Sometime in the future I will try to read one Levithan book where he is the only author. But after reading this and Nick and Norah's Infinite PlaylistSometime in the future I will try to read one Levithan book where he is the only author. But after reading this and Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, I've come to the conclusion that there's something about Cohn and Levithan collaborations that strikes me as incredibly tedious. It's like their premises are being pitched specifically to appeal to my pop cultural predelictions, but the subpar writing and character-building makes me resent that they're trying.
The novel begins with a disaffected teenage boy roaming the The Strand bookstore a few days before Christmas. He finds a red moleskine notebook where a stranger has written bizaare instructions. Dash (the boy) decides to take on the challenge and turn the tables on the puzzlemaker at the same time by creating his own puzzles. Lily, the owner of the red notebook, is intrigued by this twist and they take turns answering each others' dares, slowly revealing their emotional lives to each other by writing on the notebook. Along the way, wacky hijinks ensue, including an arrest that ends up being humorous because they're white and affluent and their lives don't get destroyed by police overreach.
Far be it for me to ding it for an overwrought rom com premise (I do, after all, love While You Were Sleeping) but the parts of the novel where the characters gallivant around New York to fulfill the dares and hunt for clues are by far the least interesting parts of the story for me. For one, the Dash chapters give in to the temptation of making him constantly sneer at the shallow accoutrements of a consumerist Christmas season, because that's so punk rock and edgy. The writing on the notebook also became a bat-signal that says: "We're gonna talk about feelings now." in a way that felt repetitive.
The thing that I did enjoy was Lily's backstory and family life, her presentation as a Rory Gilmoresque sheltered girl with infinite good cheer. I just enjoy willfully good-natured characters a lot. Moving past the super contrived premise of the notebook, I found her interactions with her brother, his boyfriend, and everyone else in her neighborhood amusing. I also can see why she'd be fascinated by the Dash she sees in the notebook. Dash, on the other hand, felt so generic as a character that I didn't get the feeling that there were any unplumbed depths in him. He probably listens to The Shins on his iPod, enjoy Jason Schwartzman movies, and sneers at cronuts.
I like this better than Nick and Norah, but I have a feeling that these authors are just not to my taste....more
**spoiler alert** Those poor women. A feat of unreliable narrator-building in the Humbertian vein, there's real skill in the way Hornby uses, say, pho**spoiler alert** Those poor women. A feat of unreliable narrator-building in the Humbertian vein, there's real skill in the way Hornby uses, say, phonecalls to illustrate how Rob is kind of a monster. I'm more iffy about the general principle of the ending, but even schlubby men deserve Bridget Jonesian happy endings, I guess....more
I wasn't as enthused about this like I expected to be. While there are some fun, frothy elements, the female protagonist was just absolutely swimmingI wasn't as enthused about this like I expected to be. While there are some fun, frothy elements, the female protagonist was just absolutely swimming in her own unexamined privilege that it's hard to be on board with her, even as the writer piles up the numerous layers of her personal woes. Plus the old fiance (and the other characters aside from Levi, who has some gross moments of his own) is not awarded with the kind of empathy and nuance that I wanted for spoilery reasons....more
3.5, but I'm inclined to rate this book up. Not as freewheeling and gleeful as Assassination Vacation, but I do have a soft spot for stubborn iconocla3.5, but I'm inclined to rate this book up. Not as freewheeling and gleeful as Assassination Vacation, but I do have a soft spot for stubborn iconoclasts relentlessly plagued by questions of their damnation. I do wish the book shows some restraint when it comes to editorializing using contemporary history and the Iraq/Afghanistan wars. Not because I have any substantial difference of opinion with Sarah Vowell (I don't) but it dates the book in a way that I find unfortunate....more
If you are a liker of comedy, you'd be hard pressed to find reasons to justify why Tina Fey isn't that big of a deal. She and Amy Poehler loomed large for an entire era of SNL, especially in Fey's role as head writer for nine years. Their generation of improv performers cornered valuable TV and movie real estate that used to be reserved only for standup comedians. She also wrote the screenplay of the totemic film Mean Girls, basically informing the vocabulary of every human being in possession of a Tumblr account.
