WHAT THE BOOK IS ABOUT: Everyone who reads this blog knows that when it comes to books I’m very slutty with my heart.
So sometimes it’s hard for me to effectively communicate how much I love a book
“No, I know I said I loved Book A, because I did, I do,” I explain. “But I’m, like IN love with Book B. And Book C is my soulmate. And I’ve known and loved Book D through all my past lives.”
“How can a book have past lives?” the person who is listening to me talk asks me.
“Franzen’s FREEDOM is obviously a bangarang reincarnation of Tolstoy’s ANNA KARENINA, next dumb question please,” I reply.
So today I’m telling you about one of the best pieces of non-fiction I’ve read, period, ever. One of my soulmate books, which was a lot like a real life soulmate in that all my friends kept telling me I had to read this book and I was like “Okay, okay, okay, fine, I’ll meet him” and I did and it was basically an EXPLOSION OF CARTOON HEARTS.
RANDOM FAMILY by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc. Go, go, go Synopsis Gadget!
In RANDOM FAMILY: LOVE, DRUGS, TROUBLE AND COMING OF AGE IN THE BRONX, author LeBlanc spends ten years following, researching,and interviewing the hub of a young Latino community in the Bronx – beautiful and vivacious Jessica, Jessica’s boyfriend, charismatic and troubled Boy George (not that Boy George, a different Boy George with a much more tragic life story) Jessica’s brother Cesar, an aspiring gangster, Cesar’s on-again, off-again girlfriend, overly-generous Coco, and all of the people that satellite around their lives.
And what lives they are. These teenagers bounce back and forth between the highs of the drug dealing industry, the lows of welfare, the girls each have multiple children by different fathers, three out of the four main characters do extended stints in jail, it’s intense. That’s not even getting into the evictions, health disasters, domestic violence and child abuse. So I guess it would be more fair to say that it’s preposterously intense. And preposterously engrossing. And, despite the video game obstacles of their lives, preposterously inspiring.
On the back of the book, a blurb from the LA Times deems this book “A nonfiction MIDDLEMARCH of the underclass.” I get this description, being one of twelve people on the planet who has read MIDDLEMARCH (the other eleven being my Dad and ten suck-up English majors.)
I think this book is much more like a Ghetto Fiddler on the Roof. You get it now, right? Everyone’s seen someone’s sixth grade production of that musical.
This book weaseled its way into my aeortas and arteries not just because it’s phenomenal immersion journalism. It’s also because people like Jessica, George, Cesar and Coco are a part of my autobiography. No, I didn’t grow up at-risk. I grew up the opposite of at-risk. But for the past four years, I’ve been teaching creative writing to pregnant and parenting teen girls in Compton/Inglewood. That’s the Los Angeles version of the Bronx. Also, this year, I started teaching film to public school students in South Central. That’s the other Los Angeles version of the Bronx.
(Los Angeles has a lot of versions of the Bronx.)
I don’t say these things to try to trick you into thinking I’m Jaime Escalante from STAND AND DELIVER, or even Hil Swank from that shitty movie she did to try to win a third Oscar because apparently two were not enough. I’m just saying that I have experience with this subset of our population. I’m just saying that RANDOM FAMILY beautifully described the tragedy, the dignity, and the soul of this community.
WHAT KIND OF BOYFRIEND HE IS: A high-profile heroin dealer that gets me pregnant with four kids and cheats on me a lot and then goes to jail for fifteen years. But he’s a really good kisser. So I’m not going to say it all evens out. Because it doesn’t. I’m just saying I have a super-fucked up relationship with a lot of good kissing in it. That’s allowed.
MY DATE WITH RANDOM FAMILY:
We chillax on my couch.
Thug life, gangster pride.
You can tell I’m not a real gangster because my hoodie is yellow.
WHAT THE BOOK IS ABOUT– I reviewed Kate Christensen’s published-this-summer novel THE ASTRAL in August and it was so compulsively readable I was like “Kate Christensen, I am setting a date to have a steamy-hot car-scene-in-Titanic hookup with another one of you books in the near future and that is that.”
Question: If you’re going to have a spending-more-time-in-bed-than-out-of-it fling with a book by an author you heart to pieces, do you go big-or-go-home with the next book, reading the work the author won her PEN-FAULKNER award for?
Answer: Of course you read that book. Stop asking stupid questions. Your elementary school principal was wrong, there are stupid questions and that was one of them.
So there you are with a paperback copy of A GREAT MAN. Look how sexy that cover is with the naked legs that are shaved and moisturized and everything.
Synopsis Gadget, go, go, go! So the story’s “Great Man” in question is renowned figurative painter Oscar Feldman, whom we find out on the first page of the book, via newspaper article, has recently passed away at the age of 78. Note. I really like newspaper articles in novels. I know they’re a pretty obvious way for authors to quickly unload themselves of awkward exposition so they can get their dramatic universe set up and then get about to the showing-not-telling. I can see the man behind the curtain with this device and I don’t care, I will always think it’s the funnest.
Oscar is survived by his dutiful wife Abigail, their autistic, in-his-own-world son Ethan, and his sister Maxine, a well known abstract painter who was never nearly as well known as her brother Oscar, which pissed her off all his life, as it still does now in his death. He’s also survived by his super- La-Vie-Boheme longtime mistress Teddy St. Cloud and their two daughters.
