Book: Song of Spider-Man

"Song of Spider-Man"

As one can imagine, writing a Broadway musical has its challenges. But it turns out there are challenges one can’t imagine when collaborating with two rock legends and a superstar director to stage the biggest, most expensive production in theater history.

Song of Spider-Man is playwright Glen Berger’s story of a theatrical dream–or nightmare–come true. Renowned director Julie Taymor picked Berger to cowrite the book for a $25 million Spider-Man musical. Together–along with U2’s Bono and Edge–they would shape a work that was technically daring and emotionally profound, with a story fueled by the hero’s quest for love–and the villains’ quest for revenge. Or at least, that’s what they’d hoped for.

But when charismatic producer Tony Adams died suddenly, the show began to lose its footing. Soon the budget was ballooning, financing was evaporating, and producers were jumping ship or getting demoted. And then came the injuries. And then came word-of-mouth about the show itself. What followed was a pageant of foul-ups, falling-outs, ever-more-harrowing mishaps, and a whole lot of malfunctioning spider legs. This “circus-rock-and-roll-drama,” with its $65 million price tag, had become more of a spectacle than its creators ever wished for. During the show’s unprecedented seven months of previews, the company’s struggles to reach opening night inspired breathless tabloid coverage and garnered international notoriety.

Through it all, Berger observed the chaos with his signature mix of big ambition and self-deprecating humor. Song of Spider-Man records the journey of this cast and crew as a hilarious memoir about friendship, collaboration, the foibles of hubris, and the power of art to remind us that we’re alive.

This book was highly-recommended by a friend, and after having read it–I can see why.

Glen Berger takes us on the journey Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark began–from the moment he stepped on as the musical’s co-writer. As the book’s blurb already mentioned, we bear witness to everything the musical goes through– But, ultimately, we become privy to all the heart that was poured into the project by all the people involved.

Living in the Philippines, everything I knew about the Spider-Man musical fiasco, I learned online; and thus, I had taken everything with a grain of salt. After all, a musical that had a high rate of injuries couldn’t have been allowed to continue as long as Turn Off The Dark did. Right? So it was eye-opening to see just how much the online news got right… and how little was exaggerated, at least, as told by the memoir’s author.

But what happened behind the scenes weren’t just a series of unfortunate events. What really draws you in, if you choose to read this memoir, is the love that can be found in the words that Berger writes. Even at his lowest point, Berger shows the love he had–maybe still has–for the project and all the people who were involved in it.

What pushes you to read page after page is how much humor Berger puts into every paragraph, every chapter, even as the world they are building within the narrative is collapsing. It’s like that comic strip of the dog in a burning house. The one that doesn’t do anything, until the last box where he says “this is fine.”

The book recounts the events of a train wreck–and makes you like reading about it.

But what the book ultimately sells isn’t the insider story of how a promising musical became a spectacular failure; but rather how, against all odds, we will still risk everything for a shot at brilliance. At success. At an art that straddles the fine line between profitability and meaning. And the lesson that not everyone will make it, but it doesn’t mean we stop trying. Even when we fail over and over again.

The Song of Spider-Man is a must read for everyone who ever dreamed. The behind-the-scenes shenanigans and gossip that the book makes known to its readers are just icing on the cake.

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Book: Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies

"Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies"

Michael Ausiello thought he knew every story line in the world–after all, he had a successful career as one of the most respected reporters in the world of television. But no sitcom, drama, or soap opera could have prepared him for the story line his own life was about to take. His partner for thirteen years, Kit Cowan, was diagnosed with a rare and very aggressive form of neuroendocrine cancer, and although Kit and Michael did their best to combat the deadly disease for eleven months, Kit eventually succumbed.

