Book Review – As If! An Oral History of Clueless

This summer marks a very important date: the 20th anniversary of the ultimate teen comedy, Clueless. I’m totally buggin’! As a tween in the mid-90s, Clueless had a huge impact on me. It affected everything from my vocabulary to my ensemble choices and ignited my first celebrity crush, the delightful Baldwin known as Paul Rudd. I still Netflix Clueless and not just sporadically. Needless to say, I was way excited to read As If! An Oral History of Clueless by acclaimed pop author Jen Cheney.

Cheney sat down with the cast and crew of Clueless to discuss their memories surrounding the creation of the iconic film and the results are a fun trip into nostalgia-land. If you’re hoping to get some juicy gossip about 90s stars, you might want to pick up Melissa Joan Hart’s biography instead. The most salacious tidbit in As If! is Coolio’s proclamation that he got “white-boy wasted” at the premiere. That’s not to say As If! doesn’t contain any shocking revelations or drama; especially when casting comes into the conversation. Can you imagine Angelina Jolie as Cher or Ben Affleck as Josh? Ugh, as if! There’s also the story of how Clueless almost wasn’t even made, which would have been tragic. I don’t want to live in a world where Clueless doesn’t exist.  

Cheney is definitely not capricious when it comes to documenting the history of Clueless. Jane Austen’s influence on the script; how Cher’s amazing closet software was created; the decisions behind the platinum soundtrack – nothing is left out. Cheney examines the lasting cultural impact of Clueless and its enduring popularity (evidence: Iggy Azalea’s music video for “Fancy”). A heartfelt memorial chapter dedicated to Brittany Murphy adds an emotional element to the otherwise airy tone of the book.

As If! was a breezy, light read that would be a perfect poolside pick for summer. I highly recommend this title for fans of Clueless or fans of director Amy Heckerling in general (the book gets pretty in-depth about her process). Warning: you will likely bust out your old mini-backpack and pleated, plaid skirt upon finishing this book.

Originally posted on OverDrive BookBytes. 

Book Review – The Wilderness of Ruin

I am a self-professed true crime junkie. I drop everything when my TV is tuned to Investigation Discovery. Ann Rule and Harold Schechter are my superheroes. I am also a bit of a history geek; my undergrad degree is in the subject. When history and true crime intertwine in a single book, it is nerd heaven for this gal; and that’s the case with The Wilderness of Ruin by Roseanne Montillo.

The Wilderness of Ruin is a fascinating examination of the crimes and trial of Jesse Pomeroy, America’s youngest serial killer and the original bad seed. Pomeroy’s atrocious spree of violence took place in late 19th century Boston, a vulnerable town struggling to recover from a devastating fire. In 1872, at the tender age of twelve, Pomeroy abducted younger children for the purpose of torture. These acts of defilement resulted in a sixteen-month stint at the Lyman School for Boys. In 1874, mere months after his release, Jesse mutilated and murdered two children. Given his track record, it did not take Boston police long to pinpoint Pomeroy the culprit. The resulting trial sparked a national debate about mental health and capital punishment.

With sparkling prose and perspicuous description, Montillo has created a supremely readable piece of nonfiction. Montillo maintains the lurid elements of a typical true crime novel while expertly capturing the essence of Gilded Age America. She offers an in-depth view of the tumultuous era by punctuating Jesse Pomeroy’s tale with accounts from the likes of Boston fire chief, John Darnell; Herman Melville; and Oliver Wendell Holmes. The gruesomely detailed depictions of Pomeroy’s horrific activities are evidence of Montillo’s masterful research.

The Wilderness of Ruin will keep you engaged page after grisly page. It is a standout among historical true crime novels. I believe it should be required reading for all who loved Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City.

Originally posted on OverDrive Blogs.

I Am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son Review

 

Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! wowed me (if you haven’t read it, do it now), so when I found out that her brother penned a collection of essays I had to pick it up. Kent Russell’s I Am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son is very different from Karen’s writing (she writes offbeat fiction, he writes literary nonfiction), but the siblings share a spectacular amount of talent. It doesn’t seem quite fair that one family contains two literary virtuosos.

 

In I Am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son, Kent invites readers on a hilarious and intimate exploration of self and society’s fringes. Russell shares frank vignettes of his familial relationships and childhood, parlaying them into observational portraits of the unorthodox people he encounters. He mingles with misunderstood Insane Clown Posse fans at the Gathering of the Juggalos. He spends an alcohol-fueled weekend with a self-immunizer, a man who conditions himself to survive poisonous snake bites by injecting himself with venom. He visits a retired (and possibly brain-damaged) hockey enforcer, takes in an Amish baseball game, enrolls in a course taught by a horror movie make-up artist, and maroons himself on a deserted island with a modern-day Robinson Crusoe.

 
Kent Russell is a robust voice in nonfiction. He is sure to become a favorite among fans of Hunter S. Thompson and David Foster Wallace. You can read more of his essays in The New Republic, Harper’s, GQ, n+1, The Believer, and Grantland.

Originally posted on OverDrive Blogs.