The novel kicks off with two very different biographers simultaneously deciding to tell Mr. Feldman’s story. As these two men pinball back and forth between the women of his life, Abigail, Maxine, and Teddy take over the novel and we see that these ladies are far more fascinating than the man whose biography is being written . Then a secret that has been covered up for years unexpectedly reemerges and thoroughly knots up the already complicated web of relationships.
This book is about old women, biographers, and modern art. This combination sounds like it should be collecting dust in the Dewey Decimal system somewhere. Instead it’s sharp as a steak knife, magnetically compelling, and I’m just going to say it, the literary equivalent of amphetamines. This is the PERFECT read if you want to dive into a book that is whoa-crazy-smart but not Dosteovsky’s THE BROTHER’S KARAMAZOV or Proust’s IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME.
WHAT KIND OF BOYFRIEND IS HE?– A supes-famous artist who takes you to lots of parties where there is free champagne and cheese. He paints you naked a lot. He does other things naked to you a lot. Funnest times! But he also cheats on you, like all the time, and doesn’t even try to be a good dickbag boyfriend and hide the evidence, he’s completely open about having children with two other women. You get mad. But then he’s like “I’ll paint you naked?” And you’re like (very begrudgingly) “O-kayyyyy.”
MY DATE WITH “A GREAT MAN”-
He’s going to draw me! (With my clothes on, what kind of blog do you think this is?)
Drawing, drawing, drawing.
Hey, you made me look fat!
QUICK NOTE: A lot of you guys know I’m writing for Book Riot now. Such a good website for reading nerds. This past week I wrote about feeling sorry for Dracula and embarrassing Ken Follett. Ch-ch-check it!
WHAT THE BOOK IS ABOUT:
In a 2010 episode of the crazy-beloved radio program THIS AMERCAN LIFE, there is a segment that explores what happens when the rent on a self storage unit goes unpaid. The contents of the unit go up for auction. The thing is, you aren’t allowed to go inside the unit and see what you are actually bidding on. The most you are allowed to do is shine a flashlight inside the unit and guess the value of the property and its contents. Sometimes you guess right, and you wind up with a storage unit filled with treasure maps, magic wands, and time machines. Sometimes you guess wrong and you end up with shit. Not “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” shit. Just pure, objective shit.
Today, I am just stupid-excited to bring you guys Susan Orlean’s RIN TIN TIN, a self storage unit of a book that is stuffed with pure, solid gold. There are barrels full of precious gems. Racks upon racks of fancy furs. Also, everything is covered in magic pixie dust. And the hardcover retails at twenty-seven bucks, while the e-reader version is going for thirteen. Steal!
RIN TIN TIN: THE LIFE AND THE LEGEND tells the story of the dog, the myth, the legend “Yo Rinny” himself, from his World War I battlefield beginnings through his twin silent film and mid-century television careers on into the current world of nostalgia and memorabilia shows. The book, of course, follows the many dogs that played the character, which is the greatest of fun, because dogs are the greatest of fun.
Unless you don’t like dogs. Or don’t have a soul. Which are of course, exactly the same thing.
Still, the juicy-best parts of the book deal with the humans in Rin Tin Tin’s life, and how they use the character for their own personal gain. It’s like a Hollywood Dog Gold Rush, and you watch the madness unfold with your jaw halfway to the floor. The Legend of Rin Tin Tin attracts a menagerie of unhinged personalities, and seeing these wayward souls race around the pages of this book makes for staying-up-two-hours-after-you-promised-yourself-you-would-go-to-bed reading.
This book is stuffed-to-bursting with the literary equivalents of treasure maps and time machines. Day-to-day life in World War I. Silent-Movie-Era Hollywood. The first real decade of American television. The changing relationship between humans and canines over the course of the past century. And at the center of it all, Orlean’s life-long relationship with the legend.
I did have one significant problem with book, and this is it: Susan Orlean, you made me really, really, really want a German Shepherd. And I really, really, really cannot have a German Shepherd. My living situation rental is strictly “No Pets.” And while it may be possible to stowaway a tea cup poodle, there’s no way I can hide a Rin Tin Tin. But now I waaaant one. Soooooo much. God daaaaaammit. (Shakes fist at sky.) Susan Orleaaaaaaan!
WHAT KIND OF PUPPY-DOG IS RIN TIN TIN?
The most brave and noble and true puppy dog in the history of puppy dogs, next.
MY DATE WITH RIN TIN TIN:
Rin Tin Tin! Sit!
Rin Tin Tin! Play dead!
Books are my Boyfriends is taking a one week vacation because I have been busy-bones with a new website I’m contributing to BOOK RIOT. Book Riot is like the A-Team of Book Bloggers- Reading Ape invented it, Book Lady’s Blog, New Dork Review of Books, Sophisticated Dorkiness, Dead White Guys, Literary Musings, Home Between Pages , Unputdownables and more all contribute.
I’ll be writing for the site Mondays and Wednesdays.
These are the two blogs I already have up on the site.
Go get your Riot on! See you back here next Tuesday!