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Runway Roundup: New Releases for Fashion Week

I think I’ve probably used up all the words allotted for praising I’ll Drink to That, the new memoir from the octogenarian style maven, Betty Halbreich. But, love it as I do, there are other brand new books about fashion and their –istas, just out or about to come out. Why does it seem there’s a bounty of such books right now? Fall is big clothes-buying season, for one thing (I bet that fact has to do with our collective memories of back-to-school outfits and shoes) and, also because it’s the week designers show their upcoming stuff at Fashion Week. Here, then, some other books for the adornment-obsessed.


Women in Clothes

Women in Clothes

A quirky compendium of essays, photos, interviews and other pieces by and about women and the things they wear. Notable contributors include authors Heidi Julavits, artist Leanne Shapton and (of course) Girls creator and, ahem, creative dresser, Lena Dunham. Anthologies are usually tricky – uneven – and this one can be. But it’s so well done, and so chock full of charm, you can’t help learning (again!) that in books, as in fashion, style and confidence is all.

Champagne Supernovas

Champagne Supernovas: Kate Moss, Marc Jacobs, Alexander McQueen, and the 90s Renegades Who Remade Fashion by Maureen Callahan

Dish-y! According to New York Post writer, Maureen Callahan, model Kate Moss and designers Marc Jacobs and the late Alexander McQueen are responsible for turning alternative style into the mainstream – and making billions in the process. Callahan posits that these mad geniuses of fashion are major cultural icons, or at least were responsible for major cultural shifts. It’s a provocative argument. As the late Joan Rivers, who also had a few opinions about fashion, would say, “Can we talk?”

The Woman I Wanted to Be

The Woman I Wanted to Be by Diane von Furstenberg

Her second memoir, the designer Diane von Furstenberg here inspires women not necessarily to wear her signature wrap dresses, but to believe in themselves. After all, the now-wife of mogul Barry Diller did, through family crises, career setbacks and serious illness. Still, in the end, she says, “I owe everything to that little dress.”


D.V. and Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel by Diana Vreeland

And no book about fashionism [sic] would be complete without a mention of the very best, funniest, oddest books about loving and having style. Those, of course, are Diana Vreeland’s D.V. and The Eye Has to Travel. “Pink is the navy blue of India,” the legendary Vogue editor famously opined. Like the aphorisms attributed to Yogi Berra, hers are, even in the re-reading, irresistible.

Elsa Schiaparelli: A Biography

Elsa Schiaparelli: A Biography by Meryle Secrest

And then there’s Elsa Schiaparelli, best known until recently by only the  most serious fashion lovers, but who was, in her day, even more famous than Coco Chanel. Meryle Secrest’s biography makes the case that Schiaparelli (grandmother of actress Marisa Berenson) was not merely a designer, but was, in fact, an artist (she was close to Man Ray, among others) and an eccentric social revolutionary whose medium was apparel.   

Sara’s Sleeper: "We Are Called to Rise" by Laura McBride

SaranelsonWe Are Called to RiseSometimes I crave a simple, straightforward novel--not necessarily light, but straightforward;  one that makes a point about our world-views, our morality, the way we live now. 

We Are Called to Rise, by Laura McBride, is that kind of book. It’s a  series of interlocking vignettes of four characters:  two middle aged women with in-flux family lives, a little Albanian-immigrant boy and a wounded soldier too scared and angry to remember his patriotic platitudes. It’s set in Las Vegas, but if you’re thinking glamorous, you’ll be surprised.  And while there are moments you can’t help but see that this debut author is more fascinated by her ideas than the characters she gives them to, I dare you to come away from this arresting novel unmoved. 

Plus:  how can you resist a book that is both readable in one sitting AND takes its title from a poem by Emily Dickinson? 

Sara Says: All I want for New Year's...

SaranelsonAll I want for New Year's... is a handful of fantastic books.

