I have been, and always shall be, your friend. ~Spock, The Wrath of Khan
Of my friend, I can only say this: Of all the souls I have encountered in my
I have been, and always shall be, your friend. ~Spock, The Wrath of Khan
Of my friend, I can only say this: Of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most...human. ~Capt. Kirk, The Wrath of Khan
I'm betting the vast majority of readers/listeners finding their way to this book will have been lifelong Trekkies, having come of age watching Star Trek in syndication, waiting with keen anticipation as each motion picture installment was released in the franchise, discovering new things to love about the Trek verse as it expanded/exploded to include The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager.
This isn't me. I'm coming to Trek shockingly late -- 50 years after the 1966 premiere of the original series starring William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. For me the paint isn't even dry. It started only last summer with the release of Star Trek: Beyond. I decided I would go see it, but I didn't want to do that until I had watched the first two movies in JJ Abrams reboot (keeping in mind I had never seen an episode of Star Trek -- ANY Star Trek -- in my life, nor any of the movies). As someone who had been raised and steeped in the horror tradition, A LOT of sci-fi nerdy stuff passed me by altogether (yes, including Star Wars). I wasn't interested, and for a long time, I really didn't think any of it was being made for me anyway. None of it felt like my "tribe" so to speak, or anything I was able or willing to relate to.
Fast forward to August 2016. I watch the Abrams movies and LOVE them -- especially Beyond which is my favourite of the three. I loved these movies so much, and fell in love with Pine's and Quinto's portrayals of Kirk and Spock so completely, it triggered an almost immediate overwhelming desire to go back and watch the entire run of the original Star Trek -- yes, even season 3, all of it -- which as any Trekkie reading this knows is an exercise in endurance, patience and frustration at the sharp decline in quality the series would take in its final year.
But it was worth it -- after seeing a new generation of young actors tackle these iconic characters so successfully, I had to go back to the beginning and experience the Shatner/Nimoy dynamic that launched a franchise so big and so far reaching it was still finding people and captivating them five decades later. I needed to see with my own eyes, feel with my own heart, what was so special about this low-budget sci-fi television show from the 60s that would make millions of people from all over the world into lifelong Trekkies.
I came to this project with a lot of skepticism, certain after all these many decades there was no way the show would have the ability to resonate with me now or hold my interest. Too much time had passed. It would seem too old-fashioned, cheap and silly. And for sure, watching those first few episodes I giggled at some of the ridiculous cheesy "special effects", the poorly choreographed fight sequences where no attempt was made to hide the stunt double, and Shatner's chewing up the scenery every chance he got.
But these elements became part of the show's vintage charm for me, and more than that, superficial characteristics of a show that would go on to convince me of its imaginative and thought-provoking storytelling wrapped up in a contagious adventure of the week style. I was hooked. More than that, like millions before me, I was falling in love with Mr. Spock -- the forever logical, keenly observant and emotionally controlled First Officer of Starfleet's USS Enterprise -- a role I can't believe anyone else could have brought to life so vividly or memorably as Leonard Nimoy.
As I made my way through the original TV series (with the help and guidance from a bona fide Trek nerd who shall remain unnamed), I would also begin watching the films. The deeper into the Trek verse I went, the more deeply attached I became to the characters, and began to fully appreciate the unique on-screen chemistry shared between Shatner and Nimoy. The best actors act -- they are paid to feel things they are not really feeling -- but that nebulous, indefinable chemistry cannot be bought and sold, faked or forced. What Shatner and Nimoy share on the screen as Kirk and Spock is something special and precious to behold. It would shape and inform a unique, sometimes difficult and contentious, friendship that would last half a century.
Listening to Shatner read aloud his remembrances of his friendship with such a charismatic, multi-talented, deeply loved man, I came to the conclusion that Shatner is being sincere here. You can hear the respect and unchecked admiration for the man Nimoy was, and the blinding love Shatner held for him (even when his narcissistic tendencies would bring up feelings of competition and jealousy and even resentment). It's sweet, and at times terribly sad. You can detect a note of loneliness in Shatner's words as he confesses to his lack of any lasting friendships with anyone, save for Nimoy who Fate had fused the two men together on this remarkable journey of a lifetime. But even Nimoy -- after decades of sharing his world with Shatner -- would suddenly (and inexplicably from Shatner's viewpoint) end their relationship and cut off all direct contact.
Shatner doesn't go into too much detail regarding the men's epic falling out. He's playing dumb and seems honestly baffled and hurt why Nimoy would cut him out of his life around the time Shatner was making the documentary The Captains in 2011. Obviously, whether Shatner wants to confront his role in the falling out or not, the saddest part of all of this is that these two men brought together, and held together, by extraordinary circumstances, would not have each other as one faced a terminal illness and death. When Nimoy finally did pass away in February 2015, Shatner chose to appear at a charity fundraiser for the Red Cross and would not make it to Nimoy's funeral, a fact I'm sure some Trekkies will never forgive him for.
