Good times were had.
A mere six months into my 30s, I find myself already looking back on college with the same abstract nostalgia one might apply to say…fax machines. Like, wasn’t that so neat at the time? How you could totally put a sheet of paper with stuff on it into a machine and then a machine somewhere else would, moments later, spit out an identical sheet of paper with identical stuff on it? That was cool. Good times were had. Documents were faxed. But now is better: We have email now. Cell phones. AirDrop. Dropbox. The cloud. And if all else fails, the NSA.
I loved college; I made some of my best friends there. College was the last time one could wear pajama pants in public, or don costumes for spontaneously invented themed drinking nights, or go for second helpings of frozen yogurt at no additional charge. But I also enjoy being an adult, and I know—in whatever corner of my brain isn’t penetrated by models and actresses and the implications of every movie and television show ever—that being young is for the birds. Being young is like fax machines: Wasn’t it neat when you could say “I’m going to hit up three different parties tonight” and then you would actually do it? That was cool. Good times were had. But now is better: Now it’s happy hour and then a good night’s sleep. Continue reading
Gone are the days when a Scientology exposé had the impact of a classified document dump—defections from the notoriously insulated religion now occur with all the frequency of Justin Bieber meltdowns. In 2013, Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear documented the experiences of several formerly high-ranking Scientology members; Alex Gibney’s HBO adaptation aired in March. Jenna Miscavige Hill, niece of Scientology leader David Miscavige, wrote a memoir about her time in the church, as have a half-dozen other former practitioners. The secrets of a church that claims its secrets are too mind-blowing for the average person to know have long since been revealed.
Still, Leah Remini’s Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology was highly anticipated. A member of the church for more than 30 years—she joined as a child after her mother started dating a Scientologist—Remini had long been a committed, if not hugely vocal, Scientologist. Her defection was a blow even for a church that knows a lot about bad press.
“Leah Remini has become what she once declared she never wanted to be known as: ‘this bitter ex-Scientologist,'” the church wrote in a statement about the book. “She needs to move on with her life instead of pathetically exploiting her former religion, her former friends and other celebrities for money and attention to appear relevant again.” Continue reading
R.L. Stine has been murdering teenagers for 30 years.
Considered the king of young-adult horror fiction—he remembers being described as a “literary training bra for Stephen King”—Stine is best known as the author of the popular 1990s book series Goosebumps and Fear Street. In the same way J.K. Rowling introduced many a young millennial to the recreational reading rainbow, Stine’s prolific penmanship—at his peak, he was writing one Goosebumps and one Fear Street a month—is the core around which many ’90s kids developed a love of fiction.
Stine has continued to write since his heyday, and the 72-year-old author recently returned to his roots with a six-book revival of the Fear Street series, whose third installment, The Lost Girl, was released in September. Goosebumps, a movie based on that series and starring Jack Black as Stine, came out in October.
For a man who seems to know his place in the fiction canon—he has sold more than 400 million books—Stine is matter-of-fact about his popularity, a humility that seems in part tied to his family. Stine’s wife, Jane, is his editor (“It’s the worst,” he says, smiling), and his 35-year-old son, Matthew, has never read one of his books, despite helping with Stine’s website. “[Matthew] used to sell characters to his friends at school,” Stine tells me. “He’d say, ‘Oh, for $20, you can be in my dad’s next book.’” Continue reading
Like most great controversies, it all started with Oprah.
Back in 2001, Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections was selected for Oprah’s Book Club, at a time when OBC was nirvana for publishers—an immediate launching pad to record-breaking sales and endless press. Franzen shot some b-roll with O, but his invitation for an official sit-down was rescinded after a series of interviews in which he expressed reservations about the pick. “I had some hope of actually reaching a male audience and I’ve heard more than one reader in signing lines now at bookstores say ‘If I hadn’t heard you, I would have been put off by the fact that it is an Oprah pick,”’ Franzen told NPR at the time. “Those are male readers speaking.”
Oprah and Franzen eventually made up—ever a badass, in 2010 she selected his novel Freedom for her book club and the duo intellectually hugged it out on camera—but even after a decade of half-assed backpedaling, Franzen has struggled (or refused) to shed his reputation as an ungrateful douche. “I think [Oprah] was surprised that I wasn’t moaning with shock and pleasure,” he told Slate of the Corrections debacle in 2013. “I’d been working nine years on the book and FSG had spent a year trying to make a best-seller of it. It was our thing. She was an interloper, coming late, and with an expectation of slavish gratitude and devotion for the favor she was bestowing.”
