Book Review: You Play the Girl-On Playboy Bunnies, Stepford Wives, Train Wrecks & Other Mixed Messages by Carina Chocano

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Is there a book you wish you had written? Is there a book you would have written if you had the ambition? Well, thank goodness Carina Chocano had both the desire and motivation to write a book and that book is her collection of essays, You Play the Girl: On Playboy Bunnies, Stepford Wives, Train Wrecks & Other Mixed Messages.

I love pop culture, and I’ve been studying and writing about pop culture since I was in high school. But despite my mad love for film, TV shows, music, and obviously books, I’ve often been dismayed (if not downright pissed off) by how girls and women are portrayed in these various works, and how they affect society and those we care about.

Chocano shares this loathing,  wonders these same issues, and writes about them in this dazzling collection of essays (which also acts as a caring and concerned love letter to her daughter, Kira).

After a brief introduction, You Play the Girl is divided into four distinctive parts:

Part One: Down the Rabbit Hole covers topics like Playboy bunnies, the classic Good Housekeeping column, “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” and MTV-inspired movie Flashdance.

Part Two: The Pool of Tears muses on the concepts such topics like ingénues and bad girls.

Part Three: In You Wouldn’t Have Come Here, Chocano writes about the surrealism of the “Real Housewives,” awkward men who choose “Real Girls” over real-live women, and the singular, life-changing journey of redemption of eating, praying and loving.

Part Four: In Mad Tea Party, Chocano acknowledges that girls love math even if Barbie claims, “Math is hard,” women as a trainwreck, the phenomenon of the Disney movie Frozen, and wraps up things with her desire for a feminist dance number (personally, I suggest bellydancing).

There are several reasons why I Iove You Play the Girl. First, Chocano is an excellent writer. Sure, she’s technically proficient but most importantly she has a distinctive voice, down to earth, wise, but also funny and charming. Plus, she just makes you think. Her essays are deeply researched and make you reflect on how pop culture affects you in ways you never thought possible, whether it comes to classic sitcoms like Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie to the current day of reality television with its collection of real housewives, bachelors and bachelorettes.

Chocano also has interesting opinions when it comes to classic movies like The Philadelphia Story and a movie I hope is never considered a classic, Pretty Woman. And when it comes to how boys and girls are portrayed coming-of-age books, films and TV shows, Chocano sums things up with this passage:

“In the male coming-of-age story, the boy creates himself. In the female coming-of-age story, the girl is created by forces around her.”

She questions why in an age of diversity and women making strides in business, academia, politics, technology, activism, arts and entertainment, and business our definition of what makes a woman attractive and sexy grows more and more narrow.

Chocano likewise has a very interesting take on women’s magazines and how they prey upon women’s insecurities and perceived failings as wives, mothers, workers, and just human beings as a whole even in this age of “You go, girl!”

Throughout You Play the Girl, Chocano looks at the details but also gives us the big picture on so many attention-grabbing topics. Simply put, You Play the Girl is one of the best books I’ve read this year.

 

Book Review: The Actor’s Life-A Survival Guide by Jenna Fischer

Back in the day, I believe it was in the year 2006, when MySpace was still a thing and we were all friends of Tom, Jenna Fischer wrote a post on her MySpace page where she discussed the trials and tribulations she faced as an aspiring actor. Already well-known as  the sweet and vulnerable Pam Beesly on The Office, Ms. Fischer’s MySpace post resonated with a lot of people, even people with no acting ambitions.

Now Fischer has turned that MySpace post into something more with her book The Actor’s Life: A Survival Guide that is at turns both a memoir of Jenna’s journey to acting success and a wise and practical primer for aspiring actors.

Fischer fell in love with acting and performing as a child. She took acting and dance classes and performed in both community and school productions, including acting as the Fiddler in Fiddler on the Roof, which must have been quite a challenge for a someone going to all-girls Catholic school.