I choose to be a little more forgiving and understanding. I feel Shatner's grief and sense of loss are genuine and keenly, sharply experienced. While there is a lot of information presented here that is re-hashing material previously published elsewhere, there is also a new-found humility as Shatner tries to work through some of his feelings of inadequacy, and never quite measuring up to the depth and breadth of talent and integrity that was Leonard Nimoy. It really is a love letter in a lot of important ways, as Shatner attempts to make sense of the wonder of it all and his and Nimoy's place in it as he faces his own inevitable mortality.
I can only hope when it's Shatner's turn to shuffle off this mortal coil, there is some kind of afterlife waiting for all of us, and that he and Nimoy find each other there and find a way back to forgiveness and the special friendship they once shared.
I'm going to end this review by recommending the recent documentary For the Love of Spock. This isn't just mandatory viewing for Trek fans, but is also a poignant and comprehensive look at the life of a remarkable man and the resonating influence of an iconic figure who has come to mean so much to so many. LLAP friends.
“If anyone reads this when I have passed to the big bad beyond I shall be posthumously embarrassed. I shall spend my entire afterlife blushing.”
“If anyone reads this when I have passed to the big bad beyond I shall be posthumously embarrassed. I shall spend my entire afterlife blushing.”
Didn't we all feel this way about our diaries as hyper-dramatic, brooding adolescents, at the mercy of our raging hormones and our short-circuiting ever expanding neural pathways and vivid imaginations? Sure we did, those of us who bothered to "write it all out and down" (which I think tends to be more of a female act of expression, than male -- but I could be wrong there). From the time we are little girls, women are "encouraged" to keep a diary, a locked and private totem where we can pour all of our heartfelt dreams, desires, bitter disappointments, enraged indictments of others, etc, etc. At its best, diary keeping can be a cathartic positive form of meditation and contemplation, giving its writer opportunity for reflection and insight.
Mostly though? It is a place to go to rage and seethe, pine and moan. It's a place to write bad poetry, a place to confess the most intimate details of our most crushing of crushes. It's a baring of the soul in the most embarrassing of ways. There is a popular podcast capitalizing on this embarrassment factor by persuading adults to read passages from their early diaries in front of a live audience. Mortified can make for sweet and honest listening, funny, endearing, and sometimes cringe-inducing as we relate a little too closely to what's being read aloud and recalling something from our past that we'd just as soon forget. At one point or another, we've all been there.
In 1976, Carrie Fisher was 19 years old and had begun filming what would arguably become the most famous science fiction movie of all time, launching a franchise and characters that in the intervening years have resonated with millions around the world (and continues to do so as new installments hit theaters). No one at the time could have possibly predicted the film's gargantuan success, least of all its young co-stars, and perhaps especially, a fresh-faced, doe-eyed, insecure and terrified Ms. Fisher.
So what is this short memoir really? A little less than half is some of the passages from the diary Carrie kept in 1976 while filming Star Wars. But for you die-hard fans out there, this isn't an exclusive behind-the-scenes tell-all on the making of George Lucas's epic, enduring space opera. There is very little to none of that kind of detail here. Instead what we have is the (sometimes) mortifying, but achingly honest, musings of a young woman in the throes of infatuation with an older married man.
In 1976, Harrison Ford was 35 with a wife and two children, but this didn't stop him from starting a brief, nearly wordless affair with the young Carrie Fisher. She fell into a confused, anxious, questioning kind of love, Harrison remained detached, composed and in control. Not surprisingly, an affair between one so young and inexperienced, and one so matured and advanced in his life choices was terribly lop-sided in its balance of power. It didn't help that at the time Harrison was the very epitome of the "strong, silent type". Whatever he was feeling or thinking, Carrie was only left to guess, and pour her musings and insecurities out onto the page.
For context though, and the all elusive sub-text, the sharing of these innocent diary musings are an interesting addition to the Star Wars canonical universe. For decades, fans and celebrity gossip mongers have speculated that an affair did indeed take place, but both Carrie and Harrison never confirmed or denied, they just stayed mum. Some things are private, even for someone like Ms. Fisher who is famous for over-sharing. So why come clean now? Carrie explains her reasons, and I respect them. I don't think she did this to be salacious or provocative, this is just an extension of the honesty she's brought to all parts of her life, and after forty years she felt enough time had passed that no one was going to care enough to be hurt or feel betrayed.
Carrie presents her affair with Harrison in a rueful, breezy manner but it's clear just how torturous and unhealthy a thing that it was (how it starts is even more disturbing, but likely not unique to young film actresses everywhere). This isn't a fairy tale. Largely, the account left me sad, and a little depressed.
The other half of the short memoir (which I liked much better) reads like a smart, sassy essay, as Carrie tries to put her life as Princess Leia into some kind of larger context, what it's like to be super famous for one role, and how the line so quickly and easily blurs -- "am I Princess Leia, or is she me?" Carrie has some amusing anecdotes to share about fandom and the often odd behaviors and requests she's been subjected to for over forty years, but she also expresses her deep love and gratitude for the millions of fans who will only ever see her as Princess Leia.
It was bittersweet listening to this as an audiobook -- Carrie's voice is confident, with her signature snark and wry amusement. It is a voice filled with a zest and perpetual curiosity for life, a life that was just recently cut tragically short at age 60....more
A free copy was provided through Netgalley in exchange for review.
I think anyone who picks up this book is most likely going to be a rabid Seinfeld faA free copy was provided through Netgalley in exchange for review.