Oprah isn’t Franzen’s only beef. He also has a longstanding feud with author Jennifer Weiner, who has made Franzen the poster child for her crusade against the literary establishment’s gender problem. Weiner says male authors like Franzen get a disproportionate share of attention and review space, while Franzen says that if there is a lit-fiction gender gap, Weiner isn’t a victim of it. “She is asking for a respect that not just male reviewers, but female reviewers, don’t think her work merits,” Franzen said in February. “To me it seems she’s freeloading on the legitimate problem of gender bias in the canon, and over the years in the major review organs, to promote herself, basically.” Continue reading
One morning in the mid-1970s, a cocaine-addled George Carlin wakes up and thinks the sun is exploding. “I shake Brenda awake: ‘Get Kelly up! The sun has exploded! We have eight minutes to live!’” Carlin told Tony Hendra for his autobiography Last Words. “I was certain it had exploded and we had eight minutes for the shock wave to get here, which would then be the end of the world.”
Kelly Carlin, George’s daughter, was 11 at the time, but more than 40 years later she still remembers well those panicked minutes. Looking for a second opinion, George calls longtime friend Joe Belardino, who is five hours away in Sacramento. “I sat on the edge of my parents’ bed tensely listening as Dad hurriedly explained to Joe what was going on,” Kelly writes in her memoir, A Carlin Home Companion: Growing Up With George, which goes on sale this week. “With a look of hope on his face, Dad covered the mouthpiece and said, ‘He’s checking.’”
Joe ultimately confirmed the false alarm—“No, it looks okay up here”—and the story of the exploding sun becomes Carlin family legend, the kind of funny-in-hindsight anecdote that belies how terrifying it would be to have a parent shake you awake with warnings of an imminent doomsday scenario. Continue reading
For more than five years—basically since I started living alone—there is a set window of time during which I can watch horror movies: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends, and during the week never (unless I feel like some Freddy Krueger before breakfast). Because even as I settle into the throes of adulthood, I am still easily scared. I hate peeking under my bed, or behind the shower curtain, and closing my mirrored medicine cabinet still makes my heart flutter. All of which I credit to a childhood spent watching wildly inappropriate B horror movies rented from the kind of video store that had an adult section. When Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer brought the horror genre back into the mainstream in the late ‘9os, I didn’t know whether to be more excited about my favorite genre’s budding popularity, or Skeet Ulrich.
Scream creator Wes Craven’s death this week is no small loss for scary cinema, and has me reflecting on what it was about Scream that catapulted a silly slasher flick into worldwide popularity. Despite a very of-the-moment cast (did I mention Skeet Ulrich?) and genius mask work, Scream’s true strength was in its wink at the fourth wall—the veil between fiction and reality that has to exist lest we start wondering why everyone in horror movies acts like they’ve never seen one before. Don’t go up the stairs! Don’t look for that laughing child! TURN AROUND!! Scream took cinematic self-awareness to the next level, as its main characters often preempted their own murders with diatribes on the inherent ridiculousness of horror movie tropes. “It was a tactic that made even Scream’s most cliche moments feel ironic and sophisticated,” I wrote in Newsweek. Continue reading
Sometimes—often, if you’re lucky—you’ll read a book you want to share with the world, the kind of book whose praises you sing to family, friends and coworkers. The kind of book you gift so indiscriminately come Christmas—”and YOU get a copy! and YOU get a copy!”—that loved ones are convinced you must be making a cut of the proceeds. For me those books come few and far between; in the last 12 months I’d say only The Martian and We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves qualify (and you’re welcome). But it would be a mistake to assume that the accessible books are the most memorable, or the most important. Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts isn’t a share-with-the-world type of book, but it’s one of the most elegant and insightful things I’ve read in recent memory.
I should start out by admitting that I am a Nelson virgin, and further that I’m not intellectual or academic or literary enough to know whether that’s something to be, if not ashamed of, then distressed by. But there’s something pure about going into a book as intimate as The Argonauts knowing nothing of its author or her prior work. TA is a love story of sorts, told in snippets of thought and anecdote interspersed with heavy philosophizing—and quoting of philosophers and other intellectuals—on such subjects as love, gender, sexuality, parenting, feminism and identity. If that sounds like a freshman seminar in Women’s Studies, it should—except Nelson does it with such nuance and efficiency that one never feels overwhelmed by the breadth of knowledge, or browbeaten by dogma. Her story is personal, which makes her vulnerable in telling it, which makes any invocation of philosophy more inquisitive than pretentious. Continue reading