Summer’s five best celebrity memoirs vanity fair heartburn after gallbladder surgery

Twin Peaks, the 1990 cult classic widely credited with revolutionizing television, is just one of many masterworks filmmaker David Lynch has brought to life. In Room to Dream (Random House), a memoir-biography by Lynch and cultural critic Kristine McKenna, the filmmaker complements McKenna’s biographical notes with his own personal wisdom (“Marriage doesn’t fit into the art life,” says Lynch, who has been married four times) and anecdotes featuring Hollywood heavyweights from Anthony Hopkins, Dino De Laurentiis, and Martin Scorsese to Marlon Brando, Isabella Rossellini, and Naomi Watts. Lynch started his creative life as a painter but left art school to “seriously make films instead.” So began a career that produced such works as The Elephant Man (1980), Dune (1984), Blue Velvet (1986), Mulholland Drive (2001), and, of course, Twin Peaks, writes McKenna, while Lynch recalls what working with legendary filmmakers and actors—and kissing Elizabeth Taylor not once but twice—was like.


At one point, Lynch notes that Mel Brooks, once a pop-culture icon, is likely unrecognizable to today’s youth; Room to Dream makes clear Lynch’s own comfort with fleeting fame, living more for the experiences of work than for legacy. ( Amazon.com)

In a joint memoir-in-essays by Mark and Jay Duplass, the brothers—writers, directors, actors, and founders of Duplass Brothers Productions—share stories of growing up together and, later, of working together. The Duplass brothers take their work seriously; adhering to the strictest definition of “joint memoir,” they “use the royal we” throughout the book. Like Brothers (Ballantine) offers a look at the Duplasses’ unique, hilarious outlook, which paved the way for their success in independent film and television. First, though, the brothers had to figure out how to work as a team: they “struggled for years trying to make a decent piece of art together.” It was when they “finally broke through, with each other’s help,” that they forged this “new model of making films and TV,” going on to direct The Puffy Chair (2005) and Jeff, Who Lives at Home (2011) and to co-create the HBO series Togetherness (2015). Ultimately the book is about the brothers’ relationship, the doors that opened for them once they found their professional groove, and the very real fact that no work is ever over: “We stand next to each other in this life, trying desperately to hold on to each other . . . while at the same time lovingly pummeling each other in the face so we can get a breath of air that doesn’t already smell like the other one’s breath.” ( Amazon.com)

She’s the Parks and Recreation star the world has come to know and love, but even Retta’s biggest fans have a lot to learn about the hilarious actress. Retta approaches her memoir, So Close to Being the Sh*t, Y’all Don’t Even Know (St. Martin’s), in an unexpected way: she grew up poor, the child of hard-working Liberian parents—one anecdote from family lore sees a baby Retta swallowing one of the many cockroaches that roamed her childhood home. Instead of dwelling on the specifics, however, she unguardedly ponders how, with a background like hers, she has become someone who panics when she can’t sit in first class. Retta also writes about how she abandoned her plan to attend medical school and instead pursued comedic acting. (Her dad’s response: “Whatever you do, just get health insurance. . . . What if you get paralyzed?”). Again, here she is true to her readers and to herself, acknowledging the fact that she repeatedly postponed a Dreamgirls audition—losing out on the role before she managed to attend—due to nothing more than a fear of failure. Retta’s memoir is funny (“Even though I knew I’d be in the right, slicing a bitch cuz she pulled the okey doke on you is still punishable by law”), truthful (“Bitch, stop wasting time fearing the worst. Living through the worst is never as hard as fearing it”), and full of anecdotes—some meaningful, some just hilarious, like when she found herself at a KFC that was out of chicken. “Needless to say . . . I left Kentucky Fried Chicken an hour later with a complimentary bucket of Perdue chicken.” ( Amazon.com)

Jamie Bernstein was not yet born when her father, Leonard Bernstein, debuted with the New York Philharmonic; and she was only five when West Side Story, for which Leonard produced the renowned score, opened on Broadway. Coming out in Leonard’s 100th-birthday year, Famous Father Girl (Harper) is an intimate look at the famous, and famously private, musician, whose 7 Emmys only begin to scratch the surface of his musical achievements. Jamie Bernstein remembers a world in which her father was the shining center: she grounds the pictures, news stories, and rumors that for years surrounded the late composer with detailed memories, offering stories about Francis Ford Coppola and Jackie Kennedy, her father’s presence on President Nixon’s “enemies list,” and the “FBI’s ever-thickening Leonard Bernstein file.” His dossier, it turned out, was 800 pages long: “J. Edgar Hoover had been obsessing on Leonard Bernstein since the 1940s,” Jamie writes, and Leonard eventually discovered such informants’ entries as “‘I know that Bernstein is a card-carrying Communist but I have no proof of it but I can tell by the way he walks.’” The memoir isn’t all gossip and glamour. Jamie doesn’t shy away from her parents’ fraught marriage, for instance, revealing what Felicia, her mother, wrote to Leonard in the year of their wedding: “‘You are a homosexual and may never change. . . . I am willing to accept you as you are, without being a martyr and sacrificing myself on the L.B. altar.’” Jamie continues with the sad outcome, years later: “[Felicia] believed she could handle it all . . . And she did handle it, for a long time. But then there was Tommy Cothran [Leonard’s lover]. And a mastectomy. And loneliness.” Jamie also delves into Leonard’s failed efforts to produce a musical success later in life and his increasing dependence on drugs and alcohol, as well as her own challenges in having Leonard Bernstein as a dad: “There was a subliminal discomfort in being perpetually brought to a state of ecstasy by one’s own father[’s music].” No wonder that it was only well after his death that Jamie found her true calling professionally: “I was the poster child for life beginning at fifty.” ( Amazon.com)

Parker Posey’s memoir, You’re on an Airplane (Blue Rider) is exactly what you’d expect it to be: in Posey’s own words, “self-mythologizing.” It’s a mishmash of childhood memories of the South, Hollywood tales—following her 1993 role as her high school’s meanest senior in Richard Linklater’s cult hit Dazed and Confused, the actress became known for indie movies like Party Girl (1995) and The House of Yes (1997)—and myriad experiences the reader is encouraged to read as the stuff of legend. In between quirky affirmations on nearly every imaginable subject, Posey discusses the mentorship she received from the late Nora Ephron, whom she refers to as her “movie mother,” and her desire to be a movie star from a young age: “When I was nine, I casually told Nonnie [Posey’s grandmother] that I was going to be a movie star and she told me that she was going to be the president of the United States—guess I won.” Despite the abundance of stories and images (portraits of Posey striking a series of different poses line the pages), the book is powerful also in its understatedness. Posey remembers calling her manager one day, worried that she didn’t have a job lined up: “To encourage me, he said, ‘Look at Jeremy Renner . . . he didn’t start getting work until his forties.’ And I said, ‘I know, but he’s a man. I’m not a man.’ There was a lull in the conversation, because I had a real point.” That’s it—the reader can read into that what he or she will, and it’s on to the next Posey-esque absurdity. ( Amazon.com)