Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Sad Tale of Tatum

Well, I finished the first of my library books last night. The pitifully titled A Paper Life, by Tatum O'Neal, was an engrossing, fast read. I remembered her primarily as the woman on "Sex in the City" who wouldn't reimburse Carrie for the Manolos that got stolen at her baby-welcome party, so it was interesting to me to learn about her early career, and how she was the youngest Academy Award winner ever.

Her private life, however, was devastating. Both her father, Ryan O'Neal, and her husband, tennis player John McEnroe, were controlling, tempermental, abusive, jealous men. Since she was very young when she got married, she basically went from one to the other. It's become a truism that childhood stardom ruins the child for life. People cite Danny Bonaduce and Gary Coleman as prime examples. But in Tatum's case, her movie work was actually a positive influence: it got her away from her family, put her in contact with more sympathetic adults, and gave her some sense of self-worth. You can, however, feel her own sense of failed potential, as her childhood success didn't carry over to her adult years.

Tatum's book ends on a positive note. She says that she has worked hard to come to some sort of peace with her father, her ex-husband and her children, and that she is now clean and sober. IMDB shows her hard at work, too, mostly in television shows.

But the thing about celebrity autobiographies is that the final chapter hasn't yet been written. Danny Bonaduce's book ended much the same way, yet I recently saw a promo for a reality series that has him coming to terms -- yet again -- with his substance abuse problems. The Motley Crue book ends with three of the four original band members in stable relationships (all except Tommy). I don't know what happened to Nikki Sixx, but I did see that Mick Mars' girlfriend from the end of that book is suing him, and the girl with Vince on "Remaking Vince Neil" was definitely not the same woman he married towards the end of the book.

Yet after reading all this, I'm rooting for Tatum. I hope she goes on to some kind of success. Only time will tell, I guess.

Monday, March 26, 2007


It's time for me to say goodbye (or attempt to, yet once again) to some books that are just cluttering the place up. Books that were assigned for class and turned out to be dull, books that I bought on a whim and it turned out weren't so great after all...out with the old, in with the new (hopefully). If anyone wants to take a gander, you can find them here, at my Amazon page. Happy shopping!

Score at the library today!

I visited the larger of the two libraries near where I live and work today (and learned that it was named one of the top four best small libraries in America, WTG!!!!) and scored a nice balance of sleazy nonfiction and more serious fiction. On the serious (or at least mind-improving) side, we have On Beauty by Zadie Smith (I liked White Teeth!); The Knife Thrower and other stories by Steven Millhauser (I was hoping for the one with "The Illusionist" in it, but this'll do -- "The Knife Thrower" was a great story); and Loon Lake by E.L Doctorow. Sometimes I like him and sometimes I don't. We'll see where this one fits in.

On the sleazier side, we have A Paper Life by Tatum O'Neal; Salad Days by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.; and Lana: The Lady, the Legend, The Truth by --aw crap -- Lana Turner. I didn't realize that last was an autobiography. I was hoping for something a little more objective about her (actually, I really wanted a book about Frances Farmer, but no such luck.) Will I get through them all by April 16th? Upon further reflection, will I even want to? Stay tuned to this blog, readers, for the answers to these and more questions!!!!!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

I said SLEAZE, not snooze!!!!

Shortly before my vacation, I posted about my desire to find some good Hollywood sleaze at the library to take on vacation with me, and my frustration at finding the bio section filled with books on Jimmy Carter and Mother Teresa, when I was looking for something more along the lines of Mommy Dearest or The Dirt (Motley Crue's autobiography, and an EXCELLENT read: wall-to-wall sex, drugs, fistfights and general drama, not a boring paragraph in the entire 430-page book. Highly reccommend this one.)

I was pleased, then, to light on another book I'd picked up and replaced on the shelf for several years: Julia Phillips' You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again. Julia Phillips was the producer of The Sting, and probably some other well-known films, too. I'll never know, because I'm about to throw in the towel with this one. She's promised great things, 125 pages into this 500+ page potboiler. she cuts back and forth a lot between her rise to the top and her life post-glory days, hinting at the breakup of her marriage, her descent into drugs and possibly alcohol abuse, the mysterious disintegration of her career.

But her writing style is so annoying I don't know if I can keep at it. It's like reading the diary of a ten-year-old girl. You know how they seem to have that utter inability to censor, how they keep sidetracking their own stories with irrelevant background and details ("So Ashley had this sleepover planned and we were gonna eat popcorn and watch the new Mary-Kate and Ashley movie, and Ashley totally disinvited Melissa to her sleepover, and Melissa was like "whatever, I'm going to sleep over at Beth's house that night anyway" but I don't like Beth very much because she said that my purple Trapper Keeper was ugly when I think she was just jealous because she doesn't even have a Trapper Keeper, because her dad won't buy her one but I kinda feel bad for her because her dad sounds really mean, but I still don't like her...") This is essentially how this book reads. I keep waiting for her to get to some kind of point, and I fear she never will.

