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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Live From New York!

So I was really late to the party on this one, but thankfully my mom saved me (Thanks Mom!) when she suggested I read it.

The book is written based on hours and hours of interviews with the producers, executives, writers, stars and guest hosts of the show from the very beginning through the 2002 season. While there is a lot of often-tread material on some aspects of the show (surprise! Chis Farley idolized Jim Belushi) there is far more that will be a complete surprise to the reader. Breakdowns of the actually process by which the show comes together (or doesn't) every week, a certain amount of dishy detail on certain stars and guests (you'll likely either dislike Chevy Chase by the end of this book or just feel very sorry for him) and finally the candid details of Lorne Michaels' departure and return to the show.  Only Eddie Murphy refused to be interviewed for the book (which is its own interesting set of stories.)

The writers, who act more as curators, step back and really let the stories be told with a minimum of editorial guidance. Often three perspectives on the same situation are offered in one page, all conflicting somewhat. This is one of the best things about this book. Reading it is like being at a giant, multi-generational family reunion where all the cousins are trying to tell you the same story, all contributing little bits of it, filling in gaps in the narrative left by others, and talking all at once. The interviewees are candid too, elevating the book above the level of a sentimental retrospective.

While I found the book absolutely absorbing, the part I found the most enjoyable was the final section of the book, entirely concerned with Lorne Michaels. Almost every story is in the book is about his in some way, but in the final section the interviewees really bring home the point that without this one person , SNL could never have existed.

This book is not for readers who don't like SNL to begin with, but an absolute must-read for everyone else.

Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live as Told by its Stars, Writers and Guests by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller, Hachette, 2002

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent is a futuristic fantasy adventure in the style of Hunger Games, written for teens (but definitely a great choice for adult readers as well.) Beatrice is a 16 year old girl who lives in Abnegation. Like the other factions of the giant, closed city she lives in Abnegation is a group comprised of people who live their entire lives in service to a concept. The groups are Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Erudite (the intelligent), Candor (the honest) and Amity (the peaceful).   The world Tris lives in is closed off with fences (policed only by the Dauntless) and as a member of Abnegation (the only faction that is allowed to hold governmental power) it would be selfish of her to even wonder at what lies beyond the fences. Members of Abnegation (known to some of he other faction as Stiffs) also do not look in mirrors, wear jewelry, show an inappropriate (read: any) amount of skin or ask questions unless being spoken to. At the age of 16 two important things happen to every citizen: they are tested to see which group they most belong with, and they chose for themselves which group they will spend the rest of their lives with. Of course I can't tell you what group Beatrice chooses but you can probably guess that this is the starting point of her adventures.

Beatrice (or Tris as she becomes known) is a wonderfully strong female character, and this is where the inevitable Hunger Games comparisons come from. She and Katniss would be great friends if their paths ever crossed. (Or they would beat the heck out of each other) She is, like Katniss, very physical and willing to rely on her own instincts when she is in new situations. At the same time, she is not a Katniss clone. She is more physical and less cerebral, although she is by no means stupid. She is definitely a little more level-headed when it comes to love. Tris is also honestly possessing of a little bit of a death wish. I felt like that recklessness propelled her story line almost as much as her conscious decisions about her life.  And of course Tris is going through a philosophical coming-of-age, which all teens do, albeit not in the context of a back-and-white ideological framework.  Not wanting to give away too much information about the plot, I still think it's safe to point out that a lot of the conflict in the book comes from the friction between philosophies (and the natural friction between groups in any society) and that Tris ends up having to carefully examine everything she was taught and everything she believes, with very real and final consequences to her decisions. There is a lesson about absolutism, and the end of the book (the first in a trilogy) hints at a much wider world opening up in the next book. (My hope is that the second book will begin outside the fences) And, of course, there is a romance (sweet and dramatic) and hints at a much richer family history that Beatrice imagined at the start of the story.

I'm looking forward to the next two books in the series, and highly recommend the first book to any teen lit fans (I'd suggest this one for ages 13 and up because of a few moderately violent scenes and some graphic imagery.)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Potterverse Expands again?

No one is sure what the big announcement is going to be, but JK Rowling launched a countdown site on YouTube ( http://www.youtube.com/JKRowlingAnnounces ) and at the same time the site was touted by two audiobook websites. The audio versions of the books are already out there, and Jim Dale is pretty universally recognized as a narration master, so what could it be?

I'm curious to hear your predictions on this...The owls are gathering.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Who is your literary BFF?

Check out this post: Pick Your Literary BFF , and then come back and tell me in the comments who you would want to pal around with.

Here's my list:

Lisbeth Salander (Millennium Trilogy)
Schmendrik the Magician (The Last Unicorn)
Death (Sandman)
Vin (Mistborn)
Encyclopedia Brown

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Nerd Do Well by Simon Pegg

Nerd Do Well [Book]

Simon Pegg's Nerd Do Well is a humorous (of course) memoir of his formative years and the events and artists that influence his work to this day. While it's easy for a memoir written by a professional writer to feel forced, Pegg uses the same wink-and-nod at the audience techniques that he often employs in his TV and movie work to make the readers feel that while they may be experiencing a performance rather than a confession, the performance is to an audience of one.

Pegg clearly knows that he is very lucky to be a grown-up working with the people he idolized as a child, and of course there is a decent amount of "can you believe I'm really here?" sentiment as he recounts working with George Romero or walking on to the set of Star Trek as the new incarnation of Scotty. It's the memoir of a fellow fan as much as it is the story of a successful artist, and this is what makes this book so infectiously joyful. Pegg is clearly satisfied in the extreme over how everything has turned out and wants to both share that joy and show how fate conspired to repeatedly help him find the people he needed in his life.

Before you start to think this is the touchy-feely memoir of the year, I have to mention the story interspersed between memoir chapters. It's sci-fi meets Bond flick and it features one Simon Pegg, international man of sexy, sexy mystery and also of guns and space ships. Assisted by his trusty robot butler sidekick, Pegg wrights wrongs, aims inside jokes at readers and references his own memoir in humorous ways. I found it to be a bid disruptive of the flow of the memoir, but read at the end all in one go it was perfect.  Other highlights of the book include a shot-by-shot breakdown of the opening title of Starsky & Hutch (demonstrating the heterosexual man-love balance the show maintained) and a short and hilarious script written for Yoda, Obi-Wan and others after the death of Annakin and the birth of Darth Vadar. 

Nerd Do Well will be available in July of 2011.