Non-Fiction: “You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)” by Felicia Day

Never WeirdThis book was lent to me by my coworker, Bill. Bill is an avid reader and gamer, and one of his friends or relatives gave him this book to read, because they thought he’d like it. When he finished it, he let me borrow it. Or, rather, he left it on my desk when I had just started reading Farewell, My Lovely and told me that he had a couple of other people he wanted to lend it to, but no pressure.  This caused me to move it to the top of the pile.

Now, I adore Felicia Day. I’ve watched a bunch of her projects – I think my first introduction to her was Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, then in her myriad guest spots; then, I caught her on TableTop and her other Geek & Sundry productions, including Co-Optitude. (All I can think of right now is that, when my mother reads this paragraph, the words will sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher.) She is not only adorkable; she is extremely savvy about New Media and being able to create projects for herself and like-minded individuals on the internet. The Internet is a haven for geeks and nerds from all walks of life, and in many circles, Felicia Day is their queen. So even though the book got to me sooner than I had anticipated (I had plans! There were Things I Wanted To Read Next!), I was welcome of the opportunity to read it.

The downside of a) having read it two months ago and b) already having given it back to Bill is that I have no quotes with which to better illustrate any points I may make. Oh well.

Felicia Day’s memoir details her very extraordinary life. (Extraordinary as in “outside of ordinary,” not the more traditional, “AMAZING WOW” meaning.) She and her brother were home-schooled for most of their adolescence, and through a connection that I can’t remember exactly at this point, they always had access to computers. In the Stone Age of the Interwebs, Felicia first found her social niche while playing RPGs online (I apologize, because here’s where I’d look up the name of the game – I wanna say Dragon Age, but I have no idea? I mean, Oregon Trail was my jam back in the day, and I’ve only advanced to Mario Kart 64. Anyway, I’d look it up, but — not my book). She was accepted to college early – like, at sixteen, where she double-majored in Math and Violin. She also fell in love with acting and moved to Los Angeles to pursue it as a career.

In her early twenties, after numerous bit parts and commercials wherein she played the same type of mousy, nerdy character, she would escape the monotony by playing World of Warcraft. A lot. “Putting Her Life On Hold So As To Win This Quest” -a-lot. But if she hadn’t become so involved in World of Warcraft, she wouldn’t have had the background to write The Guild, which was one of her starring vehicles.

The Guild is really what kickstarted her career. And think what you will about Internet culture and gamers and geeks and nerds and what-have-you: what really inspires me about Felicia Day’s journey is how she made a space for herself and her stories where there weren’t any stories before. She wrote a script and tried to sell it to Hollywood in the traditional way – when the studios and producers tried to get her to change it and, if I remember correctly, possibly not have her in the starring role, she wouldn’t let that happen. So she and a bunch of her friends and colleagues got together and on a shoestring budget, made the first season of The Guild themselves. They released it on YouTube and pretty much emailed everyone they knew to get them to watch the video. And it took off. That first season inspired a second, crowd-funded season; then, the whole series got picked up to be released on the X-Box. All in all, the series went for six seasons. Around the same time, Felicia was cast as Penny in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, and now, she’s the Queen of the Internet.

Being Queen of the Internet is a rough job, however. Felicia Day does devote a chapter of her book to GamerGate, and some of her fan interactions over the years have been decidedly less than cool. Many dangers come as the cost of celebrity – the crazed fans, the stalkers, the people who think you owe them just because you’re famous. But even famous people have the right to privacy, and just because one is “famous” should not require that person to sign over the right to their private info (or their home) to their fans in exchange for continuing to make their films and series and whatnots.

Or something. I thing I got a bit off-track.

ANYWAY. (Man, I haven’t had an “ANYWAY” on this in a while, huh?) I appreciated that Felicia Day writes like she speaks – she tends to go off on tangents, and uses ALL-CAPS when she’s excited about or emphasizing something, and many times throughout the book she speaks directly to the reader. While my Inner Grammarian’s hackles may have risen over the usage of the capslock button over the more sedate italics choice — not to mention the multiple uses of multiple exclamation points (!!!) — at the end of the day, let’s face it: I occasionally delve into the overexcited tone of voice while writing.

[[At this time, I’d like to direct new readers of That’s What She Read to my recent review of Red Dragon as an example. Regular readers, I will attempt to tell you something you don’t know next time. Please, continue your eye-rolling.)

How did Bill like the book? Well, he felt Felicia “rambled” too much. But I don’t give a lot of credence to that opinion, for two reasons: 1) as stated above, I appreciated Ms. Day’s ability to write so her personality translated perfectly to the written word, and 2) because it has been empirically determined, through much experimentation and time, that Everything Bothers Bill.

