Monday, July 9, 2012

The Next Best Thing Review

As I mentioned in my last post, my enjoyment of a book can be seen through how long it takes me to read it. Case in point, I finished Jennifer Weiner's newest in two days. I love Jennifer Weiner. I first discovered her in college when I read Good in Bed. Later, In Her Shoes, became one of my all time favorite novels (I could definitely relate especially after living with my sometimes irresponsible younger sister). I've seen her speak at book signings and I follow her blog on occasion. I've read all of her novels. They're considered "chick lit" but Weiner is a smart and interesting writer. She is always railing against the literary world, claiming that men who write books about families and relationships are considered literary, while women are often thought to only write chick lit. She has a valid point. She also has studied the NY Times book reviews and commented over how many male authors are reviewed over women. Anyway, I like her as a person (albeit one who I only know over the internet). She's very real.

  • Good in Bed (2001): Loved. It's raw, intense and ultimately satisfying.
  • In Her Shoes (2002): My absolute favorite. I've read this one multiple times and I even like the movie.
  • Little Earthquakes (2004): I may revisit this when I have kids. It's all about new moms and when I read it, I was 22 and could not relate at all.
  • Goodnight Nobody (2005): Weiner's first mystery. Meh.
  • The Guy Not Taken (2006): Short stories, so I never read this.
  • Certain Girls (2008): The sequel to Good In Bed (although Cannie shows up in In Her Shoes, briefly). This was disappointing, especially the unnecessarily sad ending. 
  • Best Friends Forever (2009): Another meh.
  • Fly Away Home (2010): And another one... this time about political scandals. Meh.
  • Then Came You (2011): LOVED! After a few not so great books in a row, I really enjoyed this novel about four women and how one baby brings them all together. It's a GREAT book. Really moving.
  • The Next Best Thing (2012): And here we are, back to the real review.

The Next Best Thing is actually an expanded version of a previously published short story called Swim (currently FREE on amazon in e-book form). It's also a reflection of the year or so that Weiner spent in Hollywood, making a show for ABC Family called State of Georgia. For the record, I watched a couple episodes last summer and thought it was awful.

Ruth is a Hollywood writer, who worked for a production company where she was mentored and encouraged to write her own pilot. The novel follows the pickup of the pilot to what happens when it is filmed. Like Weiner's other books, Ruth is a fully realized character. Her background is filled in nicely throughout the book. We learn why she has scars on her face and body, why she was raised by her grandmother, why she is a TV writer and who she loves. On top of all of that, we follow her life during the period where her show, The Next Best Thing is made.

I don't know a whole lot about the Hollywood writing industry, except for anything hinted at in Entourage, but apparently this is filled with insider information. I was fascinated by the whole process and kept thinking about a lot of my favorite shows going through this very system. Some elements are thinly disguised from Weiner's own experiences. Apparently she wanted State of Georgia to be about a heavier girl trying to make it on Broadway. She wanted an unknown to play Georgia, but the network wanted (or had a deal with) Raven-Symone from The Cosby Show and Hanging with Mr. Cooper and tons of other Disney shows and TV movies. Weiner agreed since Raven-Symone had the look she was going for. However, once cast, the actress shed 30 pounds and then fought about wearing padding on the show. This very same situation happens in the book, among other possibly real life experiences that Weiner faced when working on the show.

Towards the end there is one chapter where the editor got lazy. At the start of the chapter, Ruth is wearing a silk top and pants. Later she mentions wishing she could go home and take off her skirt and spanx. Still later, she is wearing a dress. How did no one catch that? She never went home in that chapter! This drove me crazy. I know, I know, I'm picky, but really? That was SO obvious.

All in all, I really enjoyed the novel. It's a good summer, beachy book, without making you feel like you're reading something idiotic. If you're a Weiner fan already or just looking for something fast paced and enjoyable, check out The Next Best Thing!

NPR article about Weiner and the book.

USA Today review

Buy it at amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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