When I Was a Loser: True Stories of (Barely) Surviving High School

51ucpbnb-hl-_sx324_bo1204203200_It will come as a shock to absolutely nobody that I was a loser in high school.  And if I am being completely candid, I preferred the title “dork,” but that is an inside joke between me and a very good friend who is no longer with us, so for the sake of argument, we’ll go with loser.  Anyway, that’s what drew me to this collection of essays edited by John McNally and published in 2007 that’s about … well, they don’t exactly bury the lede on the title.

The writers featured inside have all had successful careers after their escape from the teenage wasteland (to borrow a phrase from Pete Townshend) that growing up and having to endure four years of high school can be (and yes, I realize how ironic this sentence is considering the occupations of myself and my co-host)–some of which are delightful, almost whimsical stories of combatting acne and trying to get dates, others of which are much more serious.

McNally collects the essays in sections of common themes such as dating, sex, religion, body issues, and even hair and does a good job at balancing the silly and the serious, not allowing one essay to outshine or outweigh any other, which is the mark of a good editor.

Highlights include Tod Goldberg writing about sex with his girlfriend being interrupted by Zsa Zsa Gabor’s ringing his doorbell; Kelly Braffett’s look at falling in with “freaks” in an essay she lovingly entitles “F— High School;” Zelda Lockhart’s brutally honest memories of growing up with abuse and then discovering her own sexuality; Owen (son of Stephen) King’s complicated history with varsity sports; and Dean Bakopoulos’ story about his friendship with a guy named Mack that involves driving at high speeds, alcohol, pot, and Evangelical Christianity.

If the collection has any downside, it’s that it will probably take you a good chunk of time to read, which is a blessing and a curse of essay and short story collections.  I’ve never been able to really read them in one sitting, since they are individual efforts, each of which should be given its own consideration before moving on to the next one.

-Tom

You should read this book if …

  1. You’re a fan of personal narrative.
  2. You grew up watching Degrassi, My So-Called Life, Freaks and Geeks, Heathers, The Breakfast Club, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Better Off Dead …, Say Anything …, and have an appreciation for funny, honest, yet not overly maudlin or emo tales of high school.
  3. You were a loser in high school

Episode 16: The Hound of the Baskervilles

Episode 16 Website CoverIts the sixteenth episode of Required Reading With Tom and Stella! This podcast, which is hosted by Tom Panarese (Pop Culture Affidavit, In Country) and Stella (Batgirl to Oracle: A Barbara Gordon Podcast, The Batman Universe) is two teachers talking about literature. Each episode, we will be taking a look at a single work, analyzing it, criticizing it and deciding if its worth its place in the canon.

This time around, we’re taking a look at The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthurn Conan Doyle.

You can listen here:

Required Reading iTunes Page

Required Reading Podcast Page at Two True Freaks

Direct Download

If you like our podcast, feel free to like our Facebook page (just search for Required Reading with Tom and Stella), check out our Twitter feed at @reqreadcast, or email us at requiredreadingcast@gmail.com

Episode 15: Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Episode 15 Website CoverIt’s the fifteenth episode of Required Reading With Tom and Stella! This podcast, which is hosted by Tom Panarese (Pop Culture Affidavit, In Country) and Stella (Batgirl to Oracle: A Barbara Gordon Podcast, The Batman Universe) is two teachers talking about literature. Each episode, we will be taking a look at a single work, analyzing it, criticizing it and deciding if its worth its place in the canon.

This time around, we’re taking a look at Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

You can listen here:

Required Reading iTunes Page

Required Reading Podcast Page at Two True Freaks

Direct Download

If you like our podcast, feel free to like our Facebook page (just search for Required Reading with Tom and Stella), check out our Twitter feed at @reqreadcast, or email us at requiredreadingcast@gmail.com

If you like our podcast, feel free to like our Facebook page (just search for Required Reading with Tom and Stella), check out our Twitter feed at @reqreadcast, or email us at requiredreadingcast@gmail.com

Superwomen: Gender, Power, and Representation by Carolyn Cocca

51yszinb0pl-_sy344_bo1204203200_If you’re a regular listener to Stella’s other podcast, you heard her interview Carolyn Cocca about this book back in the early summer of 2017.  Cocca, an associate professor in the department of politics, economics, and law at SUNY Old Westbury, has put together an exploration of various woman superhero characters and put them up against the principles of feminism.  Which, to be honest, is a very short description of this book and one that probably doesn’t do it justice.

