Book Review: Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies

In this evocative and gorgeously wrought memoir reminiscent of Rob Sheffield’s Love Is a Mixtape and George Hodgman’s Bettyville, Michael Ausiello—a respected TV columnist and co-founder of TVLine.com—remembers his late husband, and the lessons, love, and laughter that they shared throughout their fourteen years together.

For the past decade, TV fans of all stripes have counted upon Michael Ausiello’s insider knowledge to get the scoop on their favorite shows and stars. From his time at Soaps in Depth and Entertainment Tonight to his influential stints at TV Guide and Entertainment Weekly to his current role as co-founder of the wildly popular website TVLine.com, Michael has established himself as the go-to expert when it comes to our most popular form of entertainment.

What many of his fans don’t know, however, is that while his professional life was in full swing, Michael had to endure the greatest of personal tragedies: his longtime boyfriend, Kit Cowan, was diagnosed with a rare and very aggressive form of neuroendrocrine cancer. Over the course of eleven months, Kit and Michael did their best to combat the deadly disease, but Kit succumbed to his illness in February 2015.

In this heartbreaking and darkly hilarious memoir, Michael tells the story of his harrowing and challenging last year with Kit while revisiting the thirteen years that preceded it, and how the undeniably powerful bond between him and Kit carried them through all manner of difficulty—always with laughter front and center in their relationship. Instead of a tale of sadness and loss, Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies is an unforgettable, inspiring, and beautiful testament to the resilience and strength of true love.

As an occasionally obsessed TV fan, I’ve been familiar with Michael Ausiello’s writing career for years. I avidly followed his “Ausiello Report” for scoops and spoilers on my favorite shows, enjoyed his fanboy goofiness and funny interludes, his Smurf obsessions, and his super witty writing style. When I saw that he had a book coming out this fall, I naturally assumed this might be a collection of his TV writing.

Spoiler alert: It’s not.

Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies is a personal, painful, inspiring, heart-warming, and heart-breaking love story — Ausiello’s up-close memoir of the loss of his husband Kit after a short and intense battle with a devastating form of cancer.

Michael and Kit spent 13 years of their lives together, but this isn’t a sugar-coated fairy-tale version of perfect love and romance. Instead, it’s a warts-and-all look at a real relationship, filled with ups and downs, anger, laughter, challenges, and almost-breakups. It’s clear that Michael and Kit had an instant chemistry and loved each other deeply and passionately, but Ausiello doesn’t shy away from describing the less euphoric points of their relationship as well, such as Kit’s infidelities and Michael’s drinking.

Kit goes from strong, healthy and vital to a cancer patient in practically the blink of an eye. It’s wrenching to see Kit’s discomfort as it grows into pain, to see Michael’s helplessness at not being able to rescue the person he loves most in the world, and the growing realization that Kit is facing a death sentence, and quickly. And yet, there are moments of joy and beauty. Although they’d never considered marriage for themselves before, they practically turn the city upside down in a quest to get married before Kit starts chemo, and it’s funny and sweet and lovely.

I can’t say enough good things about this book, although I suppose I should warn readers that you’ll need heaps of Kleenex at the ready. The book has a lot of humor, for a book about cancer, and Michael and Kit themselves are funny people. I loved reading about their romance, their pet names for one another, all the silly little things that make up a life, and cried myself into a messy puddle as Kit weakened and they prepared themselves for loss.

Michael and Kit clearly had something special, and I appreciate how much of himself Michael was willing to share in putting together this lovely tribute to the man he loved. It’s practically a cliché to describe a book as a love letter to a person or place — but it’s just so apt in this case. Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies is absolutely a love letter to Kit — funny, sweet, and utterly romantic, and so very tragic.

I so admire Michael Ausiello’s honesty and emotional openness in writing this book, and although I didn’t previously know anything about him except his professional persona, I do feel invested now in wishing him a life of happiness. Kit was clearly an incredibly special person, and I’m happy to have gotten to know him through this book.

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The details:

Title: Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies
Author: Michael Ausiello
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication date: September 12, 2017
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Memoir
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Audiobook Review: Spaceman: An Astronaut’s Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe

 

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to find yourself strapped to a giant rocket that’s about to go from zero to 17,500 miles per hour? Or to look back on the earth from outer space and see the surprisingly precise line between day and night? Or to stand in front of the Hubble telescope, wondering if the emergency repair you’re about to make will inadvertently ruin humankind’s chance to unlock the universe’s secrets? Mike Massimino has been there, and in Spaceman he puts you inside the suit, with all the zip and buoyancy of life in microgravity.

