Monday, August 31, 2015

August reading

So I've decide I need to stop buying books and filing them away for some other nebulous time when I'll be able to get to them, and actually get to them. And of course, blog about it at the end of each month. Welcome to August!

Final count: 6 books.

The Shape of Things (Neil LaBute)
I love reading plays, but for some reason I have a lot of trouble envisioning how they might have looked on the stage. So after reading this I had to see the film version, which kept the play's quartet of original actors (Rachel Weisz, Paul Rudd, Gretchen Mol and Frederick Weller) intact. Having read it, I knew what to expect at the end, but it was still wretched. The Shape of Things is an unpleasant tale of heartless manipulation masquerading as the work of a pretentious, self-absorbed "artist", but it was still fascinating, in a train wreck kind of way. LaBute's refusal to use upper-case letters in the play's text was also kind of annoying.

"as for me, i have no regrets or feelings of remorse for my actions, the manufactured emotions...none of it. i have always stood by the single and simple conceit that i am a artist. only that. i follow in a long tradition of artists who believe there is no such concept as religion, or government, community or even family. there is only art. art that must be created, whatever the cost."

Honeymoon (James Patterson and Howard Roughan)

Patterson's original outline for this 2005 novel was included as part of our text for his MasterClass, which I started this month. Reading the outline made me really want to read the book. It's a black widow story and although the international espionage sub-plot kind of lost me, it was addictive - I had trouble putting it down and got through it in just a few days.

"The police didn't suspect a thing. She had committed the perfect murder. Again."


On Writing (Stephen King)

Considered one of the best writing books out there, On Writing was originally published in 2000, with an updated version issued in 2010. I'd bought it some time ago, but never got around to reading it, so when the MasterClass had an online book club meeting to discuss it, I busted it out and plowed through it in two sittings. Amazing book. If you have any interest at all in writing, this is a must-have.

"I can't remember many cases where I felt I had to describe what the people in a story looked like - I'd rather let the reader supply the faces, the builds, and the clothing as well. If I tell you that Carrie White is a high school outcast with a bad complexion and a fashion-victim wardrobe, I think you can do the rest, can't you? I don't need to give you a pimple-by-pimple, skirt-by-skirt rundown."

We Don't Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy (Caseen Gaines)
This is about as comprehensive of an insider's history of the beloved 1980's franchise Back to the Future as you could hope to find. We Don't Need Roads goes all the way back to when "The Bobs" (writer Gale and writer/director Zemeckis) were first trying - initially unsuccessfully - to sell their concept to a studio, any studio, all the way through the sequels and everything in between.

Pretty much everything is covered. Music, effects, stunts, makeup, costumes, marketing...just when you think every topic has been addressed and every player has been heard from, there's something new. The book pulls back the curtain on the notorious casting issues, mainly the firing of Eric Stoltz six weeks into filming (there are a couple of color photos of Stoltz as Marty, and it's jarring), plus the Crispin Glover situation. There's also an early poster design that would be jettisoned in favor of what would become the iconic image of Marty McFly, one foot on the ground and the other in the DeLorean/time machine, gawking at his watch. If you are a fan of the BTTF films, you will devour this book.

"Although Fox's marathon workdays have since become the material of cinematic lore, at the time, burning the candle at both ends didn't faze the actor in the slightest. As he told the Bobs when he first met them after accepting the role, he relied on his youth and enthusiasm to compensate for his lack of a good night's sleep."

My Gun Has Bullets (Lee Goldberg)
I've seen Lee Goldberg at a number of writers conferences and he's always hilarious. He has great stories about working in television, including one about an experience with a lead actor that was so stupid and frustrating that he was prompted (or perhaps driven) to write My Gun Has Bullets, a story of murder in a world of fictional networks and TV programs, and the ridiculous and morality-free people who reside therein. It was originally published in 1995 so it's a bit dated in a couple spots, but the story makes up for it in sheer fun.

Some examples of the shows on fictional networks UBC (United Broadcasting Company), MBC (Monumental Broadcasting Company) and DBC (Dynamic Broadcasting Company): Boo Boo's Dilemma (a wildly popular sitcom about a vaudeville comedian trapped in the body of a dog), FrankencopYoung Hudson Hawk, Blacke and Whyte (a PI show that is retitled Two Dicks in an attempt to boost ratings), Honeymooners: The Next Generation, Aunt Agatha (Miss Marple meets Jessica Fletcher), Broad Squad and the titular My Gun Has Bullets. It's worth it just for the Frankencop pitch, but really, the whole thing is a riot.

"He's no ordinary man, and he's no ordinary cop. He's Frankencop and he's serious about fighting crime. Dead serious."

The Stranger Beside Me (Ann Rule)
Ms. Rule passed away recently and I was struck by the terrifying descriptions of this book that came with warnings not to read it alone at night. I did it one stupider and started it alone at night at my hotel in Appleton during Writers' Police Academy and continued it on my flight back to L.A. (also at night). I finally finished it on a bright afternoon while coming down with a nasty head cold.

Ann Rule was a former cop turned author/journalist who knew Ted Bundy as a caring, gentlemanly young man who she had bonded with when they worked alongside each other at a suicide hotline center in Seattle. A few years down the road and Bundy became infamous as a vicious serial killer, something Rule simply could not reconcile with the brilliant, wonderful person she had known. Even as the law and evidence caught up with Bundy, Rule remained a sympathetic friend, helping out when and where she could (usually sending him a few bucks for the prison commissary). The experience of being so completely deceived by Bundy and having to see a friend receive the death penalty was a devastatingly bitter pill for her to swallow.

The most recent edition includes a number of updates to the original text, including Bundy finally being executed. Thanks to an avalanche of legal maneuvers he had managed to delay his sentence for about seven years, long after the original edition of The Stranger Beside Me had been published.

"And so the answer to the question put to me so many times is yes. Yes, I believe Ted Bundy attacked Joni Lenz, just as I now am forced to believe that he is responsible for all the other crimes attributed to him. I have never said it out loud, or in print, but I believe it, as devoutly as I wish I did not."

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