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Monday, March 23, 2015

The Books I Read: January 2015 - February 2015


Joss Whedon: The Biography by Amy Pascale

I'd been looking for a book about Joss Whedon since December. There had been a few biographies, but then I saw this one was about to come out. It looked the most official -- even having a foreword by Nathan Fillion -- so I waited.

It becomes little more than an IMDB page after a while. I don't read many biographies, so maybe this is what they're like. I wanted to know more about his family life or his writing life, I didn't need to know what happened with Firefly or The Avengers. I already follow the guy. I already knew that. Except for his early life, there wasn't much I didn't already know from Twitter, Wikipedia, and various viral YouTube Comic-Con panels.

I did like that it goes under the covers of certain things that happened and affected the evolution of some of my favorite show, like the online influence on Buffy. It was one of the first shows to embrace its online presence. The downtime on Roseanne led him to write the script for BtVS.

I feel like this book was intended for people who don't know much about Joss Whedon. Like bigwigs who are like "who is this Joss Whedon fellow all the kids keep talking about? I wonder if I should hire him for a spec script". It's more about his work than his personal life or mental life. I suppose it's better that his life isn't a National Enquirer saga, for the sake of his stability.


Paper Towns by John Green

Looking for Alaska, the happy version. Both involve a crush on a manic pixie dream girl that turns out to be an actual human (and a disaster).

Since this is Green's book after Looking for Alaska, I can't help but feel this is the remains of him wringing out the last feelings for his lost Lenore. That doesn't mean it's not good. In fact, it's great that it continues the same themes of one of my all-time favorite books -- putting a girl you barely really know on a pedestal. But where LfA was a boarding school book, this is more of a questy mystery.

And this time, there's more of a resolution. Which makes me think the author made a concentrated effort to make Paper Towns more commercial. There's quite a few more characters to keep track of, ones that don't always distinguish themselves in the woodwork. Also, like The Fault in Our Stars, there's a few instances of teenagers doing things they never would. I would love to know what differences Green made in his writing processes for both books. It's lighter and sweeter. Like all the things we wanted to say to Alaska, get said. If you didn't like LfA, you won't like this. But if you liked Abundance of Katherines or TFiOS, you might.



Yes Please by Amy Poehler

I picked this up because A) I liked Bossypants B) it was a top book of 2014 and C) Parks and Recreation is the greatest thing EVER. Start watching it, if you're not. The book follows the same formula/style as Bossypants. There is no linear walkthrough. There's not much about her life before she moved out and started comedic acting. But you do get a nice spread of her life, like an appetizer sampler. It made me think that maybe she's funnier than Tina Fey. And if not, she certainly makes herself out to be more hardworking.

She talks mostly about her professional life. There's a few cute moments about her kids and a snippet or two about what it's like being divorced (but nothing about Will Arnett specifically). But mostly it's about her work, and I think that's because she is her work. She's like Seth Green, she's been working non-stop since she realized what she wanted to be, and it pays dividends.

It's not terribly insightful, and, like the Joss Whedon biography, it focuses on the professional life, but I found it funny and interesting. But I couldn't put it down. I started it on my ski vacation and all I wanted to was come back so I could keep reading (it also helped that my feet were on fire).


Crave: New Adult Sport Romance (The Boys of Winter Book 1) by Victoria Vaughn

Hmm, well what do you say about a novel that's free on the Kindle and features a shirtless man on the cover that looks like Smith Jerrod from "Sex and the City". I read this because I was thinking of writing a romance taking place at a ski resort. But this is not the kind of book I want to write. The biggest problem with the story is that the main character doesn't have a goal. The inciting incident is seeing her boyfriend cheat on her, and she drives off to Colorado because... I don't know.

And that's the problem. These characters don't exist beyond this book. They have no back stories. They didn't exist before and they don't exist after. They have no histories, and thus, no dynamics between each other. The first person narrative also means a lot of thinking and insight into someone who's quite shallow. She has no thoughts other than which and what man is cute. The central storyline (concerning the hunk on the cover) is concluded 3/4 of the way through, which makes the story construction haphazard. I believe there are better books out there.


Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

As wonderful as everyone says it is. Hillenbrand is a great storyteller and should be a leading voice in narrative non-fiction. Even five years later, this book is all over the airport bookstores. I learned more about war from this book than anything by Hemingway or Vonnegut. When you learn about WWII, it's mostly the European theater. The atrocities committed by the Third Reich have no comparison. But after reading this, it makes me think we owe Japan a few more bombings.

I feel like there should be a 1920's Barnum & Bailey poster for this book that says "You will not BELIEVE a man can go through all this and still live to ninety-seven". The man's story writes itself. The true test of any narrative is making the main character suffer, and this man suffered more than most fiction characters. And the story matches star for star.
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