Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Thank You for Smoking

            Thank You for Smoking* is about cigarettes and the various nefarious institutions that propagated them during the 1990s. The impressive protagonist, Nick Naylor, is one of the main spokesmen for a tobacco lobby. He’s a great mind to peek inside because he’s good at what he does and what he does is “bad”. It’s fun to read his inner thought and outer dialogue because he’s slick, intelligent, and the master of spin. A senator from Vermont wants to slap warning labels on cigarette packs? Well, if you go down that road, you’ll have to label artery-clogging Vermont cheddar cheese as well!

            The author, Christopher Buckley, uses his experience as a speechwriter in Washington to inform his smartly written satire that casts a critical eye on the junction of politics and lobbying. Aside from some of the fantastical plot points, it reads as a factual account of tobacco’s response to increased regulation. The subject matter is, of course, historical, which makes the mockery even more incisive.

            I enjoyed the fast-paced, meaty middle of the book, but towards the end, the plot became over-complicated. As a result, Buckley had to cram a bunch of last-minute poorly fleshed out details in the final 50 pages to be able to address what he’d created. Then, he had to insert a four-page epilogue set in the future to sweepingly acknowledge certain plot-points that should have received more attention. I wish that he’d extended the book because I think that over time, the intricate, messy parts could have been smoothed.  

            Moreover, the ending is as cheesy as Vermont cheddar cheese. I don’t appreciate when all of the wrongs are unrealistically right-ed (for those of you who have seen the movie, apparently the ending is different). Don’t give me a picture-perfect happy ending if the book doesn’t warrant it. Nick Naylor can’t talk his way out of this one-- Thank You for Smoking receives 3 out of 5 camel humps.

*Buckley, Christopher. Thank You for Smoking. New York: Random House, 1994. Print.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman

            I haven’t seen When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, or You’ve Got Mail because I was an uncultured, sheltered child when the films premiered. Actually, I take that back. I saw one scene of You’ve Got Mail three years ago. My roommate was watching and I popped my head around the corner when I heard Dave Chappelle’s voice. You’ve Got Rick James, Bitch.

            Regardless of the fact that I’m a Nora-newb, I picked up her collection of non-fiction essays-- I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman*. Apparently I’m going through a phase in which I favor the weathered rawness of an older New York woman who is well established in the elitist literary and cinematic world. First stop, Joan Didion. Next stop, Nora Ephron. I’m in a mood.

            Most of what she discusses seems superficial, initially. Overflowing purses, expensive neck cream, and bygone Manhattan real estate. Somehow, she manages to plunge readers into something deeper. She speaks with the wittiness that accompanies candor. She’s unapologetic about her good fortune but she’s willing to tell a joke at her own expense. She’s not crazy about this whole “getting older” thing, and she’s not going to lie to you and tell you everything will turn out okay.

            In 2012, Nora Ephron died at age 71 from complications associated with leukemia. Her death reverberated through Hollywood as a shock, because she kept her illness a secret. Reportedly, she was diagnosed with cancer in 2006. This book was published in 2006. I could speculate a vague timeline, but it wouldn’t matter much. She felt a certain way about aging, and she wrote about it, informed by her diagnosis or not.

            Still, I can’t stop thinking about her disease and death in conjunction with her book; it haunts me. In reference to the recent passing of her good friend, she writes, “I say the ‘eventuality,’ but that’s one of the oddest things about this whole subject. Death doesn’t really feel eventual or inevitable. It still feels…avoidable somehow” (Ephron, 133). I connect with what she says, as I suspect most people do. The glaring reality that she wasn’t able to avoid the chasm makes vibing with her words all the more unsettling.

            Ephron’s book about death is a guide on how to live. I’ve had her ghost following me around all week, and I haven’t resisted. If you want a laugh with the lingering aftertaste of discomfort, check out I Feel Bad About My Neck. And stock up on fashionable turtlenecks for your mid-fifties. I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman receives 5 out of 5 camel humps.

*Ephron, Nora. I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. Print.

*Bernstein, Adam. “Nora Ephron, prolific author and screenwriter, dies at age 71.” The Washington Post. 26 June 2012. Web. 5 Sept. 2017.