Oh shit, that reminds me — I need to cross-stitch that pillow for Christmas.

If you like Felicia Day, you’ll like the book. If you like funny memoirs and video gaming and YouTube videos and geeky stuff, you’ll like the book. If you’re Bill, you’ll read it and then sell it back because you forgot someone gave the book to you as a gift, but you’ll still have read it and liked most of it.

Grade for You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost): 3 stars

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Memoir: “My Booky Wook” by Russell Brand

After watching Get Him to the Greek, my friend went out and bought My Booky Wook. She read it in, like, a day, and then gave it to me to read. And because it was a book I was borrowing (and not one I’d bought months ago), I started reading it immediately so as to return it to her as soon as possible.

It took me entirely too long to read this book. And I’m not sure why. I like Russell Brand – he was hilarious on Conan – and Get Him to the Greek was funny enough. He totally stole Forgetting Sarah Marshall from Jason Segal and Kristen Bell (I almost called her Veronica Mars for a second). What I especially love about Russell Brand (and, if you want to get into it, Ricky Gervais as well) is his accent and how multi-syllabic words are spit out in his choppy, Essex lilt. And as I write this, I wonder if the book was too long because after a while, it stopped sounding like Russell Brand and just like any other sort of book(y wook).

I think everyone can agree that even the most ridiculous things sound completely logical and intelligent when spoken in a down-and-dirty British accent. And what I love about Russell Brand, Ricky Gervais, and Monty Python’s band of lovable scamps is that they routinely speak of intelligent, scholarly things, and their appearance and their accents completely belie the initial assumption that they wouldn’t talk about those things because they look like they wouldn’t know what they’re talking about. Wait — that came out completely wrong. Let’s try this: this is something I’ve contemplated in the past, but Brand manages to speak of it quite easily:

When we first got Topsy [his first childhood pet], she would be allowed to sleep in the bed with me: I hope it is not necessary for me to stress the platonic nature of that relationship — not platonic in the purist sense, there was no philosophical discourse, but we certainly didn’t fuck, which is usually what people mean by platonic; which I bet would really piss Plato off, that for all his thinking and chatting his name has become an adjective for describing sexless trysts. [44]

Wouldn’t that piss Plato off? I mean, if I were known in my time as a symbol for higher thinking and pure contemplation, only to learn that two thousand (or so) years after my demise, my name has come to be associated with the first two-thirds of When Harry Met Sally. Come on.

If you’re expecting some hilarious, Hollywood inside track in this book, look elsewhere. My Booky Wook is strictly about Brand’s life – his childhood in a somewhat broken home, his deisre to be an actor and famous above all else, and for a good amount of the book, his life as an addict of multiple vices. Between alcohol, drugs, heroin, and sexual addiction, he has covered all the addictive bases (except for chocolate and sugar – but perhaps he left that for My Booky Wook 2).

Russell Brand’s determination and intention shine through on every page, and it’s well-written. In the end, I’m not sure why I didn’t like it more. Actually, my friend Brad and I discussed this briefly as I told him that I had read the book(y wook) and didn’t really like it. He said, “I like him, but in small doses. Get Him to the Greek? I wanted to shoot myself. But he was hilarious in that Veronica Mars movie.” And I think that’s it: it took so long to read because Russell Brand is a good-in-small-doses comedian. Over three hundred pages of Russell Brand is too much Russell Brand.

Grade for My Booky Wook: 1.5 stars

Non-fiction: “Waiter Rant” by Steve Dublanica

Here’s the story of how I acquired Waiter Rant. My sister, Missy the Kid and I were in Border’s just before Christmas, and had the following conversation:

Missy: Hey, since I probably won’t be able to get you that Nintendo 64 for Christmas like I wanted to, what else do you want?
Me: I dunno … [reads the back of Waiter Rant; shrugs] You can get me this, I guess.
Missy: ‘K.

Flash-forward to Christmas morning: “Hey, Waiter Rant!”

Can I tell you how glad I am that I picked up the book to read the back of it? And that Missy was standing right there asking me if there was something other than Mario Kart 64 I wanted for Christmas? And that she remembered? Dudes, this book was amazing. I picked this up Saturday afternoon after finishing Deja Dead and finished it this morning. This is the fastest I’ve read a book in months. It was so hard to put it down! Which was difficult, because my vacation was over and I had classes and work and stuff. (It’s pretty poor form to be reading a book called Waiter Rant while on the sales floor.)

