Book Review: “My Name is Barbra”

“My Name is Barbra”

You spent hours online and on the phone, trying to get tickets.

There was no way you were gonna miss this performance. You’ve loved her since forever, maybe longer, and every minute spent in a virtual line will be worth it to see her live. People who know you are surprised; they’d expect this kind of behavior for a modern-day star but no. If they read “My Name is Barbra” by Barbra Streisand, they’d understand.

She almost needs no introduction now. And yet, Streisand struggled for most of her childhood to get the attention she craved. She was her parents’ second child but she barely knew her father; he died when she was a toddler and she always wondered what might’ve been, had he lived. She had a rough relationship with her mother, in part because Streisand wanted demonstrations of love that her mother couldn’t give, and in part because of her stepfather, who once called Streisand “ugly.”

If any of this led to her dramatic flair as a child, who would blame her?

If it did, she turned it into something good. She acted as her own clothing designer, attended acting classes in Manhattan as a teenager and worked as a singer at a nightclub for awhile before making a minor splash. She hustled, appearing on TV for the first time in the spring of 1961, which led to more club appearances, then a part in “a major Broadway show” before her star went stratospheric and the rest is show-biz history.

The first good news about “My Name is Barbra” is that it’s eminently readable. It’s written in a conversational tone that feels right and not forced, with a good deal of name-dropping that’s mostly relevant, not overly gratuitous or stiflingly excessive. Author Barbra Streisand deals quite openly with rumors that have plagued her for decades – including “The Streisand Effect” and acceptance of her nose – and she does it with surprising candidness that readers will embrace. She’s a perfectionist, not a diva, as she seems to stress, and so the latter peeks out very rarely and what little bragging is in here is justified. In short, in the category of celebrity- autobio, this book is different, in a good way.

Fans will find other reasons to love it. Streisand dishes, not just on herself but on her leading men, former husbands, writers, directors, co-stars, haters in the industries and people who displeased her and found themselves suddenly on the outside of the inner-circle. She writes about her activism. Streisand openly includes bits of reviews that would hurt a lesser mortal, but she seems to laugh those critics off. Best of all, she drops tiny breadcrumbs about her life here and there for fans to root out.

That minutiae might as well have been gold.

Though this almost-1000-page book could have been cut by a quarter and not have suffered in the least, it’s worth hauling home. For any fan, old or new, “My Name is Barbra” is a book you’ll be happy to spend hours with.

— The Bookworm Sez