I think anyone who picks up this book is most likely going to be a rabid Seinfeld fan, and I'm no exception. We are in the midst of PeakTV -- a new heralded Golden Age of Television -- and there's a very persuasive argument to be made that it all started with a small show about nothing, that did in fact, change everything. Despite the avalanche of remarkable and groundbreaking TV that's hit our small screens since Seinfeld exited stage left in 1998, it still remains one of my favorite shows of all time. I've never stopped watching it in syndication, it continues to make me bust a gut laughing on a regular basis, and I've yet to encounter any situation in life that cannot be captured by applying a Seinfeld quote.
Seinfeldia is a fun book, and a totally immersive experience into the bizarre, unexpected and meteoric rise of a show that probably should have been cancelled after its first season. But after a rocky and uncertain start, the show got traction with fans and critics. As its influence spread, it was clear to see that Seinfeld was bleeding over and breaking through the Fourth Wall on a regular basis, blending fact with fiction in an original and inspired way not only becoming part of the zeitgeist and popular culture but seemingly birthing it out of thin air. The catchy phrases and neurotic dialogue uttered on the show were quickly absorbed by television audiences and recited in everyday life as if we had always been saying such things.
Or here's what I think -- we had always needed these words to describe both the inanity and absurdity of life, and it was Seinfeld who gave them to us.
The author takes a nice even-handed, well-researched approach describing the "making of" the show, offering a behind-the-scenes analysis of early working relationships, scripts and the jockeying for power and position between the actors, writers and directors. At the helm of course was Larry David -- perhaps the first instance where we really see the genius that can result when a showrunner is given complete creative control over his/her product. And David wielded that power like Thor's mighty hammer. The only other creative force welcomed into the inner sanctum was not surprisingly David's right hand man, Jerry Seinfeld. Together, these two gentlemen mind-fused into a comedic entity where the sum of their brilliance far exceeded their individual talents.
The book also has fun dipping into the "bizarro" aspects of the show -- how it carried the Midas touch for a lot of struggling actors who would go on to great careers after their stints on Seinfeld, no matter how brief or fleeting their appearance. Probably the most notable here is Bryan Cranston -- the inimitable Dr. Whatley -- a dentist who Jerry is certain converted to Judaism strictly for the jokes. Even regular people who never acted on the show got pulled into its gravitational belt for better and for worse.
The real people counterparts to the fictionalized versions of themselves on the show would reap financial rewards and a fame by proxy -- 1.Kenny Kramer's Reality Tour is still going strong in New York City; 2. Ali (“Al") Yeganeh is the real "Soup Nazi" and continues to sell his soup today (and curse Jerry Seinfeld for giving him an infamy and notoriety he never asked for or ever aspired to); 3. and Larry Thomas, the actor who played the "Soup Nazi", continues to appear at fan conventions and speaking engagements, and has even written a book! Rather than fight against it, the actor has made peace with a role he will never outlive and embraces the benefits with grace and humor.
The book also addresses the backlash against a show that had become so popular it attracted haters and critics who believed it to be insufferably smug and overrated. The author also talks about the controversial finale episode and how it disappointed many fans and critics (it's not my favorite episode by any means, but I found things to appreciate about the finale). Then there was the fate of the four leads post-Seinfeld and the various trajectories their careers took, the strangest and most disappointing being Michael Richards and his public breakdown of racist rage. Julia Louis-Dreyfus has always been my biggest girl crush and I've been over the moon to watch her role as Vice-President Selina Meyer only get better over five seasons of her Emmy award winning VEEP. And for Jerry Seinfeld fans you can catch him now doing Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee. I haven't seen this yet, but I do plan on checking it out at some point.
Not surprisingly, the brains and soul and passion behind Seinfeld, creator Larry David, has had the most enduring and critical success with his show Curb Your Enthusiasm (which ended in 2011 after eight seasons, but it's just been announced the show will return for a season nine).
To wrap things up (and leave on a high note, with hand), I'm gonna take a page from Dan who in his review listed his ten favorite Seinfeld episodes. For anyone who has ever watched and loved the show, you'll remember just how packed each episode became, routinely following four sub-plots for each of the four leads -- Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer. David's singular purpose and desire was to strive to have every episode end with the four sub-plots intersect by the ending. And he almost always succeeded. In no particular order (it was too hard to pick just ten, let alone rank) here are some of my favorites.
"The Chicken Roaster": Jerry and Kramer switch apartments when the searing neon red light from the Kenny Rogers Roasters sign across the street starts disturbing Kramer's sleep. And who can forget Mr. Marbles.
"The Parking Garage": The gang gets trapped in an underground parking garage when none of them can remember where Kramer parked his car. Highlights: Elaine wanders helplessly holding a goldfish in a plastic bag of water waiting for it to perish. George and Jerry get arrested for urinating in public.
"The Chinese Restaurant": The penultimate episode of the second season which takes place entirely in a Chinese restaurant while the gang waits to be seated. It remains a fan and critical favorite of Seinfeld's groundbreaking approach to comedic storytelling -- an episode about "nothing".
"The Bubble Boy": The gang travels upstate to stay in Susan's father's cabin. Susan and George stop at the Bubble Boy's house to get directions and play a game of trivial pursuit. Moops!