Let somebody else (or millions of somebodies else) think the new year brings resolutions of weight loss, money saving, better parenting. For me, 2014 means I get another chance to sift through another giant stack of books to pick out the ones that will matter most to me. This is no exact science, to be sure, and there are always surprises none of us can see coming (how did I not know that The Goldfinch was going to change my life in 2013?). But as I look ahead a couple of months, these are the five novels (and one bio) I'm most excited to get my hands on:

The Enchanted

The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld

I was skeptical, I admit, because this debut novel involves magic, and magic is usually not my thing. But so far, this tale of life in a prison, narrated by a mute inmate and centered on an unnamed death penalty investigator who makes a particularly monstrous killer as her cause, has me riveted.
Boy, Snow, Bird

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

A retelling of the Snow White fairy tale, except this time the issue of race is explicit. I'm curious to see how Oyeyemi -- who was, after all, the author of Mr. Fox, which took on the Bluebird legend -- does with this somewhat more mainstream parable.
Frog Music

Frog Music by Emma Donoghue

Sometimes I'm afraid to start a book for fear that I'll be captivated but won't have the block of time necessary to finish it. That's how I felt about Frog Music by Emma Donoghue (but, ok, I cheated. I read the beginning, and I'm taking the rest of the day off from all other pursuits.) You may know Donoghue as the author of Room, but this book seems more akin to her Slammerkin, in that both deal with historical murders of women of questionable repute. Either way, you can count on this one getting lots of attention come spring.
The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street

The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman

How's this for a first line: "We'd been in America just three months when the horse ran over me"? So begins this luscious-looking novel by the author of Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress. This one's going to the very top of the pile.
You Should Have Known

You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz

The author of the much-admired Admission is back with another story of affluent, sophisticated people -- here a therapist and her oncologist husband -- who discover that their privileged life was not quite as wonderful as it seemed. This one has "major motion picture" written all over it.

Updike by Adam Begley

Ok, so I'm a booknerd. You knew that. But to judge from the outpouring of acclaim both upon Updike's death in 2009 and, of course, well before, I bet there are a lot of us. Critic and biographer Adam Begley's take on the author of the Rabbit books and The Witches of Eastwick (among many others) deserves a look , and not only because the cover photo of the author as a young handsome man is so inviting.

See Seira's YA Books I Can't Wait to Read in 2014
See Robin's Geeking Out: Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Horror in 2014

Sara Says: All I’ve Missed in 2013


I know: you don't pity me. My life is all about reading, so what's to complain? On the other hand, for a reader like me -- and, I suspect, all of the members of our wonderful editorial team, as well as many, many of you booklovers out there -- the one thing we hate most is MISSING a book. Just plain not seeing, not knowing about, or not getting to something you've meant to get to -- something that others have read (or not) and praised (or even not). Herewith, then, are the novels I'm packing in my holiday bag next week. (Stay tuned for my New Year's wish-list, coming soon.)


SomeoneI love Alice McDermott, always have and always will. (Charming Billy's a favorite). So how on Earth did I miss Someone, her latest novel and, according to my brilliant sister, who reads way more and better than I do, one of her best. This "deceptively simple" tale of an ordinary woman who has vision problems (literally and figuratively) is first up for the plane ride pre-Christmas.






People in the Trees The People in the Trees has been called "challenging," and while I admit that scares me a little, I'm fascinated by anything called a cross between Norman Rush's Mating, Ann Patchett's State of Wonder, Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible, and Peter Matthiessen's At Play in the Fields of the Lord. That, and it has a very weird and compelling cover.






Good Lord Bird A confession. I predicted that The Good Lord Bird would win the National Book Award for fiction, and to everyone's astonishment (including mine, sort of) I was right. But I hadn't read it. (I was basing my vote on the fact that The Color of Water, the author's memoir, was one of the great, successful but somehow still undersung books of its generation.) So I'm going to deny my usually perverse nature -- I hate to read a book AFTER it is an official award-winner -- and read this by New Year's.





