Thursday, September 29, 2011

Take a Look. It's in a Book.

I started an account on Goodreads this week and I think I’m maybe a little obsessed. You can list the books you’ve read, the ones you’re reading, and the ones you’d like to read. It throws lists of recommendations at you and you just click them into the appropriate categories, including “not interested.” At the time I’m writing, I have 1,371 in my read pile and 72 in my want to read pile. I haven’t even really started to list my books, and I’m a little traumatized because they don’t seem to have all the Wildfire Y.A. books from the 80’s even listed, so it won’t ever be complete. 

Really, if I could turn half of this energy towards cleaning my house I might invite people over more often. I picked up the The Manolo Matrix last week, companion to the The Givenchy Code (and, apparently, the The Prada Paradox, but I didn’t know this book existed and had to stop and add it to my shopping cart in Amazon.). The book is about people getting sucked into an online Gotcha!* kind of game called Play.Survive.Win. that moves from the computer into real life. The victims are sent elaborate clues & riddles to solve in order to save their lives and end the games. In the Givenchy Code, the clues related to codes and I think I had just read some Dan Brown book about codes, so I had some idea what in the world the clues were referencing, but in the Manolo Matrix all the clues were about the theater. I couldn’t even pretend to follow the reasoning behind the clues. It was like when I play old-school Trivial Pursuit and answer every sports question with Wayne Gretzky or Sea Biscuit. This strategy works pretty well, actually, to get that little pie wedge, but, strangely enough, the answer to every clue in this book was neither Cats nor Starlight Express**.  Maybe in Prada Paradox the clues will be about Little Debbie's eponymous snack food line. 

Julie Kenner also has an outstanding series of books under the Adventures of a Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom heading. They’re Buffy the Vampire Slayer gets married and moves to the suburbs, and they’re super funny and sly. And I see from her Wikipedia page that she lives in Texas, now, so I’m even happier to recommend her books. I also see that I haven’t entered the rest of her titles into my Goodread account, so I’ll be headed down that rabbit-hole for the rest of the night. Heaven forbid I not get credit for a book I’ve read.

*Gotcha is an awesome 1985 movie with Anthony Edwards where a campus-wide game of paintball gets real, y’all, when some spies need some secret information that Linda Fiorentino has planted on him. Mostly memorable because Czechoslovakian spy Sasha (Linda) is really CIA agent Cheryl from Pittsburgh and the weariness in her voice when she drops the (really, really bad) Czechoslovakian accent and says “Fine, it’s Cheryl.” in this beautifully flat voice, it’s the equivalent of coming home after work and taking your bra off.

**Starlight Express is about a train that comes to life. And the actors are on roller skates. And Wikipedia says, “It is the most popular musical show in Germany.” I don’t know why this wouldn't be the answer to every question about musical theater, do you?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Walk Away

I almost never just don’t finish a book. It’s some weird Puritan need for closure that absences itself when I’m cleaning or ironing, but pops to the forefront when it comes to finishing a book or making sure there are no ice cream bars hidden in the back of the freezer. 

I have seen Flipped in the Young Adult section of bookstores for years, now, and it always looked like a cute story. The concept is that the story of boy meets girl is told by both parties, with their alternating view. This boy is an ass. The girl is goofy and smart and has deep meaning behind everything she does and sees the best in the boy, who is an ass. He is so mean to her, constantly and consistently, but you know what’s coming, right? He’s going to fall in love with her and she’s going to be okay with him being such an ass for so many years.  I just skipped to the end and *surprise*, it’s all going to be okay! What a great story for teens! I’m not finishing it.

On the much more fun side, I read a blog called Forever Young Adult and a photo popped up in a post about used bookstores.