After earning a degree in theater at Truman State University in Missouri, this St. Louis native packed her bags and headed out to Los Angeles. All Fischer had was her college diploma, a beat up car and some saved up cash. But she also had a big dream to make it as an actress in both television and in film. She thought it wouldn’t be long before she saw her name on the marquee of movie theaters or among the credits of a hit television show.

Boy, was she wrong. It took her eight years to finally become a success on The Office and in movies like Blades of Glory and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. And in that nearly decade long road, Fischer dealt with the good, bad and ugly of being an aspiring actor, which she isn’t afraid to share in The Actor’s Life.

When it comes to the survival guide, Fischer offers sound advice on getting the right headshot, getting into the film and television’s actor union SAG (Screen Actors Guild), and building one’s resume as an actor. She also advises on finding and keeping an agent and manager.

Fischer also discusses in detail the arduous auditioning process, the heartbreak, the glory, and how to keep going on.

Want to know what it’s like to be on the set as an extra, a bit player saying three lines in one scene, a guest star or part of the main cast? It’s not glamorous, but once your performing, you’re reminded why you chose acting as a vocation.

Of course,  even once one makes it things don’t go smoothly. Pilots for TV shows don’t get picked up,  shows get cancelled, speaking parts get edited out,  a movie bombs at the box office even if you’re an established name. You may even get fired. Fischer was recently fired from a TV show. But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. She’s now the star of the ABC show Splitting Up Together, which is filming its second season.

Interspersed throughout The Actor’s Life are Fischer’s tales of getting speaking parts on hit shows like Spin City and That 70’s Show, working less than desirable office gigs, falling apart at The Pottery Barn because she felt like such a loser, filming kissing and sex scenes, her wonderful relationship with her manager Naomi Odenkirk, and the dos and don’ts on how to behave on the set.

Fischer also discusses creating opportunities by generating DIY acting projects and how the iconic book The Artist’s Way helped her on her journey as did actor and friend Molly Shannon.

Within the pages of The Actor’s Life include inspirational quotes by a diverse collection of people-Einstein, Sheryl Sandburg,  Marilyn Monroe, Jon Hamm and Debra Messing.

I enjoyed reading The Actor’s Life,  starting with an introduction by Steve Carell who played the bumbling Michael Scott on The Office to Fischer’s loving acknowledgements to family, friends, and colleagues at the very end.

The Actor’s Life is honest,  funny and wise. Fischer’s writing voice is empathetic, truthful and warm. It’s a must read, and not just for actors. I’m using it as a guide as I get my writing career back on track.  I also think this book is ideal for teachers, guidance counselors, and college career centers.

It was The Office that made me a fan of Jenna Fischer and The Actor’s Life is one reason why I remain a fan.

Well that,  and we both suffer from MCG-Midwestern Catholic Guilt.

 

“Author! Author!” Writers in Their Own Words

I’ve been very fortunate to read and review some wonderful books. But I’ve never had the chance to interview any authors…until now. Thanks to the lovely Elizabeth Jahns from Beacon Publishing Group, I was able to interview the iconic comedian Kip Addotta about his memoir “Confessions of a Comedian.”

According to his website‘s bio, Mr. Addotta has appeared on such classic programs like “The Tonight Show” and the syndicated show “Make Me Laugh.”  He was also featured on “The Larry Sanders Show.” Not only a stand up comedian, Mr. Addotta is also a talented songwriter who wrote songs such as “Wet Dream,” “Big Cock Roach,” “Life in the Slaw Lane,” and “I Saw Daddy Kissing Santa Claus.” Some of these songs were featured on the the Dr. Demento radio program. In 1995, Addotta released the DVD “Live From Maximum Security!”

What inspired you to write a book?

I thought it was time to write the story of my life and help other comedians become better at the art of stand-up comedy.

Who inspired you to write your “Confessions of a Comedian”?

Steve Martin’s book, “Born Standing Up.”

How did you prepare to write this book?

