Monday, September 30, 2013

Book Review: "The Me Generation.....By Me"

OK, this is gonna be a total departure for me.  A book review.  A book recommendation, really.

And it’s not a poker book.  Not at all.

The book is over a year old, but it is timeless.  Actually, it is not so much timeless as it is time-stamped.  It’s all about growing up in the 1960’s—one man’s history of the 60’s.  It’s a personal memoir, but it captures the era perfectly.  Oh, and it’s hysterically funny. That’s because it’s written by Ken Levine, one of the best television writers ever.  I first recall seeing his name on the writing credits of my then-favorite TV show, the classic M*A*S*H.  Then I noticed he was the writer/consultant/producer of a little show called Cheers, which is actually my favorite TV show of all time, and one of the best sitcoms ever.  He’s also written for Fraiser, Becker, The Simpsons, a whole bunch of other shows, movies, plays, you name it.  He’s won Emmys and other awards for his writing and producing. He is a man of many talents—he’s also been a play-by-play baseball announcer for several Major League Baseball teams (this was long after he made it big as a writer/producer).

So I knew who Levine was before I knew about the book, which I heard him mention a few weeks ago when he was filling in on a local radio talk show one night (yeah, he can do that too—in fact he used to host Dodger Talk on L.A. radio).  He was taking calls about long-gone Los Angeles landmarks, and I couldn’t stop listening, it was fascinatingly nostalgic.  Luckily, I heard him mention his book.  Just based on the show and the topic of the book—growing up in the 60’s—I ordered the Kindle version immediately, and I have been enjoying it ever since.  I actually haven’t finished reading the book yet, but even if I don’t laugh a single time the rest of the way, it’ll still be the funniest book I’ve read.

The book is called The Me Generation…..By Me (Growing up inthe 60’s).  As I said, I knew who Levine was before hearing him on that talk show, but what I didn’t know was that he grew up in Southern California just like me.  He’s only a few years older than me, so I can relate to all the references, all the landmarks, all the history he talks about.  Now, he grew up in “the Valley” and I grew up on the “Westside”—but we both crossed over the hill enough so that I pretty much remember every single person, place or thing he talks about.  Every restaurant, every hang-out, every movie theater that no longer exists that he discusses….I remember.

He captures the 60’s perfectly.  It’s like I’m living through it all over again…except, fortunately, I’m not.  He captures the Los Angeles of that era perfectly too.  He captures what Junior High and High School was like.  As an aside, like me, Levine is Jewish, so I can relate on that level as well.

I just got to the part where he started going to UCLA—just like I did.  When he talks about the parking, he mentions that he was relegated to the infamous “Lot 32,” as wasI!  I hadn’t thought about Lot 32 in years.  You see, UCLA had a huge commuter population and they couldn’t fit all the cars for the staff and the students on the campus.  So there was this huge parking lot—a mile or two away from the actual campus—where those of us who didn’t qualify for on-campus parking would park.  You had to take a shuttle bus to get to the campus. We paid for the parking permit, of course, but I think we paid a little less than the folks who actually parked on campus did.  I recall that one time, during finals, someone slashed the tires of all the shuttle busses and I was late for an important final.  I’m fairly certainly that Lot 32 was only slightly closer to the UCLA campus than it was to rival USC’s campus.

For all the reasons I’ve mentioned, the book has a special appeal to me.  But I really think that even if you didn’t grow up in the 60’s, if you’ve never been to Southern California,  if you’ve never attended a Bar Mitzvah, you will still enjoy this book.  Levine does an excellent job of explaining the L.A. landmarks and institutions in very brief, but very clear, fashion.  Man, do I wish I had his gift for brevity.  But if you never heard of Lloyd Thaxton before, you’ll get him as soon as Ken introduces him.

Besides, if you didn’t grow up in the ‘60’s, your parents probably did.  Or your (gulp) grandparents did.  And the 60’s was such a strange, ridiculous era. Hippies, drugs, The Beatles, the protests, the wars, did I mention drugs?  Oh, and I’m pretty sure that sex was invented in the 60’s.  It’s all in this book, told in the most amusing way possible, because Levine lived through it all. 

By the way, he explains at the beginning that for many of his friends, teachers, and the other real people that are a part of his life, he uses pseudonyms to protect their identities.  Ahem.

Levine talks about the movies, TV shows, and music of the era.  He touches on politics because you can’t talk about the 60’s without that.  The funniest thing I’ve read so far was his comment on the “classic” 60’s show, My Mother the Car. Do younger folks even know about this show?  I mean, around the same time, the show Gilligan’s Island came on, and I’m pretty sure even today’s teenagers know that one.  But My Mother the Car?  Does anyone under 40 know that show?  It was a sitcom where the lead character’s mother was reincarnated as an old car (a 1928 Porter)?  How did they ever sell that?  I mean, if she came back as a cat or a dog or a horse, fine….but an inanimate object?

Anyway, here’s Levine’s reaction to My Mother the Car:  “Has there ever been a more terrifying Oedipal concept for a teenage boy than his mother being his car? Short of My Mother The Dick I can’t think of anything worse.”

And if you’ve never been to Los Angeles, you know enough about it from pop culture to get it anyway.  And you all have funny relatives, just like Ken did.  And you were all teen-agers once, and you will certainly be able to relate on that basis as well.  The dating/relationship/sex stuff is priceless.

It’s just a damn good book.

I should mention that Ken Levine is a prolific blogger, and you can find his blog here.  In fact, I discovered his blog because of probably the only poker post he ever did.  It’s here.  You should read it because he tells about playing poker at a regular home game and not having a clue as to how to play any of the games.  So of course it’s very funny. And besides, by mentioning his lone poker post, I have just justified posting this book review on my Poker and Vegas blog.  I believe one of my poker peeps tweeted out the link to that post, and as a result, I started to read his terrific blog and follow him on Twitter.  And that’s how I found out about the guest-hosting gig he did where I learned about this incredibly funny book. 
Which, as I said, I highly recommend

((Edited to add:  Damn.  As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, I haven't finished reading the book yet.  Now I wish I had waited.  I just came to the part in the book where Ken tells us how he saw Goldie Hawn's vagina!  It was when she was 23 years old and starring in the TV show Laugh-in, which gave her start.  So we have not just a vagina mentioning, but an actual celebrity vagina mentioning--and sighting--at that.  Like all of all Ken's stories, its very funny and you need to read the book to find out how and why Ken saw Goldie's goodies.)) 

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