Is it sad or AWESOME that, with no context, I knew that this was the Young Adult section at the Pea Picker bookstore? You’re right – It is AWESOME. She posted a video of her visit to Tyler and it showed the sign. I think some of the books in that pile used to be mine.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Pictures of You

Do you think when writers finish a book that they worry about what readers will take away from the stories? I read a few author blogs online and it seems likely that all they care about after finishing a book is not having to work on the book any more, but when a few months pass, the reviews on Amazon that say “You’re reading it all wrong!1!” may belong to the author. I’m always left pondering the weirdest stuff when I finish a biography – some throwaway line can keep me captivated for days. I’m probably supposed to be thinking about the author’s conversion from man into woman, and the political and social ramifications thereof, but days later I’m still pondering whether he/she is right about the difference in price between men and women’s haircuts mean that women are just suckers.

In Notes from the Underwire: Adventures from My Awkward and Lovely Life, former child star, Quinn Cummings (from Family and The Goodbye Girl writes about her life after acting. As fine an actress as she was, I’m kind of glad she doesn’t do it anymore, because active actors don’t get to be as honest about the industry as Quinn is here and they don’t usually have the time to have a family life, much less examine it so closely. Quinn Cummings talks about her daughter a lot, which only makes sense in a book of essays about her life. She mentions at one point that, as they live in a very small house, they are hyper-aware of each other’s faults and tics. Her husband has a habit of singing one line of a song over and over, they all follow her into the bathroom, she has her own quirks. And then she gets to her daughter and say’s something like, “Alice has annoying habits, too, but since they mostly came from us, and are thusly our fault, we love them as much as we love her.” I’m totally paraphrasing, but that’s the gist. What an elegant way around the fact that her child is going to read this book one day and know that she was a normal kid with normal horrible crazy-making habits, and that she was loved both in spite of and because of them.

I read a LOT of mommy blogs, as one does when one is childless and not altogether sorry about that state. I don’t know what the bloggers think their intention is, but I am usually not left with the takeaway that having children is so delightful. Of course, it may be the mommybloggers that I choose to read, but it’s miles more fun to hear (from way afar) about the children that hit and bite and burn things. They rarely are able to create such a loving connection on the page and I’m always left thinking that this blogger’s child is an angel and that one is the devil on earth. Despite the constant mommyblogger refrain, simply putting words on paper (or screen) doesn’t make you a Real Writer, capable of depicting fully-rounded characters. Quinn Cummings is a Real Writer, and a really funny one, too.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

With a Little Help from My Friends

With thanks to my local library, I just finished Uncommon Criminals . It’s part of the Heist Society series by the same lady who wrote the Gallagher Girl’s Spy Series, Ally Carter. That set is about a school for teenage girl spies to learn their craft. They’re fast to read, with clever twists, and this series is equally fun. The Heist Society series is about a young girl descended from a long line of thieves and con men/women. Some of them have stolen for profit, some for fun, and some of them are righting wrongs by re-stealing objects of art and returning them to the original owners. (I’m sure the author didn’t mean anything sinister when she made the characters who are stealing for fun and profit so much more entertaining than the ones stealing for the greater good.)

Kat has a group of friends and relatives who help in her big capers. They’re the next generation of this ancient family of thieves and they’re learning to put the years of con-man knowledge they’ve absorbed into practice. The author has fun with the ruses, having characters throw out cons named the Anne Boleyn and Oscar the Grouch. It’s a little like the teenage set Ocean's Eleven , which is never a bad thing. There aren’t 11 hot boys in Kat’s group, but one can’t expect George Clooney to appear in every teen novel.

In the first book, Heist Society , Kat’s hidden herself away at boarding school trying to find a normal life. (Because boarding school is so normal. Girl should have enrolled in a 5A public school if she wanted to get lost in the system.) Her dad gets framed for stealing some paintings and the guy they were stolen from wants them back. Kat and her gang decide the only way to fix the problem is to find the paintings and steal them again.