In this moving and darkly hilarious memoir, Michael tells the story of his harrowing and challenging final year with Kit while revisiting the many memories that preceded it, and describes how their undeniably powerful bond carried them through all manner of difficulties–with humor always front and center in their relationship. From road trips to romantic getaways, from work-related junkets to anxiety-ridden doctors’ visits, from spectacular collections of Smurf figurines to lots and lots of Diet Coke, Michael and Kit’s story will make you cry with laughter while breaking your heart at the same time.

A truly unforgettable reading experience, Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies is an inspiring and beautiful tale not of sadness and loss but of the resilience and strength of true love.

It’s truly a testament to the brilliance of an author’s writing when his publisher is willing to give away a book’s ending with the title. And it’s a testament to Ausiello’s love for his husband that you don’t want the book to end, because you don’t want anyone to die.

I don’t know if I’m considered a fan of Ausiello. I have, ever since I became connected to the Internet, followed his career from TVGuide.com to Entertainment Weekly, and then to TVLine–which is my go-to website for anything happening on American television. So when I found out that he had a book coming out, I put in a special order at my bookstore so I could obtain a copy.

As soon as I received the book, I tore into it. I let myself get absorbed to Ausiello’s life with Kit. But something curious happened while I was reading the book.

I kept forcing myself to put the book down.

The first time it happened was when I finished the fifth chapter. I could feel tears welling up as I thought to myself, “well, Kit isn’t going to die if I stop reading now.” He could live for another day, I thought to myself as I put the book down.

But I couldn’t stay away. Ausiello’s writing is like a magnet. It just draws you in.

The next day, it happened again. A part of me wanted to continue reading, and another part wanted me to stop. Inside my brain, a miniature version of myself was trying to fool me into thinking that Kit won’t die if I don’t finish the book. He can live for another day more.

This went on for a few more days. Until I ran out of chapters. And by then, I was already beginning to feel a bit of closure. I had already accepted the illness. The eventuality of death. And then I made a realization.

Ausiello had given his husband the best gift for someone who was gone too soon. He gave Kit the opportunity to live for another day. And another day. He gave Kit the chance to do what he does–becoming a part of other people’s lives. Helping them. Inspiring them. He lived for them.

I am grateful to Ausiello for opening up this side of his life for other people to see. It couldn’t have been easy to present the realities of their life, warts and all, but it made their journey all the more inspiring.

Happy endings are never not bumpy. And sometimes the ending comes before the happy. And we live on.

Thank you, Kit, for the life you lead. And thank you, Michael Ausiello, for sharing your love with everyone.

Book: Fresh Off the Boat

"Fresh Off The Boat"

Assimilating ain’t easy. Eddie Huang was raised by a wild family of FOB (‘fresh off the boat’) immigrants–his father a cocksure restaurateur with a dark past back in Taiwan, his mother a fierce protector and constant threat. This is the story of a Chinese-American kid in a could-be-anywhere cul-de-sac blazing his way through America’s deviant subcultures, trying to find himself, ten thousand miles from his legacy and anchored only by his conflicted love for his family and his passion for food. Funny, moving, and stylistically inventive, Fresh Off the Boat is more than a radical re-imagining of the immigrant memoir–it’s the exhilarating story of every American outsider who finds his destiny in the margins.

Confession: I picked Fresh Off the Boat up because I am loving the ABC family-friendly version of the book that’s currently airing on television.

I had never actually seen the book before, and only found out about its existence after all the hoopla surrounding the TV show prior to airing. And even then, I couldn’t find a copy of the book. I had to have a copy transferred from one branch of my favorite bookstore to the one I always frequent–just so I could read it. I’m not a fan of e-book reading. Hence the trouble of acquiring a copy. You can buy the book off Amazon or other e-book sellers for way cheaper. And buy it, you should. Because the book is an unapologetic look at what it’s like to grow up as something that a majority of the population around you isn’t: a different race.

One of the reasons why I loved the series Fresh Off the Boat was the fact that I could relate to what TV Eddie’s family was going through. The family may be Chinese, and most of what they’re doing are very Chinese, but the story they’re telling is universal for all minorities: we just want to be treated normally regardless of the size of our eyes, or the color of our skin. Sure, I’m Chinese too, but if you read the comments online from the show’s viewers, you can see that the love isn’t coming from just Asian viewers.

