Category Archives: reviews

“Great, Kid! Don’t Get Cocky!”

GeoScreen Shot 2016-12-04 at 3.13.06 PM.pngrge Lucas: A Life finally comes out this Tuesday — and I can’t wait for this one to get into your hands and hear what you think. So far, those who’ve had an early look at it seem to like it.  Kirkus Reviews — as reported back here — gave it one of their coveted starred reviews, as did Booklist.  I was also thrilled to learn that Kirkus named it one of their Best Books of 2016 — you can see Lucas and Threepio anchoring the front cover of Kirkus‘s December issue over there at right. All in all, pretty nice.

Oh, and it’s also been nicely reviewed in The Washington Post and BookPage, selected as a Book of the Month by Amazon, spotlighted in USA Today, Parade, the San Francisco Chronicle, the London Daily Mail, and featured on websites like Bustle and Cultured Vultures. Thanks for the kind words, folks.

Lots more to follow in the coming days — I’ll be at the Louisville Free Library on December 13, and having fun on podcasts like Channel Star Wars, Star Wars 7×7, and Coffee With Kenobi, for instance — and I’ll do my best to keep you posted.  Thanks for your enthusiasm so far. I appreciate it.

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George Lucas, Now Starring in Booklist As Well

The November issue of Booklist booklist_logo_blue_lores.jpgwill review George Lucas: A Life — and I was thrilled to get a peek at their starred review. Here’s a quick look:

“Maestro biographer Jones tackles another brilliant entertainer. The world knows George Lucas as the filmmaker who brought us Star Wars, one of the most iconic Hollywood franchises in history, but as Jones’ in-depth, fascinating, and even gripping exploration reveals, Lucas is much more than a gifted storyteller . . . Jones digs deep to limn the highs and lows of Lucas’ career and life, capturing his drive and innovation in crisp, sparkling prose. Masterful and essential for film and pop culture enthusiasts.” 

That’s an awfully nice review. And if I walk around the rest of the day looking like this, you’ll know why:

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The full review can be seen here.

This and That

It’s a gorgeous early summer day here in Maryland and I’ve been outside mowing and working in the yard–but I’ve got a few noteworthy things to, uh, note for you.

First, for those of you in the Norfolk/Newport News region, I’ll be on HearSay on Tuesday, July 1, from noon until 1 p.m. (that’s 89.5 FM on the local dial, but it’ll be streaming shortly afterward).  I’ll be sitting in studio to talk Jim Henson with my pal Liz Humes (who also brings you the Wordy Birds radio show in Richmond every Friday), who’s sitting in for the vacationing Cathy Lewis for the week.

And as I mentioned, even if you’re not in the Virginia region, the show will be available online shortly thereafter over on their website.

Next, an interview I did with Neil Haley during last fall’s Miami Book Fair just went online right here. This one was a lot of fun, since we had thirty uninterrupted minutes — and I think Neil had just completed an interview with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, so it was a nice change of pace for him as well.

Finally, it’s always lovely to read a thoughtful reader review like this one.

Jim Henson in The New York Times

After teasing us (meaning my editor and me) for the last two months, the Grey Lady is finally reviewing Jim Henson in its pages. We had heard one was coming — back in September, in fact, we kept hearing a review was “imminent,” and then . . . well, it just kept on not showing and not showing, until eventually we began to doubt a review would run at all.  Then suddenly, several weeks ago, they started asking for photos, which made us believe they were up to something.

That something, as it turns out, will appear in this Sunday’s New York Times Sunday Book Review. And you can already read it online by clicking right here. Oh, and HERE BE SPOILERS: It’s a terrific review, really thoughtful and eminently fair — and really, it’s one of my favorite reviews since Will Friedwald’s spectacular piece in the Wall Street Journal last month. It’s considered bad form to reach out to reviewers, so I’ll just say it right here instead: John Swansburg, if you’re reading this, thanks for the review.

And thank you again, everyone, who’s reading and enjoying Jim Henson. I appreciate it.

Out For Launch

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Jim Henson in The Octagon. Not starring Chuck Norris.

With the Today show scuttled for this morning (but for good reason!), I was home in Maryland all day today — so just for fun, Barb and I spent the morning checking on Jim Henson in our local Barnes and Noble in Gaithersburg. We arrived in the store only a little after its 9 a.m. opening, and almost immediately spotted  Jim perched among the books on the highly-coveted center display table we only recently learned is called “The Octagon.” And it was even right there next to my pal Jamie Ford’s Songs of Willow Frost. Not bad.

