book review

“What a Story, Mark!” Reviews “The Disaster Artist”


The Room, my favorite little-bad-movie-that-could, now has its own book by actor/line-producer/survivor Greg Sestero. I was so excited about this book that I contacted all the publicists and received a copy before publication date. Now you can read my review for it on While you do that, I’ll be online shopping for Lisa-blonde wigs in preparation for Sunshine Cinema’s monthly midnight screening of The Room, where Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero will be making an appearance.

PS. If you missed it: Greg Sestero did an Ask Me Anything on Reddit. You can read it here.

#11- How to Live or A Life of Montaigne by Sarah Bakewell

Michel de Montaigne, HBIC

What’s It About: A comprehensive biography of the founder of modern essay and the most chill philosopher ever, Michel de Montaigne, loosely disguised as a self-help book.

Why: I first encountered Montaigne in a French class in high school and I immediately fell in love with his friendly, meandering style, as well as his philosophical ideas. This read has been a long time coming.

Thoughts: I love love loved this book. I’m generally not one for nonfiction, much less biographies, but this book felt like a wonderful companion and friend, much like Montaigne himself. The “self-help” disguise is quite misleading. There’s no doctrine or maxims in here (Montaigne would never have wanted that for his readers in the first place). Rather, each chapter discusses an approach to living found in Montaigne’s works, and shows how, perhaps, Montaigne arrived to his conclusions using biographical evidence.

For those who are unfamiliar with Montaigne, this is a great introduction. To those already acquainted with Montaigne, this is an amazing supplement. I’ve come to learn so much about his philosophy and style. I particularly love Montaigne’s upholding of experience and variability over logic and consistency. It’s a far cry from many of his contemporaries and what we’ve come to understand as a philosophical argument. His essays are personal, funny, sincere, and genuine. He does not privilege his experiences over others, rather he advocates for a far vaster, comprehensive, and humble view of subjective experience– which is just that– subjective.

Go Forth and Read.

#6- Bodega Dreams by Ernesto Quiñonez

What’s It About: Jay Gatsby wouldn’t last a day a East Harlem.

Why: One high school class I observed is reading this book right after reading Gatsby and I like to show off to readers ages 13-17.

Thoughts:I really loved this intriguing, modern re-telling of Gatsby. Not only is this book’s Gatsby (the titular Willie Bodega) a self-made, drug-dealing, millionaire… he’s also a passionate social rights activist for the poor and forsaken of East Harlem. This makes his connection to the “new” American Dream, that of the immigrant, the zoned, the voiceless, all the more significant. And though its concept is Gatsby 101, there are enough twists and energetic storytelling to make this a thrilling page-turner.

#34- White Noise by Don DeLillo

What’s It About: Okay, so play along here. Jack Gladney is the founder of Hitler Studies in America. And he’s COMPLETELY obsessed with death. Like, a lot. But, hey, guess what? So is society and contemporary media culture. And if you want to know how/why, DeLillo will tell you.

Why: I was told there was a talking television. This person was only half-wrong.

Thoughts: Okay, where to begin? Remember how I said it’s all about death. Well, yea. It is. But not in that depressing way that will leave you shriveled on the couch anxious about all the diseases in the air or the after life. No, there’s a huge emotional distance between the reader and death and we are invited more so to be a cultural critic, a reflective stranger in uncharted territory, analyzing away at the abundant death in the book. It makes you feel pretty freaking smart.  Like the genius kids in the novel.

And that being said, the book has a little something for everyone. Right when you think you’re in the middle of a semi-intellectual, domestic drama, BAM there’s some kind of weird cloud thing of toxic stuff and everyone’s running away, disaster movie style. And then after that, there’s a bit of a noirish twist- something about a guy with magic pills that can cure the fear of death. I don’t mean to belittle the plot with my throwaway language, but I use it to emphasize how “real” agents of death in the book always have an aura of mystery and confusion around them. Clarity is only really given to our reactions to death, and the desperate measures we take in the face of it.

Highly recommended and all that good stuff. Go read it. You know, before…

#33- The Perks of Being a Wallflower

What’s It About: After the suicide of his best friend, a high school freshman is taken in by a group of seniors and explores the usual teenage stuff- drugs, rock n’roll, love, dating, Rocky Horror Picture Show, panic attacks, good books, etc.

Why: It’s been on my radar for a while, but recently, when I’ve been speaking to high school kids about books, they all seem to love it. Figured it would help me remember what life was like almost a decade ago (jesus.)

Thoughts: I surprisingly found myself deeply invested in the characters and plot. It’s a really great example of how YA Lit can tackle complicated issues and open adolescent minds to novel styles of storytelling. The writing is honest and deceivingly simple. I think I’d feel confident that my future students would have a lot to pull from it.

Also, weird surprise ending is weird and surprising. Let’s leave it at that.

#28- Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

What’s It About: A dog-murder mystery narrated by a 15 yr old autistic boy with family problems.

