I have very mixed, split-down-the-middle feelings about Patton Oswalt’s Zombie Spaceship Wasteland. Without going through and counting the pages, I think I liked exactly half of this book. It’s kind of a mixed bag of autobiography, faux greeting card explanations, epic poetry and comic stories all written by actor, comedian and long time book fan Oswalt. I’m a big fan of his stand-up, his ultra geeky character on King of Queens and the movie roles I’ve seen him in like the lead voice in Ratatouille and Young Adult.
When it came to this under-200-page book I got from the library for work purposes (I might be working on a list of Oswalt’s geekier non-stand up moments in the future), it didn’t take a long time to read and I’m not perturbed by the parts that I didn’t like, I just skipped or skimmed them. The parts I was drawn to were the autobiographical sections. Oswalt talks about the movie theater he worked at as a kid, how books and music influenced him, how his opinions on his crazy uncle changed over time, how different comedians dealt with their crafts and one terrible week he spent in Canada. My favorite part of the book was the title section in which Oswalt labels many of his fellow geeks, artists and angry young men as either a Zombie, a Spaceship or a Wasteland and how that relates to music, sci-fi and other artistic endeavors. It’s honestly brilliant, solid, well thought out and the kind of thing that everyone who considers themselves a geek should check out.
I was less interested in the epic poem he wrote about his Dungeons & Dragons character, the multiple pages of notes written regarding the punching up of a comedy screenplay or the explanations of fake greeting card artwork. There were definitely funny moments to these portions, but I didn’t want to read that when I wanted to find out more about Oswalt as a person. It wasn’t really fair of me because I was comparing my expectations to the actual product and down that path leads ruin. Oswalt even points out in the intro that the book is a hodgepodge and it really is.
At the end of the day, it only took me a few days to read this book, so my complaints are miniscule in comparison to the enjoyment I did get out of the book in a fairly short amount of time. If nothing else, it makes me like Oswalt all the more and hope that he takes the time to sit down and write more whether that’s a fictional story or an autobiographical one, I’ll be there to check it out. Essentially, ZSW is like a Patton Oswalt writing appetizer. You get an idea of what he can do in various styles and formats and probably have a good idea of what else you’d like to read of him in those styles and formats.
Long before I finished Please Kill Me, I was working on creating my next Ambitious Reading List. As I said at the end of that review, I’m a big fan of this much-smaller version of my larger to-read pile. Helps me stay focused while also keeping my interest not only in reading, but in crossing one book off the list and moving on to the next. Most of the books in this pile are newer to that pile, but there are a few that have been sitting around for a while too.
From the top, I picked up Robert Ludlum’s Bourne Identity at a flea market out of sheer interest based on the Matt Damon movies. I can’t keep the straight, but I’m curious to see how this book compares to the movies as well as an audiobook version of The Bourne Legacy that we finished recently and will review soon. I’ve also got an Elmore Leonard book called Riding The Rap in there. I bought this for $2 at a used book store based solely on Leonard’s name. Love that dude’s books. After that is Hunger Games, which my wife read and liked. My last ARL got in the way of me reading this over the summer, so I included it this time. I hope to compare it to the movie somewhere down the line too.
I actually started reading Michael Chabon’s Manhood For Amateurs around the time our daughter was born, or maybe just before. It’s a great book of essays I’m looking forward to finishing. I’ve been living a lie with Wizard of Oz, keeping it on my shelf since high school without every reading the whole thing. I plan on remedying that and also telling a pretty great story about the signature I have in that book. After that it’s Patton Oswalt’s Zombie Spaceship Wasteland which I got from the library for a list I was working on before my pal Rob Bricken moved from Topless Robot to io9. I have no idea where that list will lie, but that’s the first book on the pile I’m reading because I’m lousy at getting books back on time.
From there I’ve got the illustrated version of the unfilmed Harlan Ellison script based on Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot,Marc Eliot’s book about Cary Grant which I got because George Hamilton made him sound really interesting in his book and Peter Ackroyd’s retelling of Geoffry Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. I read parts of the original in college, but could barely get through it, man.
I got Raiders! thanks to a PR email letting me know about this book about the guys that made the 80s Raiders of the Lost Ark fan film. Then I’ve got It Happened In Manhattan, an oral history about the Big Apple by Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer and finally Harvey Pekar’s graphic novel adaptation of Studs Terkel’s classic look at careers, jobs and Americans Working. As you can see, it’s another eclectic mix. I’m pretty jazzed to be adding a few different formats (screenplays, essays, graphic novels) and also think that this one might go a little bit quicker than the previous one, assuming I still have time to read. The next few months are going to be pretty busy/crazy.
Last week I watched the Diabolo Cody-written, Jason Reitman-directed flick Young Adult. It’s about Mavis (Charlize Theron), a woman who ghost writes a young adult book series aimed at teenage girls deciding she wants to return to the small town she grew up on and get back together with her longtime boyfriend who happens to be married and a new dad. It’s kind of a modern day Madame Bovary with the main character being a woman mostly disconnected from reality and has based her new plans on the kind of fiction she’s absorbed in the modern world. By that I mean Mavis thinks she can win her boyfriend back because that’s what she’s seen in movies and read in books, but this is real life and things don’t work out that way.
The movie is basically one well-orchestrated train wreck with comedian Patton Oswalt acting as the audience’s stand in. He was a fellow classmate of Mavis’ and was beaten almost to death in high school by a bunch of jocks who thought he was gay. He, like any rational person, tells her that her plan is stupid and that she should forget it, but she keeps on going, fueled at times by his homemade liquor. Theirs is a weird friendship, one I didn’t get to see all of because the Netflix DVD I got was messed up and I had to skip the first scene of her in his garage where he was showing her his still.
I don’t think I liked this film, though it was mostly well done. Mavis is not likeable whatsoever and her plan is foolish. I get that she’s supposed to be this tragic figure, just like Madame Bovary, but if you expect sympathy from this guy because you can’t get a handle on reality, you’re barking up the wrong tree. I mostly just didn’t care about anything in the movie. I liked Patton’s character and the object of Mavis’ affection and even his wife, but when the entire movie is framed through her perspective and it’s one I so clearly disagree with/don’t care about, what’s the point? Maybe it’s because I’m a new(ish) dad myself, but the idea of a woman trying to weasel her way between my family and me holds zero interest and was obviously doomed to fail from the beginning begging the question again, what’s the point? Is it to show me that, as the tagline points out, everyone gets old, but not everyone grows up. Yup, no shit.
While I’ve liked some of Reitman’s other movies like Thank You For Smoking, I’ve found I’m not a big fan of his collaborations with Cody (Juno fell flat for me and didn’t live up to the hype whatsoever). It seems to me like when they’re together they’re both trying way to hard to make me feel something without doing the leg work to actually get me there emotionally. Sure, it was awkward when Mavis had her meltdown at the baby party, but it was just because that was a break from social convention and I was seeing a drunk be stupid, it wasn’t because I feel for her and care about her and am sorry she’s feeling so bad (like I often do with Michael Scott or David Brent on the two Offices). On the other hand, Oswalt does customize action figures, so maybe I do like the film.