Thursday, August 30, 2018

Improv Nation: How We Made a Great American Art (by Sam Wasson)

A history of improv, from the Compass Players to Anchorman.  Deeply researched and a lot of interesting tidbits*, although I feel the writing is flawed.

For one, it seems a bit over-written, with some florid sentences and tortured metaphors. I got the sense this was just Wasson's style, but it sometimes was distracting.  The information is also presented in a fragmented way, jumping around among different groups and people from paragraph to paragraph.  And my final complaint: not enough specifics about the structure of improv itself. 

In a way, it's a result of having so much to cover -- you could easily write a 500 page book just about Christopher Guest movies or Gilda Radner or Nichols and May. (I would read all of these books.) So it's definitely worth a read if you're interested in the topic, but expect to jump around a bit.

*My favorite one: Bob Odenkirk wrote the original "living in a van down by the river" Matt Foley sketch with Chris Farley when they were at Second City.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2018

My Year of Rest and Relaxation (by Ottessa Moshfeg)

I loved this weird, surreal novel.

The unnammed protagonist takes a whole cocktail of medications in the effort to sleep for an entire year. She has a best friend who she hates, a douchey ex-boyfriend, and sees and talks to no-one else. She is obsessed with Whoopi Goldberg. 

The novel opens in September 2000; in spite of the fact that the protagonist tries to avoid all news, the backdrop of Bush entering office and the fact that her "year" expires in September 2001 means the time and place (Manhattan) are very vivid.

It's not really a novel of incident, more an exploration of the narrator's untethered mental state. It's funny and whimsical, strange and painful. The ending is perfection. This would make a terrific Tournament of Books novel and my fingers are crossed it makes the shortlist. I really loved it.

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