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Big Books Reviews

Harpo Speaks!

Big Books Issue 2001

Next of Kin Rick Bragg Gives His Family Tree Another Shake in Ava's Man | By Frank Diller

Speak, Memory Bashed By Oprah and Other Tales From the Memoir Trade | By Wendy Ward

The Little Girls Understand . . . Perhaps little girls are behind the popularity of memoirs. Long before the American Girls books, bef...

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I'm With the Band: Confessions of a Groupie Better than the recent ego-stoked memoirs of the musicians she aspired to, uhh, know, "Miss Pamela"'... | By Stacey Mink

Goodbye to All That First published in 1929, this memoir by the poet and novelist (I, Claudius) remains the most immedia... | By Mahinder Kingra

Autobiography of a Face Poet Lucy Grealy survived cancer and wrote a book about it, like other fortunate hundreds before and... | By Lee Gardner

Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica Though dirt poor and living in total obscurity when she died in 1960, Zora Neale Hurston had spent d... | By Afefe Tyehimba

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness Kay Redfield Jamison undertook to write about her personal experiences with manic depression after s... | By Eileen Murphy

Survival in Auschwitz: The Nazi Assault on Humanity Primo Levi's memoir of his 10 months in Auschwitz is a masterpiece of Holocaust literature--not simp... | By Sandy Asirvatham

Harpo Speaks! Whether Harpo Marx's 1961 autobiography qualifies as a memoir is open to question, given that there'... | By Adele Marley

Angela's Ashes: A Memoir Frank McCourt was born in Brooklyn in 1930, but his parents reversed the usual Irish-American immigr... | By Heather Joslyn

Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness At the start of this Memoir of Madness, novelist William Styron is about to receive the prestigious ... | By Eileen Murphy

My Own Country: A Doctor's Story Born of Indian parents and raised in Ethiopia, Abraham Verghese could hardly find a place less his o... | By Eileen Murphy

By Adele Marley | Posted 9/26/2001

Harpo Marx with Rowland Barber

Whether Harpo Marx's 1961 autobiography qualifies as a memoir is open to question, given that there's a good chance the subject didn't pen it himself. (Marx, whose formal schooling lasted a year and a half, gave co-author credit to journalist Rowland Barber, who is probably responsible for the book's plain-spoken prose.) Still, Harpo Speaks! is an exuberant journey through the cultural tides of 20th-century America, with prankish, big-hearted Harpo at its crest. The mute-onscreen star recalls an impoverished childhood, performing with his siblings in vaudeville and on Broadway, and making the move into movies that cemented the Marx Brothers as comedy legends. He also dishes about other celebs and the literary luminaries (Dorothy Parker, Alexander Woolcott) he met while hanging out at the Algonquin Round Table, and portrays himself as a wacky but devoted husband and father. All in all, Harpo Speaks! stands as a joyous literary reflection on a life well lived.

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