Saturday, May 13, 2017

Review: The Book of Joan: Tales of Mirth, Mischief, and Manipulation

It's no secret that celebrity memoirs are often one of my favorite sources of reading material. It's equally apparent, when looking at my reading habits and frequent recommendations, that there's nothing better in my book, than the book of a very funny lady. The best of both were combined in this surprisingly moving and equally hilarious account by Melissa Rivers, of her life with her comedy star mother, Joan. 

I was always a big fan of Joan Rivers, and would often watch Fashion Police not for any of the actual sartorial commentary, but just because her humor made up such a significant part of it. This remembrance of her, told by her daughter Melissa, contains so much of that spark of irrepressible humor that was so quintessentially Joan. Funny, loving, and laced with enough struggle between strong personalities to remind you of your own relationship with your parents, I really enjoyed reading about Melissa's fond memories of her mother. And just in time for Mother's Day!

Melissa described her efforts in writing this book, were primarily to create something that would make her mother laugh. As such, the book is sprinkled throughout with not only the late Rivers' original style of humor, but also an attempt at replicating it by her daughter. 

The effect of this is sweet, but still a little odd. In the relationship, Melissa was always the straight man - something she openly cops to in the book - so to see her attempt to take on her mother's comedy mantle is a little difficult, because the humor doesn't exactly transfer. However, I don't think it was her trying to start a new kind of career in comedy, it was definitely in honor of Joan.

The style of humor itself, being Joan's, was almost kind of retro. In today's humor environment of shock comics on television and the movies, political satire blowing up in response to the current insane political climate, and whatever the hell kind of humor we're getting from the Internet - especially YouTube - Mrs. Rivers' kind of comedy, with a straightforward format, a diagram-able buildup to a punchline, and tongue-in-cheek meanness, comes off as quietly nostalgic. No one tells jokes like these anymore... and maybe that's because Joan Rivers isn't around to tell them.

The look into her personal life was sweet and hilarious. Joan Rivers was exactly the person you saw on screen when she was back at home: a workaholic who exaggerated the truth and didn't suffer fools kindly, this sharp broad was also a terrible driver, a stickler for manners with the kind of deadpan sarcasm that could flatten a bus, who loved junk food and jewelry, and hated sports. She lived unapologetically as herself, and that personal bravery has clearly made an impact on her daughter.

The one thing that threw me a little bit, were the repeated jokes within the book of how Melissa is now out of a job, and hopes to work for various influential people in Hollywood, often to the point of being a little subservient about it. On one hand, this is just like her mother's often self-deprecating style - one of the reason Joan dealt criticisms so openly, was because she paved the way by mocking herself first - but it was still a little sad: so much of Melissa's life and career was shaped around that of bolstering her mother's, so now she's having to manage her own way with Joan gone.

By the time I reached the end, I thought I could have read this in one afternoon, had I been less busy. Well-organized, and constructed in a pattern that makes sense, the overall story of the two's relationship is incredibly easy to read, and  Rivers' passion for grammar makes for a book that just flows easily.

Final Verdict: This remembrance of a comedy legend would have been just the kind of thing Joan Rivers would have loved. A humorous, caring reflection on the life of one of America's original funny ladies, by someone who absolutely knew her best, fans of hers should take an afternoon to indulge in this quick read.

What is your favorite celebrity memoir, of either themselves, or another? Who's your favorite celebrity mother-daughter pair? Let me know, in the comments below!

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