07 August 2009

The Big Rewind

I love snark. And I love The Onion. And the A.V. Club.

So of course I had to read Nathan Rabin's memoir The Big Rewind. We are both about the same age (he's a few years older) so many of the pop culture references he makes are very familiar to me, the whole Nirvana thing in particular and, although I wasn't a massive fan of grunge at the time it was such a waste to lose Cobain. This is where we diverge because I was about as straight-arrow, normal middle-class, yuppie upbringing as you can get while Rabin's family broke up, his father lost his job, he went to Jewish school for a while before going to Mather (which isn't all that great), wound up in a mental hospital, and then in a Jewish Children's Bureau group home because his father wasn't able to care for him (his dad has MS). I was slightly worried that this would be a depressing memoir but since I like Rabin's writing in The Onion this was only a very small worry.

Which was groundless. For all the crap that happened to him as a child/adolescent, Rabin tells his story with a great deal of humor. I kept thinking that I ought not to laugh as he described his fellow residents at the group home; none of the kids had a good situation, but Rabin uses his trademark brand of honesty and snark to bring out the quirkier sides of his housemates, rather than the tragic. I did hoot with laughter at the description of his fellow co-opers in Madison, not just because it's funny but because I'm pretty sure I actually know which co-op he's talking about (I do have friends in Madison who went to undergrad there and still visit there because of my DC duties); that co-op is crazy, particularly as co-ops go. Near the end of the book Rabin muses on the personae he created to deal with certain events in his life (i.e. El Pollo Loco) and how he is comfortable as himself, now, and accepts his past as part of himself.

Rabin opens each chapter with a short description or discussion of a media item, music, movie, or book, and then expands that discussion to cover as section of his life. I particularly loved his thoughts on Catcher in the Rye and adolescent apathy/rejection of authority; Rabin's ideas make the case for why Holden Caulfield is still relevant today (perhaps not relevant to the type-A go-getters but instead for the kids who seem to reject traditional paths). I also enjoyed Rabin's ideas about film criticism, even though those came near the end of the book, but I would be biased about that because I liked his reviews to start. The book does read very well, I finished it in three evenings, and I look forward to more "My Year of Flops" articles at the A.V. Club.

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