The Mole The Mole is Peter Warner's fictional memoir about a modest Canadian spy in Washington, D.C., from the 1950s to the 1980s. They say it's clever, and moves quickly, and, you know, for a Homeland addict now off her third season feed, I need that.

Sara Says: Oprah's New Book Club Pick is Same Old Song, Only Better


When Oprah Winfrey announced today that Sue Monk Kidd's The Invention of Wings would be the newest selection in her Book Club 2.0, you could almost hear a symphony of hands slapping foreheads all over town. "Duh," was a typical first reaction: OF COURSE Oprah would choose this novel about the lifelong relationship between a white Southern girl/woman and the slave she was "gifted" by her mother on her eleventh birthday. It's about race, it's about strong women and it has a strong theme of redemption: all favorites of the media queen. (Not to mention that the author, Sue Monk Kidd, wrote The Secret Life of Bees, a 2002 novel also about Southern women and race, which was a huge best seller, but not an Oprah pick, for some reason.)

Book Club 2.0But I submit that for all its familiarity, The Invention of Wings is as much a new kind of Oprah pick as it is variation on the tried-and-true.

Let me back up here to say that for three years, from 2009 to 2012, I was the Books Editor at O, the Oprah Magazine, and was involved in the launching of the new book club in June 2012. The book was Wild by Cheryl Strayed, and while it had been a very successful memoir before Oprah picked it, it went higher and stayed longer on the best seller lists for months afterwards--O influence or coincidence, you decide. And while it's true that I had a hand in Oprah getting her hands on the book, the fact is that dozens--and I do mean dozens--of people, publishing professionals and not, regularly pitch her with ideas. (Really, I think the guys in the convenience stores near her homes have probably made suggestions as has anyone who has had a significant battle with weight.)

So here's the story: Oprah picks what she reads and what she likes. She doesn't automatically take anybody's word for any book. (Trust me: This much I know is true.) She needs to feel it herself. And so while I don't know how Kidd's book got to her, I have no doubt that she read every word of it and that she alone made the decision to feature it. She's a true book nerd that way, and I bet she wouldn't even mind my calling her that.

But back to Kidd's wonderful book, which I have to admit I approached with trepidation, fearing a sentimental take on this now-much-discussed topic; I don't need to name the books in recent years that addressed black/white relations in a somewhat cartoony fashion. But I was happily surprised. Based loosely on the story of Sarah Grimke, a pre-civil war South Carolina daughter of a slaveholding family who became an ardent abolitionist and all-around champion of women's rights, it doesn't have a cardboard character anywhere in its 300+ pages. Not Sarah Grimke herself, not her given slave Hetty aka Handful, not Denmark Vesey, a revolutionary and charismatic free black man. These are characters that could be stock, straight out of central casting, but in Kidd's hands, they're way more complicated than that.

Oprah, of course, has picked many similarly sophisticated books -- even Jonathan Franzen would have to agree with that, now that two of his novels were chosen!--but what makes this one particularly contemporary is, ironically, that it has a historical basis. This is the mood of the day: it's why Loving Frank (a novel loosely based on Frank Lloyd Wright and one of his lovers), The Women (ditto, but more lovers), The Paris Wife (Hemingway and one wife) and many many others have succeeded so well of late. We don't want just a good yarn anymore, it seems, we want a story that can teach us something, preferably about somebody we have heard of (I knew vaguely of the Grimke sisters before I cracked this book) who also happens to be somebody who can teach us something.

I think this was a great pick that does both what you would expect an Oprah book to do--be socially conscious and accessible--and something more. Sure, it's about a very specific period and very specific people. But it's also, like more and more novels of recent years, a novel that educates you without preaching: about history, about relationships, about life.

