Monthly Archives: December 2014

Review ~ Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography

Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography

Cover via Goodreads

Sick of deeply personal accounts written in the first person? Seeking an exciting, interactive read that puts the “u” back in “aUtobiography”? Then look no further than Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography! In this revolutionary, Joycean experiment in light celebrity narrative, actor/personality/carbon-based life-form Neil Patrick Harris lets you, the reader, live his life. You will be born in New Mexico. You will get your big break at an acting camp. You will get into a bizarre confrontation outside a nightclub with actor Scott Caan. Even better, at each critical juncture of your life, you will choose how to proceed. You will decide whether to try out for Doogie Howser, M.D. You will decide whether to spend years struggling with your sexuality. You will decide what kind of caviar you want to eat on board Elton John’s yacht.

Choose correctly and you’ll find fame, fortune, and true love. Choose incorrectly and you’ll find misery, heartbreak, and a hideous death by piranhas. All this, plus magic tricks, cocktail recipes, embarrassing pictures from your time as a child actor, and even a closing song. Yes, if you buy one book this year, congratulations on being above the American average, but make that book Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography! (via Goodreads)

There is one question to ask when reading an autobiography or memoir: does this person have an interesting story to tell?

Neil Patrick Harris has lived a pretty good life in his first 41 years. He’d probably be the first to admit that. He had a happy childhood, has acted in two hit TV shows*, has been able to pursue his passions for stage acting and magic, and has a great family life. So, what kind of story does Harris have to tell? I kind of imagine he asked the same question. Hence, an autobiography with a twist aimed at Harris’s peers–40 something geeks with an appreciation for the old second person Choose Your Own Adventure books.

As a reader, you can bounce around the chronology of Harris’s life and occasionally meet certain doom! Along the way, there are recipes, magic tricks, and half-(quarter- ?)serious testimonials. Harris’s stories about the industries he’s worked are not revelatory, but they are entertaining. In all, it was a fast, fun read.

*Funny thing, I was never really a Doogie Howser fan and I’ve never watched How I Met Your Mother. My favorite NPH TV show? The short-lived Stark Raving Mad with Tony Shalhoub, even if it did portray a totally unrealistic version of author/editor relationships.

Publishing info, my copy: Crown Publishing Group, Oct 14, 2014, Overdrive Read/Kindle ebook from Tempe Public Library

One note, I read this in electronic form. While both the browser version and the Kindle version were both well linked, it was clumsy moving back and forth through the text. Physical book form is probably more fun.

Genre: Autobiography

Have Yourself a Spooky Little Christmas

The Last of the Spirits-John Leech, 1843

Spooky Tales from Around the Blog-o-sphere

In December, the nights are long and, despite the bright lights of the holidays, thoughts turn to things that go bump in the night. When I was in need of a good tale for a winter evening, my fellow bloggers totally had me covered.

On my own, I finally got around to reading Oscar Wilde’s classic, The Canterville Ghost. I really enjoyed the “meta” aspect of the ghost planning his routines in response to the pragmatic Americans.

…finally, to throw off the winding-sheet, and crawl round the room, with white, bleached bones and one rolling eyeball, in the character of ‘Dumb Daniel, or the Suicide’s Skeleton,’ a role in which he had on more than one occasion produced a great effect, and which he considered quite equal to his famous part of ‘Martin the Maniac, or the Masked Mystery.’

While mostly comedic, the story has some tension too. Can you really trust a ghost?

What Am I Reading?

Conversations with Spirits The Two Sams: Ghost Stories

This week I’m continuing E. O. Higgins’ Conversations with Spirits and I decided on a whim to pull The Two Sams by Glen Hirshberg off the shelf for a reread.

Deal Me In, Week 50 ~ “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” by Edgar Allan Poe

Card picked: Queen of Diamonds

From: http://www.eapoe.org/works/tales/vldmard.htm

Thoughts:  Our narrator, practitioner of mesmerism, decides to try a daring experiment: hypnotize a man at the moment of his death to see if it can be done and to perhaps stave off death. His patient is M. Valdemar, a man who the narrator has mesmerized in the past (although not to the greatest extent possible) and who is dying rather on schedule from tuberculosis. Our narrator succeeds in hypnotizing Valdemar on the moment of his death and keeps this mostly dead man in a trace-like state for seven months until Valdemar pleads for release.

