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Jonathan YardleyTry to Tell the Story is a fine book, modest and self-effacing but also forthright and uncompromising.
—The Washington Post
Film historian and novelist Thomson (The New Biographical Dictionary of Film; Suspects) looks back at his childhood and teen years, beginning with hazy memories of frosty mornings, air-raid shelters in wartime London, fear of bombs and the evacuation of children to the countryside. When the war ended, boys played in bombed-out buildings where staircases stopped in midair: "The living rooms were exposed to the night air, but sometimes suggested that the residents had just left for the moment, like stage sets waiting for the next act." An only child born in 1941, Thomson talked with an imaginary sister, Sally, as he progressed from reading comic books to listening to BBC dramatizations on the "matchless medium" of radio. Probing personal defeats and triumphs, he reflects on his four years of speech therapy: "Stammering is a silly little thing. It won't kill you, but it'll change the course of your life." In the heart of this haunting, eloquent memoir, as might be expected, he gets rhapsodic when recalling the films that left an indelible impression on him: Red River, Meet Me in St. Louis, Citizen Kane, East of Eden. While following a film critic in the making, we also see the changing cultural landscape of the 1940s and 1950s through his eyes. (Feb.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Prolific San Francisco-based film critic and historian Thomson has written some 20 books, including biographies of such diverse luminaries as Orson Welles (Rosebud), Nicole Kidman, and überproducer David O. Selznick (Showman). He is perhaps as well known for his Biographical Dictionary of Film and its updated version. In his memoir, Thomson largely focuses on his childhood. Born in 1941, when German bombs were still raining down upon his home city of London, he lived with his mother, grandmother, and a father, often absent, whose open approval he sought but rarely received. His dad, a sometime amateur actor, did pass on a love of the theater that later became a passion for the cinema. Thomson gradually realized that his father had been in a longtime relationship with a much younger woman and had a parallel life elsewhere. Thomson ends his somewhat bittersweet memoir around the time he is admitted to university. Because of the book's intensely personal nature, its interest will probably be limited to those familiar with Thomson's work. Recommended for inclusive collections.