"The Opera": The most memorable "Crazy Joe Davola" episode. Elaine and Jerry are trying to enjoy a night out at the opera when Davola turns up dressed as the clown from Pagliacci.
"The Contest": The gang bet each other to see who can hold out the longest from self-pleasuring themselves (the word masturbation is never used in the episode considered too "adult" for prime time television). Part of the fun is all the euphemisms used to avoid saying the actual word, and what eventually makes each character crack.
"The Puffy Shirt": Jerry unknowingly agrees to wear a puffy "pirate shirt" on the Today Show. George gets discovered as a hand model.
"The Marine Biologist": After faking and lying about various jobs and careers, George is finally called out and forced to become a marine biologist when confronted by a beached whale in distress. "The sea was angry that day my friends."
"The Fusilli Jerry": Kramer starts making figures of his favorite people out of pasta shapes that best suit their personality. Jerry is "silly" so his is made from Fusilli. Highlights: "the move" (David Puddy, my favorite recurring character, starts using Jerry's sex move on Elaine; Kramer becomes "the Assman"; and Frank Costanza ends up at the proctologist's office after impaling himself on the Fusilli Jerry. This is also the episode where we get Frank's move of "stopping short".
"The Face Painter": I love David Puddy and this (along with the "Jesus Fish" subplot from "The Burning" episode), is his best stuff. I still say "Gotta support the team" in my best Puddy impression.
"The Little Kicks": Two words: Elaine dances. Also, Jerry becomes a bootlegger and we meet Brody.
"The Merv Griffin Show": Kramer finds the set of the Merv Griffin Show in a dumpster and sets it up in his apartment. Highlights: Jerry is dating a woman with collectible toys from his childhood (that she won't let him play with); George runs over a squirrel and is pressured by the woman he's dating to save its life, which the vet informs him will be costly and require the use of "special, really tiny instruments."
"The Slicer": Kramer gets a deli slicer and starts slicing meat. Elaine and Kramer conspire to short circuit the power in her neighbor's apartment only to find out there's a cat trapped inside starving because its food dispenser no longer works. And that's just the tip of the iceberg -- there's so much hilarity stuffed into this episode that often gets overlooked.
"The Reverse Peephole", "The Frogger" and "The Bookstore": For anyone who ever challenges you that Seinfeldstayed on the air too long, or wasn't as funny once Larry David left, I give you these three episodes which contain some of the funniest sub-plots the show covered in its nine season run. Highlights from all three episodes:
-George's overstuffed wallet, and keeping the massage chair for himself -Jerry is forced to wear a fur coat -Puddy buys an obnoxious leather jacket with a giant 8 on the back, Elaine is mortified -George must enlist the help of Kramer's electrician "friends" to move Frogger game to safety -Elaine starts eating Peterman's $29,000 Royal wedding cake purchased in an auction -Jerry can't break up with a woman because he's too afraid of "The Lopper" serial killer -Newman and Kramer try to set up a rickshaw business -Jerry gets Uncle Leo arrested, not knowing about his previous "crime of passion" -Jerry finds out from his parents "it's not stealing if it's something you need" -George takes an expensive book into the Brentano's bathroom and is forced to buy it. He tries to return it and discovers it's been "flagged". (hide spoiler)]
I could keep going. Seriously, I feel like I'm just getting started. I haven't even mentioned "Moviefone", "shrinkage", "not that there's anything wrong with that", "Dolores", "George's desk naps", yada yada yada. It would have been a much shorter list identifying the odd sub-plot or moments that can no longer make me laugh. There are far fewer of those. After all these years and repeated viewings Seinfeld has more than stood the test of time. If anything, it's ageless, or like a fine whiskey, keeps getting better with age as it thrives (and finds new audiences) in syndication. And while some outstanding comedies have appeared in the years following its finale -- It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Parks and Rec to name my two favorites -- they all owe a debt to Seinfeld and for a show that continues to make me laugh out loud, I owe it a debt too.
If they break this Union, they will break my heart.~Alexander Hamilton
If anybody had told me a year ago that I would be delving into an 800 page biog
If they break this Union, they will break my heart.~Alexander Hamilton
If anybody had told me a year ago that I would be delving into an 800 page biography on arguably America's least known Founding Father, first Secretary of the Treasury and he of ten dollar bill fame, I would have said they were crazy. But like so many people who will read this book in the coming years, it all started with a mad love affair for the Broadway musical. It's literally all I've been able to think about (or listen to) since April. It's consumed my waking hours in the oddest, most unpredictable, joyous of ways. Having now read Chernow's impressive, meticulously researched book, I am no longer surprised how it was able to inspire Lin-Manuel Miranda to write his extraordinary, beautiful, emotional, smart, searing, perfect musical (and that's all I'm going to say about the musical), because I really want this review to focus on Chernow's accomplishment and his fascinating subject -- Alexander Hamilton.
One of the things that really jumped out at me while reading this, is how easily Hamilton's remarkable life and stupendous achievements could have been erased and lost to history for good. He had many enemies -- many people who wanted to re-write history minimizing his role in it, and deny his many staggering contributions. Hamilton died relatively young as well (just 49), way younger than many of the other Founding Fathers who outlived him by decades (except George Washington of course). When you don't survive to live and tell your story, you are really at the mercy of others. Remember this line from Braveheart? "History is written by those who have hanged heroes."