There was no longer the faintest sign of vitality in M. Valdemar; and concluding him to be dead, we were consigning him to the charge of the nurses, when a strong vibratory motion was observable in the tongue. This continued for perhaps a minute. At the expiration of this period, there issued from the distended and motionless jaws a voice — such as it would be madness in me to attempt describing.

But of course Poe does describe it and a whole lot more. This is one of his more gruesome tales. When published, many readers took the story as fact. Poe truthfully, though rather quietly, admitted that the article was a hoax. The sensational aspect probably helped sell copies.

According to Wikipedia, at the time of the publication of “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” Poe’s wife had been suffering from tuberculosis for four years and his older brother had already died of it. The writing was on the wall for Virginia. This mental exercise, concerning a method to postpone death, ends horribly. There’s no cheating death.

Review ~ Not My Father’s Son

Cover via Goodreads

Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming

A beloved star of stage, television, and film, Alan Cumming is a successful artist whose diversity and fearlessness is unparalleled. His success masks a painful childhood growing up under the heavy rule of an emotionally and physically abusive father—a relationship that tormented him long into adulthood.

When television producers in the UK approached him to appear on a popular celebrity genealogy show in 2010, Alan enthusiastically agreed. He hoped the show would solve a family mystery involving his maternal grandfather, a celebrated WWII hero who disappeared in the Far East. But as the truth of his family ancestors revealed itself, Alan learned far more than he bargained for about himself, his past, and his own father. (via Goodreads)

I know I’ve read three of them this year*, but I don’t usually read celebrity memoirs. I’m curious about the business and history of show business, but not really the celebrity aspect of it.

I decided to read Alan Cumming’s memoir because, well, he’s a bit of a character. I wondered what story about his past he had to tell. I presumed it would be something along the lines of what it was like growing up gay in Scotland with a father that was not accepting to the point of being abusive. That is possibly part of the story.

~~Spoilers Ahead~~

Cumming breaks his narrative into three interwoven parts: Then, 2010, and Now. Then is recollections from his childhood. Some are stories of abuse, both mental and physical. Some are happier memories, of his mother and grandmother and his brother Tom, who was not spared abuse. 2010 is about the filming of an episode of Who Do You Think You Are?, a genealogy reality show. During this time, but not related to the show, Cumming’s father reveals that Alan is not his son. This would seem to explain his father’s anger toward the family. Bizarrely, the story is not that straightforward. Juxtaposed with this is the story if his mother’s father, a man who suffered trauma during WWII and was never able to reintegrate into civilian society. Now is the aftermath, several years on.

It is an interesting story, but I felt that the telling sometimes lacked focus. The jumps between time settings didn’t always work for me and I wonder if a more linear telling might not have been better. I never felt the entire weight of Cumming’s past because I was continually being pulled into the world of 2010/now–globetrotting film shoots, hotel amenities, and parties with friends. Regardless, the memoir is a brave one. There are unanswered questions about Cumming’s past. I’m left feeling that this memoir has been part of dealing with those.

*This one, Mindy Kaling’s, which I read earlier in the year, and Neil Patrick Harris’s, which I’ll review next week.

Publishing info, my copy: HarperCollins, Oct 07, 2014, Overdrive Read/Kindle ebook from Tempe Public Library
Genre: Nonfiction, memoir.

Magic Monday ~ Happy Birthday, Georges Méliès

MagicMonday

I like Mondays. On Monday, I am refreshed from the weekend and exhilarated by the possibilities of the week ahead. I also like magic. I like its history, its intersection with technology, and its crafty use of human nature.  I figured I’d combine the two and make a Monday feature that is truly me: a little bit of magic and a look at the week ahead.

My interest in magic is directly related to my fascination with movie special effects. Indeed, my early frustration with magic was that there was no “making-of” videos of David Copperfield’s performances like there was of the Star Wars movies.