What Cocca is doing in Superwomen is giving comic book heroines a thorough academic evaluation, starting with the only place you can, which is Wonder Woman, before moving on to Batgirl, the women of Star Wars, the X-Women, Buffy, and ending with Carol Danvers.  Each chapter–which is really an essay on its own tied together with an introduction and a conclusion–thoroughly (and sometimes even painstakingly) looks at the character’s history both on the page and with society and fans as a whole.  Some of said history is well-known to comics and pop culture fans (Wonder Woman’s de-powering in the 1960s and the backstory behind Barbara Gordon’s fate in The Killing Joke, for example), but for others, such as the long and complicated history of Carol Danvers, is pieced together through references to fanzine interviews, old comic book lettercolumns, and what must have been a maddening amount of time spent scouring message boards and Twitter feeds.

If there’s any criticism I have of the book, it’s that Cocca didn’t have to do a lot to convince me, personally, of the need for better representation of women in comics/science fiction, so there were many pages in which I was nodding my head and found myself skimming over points that I have heard made countless times on blogs and social media feeds over the past few years (even though Cocca knows that she can take the time to consider and elaborate on an argument with way more nuance and patience than the average io9 or Jezebel blog post can).  I also think that she’s a little too praising of Joss Whedon, but that’s really just my personal bias showing through as with the exception of the Avengers films, I am not a fan of his work and think it’s quite overrated.  So take that bit of criticism as you will.

Personally, I think that an audience wider than those in the nerdery needs to pick this book up and read it, taking the time to look at every argument and example and have a conversation with its pages and with themselves.

-Tom

You should read this book if …

  1. You are a comics fan and remember buying crap like the Marvel Swimsuit issues when you were a teenager in the early 1990s (guilty as charged, in case you’re wondering).
  2. Are interested in pursuing any sort of academic study of popular culture and want to see how it’s done.
  3. Regularly read blogs like Jezebel or The Mary Sue and want to dive deeper into gender politics and popular culture.

You should also listen to Stella’s interview with Carolyn Cocca on Batgirl to Oracle Episode 141

Tom’s 2017 Reading Recap

In looking at my GoodReads list for books read in 2017, I made it through a total of 152, which is actually an incredibly high number for me considering that in past years, my recreational reading would all but grind to a halt during the school year.  Leave it to a bet over dinner to be a good motivator.

Anyway, I thought I would take the chance in this post to run down a few (but not all) of those 152 books with some brief commentary with the hopes that perhaps you’ll pick up a few yourself or skip a few that you were thinking of reading.

250px-brightest_day_0Author who might be a bit more overrated than I’d originally thought:  Geoff Johns.  I checked Brightest Day out from my local library but instead of just reading those three trade paperbacks decided to go back through my Geoff Johns Green Lantern collection and read everything I had (which, admittedly, wasn’t everything–I’m missing one Green Lantern Corps trade and the “Tales of the Black Lantern Corps” trades).  While I thoroughly enjoyed all of it, I found myself blowing through Johns’s stuff; moreover, I thought that Peter Tomasi’s Green Lantern Corps run was one of the best cop shows I’ve ever seen.  It’s still really good and really fun comics–even Brightest Day, which was not as well-received as the other stories were–but it honestly felt more like junk food than a good meal.