Was Alexander Hamilton a hero? I think by most definitions he most certainly was. Flawed for sure, but nevertheless an extremely intelligent man, with confounding reserves of energy and ambition, and a deep, abiding inner moral compass of what was ethical and right. He also possessed an unsurpassed, formidable ability to synthesize large, complicated ideas into accessible tracts and tangible plans to build meaningful and lasting governments and institutions. And oh yeah, he also wielded his pen in a terrible and mighty way that would have made Shakespeare quiver in his breeches, producing mountains of passionate and fiercely written letters and pamphlets and essays.
I also have to believe Hamilton was truly a good man, because two very intelligent women, remarkable in their own rights (his wife Eliza and his sister-in-law Angelica Church), loved him beyond measure and sang his praises for a lifetime. How do you avoid getting written out of history by those who have hanged heroes? Write brilliantly like a maniac non-stop, leaving behind some of the most important historical tracts ever penned, and be survived by a loyal and dedicated wife who will outlive you by 50 years and spend most of that time fighting for your reputation and the preservation of your rightful place in history.
Reading Hamilton whilst the sturm und drang of the upcoming American election rages in all its frightful rhetoric and bitter partisan vitriol has made for quite an echo chamber of America's shaky, fledgling, post-Revolutionary days and just how tenuous the fabric that binds all the States together really is. It was never a marriage made in heaven, oftentimes held together by duct tape, threats and sheer iron will. America was a walking contradiction, with its State vs Federal, rural vs urban, North vs South, slaveholding vs free divides. Nobody knew (and feared) these fractures more than Hamilton himself. But he also knew a United States would be stronger and better than a dissolute nation of independents jockeying for power and control and consumed with self-interest.
I do believe Chernow has proven that no other Founding Father worked as determinedly with every cell in his body (and top-notch brain), to preserve the Union, and uphold the Constitution. There were many compelling forces, and influential personalities, with the capability to topple this marvelous enterprise with a single huff, and one good blow. But it was Hamilton standing vigilant, it was Hamilton who roared, and cajoled, and screed, not on my watch, and here's why. It's also no wonder then that on his death bed, surrounded by his family and friends, that Hamilton should utter with such deep feeling: "If they break this Union, they will break my heart."
Hamilton's life (all 49 years of it) reads like a Dickensian novel. More than once while I was reading I couldn't help but smack my forehead at the stranger than fiction details, and uncanny coincidences and twists of fate both tragic and ironic. That he began his life as a poor orphan in the Caribbean only to help fight for and build a nation an ocean away is something out of a movie plot. As is his infamous death by duel, at the hands of (then Vice President) Aaron Burr (sir).
Who dies in a duel?!! Hamilton does. And a few years prior to that fateful meeting in Weehawken, his eldest son Philip (using the same pistols!) would die the same stupid way. There were many times when I wanted to shake Hamilton, and kick him, especially when he was tomcatting around and cheating on Eliza with Maria Reynolds, but this final decision to duel with Aaron Burr absolutely infuriated me. It was SO UNNECESSARY, especially given the fact Hamilton still had a wife and young children who depended on him. Of course, it was a dueling era, and duels were pretty commonplace, and Chernow makes a strong case that Hamilton wasn't suicidal, and really believed he could survive the duel with Burr (as most participants do). However, there was also a part of him that knew he could die, since he was so thorough and conscientious in his handling of his affairs. And writing a poignant, final letter to Eliza (which if I had been her I'm sure I would have pulled my hair out).
Alexander knew how utterly devastated Eliza was to lose their son Philip -- so HOW COULD HE DO THAT TO HER AGAIN??? Eliza should have been crushed by the grief -- losing her mother, her sister, her son, her HUSBAND, all in a very short time span. Yet she persevered and would survive to accomplish many remarkable things in her own right, not the least of which was to ensure her husband's rightful, prominent place in the history books.
And now I'm off to listen to the Broadway cast album AGAIN. Because I can't stop.
I've been so behind on my reviewing these days, but I had so much fun with this one I wanted to make sure I didn't let it fall through the dark cracksI've been so behind on my reviewing these days, but I had so much fun with this one I wanted to make sure I didn't let it fall through the dark cracks into the swirling abyss where my non-reviewed books go.
I'm a huge fan of Ansari. I think he's cute as a button and funny as goddamn hell. I watched him in Parks & Rec, his most recent Netflix original Master of None (which I highly recommend), and thoroughly enjoy his stand-up concerts. He's not at the same level as Louis CK or Patton Oswalt, but he's also a lot younger than these gentlemen who have been honing their dark and brilliant comedy for decades now.
Modern Romance is not your typical "comedian writes a book" fare. It's not a memoir, or a book filled with ruminations on the life of a comedian. It's a thinky piece, backed up by real sociological research, with pie charts and everything! Ansari's approach to breaking down the ins and outs of dating and hooking up and settling down in the 21st century is as intriguing and compelling as it is infectious and informative. I loved every minute of it. The layout is light and breezy, and super accessible without distilling and dumbing down the subject matter too much as to be insulting to its audience. Ansari wants to make you laugh, make no mistake, but he's also very earnest in his desire to tell you what he's learned.