Her schtick as an often hapless, often harried nerd thrust into the spotlight is belied by the ferocious intellect, drive and savvy that Bossypants merely hints at. I'm slightly apprehensive that my post about her 2011 memoir will speak more of her place in culture than the actual content of the book. But Fey herself also deftly anticipates that readers coming into Bossypants are most likely aware of celebrity, and may already have their opinions of her hardened beyond modification.
Every chapter is a mixture of straight up autobiography and riff-filled opinion. She talks about a childhood framed by rules and propriety even as she is drawn to certain oddball communities like theater clubs and lesbian frienship circles. She then traces her beginnings as an improv performer for Chicago's Second City troupe, to getting a writing gig in Saturday Night Live and eventually creating her own show. There are, of course, the requisite pit stops, including her brush with the zeitgeist through her Sarah Palin impression.
It would be easy to dileneate her narrative between childhood-Tina and adulthood-Tina, although I would contend that the difference is actually between her pre-fame persona and her post-fame one.
I enjoyed so many things about this book, especially her hilarious account of a typical but slightly askew childhood. She also has very potent things to say about being an anonymous comic working the improv circuit, including the transcendent moments and instances of pure bullshit. Even the advice and opinion-making rise above the typical, because Fey is a damn good writer. She is the one, for example, who taught me the meaning of a "dark joke." There is also an extended section about the difference between humorists (writers) and improvs (performers) capped by her brilliant declaration that, "If Harvard [Lampoon] is Classical Military Theory, Improv is Vietnam." (You can actually read that excerpt at The New Yorker.)
The parts that I find slight are things that Fey herself would most likely never change. One is the sort of anemic depiction of comedy (and SNL specifically) as a competitive, make-or-break environment. This is particularly disingenuous when there's practically an elseworld universe that seems to exist specifically to push back against the dominance of Lorne Michaels-anointed comedy in the upper echelons of Hollywood. See also: the Judd Apatow pod, the Christopher Guest pod, the Nerdist pod, the primordial soup that birthed Daniel Tosh.
Furthermore, her writing makes it clear that she has at least some feminist leanings, but is undercut by her reluctance to say critical things about her comedy roots. Her writing makes it seem like she existed in a workplace where a very pervasive boys' club mentality happens, but very few people actively enforce it. Having those two things be both true at once is kind of baffling. But I guess being an improv person means you don't throw fellow comedians under the bus.
Barring a less diplomatic picture of the comedy scene, I would have wanted her to double down on the more nerdy aspects of comedy in the vein of the Harvard vs. improv thing. It would've been a more interesting book for me if she delved even more deeply into theory while doing away with the extended riff on rude and incoherent internet commenters, which is frankly played out as a wellspring of humor. I would have also preferred if she waited for time to pass before writing about 30 Rock since she was clearly still in the eye of the storm while she was writing, and thus couldn't approach the experience with a lot of perspective.
This may seem that I have a largely negative reaction to Bossypants, but it's actually the exact opposite. I responded to the book on a granular level, and my nits come from the fact that I've come back to her writing multiple times after the first readthrough. The arc of her career is far from finished so I'm looking forward to another book in the future....more
I think you have to be pretty well-versed in the convention of the romcom (in either its literary or cinematic forms) to appreciate just how delightfuI think you have to be pretty well-versed in the convention of the romcom (in either its literary or cinematic forms) to appreciate just how delightfully weird Jennifer Crusie's Welcome to Temptation really is. In this relatively short novel, she subverts as many genre tropes as she luxuriates in, with a plot that careens wildly between a small-town farce, a family drama, and a murder mystery. That and a couple of pretty involved sex scenes.
The story begins with two Dusty Springfield-loving sisters, Sophie and Amy Dempsey, who drive into a sleepy little town called Temptation and promptly involve themselves in a car accident. This is only the first of the disruptions that they cause, however, because the short film that they had originally planned on shooting somehow devolves into gauzy, soft-core porn. As the responsible one in the family, Sophie has to do her best to protect their little production, which means dealing with Temptation's handsome mayor, Phin Tucker. Sparks fly between them, because it must.
Crusie's humor is a great mix of profane and endearing, especially when she gets into the petty bickering and gossiping of the townsfolk. One of the most enjoyable scenes is the town hall meeting where the assembly debate on whether the town's bright pink water tower looks too much like a penis. Several people from Sophie's past also make an appearance and further cause drama in the neighborhood, including another Dempsey. He also happens to be an art thief.
