I often avoid reviewing a Book Club book before our discussion to save what I have to say until the conversation, or because I’m not sure what I want to say and am hoping the discussion will help clarify it for me. When I do review ahead of time I find myself leaving amorphous reviews without much substance, reviews that I look back on and think, but what did I really get out of that reading experience?
I’m hoping not to fall into either camp with Good Omens. I’ve read a bit of both
Pratchett and Gaiman’s solo works and on the whole am a fan of both, so when
the time came around to read this book I wasn’t worried about liking it, and my
faith in my understanding of the writers’ styles and my affection for them wasn’t
misplaced. I did enjoy this book. I enjoyed it even as I clocked the things
about it that I didn’t like, that show just how far both these authors grew,
and how our understanding about how to exist in the world without doing harm to
others has grown.
I love a story of friendship, a narrative built around an adventure that isn’t just the hero’s journey (lord save me from pointless hero’s journey tales) and Good Omens delivers on that in spades. Its also a very telling satire on the human condition and how we interact with the larger forces of the universe, however we choose to define them. Its far from perfect, and I’m sure we’ll get into that in a few days during the #CannonBookClub discussion, but for right now I’m just going to luxuriate in the fact that the book exists at all as a testament to friendship, both on the page and behind it.
This book was read and reviewed (and book club mavened) as part of the chartiable Cannonball Read, where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money for the American Cancer Society.
I read a decent amount of non-fiction in my life, so Cannonball Read’s June Book Club book, Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We Learned from Eighties Movies was right up my alley. I also really enjoy the process, the lore, and the production decisions surrounding Hollywood and the film industry, which is why I decided to skew our non-fiction selections a certain way.
I liked this book fine, but I think Hadley Freeman (while an accomplished writer) had quite a few missteps, which prevented me from rating this anything above three stars. Freeman attempts to explain how the big movies of the 80s (which is a VERY broad starting point) are worthy of study and teach us something. She also discusses the ways in which the process of film production and marketing have changed the quality and type of movies we see. All in 300 pages.
It’s too much. Freeman’s scope prevents her from putting together a detailed looks at her chosen movie subjects, and by adhering to the “lessons taught” subtitle Freeman ends up with chapters which do not argue the point she is trying to make. There are two chapters in particular which drive home the weaknesses of the book to me: the Ghostbusters chapter and the Eddie Murphy chapter.
The Ghostbusters chapter doesn’t actually prove her point in its duration. The lesson that Freeman ascribes to the movie is “How to Be a Man”, which is honestly not even a lesson I think is accurate to the movie in the first place. But Freeman spends time wandering on and on about Top Gun (perhaps the movie she should have built this chapter around) and fails to make even the most basic connection to Ghostbusters and the lesson. In fact, in quoting Bill Murray, Freeman stumbles across the movie’s likely lesson: that friendship which doesn’t depend on misogyny or insecurity is the root of its long term appeal (139). And in a way this leads to her argument of an idealized sort of masculinity that’s neither patrician nor man-boy. Just funny and warm but she doesn’t actually connect the dots.
The other troublesome chapter, to me, is the one about Eddie Murphy. Not because of what she is discussing, the way in which the Hollywood machine functions on tokenism, but the fact that she doesn’t pick a single movie to highlight and even more egregiously, she saves this for the final chapter. If Hadley had structured her book differently, and moved this broader chapter to the beginning and used it to highlight the issues, we see in the other movies she discusses it would have served the book better and made Freeman look more in tune with the critiques she is attempting.
Other random thoughts:
- Pretty in Pink is NOT BETTER THAN THE BREAKFAST CLUB.
- The “perfect” aesthetic. Who else missed people looking like people on the big screen?
- It is still so rare for a movie to be focused on the female gaze.
- About Dirty Dancing: “It is nothing new for a women’s movie – or book, or TV show – to be dismissed by male film critics as frothy nothingness” (24)We have seen this so recently with Big Little Lies
- The Princess Bride becomes more than a RomCom because it’s a multilayered look at love, particularly in the story lines of Fezzik and Inigo: good people sometimes do bad things, but are still good, have stories of their own, and are capable of love (49)
- Woody Allen has always been gross.
- In When Harry Met Sally, Sally doesn’t perform any of the three usual tasks of women in RomComs – pine desperately for the man, make the man grow up by being a nagging shrew, or be liberated from her frigid bitchiness (95)
- We cannot bear as a society that each generation being more successful than the last by seeming guarantee is over (Ferris Bueller wouldn’t be made now).
- We haven’t had a classic womens movie since the 90s: Fried Green Tomatoes and A League of Their Own. The Help doesn’t count since it deals in the whites solving racism trope (171) they have instead been replaced by negative sisterhood movies
- Parents in teen films have evolved as teens have from someone to be aspired to, to someone to be distanced from, to sentimentalized, but in the 80s good films captured parental figures as flawed, honest people.
This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.
Normally I have my Cannonball book picked out in advance. I know what my goal book is for the big reviews. 2016 hasn’t really worked out that way, so as I was packing my bags for a quick 48-hour trip to visit my family I had just finished book 51 and knew the next one would be *the* cannonball book. I of course grabbed Cannonball Book Club’s pick, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.
Can I just say that you all rocked this choice? It was great.
It’s my policy to do pretty vague/non-spoiler reviews of book club choices. Know that I really loved this book and it made my nearly 5-hour flight delay bearable (I probably finished this book in three hours). Junior is great, Alexie writes him with such clarity, honesty, and truth. And in turn, Junior is able to relate a year in the life to us in precise, genuine, and emotional ways that suck you in. Also, it includes one of my favorite things… a list of favorite books (even if I worry about Junior’s taste).
Here’s a summary for those of you still on the fence: Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, based on the author’s own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by Ellen Forney chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from one life and replace it with another.
The discussion topics and reminder post will go up later this week and we’ll meet over at Cannonball Read on September 1 to chat about the book.
This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.