What kind of fool?

The One-Man Book Club has been meeting in secret for quite some time over at Goodreads, if you ever feel like following along. I’ve been slowly going back through my shelves and adding thoughts and reviews of books I read years ago. For some reason, all this time I’ve managed to never notice a neato widget where I can add my Goodreads reviews to this blog. Here are some recent reads, and there are plenty more where these came from …

Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant ChefBlood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

An embroidered and loose-with-facts (see her disclaimer all the way at the end of the book) highly-creative memoir from someone that a more charitable person might call “difficult.” (I believe another word for it is a–hole.) I found it almost impossible to enjoy her yarns about food and restaurateur-ship through all her bitterness and cultural snobbery and necessity to blur/alter years, facts and people in service to the “momentum” of her memoir. On page 29, she gets the year and album title wrong for a Barbra Streisand song (“What Kind of Fool”) which she claims her father listened to “over and over and over” — more than a year before the album was on sale. It’s a little thing, true, but the little things matter. If the confabulation doesn’t matter to you, and you aren’t alienated by her personality and style, then there are several chapters here about food and professional kitchen stress that anyone can enjoy.

Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted: And all the Brilliant Minds Who Made The Mary Tyler Moore Show a ClassicMary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted: And all the Brilliant Minds Who Made The Mary Tyler Moore Show a Classic by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Books about TV history are hard to do; the risk of being boring is pretty high. Also, I tend to think that there’s sometimes no faster way to ruin the pleasure of a good TV show memory than to read a 300-page book about it. There’s a lot to juggle — the story of How It Was Made + the reader’s (and writer’s) nostalgia + the Social Meaning and Historical Context + all the insidery network poop about ratings, executive decisions, Emmys, etc.

While reading Jennifer Keishin Armstrong’s history and analysis of the impact of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” I kept coming back to that dreaded book-review word: “uneven.” There are some great stories in here, well-reported, clearly organized. It’s sort of enthralling to read along as the MTM Show (and the subsequent MTM juggernaut of sitcoms and drama) comes together and recovers from a disastrous start.

But the writing is often clunky, especially in long passages that try to put the whole thing in a social context. There is also a lot of stating-the-obvious. The book recovers near the end when detailing the afterlife of the show and its actors, then dips back down into term-paper talk and pop-contextualizing. This book felt like it was one more edit away from finished, but it was worth reading.

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1 Comment

  1. Tim on August 8, 2013 at 5:37 pm

    Hey Hank! I read this book awhile ago, and had such a similar take. Boy, did I dislike her. And she wrote it! If this is the cleaned up version, imagine how horrible the reality must have been.
    After I read it, I was in my car listening to KERA and Hamilton happened to be on Krys Boyd’s talk show. I whipped out my phone, started phrasing questions about writing a memoir in which you are an awful character, when a message aired that it was a repeat! So, no snarky questions from me.
    I’m actually amazed you gave it two stars.

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