Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

A Backlog of Book Reviews

Over the past week, I've read a bunch of books for no reason related to anything I'm getting graded on. All but the first one were on the plane back and forth this weekend, so don't think I stay up nights reading books not for class (or books for class, but that's another story...), because I usually don't. Though maybe I should. Anyway:

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart presents: America (The Book)

Funny stuff. It's formatted like a grade school American history textbook, only it spoofs the genre and turns everything into a joke. It's not a book in the sense of a narrative and a plot and that stuff. It's a collection of sketch material themed around American history, surely pieced together from the work of a whole bunch of contributors, into a cohesive whole. And it works. The main text is a history of the world, with much focus on the U.S. "Athens: Our Big Fat Greek Forerunners." That should give you a sense. This main text is well-crafted, often chuckle-worthy, and, especially the footnotes, worth reading. But it's the weak link. Peppered throughout the book -- like any other grade school textbook -- are sidebars and features and pictures and boxes and graphs and asides... and that's where the book really works well. A guide to democracy, a presidential board game, a Supreme Court, uh, well, words will spoil it. Boxes by correspondents Ed Helms and Samantha Bee are probably the funniest repeating features. The Election 2004 supplement in the back is worth reading first. Good book. Worth my $16 (30% off the cover price at Barnes and Noble, and probably elsewhere). Could have been really dumb and pointless. Wasn't.

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris

This is a book of funny personal essays, like Sedaris's previous bunch of books. I read "Me Talk Pretty One Day," his previous book, and I liked it. His others have been sitting on my Amazon wish list for while (I use the Amazon wish list feature to store things I want to get from the library or wait until they're $3 used or something... it's a great little tool Amazon's got there, honestly) but I hadn't made much effort to find them. After reading this one... and I know his book is selling really well and getting good reviews, but my honest reaction here... I removed his others from the wish list. I've had enough. It didn't do it for me. I have a pattern -- holds true for TV, movies, books. I like stuff when I can identify with a character, when I like a character, when I wish I knew them for real, whether it's the author of a book, or the lead in a movie, or whatever. I don't enjoy stuff, even if it's well-written, where I don't like the characters. Other people don't have this issue. I find that I do. That said, I don't find myself rooting for David Sedaris. I don't find myself caring what happens in his stories. And I really don't find myself all that amused. "Me Talk Pretty One Day" I enjoyed. For whatever reason, this one I didn't. I read the whole book, but kept looking for a spark, something to remind me why I wanted to read it. But it didn't do it for me. I don't know. You probably disagree. I'm okay with that.

Prime Times, edited by Douglas Bauer

This is a book of essays about television. The editor solicited pieces from a couple dozen working writers -- Nick Hornby and Nora Ephron are probably the two best-known -- about some aspect of TV. Favorite show past or present covers most of them; there are a few genre pieces too, like about civil rights on TV, or infomercials. The book, like any book of essays by different writers, lives and dies on the efforts of its contributors. There were some magically brilliant pieces in here. And there were some I skipped. One overall frustration was that the essays about shows I wasn't particularly familiar with -- Hawaii 5-0, The Twilight Zone, Big Valley -- I didn't give much of a chance to. I couldn't get grabbed. I didn't have the needed background to understand and feel the piece. But here's what I loved: Nick Hornby's piece on The West Wing is very good. Elizabeth McCracken's defense of America's Funniest Home Videos is extremely well-done, and wasn't a piece I thought I'd like but it ended up as one of my favorites. Phyllis Rose's piece on Survivor is superb. Susan Perabo's piece on Days of Our Lives, a show I've never seen, is fantastic. Those are the first 4 in the book. The editor knew what he was doing, because they never returned to that level, at least not consistently. Jill McCorkle's piece on The Andy Griffith Show is good. Susan Cheever's piece on Father Knows Best is a fine read. Stephen McCauley's piece about infomercials is great. Nora Ephron's piece on the Mary Tyler Moore Show is short but fine. Richard Bausch's piece on The Dick Van Dyke Show is excellent. I've listed more than half the book, so we've got a collection worth reading here. But the best one -- David Shields' piece on Monday Night Football, but, more than that, an essay about his childhood, is the book's masterpiece, and I've never seen an entire football game and couldn't care less. It makes me want to know him, and that's the highest praise I can possibly give an author, I think. It makes me want to read his books. And, oddly enough, when I looked in the back at his bio, I realized I own two of them. They're not recent enough that I remember anything about them -- I'm sure I picked them up at a discount book store for a dollar or two at some point along the way, because they looked interesting at first glance -- but it tells me at least I'm consistent. Good essay. Inspired me to write the piece I wrote this week for a creative writing workshop I'm in at school, actually. Good book.

Letters from Law School: The Life of a Second-Year Law Student by Lawrence Dieker

This is a book from 4 years ago that attempts to pick up where Scott Turow left off and chronicle the second year of law school. It's not a very good book. I'm sorry. I'm sure the author is a very nice man and I don't mean to hurt his feelings. But it didn't do it for me. The author writes at the front that the characters are all conglomerations and so forth. But goes one step too far: he changes his own name. So not even his own details are real. Or are they? Who knows. And, frankly, who cares? The book is obsessed with chronicling his stream of rejection letters from law firms. Getting a job is hard. Gotcha. He doesn't have enough interesting interview stories, and so we're just left with him wondering if he'll get an offer from the firm he worked at 1L summer. And wondering. And wondering. He writes on to a journal. He goes to some classes. He talks to his wife. He agonizes over having to ask a friend if he could borrow his class notes (making it into so much bigger of a deal than it really is, seriously). He's not as insane as Scott Turow, but he's not enjoying life, and he's not particularly insightful about the process or about life as a law student. It adds very little to the genre. Unfortunately.

Two more books I read, but they're going to get longer treatment from me in the next couple of days. One because I'm writing a review for the law school paper. The other because it really struck a chord and I want to devote more thought and space to it. But I hope these were worth a little bit.