Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Month in Books: August

August tends to be a pretty busy month at work for me, which also means it tends to be a month when I don't get a lot of reading done. I look at my total every August and sigh, but then I realize that I have read more books in August than some of my friends will this entire year, so I guess there's that. I only finished five books in August, so here they are and here's what I thought about them.

1) Maureen McCormick starts Here's the Story by explaining that not only do people perpetually call her Marcia (usually three times in a row, in Jan's voice), but that people also don't understand that she lived an entire life before and after "The Brady Bunch", and is no longer a teenager. She's not bitter about it, but actually seems to feel bad for fans when they realize that she's older and not the way they remember. She also doesn't pull any punches about the life she's lived after the show, outlining in a pretty matter of fact tone her abortions, freebasing, shoplifting, descent into hoarder-dom, bipolar diagnosis, and eventually pulling herself out of it to win "Celebrity Fit Club". It's an interesting book, but pretty much the whole way through I kept going, "Oh, wow, Marcia Brady," just like one of her other disillusioned fans.

This was a leftover from my month of memoirs in July, and turned out to be one of the better memoirs I read. More than anything else, this book is about the mark that secrets can leave on a family, and how they pass from generation to generation if people are not willing to confront them and try to lay them to rest. This was also the book that people seemed most interested in if they saw me reading in public and asked what I was reading. I guess many people still feel a connection to the Brady Bunch, decades later.

2) I want to find whoever recommended Anthony Breznican's Brutal Youth to me and punch them. The story of a group of new freshmen at St. Michael the Archangel High School trying to survive their year of hazing at the hands of the senior class has some good characters and a decent story, but the hazing perpetrated by the seniors is so over the top and cartoonish that it makes it hard to take any of the rest of this book seriously.

Overall, I'm disappointed that I spent some of my Christmas gift certificates on this and that I spent some of my limited time reading it. There were good character moments, but they were buried in a terrible plot.

3) In Fame Junkies Jake Halpern explores America's obsession with fame and becoming famous. He goes to acting school, modeling conventions, a course in how to become a celebrity assistant, a home for aspiring child actors and their guardians, to casting agencies, and finally (and sadly) to a retirement home for actors. Along the way, he introduces us to agents, modeling scouts, aspiring child stars, pushy parents and to all of the psychological studies dealing with social interaction and narcissism that help to explain why we feel like we know celebrities and why so many people are willing to sacrifice everything just to be one. This was interesting, but ultimately kind of sad.

The response of people to this book, like Maureen McCormick's book up above, was interesting. If I said I was reading a book about the public's fascination with celebrities, people usually smirked, rolled their eyes, or said something about me reading garbage. If I said I was reading a book about the effects of obsession and personal narcissism, though, people tended to ask followup questions, even though the book was ultimately about both things. It made me wonder if Halpern had difficulty convincing people that he was participating in actual research and scholarship while working on this, or if they just dismissed it as Hollywood trash.

4) Brood, the sequel to Chase Novak's Breed, picks up the story of twins Alice and Adam right where the last book left off. Conceived through a radical, illegal fertility treatment in Eastern Europe, Alice and Adam watched their parents devolve into cannibalistic monsters and now, as they approach puberty, the twins greet the changes in their own bodies with growing horror. Meanwhile, around the city, the other children of former patients run wild through the parks at night, chasing, hunting, and trying to survive as a sinister drug company tracks them down. Do the children hold the secrets to youth and vitality, or are they doomed to become the same kind of monsters as their parents?

This seemed incomplete, even for a sequel, but I haven't seen a third book announced.

5) For years now we've been viewing urban disaster ruin porn of Detroit, and Mark Binelli has a chapter about that in Detroit City is the Place to Be, but he also does a really good job of going beyond that, and presenting a well researched story of the rise, fall, and possible rise again of Detroit over the course of decades. A native of the city who moved back to write this, he gives a personal touch to the locations of iconic events as he tours the current city of Detroit, walking the reader through the politics, economics, and social causes of the collapse of a great American metropolis.

The author tried to end this on an optimistic note, but he did such a good job of outlining all of the ways in which Detroit has been slowly failing for almost three quarters of a century that by the end I was starting to think that maybe some of the people were right, and we should just tear down all of the abandoned buildings and let nature take over.

Honorable Mention: I'm not counting this in my book tally, but I spent 20 minutes this month reading A Confederate Flag Turned Me Gay, a Kindle novella of the (hopefully small) gay Confederate erotica genre. My friend Rod suggested I read this, and I figured it might be worth blogging about, but it was no A Gronking to Remember. It wasn't funny. I was mostly just bored.

I'm not really sure how to wrap this up after that last book, so I guess I'll just say that I have no theme for September. I'm just reading whatever as I continue trying to get books out of the apartment.

"Whatever" will not gay Confederate flag erotica, though.

I think I've read enough of that.

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