This article was first published on Huffington Post

Why I Love "The Goldfinch"

Every once in a while, if you’re really lucky, you come across a book that speaks directly to you, and describes your world while simultaneously introducing it to you as if for the first time. I can count on two hands the books that have done that for me. Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone was one. The World According to Garp—which, it seemed to me, absolutely everybody was reading, in paperback, the summer before my senior year in college—was another. Some people feel this way about A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. And, of course, Harry Potter.

The Goldfinch is that kind of novel to me: a huge, rambling but still somehow tightly plotted, Dickensian tale of a boy and his beloved mother, and how her loss so unmoored him that, fourteen years and myriad misadventures later, he’s still grieving. I fell for it partly because as the mother of a son just off to college, it pulled the requisite heart strings. But The Goldfinch is more than a coming-of-age novel, though it is that, in the largest sense. It’s a rumination on art and truth, comparable in scope and importance (and this was the opinion of many reviewers, not just me) to Great Expectations and other famous bildungsromans. (And yes, one reviewer suggested, not kindly, that it was more JK Rowling than Dickens.)

Here’s what real people I know said about this book:

“I feel like I’ll have a hole in my life when I’m done with this book.”

“I started it thinking it would take so long to read all 750+ pages, and now I’m parceling it out to myself so it won’t end too soon.”

“Over the moon” is the common, old fashioned way some readers are putting it. I’ll just put it this way: I spent one weekend this summer sitting on the porch with an advance copy in my hands, moving my chair a few inches to the right to catch the sun as it rose, travelled across the sky and set, ten glorious Goldfinch pages at a time.

I guess a lot of people are obsessed. The book was in the top 10 on Amazon before it was even published, that’s how great the anticipation and advance word have been. It’s still there after publication, which suggests it doesn’t disappoint.

The Goldfinch is not perfect. It’s long, for sure. (“She writes two sentences for every one she needs to write,” says one woman I know. So did Faulkner, I say. And Tartt’s sentences are funnier, besides) Its last 100 pages flies off a cliff in an operatic stupor. But maybe it had to be that way, the less painful the reader’s separation anxiety to come.

The worst part? Knowing that since a book this moving, this enthralling and enveloping comes along, as I said, only every once in a while, it will be many, many moons until we see its like again.

Boty_rg_cover_thumb This piece comes from our free Best Books of 2013: Reader's Guide, which you can download now for your Kindle. It features interviews, essays, excerpts, and other fun extras about the year’s top 20 titles: Donna Tartt talks about her eating habits while writing The Goldfinch; Khaled Hosseini’s publicist discusses what it’s like to be on a national tour with him; David Finkel discusses the emotional impact following the 2-16 infantry battalion in Thank You for Your Service; and much more.

Sara Says: Give Me An Angry Heroine Any Old Time

The Woman UpstairsIn Claire Messud's ferocious The Woman Upstairs, middle-aged Nora, an artist-wannabe who is actually a frumpy suburban schoolteacher, announces her rage in the very first pages. "How angry am I? You don't want to know. Nobody wants to know about that."

But as the book goes on, she doesn't need to announce her feelings: every move she makes signals that the overwhelming impulse that drives her is rage. What's she so mad about? Everything, it seems. Or, as author Messud said in an interview in her publisher's office, "She had perhaps accepted that certain opportunities had been foreclosed [i.e. the ability to marry and certainly have children] and all of a sudden [when she met the young family with whom she became obsessed and immersed] somebody came along and opened the doors and said, 'Well, actually, you have one more chance'... But when those relationships fall apart, she's angry in exact proportion to how excited she was. She's angry about what she has lost." The Execution of Noa P. Singleton

Similar but different, Noa P. Singleton, the eponymous heroine of our debut this month is also angry, although she masks her rage as a smart alecky but blasé lack of concern for her fate as a prisoner on death row. She isn't moved when a young lawyer comes to try to get her sentence reversed; she isn't impressed when her long-lost father tries to establish a relationship with her; she doesn't jump when her victim's mother comes to her defense.

