Thanks for the Money: How to Use My Life Story to Become the Best Joel McHale You Can Be by Joel McHale

29429952Do you like Joel McHale? If yes, then you’ll love this book. If no, what the hell are you doing here? My mom thinks Joel is kinda funny, and she kinda liked this book when I lent it to her (sorry, Joel!). The theory checks out.

Though Joel McHale was not my first E! clip show about television show host crush (that honor goes to John Henson – who I almost met during my LA life at a taping of a failed talk show pilot – and his lovely skunk streak!), he’s my longest lasting one. He’s also one of the first people I remember following on Twitter (I joined for Rainn Wilson and Paul Feig, but Joel is the first one I kept). Our greatest Twitter interaction came in 2012:

Which of course led him to slide into my DMs:
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We did not start a torrid Twitter affair (something about him being in love with his wife and me being too star-struck to respond – whatever), but I realized the power of the celebrity talk show host/sitcom-that’s-not-a-traditional-sitcom star. And luckily, four years later, he came out with a book to allow me to harness that power for myself. And when I finally read it two years later, it was pretty funny.

Like all celebrities, the beginning is humble, the middle is funny, but it goes on for much longer than anyone would prefer. Would I buy it again? Nah, that’s what libraries are for. But he got my money, and really, that’s all he cares about.

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Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, A Life in Balance by Simone Biles

31847558Simone Biles is the most decorated American gymnast and one of the best (if not the best) we’ve ever seen. She doesn’t just win, she blows the competition away by full points. My fav, Aly Raisman, even joked that winning the all-around silver at the Rio Olympics was like winning first because no one had a chance when competing against Simone.

Simone’s memoir takes a surface look at her life from bouncy toddler of a mother who had to give her up to her grandparents (who adopted her and became her parents) to Olympic Gold Medalist. Gymnastics (or at least tumbling) seemed to come naturally to her and you can feel her joy for the sport in the pages. Her concentration on things like deals about belly button rings display her bubbly personality and youth. She’s surprisingly self-aware her bad attitude in practice as she went through her teen years, which is refreshing if hard to believe.

The book ends with her carrying the flag for the U.S. delegation into the closing ceremonies of the Rio Olympics. She’s upbeat, positive, and full of possibility. She only has good things to say about USAG, the Ranch, and her experience in gymnastics. Reading it after Aly’s book and knowing her #metoo story, I wonder how she’d change things today. Nevertheless, I look forward to Simone’s return to competition and the continuation of her story!

Fierce: How Competing for Myself Changed Everything by Aly Raisman

As you can see, I didn’t come close to my reading goal last year. But I’m back at it again, hoping to get through the pile of books I’ve accumulated in the last couple of years. More time reading is one of my New Year’s resolutions.

35565694I’ve loved gymnastics as long as I can remember. Shannon Miller was my first favorite gymnast. Then Carly Patterson. Then Shawn Johnson. Then Aly Raisman.

I first remember seeing Aly Raisman at the 2012 National Championships. All the commentators were talking about Jordyn Wieber and Gabby Douglas. I kept yelling at the TV – “What about Aly? She’s really good.” Same thing at the Olympic Trials. And when Aly got the second all-around spot over Jordyn at the 2012 Olympics, no one seemed to care that Aly was better; it was all about how Jordyn had been two-per-countried (which is rightfully a dumb thing that should be gotten rid of). All this to say, Aly’s my girl and I think she’s amazing.

When she announced she was going to write a book a year after the 2016 Games, I was psyched to read it. She’s the one that everyone counted out, but depended on when it mattered. The workhorse. I wanted to hear what it felt like to be in that position. Then she revealed she was one of Larry Nassar’s victims, and my heart broke for her. The book isn’t about that, but she is very clear that what happened was awful, it could happen to anyone, and it needs to be stopped.

Her treatment by USA Gymnastics was appalling in many instances (listen to the GymCastic review for most of them!) and I’m happy to see that she’s not be cowed to be quiet. But there are times when she tells stories that are so demeaning or ridiculous, but you can tell she doesn’t get that it was wrong – just that’s how it was, which breaks my heart.

The book is definitely aimed at young gymnasts who want to read about their hero, so it’s not a challenging read, but it’s still interesting. I can’t wait to see what Aly does next!

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes with Joe Layden

21412202The first movie I can remember watching is The Princess Bride. I’m sure there were Disney movies before that, but this is the first movie I have a clear memory of watching. My family would always spend a week on the Outer Banks with another family (the parents were my parents best friends from college) and one evening, they put in the VHS tape of The Princess Bride. I know I didn’t get all the jokes, but it was fast and funny with all the things that Peter Falk describes at the beginning – “fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…” I also, of course, had a huge crush on Westley!

That was the first of MANY, MANY viewings. So, when I saw that Cary Elwes was coming to the Castro Theatre in 2015 for a Quote-Along screening of the film, followed by a Q&A and book signing, I knew we had to be there. The screening itself was hilarious. It was so fun to be with 3000 other people who know all the words and enjoy being dorks about it. My dad even got an inflatable sword to wave about when they start fighting. The Q&A highlighted a few of the anecdotes from the book, but the best part was getting my copy of the book signed by the man himself. I can’t recall what I might have said (if anything at all), but I DO remember that his eyes were incredible! I was giddy the whole way home, having met my first crush and not embarrassing myself (for once).

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Meeting Westley in person

Oh right, the book! I don’t know why it took me so long to actually finish this book as it’s a delightful read. Elwes is self-deprecating about his own part in things, while heaping glowing praise on his co-stars. It’s a lovefest all around, as his co-stars also contribute anecdotes related to each chapter. I loved the behind the scenes photos and all of his stories about Andre the Giant. I also hadn’t realized all the work that went into the sword fight as well as how extended it became at the last minute. Elwes is good-natured about how the movie is entwined with his legacy, which is always nice to read, since some actors get tetchy about associated with one role, no matter how long ago it was.

My only quibble with the book is that the anecdotes from his cast members are presented in boxes along with the main text, so it’s hard to figure out when the read them without losing the story that Elwes is telling. I’m sure there’s a good reason for the publisher doing this, but it was rather distracting. However, the book has further enhanced my enjoyment of the movie (which was on cable this week) as I watch for all the little things he mentioned. Knowing that he really was knocked unconscious after the Fire Swamp put that scene a whole new light! But I don’t want to give away anymore – you should really just read the book because it’s excellent, and then watch the movie because it’s excellent.

“Yes, you’re very smart. Shut up.”

What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman

18373272Turns out, when I don’t spend so much of my life on planes, I don’t read as much – oops! One of my co-workers lent me this book back in February before my first jaunt across the country, but I didn’t get it read until now – double oops!

Kristin Newman’s travel memoir hits a lot of my buttons, but I still ended up feeling a little empty at the end. Maybe it was the movie-perfect ending, whether after all her travels and friends and men, she’s no longer single and everything turned out great. My intense wanderlust jealousy was also activated as she described some truly amazing activities that I’d love to have the opportunity to try. Or perhaps it was the fact that she’s a successful television writer (my secret dream) with tons of disposable income (see all her travels) and time off during hiatus months. It also didn’t help that she and I are totally different kinds of travelers and she’d probably hate traveling with me because I “do it wrong.”

I did enjoy her advice to “do the thing you’re supposed to do in the place you’re supposed to do it.” You really can’t do wrong with that.