Dense enough to be a weapon in Clue:  George Perez’ Wonder Woman.  I own the four trades that came out in the mid-2000s (and were collected into the first omnibus) and also own the second omnibus.  A lot of it is amazing and Perez really took his time to craft his stories and elevate Diana to a higher level, which she so desperately needed after years of lackluster stories in the Bronze Age.  But don’t go into reading the Perez WW like you go into Johns’ GL.  One issue might do you for one day, as there’s a lot of text and story to pore over.  There are times where Perez can’t seem to get out of his own way where the story is concerned and other times where someone else is doing the artwork and it doesn’t hold up as well.  But they’re putting the omnibus material into individual trade paperbacks, which will be cheaper and really worth the purchase.

Your gateway drug to classic mythology and epics:  Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan.  I’d read the first book last year when I was taking a course in young adult literature for my graduate program.  My son has read all of the Percy Jackson books along with a number of Riordan’s other sagas and he has been encouraging me to read them.  The story in this one is fun because of the way it parallels the more famous parts of The Odyssey, and I’m excited to see whether or not my son enjoys Homer as much as he enjoys Percy.

Best new update/adaptation worth reading:  Harvey Kurtzman’s Marley’s Ghost.  If you listened to episode 14 of the show, you heard us talk about how much we both enjoyed this adaptation.  Comixology has made it available and it really makes a fine addition to your annual holiday Christmas Carol-ing.

15815387About as underwhelming as actual adulting:  Dan Gets a Minivan by Dan Zevin.  Zevin wrote two great books about early adulthood–The Nearly-Wed Handbook and The Day I Turned Uncool.  I have always found him to be a funny, irreverent essay writer who has a good and snarky take about being both a guy and an adult.  I was looking forward to this book, which is about parenting, but didn’t find myself laughing as loudly as I had at some of the essays in his other books.  But I do have to wonder if it’s a case of my having read the same material from other authors (Drew Magary, for instance) or having written about some of it myself in various contexts.  It’s a cheap, fun read but can also feel like a retread of ground you’ve covered before.

Page-Turner of the Year:  Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty.  Stella recommended this one and I think I read it in a weekend.  Between the mystery of who’s dead and who killed that person and the way that Moriarty fleshes out a world of bitchy, backstabby alpha moms, I couldn’t put it down.  The HBO series–which I watched afterwards and recently finished–was also great.

I Read This Because It’s Important:  Fun Home by Alison Bechdel.  Don’t get me wrong here, I liked Bechdel’s graphic novel “Family Tragicomic,” but I have to say that I felt let down at the end because I went in knowing how highly regarded it is and expected to find something profound beyond just a well-written story.

Badge of Honor/Biggest Accomplishment of the Year:  The Power Broker by Robert Caro.  This tome, which gets into the minutiae of Robert Moses’ life as well as the various projects that he created in and around the New York Metropolitan area, is not for the faint of heart, and is almost like reading one of your textbooks from cover to cover.  I mean, you’ve really got to want to learn about all of these things to take this baby on.  I enjoyed it and felt a sense of accomplishment for finishing it.

28964412Instant Nostalgia and Much-Needed Insight:  The Daily Show: An Oral History as told by Jon Stewart, the Correspondents, Staff, and Guests.  I was a huge fan of Jon Stewart and The Daily Show for years and was so excited to finally sit down and read this book when I took it on vacation with me this summer.  It’s not only a great inside look at how one of the best shows of the 2000s was put together, it’s a walk through recent history that, if you were there and remember it, will dredge up a lot of the feelings you had at the time.

Em Middleton figured out the pirate thing and I just wanted to write this here to remind Professor Alan of that because I know he likes hearing about it:  Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (and go listen to episode 50 of The Shortbox Showcase while you’re at it).

About as tedious as the walk itself:  Walking to Listen: 4000 Miles Across America, One Story at a Time by Andrew Forsthoefel.  I checked this one out because of a recommendation that appeared in my Twitter feed courtesy of my local library.  The author decided to literally walk across America and talk to people.  It was a great concept and the first half of the book lives up to that promise.  But it really started to drag at one point and I couldn’t say that he was really (pun not intended) getting anywhere by the time he reached his end.  It ground on for a little too long.