Noa and Nora--hmmm. What would Dr. Freud say about the echo of those names?--are both cut off from connection, and when either woman gets close to engaging with life, by choice or by chance, she can't help screaming her head off.

There's already been plenty written about whether Messud's heroine is so unlikable as to sink the success of the book. (Messud herself says she worried that people might be turned off by this character whom she says is neither biographical nor autobiographical, but is, nonetheless, "real.") And many have opined that an angry, unlikeable voice will never attract much of an audience, especially if that angry, unlikeable voice belongs to a female. ("Women's anger, in particular, is unseemly to some people," Messud understates.) And yet, the books keep coming--and keep selling.

There are few more likable, readable, perhaps even justifiably angry heroines than, Nora (hmm...that name again) Ephron's doppelganger in Heartburn. Or Fay Weldon's in the delightfully vicious, Lives and Loves of a She Devil, arguably the most delicious revenge novel of all time. See also, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Or what about the predatory, rageful woman in Zoë Heller's spectacular What Was she Thinking: Notes on a Scandal? (Decent movie, but better book!) There are, of course, angry men, too. And while the therapists might say male rage is more societally accepted, if that were true, a novel like Kate Christensen's The Epicure's Lament, about a furious, broken down guy who decides to eat and drink himself to death, would be better known than it is.

"It is human to make choices against your own best interest," Messud says. By that definition, Noa is certainly human: she has plenty of opportunities to exonerate and excuse herself, but can't quite bring herself to do so because she's guilty of some things, if not the exact crimes for which she was convicted. Most of us, I think, would agree with Messud’s comment that "bad choices, as much as good ones if not more so, are what our lives are made of." Likewise, "bad," angry characters are what the best books can be made of.

Sara Says: Nora Ephron Knew From Lucky Guys

Nora Ephron On the one hand, Lucky Guy seems like a strange thing to have been written by the late Nora Ephron. It's a play, for one thing; it's about tabloid journalism in New York in the 1980s; it centers around a very hard drinking, Irish-American columnist named Mike McAlary, who won a Pulitzer Prize after some very public career ups and downs; it has no love story (a la Sleepless in Seattle), no sisterhood of wise cracking women (ditto, plus You've Got Mail, plus the fact of Ephron's three writer sisters in real life); no whimsy (unless you count the little bit of singing Lucky Guy's characters do in their many bars); it has no happy ending. And yet the play –- which runs on Broadway through June 16 –- turns out to be as Ephronesque as it could be, as longtime fans of the author/screenwriter will note.

Ephron was once a journalist for The New York Post, one of the tabloids that also employed McAlary, albeit in a different era. It's about writers and their sometimes blind ambitions (see characters throughout Ephron's oeuvre, and the fact that she was famously married to Carl "Watergate" Bernstein, as well as journalists Dan Greenberg and Nick Pileggi). And yes it's a play -– but so was Love, Loss and What I Wore, which Ephron and her sister Delia adapted from a charming novel. It's also -- most lovingly, if in a slightly sharper, more masculine way -- about New York, Ephron's longtime hometown, the setting for most of her writings, and a character in itself. And it stars Tom Hanks as McAlary; Hanks, as you recall, was in Sleepless, and was one of Ephron's good friends.

Tom Hanks in Lucky Guy
Photo: Joan Marcus

But even more than all that, there are lines and bits in this play that are vintage Nora, that display her unerring ear for dialogue. (One of my favorites: Eddie Hayes, the celebrity lawyer/operator who handles McAlary's career , brags he can get McAlary so much money that he could buy a house that "could have six kids" in it. "Eight, if they aren't too big." And, as one of McAlary's frenemies proclaims, McAlary is "a two-bit hack who got [Jimmy] Breslin's slot but not his talent."