Massimino’s childhood space dreams were born the day Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, but his journey to realizing those dreams was as unlikely as it is captivating. Growing up in a working-class Long Island family, Massimino catapulted himself to Columbia and then MIT, only to flunk his qualifying exams and be rejected twice by NASA before making it to the final round of astronaut selection—where he was told his poor eyesight meant he’d never make the cut. But even that couldn’t stop him from finally earning his wings, making the jump to training in T-38 Air Force jets and preparing his body—and soul—for the journey to the cosmos.

Taking us through the surreal wonder and beauty of his first spacewalk, the tragedy of losing friends in the Columbia shuttle accident, and the development of his enduring love for the Hubble telescope—which he’d be tasked with saving on his final mission— Massimino has written an ode to never giving up and the power of teamwork to make anything possible. Spaceman invites us into a rare, wonderful world where the nerdiest science meets the most thrilling adventure, and pulls back a curtain on just what having “the right stuff” really means.

I’ve always had a fascination with the space program, and I’ve loved both fiction and non-fiction books about the early days of NASA and the astronaut program, as well as more humorous (but still informative) works like Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars. I came across Spaceman purely by chance, and my first thought was, “Hey! It’s that guy who played an astronaut on The Big Bang Theory!”

Well, that’s true, but Mike Massimino is much more than some dude who had a cameo on a sit-com. Massimino embodies the “right stuff”, the true core of what makes an astronaut special. And I’m delighted that I took the time to listen to his audiobook and experience his story.

In Spaceman, Massimino takes us through his New York childhood, his education, his repeated attempts to overcome hideously difficult challenges — oh, for example, fixing his eyesight in order to meet NASA standards — and his determination to one day be a real astronaut.

Through it all, we get an intimate view of the US space program and its triumphs and tragedies, as well as one man’s dedication to achieving his life’s goals.

Massimino presents it all with humility and with humor. For a man who is startlingly intelligent and talented, he’s incredibly self-deprecating throughout the book, and does not shy away from discussing his shortcomings. His repeated message is about sticking with things, even when they seem impossible or out of reach.

Massimino himself narrates the audiobook, which is a wonderful thing. He’s got a gruff, deep voice, and it’s perfect for conveying his own story. Listening to him narrate his first space flight or his father’s illness or his sorrow over lost colleagues, you get the sense that his feelings are real and true, and there’s a sense of immediacy and intimacy in hearing him speak his own words.

There are a few truly beautiful things about Spaceman. One is the portrayal of friendship and goodness that Massimino presents as he speaks about his colleagues in the space program. He describes the dedication, the support, and the sacrifice that they all bring. Through his narrative, the picture emerges of people dedicating their lives to a higher cause, who genuinely believe in what they’re doing and that they’re making a difference in the lives of humankind.

Second is the devotion to one another among the people involved in NASA. When personal needs or crises emerge, the team is there for the individuals and their families, and it’s real. It goes way beyond sending flowers to a bereaved coworker — these people really care and give of themselves in thousands of ways.

Third, Massimino’s descriptions of what it feels like to fly, to spacewalk, and to see the Earth from a distance of 350 miles — just gorgeous. For a scientist, he’s practically a poet.

Finally, I couldn’t help thinking that Massimino himself is just a really nice guy. He says good things about EVERYONE. There’s not a single person he mentions in this book that he doesn’t praise or offer gratitude toward, and he’s quick to point out the talents of just about everyone he’s worked with. Some memoirs focus on the guilty secrets; in Spaceman, we only see the good. Quite impressive.

Sections of Spaceman are particularly moving, but none more so than when Massimino tells of the Columbia shuttle tragedy. He knew all of the lost crewmembers personally, and makes the disaster feel all the more tangible through the descriptions of the terrible events and human loss.

I highly recommend Spaceman — definitely for those who enjoy reading about space exploration, but also for anyone who appreciates a straightforward tale of one person’s journey toward his goals, told by someone who appreciates every opportunity he’s had to pursue and live his dreams.

A reading note: While I loved listening to the audiobook and hearing Massimino narrate his own story, I found it helpful to have a print copy (thank you, public library) on hand as well, both for going back and checking earlier chapters, and in order to be able to view the photos that go along with the story.

