The best biographies for kids embrace nuance

January 10, 2014 § Leave a comment

Not Just For Kids: Biographies aimed at children include Abraham Lincoln, Malcolm X, Josephine Baker and Thomas JeffersonAs school book fairs and children’s library browsers can attest, there is no shortage of biographies aiming to educate young readers about the lives of historical figures, from George Washington to Jackie Robinson, Annie Oakley to Anne Frank, Helen Keller to Harry Houdini, Eleanor Roosevelt to Elvis Presley.

This month, several new picture books about famous thinkers and doers — bold breakers of boundaries and blazers of trails — will further crowd the shelves. The best of these deal forthrightly with their subjects’ complexities and contradictions, acknowledging that even heroes make mistakes and suffer setbacks and that one can be inspired by someone’s successes while acknowledging their failings …

Biographies of historical figures for children, flaws and all (Los Angeles Times)

Remembering Lou Reed

October 27, 2013 § Leave a comment

lou_reed_takes_his_best_shots-460x307Deeply sad to hear about Lou Reed’s death. I have thought a lot about him since I was lucky enough to interview him for Salon, back in 2006. Days before the opening of the rock icon’s first major photography exhibit in New York, we spoke about his photographs, which were surprisingly sentimental and pretty. “I was following this beauty, this overwhelming beauty that you see in New York,” Reed told me as we sat in the Steven Kasher Gallery, in Chelsea, surrounded by pictures of sunsets, darkly glowing clouds, moving light and the view of the Hudson River from his West Side apartment.

Reed, a notoriously difficult interview, immediately put me on notice. He made fun of my low-tech tape recorder — and my name, which he found absurdly punny, given my profession. He was in complete control of our conversation, leaving me and my list of questions hopelessly scrambling to keep up as he discussed his technique and inspiration and associations. But when he decided I was not out to get him, as he obviously felt many journalists were, he warmed up, speaking to me longer than scheduled, even reaching out, at one point, to give my hand a little approving pat. He appeared to want nothing more than to be heard and understood, to connect.

“I think these things are fascinating and beautiful and available to anybody,” he said of his photographs, or perhaps the moments he sought to capture in them. “And I think beautiful things make us feel good.”

As I finally moved to leave, taking my apparently ridiculous tape recorder with me, Reed enveloped me in a hug. It may have been after I told him I had been seated in front of him years before, in 2001, at soul singer Howard Tate’s first back-from-nowhere NYC gig at the Village Underground, a night no one in attendance would ever forget. Or it may not. I can’t specifically remember what prompted his sudden warm embrace. But I do remember that, after I revealed I had only months before had my second child, he pulled me back into the gallery to look at an image he thought would mean something special to a new parent.

It was a generous gesture, and I was touched, if perhaps a bit confused, by it, as I was by the call I got afterward from his rep, asking if I would be interested in interviewing Reed for a British magazine that wanted a word with him. “Lou wants you to do it,” the rep said, sounding frankly mystified. “He liked you.”

The feeling was mutual.

Lou Reed takes his best shots (Salon)

Who will win ‘The Voice’?

September 23, 2013 § Leave a comment

the voiceDanielle Bradbery took top honors on “The Voice” last season, becoming, at age 16, the youngest singer in the show’s four-season-long history to do so. The Texas teen’s first single, “The Heart of Dixie,” released in July, a week before her 17th birthday, showed off her pipes and her country-music-star potential, hitting No. 16 on the Billboard country songs chart. Her debut album, due out in November, is already generating buzz among fans of her silky vocals and sweet stage presence.

Will this season of “The Voice” — in which the show’s original four coach/mentors will reunite, as Christina Aguilera and CeeLo Green return to their stately, spinning red chairs – find as worthy a winner? I’ll again be in my (alas, stationary and far less majestic) TV chair, tracking the competition for the Los Angeles Times. The show has just snagged an Emmy, proving its high ratings are not for nothing. Why not watch with me?

‘The Voice’ recap: Night 4 of blinds shows value of second chances (Los Angeles Times)

‘The Voice’ recap: Coaches play nice as blind auditions continue (Los Angeles Times)

‘The Voice’ recap: Talents impress in second night of blinds (Los Angeles Times)

‘The Voice’ recap: The old gang’s back for Season 5 (Los Angeles Times)

The secret of shareability

September 23, 2013 § Leave a comment

elephantWhat do an elephant rejected by its mother, a 105-year-old woman who swears bacon is the secret to a long and happy life, and a guy who does to a bank what banks usually do to other people have in common? Major crowd appeal. They are the subjects of three of the most popular blurbs I have written for msnNOW, racking up more than 315,000, 57,500 and 310,000 Facebook shares respectively. (Far more even than, say, this blurb about a rescued pup and the value of second chances, this one about a tear-inducing dog food commercial, and this one about a cat incessantly picking on a pooch.)

In fact, these posts were among the most-shared across social media in the history of msnNOW, a trending news site launched by Microsoft in February 2012, proving that what makes a story tops in traffic is not only carefully crafted SEO copy and following a trend – it’s sniffing out a good story before it trends and writing compelling copy people universally relate to. A story they feel a deep urge to share. And share again.

msnNOW (MSN)

Ryan Seacrest doesn’t really eat puppies, right?

January 11, 2013 § Leave a comment

"Elimination Night"If the anonymous author of “Elimination Night,” a fictional confection set behind the scenes of a singing-competition TV show very much — perhaps exactly — like “American Idol,” is difficult to identify, the same cannot be said of most of the satirical novel’s characters.

There’s “erect-nippled” British judge Nigel Crowther, avuncular session musician JD Coolz, workaholic “HostBot” Wayne Shoreline, glamorous Bibi Vasquez (her big hit: “Bibi From the Hood”), aging recovering-addict rock star Joey Lovecraft.

If these characters don’t sound familiar, you’re clearly not an “American Idol” watcher, and “Elimination Night” probably isn’t a book for you. If, however, you’re ticking off the names Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, Ryan Seacrest, Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler in your head, you may find yourself tempted to troll this send-up for “Idol” secrets spilled by the author, purportedly a show insider …

‘Elimination Night’ — What would the ‘Idol’ judges say? (Los Angeles Times)

Back on “American Idol” duty

February 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

American IdolI’m blogging about “American Idol” for the Los Angeles Times again this season. It’s my third time around on Showtracker “Idol” duty, and I’m looking forward to a great Season 11. If the auditions, which just wrapped up in St. Louis, are any indication, we’ll see a lot of talent crowding the stage in Hollywood. (Hooray for that!) “Idol” judges Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler will have their work cut out for them when it comes to winnowing down the masses to a handful of finalists. Of course, there are always a few contestants who start out strong, only to take a heartbreaking tumble when the going gets tough in Tinseltown. Who will it be? Stay tuned …

Showtracker: “American Idol” recaps (Los Angeles Times)

The “Glee” gang heads toward graduation

January 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

Glee“Glee” has rounded the corner to the second half of its third season. As Rachel, Finn, Kurt and other New Directions members contemplate life after McKinley High, I continue to chart their high school heartaches and hard choices in the Los Angeles Times’ TV blog, Showtracker. Will Finn and Rachel marry? Will New Directions thwart that villain Sebastian and beat Dalton’s Warblers at Regionals? I, for one, can’t wait to find out.

Showtracker: “Glee” recaps (Los Angeles Times)


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