Didn’t Ruin the Movie:  The Princess Bride by William Goldman.  I covered the film, one of my favorites of all time, with my friend Amanda on an episode of Pop Culture Affidavit this year.  This was the first time I’d read the book, even though I’d seen the movie countless times in the past 30 years.  I thoroughly enjoyed the elements of the novel that were directly reflected in the film as well as Goldman’s meta-commentary and other parts that aren’t in the feature film (although the inclusion of the abandoned sequel “Buttercup’s Baby” leaves something to be desired).

Favorite YA read of the Year:  The Memory of Things by Gae Polisner.  I read this for a graduate class (but cannot, for the life of me, remember which one) because I had to read a contemporary YA novel and this was on the first shelf of the teen room in my local library.  The cover alone was striking–a while silhouette of a girl wearing an angel’s wings as well as the outline of the Twin Towers in the title.  The story is about a kid who witnesses the attack on New York on 9/11 and meets and takes care of a mysterious girl whose name he doesn’t know.  As the city goes through the first few weeks of healing post-tragedy, he tries to figure out who she is while also possibly falling for her. A great read that really transcends its “YA” label.

I’m just here for the trivia:  Star Wars Aftermath: Empire’s End by Chuck Wendig.  Granted, this is my favorite of the three books in the post-Return of the Jedi aftermath trilogy, but I definitely found myself more interested in the bits and pieces of trivia that would give me insight into how the First Order rose from the ashes of the Empire and the origins of the New Republic and a few Force Awakens characters.

41mzibyi1nl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Favorite Memoir of the Year:  Home Before Morning by Linda Van Devanter.  I’m going to go more in depth on this one on a future episode of “In Country,” but Van Devanter’s memoir about being a nurse in the Vietnam War was the inspiration for the television series China Beach and is an outstanding perspective on the war and its history.

Favorite Poetry Book … okay, the ONLY poetry book I read this year:  Splitting an Order by Ted Kooser.  I really enjoy Kooser’s poetry.  It’s simple on its surface yet really delves into the profoundness of the everyday.  Kooser doesn’t shy away from creating sad or tragic characters, either.  He’s an outstanding poet and his entire body of work is worth reading.

And that’ll do it for 2017.  There’s no reading contest for 2018, but I do have a resolution to make a dent in my “want to read” list on Goodreads, so you’ll be hearing about that in the coming months.

-Tom

 

 

Episode 14: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Episode14 Website CoverIts the fourteenth episode of Required Reading With Tom and Stella! This podcast, which is hosted by Tom Panarese (Pop Culture Affidavit, In Country) and Stella (Batgirl to Oracle: A Barbara Gordon Podcast, The Batman Universe) is two teachers talking about literature. Each episode, we will be taking a look at a single work, analyzing it, criticizing it and deciding if its worth its place in the canon.

This time around, we’re taking a look at A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

You can listen here:

Required Reading iTunes Page

Required Reading Podcast Page at Two True Freaks

Direct Download

If you like our podcast, feel free to like our Facebook page (just search for Required Reading with Tom and Stella), check out our Twitter feed at @reqreadcast, or email us at requiredreadingcast@gmail.com

If you like our podcast, feel free to like our Facebook page (just search for Required Reading with Tom and Stella), check out our Twitter feed at @reqreadcast, or email us at requiredreadingcast@gmail.com

Episode 13: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Episode 13 Website CoverIts the thirteenth episode of Required Reading With Tom and Stella! This podcast, which is hosted by Tom Panarese (Pop Culture Affidavit, In Country) and Stella (Batgirl to Oracle: A Barbara Gordon Podcast, The Batman Universe) is two teachers talking about literature. Each episode, we will be taking a look at a single work, analyzing it, criticizing it and deciding if its worth its place in the canon.

This time around, we’re taking a look at Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.

You can listen here:

Required Reading iTunes Page

Required Reading Podcast Page at Two True Freaks

Direct Download

If you like our podcast, feel free to like our Facebook page (just search for Required Reading with Tom and Stella), check out our Twitter feed at @reqreadcast, or email us at requiredreadingcast@gmail.com