It got even better almost immediately, as we’d only been in the store for a few minutes before the first copy was purchased. And now, ladies and gentlemen, here I am with Mr. Rich Wood, the first person to buy Jim Henson at my own local Barnes and Noble.  Pretty nice.

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Me with the super nice Rich Wood, who bought the first copy of Jim Henson at my local Barnes & Noble in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

It’s been a gratifying to see the book so well received by so many today.  There was this terrific review in the Washington Independent Review of Books, this long piece in The Atlantic, and lots of enthusiastic mentions by Jim Henson/Muppet fans across the web. To top it off, I was unexpectedly called to CBS Studios down in DC late this afternoon to be interviewed for a segment airing on CBS This Morning all about the Henson family’s latest donation of Muppets to the Smithsonian.  That piece will air tomorrow morning. 

It’s been a  great day, and I appreciate all the kind words, warm wishes, and enthusiasm for Jim Henson: The Biography. I hope you’re enjoying it — and when you get done, let me know what moved you, what made you laugh, what made you angry, what made you cry, and maybe even what made you shout, “No WAY!”

Thank you all so, so much. I mean it.

Finally, Happy Birthday, Jim! We still miss you.

Book Launch, Radio, Reviews, and More . . .

I’m a virtual plethora of information today. Ready? Here we go…

MOMI-logo-176x176-72dpiFirst, the official book launch for Jim Henson will be on October 1 at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York. Working with the Jim Henson Legacy, there’ll be a panel discussion about Jim Henson and his work, featuring me, Muppet performer Fran Brill, Henson Company archivist Karen Falk, Dwight Bowers of the Smithsonian Museum of American History, and MOMI curator Barbara Miller.  That’s a deep bench of folks well-versed in Jim and the Muppets, so this should be a lot of fun–especially as the panel is moderated by Craig Shemin, current president of the Jim Henson Legacy (and an ace in Jim’s story as well) who’s bringing rare video, along with a beautiful new print of Jim’s 1965 experimental film Time Piece.

The event starts at 7 p.m., and when that’s done, I’ll be signing books–and, as this is a ticketed event, thanking everyone profusely for coming–until they close the place down.

Why the MOMI? Not only did the museum recently host the exhibition Jim Henson’s Fantastic World, but the Henson family recently donated hundreds of puppets and artifacts, which will serve as a permanent exhibit–housed in their very own gallery, courtesy of the support of  The City of New York–starting in early 2015. It’s sort of Jim’s home away from home.

More information on the museum and the event can be found right here.  And don’t worry, while the launch event is October 1, the book is still coming out on September 24. Promise.

UnknownSecond, on Wednesday, September 25 — the day after the book comes out — I’ll be live in studio to talk Jim with guest host Susan Page on The Diane Rehm Show. And if that weren’t exciting enough, we’ll be joined by Muppet performer Dave Goelz.

Yup.

DAVE.

GOELZ.

So okay, you say — those are two cool events, but neither takes place on September 24, when the book is published.  True enough.  I have something else in store for that day — with another special guest. But more on that as we get closer to Tuesday the 24th.

Third: The fine folks at ToughPigs — who are nearly Kirkus-like  in their take-no-prisoners, call it like they see it assessments of Muppet- and Jim-related products — reviewed Jim Henson: The Biography . . . and liked it. A lot. I’ll let you go read the entire thing yourself, but here’s a taste:

“[T]he sheer amount of information, both new and old, in this book is simply staggering . . .  Jim Henson: The Biography is the most complete record of Jim’s history that I’ve ever seen, which is completely relatable to all sorts of Muppet fans . . . This is a must-buy.”

My thanks to Joe Hennes at ToughPigs for the kind words.

Finally, nods to Jim are showing up on all sorts of wonderful and unexpected places.  There was this nice little piece in Hemispheres–the magazine you find in your seat back on United Airlines flights–as well as this full-pager in Southwest Airlines’ Spirit magazine. Additionally, look later on this month for Jim Henson to show up in Vanity Fair, Real Simple, and over on Parade.com.

Brill, Booklist, and “Buzzworthy Bios”

As hard it is to believe, we’re a mere four weeks away from publication of Jim Henson: The Biography. At one point, September 24, 2013 seemed as far away as the 23rd century.  And now…here we are.  There are a couple of exciting things lined up for the weeks following the release of the book–including a couple of fun “cameo appearances” of the book in some unexpected places–all of which I’ll tell you about later, as we get closer to the 24th.

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The one-of-a-kind Fran Brill, with Prairie Dawn and Zoe.