The book isn’t that.

Eddie Huang’s Fresh Off the Boat is universal in which you can understand what he’s going through not because he’s Chinese–but because he’s different. Different. He doesn’t stand out, he sticks out. And that is something not just immigrants can relate to. Sure, Eddie had a different upbringing, he had a different set of culture and tradition to explore growing up, but at the end of each chapter–Eddie is a human being who makes mistakes, who gets wronged, who learns. You know who else does that? Everyone else.

While Eddie’s internal struggles can speak to everyone though, his external ones can be alienating. This is where race comes in: how his parents show love, how he is treated by his peers, and everything else. This colors who Eddie becomes more than his DNA. He is a “yellow man” because this is how he is perceived, and because this is what people want him to be. But Eddie isn’t just a “yellow man.”

In the series, the character of Eddie’s mom is frustrated at Eddie for wanting to embrace American culture because he likes hip hop music and baggy jeans. He gets called out for wanting to be like everyone else. That isn’t the Eddie we meet in the book. Eddie is proud of his culture. Hip hop isn’t his way of embracing America, but a way to relate to what is happening to him in America. And the Jessica Huang we meet in the book is far from being the lovable stickler that the television series is painting her to be.

Confession #2: After reading the book, I did find myself comparing the television series to the source material. And I agree with author Eddie Huang’s assessment that the show lacks teeth and is a watered down version of the experiences Eddie had. But, at the same time, I don’t think half of the show’s viewers now would enjoy watching the book’s stories brought to life. It’s too real. And it’s too specific.

The show is about an Asian-American family who is trying to stay afloat in a land where the line between standing out and sticking out is always in favor of the “white.” The book is about Eddie. Chinese-American Eddie. As it should be. It’s his memoir. But while I felt for Eddie while reading his memoir, I couldn’t relate to many of the things he was going through. Eddie’s life isn’t a television show that can be resolved with a lesson at the end of each day. It’s his life. It’s messy, it’s chaotic, and it is what life should be. But it is not my life.

As Dong from the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt once said, “your experiences are not universal.” And it’s not just true for the white man. It’s true for all of us.

But we learn through what other people have gone through.

The book is different from the television series I am currently enjoying, and that is perfectly fine. Because the television is bringing new people, more people, to Eddie’s world. Hopefully, like me, they would want to know more too. And then they’ll see, just like me, that the book Eddie Huang wrote about his life is just as entertaining as the television series derived from it. And that it is sharing a more important story, if not as universal.

book: marley & me

"marley & me" by john grogani bought MARLEY & ME off the internet, and the only reason i even thought about buying it was because of work. i’ve never been much of a dog lover, though we’ve always had a pet dog for as long as i can remember. i felt a disadvantage among my co-workers, since a lot of them are big on dogs.

so when i saw the MARLEY & ME book amongst those being sold online, i decided to buy it. and read it. and well, it was a revelation.

MARLEY & ME is a biography of sorts for marley, a labrador retriever owned by award-winning newspaper columnist john grogan. it tells the story of how marley came to live with john and his wife jenny, and the life marley lives with them until the day of his death. and throughout the thing, you get to understand why the book was tagged with the line, “life and love with the world’s worst dog.”

having only been exposed to very mild dogs–the largest of which was a doberman, back when i was a toddler–i don’t actually relate to the problems the author faces in his many anecdotes. but while reading his stories, i couldn’t help but cringe at the misadventures the titular dog gets himself into. at one point in the book, the author’s wife tries to get him to give marley away. and i couldn’t blame her. remember, i’m not really a dog lover.

but as the story progresses, marley’s ‘problems’ never really go away. there is no happily-ever-after waiting in this story. instead, what you get in the end is acceptance. and love.

pure, unadulterated love.