I simply began putting down my memories:

“From the first interactions with “The Mob” in his early childhood, his nightmarish life with his father until he was on his own at 15 years of age, through his marriages, and how he became one of the best and most famous stand-up comedians of his time, Kip Addotta tells all. He names names and details the how-to and fine-tuning of comedy.”

Is your memoir arranged in a time?  If not, how and why?

It starts from when I was eighteen months old and ends at the present time!

What are the similarities and differences between writing a book and stand-up comedy?

They are two totally different things and it was difficult to write both!

What challenges/difficulties did you face when writing your book?

Remembering the order in which things happened and making my point without being ponderous!

What experiences do you feel were significant for you? (personally or career wise)

Meeting Jack Benny and trying to find my mother!

What difficulties did you overcome writing this memoir?

It gave me the opportunity to explain my behavior to my family and friends.

Did you include photographs? Do any of them hold any significance to you?

Yes I did and the ones of my grandmother, who raised me and my uncle Victor who were both Made members of Bonanno crime family!

What else should people know about “Confessions of a Comedian”?

That it is a true story!

What are your future plans? Will you continue to write?

I have another book in mind, but can’t divulge any information now so as not to impair the sales of my current book “Confessions of a Comedian.”

Anything else you’d like to add?

I am amazed at the response to my current book and the fact that people are finding it so entertaining!

For more information on Kip Addotta, his comedic work and his memoir “Confessions of a Comedian visit the following links:

Kip Addotta’s Website

Amazon

Good Reads

Readin’, Writin’ and Rantin’

To my readers, I know a majority of you are fully woke (or whatever the vernacular is called these days) and keep abreast of social issues. And in the age of #Metoo, #Timesup or as I like to call it The Days of Weinstein and Roses, you probably heard of a less than pleasant date and sexual encounter a young woman named “Grace” had with actor, stand-up comic and author Aziz Ansari (more on Mr. Ansari later).

This incident was first reported by Katie Way for the website Babe.net. Babe.net, a website whose existence I was not aware of until several days ago. You can read Way’s article here.

But to sum it up, Grace and Asiz went on a date. Later they went back to his place where they proceeded to have sex. Grace wasn’t exactly too enthused to have sex and expressed herself using both verbal and non-verbal cues. Aziz would stop and then proceeded in ways that are both awkward and icky.

Not surprisingly Way’s article, not to mention Babe’s existence, became the ultimate clickbait and was fodder for all kinds of media, including Jezebel.com, The Atlantic, The New York Times, Samantha Bee from “Full Frontal,” and TMZ.

One person who made her opinion on this article and the murky world of dating and sex, included legal analyst Ashleigh Banfield who made her opinion known, not just on the situation but on Babe.net and Katie Way.

With her feelings hurt, Way stomped her little feet and sent a childish, snot-nosed email, which insulted the color of Banfield’s hair and her burgundy lipstick. Way also insulted Banfield’s place in journalism. Banfield wasted no time responding to Way’s hissy fit in a way that made me cheer. Here it is:

Hey, Ms. Way, when you were eating paste, Banfield was proving her journalistic mettle from ground zero at the ruins of the World Trade Center on 9/11.

Okay, Katie I’ll let you off easy for insulting Banfield’s looks and age. I’m not exactly fond of your some your generation’s use of vocal fry, up speak and thinking a quick tweet is the same of doing the hard work of fighting for women’s rights.

However, I must instruct you on Banfield being a product of second wave feminism. Banfield was a child during the heady days of second wave feminism. She came of age of the third wave a feminism, which included books like Susan Faludi’s Backlash and Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth. It was a time of Sassy magazine and when both Bust and Bitch were being launched by Generation X feminists. It was also a time of Riot Grrrl. It was a time when Generation X women were doing everything from starting their own bands to fighting for their reproductive rights. Such notable names when it comes to third wave feminism include Kathleen Hanna, Carrie Brownstein, Amy Richards, Jennifer Baumgardner, Liz Phair, Ani Di Franco, Margaret Cho, Janeane Garofalo, Jessica Valenti, Inga Muscio, Queen Latifah and Salma Hayek. It was a time of Lilith Fair, the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, movies like Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and books like Cunt: A Declaration of Independence. And it pretty much kicked ass with a well-worn Doc Martin.