Still, the word that comes to mind most throughout Lucky Guy is "legendary." In a couple of dozen short scenes, Ephron manages to evoke a whole world that might have been small, in that it took up only a little time and space, but that lives large in its own legend. It's only the reporters onstage, but they remind us of so many other people and places of the time: Donald Trump as he's divorcing Ivana, Elaine's (now defunct) restaurant, The Lion's Head (the writers' bar), Joey Buttafuocco, Rudy Giuliani, McAlary himself. Writing about legends, of course, should come as no surprise, since Ephron was and has, since her death last June, become pretty legendary herself.

If you can't get to the Broadhurst theater by June 16, console yourself with some of other Ephron's great writing: Wallflower at the Orgy (written close to the time of the events in the play); Heartburn; I feel Bad About My Neck; I Remember Nothing; and Scribble Scribble (which is expected to be reissued this fall).


Sara Says: Listen Up!


Sound familiar? You’re fifteen, sixteen years old and your father or mother is constantly chiding you. “Turn up the light, reading in the dark will hurt your eyes,” they say. Or this, typical of any of us born since the rock and roll era: “that music is too loud: it’ll make you deaf.” If you’re anything like me, you turned a, well, a deaf ear to that kind of parental criticism or worry. With the hubris of youth, we were sure WE would never have such problems.

In Shouting Won’t Help, Katherine Bouton doesn’t spend much time ruminating on whether her youth was misspent, aurally or otherwise. But in her compelling memoir about how she slowly, at first imperceptibly, and then all-too-perceptibly lost her hearing, she sheds some light (sorry, these seeing/hearing metaphors are hard to avoid, which is kind of the point) on what we’d like to think are old wives’ tales. In fact, your mom or dad might have been right, at least about the deafness part. (There’s still no evidence that reading under the covers ever damaged my, or anyone else’s eyes.) “Ears are most vulnerable to noise damage when they’re young,” Bouton reports. How young?  Well, eight weeks in mice, which correlates to—get this—twenty years in humans, just about peak loud concertgoing, iPod-using time.

41JuuAwaCcL._BO2,204,203,20035,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Bouton—who was a writer and editor for the New Yorker magazine and the New York Times for decades—clearly knows how to put together a story. Every chapter contains nuggets from her copious research into the science of hearing, the medical developments, the news; every chapter ends with a mini profile of an accomplished person—musician, chef, athlete—who has suffered some loss. But what ties all of this sometimes complicated and nonlinear information is the story of Bouton’s personal experience:  of the accident while on assignment in her thirties that may (or may not) have triggered the hearing loss, of the way she hid, obfuscated, and denied the problem until it got her fired from her job, of the way people treat the functionally deaf (like drunks or idiots, or both), and finally, of her own experience with hearing aids, Cochlear implants and other developments.This kind of hybrid memoir—half reporting/half memoir—isn’t always easy to pull off. You run the risk of failing to elevate the personal to take on political or global significance. “Wow, that could have happened to me,” you start off thinking, as you frantically turn pages. But as the differences between you and the writer emerge, so does your interest in finishing the book dissipate.

I wanted to read Bouton to the only partially uplifting end not just because, like so many people she meets in the course of the book, I have my own hearing issues. (As many as 50 million of us, by some counts, do.) I found the book equally compelling because it did what only the best science-based books do for the lay person: taught me something without making me feel stupid about what I didn’t know. (I had no idea a Cochlear implant has to be “activated.”) And, as I read, it made me want to know more. I guess that’s what happens when you have an author who casts her intellectual net wide, who is curious and brave and relentless in her quest for information. Katherine Bouton may be severely hearing impaired, but she’s obviously a very good listener.

Some other books Shouting Won’t Help made me think of:

Gerald Shea’s Song Without Words, an engaging memoir of coming to terms with deafness in middle age.

Brain on Fire, journalist Susannah Cahalan’s memoir of a brain stem infection that temporarily turned her into something out of the Exorcist

Sara Says: Scientology, Again? How the Two Newest Books Stack Up

SaranelsonEvery couple of years, like clockwork, the world seems to come around to an interest in books about Scientology -- the controversial religion started by a minor science fiction writer named L. Ron Hubbard in the '50s. For example: Blown for Good - Behind the Iron Curtain of Scientology (2010), My Billion Year Contract: Memoir of a Former Scientologist (2009), and Inside Scientology: The Story of America's Most Secretive Religion (2011), just to name a few.

