Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Reading Roundup: Nonfiction Picks

In an effort to get through my lengthy backlog of books to share, here are a few varied nonfiction selections I've read as of late...(Sidenote: I started a draft of this post over a month ago. Whoops?)

Beginning with a memoir, Girl Walks Into a Bar... by former-SNL funny-woman Rachel Dratch answers the question she presumes has been on everyone's mind, which is, "Where has Rachel Dratch been since SNL?" To sum it up for you, she had a baby. It was unplanned. But it is great.

Dratch's memoir was probably published in the same vein as recent comedic releases by Tina Fey and Chelsea Handler. However, it completely lacked the universal comedic appeal that the two mentioned authors bring to their essay collections, which, though often containing personal anecdotes, tell them in a way that is just generally entertaining to read. This book did include some interesting tidbits and background info about her life and entry into show-business, but mostly it was a personal update that felt more worthy of a blog post. I enjoy Dratch immensely, but I just don't think she had enough to say to warrant a 240-page book.

I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley is another book that had been on my to-read shelf since about 2009 but that I quickly realized is not the type of book I dig. Essays like these feel little more than extended versions of social media posts or emails to friends, and I constantly wonder how and why some editor deemed them worthy of an entire book that should be shared to the masses. It seems such a formulaic trend at this point—write about your quirky upbringing, or your weird transition to college, or random drug experimentation, or the terrible jobs you held. Do that all with a comedic flair and VOILA, book deal. I don't have a thing against memoirs, but I have a thing against the ones that don't share a unique or interesting life experience. And that's how I felt with this one. Some parts of her writing made me chuckle, but overall I just didn't really care about Crosley's unexceptional experiences.

Maybe I'm being too harsh, because I did really like a similar style book by Jane Borden a couple years back. Maybe that's what these editors count on—one random person somewhere in the world that is going to totally connect with a book and say, "OMG, YES," on every other page. For this book, I wasn't that person. But I guess who cares—to hell with all I've already said! Write on, Sloane Crosley! Write on!

Now, talking about life experiences... Rick Antonson' Route 66 Still Kicks: Driving America's Main Street is one I need to have—and until then will have to settle for just reading about! What happens is these two guys, Rick and Peter, decide to have the quintessential American roadtrip by following Route 66 from Chicago to LA. No interstates allowed; they have to follow the original route—in its entirety—as best they can. And they learn that task is much easier said than done.

The original Route 66 is tricky to follow. Stretches have been re-named, re-routed, abandoned. Guides and maps have evolved over the decades in such a manner to make it incredibly difficult to figure out what's new, what's old, and what's original. Rick and Peter have an entertaining dynamic—one is go-with-the-flow, one is a planner. Their own interactions are about as entertaining as their ones with the many varied people they meet along the way. What I really enjoyed about this book was the huge amount of history and culture included in the narrative. Rick's personal account is peppered with stories of local legend and famous figures that contribute to the route's lore in American culture. I read this as an eBook and marked several pages with interesting tidbits and beautifully-phrased, poignant passages. Unfortunately, my library copy expired before I exported my notes (my own fault), so I can't share any with you now...but trust they are there; it's your turn to find them!

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