you see, for all of marley’s faults, the grogans adore him. and even when the author is enumerating the numerous things marley had once again done wrong, you can feel the love emanating from the words he wrote. that’s why, when you reach the end of the book, with the inevitable death of marley approaching, you can’t help but feel the pain and the sadness creeping in.

i’m not big on the crying thing. i can  name only five works of fiction to have made me cry. but i confess to tearing up at the end of MARLEY & ME. marley may be the world’s worst dog, but for the author, his wife and his children, marley wasn’t just a dog. he was family.

this book is a great work of non-fiction for dog lovers and non-dog lovers alike.

dalek i loved you

"dalek i loved you" by nick griffifthsi’m a late DOCTOR WHO convert–a very late convert. i’ve been intrigued with the show since it came back in 2005, but never got around to watching it until 2010. yep, it took me five years.

what held me back? the promise that british sci-fi television shows have lousy sets and special effects. this shouldn’t have bothered me in the least, seeing as i’ve been watching a lot of local shows. but it bothered me.

still, by the third season of the new series, i’ve been reading a lot about how good the stories are, so i figured, bugger it. i’m gonna give DOCTOR WHO a chance. and then fear grabbed a hold of me. what if i don’t understand anything? they changed doctors and all, but in 2008, david tennant was already in his second year as the doctor. and billie piper was gone. how the hell was i going to catch on?

and then, also in 2008, they announced that david tennant was leaving. or rather (and i looked this up on wikipedia, so forgive me if this information is false) he announced it himself. there were already talks of casting a new doctor, and that’s when i decided that i really am going to watch DOCTOR WHO.

honestly though, i forgot about this promise until 2010. and by then, matt smith’s eleventh doctor was staring me through so many web ads in websites i frequent. and then i took a deep breath, and jumped.

in june of 2010, i found myself browsing through bestsellers (the store) at the podium (the mall). i was actually looking for books by christopher golden, or robert liparulo–or any of the usual books i read. meaning: fantasy books. but while browsing through the sci-fi collection (where they sometimes include christopher golden), a word calls out to me.

dalek.

granted, i hated the daleks in “victory of the daleks”. i thought that as villains, they looked very rubbish. of course, i changed my mind in “the big bang”, but that was still some episodes to go.

but back to the book. upon taking it off the shelf, i thought it was a work of fiction. my eyes weren’t quick to spot the “a memoir” bit on the upper left corner of the book. and then i saw it, and i decided to let the book go.

five minutes later, i was holding it again. against better judgment, and a long list of credit-card purchases, i bought the book.

i didn’t actually go around to reading it until after i finished off my book pile. which i did last week. and then things-to-do just started trickling in, and i never found time to read the book. and then today, i got lazy and just lazed about–and read the book.

this is actually my second memoir. the first one, A LITTLE BIT WICKED, was kristin chenoweth’s autobiography. and well, DALEK I LOVED YOU is the memoir of a person i don’t even know. i only bought it because it was related to DOCTOR WHO. but i wasn’t disappointed.

yes, it does get tedious reading about someone else’s life. heck, i read about my life and i get bored by it. but there’s something different about reading about growing up in the united kingdom, reading about a-levels and pubs, and about following your heart–so to speak; i thought it was a great read. or if not a great read, a very enlightening one. i guess it’s the fact that the author, and the subject of the book, is set up in a different country with different customs and different upbringing–

and he’s been around a couple of decades before me. so there’s that too. from what he’s written, life back then was very peaceful. and it only started to change for him a couple of years before i was born.

how do i know this? he mentions in his book a period in his life when a lot of bad things were happening everywhere else in the world–and one of said bad things was the assassination of benigno aquino. that happened in 1983.

so yeah, DALEK I LOVED YOU is full of interesting stuff. but i don’t think i’ll be recommending it to anyone who doesn’t have interest in DOCTOR WHO. and even then, i’d ask you first if you really, really want to read the book.