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The details:

Title: Spaceman: An Astronaut’s Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe
Author: Mike Massimino
Publisher: Crown Archetype
Publication date: October 4, 2016
Length (print): 320 pages
Length (audiobook): 10 hours, 57 minutes
Genre: Non-fiction/memoir
Source: Purchased

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Shelf Control #81: Zombie Spaceship Wasteland

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Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! Fore more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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My Shelf Control pick this week is:

Title: Zombie Spaceship Wasteland
Author: Patton Oswalt
Published: 2011
Length: 191 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Prepare yourself for a journey through the world of Patton Oswalt, one of the most creative, insightful, and hysterical voices on the entertain­ment scene today. Widely known for his roles in the films Big Fan and Ratatouille, as well as the television hit The King of Queens, Patton Oswalt—a staple of Comedy Central—has been amusing audiences for decades. Now, with Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, he offers a fascinating look into his most unusual, and lovable, mindscape.

Oswalt combines memoir with uproarious humor, from snow forts to Dungeons & Dragons to gifts from Grandma that had to be explained. He remem­bers his teen summers spent working in a movie Cineplex and his early years doing stand-up. Readers are also treated to several graphic elements, includ­ing a vampire tale for the rest of us and some greeting cards with a special touch. Then there’s the book’s centerpiece, which posits that before all young creative minds have anything to write about, they will home in on one of three story lines: zom­bies, spaceships, or wastelands.

Oswalt chose wastelands, and ever since he has been mining our society’s wasteland for perversion and excess, pop culture and fatty foods, indie rock and single-malt scotch. Zombie Spaceship Wasteland is an inventive account of the evolution of Patton Oswalt’s wildly insightful worldview, sure to indulge his legion of fans and lure many new admirers to his very entertaining “wasteland.”

How I got it:

I bought a used copy online.

When I got it:

No idea. A couple of years ago… maybe?

Why I want to read it:

I think Patton Oswalt is hilarious, and so, so talented. I’m not usually big on celebrity memoirs, but I do love a good geek-out, and this seems like it should be oodles of fun.

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

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Book Review: The Princess Diarist

princess-diaristSpending time inside the mind of Carrie Fisher is never dull.

In her newly published memoir, the author takes us back to a galaxy long, long ago… to share her experiences portraying the unforgettable Princess Leia — she of the cinnamon bun hairstyle and metal bikini — in a little indie movie called Star Wars.

Prompted by her recently unearthed journals, Fisher revisits her experiences as a 19-year-old actress — one of several unknowns or relative unknowns cast in this strange movie, created by a guy from Modesto, filming on a shoestring budget in London.

As the headlines proclaimed when this book came out in October, in The Princess Diarist, Fisher confirms what many suspected for years — that she and Harrison Ford had an affair during the filming of Star Wars. At the time, she was a teen with one previous relationship in her recent past, and Ford was in his mid-30s, married, and a father. Their relationship lasted a few months only… but apparently was a huge part of Fisher’s overall experience as she entered the world of movie stardom.

The Princess Diarist has transcribed pages from her diaries at its center, and is framed by chapters before and after describing her introduction to acting, the experience of filming Star Wars, and the fan frenzy that has defined her life ever since.

Fisher’s writing is both funny and weird, as she creates the oddest descriptions and twists her sentences around in all sorts of unexpected ways that made me pause, re-read, and laugh. Here are some prime tidbits from among the many, many Post-It flags I used to mark amazing passages from the diary section of the book:

So he assumes his apathetic poker face and I sit practicing wry knowing looks somewhere in his periphery. I don’t dare pick a topic for fear that it won’t be funny enough or interesting enough for his awe-inspiring judgment. With his silence he establishes himself as a sort of trapped audience and so you break your ass to meet the enormous challenge of entertaining him, frantic with worry that his teeth might suffocate.

 

I’ve got to learn something from my mistakes instead of establishing a new record to break. Maybe stop fooling around with all these human beings and fall in love with a chair. It would have everything that the immediate situation has to offer, and less, which is obviously what I need. Less emotional and intellectual feedback, less warmth, less approval, less patience and less response. The less the merrier.

Chairs. They’re always there when you need them and, while their staying implies total devotion, they still manage to remain aloof, noncommittal and insensitive. Immovable and loyal. Reliable and unconsoling. Chairs it is. I must furnish my heart with feelings for furniture.

 

If anyone reads this when I have passed to the big bad beyond I shall be posthumorously embarrassed. I shall spend my afterlife blushing.

