April 20, 2009 12:00 PM

by Jean Hanff Korelitz |

REVIEWED BY JOANNA POWELL

NOVEL

With acceptance rates at Ivy League schools now impossibly low, this timely novel written by a former “reader” of personal essays at Princeton has built-in appeal for anyone seeking insight about the ferocious competition. The story revolves around 38-year-old Princeton admissions officer Portia Nathan, who’s grappling with a long-buried secret from her past. More compelling than her personal drama, though, are the well-researched insider tidbits on everything from family legacies (they count more than you think) to baked-goods bribes (don’t bother) to the kind of “complex, mellifluous” student essays that smack of cheating. Early decision? Recommended.

TOP 10 CELEBRITY MEMOIRS

• New star tell-alls are popping up like crocuses this spring, but these classics are hard to beat

1 CHRONICLES

BY BOB DYLAN

He wanted to alienate his audience, not speak for a generation, Dylan declares in this fascinating look at the inner workings of a musical game-changer. Light on personal revelations (he claims indifference “to wealth and love”), Chronicles still transfixes.

2 ME

BY KATHARINE HEPBURN

Hepburn’s voice is as charming on the page as onscreen; whether she’s describing lovers Spencer Tracy and Howard Hughes or detailing her young brother’s shocking suicide, the “energy and ego” that she says made her a screen star powers her indelible memoir.

3 CLAPTON

BY ERIC CLAPTON

What didn’t kill him made him stronger: In this raw, compelling tale, Clapton details his heroin addiction, his tortured affair with Pattie Boyd (“Layla”) and the death of his son Conor. Blues power to the max.

4 MY LIFE SO FAR

BY JANE FONDA

“Dad had an obsession with women being thin,” Fonda writes. “The only time [he] ever referred to how I looked was when he thought I was too fat.” (Which would explain those ’70s exercise tapes.) A riveting look at family dysfunction Hollywood-style and how one great actress survived.

5 KNOCK WOOD

BY CANDICE BERGEN

She had the oddest case of sibling rivalry imaginable: Growing up in Hollywood, ventriloquist Edgar Bergen’s daughter felt she had to vie with dummy Charlie McCarthy for her dad’s love. The former Murphy Brown star manages to be both sorrowful and funny about that and much more in a life story you won’t soon forget.

6 LOITERING WITH INTENT

BY PETER O’TOOLE

A portrait of the artist as a young rogue, the actor’s ’92 autobiography tumbles wittily through boyish shenanigans, an attempt to be a “scholar Bohemian” and two obsessions: with the “profoundly strange” Adolf Hitler and the glories of acting.

7 DOWN CAME THE RAIN

BY BROOKE SHIELDS
Nearly unhinged by postpartum depression after her daughter Rowan’s birth, Shields pulled through and wrote a moving memoir even the unshakably cheerful among us can love.

8 AMERICAN PRINCE

BY TONY CURTIS

It’s not often a man (let alone one in the spotlight) admits to being an inadequate father. Curtis’s unabashed candor, along with his tales of passion with Marilyn Monroe, failing at multiple marriages and finding current wife Jillie, the love of his life, make this one a stunner.

9 DEAN & ME

BY JERRY LEWIS

The wildly famous Martin and Lewis broke up their act after 10 years, then didn’t speak to each other for another 20. Frenetic funny man Lewis’s wild, heartbreaking book chronicles their dueling egos, booze and broads—and is a valentine to the ex-partner he never stopped adoring.

10 MY LIFE IN FRANCE

BY JULIA CHILD

Child’s ebullient story of transformation—from wide-eyed American diplomat’s wife to internationally known doyenne of French cooking—is seductively savory and sweet and as much about the human heart as it is about the palate.

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