Five Favorite Books

5 Favorite Books

  1. Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person by Miriam Engelberg

This book was why I started drawing cartoons at age 39. Engelberg tells her story about getting breast cancer and what goes along with that. This book is told in a series of cartoons. The story is heavy but it has its hilarious moments. There is this depth to her writing that is illustrated with these crude and simplistic drawings but it works as a book. I didn’t care if the pictures were good or not because I was so taken in with the story. One interesting story is when Miriam tells people at work in a mass email with the subject: “I have cancer” and in the body of the email that the new intro to Excel Manual is finished. The characters are interesting too, such as Dina the lab technician with a puppet who says, “Don’t worry, cheer up kitty and I are on the job, praise the lord.”

Miriam’s priorities change. She says after surgery and chemo, “Yeah, I know, I should be meditating and journaling and reflecting…but I don’t feel like it. I’m still waiting for some kind of epiphany so that I can use illness to turn my life around. But in the meantime I’m just going to watch “Judge Judy” and read a magazine.”

The interesting thing I’ve read the book when I first purchased it in 2009 and later re-read in 2013 with a different perspective after my father died of cancer in 2011. This is one of those books I read and get something new and different each time. Okay, so I’ve like depressed everyone but keep reading. I have a silly book on my list too. Just take a look at number two.

2.  Life With My Sister Madonna by Christopher Ciccone

This book is JUST PLAIN FUN. I love making fun of Madonna and her brother in reading this story. It’s like eating candy. I can’t take too much at one sitting or I’ll be sick. I have not, in any way, made myself a better human being by reading about: Madonna’s tantrums, silly situations where she has had two Lemon Drop drinks with someone dumping candle wax in her hair or, nasty fights with her brother. But I’ve enjoyed myself.


“I have up my F#$% life to help make you the evil queen you are today…15 years listening to your bitching, egotistical rantings, mediocre talent, and a lack of taste that would stun the ages…every ounce of talent you have, you have sucked dry from me and the people around you”

3.  Drinking at the Movies by Julia Wertz

Here is the story of a twenty something girl that had a dream and moved to New York. She wanted to set the world on fire with her cartoons and she did exactly that. She tells her story in a series of cartoons. Her self-depreciating humor makes the story fascinating. She writes about real problems from negative encounters with the homeless man that came into the bar where she worked to having lupus and no health insurance. Oh and also she drinks too much. At times she can be too self involved but she’s still entertaining. She published some books and still struggled to make a living. I know I can definitely identify with that.

Julia Wertz opens her book with, “On the day I turned twenty five, I came to consciousness at 3am in a twenty four hour laundromat in Brooklyn, New York, eating crackerjacks in my pajamas. To understand how I got there, we need to go back one year…”

This book gave me permission to write about my negative character flaws. Then people might see a fuller truth of who I am rather than just bits and selected pieces.

4.  Awakening the Actor Within by C. Stephen Foster

This book is for any artist, not just actors. It’s for anyone who started out young, got beaten down by people saying, “No, you can’t….” and stopped them in the creative process.

Foster gives the reader exercises about acting to help them do their job. One exercise is the “vein of gold” exercise from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. In this exercise you list your five favorite movies and favorite childhood book. Then list your favorite scene from each movie. The actor looks at similar relationships, characters, themes. But any artist can use this tool to find out more about themselves and why they create the things they do.  Foster gives us these exercises that are fun to try and also he relates his personal experience as an actor where these exercises have given remarkable and unexpected results.

Also there are quotes and stories from artistic people who drive home what he is communicating.  He mentions quotes from Woody Allen, Chekov, my favorite, Madonna, and more. Anton Chekov says, “If you want to work on your acting, work on your life.” Stephen echoes these words throughout the exercises in his book.

Even if you aren’t a writer, actor, or painter, this book is fun in unappealing the layers of your personality and become more aware of why you are you.

5. Jihad Honeymoon in Hollywood, Not Without My Dogs by Juliet Montague

Julie is a retired court reporter living the dream in Hollywood as an actor and stand-up comedian.  She has made just enough to cover her SAG insurance for six of the ten years she has lived there. Julie falls in love with Ali, a man twenty-two years her junior. For the first time really in her whole sixty two years and not counting four husbands has she been swept off her feet by this Muslim man sleeping with her in her basement. She even says “I had been married four times. It’s not that hard to find four men who need a place to live.”

This book is hilarious but also heart breaking because Ali tells her “when I come into your house we are married. When I leave we are not married.”  What kind of crap is that? His wining and dining her is long gone (if you count dinner at Polermo in Los Feliz as fine dining). Instead he takes her to occasional runs to Zankou Chicken (that has festive fluorescent lighting) and donut desserts at the Donut Hut two blocks from her house.

Actually this book is book two of the Muslim Romance Trilogy with book one being The Year I Learned to Text. The third one has not yet been published. Honeymoon is really 90% nonfiction and 10% fiction. I know Juliet so I’m reading about things that actually happened. Each chapter begins the day number of her honeymoon (if you even want to call it that) and listings for alcohol and nicotine.

My favorites:

Honeymoon in Hollywood: Day No 8

Alcohol: Three rum and cokes, but who’s counting?

Nicotine: If ya got ‘em, smoke ‘em

Other alcohol entries: Grapes are good for you. Red wine after coitus. Why not?

Reading this book taught me a LOT about writing comedy and it’s another escape/guilty pleasure. But it’s also about a human being just looking for love in all the wrong places. It’s a place where most of us have been at in some point in our lives. Julie I’m routing for you. I have my pompoms out. Give me a J. Give me a U. And you know the rest.

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