Monday, February 01, 2016

Coreyography, by Corey Feldman

Coreyography: A Memoir, by Corey Feldman

All I really knew about Corey Feldman before reading his memoir was I liked several of his early movies —Gremlins, The Goonies, Stand By Me, and my favorite, The Lost Boys — and like many child stars, he fell into a well-publicized spiral of drug abuse and unfounded arrogance. After reading Coreyography, though, Feldman comes across as a somewhat tragic figure. Yes, drug abuse is self-inflicted and not usually worthy of much empathy, but abusive parents and sexual molestation make the descent into addiction somewhat understandable, an escape from what must have been a horrible reality. His father was largely absent in Feldman's earliest days, leaving him in the care of his untreated schizophrenic mother and a family that looked at him like a paycheck rather than a person. Later, when his father returned to run his career, an assistant hired by his dad began molesting Feldman, starting a cycle of exploitation that lasted for years and included a couple of half-hearted suicide attempts. When Corey turned 15 he legally emancipated himself from his family, but he had already been introduced to cocaine and sadly found himself with his only adult role model being his friend Michael Jackson. Jackson was still a few years out from his own downfall, but still a long way from what I'd call a positive influence. Two failed marriages and a couple of stints in rehab later, Feldman appears to have gotten his life together and the book ends on a hopeful note, Feldman bonding with his son. This is a surprisingly personal and revealing memoir; I'd expected braggadocio and rationalizations, but instead got an honest look back over an amazingly unhappy life.

First Sentence:
I am three years old, sitting at the small round breakfast table in our tiny kitchen, eyeing a half-open box of cereal.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

So, Anyway..., by John Cleese

So, Anyway..., by John Cleese

John Cleese is hilarious. Anyone that has seen him perform (Monty Python, Fawlty Towers are the best known) has seen his genius, but this memoir shows his true talent is writing. He covers his life from his earliest days right up to the forming of Python; while this is fascinating, it was a bit disappointing as well. Of course I'd love to hear the stories behind one of the funniest shows I've ever seen, but understand that could probably fill an entire book by themselves and that wasn't the issue. The disappointing part was the hints at his life after 1969 that we don't get to see. For instance, Cleese mentions three wives, but is still married to his first throughout the text. That nit aside, this is still a great read.

Cleese has always been known for farce, but I always found his humor very sharp as well, and his wit and wisdom come off well here. I especially appreciated his take on religion: "All the vital questions have been dumped in favour of half-baked, po-faced rituals which are basically a form of middle-class rain dance. Still, it did give me the chapel scene in The Meaning of Life." Cleese nails political correctness as well, saying it "may have started as a kind intention, but was soon hijacked and taken ad absurdum by a few individuals without any sense of proportion—which means, by definition, that they are without any sense of humour either." He believes that if political correctness existed in his early career at the same level it does today, much of the comedy he wrote wouldn't have seen the light of day. Makes you wonder how many laughs we are missing now because comedians are hampered by society's race to mental austerity...

First Sentence:
I made my first public appearance on the stairs up to the school nurse's room, at St. Peter's Preparatory School, Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, England, on September 13, 1948.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Crashed, by Timothy Hallinan

Crashed, by Timothy Hallinan

Junior Bender is the next in a long line of quirky criminals with a heart of gold. Okay, so heart of gold is a stretch, but Junior is a cross between Dave Robicheaux and Bernie Rhodenbarr with a dash of Spenser thrown in. The plot follows a wide range of shady characters, with the main thread finding Junior blackmailed by a dirty cop into finding a saboteur on a porn set starring a fallen child TV star. The mystery drives the action, but I sometimes miss the old Agatha Christie style where the clues are there for the reader to solve right along with the detective. Crashed follows the more modern style where the hero figures everything out using an observation he keeps to himself. The adventure is the thing, though, and this book delivers that in spades! This initial volume in the series is quite good and I'll be looking for the second soon.

First Sentence:
If I'd liked impressionism, I might have been okay.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Moon Maze Game, by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes

The Moon Maze Game, by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes

This novel is set about seventy years in our future, by which time we have several established colonies on the moon, regularly mine the asteroid belt, and Hilton maintains a hotel in Earth's orbit. This era gives the authors easy humor targets, such as the tale of a battle during the Second Canadian War where a US base was ambushed and should have been lost, but the Canuck soldiers didn't secure the showers and were overtaken by a bunch of naked GIs. Sadly these moments are the best parts of the book; the plot was middling at best and the characters one-dimensional—which takes some doing as much of the time they are themselves playing other roles in a giant LARP. Uneven but entertaining, this is a good afternoon read but not one that is going to provoke a lot of thought.

First Sentence:
Botanica was a medium-sized crater, recently sealed to hold an atmosphere of oxygen baked from lunar rock and nitrogen imported from the Aeros asteroid.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Paris: The Novel, by Edward Rutherfurd

Paris: The Novel, by Edward Rutherfurd

This is the history of Paris told through they eyes of six fictional families between 1261 and 1968. The types of families are well chosen to give a cross section of society through history: the de Cygnes are aristocrats and royalists, the Le Sourds are socialists and revolutionaries, the Gascons are craftsmen and laborers, the Renards are Protestants, the Blanchards are Catholics, and the Jacobs are Jewish. These characters are injected into and around a huge number of important events, such as the Paris Commune and the Terror, the construction of the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower, the Avignon Papacy, Vichy France, the Dreyfus Affair and the rocky history of Jews in France, and Catholicism versus Protestantism and the Edicts of Nantes and Fointainbleau. Each chapter is set in a different era but they don't appear in chronological order, instead bouncing from 1875 to 1462 to 1907 and so on. As the narrative follows the same families through successive generations this can be somewhat confusing at times, especially as some use the same given names over and over—for example, there are three separate Roland de Cygnes that take the stage in various eras. This drawback is minor though, and doesn't dramatically detract from what is overall a compelling and illuminating story.

First Sentence:
Paris.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Tough Sh*t, by Kevin Smith

Tough Sh*t: Life Advice from a Fat, Lazy Slob Who Did Good, by Kevin Smith

I like Kevin Smith's work; from Clerks to Green Arrow to Daredevil I find him both clever and funny. There are several autobiographical stories in Tough Sh*t—many of which are covered in more detail elsewhere—such as Smith's feud with Bruce Willis and the arrogance of Southwest Airlines. In and around the vignettes Smith weaves in advice for how to approach life. The guidance is often odd, such as where he compares the odds of a single sperm fertilizing an egg and creating a human being to self-actualization: "Remind them they've already beaten the odds, so the existence that follows is merely a victory lap to do with as they please." A phrase I found less specious and much more thoughtful occurs a little later in the chapter: "In the face of such hopelessness as our eventual, unavoidable death, there is little sense in not at least trying to accomplish all your wildest dreams in life." Smith's trademark humor and irreverence come through loud and clear throughout this short but entertaining read.

First Sentence:
I am a product of Don Smith's balls.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Company Man, by Joseph Finder

Company Man, by Joseph Finder

This is a mediocre thriller about a small-town CEO, Nicholas Conover, caught in a cover-up for killing his stalker. The plot is fairly predictable, until we get to the surprisingly optimistic ending which seems massively unrealistic. Coupled with one-note characters (the misunderstood executive, the religious cop, the shifty security chief, the troubled son, etc.) this is a wholly unsatisfying book.

First Sentence:
The office of the chief executive officer of the Stratton Corporation wasn't really an office at all.

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