She jumps around chronologically not just between past and present, but within the past as well. One minute, she and her partners are working to get The Sting produced, the next minute it's done, then suddenly you're back before the partnership was even formed. She introduces hundreds of characters, most of whom have only a walk-on role in her tale, which makes the book even more confusing.

Also, her ability to recall the most mundane details makes me suspicious. If she had as many substance-abuse problems as she claimed, how could she remember what SOMEONE ELSE ordered at a dinner that happened over 20 years ago, or what color dress her business partner's wife wore that night? You've got to think she's taken extreme creative license with this stuff, which makes you wonder: what else did she take license with in this book? And why bother? Who gives a shit that her partner's wife showed up in a devastating blue floor-length Armani when she's not mentioned for the rest of the description of the dinner? Where the hell was her editor? The book probably would've been shortened by a quarter if they'd cut out all such extraneous information.

I think this is a terribly self-indulgent book. With biographies, or autobiographies, it should be damn obvious within the first 50 pages why this story needs to be told. And yes, like with the Motley Crue book, "to entertain" is a legitimate reason for a story to be told. Years ago, I read Lillian Gish's autobiography, which was completely absent of Hollywood sleaze but a fascinating look into the beginning of movie-making.And I Don't Want to Live This Life, by Deborah Spungen (mother of Nancy Spungen, who was murdered by Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols) was a tragic tale of a child who the establishment utterly failed, and the toll this took on her life and her family's life. The authors of all three tales had real stories to tell, and each told them well. So far, I don't see what Julia Phillips has to say.

More inappropriate language in children's lit!!!

What is this world coming to? Paul Rudnick takes aim at the big "scrotum" controversy in this year's Newberry Award winner, The Power of Lucky in
The New Yorker. Here's my previous post on this topic.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Lured in at last

There's always a book or two I have to look at every time I'm in a bookstore. It's not always because they look like they'd be good either. Often, they don't. Citizen Girl, by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, was one such book. Now that I've read it, I'll never feel that way again.

This book chronicles the post-collegiate adventures of Girl (yes, that's her name, although she occasionally goes by "G"). G, as I came to think of her, had the potential to be an interesting character. Her mother was the director of a writer's colony, and she majored in public policy at Wesleyan, with a minor in gender studies. This should make her interesting. Unfortunately, it doesn't.

When we first meet G, she's employed as an admin at a women's center run by a well-known feminist who turns out to be a total bitch. She gets fired and lands in the for-profit world, heading up a feminist marketing initiative for My Company, an internet start-up run by an asshole named Guy (OMG...Girl, Guy, My Company...OMG, it's like they read my diary!!!) In addition to heading up this initiative, she is also searching for a women's non-profit for the company to donate money to. However, all is not as it seems at My Company, and G quickly becomes disillusioned.

Let me get this out of the way: I hated G. There's no real sense of character there. She reacts to events without seeming to have any personality or direction at all. This is a flaw of the entire book, actually -- although it's densely populated, you would know none of the characters if you met them on the street. It utterly failed my Great Gatsby test (F. Scott Fitzgerald's editor told him that he'd know the character of Tom if he met him on the street and would know to avoid him.) If the authors had written in third person, it'd be more forgiveable, but this is (as I called them in second grade) an "I" book. Which brings me to my second point about G: we get to know every snide and snotty thought in her pompous little head. What little character she has is not likeable at all. You don't root for her.

G is meant to be a feminist, but really seems like anything but. She routinely rips other women apart based on what they're wearing and how their hair is. Everyone is either too plastic or too frumpy for her, and on the extremely rare occasion another woman actually impresses her with her appearance, she inevitably makes a fool of herself in front of her, and holds that woman up as a goddess, whether she deserves it or not. G's feminism manifests itself in tiresome ways: a refusal to dye her hair blonde (caramel is the lightest G can go without compromising her principles), an outrage over the casual use of the word "cunt" by a stranger at a hockey game (who was talking about the game, not about a man or a woman), her horror over learning that men's dinner clubs still exist (yes, let's focus on the important issues here!).

The exploitation of women is a leitmotif in this book: G goes on a date with a guy who takes her to a 20s-style burlesque review; she rents an apartment from a guy who used to shoot porn movies there; she walks in on her boyfriend watching porn during a bachelor party (which she shows up at unannounced). Late in the book, My Company is entering into a partnership with a lingerie company called Bovary, headed by a woman named Kat and backed financially by her girlfriend. G winds up in the middle of this deal and is given free underwear and taken to a club called Muffin (obviously modeled on the Pussycat Dolls shows) by Kat. You're supposed to get outraged every time, as G does, I guess.

