Thank goodness some nonfiction book bloggers have had their acts sufficiently together to host Nonfiction November. It's such a great idea, and every year I'm late to the party, because, well, I'm always late to parties (if I go at all). If you haven't seen any NN posts yet, please check some out. It's great stuff.
The discussion this week is called Be the Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert, and I first came across it when reading Unruly Reader's post about aviation books. (A great post, by the way, and even better comments discussion.) So I thought, I'm not really an expert on anything and I don't have the time or energy to become an expert at anything (and my TBR pile is too huge to even think about asking for expert recommendations and adding to it), so I should probably leave that discussion around. But then I looked around my house and noticed that I have three, count 'em, three books on the go (and a fourth on hold at the library) about...television. So I may not be an expert, but three or four books on the subject seems like a good start for now.
First, a word about me and television. One of my family members is not really a fan of television, and although she never tells me to get off my butt and turn it off (or turn off the CRjrs' PBS Kids, which, not to put too fine a point on it, was the only thing between me and total insanity this past summer, when the CRjrs' sole entertainment was pushing each other down every. single. minute.), I have gathered from her that TV really is a big waste of time. Finally I just had to tell her, okay, but here's the thing: I LOVE TV. I always have and I do and I think I always will. I am the kid who avoided working on the farm by telling my mother I had to do homework, and then I snuck into my brother's room to watch Remington Steele.* I love television almost as much as I love reading. And that, as I think you know, is a lot A LOT. It's like I have two best friends: the solid one who is always there for me and knows just what I need and yet still manages to make me laugh, often. That friend of mine is named Reading. And then I have my other friend, the slightly flashier one who is almost always tons of fun and who isn't always good for me but who I love anyway. That friend is named Television.**
I come from a family of workers and producers, so it has been a long lifetime for me trying to become comfortable with the fact that, for the most part, I am a consumer. I can churn through work with the best of them but for my money? NOTHING is better than reading a book or watching a truly great TV show. It's just the way it is.
So you can see how I ended up with three books about TV in my house at one time. (Incidentally, how's that for having my cake and eating it too? Reading books about TV? So awesome.) And here they are:
1. TV (The Book): Two Experts* Pick the Greatest American Shows of All Time, by Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz. I'm really enjoying this one. The general theme is that these two longtime TV critics used some sort of "objective" number scale to rank what they feel are the greatest (American) TV shows of all time. I don't care at all about their rankings but they generally do a nice job of summarizing a wide variety of television programs, without giving too many spoilers away. For instance: I can quite safely state that I have never had a desire to watch one episode of the show "Homicide: Life on the Street." But after reading these guys' description of it? I totally want to watch it. The book also includes nice sidebars with further rankings, like "Best Mustaches" (the winner there is Tom Selleck on "Magnum, P.I.," of course). I don't always agree with their choices, because I think their rankings and choices reflect their stereotypical male tastes (their top five shows are "The Simpsons," "The Sopranos," "The Wire," "Cheers," and "Breaking Bad." Now, I know women watch and enjoy those shows, but to me that list still reads like it was written by two men. Which it was.
Still. A fun compendium.
2. Seinfeldia: How a Show about Nothing Changed Everything, by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong. I'm actually only partway through this one. It's a serviceable read and I'm enjoying the behind-the-scenes tidbits about how the show started, was cast, and the various personalities that made it all happen. And the author (a former writer for Entertainment Weekly) seems to have done her homework on all the interviews and resources she could find, as well as an impressive interview list with many of the show's key writers and other creators (among them Peter Mehlman, Alec Berg, Spike Feresten, Carol Leifer, and many more). But it does not appear that she got to interview any of the four main stars personally? I know. I suppose none of them have the time or inclination to grant interviews, but it still makes this book feel like it was written at a bit of a remove. Although it's getting terrific reviews. I should probably reserve judgment until I've read the whole thing. I was glad to see that a woman wrote this book, though; have you ever read what a sausage fest most TV and movie reviewing is? Jesus.
3. Play All: A Bingewatcher's Notebook, by Clive James. This book, on the other hand, is annoying the piss out of me.
First of all, it's boring. The introduction is titled "Title Sequence," and here's a sample: "There will always be formal scholarly work to be done. But it will be done best if contact is not lost with the tone of common speech in which habitual consumers discuss the product; a tone not all that far from the voluble congeniality with which they pass the popcorn. Binge-watching is a night out, even when you spend the whole day in. It's a way of being." (p. 11.)
Okay, whatever. It's good writing but it's not exactly prose that you just blow through because it's so fun. I should give James a pass; he was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010 and points out himself that, while drugs are currently keeping the disease in check, he's still facing his mortality. And I'm sure he knows his stuff; he wrote a weekly column about television for the London Observer from 1972 to 1982. But I'm just not enjoying the book. For one thing, it's another sausage-fest of programs: those that get the most attention include "Band of Brothers," "The Sopranos," "Game of Thrones" (I know GoT is popular with women, too, but something about it still says GUY to me), "Mad Men," and "Breaking Bad" (although it doesn't read like he's a very big fan of "Breaking Bad"). Secondly, he blows spoilers all over the place where he wouldn't even have to. I don't even particularly mind spoilers but the way he uses them doesn't even seem necessary (he really lets a big one out for "The Wire," which annoyed me somewhat, because I'd still like to watch that one without knowing about the plot point he's told me). Definitely not a book I need to binge-read.
So that's what I've got home. And now I just heard about this new one, The Platinum Age of Television: From I Love Lucy to The Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific. Anyone read any of these books? And, of course, here's the real question: Seen anything good on TV lately?
Have a very happy Thanksgiving, all.
*Eventually my older brother, not as dedicated to shirking work as I always have been, noticed the blue glow from his room when our mother was out working in the garden alone, and ratted me out for not doing my homework. Yes, it was not nice to make my mother work alone while I watched TV. But, in my defense: it was REMINGTON STEELE.
**If I really wanted to beat this analogy into the ground (and I do) I would say I have a third friend, like a good guy friend who I have a little crush on but who isn't interested in me in that way. That friend is named Movies. Movies are great but are just a little more standoffish (sometimes you have to leave your house to see them, after all) than books and TV.
***OOooh, extra points, because "expert" appears right in this title!