And can I just say I find all of it utterly FASCINATING. I'm addicted to "meet cute" stories (even though I would never consider myself a romantic, and have an averse reaction to rom-com movies -- that make me break out in hives). But how people meet and when they decide "to put a ring on it" (or not) can always get my attention. I have to check myself from being perpetually nosy all of the time, getting the "deets" on all this stuff from my friends, both of the online and the in real life variety.
For me, this book is too short. With its laudable success my hope is that Ansari will be compelled to pen a follow-up, because if there's one thesis that comes chiming out loud and clear here, it's that the 21st century dating world is changing fast, at warp speed, impacting how we communicate with one another, form bonds and friendships, and take that scary running leap into "the big commitment". A lot of the current research being done is showing that the bonds we form online, platonic or otherwise, can no longer be dismissed so easily as superficial and suffering by comparison to those we forge "IRL" (in real life). I do believe most of us on this site would concur that social media has opened up a "brave new world" that's not just brighter and more vibrant, but has proven increasingly successful in bringing colorful people into our lives that we otherwise would not have known existed, friendships that we now rely upon and cherish.
And that "modern romance" is blooming out of those virtual connections should really be coming as no surprise to anyone.
Ansari does an excellent job of pointing out the pros and cons of modern romance in the 21st century in all its tech'd out, geeked out splendor. We now have more choice than ever before, all at our fingertips with the click of a button or the swipe of a screen, but that landslide of choices might also be paralyzing some of us into making any choice at all. Our standards and expectations for a lifelong partnership might have been raised to exceptionally high, unreasonable levels too. With all that choice at our fingertips, why would we settle for anything less than AMAZING? That perfect "soul mate" who is going to fulfill every single one of our needs every day for the rest of our days. Pfft, people you know this: that person does not exist.
But it's not all bad news. Technology has not ruined romance for us living in the 21st century. In fact, for many of us, especially women -- things have improved vastly. Not because of the tech component, but because women are no longer expected to settle down as early as possible. We can invest in our careers now, and date more and live life as a single, learning about ourselves and the things that are going to make us happy if we do decide to pair off.
There are many areas (due to space constraints) that this book by necessity leaves unaddressed or goes light on, and Ansari is very good about pointing those out at the beginning. One thing missing for me is a breakdown of dating from an extrovert versus introvert point of view. I think our current technology has been an absolute miracle and marvel to introverts who struggle to put themselves out there in the real world of bars and supermarkets and church basements, but are absolutely charming and brave and socially high functioning on the interwebs. It's been an essential transition for that half of the human population to discover their "tribe" and connect in meaningful ways to people it would have been extremely unlikely they would have ever met IRL.
(and it's here I'm going to put a plug in for Felicia Day's memoir You're Never Weird on the Internet who also describes this "social revolution" for introverts in a way that resonated with me completely).
So in case it isn't obvious by now, I loved this book and I think everyone should read it, young/old, guy/girl, married/single. While it's easy to despair of the human race, and we know there are too many assholes and unforgivable idiots and sneaky jerkfaces running around out there, human behaviour and why we do the shit we do is still endlessly fascinating, isn't it? I think so.
A note about the audiobook -- I started listening to this one and it wasn't quite grabbing me. The text was falling flat for some reason and my mind wA note about the audiobook -- I started listening to this one and it wasn't quite grabbing me. The text was falling flat for some reason and my mind wandered a little too much. Debra Winger has a lovely delivery as the reader, but the audiobook just didn't work for me this time. So I abandoned it for the hardcover -- and finished it in one sitting I became that engrossed and enthralled, moved and inspired.
In June of 2015 I was lucky enough to attend the American Library Association conference held in San Francisco that year. Not only was it a thrill to be surrounded by 20,000 librarians from all corners of the library world, but the City by the Bay had been on my bucket list for years. It was a week of great food and much adventuring (including a day trip to Alcatraz), with thankfully no earthquakes. But the absolute highlight of the entire shebang was getting to see Gloria Steinem speak in person. Let me just say that at 81 years old, this woman has lost none of her charisma, style, and magnetic presence. She is as strikingly beautiful as she has ever been, and her generosity of spirit and kindness beam from her person like the warmth of a thousand suns.
Her latest book is a compilation of memories and reflection of a life lived on the road and what it means to be an "organizer" -- of social justice movements, of rallies, of connecting others. When most people think of Steinem they think "feminist" and "speaker" and "leader" but what she's spent most of her life doing is listening and that is what has made her so good at being all of those other things. To be a great organizer, you need to first listen, and from the listening will come empathy, understanding, knowledge, and new ideas. Now into her eighth decade, Steinem continues to listen, never one to believe she has learned all there is to know, or is now someone who carries all the answers to truth and justice and gender equality.
I was surprised to learn that Steinem is a nervous public speaker, and though she has spent a life doing it, still gets butterflies before getting up in front of a group of people. I can't imagine a life on the road as she has lived it, so very untethered. I am too much of a homebody to have ever been called to such a nomadic life, but there is a part of me that wonders what I've missed in the way of human connection and adventure. When she turned 50, Steinem finally purchased a home and began to nest, and though her nomadic adventures would persist at least now she had a place to return and rest and refuel. Maybe when I turn 50 I'll do the opposite and take to the road!