2013 is no exception: Lawrence Wright's Going Clear, out a month, is getting great reviews and is, at the time of this writing, No. 34 on our Bestsellers List with 25 days in the Top 100. This week, Jenna Miscavige Hill's Beyond Belief (a great title!) appears; I predict it too will sell well.

Why the everlasting fascination with Scientology, which may or may not have tens of thousands of members (the numbers, like most for this group, vary widely)? "I'm just not that interested in it," one noted journalist recently told me. "It's really very small." And yet, like the proverbial train wreck, a good book about the cult-or-religion (you decide) is hard to resist. Here's a partial list of the way the two newest entries in the category compare.



Going ClearWhile the subtitle of Wright's book makes reference to Hollywood's involvement with the Church, his main Hollywood contact seems to be Paul Haggis (screenwriter for such films as "Million Dollar Baby" and "Letters from Iwo Jima" and director of such short-lived TV series as "Family Law" and "The Black Donnellys"). He only nods at information about the more famous members, Tom Cruise and Travolta

Beyond BeliefHill's is much more personal story. She was essentially born Scientologist; her uncle David Miscavige is the sect's leader and her parents were, for a time, high up in the organization. She focuses, therefore, more on regular people, though there are some interesting passages about how the Church treats celebrities: Lisa Marie Presley in particular.


Going ClearWhile it is clear that Wright has a particular point of view about Scientology, he approaches the topic journalistically and lets other people (Haggis, predominantely) reveal information. He also adds a lot of history and biographical information about L. Ron Hubbard, which can make this book feel a bit padded.

Beyond BeliefJenna Miscavige Hill is no journalist, and she knew the history of Scientology from the inside. Only after she left the main Church and went to Australia did she gain some perspective. "I had been under the impression that everyone loved L. Ron Hubbard," she writes, "and that Scientology was flourishing and expanding all over the world. However, it seemed like most people in Australia did not even know what it was, and those who did often were skeptical."


Going ClearWright's book is exhaustively researched and gives a new reader a very good overview of the religion, although it never completely makes clear what the tenets of the Church are. (Or perhaps they're so muddled as to be unexplainable.)

Beyond BeliefHill is very specific about Scientology practices. Apparently, all powerful people senior to her are addressed as "Mr," regardless of their gender. She also describes her punishments -– usually for "misunderstood words," a seemingly weird psychosemantic education all young Scientologists must endure; scrubbing bathrooms for days at a time was not unusual. She also reveals that "an out 2d is an unacceptable relationship, like the one that got her once-powerful mother declared an SP (Suppressed Person), the Scientology equivalent of excommunication.


Going ClearWriting about scientology is risky business, as every writer (including this one) knows, and Wright is extra careful to show his methods –- one of the strongest scenes in the book is a how-I-got-the-story passage about meeting with the Church's spokespeople to check facts. One of the most chilling moments comes when Wright wonders aloud to Paul Haggis as to his future, now that he has spoken out. Haggis replies, in essence, that he wouldn't be surprised to be caught up a few years from now in some sort of scandal that doesn't appear to involve Scientology.

Beyond BeliefWhile she writes perhaps in more detail than even the most curious care to know about the punishments and threats made to her and her fellow renegade husband, Dallas Hill, the author seems strangely calm about her final decision to leave the Church. And how Byzantine that departure was; even while the Church threatened to punish the Hills by declaring them SPs (Suppressed Persons) and trying to extract payments for behavioral "violations," Hill spent weeks and months making her decision. Today, she's totally estranged from Scientology, unabashedly and seemingly fearlessly declaring the Church "a dangerous organization whose beliefs allow it to ... violate basic human rights."

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