But nothing productive ever comes out of G's outrage. I finished The Road to Coorain right before I started this one, and Jill Ker Conway let her belief in women's equality drive her career and take her all the way to the top. By contrast, G's feminism simply holds her back. Rather than stand behind her beliefs, she hides behind them. Despite the numerous opportunities for growth throughout the book, she fails to profit from any of them. You would think that if you'd been told bluntly by two bosses that you're too needy and don't take direction well, you would at least give it some thought. She dismisses the criticisms out of hand. She seems destined to become one of those feminist caricatures 10 years down the road, who bitches about sexist Lysol commercials and corrects generic use of the male pronoun.

She could've been more. She could've gone to law school or gotten her MSW and really helped women. She could've gone for her PhD and helped to shape new schools of thought on feminism. She could've done an internship in the legislative branch and used the connections she made there to work in government with a politician she believed in. But all of that would've required some actual work. And no Nanette Lepore dress like her heart desires (this is what passes for character development in this book, I guess).

Despite all this, the book is oddly compelling. Like a reality-TV marathon, you know it sucks, but you can't look away. The ending, however, completely destroys any sense of fun the book had. I will not spoil it in case anyone still wants to read this book after all this, but I will just say that I kept waiting for her to wake up during it. Except she doesn't. It's supposed to have really happened, and I don't believe it one bit. I don't think, after all this, that I have the stomach for The Nanny Diaries, Kraus and McLaughlin's other ouvre. If anyone out there has read it, let me know if it's as sickening as Citizen Girl.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Old Friends

Lately, I have not been reading anything new...which accounts for the shortage of posts. The source of this is actually the fact that someone else loaned me a book. I've been trying to get into it, but I haven't been able to. It's an interesting enough book -- The Road To Coorain by Jill Ker Conway, maybe some of you have read it. I guess I'm just not in the mood for it right now. But I feel an obligation to finish it fast, since it's not mine. And I don't want to give it back and admit to not reading it, nor do I want to give it back and lie about having read it. And I'm trying not to start anything else until I've finished it.

So I've been cheating. I dug out a couple of old friends, books I've read over and over, books that I know so well, I almost don't need the book to read them again. It's been a few years since I've done that type of reading. Sometimes I would in grad school, but mostly I read books for school. But then afterwards, I was so excited not to have to read schoolbooks, that I made up for lost time, big time.

I bought Buster Midnight's Cafe by Sandra Dallas at one of those "Book Sale" places that will set up shop in an empty storefront for a few weeks and sell remaindered books. I believe I was around 15, and bought it to read when I went on a cross-country driving trip with my family. Sandra Dallas has since gone on to write historical fiction novels with strong feminist themes (often with quilting mixed in there too). There's a particular image from one of her books that will be seared into my brain forever, of a woman (a neighbor of the main character) beaten by her husband, then tied to a post until she froze solid.Buster Midnight's Cafe is different from the rest of her books. The narrator Effa Commander, now in her 80s, recalls growing up in Butte, Montana in the 1930s and 1940s with her friends. Effa was part of a clique called the "Unholy Three", one of whom, May Anna, grew up to become a movie star. May Anna's boyfriend growing up, Buster, became a famous boxer.

The book kind of chronicles the dark side of these dreams, however. An incident of murder at May Anna's house in Hollywood, for which Buster is blamed, tanks his career while allowing hers to soar to new heights, but costing her Buster's love and making her distant from her friends. May Anna's story will have a familiar ring to anyone who's watched shows like VH1 Behind the Music or the E! Hollywood True Story. But by telling it through her friend Effa Commander's eyes, it makes it seem fresh. Effa (and the other member of the Unholy Three, Whippy Bird) remain in Butte except for a few visits, so the viewpoint is basically that of a privileged outsider. Effa is also leading a life of her own, which she shares with us. It's an entertaining read and has long been a favorite.

My other old favorite that I've dusted off is She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb. I think this was probably one of the most widely read novels of the late 90s, so I won't say too much about it except that it's still good, and that it still impresses me how well he managed to write from a woman's viewpoint. I remember checking the author's bio after I read it just to make sure that Wally was, indeed, a man's name.

What are some of your old favorites?

Friday, March 9, 2007

Have you ever come across a St. Maureen?

Last weekend, my boyfriend was in a generous mood, and also bought me the DVD of "Millions", directed by Danny Boyle. It's a very uplifting movie, if you haven't seen it. It's about two little boys who find a lot of money, and the effect the money has on them, and their family. Saints are a major element of the story, and the main little boy, Damian, encounters several saints during the movie. His mother just died, so he asks them all if they've ever come across a St. Maureen.