Waiter Rant started out as a blog – not unlike … well, not this one.  That’s What She Read is solely for book reviews and the like. I am referring to my other blog, that a couple of you know about but not too many and let’s just keep that between us, ‘kay? Anyway. The Waiter (who remains anonymous through the book until the last page, save for the name on the cover) started a blog over at WaiterRant.net back in 2004, talking about his experiences as a waiter at The Bistro, a high-end bistro in New York City. Over time, the blog gained notice and followers, and in 2006 he won a Bloggie Award (there are blog awards!?) for Best Writing of a Weblog. The site eventually turned into a book deal, and … well, then I ended up with a copy as a temporary replacement for Mario Kart 64. And loved every second of it.

And throughout the second half of it, I kept thinking to myself, “Hey, this could happen to me if I had the stones to write about Where I Work, even though we were explicitly told Not To.” Because God forbid one of the customers who asks me if I work there while I’m wearing the uniform, apron, and nametag and holding a pile of merchandise with a walkie-talkie in my ear decides to search “bitchy sales rep at Where I Work blog” on google and find my rant about her.

Not that I’ve done this. At all. Ahem.

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Non-fiction: “The Sex Lives of Cannibals” by J. Maarten Troost

sex lives of cannibalsThis is one of those books I picked up back in February, after reading Tess of the d’Urbervilles created one of the worst cases of Book-ADHD I’ve ever experienced. After finishing Fluke, I wanted to knock this one off the list once and for all.

Not-so-fresh out of college, Maarten realizes that the life of a temp is not for him (there were very few promising careers for one who graduated with a degree in international politics). His girlfriend, Sylvia, who has slightly higher career aspirations, is offered a chance to be a developer for a third-world strip of land in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

…We were about to give notice to our landlord when Sylvia called me at work and asked if I would be inclined to move to a small atoll in the Equatorial Pacific and whether I would be able to do so in about three weeks’ time. She had been offered a position as country director for the Foundation for the Peoples of the South Pacific-Kiribati Office. Five seconds later I quit my job. Then I called Sylvia back.

“Kiri-what?”

The first few chapters are about the history of Kiribati (pronounced Kiri-bas) and the island Sylvia and Maarten end up on, Tarawa, and they’re kind of slow going. I easily blame these chapters for why it has taken me just about five months to complete this book. Once Maarten starts talking about the island hijinks (for instance: the Great Beer Crisis, flying Air Kiribati), the humor takes off and it’s quite enjoyable. Even when he’s discussing the history of Kiribati, which involves a lot of gods all named Nauru, he is self-deprecating and sarcastic enough to keep me interested, but it’s not as funny or interesting as the events that directly affect Maarten.

He was not as funny as A.J. Jacobs in The Know It All, but there were a couple of chuckle-ey moments. However, if, like me, you decide to pick up the book based on the scintillating title, allow me to burst your bubble; unless the title refers to the cannibalistic dogs on the island, then there are no tales of the sex lives of any cannibals. Sorry.

Grade for The Sex Lives of Cannibals: 2 stars

Essays: “Me Talk Pretty One Day” by David Sedaris

me talk prettyI just realized: this book wasn’t included in my “Currently Reading” Picture I posted earlier this week. Dangit! I am still exactly where I was three days ago (or whatever it was).

Me Talk Pretty One Day was a book that was always on my “Gee, someday I’m going to read that book” list – there was no urgent need to read it (unlike PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES, which, still savoring), but I wanted to make sure I did read it.

Having finished it, I am … underwhelmed. And not because I don’t appreciate David Sedaris’s brand of humor; I think it’s because I know a few people who have read this book and others by him and raved about him, and his essays are the Best Thing Since Sliced Bread, and I’ll Never Laugh Again Like When I Read Sedaris.

But … I didn’t. I dunno; there were parts that were humorous, but did I fall out of my chair laughing (as I did at the Sermon on the Mount speech from Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal)? No, I did not.

And again, that’s not to say I didn’t like it: I did. The first half is a series of essays describing David’s childhood in North Carolina and his career path through Crystal Meth Addict/”Artist” to Unqualified Creating Writing Teacher in Chicago; the second half is his experiences living in Paris and being unable to speak the language. All the essays were full of amazing language, and he has a nice, dry wit that I can appreciate.

But I was not found rolling on the floor laughing my ass off at it. Again, not a bad thing; just a disappointment, because I was told by people that he is the Funniest Writer Ever.

I guess those people haven’t read Lamb.

Grade for Me Talk Pretty One Day: 2.5 stars