Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Book Review: Talking as Fast as I Can

Meeting the actor or actress behind a famous character can be a bit like pulling the curtain away from the glorious wizard in The Wizard of Oz. In other words, it can be a let-down when you discover the magic was created by someone altogether different from what you imagined. This was my experience encountering Mel Gibson. I loved him in such movies as Forever Young, The Man Without a Face (one of my all time favorites), Braveheart, The Patriot, and What Women Want. Then, I saw him on a talk show, shortly after Braveheart. In real life, he seemed crass, rude, and brash. All my happy images of the characters he portrayed beautifully suddenly shifted. Granted, I will still watch those movies and relish his performance, but my respect for the man behind the mask has been stripped away. He is only human, after all, not the wizard he pretends to be.

Thus, when I saw advertisements for Lauren Graham's memoir, Talking as Fast as I Can, I was hesitant to pick it up. What if she turned out to be crass, rude, and brash? What if, in attempting to be as humorous as her beloved character on The Gilmore Girls, she tried too hard and impressed too little.

I'm a big Gilmore Girls fan. In my previous life, back when I worked full time and had a young child who dictated the channel setting (oh, yeah, I still have that), I occasionally caught an episode here or there. I loved the characters, the witty banter, the clever come-backs, and the sweet relationship between Lorelai and Rory. It was only months ago, when I discovered all seven seasons of the show available on Netflix that I became literally obsessed. I loved that I could watch it in snatches on my phone in the quiet of my room after washing up the dinner dishes or while waiting to transport my middle-schooler home from his post-school work-out sessions.

It became a bit of a running gag in our house. Where's Mom? Oh, she's in her room watching yet another episode of The Gilmore Girls. When I realized that my boys didn't mind the interruption and actually relished watching with me (imagine, if you will, us belting along to the theme song - truly happened on more than one occasion), I began to watch some of the episodes on our television in the living room. It was a cozy something we shared (although I don't approve of everything on the show and thus had to provide them with some parental commentary).

Thankfully, meeting Lauren Graham through this memoir was painless and fun. It turned out, she is down-to-earth, real, and delightful. I liked her just as much as the character she portrayed. I breathed a sigh of relief because she wasn't crude and didn't try too hard to make a favorable impression. By listening to the audio version (read by Lauren), it did indeed feel like "catching up with your best friend, laughing and swapping stories" - a back-cover teaser - but I put my name on the hold list for the hard cover book, nonetheless, because I missed out on the photos accompanying the text.

I also appreciated her humility. Instead of focusing on herself (a key player in the popularity of the show), she highlights the many quality actors and actresses who played their parts so skillfully that they seemed perfectly cast (here I think aloud of Rory, Lorelei's mother, Luke Danes, Michele, Suki, and the hilariously ubiquitous Kirk). Moreover, she recognizes the finesse of the writing team behind the dialogue that won the hearts of the American people. The witty banter I so love in the show lends the title to this book. The scripts apparently became longer and longer because Lorelei's character was so well-known for her quick responses and her fast talking.

As a writer, I was pleased to find advice on tackling daunting writing tasks (since Lauren wears the writer hat on occasion, as well). It reaffirmed my belief in the power of getting it down without worrying about the quality or quantity. She reiterates someone else's advice to set a timer for a do-able increment (say, an hour, or less if your schedule doesn't even allow for a solid hour) and refuse to give in to any other distraction. I loved the idea of pulling up two documents: your work-in-progress and a personal journal. How freeing it must be to know that when you set out to put in your allotted time, if the work-in-progress is stuck, you simply pass over to journaling. This sounds reminiscent to Ray Bradbury's advice to begin by randomly writing down a list of words. The very act of coming up with those words tends to trigger a path into reasonably productive territory. But then again, you're free of the worry associated with productivity at the outset. The key, as always, is to silence the inner editor, the task-master, and the naysayer, and simply focus on pushing out the words.

Pull me off to the side in a room full of people and I will happily talk your arm off about what I liked and didn't like about both The Gilmore Girls and the Netflix series of A Year in the Life of the Gilmore Girls. Dare I admit that I was so frustrated in my efforts to find another engaging series to watch on Netflix that I have begun season one all over again? My fascination is cemented. My relief is immense. I like Lauren Graham just as much after encountering her behind the screen as I did before she stepped out from behind the curtain. And if my book reviews taper off, you can bet I'm either hunkered down with another episode of The Gilmore Girls or I'm setting a timer for another hour of focused writing of my own.

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