 

And a few more, from the non-diary portions:

My hope aren’t high, and neither, as it happens, am I.

 

I think boys may have been attracted to my accessibility. Even if I did have some princessy qualities, I wasn’t conventionally beautiful and sexy, and as such was less likely to put them down or think I was too good for them. I wouldn’t humiliate them in any way. Even if I teased them in the context of running around with laser guns dodging bullets, I wouldn’t do it in a way that would hurt them.

 

It was one movie. It wasn’t supposed to do what it did — nothing was supposed to do that. Nothing ever had. Movies were meant to stay on the screen, flat and large and colorful, gathering you up into their sweep of story, carrying you rollicking along to the end, then releasing you back into your unchanged life. But this movie misbehaved. It leaked out of the theater, poured off the screen, affected a lot of people so deeply that they required endless talismans and artifacts to stay connected to it.

Honestly, I wish she’d spent a little more time on behind-the-scenes, making-of type reminiscences — but I suppose there are plenty of those around for the true Star Wars fans. The beauty of The Princess Diarist is seeing an unvarnished picture of a woman who was unprepared for stardom and for the impact of her “little” film, who at the same time was trying to make sense of a bizarre, strained relationship with a taciturn man who was sexy as hell.

I can’t help but wonder how Harrison Ford feels about Fisher’s revelations (and I haven’t looked that hard, but I don’t recall seeing any reactions from him). I guess after 40 years, it’s not exactly earth-shattering, especially as Ford is no longer married to the woman he was married to at the time. I suppose too that they’ve been sharing each others’ orbits on the Star Wars circuit for so long that it all must feel like ancient history by now.

Carrie Fisher is a funny, open writer who isn’t afraid to show her true, flawed face. I had a great time reading The Princess Diarist. It’s a quick read, and maybe isn’t exactly deep, but it kept me entertained and gave me yet another way to think about the Star Wars cultural phenomenon and what it might have meant to be a part of it all from the beginning.

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The details:

Title: The Princess Diarist
Author: Carrie Fisher
Publisher: Blue Rider Press
Publication date: October 18, 2016
Length: 240 pages
Genre: Memoir
Source: Library

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Thursday Quotables: The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo

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Welcome back to Thursday Quotables! This weekly feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines of the week will be, and you’re invited to join in!

NEW! Thursday Quotables is now using a Linky tool! Be sure to add your link if you have a Thursday Quotables post to share.

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The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer
(published 2016)

I never really thought of myself as a fan of Amy Schumer. I mean, I enjoy her show when I happen to catch it, and yeah, she does make me laugh — but now that I’m reading her new book, I think I can honestly say that I LOVE her. I wish I could quote pretty much the entire book… but that would not be a good use of space (and there’s a little issue of copyrights), so I’ll just share a random bit that I absolutely relate to:

Being an introvert doesn’t mean you’re shy. It means you enjoy being alone. Not just enjoy it — you need it. If you’re a true introvert, other people are basically energy vampires. You don’t hate them; you just have to be strategic about when you expose yourself to them — like the sun. They give you life, sure, but they can also burn you and you will get that wrinkly Long Island cleavage I’ve always been afraid of getting and that I know I now have. For me, meditation and headphones on the subway have been my sunscreen, protecting me from the hell that is other people.

What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

If you’d like to participate in Thursday Quotables, it’s really simple:

  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now. And please be sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (http://www.bookshelffantasies.com), if you’d be so kind!
  • Click on the linky button (look for the cute froggie face) below to add your link.
  • After you link up, I’d love it if you’d leave a comment about my quote for this week.
  • Be sure to visit other linked blogs to view their Thursday Quotables, and have fun!

Book Review: You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)

You're Never WeirdBuffy fan? How about The Guild? Dr. Horrible? Eureka?

No?

Are you a fan of funny, smart writing? Women who are high-achieving but down-to-earth? Famous people who act like real people and seem to genuinely care?

Surely something above rings a bell. And in that case…

I feel perfectly confident that you’ll find something to love about Felicia Day’s memoir, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (almost).

Felicia Day doesn’t shy away from calling herself weird, and credits her weird upbringing for making her who she is today. Moving around from one southern town to another, Felicia never really had to fit in, because after a brief stint in school, she ended up being homeschooled throughout her childhood and teens — although, as she describes:

In retrospect — and not to be mean to anyone who parented me — it doesn’t seem like there was a clear plan going into the whole homeschooling thing.

