Chances are pretty good that if you’ve watched any TV comedy shows over the past 30 years, you’ve laughed at a line written by Nell Scovell. In Just the Funny Parts, Scovell recounts how she came to Hollywood as a bookish, Harvard-educated New Englander and worked her way up from low-level comedy writer to major contributor on some prominent shows, taking on additional roles along the way as creator, producer, and director. While she generally stayed behind the scenes, she stepped forward nine years ago, at the time of the David Letterman scandal, and spoke out about gender bias on late-night TV writing staffs. A couple of years later, she collaborated with Sheryl Sandberg on Lean In, helping to further public debate about diversity in male-dominated work environments. She continues that discussion in her candid, engaging, instructive, and very funny memoir. Nell has compared her book to Unbroken, only “funnier and with slightly less torture.”
Khan-Cullers is one of the three founders of the #blacklivesmatter movement. In this memoir she reveals that her activism started long before the unfortunate killing of Treyvon Martin and others like him. Her personal story is driven by a passion to help those in the black community and reminds us why the American government has a duty to serve its people.
Karl Ove Knausgaard’s six-volume epic, My Struggle, astonished us with its brutal candor and self- awareness. It primarily centered on the author’s painful relationship with his father. By contrast, Autumn (Penguin Press, $27) is a slender book with beautiful illustrations by Norwegian artist Vanessa Baird. It is the first in a projected quartet, and gives us Knausgaard as a tender father speaking to his unborn daughter about everyday objects. His descriptions run about two-and-a-half pages in length, and flow in a seemingly random cascade, on subjects as diverse as doors, porpoises, vomit, and labia; buttons, apples, and chewing gum. “It is primarily for my own sake that I am doing this,” he writes, “showing you the world, little one, makes my life worth living.” In one piece he writes of a family photograph where everything about the lives has been stripped away so that what remains is “what we ourselves don’t see… that our lives are written in our faces and our bodies, but in a language so foreign we don’t even know it is a language.” Knausgaard’s perspective is compelling and razor sharp, and as in My Struggle, he makes the ordinary feel vivid again, and strange.