Thursday, March 7, 2013

The big disconnect

Book: The Big Rewind: A Memoir Brought to You By Pop Culture
Author: Nathan Rabin
Published: 2009 (Scribner)
Pages: 339

Ugh. Okay, so AV Club writing + crazy life + Friends of the Library book sale = the perfect $2 storm of a reading experience, right? Not so much.

Rabin’s really good at writing about pop culture and showing how everything from The Great Gatsby to gangster rap shapes culture and relates to and builds on and influences and saves and reforms each other and its audience. He’s also got a hell of a turbulent early life that clung to pop culture as an escape to better things that became his real life. Unfortunately, these two things are not combined. In a memoir where that’s supposed to be the whole point. That is a problem.

Each chapter’s headed by a title, a subtitle of the pop culture work that’s supposed to have something to do with the chapter’s subject, and then – and THEN a second subtitle that’s no more than another zinger. And oh sweet mumbo jumbo there are zingers. ALL. OVER. I’m not going to take Rabin’s depressed dad, runaway mom, stay in a disturbed teenage home, or exploding supernova of a terrible first relationship seriously if he’s trying his standup act all in this.

I love sarcasm and it’s the best emotional shield/bonding device ever, but especially in personal prose like oh I don’t know a memoir, it keeps dear readers at arms’ length at the exact moments when you need to draw them close to give them anything more than a shallow experience.

And beyond a paragraph or half-page at the beginning of each chapter, the particular pieces of pop culture are never mentioned in the kind of soul-saving life-molding specifics that I was so looking forward to hearing about. Dude, I am basically a pile of books and CDs and Seinfeld and Star Wars and Doctor Who quotes built in the rough shape of a human being; I understand this shit and I survived high school exactly like this, but there weren’t nearly enough personal connections between the narrative and the material to make me feel like I know Rabin any more than his naked commune neighbors.

I’d been looking forward to reading this, too. The AV Club podcast has spoiled me on pop culture connection storytelling, I guess, although Rabin has always been my least favorite speaker for the reasons as state above so I should’ve known. Such high hopes are going into the donate pile.*
*Actually a trash bag I will have to haul out to my car soon before it gets too heavy. 

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