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Craig Marks and Rob Tanenbaum

It seems like oral histories are becoming a more and more prominent way to explore a specific event in pop culture. Last year I read both the oral history of Saturday Night Live and the oral history of Chris Farley’s life and death, and Grantland recently put out a pretty incredible one about ; there was a funny one about the short-lived , etc.

I will always prefer well-researched, well-written non-fiction books to straight oral histories. Sometimes (a lot of the time), even with creative, funny people who were involved in these movies or shows or lives, the straight retelling of events can become somewhat boring, and even though these people are speaking their own words, you lose a lot of the voice that made their work of fiction so compelling.

It’s a similar deal here, where Craig Marks and Rob Tanenbaum let the executives, VJs, artists, and directors tell the story of how MTV was created and flourished. Literally, the most dynamic voice on the page here belonged to Sebastian Bach. He’s funny and ironic and has a billion times more charisma than most of the other musicians in these pages (Marks and Tanenbaum interviewed hundreds of people for this book). Sample: “I’m looking at [my hair] right now. It’s so flaxen!” and he’s ultimately a footnote in music history. For such a creative group of people, they all sound kind of the same.

I Want my MTV only covers the channel’s inception through 1992. I was born in 1984 and thus don’t have much memory of a lot of the events and artists covered in the pages. I know who Warrant, Winger, Whitesnake, Poison, and Motley Crue are, of course, and I like them in a cheesy and ironic way, but I don’t think I ever realized how heavily MTV played and relied on hairbands in the early ’80′s. I never knew that MTV initially resisted playing Michael Jackson videos (there are some very interesting stories of racism and sexism – sexism bordering on misogyny – in these pages). I learned a lot about videos I had never seen and spent a lot of time on youtube while I was reading, so that was fun.

Since I began watching MTV in the mid-to-late ’90′s, I was already familiar with their non-music programming. Marks and Tanenbaum give quite a lot of space to those who defend and those who deride the decision for MTV to move away from only showing music videos. It’s interesting to see the divide even amongst the network’s brass, and how the artists and their teams were affected. Still, it was odd to get only one chapter on The Real World, which is arguably one of the biggest television shows ever created. There’s also an even longer chapter on Remote Control, which again I don’t think I can fully appreciate the relevance of, as I never watched it when it originally aired.

I really, really wish the book could gave gone at least through 2000. I would have loved to have heard more about grunge exploding (we get a lot on Nirvana, of course, but nothing on their amazing 1993 Unplugged), which is very briefly touched upon but obviously extended beyond ’92; I’d love insight into the era of Britney, Christina before she became X-Tina, NSYNC, and the Backstreet Boys. Dave Holmes is included all over this text, because he is clearly one of the best VJs, but I would have liked to have heard from Idalis and John Sencio ( just told me he hosts a show on HGTV?). I would tooootaally read a Volume Two if I could be guaranteed that Chris Hartwick would just shit all over MTV and Singled Out for a few paragraphs. I would read a Volume Two, regardless – this was a fun if not earth-shattering book, and for nearly 600 pages was a quick read.

(575 pages)

2. A Visit from the Goon Squad

(Jennifer Egan)

I didn’t get it.

This is a really hard review to write, because it was a good book and I enjoyed reading it, but I feel like I’m missing something here. Egan’s novel is a series of characters whose lives intersect via music and technology, and I can certainly relate to that, but I didn’t feel much of a connection to anything in these pages.

She was amazing with details and character descriptions (some of her characters would have been perfectly at home in Francesca Lia Block’s LA, and I loooooooooooooooved Francesca Lia Block’s LA when I was growing up a super-awkward teen in Massachusetts) and little glimpses of the future, but I think I missed something.

Who else read this and got a lot out of it? It was a great book about Pretty People with Problems and I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t super-affecting and didn’t much make me think. I just enjoyed it. I really wanted to enjoy it more than I did!

Seriously, can we discuss this in the comments? Sometimes talking about books helps me appreciate them more.

(340 pages)

Mindy Kaling

Mindy Kaling is a good writer. I like her Office episodes (“Actually, I was never President.” “Yes, but Ben Franklin was.”) and I like her; I loved her and I’m super-thrilled she’s back with a . I love when people are very serious about frivolous things. She’s a great combination of funny, dismissive, and super ridiculously passionate.

That said, this book was only pretty okay (damning!). It was funny, but only laugh-out-loud funny once or twice (how DARE you, Mindy). Like with Patton Oswalt’s book (which I reviewed last year), the best parts were the less aggressively funny and more poignant stories of Mindy growing up. Mindy was a Good Kid, always doing her homework (like me) and spending time with her family (like me) and having only a few close friends (like me) and inhaling comedy (I read instead).

One thing that Mindy has that I never really did were several super-close girlfriends. I’ve never had a best friend who was like an extension of myself. Reading “Best Friend Rights and Responsibilities” made me sad that I never had someone with whom it was understood we were a we, and thus shared basically everything. It’s a sore subject for me lately since I’m trying to come to terms with the likely end of my longest friendship (since Kindergarten. We’re 28 now) for three major reasons: we’re different, so are our schedules, and I suck at sharing. I WANT to be that kind of person Kaling describes: the kind of person who can share her clothes, her bed (NOT LIKE THAT), her secrets, her feelings. I’m not that kind of person. I don’t know how to be, and it really makes me sad that I don’t have the kind of friendships a lot of people do. This is also the reason Bridesmaids made me cry more than it made me laugh.

Anyway, my obvious need for some therapy aside, here’s another reason I relate so strongly to Mindy: her essays and “‘Hooking Up’ is Confusing”. Mindy in these two essays describes exactly how I feel most of the time people described “hook-ups” to me when we were younger: confused and scandalized. I’ve basically always been sixty.

She also tells two great stories about Amy Poheler, who between this and Bossypants had a banner year in name-drops. She needs to write her own book, and fucking quickly. I’ve never been crazy into The Office, but Kaling spends just enough time on the show to be interesting without being swallowed by the phenomenon. She also writes lists, which I love.

This was a fun, quick read on a lazy Sunday.

(240 pages)

Failure! Looks good on you.

OKAY. So I failed again last year – failed reading 100 books, failed to write about most of them, failed to even keep TRACK of how many books I read.

You guys, I got nothing. I love reading, but I also love watching TV and sleeping late. I also had a pretty tough year AND got a new job, so that took up some of my time. Also, we got a Wii.

I’m trying again this year. I’ve signed up for a full Cannonball, which luckily is only 52 books now. As always, the reading is never the problem; writing the stupid reviews is. I renewed my domain name today, so I’m hoping that $25 will help spur me to post (spoiler: it probably won’t). I’ll also be cross-posting my reviews to the official , and .

I have 52 books to read, so I’m planning to read 26 fiction and 26 non-fiction. I love non-fiction, especially memoirs and books about food (I love food). Someday I may challenge myself to read an entire non-fiction Cannonball, but I have a list of fiction books I’ve been looking forward to reading. Also, I wouldn’t be able to do my annual Harry Potter re-read! (Also I’ll be doing an annual Harry Potter re-read)

This has become a longer check-in than I intended – mostly because I’m putting off writing a review. Already, you guys! Ugh!

More info here

George R. R. Martin

BOOK FIFTEEN: Bossypants

Tina Fey

Tana French

BOOK THIRTEEN: The Likeness

Tana French

(466)

BOOK TWELVE: The Book Thief

Mark Zusak

(552)

Tana French

(429)

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