Friday, July 06, 2012

Book Shelf: The Political Pundit, The Bloggess and 'The Great Gatsby'

It's been a couple months since my last book round-up. Finally got around to reading two books I previewed, plus re-reading a classic that's about to get another Hollywood treatment:

Lizz Winstead's "Lizz Free or Die" was one I had been looking forward to for a while, not only because I admire her work, but because I had discussed the writing of it with the author when I met her at Rosanne Cash's house last year. (She told me how she loved her editor because she had pushed her to really get the best writing she could out of her.) The best way I can describe my reaction to "Lizz Free or Die" is surprised. Given the comedian's sharp tongue and hold-nothing-back style, I expected an explosive tell-all about her career, including her side of a well-chronicled dust-up with Craig Kilborn, who in the early days hosted the show she famously co-created  (you may have heard of "The Daily Show") and her abrupt departure from Air America (where she was working when she "discovered" Rachel Maddow). Instead, the book is a heartfelt collection of stories about her childhood (Catholicism!), her teenage years (she and Bristol Plain have something in common -- if you don't count the abortion!) and the death of her beloved father (who might be funnier than she is!). Lizz warns readers early on that the book will not be what you might have expected. Fortunately, what it is is mostly a pleasant surprise. Buy HERE.

I bought blogger Jenny Lawson's book, "Let's Pretend This Never Happened," right when it came out, mistakenly thinking she was the hilarious Jenny I was following on Twitter. (Turns out that's Jenny Johnson, whom I later wrote about HERE. Her book is TK.) Although I had never read Lawson's wildly successful blog, The Bloggess, I was still curious to see what she had to say, mainly because the idea of a blogger writing a memoir(-ish collection) might be something I can relate to. It turns out Lawson -- now a wife and mother -- is kind of famous for her unusual childhood, growing up dirt poor in Texas with a taxidermist father who frequently put her sister and her in a variety of bizarre situations. The first 100 pages or so were hilarious -- laugh-out-loud hilarious -- and I was quickly becoming a mega fan. Her "talking" style isn't for everyone -- she'll write things like "My editor says this chapter doesn't make any sense ..." or "Then I punched my neighbor in the face (but only in my head)" -- but when she's "on," it becomes an endearing device. But once she got married and had a daughter, things slowed down quite a bit for me. The stories about her anxiety disorder(s) and experiences with blogging were kinda bleh by comparison -- NOTE TO SELF: Writing about being a blogger isn't all that interesting -- and the "I kinda mistakenly took a bunch of Ex-Lax and got explosive diarrhea" chapter felt like a total cop out, even if it was true. But just when I thought she was losing me, she and her sister take a trip back to their parents' in Wall, Texas, and I was on-board again -- only this time I was laughing and crying a bit, so I guess you can't argue with that. Buy HERE.

I can't remember what grade I was in when I first read "The Great Gatsby." I'm pretty sure I elected to read it -- "Romeo and Juliet," "Of Mice and Men" and "To Kill a Mockingbird" (and????) were mandatory -- but this one I wanted to read, having been intrigued by both the Roaring Twenties and F. Scott Fitzgerald, not to mention his crazy wife, Zelda. The book is, of course, a classic -- the quintessential American story of reinventing yourself while knowing you can never truly escape your past -- and reading it as an adult did not change my feelings about this. I felt myself transported in time, lying in bed feeling underdressed for those lavish parties in West Egg, wondering why the glass of water on my nightstand was not a martini. I will say that the relationship between Jay and Daisy seemed less involved than I remembered -- you call that an obsession? -- and it made me wonder if our definition of dramatic romantic entanglements had been ramped up exponentially in the (near) century since Jay Gatz's story was first published. Still, I will be well-prepared to despise Baz Luhrmann's take -- the real reason I revisited it now -- mainly because Leonardo DiCaprio is no Jay Gatsby. Buy HERE.

The other night I finally started "The Big Rewind: A Memoir Brought to You by Pop Culture," written by Nathan Rabin, the head writer for the Onion's A.V. Club.  I got this as a Christmas present from my brother a year or two ago, but just discovered it buried on the bottom shelf of my coffee table so decided to dig in. I'm not familiar with the author's work, but the premise is promising: "Rabin writes movingly and hilariously about how pop culture helped save him from suicidal despair, institutionalization, and parental abandonment during a childhood that sent him ricocheting from a mental hospital to a foster home to a group home for emotionally disturbed adolescents." So far, I'm only about 75 pages into it. But I must say I'm having a hard time warming up to our protagonist, who comes off as the bastard child of Philip Roth and Andy Cohen. I've got an open mind -- will keep you posted! Buy HERE.


Tom W. said...

I am also re-reading Gatsby at the present time. I will take it with me for plane reading material soon on my triumphant return to (ugh) Detroit. I will blow a kiss toward Madison Hts. for you. I now find Gatsby somewhat "overwritten". BTW, any more word of the latest Oakland County Killer book from the author you profiled abut a year ago?

Kenneth M. Walsh said...

@Tom: The author (J. Reuben Appelman) sent me the first few chapters. He hasn't had much luck finding a publisher, so I think he's letting it drip out little by little, perhaps in conjunction with the Free Press.