Literary Club: Anything Goes

Anythign GoesI’m not really one to read celebrity autobiographies. I won’t pretend for a moment that I’m above the tawdriness of Hollywood. Sure, I’ll admit it, when I’m in the check out line, I read all the headlines of People and Us and whatever other magazines grace the display stands. I’ve even watched an E! True Hollywood story or two. However, for some reason, reading the latest tell all from Starlet A or Action star B was just never on my list. I’ve read autobiographies of writers. I love travel narratives. I’m fascinated by non-fiction accounts of strange and interesting life choices (Into the Wild, Seductive Poison, Assassination Vacation, Small Sacrifices, etc).

It wasn’t until I read Wil Wheaton’s Just a Geek that I thought, “yeah, maybe I can read a celebrity book and not feel like I’m entering the pages of a gossip column. Now, this probably has way more to do with my crush on Wheaton, which started when I was 12 or so. It probably also doesn’t hurt that one of the reasons I feel in love with Wheaton is that he was on a show that totally appealed to my geek nature: Start Trek: The Next Generation. And, I’ll admit what pushed me over the edge to read it was my best friend introducing me to his blog, which was clever and just darn fun to read. So, I picked up the book and loved it.

Last year, when I included a huge new project for my Advanced Placement English students which required them to read a work of non-fiction of their choice, I made a long list of all books I’d ever read. I wanted to make sure kids were reading books I was familiar with so I’d have a better chance of figuring out if they were trying to snow me by not actually reading the book. I was thrilled when a few of my kids, who also pride themselves on being geeks, took my advice and read Wheaton’s book. Also like me, they really loved it. I was additionally thrilled because I was supposed to attend a comic convention Wheaton would also be at. Being an uber geek (and still having a bit of a crush), I couldn’t wait to get him to sign my copy AND tell him I actually use his book in my classroom. How cool would that be? Unfortunately, my best friend, who always attends the con with me is moving 9 hours away and has to report for her first day of work on the Friday of the con, so it is out.

I was despondent…that is until she found another con to appease me. Now, Wheaton won’t be there, which just about broke my heart. In a fantastic turn of events though, John Barrowman will be. Like most residents of geektopia, I feel in love with Barrowman when he first blazed onto my screen as Captain Jack Harkness on Doctor Who. I have been a Whovian since I was nine or ten years old. With the exception of a few recent episodes which are patiently waiting for my on my DVR, I have seen every episode of the show that has ever aired in the United States, all the way back to An Unearthly Child from 1963. My dad got me hooked on the show when I would visit him during the summer. The local PBS station out of Chicago aired episodes at 11:00 on Friday nights, right after Monty Python. It was like Nirvana for my dad. My dad and I would camp out on the sofa and watch Monty Python (most of which I did not get until many, many years later) and then I would be glued to the TV for nearly 90 minutes for Doctor Who. Those nights watching Doctor Who with my dad are still some of the best times of my childhood. As an adult, my dad and I got to rekindle our love for all things Who when the series started back up. Then, we both squealed with delight when we found out Captain Jack was getting his own spinoff, Torchwood, which we both watched, loving every minute of it.

So, when I found out Barrowman was going to be at this con, I figured if I couldn’t get an autographed copy from Wheaton, I was damn sure gonna get one from Barrowman. I bought his book, Anything Goes, and plowed through it in a couple of days. Now, Barrowman co-wrote the book with his older sister. Actually, he recounted stories and she wrote the book. He openly admits that right off the bat. While she is not quite the witty writer I find Wheaton to be, the book was full of fun, if often very tangential stories of Barrowman’s life. It is literally a potpourri with no real structure to it. While I think to a lot of people it could get confusing since in mid-story he sometimes jumps off on a tangent which takes him several paragraphs (or pages) to come back from, his book was like every story I ever tell, so I found it easy to related to. Actually, the more I read of the book, the more of a kinship I felt to Barrowman. I mean, our lives are nothing alike, I realize that. There is something about his gregariousness, his willingness to tell it like it is, his unfaltering love for his family, his loyalty, his creativity and his tangential story-telling brain that speaks to my soul. I think if we met in another life, we’d be quite good friends.

I also found that we have quirky little things in common. For example, his first true introduction to Doctor Who was watching the same late night line up on the same PBS station out of Chicago (and we both discovered Who at the same age, although his was a few years earlier since he’s a tad older). We both have a love for performing in musicals (although he was successful). We both also directed children’s theater and are eternally frustrated with the oversaturation of funds for sports while the arts are almost entirely neglected. Once again, through his stories, I felt a connection with Barrowman. While the writing may not exactly be Faulkner or Fitzgerald, the stories are heartfelt and entertaining. There is a positive message of following dreams and living your life never making excuses for who you are or trying to conform to something you are not. There is a wonderful message about the love and support of family and friends. Barrowman is both cocky and charming. After reading his book, I found myself crushing even harder.

And, now I have a fun little conversation piece for him too: just like Wheaton’s book, I plan to use his book to help appeal to my fellow geeks in Advanced English. I know that when I bring his book to class, at least five of my students will flip because he fills two spaces in their geek lexicon: Who and musical theater.



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Filed under life as a teacher, my childhood, my crazy family, nostalgia, ramblings, TV, what makes me me

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