But Felicia was into it anyway:

Also, homeschooling seemed like something an orphan would do, and I really wanted to be an orphan. Because let’s be real: they have it so good in kids’ literature! They’re sad but special, people love them against all odds, and they’re always guaranteed a destiny of greatness. The Secret Garden, The Wizard of Oz, Harry Potter? Orphanhood was a bucket list item for me!

In funny and honest detail, she describes her college career (double-majoring in music and math, on a violin scholarship!) and her subsequent move to LA to pursue an acting career, as well as an all-consuming obsession with World of Warcraft, generalized unhappiness and anxiety, and her creative breakthrough in writing and starring in the geek-magnet web series The Guild.

Felicia writes beautifully about the power of discovering the internet for the first time, and the awesome experience, especially for a loner, homeschooled girl, of discovering people to truly connect with in a fundamental way through the world of online gaming.

I know the story of my Dragon-hood may sound a little sad and weird and super geeky, but […] for a girl who was lonely and desperate for friends, that group of people was the most important social thing to happen to me growing up. I can’t imagine being as confident about my passion for geeky things today without that opportunity to connect with OTHER people who were saying, “Wow, I love those geeky things, too!”

She shares her self-doubts and her moments of mortification along with her successes and victories, and maintains such an appreciation for people’s investment and connection in her work that you just know she means it all. For example, explaining why she keeps all the fan art and creations that people have given her over the years:

Whether it was by someone volunteering to be an extra in our show, or part of the crew, or someone buying a DVD at a convention, or a superfan who tattooed our characters’ faces on her calf, my career has been built fan by fan. I wouldn’t trade that relationship, or collection of dolls of myself, for all the money and fame in the world.

I was lucky enough to see Felicia speak back in August and got a signed book and everything!

Felicia is adorable, but I didn't like the way I looked in this pic... so I decided to decorate.

Felicia is adorable, but I didn’t like the way I looked in this pic… so I decided to decorate.

It was an amazing event, in a sold-out venue, filled with people of all sorts who all just happen to be big geeky fans. While most came in their street duds or at most, a Supernatural or Guild t-shirt, a few went all out, which was super delightful to see:

I love me some Dr. Horrible cosplay!

Felicia spent an hour on stage in front of an adoring crowd, and she was just as cute and smart and hilarious as you’d expect. (If you’re a fan, treat yourself by watching the video of her appearance!):

Getting back to the book itself, this isn’t a Hollywood tell-all. There’s no gossip here, no name-dropping, no parties/cocktails/living-the-good-life anecdotes. When Felicia does name names, it’s to thank and acknowledge the people who inspired or helped her.

Besides being a great read about an odd-ball girl making good on her own terms, You’re Never Weird is a message book. Felicia shares her own story not to say “look at me! I’m so great!”, but to share the idea that we’re all different, and we should pursue what excites us and makes us happy, no matter how odd or weird or dorky it might seem. And hey, whoever you are and whatever you’re into, there’s sure to be someone else out there who’s into it too:

It might be extremely dorky to point out, but who you are is singular. It’s science. No one else in existence has your point of view or exact genome (identical twins and clones, look for inspiration elsewhere, please). That is why we need people to share and help us understand one another better. And on a bigger level than just taking a selfie. (Not hating on selfies, but a few is enough. You look good from that angle; we get it.) We need the world to hear more opinions, give glimpses into more diverse subcultures. Are you REALLY into dressing your cat in handcrafted, historically authentic outfits? No problem, there are people out there who want to see that! Probably in excruciating details!

One of the things that makes You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) so great to read is that first and foremost, you feel like you’re reading about a person.  A talented, awesome person, for sure, but still, someone recognizably human. Felicia Day’s writing style is chatty and full of good-natured humor, and she succeeds, I think, by making us all feel as though she’s someone we could hang out with, maybe play some video games or watch movies together. You just know that she’d be chill and awkward and non-judgmental, in all the best ways.

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She signed my book! She signed my book!

If you consider yourself a geek, if you’ve ever felt lost in a crowd, if you had weird/unique hobbies, if you’ve ever felt a passion for something completely out there… well, I’m pretty sure you’ll find something in You’re Never Weird that will inspire you, or at the very least, make you smile or even chuckle for a while.

‘Scuse me, but I gotta go binge-watch The Guild right now.

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The details:

Title: You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)
Author: Felicia Day
Publisher: Touchstone
Publication date: August 11, 2015
Length: 262 pages
Genre: Memoir
Source: Purchased