So, of course, I have a soft spot in my heart for Georges Méliès. He was a successful stage magician before becoming enthralled by film technology. He used his talents as an illusionist to create some of the earliest special effects. The funny thing is, things don’t change much in 120 years. While Méliès made plenty of “serious” films, it’s the effects filled science fiction and horror films (similar in ingredients to the modern blockbusters) that we’ll remember most fondly.

SmallAce

What Am I Reading?

Finished both Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography and Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming. I can’t think of two more different memoirs; both good in their own way. Off to a great start with Conversations with Spirits by E.O. Higgins.

What Am I Writing?

Will I get past In Need of Luck rewrites this week? …Maybe.

 

Deal Me In, Week 49 ~ “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce

Card picked: Three of Diamonds – A Wild Card

From: Found online at http://fiction.eserver.org/short/occurrence_at_owl_creek.html

Thoughts: Growing up, two of my favorite authors were Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle. Despite this, I have a gaping hole in my literary knowledge when it comes to their contemporaries. Ambrose Bierce would be one of those holes. In the spirit of winter tales, I thought “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” would be an excellent choice for my last wild card of 2014. I was not disappointed.

It’s hard to talk about this story without being spoilery. It’s very tight. Way back in my writing of fiction classes, we talked a lot about putting the right details in a story, especially a short story when economy of words is necessary. The driftwood, the ticking of Farquhar’s watch, these are details in section one that return without being over explained later on in the tale. The events are visceral. For someone like me who has a thing about suffocation *and* water, it was pretty rough going for a few sentences.

To die of hanging at the bottom of a river!–the idea seemed to him ludicrous.

Bierce packs a wallop in a few thousand words.

About the Author: Civil War veteran, journalist, critic, writer, and general agitator, Ambrose Bierce led one heck of a life and, not to be out-done by death, disappeared mysteriously. Once, when in college, I almost bought The Devil’s Dictionary, but put it back because I still had to buy my textbooks. And did you know that Bierce is a character in  the direct-to-video From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter? I have a feeling that my imaginary version of that movie is a lot different than the reality.

Review ~ Soppy

This book was provided to me by Andrews McMeel Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Soppy: A Love Story by Philippa Rice

Cover via Goodreads

The wildly popular web comic SOPPY–with more than half a million notes on Tumblr–is the illustrated love story of author Philippa Rice and her real-life boyfriend. True love isn’t always about the big romantic gestures. Sometimes it’s about sympathizing with someone whose tea has gone cold or reading together and sharing a quilt. When two people move in together, it soon becomes apparent that the little things mean an awful lot. The throwaway moments in life become meaningful when you spend them in the company of someone you love.

SOPPY is Philippa Rice’s collection of comics and illustrations based on real-life moments with her boyfriend. From grocery shopping to silly arguments and snuggling in front of the television, SOPPY captures the universal experience of sharing a life together, and celebrates the beauty of finding romance all around us. (via Goodreads)

From the beginning of November until mid-February, it’s difficult to miss a certain type of TV and radio commercial (at least here in the US). It’s the holiday season and it is assumed that every woman wants not only expensive jewelry as a Thinkgiving/Christmas/New Year/Valentine’s day gift, but the *right* jewelry. Any man foolish enough to not purchase the correct ring/necklace/bracelet/earrings isn’t worthy of the woman’s love. These commercials annoy me because they don’t give either party enough credit. Sure, getting a gift is nice and all, but 99% of being with someone isn’t about the baubles. It is, instead, like Soppy.

Soppy is Philippa Rice’s simple two-color comic.  It’s sweet and quiet and all about those moments that fill living with someone. There’s no hard-fast narrative here, but a reader gets the gist. Two single people with already okay lives meet, court, and move in together. Sometimes thing are great, sometimes they’re not, but the power of pickles and vanilla shakes prevail.

Soppy by Philippa Rice, pg 70

I was unfamiliar with Rice’s online presence. That’s not the case anymore. Soppy is the lovely antithesis of every annoying jewelry commercial that clutters up the holiday season.

Publishing info, my copy: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2014, ePub ARC
Genre: Graphic nonfiction