Furthermore, Katie. What is up with your solipsistic view that nobody under the age of 45 has heard of Ashleigh Banfield? Girl child learn your herstory. If I had told the advisor of my college newspaper I had never heard of women like Barbara Walters, Katherine Graham, Jane Pauley, Eleanor Clift, Nellie Bly, Linda Ellerbee, or Martha Gellhorn not only would I have been stripped of my title of editor I would have been kicked off the staff.

Now as for Aziz. As a fan of his, I must admit I am disappointed in his behavior if Grace’s story is true. He’s always come across as a male ally and totally feminist. But I find his behavior with Grace disturbing. It isn’t exactly rape or sexual assault, but it isn’t exactly the kind of behavior I would want from a man during sexy time. At best, he seems to a be a man in a state of arrested development who hasn’t built up the skills to decipher a woman’s words and gestures properly, which perhaps is something he should have a bit of handle on at 34 years old. At worst, he is rude and not respectful of a much younger woman with not as much life experience including when it comes to dating and sex. Aziz needs to keep that in mind.

As for Grace, part of me wants tell her to put on her big girl panties and tell her what she had was a bad date and regrettable sex. Next time be more assertive in her words and actions. Then I remind myself I’ve been in her situation and I forgot all about putting on my big girl panties and being assertive, too.

Relationships, even in our more enlightened times are still blurred. There is black and white, and murky shades of gray. Sexual situations often resemble a pot of noodles in various curlicues of confusion. And I hope as time goes on men and women will open up and discuss our individual experiences situations with compassion, mutual respect, open-mindedness, and a willingness to listen fully. I truly want all of us to get along.

 

Book Review: Up All Night-From Hollywood Bombshell to Lingerie Mogul, Life Lessons from an Accidental Feminist by Rhonda Shear

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I’ve often used the phrase “if so and so didn’t exist we’d probably have to invent them.” I’ve used them so often that it’s become a tired cliché. Note to self: Make one of your New Year’s resolutions to come up with a new phrase.

But I don’t have to apply this to Rhonda Shear. Shear is all about invention and re-invention. In fact, Shear is a potpourri of re-invention, a sex kitten who has lived nine lives, and will probably live nine more. And she dishes the dirt and tells her tale in her biography, Up All Night-From Hollywood Bombshell to Lingerie Mogul, Life Lessons from an Accidental Feminist.

During her life, Shear has been a New Orleans beauty queen and a struggling and striving actress who got to kiss Fonzie from the TV classic Happy Days.  Shear later became a stand-up comic and host of the popular USA network program Up All Night, fueling the fantasies of horny teenage boys, grown men and probably a few lesbians. Shear is also a hopeful romantic who found her way back to her teenage love, now husband, Van Hagen. And last but now least, Shear is now a successful “bimboproneur,” inventor of the Ahh Bra and other underthings, which she sells on HSN.

Life began very modestly for Rhonda Honey Shear born and raised in New Orleans. Named after movie star Rhonda Fleming, Shear’s parents, Jennie and Wilbur Shear, doted on little Rhonda and got her involved in dance lessons at a very young age. It was then and there Shear knew she was destined to stardom. She began to compete (and win) local beauty pageants. She also found the love of her life, Van Hagen and together they had a sweet but somewhat volatile teen-age courtship. After high school, Shear got a BA in communications from Loyola University.

After she received her degree, Shear moved to Los Angeles, where she tried to make it as an actress. She got parts in D-list fair but also got a role in Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs. She guest starred on quite a few TV shows like the aforementioned Happy Days, and shows like Cheers and Dukes of Hazzard. Shear. (But she also had to deal with a lot of #metoo issues from some unsavory types in the age before the “Days of Weinstein and Roses.”)