It's the surprise, the unexpected, the out of control. It turns out that laughter is the only free emotion--the only one that can't be compelled. We can be made to fear. We can even be made to believe that we're in love because, if we're kept dependent and isolated for long enough, we bond in order to survive. But laughter explodes like aha! It comes when the punch line changes everything that has gone before, when two opposites collide and make a third, when we suddenly see a new reality. Einstein said he had to be very careful while shaving, because when he had an idea he laughed -- and he cut himself. Laughter is an orgasm of the mind. ~Gloria Steinem, My Life on the Road
This is not a perfect book. In her passion for the subject and her glowing respect for LA Homicide Detective John Skaggs, Leovy's effusive praise can This is not a perfect book. In her passion for the subject and her glowing respect for LA Homicide Detective John Skaggs, Leovy's effusive praise can feel overstated, venturing into fangirl territory -- as if she were writing up an application essay to have Skaggs knighted or appointed to sainthood. But I'm going to cut her some slack since this book is extremely well researched, and powerfully presented. Leovy has been embedded for years in the crime area she is writing about -- the infamous South Central Los Angeles. This isn't an outsider elbowing her way into the quagmire of violence, but rather an LA citizen that deeply cares about the "plague of murders" devastating LA County's young black men and the tragic toll it has taken on those who loved them.
While the narrative arc for the book is to cover in-depth one particular homicide -- that of 18 year old African American Bryant Tennelle (son of Wallace Tennelle, a highly respected detective with the Los Angeles police), Leovy does a great job balancing the intimate details of this case with a larger encompassing analysis of race relations in America and the rise of Los Angeles gangs and black on black homicidal violence. The statistics she presents are both shocking and depressing; for example, African-American males make up “just 6 percent of the country’s population but nearly 40 percent of those murdered.” Furthermore, in the wake of improving national crime statistics (even for LA County), homicide remains the No. 1 cause of death for African-American males ages 15 to 34.
So Leovy wants to try and put some of this numbing tragedy into a meaningful context -- how have the lives of young black men become so cheap? Why has this bloody pattern of black on black violence become so commonplace? And what needs to be done to end this plague once and for all? Leovy doesn't have the answers, but I appreciate her attempts to tackle the at times, controversial and painful issues, and shed light on a problem that's difficult to know, understand and talk about.
Again I will reiterate: this is not a perfect book. There are a lot of names and shifting points of view that, as a reader, it's easy to get lost or frustrated. But at its best, this book will make you think, consider, and question. It will make you want to understand. It will bring you to a place of empathy away from preconceived notions and prejudices, and that's a powerful thing.
If you think you might read this book, I highly recommend checking out the documentary Crips and Bloods: Made In America, which provides an excellent overview of what's been called the longest running civil war in the history of America. Like Leovy wants to do with her book, this unflinching documentary humanizes what's been a very dehumanizing reality for the black citizens of South Los Angeles.
I am a sucker for survival stories, especially those set at sea. Have no idea why. Perhaps it's for the visceral, vicarious thrill of experiencing the I am a sucker for survival stories, especially those set at sea. Have no idea why. Perhaps it's for the visceral, vicarious thrill of experiencing these terrifying events unfold from the safety and comfort of my reading chair. Which probably makes me an asshole, but let's be clear -- it's not the SUFFERING I get off on, but the grittiness and ingenuity required of the survivors to live through the ordeal so that we can all learn from it in some profound way (there is a part of me that uses these stories as self-help manuals -- what to do when stranded on an island, in the desert, in the Andes, in the Pacific ocean, on Mars!)
(waves to Mark Watney -- yes I know he's a fictional character but you get my point).
To call Salvador Alvarenga's true survival story of 438 days (!!!) adrift at sea "extraordinary" just might be the understatement of the century. His tale is the very epitome of extraordinary and then some. Can we just invent a new word please? So okay, extraordinary, but also terrifying and amazing and shocking and unbelievable. How can it be humanly possible for a person to survive so long adrift at sea with few supplies? What will this person eat? Where will they get their drinking water to stave off death from dehydration? Supposing food and water challenges are addressed, how does a person go about developing a mental toughness, a spiritual and emotional resiliency to go on in the face of insurmountable odds, immeasurable aching loneliness, crippling boredom and sensory deprivation?
Jonathan Franklin does a great job here fleshing out Alvarenga's story with as much specific detail as possible pertaining to the 438 days, but also balances this side of the story with accounts from other people who have survived long periods at sea highlighting similarities and differences. He also quotes from scientists and psychologists who have studied survival and the mental, emotional and physical changes humans undergo in extreme survival situations. This helps put Alvarenga's experience into a larger, more meaningful context.
If you do the audiobook thing, the reader for this one is excellent. His voice kept me immersed in the details and drama with very little opportunity for my mind to lose focus and wander. This is a gripping tale of extreme human survival that left me exhausted, humbled, and inspired.