Although I'm not religious, I do like the saints. I'm not really sure why. I think their lives are interesting, as is the whole concept of saints. Perhaps it's the idea of ordinary individuals achieving extraordinary things. Perhaps it's just that they're easier to relate to than a divine being. I don't know. I first saw this movie over the summer and got a saints book for my birthday, entitled Lives of the Saints by Richard P. McBrien. I don't think it's the sort of thing you read cover-to-cover, but I'm going to try for a little each day, since it's organized by day. Starting today.

Today is the feast day of Frances of Rome. She lived from 1384-1440 and devoted her life to the service of the poor, especially in hospitals. She had a number of visions during her life, became a nun, and is the patron saint of motorists and of widows. Also, of Dominic Savio, who died of tuberculosis when he was only 15, and is the patron saint of young boys and choirboys. Just thought you might like to know.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

All chick, no lit?

I've been meaning to post about this column by Maureen Dowd (linked to The Unknown Candidate's blog because only NYT subscribers can access columns on their webpage). I like chick lit as much as the next chick, but I agree with her that the stuff has become the literary equivalent of bamboo, choking everything else off the shelves. I mentioned last night that my boyfriend bought me a copy of Traveling Pants this weekend. What I didn't chronicle was that the original idea was just to buy me any book of my choosing (awww...he's so sweet) but that Barnes and Noble didn't have any of the books I wanted. I was going to get the new George Saunders, or maybe a book of short stories by Steven Millhauser (I liked the movie The Illusionist, and I like some of his other short stories, like "The Knife Thrower" and "The Barnum Museum"). It was just a sea of pink books with shoes on them in there!

Chick lit is an enjoyable distraction, and lots of fun. And there is definitely a range of quality out there. I myself enjoy Jennifer Weiner, Candace Bushnell, and the Stephanie Plum mysteries by Janet Evanovich. But then there are others, like Plum Sykes and Lauren Weisberger (The Devil Wears Prada), which will probably age as well as that 200-page book on how to surf the internet that I saw in the computer section of our local library.

But it would be a shame if chick lit choked out everything else. Novels can be so much more than an escape. They can give you a new perspective on your life, give you a window into places and cultures that you'd never experience otherwise, or even teach you stuff. I actually learned a lot about economics and finance from Sabin Willett's Present Value, for example. Yesterday, I went to the library to stock up on books to take to Florida with me next week. I wanted a serious novel and a trashy biography. It seemed weird to me to find them flipped: there were plenty of biographies of upstanding Americans who'd led inspirational lives (I wanted to read about a slutty, drug-addled star who turned up mysteriously murdered at the age of 30). And on the fiction side, it seemed to be all chick lit, or "dude lit" (new term, referring to books by authors like Tom Clancy and John Grisham). I wonder if this trend might help to save the independent bookstore. I haven't visited one just to visit it in a while now (I'm always looking for gifts for others). Maybe they, too, have succumbed.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007


Over the weekend, my boyfriend bought me the new Traveling Pants book. I finished reading it two nights ago. This more than likely marks the end of the series, because the Pants get destroyed at the end of the book (you learn this on the first page, so I am not giving much away).

It's hard to say too much about this book without making constant reference to the rest of the series, or without ruining it for those who haven't yet read the book. And since the book was released within the past six weeks, I'm sure there are some of you out there.

I think that if you liked the rest of the series, you will like this one too. It was a good, and realistic, ending to what has been, overall, a good and realistic series. I've written before about how Bridget, Tibby, Lena and Carmen appear as real people, not archetypes. But there's also a consistency of character there. Despite changes in their lives, you see them grow as people and experience ups and downs. When the book opens, we see (much to our surprise) that of the four, it's the emotional, outgoing Carmen who has not adjusted well to university life, whereas the two less outgoing girls of the group (Tibby and Lena) both successfully carved out niches for themselves.

At some points, the book dragged. And there were a few parts that felt less than realistic. We know from the other books that the girls grew up in Maryland, in the DC-Metro area. Tibby spent this summer taking classes at NYU, yet several of the characters repeatedly and spontaneously make the journey up there, only to talk to her for a half hour. There were a few times when I was practically screaming "Come on! That's a 600 mile round trip!"

But overall, the takeaway lessons of the series are positive: be true to your friends. Rely on yourself, but don't forget the people who care about you, either. It's OK to fuck up -- everyone does it occasionally. Things don't always work out for the best, but every situation you'll be in will ultimately resolve itself one way or another, and there's nothing so bad you can't move past it. Don't be afraid to take chances. And above all, as the series shows, have fun while you're doing your thing! This series, for all of its morals, was a lot of fun. I will be interested to see what's next for Ann Brashares.