It was through these appearances Shear was able to hone her comedy skills, which inspired her to do her own comedy act. She spent plenty of time working at some questionable clubs but also did her act at iconic comedy showcases like the Comedy Store. She worked a lot with other comics like Gilbert Gottfried, but also developed a comedy act with other funny ladies.

But her teenage swain, Van Hagen, was still on her mind. Through the power of social media, she found her high school honey and once again they connected in a way not often seen other than in Hollywood romantic movies.

But Shear also had dreams of owning her own business and along with her new hubby, created a successful lingerie and lounge wear company, which after a few struggles is doing very well and is sold both via HSN and her website Rhondashear.com. One notable item from her line is the Ahh Bra, an actual comfortable bra!

Up All Night is composed of three parts, part one is about Shear growing up in the Big Easy, part two is about her life in Hollywood and part three is about her life in Florida with hubby Van Hagen and her life as a successful business women. These three parts are composed of chapters Shear calls lessons, lessons which include: Beauty Matters, Don’t Wait for Opportunities, Create Them and Love Has No Expiration Date.

Is this book perfect? Of course not. At times I found it a bit rushed and not fully developed. I wish Shear would have gone deeper into various phases of her life. At times, Up All Night just skimmed the surface. I wanted more cake, less frosting. Perhaps, Shear’s life would be better served through several volumes of her life story. But it’s very likely her publisher wanted to pack it all into one book.

Some of the advice Shear offers verges on Hallmark card clichés or something you might find on a bumper sticker or a fortune cookie (but then again, the advice is pretty good and I think Shear’s heart is in the right place-she really wants to be there for the reader).

Oddly enough, I found myself quite interested in her life as a beauty queen. This could be because I’m from the land of the Green Bay Packers, Wisconsin, where women where cheeseheads, not tiaras.

And as a fledgling jewelry designer with a mad love for Martha Stewart and lesser known ladies of business, I gobbled up her tale about developing her business, coming up with the Ahh Bra, and other sexy and also comfy lingerie and lounge wear designs. And I appreciate how Shear shared the good, the bad and the ugly of running one’s business, how she made her mark on HSN and life as a lady mogul. When it comes to our breasts, ladies, I don’t care if you are an A Student, packing a couple of killer Bs, a tempest in a C cup or a cornucopia of riches, a comfortable bra is every women’s birthright!

Ultimately, I grew to like Shear and her brand of feminism. Feminism is often open to interpretation (not too mention misunderstanding). You can be a feminist in so many ways, and Shear more than proves it.

Brag Book (Not About Me)

Tari Jordan!!!

Readers of this blog are quite familiar with Tari. She’s written several guest posts at The Book Self. She also wrote a review of the movie 68 Kill for my other blog Popcorn In My Bra featuring her favorite actor, the multi-talented Matthew Gray Gubler. Tari is a huge fan of the television show Criminal Minds featuring Mr. Gubler as resident genius of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) Dr. Spencer Reid. Ms. Jordan is the resident genius of her blog Criminal Minds Fans, where she has written about the show for several years now.

Recently Tari got treated to an amazing adventure.

She and her friend Ryka got to visit the Criminal Minds set and learned about the blood, sweat and tears that makes Criminal Minds happen!

But don’t take my word for it. Be a lamb and learn about Tari and Ryka’s excellent journey at Criminal Minds Fans.

(Squeals up in 30 milliseconds)

Once again, congratulations Tari. No matter, what you’re always a winner is my book!

Book Review:Record Collecting for Girls by Courtney E Smith

Sometimes I have to remind myself not to take things so literally. When picked up Ms. Smith’s book, I truly thought it would be about collecting records (or musical downloads considering it’s the 21st century), with intelligent and knowledgeable essays about various musical genres, musicians, singers, songwriters and how they can affect you as a woman and a lover of music.

