, as well. I also loved Gisele Gathings as Oda Mae Brown (the Whoopi Goldberg part) and loved to hate Joshua Thomason as Carl. Because this isn’t a real review, I’ll also share how much I enjoyed seeing Kristofer Parker in the ensemble. I worked with Kristofer in Hairspray years ago (Paige Manwaring was also in that production of Hairspray and she was the PERFECT Amber Von Tussle). I always admire the precision and energy in Kristofer’s dancing, and he demonstrated that again last night.

Last week BroadwayWorld published my interview with Ghost – The Musical‘s director, Glenda Manwaring. In it, she shares her hope that audiences “feel the joy, sadness and uplifting ‘spirits’ in our production and be glad that they came.”

Judging from last night’s performance, audiences are going to be very glad indeed.