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Book Review: Heather, The Totality by Matthew Weiner

Here is one way I am a book snob: I really, really don't like reading books by famous people. (Trevor Noah's autobiography, which was surprisingly well-written and not at all famous-people-esque, is a recent exception to this rule.) Especially by people who are famous for doing stuff in movies, so actors, actresses, producers, directors, even people who write scripts for TV shows. I get bothered by famous people writing stuff because first of all, as they've already achieved fame how hard did they have to work to get the attention of an agent or publisher? There are many excellent writers who work for years to get that kind of attention, and sure, publishers must print the things that will sell...but books by non-movie-star writers can still sell. 
Two, it feels greedy to me. How much fame do you need? How much money? How much attention?
Which brings me to the third reason I avoid anything written by a non-writer celebrity: How much more can they make the world about themselves? The world already values movies over literature, small and easily-accessible ideas over large concepts that take time to understand. Can't the already-famous leave some space for different people to earn success not because of what they look like but because of how they think?
Is this snobbery of mine very attractive? Probably not. Is it small-minded? Maybe. But I probably don't care enough to overcome this shortcoming any time soon. (Which means that Tom Hanks's new book of short stories will, alas, not be read by moi.) (Also, apparently, that talking about movie-stars-turned-writers turns me into Miss Piggie. Hair flip.)
Heather the totalitySo imagine my discomfort when I picked up my holds one day, and there was a book I've been looking forward to reading, Heather, the Totality by Matthew Weiner. It's a book that's hard to categorize: sort of a contemporary New York story, sort of a story about marriage and about how parenting influences it, sort of a story about how difficult it is to parent your kids through their adolescence. Definitely a story of suspense. Also a story about obsession. And possibly murder. It tells the story of Mark and Karen, who married in their forties and then had one daughter, Heather, who became their whole world, and it's also the story of Bobby, a man who was raised in extreme poverty by his heroin-addicted mother. Two worlds collide, etc. 
I was excited to read it because I am interested in mother-daughter dynamics, and because I have recently developed a fondness for novels set in New York City. And because it seemed like it would be written in a different way than a traditional novel.
But I when I checked it out I realized: Matthew Weiner is a Famous Movie Person: he's the director and executive producer for Mad Men. 
And I just didn't know what to do. Read it? And go against my book snobbery? Or return it unread, but never know what happened when those two worlds collided?
I took a deep breath. And I let the lure of the story overwhelm my book snobbery. And I read it.
It's a short book, only 134 pages, with a lot of white space—each paragraph is surrounded by white space, in fact. And it is, a little bit, non-traditional. If only because of that white space, and because many common nouns are capitalized: Mother, Teacher, Public Defender. The white space makes the story feel snappy and edgy (two qualities I like), and it really reads more like a long short story than a novel at all.
It's a story you have to discover as you read it. But, even though it's written by a Famous Movie Person, I'm glad I read it. Maybe my snobbery was overcome by the fact that the author has an MFA, which means he spent time with writerly people. Maybe the lure of an interesting story is larger than my prejudices.
Whatever. I'm glad I read it.
But I'm still never reading Tom Hanks's book.



Enjoying the image of you hair-flipping while channelling Miss Piggy :)


This book wasn't on my radar screen at all -- will check into it.

I borrowed Tom Hanks' book from the library, read a couple of the stories, yawned, and marked it as "did not finish" on Goodreads. As I said to someone, he's already world-class at one thing, he doesn't have to be world-class at everything (or anything) else.

Robin W.

I just read Far from the Tree per your recommend---so, so good! I like to keep up with YA, and this book had characters that I cared about. Thank you for all your reviews!!

Linda Signal

I read a lot & listen to audiobooks when I run. I look forward to reading more of your reviews. I’m glad I found you. Do you use goodreads? I have a weird obsession about having complete accuracy in my goodreads account. Every book must be reviewed and catalogued perfectly. I probably need to work on that, but who it

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