After reading Record Collecting for girls, I now realize why we are told “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

On paper Smith seems like the coolest girl in the universe. She honed her love of music while in college. For nearly a decade she was the music programmer and manager of label relations at MTV. She chose videos for 20 of MTV’s musical platforms. Reading about her tenure and her multitude of accomplishments truly excited me as a reader…and to be honest, kind of intimidated me.

But Smith’s time with MTV was the only thing that impressed me as I kept on reading and discovered her experience with music has all of the depth of a 12 inch extended re-mix of Duran Duran’s classic song “Hungry Like the Wolf.” I was hoping for a younger version of one of my favorite music journalists Lisa Robinson. Sadly, Smith is just another “Becky,” more boy crazy than a true connoisseur of music.

Record Collecting for Girls is more of a memoir of Smith’s various boyfriends; for the most part music is secondary. After a while, I started thinking, “Okay, I get it, Courtney. Guys think you’re hot. Now will you please write more on why music is such an important part of your life?”

For someone who spends a lot of time discussing her boyfriends, Smith has all the charm of a constantly skipping vinyl record while teaching us on the difference between “groupies” and “wives.” And she wastes no time ripping apart one of the most famous groupies of all time, the lovely Pamela Des Barres (who was married to rocker Michael Des Barres for quite a long time). To Smith, Des Barres is nothing but an airheaded twit who allowed herself be exploited by rock and roll greats. To Miss Pamela’s credit, she is quite forthcoming when it comes to the good, the bad and ugly of being a woman and a fan in the world of rock and roll. She doesn’t sugarcoat anything. She’s also a vastly superior writer to Smith. Smith’s derision towards other female rock fans is truly “mean girl.”

When it comes to women who play music, most of her wasted ink is on both the Bangles and the Go-Gos. There is nearly zilch on other lady music luminaries like Debbie Harry, Patty Smith, Stevie Nicks, Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell, Carol King, Annie Lennox, Joan Jett, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Diana Ross, Nina Simone or Janis Joplin. Other bands with a strong female presence like Heart, Sonic Youth, The Talking Heads, The Runaways, The Velvet Underground or The Breeders also don’t get much of a mention. Also pretty much ignored? Tori Amos, Liz Phair, Jewel, Ani DiFranco, Sarah McLachlan, Alanis Morrisette and any band related to the Riot Grrrl era.

Smith also ignores the positive female icons of hip hop like Queen Latifah, Monie Love, Missy Elliott, Salt n’ Pepa, and TLC.

As for well-known female millennial artists like Taylor Swift, Kesha, Katy Perry, Rihanna, or Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj or Janelle Monae? Forget about it.

Smith does go on forever when it comes to Madonna, but who hasn’t? And she does have a love for the Pussycat Dolls. I won’t hold that against her; for there is a place in my heart for both Bananarama and the Spice Girls.

Now what about the men of rock and roll? Smith has a particular dislike for the Smiths because guys who like the Smiths also are fans of serial killers. Gee, I’m not exactly a fan of someone who spells Morrissey’s first name wrong. It’s Steven, not Stephen.

And FYI Courtney. It’s Berry Gordy, not Barry Gordy and it’s “Jennifer Juniper,” not “Jennifer Jupiter.”

Now that I’ve written that sentence I am several IQ points stupider. Or should I say “stupiter?”

Her chapter on The Beatles vs. The Stones hardly breaks new ground. And her chapter on the various songs couples choose as “our song,” break up songs, and songs for making out won’t keep Rob Sheffield up at night.

There are some highlights. She provides lists of songs at the end of each chapter that might help you pick out new music to listen to and she writes well when writing about some of her favorite artists, which include REM, Fiona Apple, Elvis Costello, Stevie Nicks, and Sleater-Kinney.

But other than those few crumbs, Record Collecting for Girls is a waste of time. Smith’s writing is both hollow and pretentious. You’re better off reading High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, or at least renting the John Cusack movie of the same name.