The novel's structure diverges from the traditional in that the two protagonists come together--uh, so to speak--relatively early on in the story. The final conflict then sidesteps the whole "do they love each other or not" rigamarole that bogs down a lot of romance novels. It's pretty refreshing for that reason. It is also refreshingly less cynical about gender issues than the current spate of romantic comedies we've been having in the movies ever since the oppressive reign of Gerard Butler the Romantic Ideal began.
While the strength of this story lies in the zany plot twists and outsized side characters, they can also disorient the reader. I had expected a comforting read when I picked it up, not what pretty much amounts to a Coen Brothers take on the romcom. Welcome to Temptation is not the kind of novel that I would read to turn my brain off--there are too many jokes for that. All in all it is a bracing exercise in how much the romance genre can stretch itself while still remaining true to its structure, and a great product of an authorial mind with a lot of witty one-liners to tell.
I also recommend watching Jennifer Crusie talk about her writing process as well as her delightful podcast Popcorn Dialogues, which began as a dissection of romantic comedy movies through the decades....more
A novel filled with parodic exuberance and tongue-in-cheek humor often runs the risk of archness to the point coldness, becoming too intent at skeweriA novel filled with parodic exuberance and tongue-in-cheek humor often runs the risk of archness to the point coldness, becoming too intent at skewering the ridiculous to actually carry a human center. L. Zamora Linmark's Leche sidesteps this trap by grounding the chaos of his setting with a fallible and searching viewpoint character, a balikbayan named Vince who wins a trip through a Mr. Pogi beauty contest. Through his incredulous but largely game eyes, the readers navigate the crooked sidestreets and gridlocked roads that make up life in 1990s Philippines.
Vince descends into an Aligherian hell from the first scene as he takes in the cacophony of voices, smells, and personalities in a Manila airport. He then interacts with a gaggle of personalities not unlike the Italian nobility that populate Inferno and Purgatorio--from the iconoclastic director Bino Boca to the distressingly effervescent fictional(?!) Kris Aquino. The rugged man who ferries him to the various sights of Manila is even named Dante. Linmark makes these parallelisms overt throughout the novel. But Leche also has much in common with another work of literature to use an epigraph from The Divine Comedy--the eponymous J. Alfred Prufrock from T.S. Eliot's landmark modernist poem.
Much like Prufrock, the inaction and ennui that Vince feels through much of the novel is a response to a wide range of anxieties and hurt that he has experienced in his life. While Prufrock's trauma comes from the unexpected assault of war and modernity, however, Vince's come from leaving his country as a child to build a life in a new one. The novel also intersects Vince's diasporic identity with that of his queer experience. I like that being gay is not the definitive aspect of his character--in fact, you can say that it only ends up complicating his already fraught relationships, not only with his friends and loved ones but also with his two countries.
This novel was slow burn for me. The din generated not only by the characters but also the setting, humor, and writing style can overwhelm a reader who is not expecting it. It took a while to warm up to Vince's character, but the final pages that take him on a jeepney ride out of Manila (and into Paradiso, perhaps?) ties up all the disparate parts of his identity, including his relationship with his deceased grandfather, and allows his story to end somewhere quiet, mournful, and beautiful. It is a wonderful meditation of the question that emigres often grapple with, whether one can ever truly go home.
Notice how I haven't yet mentioned how this novel is a veritable stew of postmodernist narrative tools, the most obvious aspect of Leche. Vince's sightseeing is punctuated by postcard messages, excerpts from tourist books, interview transcripts, even an extended scene from a Bino Boca movie extravaganza. A postmodern homecoming novel about a balikbayan is not new (hello there, Ilustrado). I decided to focus on the novels more affective qualities to demonstrate that formal inventiveness is not enough to create resonance. Leche checks off as many literary references as Ilustrado (read: a hell of a lot of them), but I argue that they do not distract from the characters' fiercely beating hearts.
Diaspora stories have become a staple of Philippine fiction, thanks to our historical and economic realities. Because this experience fractures so many of us, much of our literary real estate is invested in collecting the broken pieces and gluing them back together. Leche's foray into the diaspora archetype shows that some of the most emotionally rich places exist within the jagged edges that we are trying to smooth over. Let us go then, you and I.