InUncommon Criminals , Kat gets cocky and she gets conned by an older, savvier version of herself. She doubts herself and her abilities, but she pulls the job with the help of her friends. (What? You were expecting that she would fail?) The books really are twisty and fun and what more can you ask from a summer read

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

This Woman's Work

There’s a new book out by Soleil Moon Frye called Happy Chaos: From Punky to Parenting and My Perfectly Imperfect Adventures in Between . I picked it up at the library and got about half-way through before it dawned on me that I was a childless woman reading a book of parenting advice from Punky Brewster. And not even deep parenting advice. It’s all, do what feels right and tomorrow’s another day. She does talk a little bit about the refrigerator episode of Punky, so that’s a point in her favor.

It’s a sweet little book, culled from her blog and filled in with anecdotes about her hippie childhood, but she must have been defiantly uncurious about childbirth before her first child. She mentions being shocked about several parts of childbirth & rearing that I would have thought were pretty common knowledge, like the fact that some women poop during delivery. I don’t know why her friends didn’t fill her in on that tidbit, because my friends have always listed it as one of the top talking points when discussing labor.

And I know I’m probably not going to ever have to make this call, but I’m not thinking that I want a football team worth of people in a delivery room with me. Soleil did, of course, including family and old friends and her birthing coaches Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher. Demi Moore apparently gives a great leg massage during labor. I’m thinking I’ll use Ricki Lake for my doula and Demi for my labor coach and George Clooney can be my focus object. And Soleil talked about music for the labor, how you would want tribal music for the hard labor and soft music for the resting times, but it seems like it would be hard to switch them on and off during contractions, so I think I’ll need Jane’s Addiction and James Taylor in the room with me playing live as the mood dictates. I’m sure the doctor can fit in there somewhere. My (hypothetical) husband can watch the game in the lobby – From that distance; I won’t be able to bite him (Hi, Gina. (((Waving)))).

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Greatest American Hero (Believe It or Not)

As September 11th comes closer, there are going to be (and it’s already started) hundreds of hours of television and thousands of articled dedicated to this anniversary. I went through an obsessive phase a few years ago and read more than a half-dozen books about the event, including Tower Stories: An Oral History of 9/11. One thing I’ve been struck by so much in all the writing about September 11th is the attempt to differentiate the people who died. Consistently the writers have tried to separate each victim and establish them as individuals, so that it’s not a summary of 100 people from that office who died, but “Steve who loved dogs and Bob who loved to fish…” I don’t know if that’s a particularly American thing. I don’t remember reading in great detail about victims of attacks in other countries being individualized, but it may be that I’m not reading the right sources. And it may be that with the great outpouring of words about 9/11, the authors needed these human touches to set their book apart.

As with most oral histories, Tower Stories was the most human-level recording of the day’s events that I read. Seeing how messy the day was – how people’s memories overlapped and diverged – brought home to me the utter confusion of the day. Normal people who hadn’t planned on anything more exciting than a salad for lunch turned out to be heroes. They carried strangers down 30 flights of stairs and helped firemen find offices and exits. I’m sure that there were an equal number of people who pushed their way down the stairs and left their officemates behind when they couldn’t keep up, but I’m okay with not including them in the account of the day. I think we all needed to feel like goodness could exist in the middle of such chaos. New York has a right to still feel proud, these ten years later. They did good.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting)

Reading Rob Lowe’s book and the story about Tommy Boy made me pull out the oral history Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, as Told By Its Stars, Writers and Guests. I’ve had this book for years. I think I bought it for somebody’s birthday because I wanted to read it. They either didn’t want it as much as I did or I just took it back – I can’t remember and no takesy-backsy now, sucker. I love oral history and epistolary books written in letter or diary form more than any other styles. This book is huge and one of the reasons I sometimes long for a Kindle or Nook. I do have a Kindle on my phone, but the screen is so small that I’m going to have to get bifocals and reading glasses to add to my already giant glasses.

This book is fantastic, if only because the people interviewed are mostly comedians and not overly concerned with protecting feelings and goodwill. While I don’t want to date Chevy Chase (for so many reasons), I’m so glad that he’s willing to pummel and be pummeled in book form. In SNL history, there are a lot of people referred to as funny, a few lauded as genius, and then Chevy Chase. His fellow cast members really, really didn’t like him. The interviewers caught him at a perfect time, when he was enough older to recognize his part in the ill-will and still egotistical enough to think he was right. He and Bill Murray apparently got into some sort of fight that never quite tipped over into punches and the insult that everyone remembers best (decades after the fight) was Bill calling Chevy a “medium talent.” That kills me.

