Long before Saturday Night Live, George Schlatter ruled the world of TV sketch comedy with his show Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, a not-so-subtle allusion to the sit-ins and love-ins of the late 1960s. Hosted by Dan Rowan and Dick Martin, the show gave birth to stars such as Lily Tomlin and Goldie Hawn and lesser lights like Judy Carne, Ruth Buzzi, and Arte Johnson. Catchphrases like “Sock it to me” and “You bet your sweet bippy” swept the national lexicon, and Schlatter even persuaded Richard Nixon to utter “Sock it to me?” on national TV, a prophecy, I suppose, of what eventually happened to him. In this lively and gossipy book, Schlatter re-creates an era that for better or worse no longer exists, such as his stint producing the Cher show (disagreements aplenty!) and a special featuring Dinah Shore, Lucille Ball, and Diana Ross. (Let’s just say Ross learned a thing or two from two of the biggest upstagers in show business, or, to use the author’s words, “land sharks.”) Fired from The Judy Garland Show, producer of a Las Vegas show starring Ronald Reagan and five chimps (this was in 1954, F.Y.I.), and eulogist at Frank Sinatra’s funeral, Schlatter knows how to tell a good story without ever getting in the way. Still Laughing is the next best thing to dining at Chasen’s, with the added plus that it didn’t close 28 years ago.
There are not many books written by lighthouse keepers, but given how beautifully Robert L. Harris describes his decades on the remote Irish island of Skellig Michael, there should be. You may have seen this island featured in two Star Wars movies, The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, but even those fantasies cannot do justice to a place that is only habitable from May to October every year. (During the other seven months, Harris joins his wife on the mainland.) The author vividly captures the island’s brutal beauty, but reflects on the virtues of solitude, finding solace in nature, and not least what it is like to hang out with puffins. Returning Light is the author’s first book, and we fervently hope not his last.
The author is a highly regarded composer, but here she proves to be an eloquent memoirist whose ability to summon music from her life story is poetic. Adopted from her native Sweden at age three and a half by a visiting female American professor, she is eventually the oldest of five children whose mother and her husband move among Turkey, Germany, and Israel. At 21, she decided to seek out her birth parents and discovered a shocking truth that she would spend decades coming to terms with as she builds her career and battles health setbacks. “Forgiveness did not restore love … but it has brought me to kindness.” This is an affecting and wise book, one that will linger in your mind and heart long after finishing it.