A before and after of Alvarenga and his first haircut and shave:
I came to know author James Renner through his wacky, engrossing, bewitchingly unique novels - The Man from Primrose Lane and The Great Forgetting. An I came to know author James Renner through his wacky, engrossing, bewitchingly unique novels - The Man from Primrose Lane and The Great Forgetting. And while he has a noteworthy talent spinning wild and crazy tales of speculative fiction, Renner is also a dedicated true crime writer. In fact, the journalism and true crime writing came first. And now he's returned to these stomping grounds in a big way with his new release True Crime Addict.
What sets this true crime book apart from most is not only the exceptionally sharp, punchy, lucid writing, but that Renner very much writes himself into the story as an observer, participant and one could even argue collateral damage to the unsolved Maura Murray missing person case. We realize almost from the opening paragraphs, that this is going to be a very personal journey for Renner, where he not only loses himself down the addicting, obsessive rabbit hole of trying to solve the mystery of a young woman's inexplicable disappearance into seemingly thin air, he also lays bare his own personal demons, that include his young son's struggle with uncontrollable violent outbursts (and quite possibly prescient abilities). This book really is one man's unflinching look into the abyss, and what stares back at him.
Renner is not the only person to have fallen down the rabbit hole of the Maura Murray case (a quick Google search will prove that), but given his personality and dark obsessive tendencies that he comes by quite honestly, Renner is arguably the one who's fallen the hardest and most completely. The publication of this book is the culmination (and hopefully for him) an emotional catharsis of a very long journey that Renner has recorded in detail on his Maura Murray blog that he launched in June 2011.
This book really could not have come at a better time. We seem to be in the midst of a true crime renaissance with recent cultural watershed phenomena like Making a Murderer, The Jinx and the first season of Sarah Koenig's podcast Serial which I became obsessed with when it ran in the fall of 2014. And you might as well throw The People vs OJ on that pile too, because it was also fantastic and drew a huge viewing audience.
I want to thank karen for putting a copy of this book in my hands and it is with great enthusiasm I write this review in the hopes it brings even more much deserved attention to what Renner has accomplished here. ...more
I’m having one of those rare days where I love people and all of the amazing wonder they’re capable of and if someone fucks that up for me I will sta
I’m having one of those rare days where I love people and all of the amazing wonder they’re capable of and if someone fucks that up for me I will stab them right in the face. ~Jenny Lawson
I AM GOING TO BE FURIOUSLY HAPPY, OUT OF SHEER SPITE. ~Jenny Lawson
I've shamelessly let Rocket Raccoon carry this review space since last year, and he garnered me 54 likes, so thanks Rocket! (I'm sure he would approve of my blatant exploitation even though he's the one being exploited).
But enough is enough. And really, I'm sure Rory isn't too furiously happy either about having some other fabulous raccoon steal his thunder. (And now Rocket is going to be pissed I've called him a raccoon. He doesn't like that).
Jenny Lawson -- aka The Bloggess -- is a wickedly delightful, exhausting, a bit scary, kaleidoscopic array of frantic energy meets overwhelming anxieties and various anxiety disorders and sometimes .... debilitating depression. This book is her true confession, no holds barred everything you ever wanted to know but were afraid to ask look inside her precious crazy head -- Jenny wouldn't mind me using the word crazy either; because she's taking crazy back. She's taking it out of the dark broom closet where we store things we don't want to see or talk about and wearing the "crazy badge" with pride. And why shouldn't she? Jenny, along with countless others, are survivors -- of their pain, of their chemical imbalances, of their terror, and of their uncontrollable impulses.
Because not everyone survives. My sister didn't. Depression and mental illness is terrifying. It's the disease we never talk about and as family and friends of sufferers we feel helpless in the face of it, not knowing what to do or say, or how to help. Sometimes in our effort to help, we're actually making things even harder, setting up unreasonable expectations, getting angry as if the person is acting this way on purpose just to piss us off. I really, really wish my sister and I had had this book before it became too late for her. I'm not saying it would have changed the outcome, but I know it would have changed how I talked to her and how I tried to help her. I know it would have made her feel some solace, some comfort, that other people feel this crazy too, and that it's not something you just "get over." And it would have made her laugh, her big boisterous fuck you laugh.
In all her silliness and shenanigans and stunts aimed to make us laugh (and keep herself furiously happy), Jenny Lawson is doing something really important here. She's humanizing depression and mental illness, she's reaching out and making it relatable (rather than something shameful and embarrassing). It's brave, and hopefully with shows like You're The Worst and Jared Padalecki's Always Keep Fighting campaign tackling the same difficult subject matter - we've reached a beginning of an empathy and acceptance for mental illness that will become our new normal.
I can tell you that “Just cheer up” is almost universally looked at as the most unhelpful depression cure ever. It’s pretty much the equivalent of telling someone who just had their legs amputated to “just walk it off.” Some people don’t understand that for a lot of us, mental illness is a severe chemical imbalance rather just having “a case of the Mondays.” Those same well-meaning people will tell me that I’m keeping myself from recovering because I really “just need to cheer up and smile.” That’s when I consider chopping off their arms and then blaming them for not picking up their severed arms so they can take them to the hospital to get reattached.
I love that the cover looks like a blissed out, meth-crazed Rocket Raccoon!
(Pardon my squeeing giffiness but it had to be done).