The early days and first few casts are explored in deep and loving detail, but as the years go by, the cast profiles get shorter and the interviews are mostly about Lorne Michaels. There’s a real sense of invention and experimentation in the early years, and that only makes sense, but as the show grinds on, it because a series of stories about how Lorne rescued whosie-whatsit from stand-up clubs and became their father-/god-figure. The best exceptions to this are the people who absolutely didn’t fit in at SNL, like Janeane Garolfalo and Norm MacDonald. They get to talk a long time about the faults of the show and network and that’s just good reading.

Oh, and did you know there were drugs at Saturday Night Live? Apparently they did some drugs there.

I can’t let any reference to Chevy Chase go by without reminding you guys to watch Community. It’s awesome good television. So is Parks & Recreation, and Amy Poehler is on that one. See, it all circles back to Saturday Night Live in the end. Maybe Lorne Michaels really is some sort of god? Oh, wait, Stuart Saves His Family. [Gilda Radner voice] Never mind. [/Gilda Radner]

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Man in Motion

I just finished Rob Lowe’s autobiography. I have a deep love for autobiographies, anyway, with what people choose to include and leave out from their official life record. In the case of public figures, it’s most interesting because you already know so much about them. Rob Lowe, just for instance, chooses to barely touch upon his sex-tape scandal with two underage girls by explaining in one part of the book why he would have had no way of knowing they were underage and obliquely referring to the idea that he taped it simply because the technology was available, (I climb the mountain because it is there.) He didn’t have to say what he had done, catch us up on the back story, because we already know. In a weird way, the title Stories I Only Tell My Friends does refer to us in the public. We already know way more than the bare outlines of his stories, he’s just giving us the color detail.

Lowe’s stories are funny and quirky, and he seems to be a nice family guy. Now.  I was struck by his version of his relationship with Melissa Gilbert, who talked about their romance quite a bit in her autobiography. Lowe mentions that her mother thought he was after her for her fame and then sums up years of dating Gilbert as a hot-cold relationship when he’s talking about his affair with Natasha Kinski that blew the whole thing up. This man has slept with some women. He’s determined to make you see his sex life as a result of having trouble getting dates in high school, but he’s telling about girls who seduce him as a pre-teen, so it’s hard to be too caught up in his lonely pain.

Lowe tells a story about Chris Farley that breaks my heart a little. He and David Spade were at a steakhouse during the filming of Tommy Boy. He said Farley ordered two porterhouse steaks and put an entire pat of butter on each bite of both steaks. When one of them freaked out about the butter, Lowe said Farley giggled and said in his little kid voice, “It needs a hat.” That tiny portrait made me understand Chris Farley more than anything I’ve read. This man hated himself. I thought the drugs were the reason he was so messed up, but they were apparently just one more weapon he used in his battle against himself. I mean, there’s self-destruction and then there’s lighting dynamite and stuffing it down your pants.

 There’s some juicy stuff about The West Wing, for the Wing-nuts among us. Mostly contract and back-scene stories, but I’d love to get a great behind the scenes book about that series. They all thought they would last 8 episodes and then it became a juggernaut. What would that do to a cast of relative unknowns (except for Martin Sheen and Lowe) and their egos? Somebody without a stake needs to write that book for me, stat.

The other book I want to read is about Darryl Hannah. Lowe talks about the night he met her and she had on a fairy suit with wings (at 19) and didn’t sleep with him because she was saving herself for Jackson Browne, whom she hadn’t yet met. Some other biography, probably one of JFK, Jr., talks about her carrying around a teddy bear at a dinner party. In her twenties. I think she might be an interested subject or the whole book might be two lines. Darryl Hannah is beautiful and rich. And a whack-job.