Why: Buzz, but mostly because the National Theatre (a publicly funded theatre in London that produces amazing stuff) recently adapted the novel to the stage and is airing it via NTLive to theatres across the U.S. and several other countries– get on that!

Thoughts: A fun, quick read that really amazingly puts the reader into the comprehensive gaze of an autistic child. It’s the novel’s greatest accomplishment. I can’t help comparing it to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. While Curious Incident is a masterful exercise in point-of-view, it lacks the emotional depth or resonant meaning that other tales of loss recovered have. So while I do appreciate the storytelling, there’s hardly much more to praise.

#24- Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

What’s It About: A writer working on a book of personal accounts from the day of the Hiroshima bombing travels to a fictional third-world island in pursuit of a the bomb’s scientist’s children and a hot girl on a poster. Frivolity and meditations on religion, disaster, and primitivism ensue.
Why: Slaughterhouse Five was good stuff.

Thoughts: While enjoyable and thematically encompassing, I didn’t find this to be as insightful as I had hoped. I enjoyed the first half a lot more than I enjoyed the second half (though that tends to happen a lot with me), and once the dictator died and San Lorenzo froze over, woops spoilers, I sort of lost interest.  However, there is plenty to digest in this book. Vonnegut leaves any type of preachy morality aside and opts instead for a looseness of ideas that is refreshing but at times frustratingly so.

The sudden ice-nine disaster parallels the bombing of Hiroshima. The whole book is a meditation on what humanity does to bring itself out of grief and despair, religion (the openly false Books of Bokonon first and foremost) being its primary tool. Bokononism reveals that not all believers are gullible dimwits, but rather, knowing that their faith is a construction, proceed to believe because there is a beauty in its unity, its poetry and song, its simpleness, and ultimately its fatalism. At least, I think that’s what you’re meant to feel right up until the big blast of ice/atom bomb that kills everything in sight. Yes, as outsiders looking in on disaster, it’s quite easy to feel that faith, even one we know to be false, can help us rise out of our despair and folly. It’s a human comfort we can afford. But when one is actually at the foot of a mountain of dead people, as Bokonon is at the end of the novel, what comfort is there to be had, even in nihilism, in the face of such overwhelming “human stupidity.”

Slaughterhouse Five was similarly strange as hell, but for some reason I enjoyed it much more. Ponder…

#23- Fahrenheit 451

What’s It About: A society that burns books, thus destroying citizens’ capacity for independent thinking. Aka, every young person’s introduction to dystopic fiction.

Why: Every young person, that is, except for me. I somehow managed to graduate junior high, high school, and college without this book being thrust upon me.

Thoughts: Who can forget the opening lines to the novel, as seen through Montag’s eyes: “It was a pleasure to burn.”

Well, Ray Bradbury apparently can. Montag effectively goes from brainwashed fireman, blindly participating in his society’s eradication of literature, to a rebel in, oh let’s say, 3 pages? I have no idea how he got there or why. And don’t tell me that Clarisse changes his ways, because we happen to know that Montag is hiding books long before she comes around. So the opening lines of hypermasculinity, of pure faith in a corrupt system, and really rendered useless because they go no where. And Montag’s character remains just as bland and lifeless as the Hound-animal-machine-thing-idontknowwhat.

Ok, maybe I’m being a bit harsh. The writing’s not terrible. There’s some really beautiful imagery in many scenes. And Bradbury’s vision is quite prophetic and pinpoints the trajectory of contemporary American pop culture. But otherwise, the storytelling reminds me of some of the terrible scifi short stories I read while researching SF pulp magazines for my undergrad thesis. Like I said, Montag has no character. And I often felt like many of the novel’s events had no precedent, no cause or effect. It feels a bit like the kind of book that seems awesome when you read it in junior high, but then disappoints when read as an adult. As a soon-to-be teacher, part of my reason for reading this book was knowing I might actually be teaching it some day. My conclusion is that there are better alternatives- Hunger Games, 1984, The Giver, Armageddon Summer, Never Let Me Go to name a few.

Oh, and did you happen to know that Ray Bradbury doesn’t care for minorities?– that when he writes in the novel that the minorities were the ones who began the book burnings, he really means it?

I suggest you read this: which was included as an epilogue to my edition of Fahrenheit 451.

I think that Bradbury makes it quite clear that there is no place for social justice in his writing, particularly for underrepresented groups. Ironic, no? Since it would seem from the premise of Fahrenheit 451 that books are the carriers of social justice and a democratic voice…

I am however, excited to see Truffaut’s film adaptation. Maybe he’ll actually do the idea justice.

End of angry review.

#22- Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

What’s It About: Boy meets boy with a teddy bear. Boy meets boy with teddy bear’s crazy Catholic family.

Why: Because I want to hear Ben Whishaw’s voice every time Sebastian speaks.

Thoughts: According to Wikipedia, Waugh felt disappointed in his novel, saying, “the book is infused with a kind of gluttony, for food and wine, for the splendours of the recent past, and for rhetorical and ornamental language which now, with a full stomach, I find distasteful.”

I agree.

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