Almost famous? Nah. When it comes to celebrities, we like them really, really famous. We don’t want to scratch our heads wondering why we recognize someone. We prefer to run into A-listers, people we can Instagram and then watch the “likes” roll in.
Why have we become such shameless star chasers? In “The Stars in Our Eyes,” Julie Klam attempts to answer this centuries-old question. Yes, centuries. She assures us that the “rumors about Genghis Khan and Henry VIII and Marie Antoinette and Rasputin were as titillating to their kingdoms as the latest Kardashian nude selfie is to our world.”
In this part light-analysis, part memoir, Klam interviews famous friends, binges on reality TV with her firecracker of an aunt and talks to tourists snapping away at TV locations such as Carrie Bradshaw’s house from “Sex and the City.”
But her sharp humor really shines when she reflects on her awkward youth, especially her childhood in the moneyed enclave of Bedford, N.Y. As she came in last in gym class, “behind the girl with the crutches,”she fantasized about “Blue Lagoon” hunk Christopher Atkins galloping in and saving her from the anguish of junior high.
To help her analyze the ups and downs of fame, Klam enlisted actors Timothy Hutton and Griffin Dunne, who were A-listed in their youth but have since slipped down a few rungs. If the movie “Ordinary People” still makes you cry, you’ll love all of Hutton’s insights, but millennials might wonder why Klam chose guides who have been out of the spotlight for so long, their beach bodies no longer the thing of paparazzi dreams.
Between chapters devoted to how stars are made and how celebrity status has changed, there are dozens of short recollections by “a large swath of people” highlighting their most memorable celebrity encounters. Tag along as Audrey Hepburn buys a cashmere sweater at Saks, a screenwriter dines with Princess Diana, a young fan gets picked up (literally) by Muhammad Ali and a TV assistant runs up to Luke Perry because she’s sure they went to high school together. They didn’t, but Perry gets that all the time. Celebrities, especially the ones we choose to like, “are the us we want to be,” Klam muses. Or perhaps the people we wish we’d gone to high school with.
“The Stars in Our Eyes” is a fast, fun look at celebrity culture that reads like a bubbly conversation at an Oscars viewing party, where we gossip with glee and then wonder why we know so much about these strangers’ lives.
Karin Tanabe, a former Politico reporter, is the author of four novels including her latest, “The Diplomat’s Daughter.”
By Julie Klam
Riverhead. 222 pp. $26