In the meantime, Jim Henson has picked up a couple more nice mentions, as well as some kind words from another longtime friend and collaborator. The lovely and talented Fran Brill — the first-ever full-time female Muppet performer, who made her debut on Sesame Street forty-three years ago, and still performs on the show to this day — had this to say about Jim’s story (and graciously permitted me to quote her):

“This is not only a superb biography for the Jim Henson and Muppet fans but also a sensitively-written portrayal of a great and unique human being that will fascinate any and all readers.”

Fran’s been one of the most enthusiastic supporters of this project, and I’ve been grateful to her — on more than one occasion — for allowing me to pepper her with questions not only about her and Jim and the Muppet performers, but also Sesame Street sets, Muppet right-handing, and all those little quirky details that inform a story, even if they never make it onto the page.  A big thanks to her for everything.

A side-note: I had a great time interviewing Fran for the book, but never had the pleasure of talking with her in person (though we’re working on it — more on that later). We conducted our conversations over the phone instead, and it was such a thrill hearing that voice–so distinctive, so one-of-a-kind– come out of the speakerphone the very first time. Wanna see her in action? Here’s Fran and Prairie Dawn with Frank Oz and Grover as they try to stage Singin’ In The Rain:

Next up, the esteemed Booklist gave Jim Henson one of its coveted starred reviews, and I’m thrilled with its reaction.  At the moment, the review’s behind a firewall, but here’s a bit of it:

“[Jones’]  lucid style, wide-angle perspective, and deep immersion in Henson’s exuberantly innovative approach to puppets, television, and film make for a thoroughly compelling read . . . With verve and insight, Jones illuminates the full scope of Henson’s genius, phenomenal productivity, complex private life, zeal to do good, and astronomical influence.”

Very nice.  Finally, The Hollywood Reporter chose Jim Henson as one of its “Ten Hot Fall Hollywood Reads,”along with the upcoming biography of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep.  Which marks the first and likely only time I will ever be on the same list with Stephen King.

Muppet (Mindset)-tational!

Over at The Muppet Mindset, Ryan Dosier has put down some of his first impressions of Jim Henson: The Biography–and I’m delighted with his reaction to the book. I’ll let you read Ryan’s remarks in their entirety over on The Muppet Mindset, but let me just pull out a quick piece right here:

“Jim Henson – The Biography is an astounding piece of writing. What Brian Jay Jones captured in 500 pages is nothing short of the most definitive, most complete, most painstakingly impressive account of Jim Henson’s life that has ever been produced. No stone is left unturned in this beautiful piece of work spanning Jim’s ancestors in Civil War times all the way up to Jim’s memorial service in May, 1990. Seriously, I learned so much and appreciated so much more about every single project that Jim Henson worked on that I was completely stunned by the end of the book. This is no crash course in Muppet history, this is a fully detailed textbook with every piece of information you could want. But unlike a textbook, Jim Henson – The Biography is immensely entertaining, funny, witty, smart, heartwarming and, of course, heart breaking.”

Thanks, Ryan, for the kind–and, as Jim Henson might have said, “lovely”–words.

What They’re Saying About Jim Henson

Kirkus — which is famous for its bare-knuckled, nose-bloodying, make-ya-cry book reviews — got its hands on Jim Henson recently . . . and they dug it.  Here’s a bit of what they had to say:

. . . Jones is masterful at explaining how Henson grew up to become a daring puppeteer and scriptwriter, [and] how he managed to attract so much remarkable talent to his side . . .  Jones does not ignore Henson’s separation from his wife/creative partner, nor his extramarital affair with a much younger woman, but the downside of Henson’s personality is not Jones’ primary focus. In an era of pathography, this biography stands out as positive . . .  Jones continually shows that Henson left the world a better place, which serves as the book’s theme. A solid biography that can be enjoyed by readers of more than one generation.

Meanwhile, over at Publisher’s WeeklyJim Henson has been selected as one of their Top Ten books in the Performing Arts for Fall 2013.  Not a bad way to start the week.

Noah Webster (NO-uh WEB-stur): (1) See “obsessive compulsive;” (2) See 1.

Joshua Kendall has written a fine new biography of Noah Webster, that obsessive compulsive hunter and gatherer of information and compiler of obscure information. I’ve got lots more to say about it, but if you wanna know more, don’t look here; instead, check out my review at the Washington Independent Review of Books.

And while you’re at it, consider subscribing to the Washington Review.  If you miss reading regular reviews of books in your local newspaper, the Washington Review can help fill the void.  Go get it.