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The Big Rewind: A Memoir Brought to You by…

The Big Rewind: A Memoir Brought to You by Pop Culture

by Nathan Rabin

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I really had high hopes for this book since the author writes for the Onion AV Club, a website that I read nearly every day. Unfortunately, this memoir is poorly written and unfocused. The first half of the book is the story of Nathan's childhood, a large portion of which was spent in group homes. As with most memoirs, it feels as if the author is leaving out a lot of details, details that would make his life seem less interesting. I have a feeling that anyone whose father attended the University of Chicago and whose sister went to an exclusive boarding school did not really lead the poverty stricken life that he claims. If readers are interested in reading a memoir about life for a "normal" teenager in a group home, I recommend Janice Erlbaum's Girlbomb instead. The second half of the book covers Rabin's adulthood, which should be interesting since this is when he began working for the Onion. Instead, he spends most of this section of the book on the minutiae of working for a short-lived series on American Movie Classice. If the behind-the-scences machinations of basic cable series are your interests then this might be the book for you, but I found it tedious. The book is poorly edited as well. At one point, Katie Holmes is referred to as Katie Dawson, to give just one example. ( )
1 vote markfinl | Oct 16, 2011 |
The author tells us the story of his very unhappy and unsettled childhood. How he managed to grow up to be a resourceful and independent person is beyond me. And what was the answer to his problems? Popular culture. Despite some dark content, the book was humorous and irreverent. ( )
  dianemb | Dec 4, 2010 |
This really earnestly wants to be a much more solid memoir. There are many, many wonderful things about this memoir's tone and lightheartedly honest treatment of some very heavy life experiences, and the author is very funny, engaging, and sincere. Rabin's voice is an extremely endearing one, and the way he handles issues such as depression is a breath of fresh air. One review I read (probably here on LT) expressed appreciation for Rabin's status of "still figuring things out" as he wrote this -- that it was a refreshing angle for such a hard-knock memoir in contrast to the usual "here I sit in fully-recovered normalcy as I look back on my difficult youth" point of view. I totally agree.

Unfortunately, I did not finish the book because I found a few nuts and bolts of the narrative perturbingly hard to piece together. I love well-written and insightful anecdotes as much as anyone, but there were too many instances where I was distracted from enjoying his writing because I was trying to make sense of some concrete aspect of the larger story -- how events related to each other in sequence, for example, or exactly when or where a particular story was taking place.

Now, I recognize that putting minor things in clear sequence really, truly doesn't matter in the grand scheme of a memoir like this, but we're inclined to make as much sense of things as we can and it is frustrating when a narrative doesn't allow that to happen naturally.

A secondary nitpicky issue I encountered was the author's apparent determination to make Deeply Insightful Observations (some of which are brilliantly astute, but which occur far too often to all be winners) a priority over crafting a solid structure for the book. With the life experience Rabin had to work with, going light on the insightful observations would have worked just fine and would likely have given them more impact.

Structure-wise, the pop-culture threads which begin each chapter provide better framework for some chapters than for others, and that's to be expected. However, this device doesn't support the weight of the work as a whole and the attention to overall narrative structure is lacking. This might have made a fine serialization.

The gems in this book are impressive, but want for a little more careful arranging. ( )
1 vote double.entendrea | Sep 1, 2010 |
This is a pretty damn good modern memoir. Great for fans of Chuck Klosterman who are looking for something a little more personal, maybe.

The intro was a little rocky for me, to be totally honest, and I'll tell you why. The intro seemed packed full of jokes and references that were used in humor, but it kind of freaked me out because I thought I'd be half way through the book believing comedic references and basically confusing Rabin's life with that of a Simpsons character. But that's because I'm dumb. But fear not, fellow dum-dums. After the intro the book evens out a little and you'll fall right into the natural pacing and humor. If you're still not sure, skip ahead to the chapter where Rabin descirbes the reaction of a focus group to Movie Club> (maybe about pg. 300. Goddamn hilarious. ( )
1 vote helpfulsnowman | Jun 26, 2010 |
As a fan of "The Onion" I really wanted to like this, but I just didn't. Rabin's memoir tries to be oddball and strange like Augusten Burrough's "Running with Scissors" but instead it just felt disjointed and sad. Most of the pop culture references to songs and movies were pretty obscure and as a result, they were unrecognizable to me. I much preferred "Love is a Mix Tape" by Rob Sheffield. ( )
1 vote saramllr | Apr 6, 2010 |
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"As a child and teenager, Nathan Rabin viewed pop culture as a life-affirming form of escape. Today, pop culture is his life. For more than a decade, he's served as head writer for A.V. Club, the entertainment section of The Onion. In The Big Rewind, Rabin shares his too-strange-for-fiction life story. From a psilocybin-addled trip to the Anne Frank House to having focus groups for his movie-review panel show opine that all the male critics seemed 'gay' and that the show as a whole was 'too gay,' Rabin discusses his personal evolution in prose as hilarious as it is unexpectedly poignant. Using a specific song, album, book, film, or television show as a springboard to discuss a period in his life, Rabin recounts his heartwarming tale of triumph over adversity with biting wit and unwise candor. The pop culture touchstones Rabin uses here reflect his broad frame of reference with comic dissertations on The Simpsons, The Catcher in the Rye, Dr. Dre, Grey Gardens, The Great Gatsby, the Magnetic Fields, the uncanny parallels between Ol' Dirty Bastard and John F. Kennedy, and how the stock market mirrors the pimp game. Rabin writes movingly about how pop culture helped save him from suicidal despair, institutionalization, and parental abandonment -- throughout a childhood that sent him ricocheting from a mental hospital to a foster home to a group home for emotionally disturbed adolescents. The Big Rewind is also a touching narrative of a motherless child's search for family and acceptance and a darkly comic valentine to Rabin's lovable, hard-luck dad. Featuring cameos by Billy Bob Thornton, a vomiting Topher Grace, and Barack Obama, The Big Rewind chronicles the surreal journey of Rabin's life and its intersection with the dizzying, maddening, wonderful world of entertainment" -- from publsiher's description.… (more)

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