We Need More Stories About Friendship

Rachel Shukert, left, showrunner and executive producer of Netflix’s “The Baby-Sitters Club,” at her Los Angeles home, and Ann M. Martin, author of the book series “The Baby-Sitters Club,” at her New York home.

(Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)
Don't let the subject matter throw you off. This isn't a throwaway series of books for young adults. These are the books that turn people into readers, and this is a show that focuses on the overlooked skill of friendship:

Premiering Friday, the 10-episode reboot opens with a modern wink to an origin story as important to some as Spider-Man’s or Batman’s. Sporty seventh grader Kristy Thomas (Sophie Grace) watches as her single mom, Elizabeth (Alicia Silverstone), is in need of a sitter to watch her youngest son. Elizabeth huffs about young people these days being hard to get in touch with, as well as the high fees of internet-based babysitting services: “When I was a kid, my mother would just call some girl in the neighborhood on a landline,” she says. “And she would answer, because it was part of the social contract.”
Kristy’s great idea is born: a babysitting club.

She enlists her shy bestie Mary Anne Spier (Malia Baker) as secretary, their artistic friend and neighbor Claudia Kishi (Momona Tamada) as vice president, fashionable new girl from New York City Stacey McGill (Shay Rudolph) as treasurer, and eventually environmentally conscious California transplant Dawn Schafer (Xochitl Gomez) as an alternate officer. (Claudia also serves as the resident BSC host because she has a phone — one of those now-vintage transparent landlines with brightly-colored hardware — in her room.)
“When I saw them all together for the first time, that was one of the top five moments of my life,” Shukert says. “Maybe ahead of my wedding, but after having my son.” The way she speaks with reverence about the series, it’s easy to believe she isn’t joking.

That adoration, steeped in childhood memories untouched by the corrosion of time, made for a surreal adaptation process. Shukert says rereading the original book series, which ran until 2000 and has sold more than 180 million copies, she was struck by how she remembered very specific details — like Stacey painting her toenails with pink polish accented by a green dot or Claudia having white tights with plaits all over them or how Eleanor Marshall, one of the kids the girls babysit, was allergic to strawberries. But what came more sharply into focus was how the girls’ environment and experiences shaped how they navigated the world...

The reason why we need more of this type of storytelling is obvious--we're inundated with images and viral videos and police reports about individuals who cannot navigate polite society without looking like a jackass.

It's my personal opinion that there is a crisis in our society that centers around an inability to find and make friends with people who can check our impulse to do stupid shit. You need people around you who can call you on your bullshit. And you need to understand that this affects everyone, not just adults. So, if there's a vehicle out there for young people who can watch real friendships evolve and change, then this is the type of content that should be applauded and rewarded.

Monty Python Speaks

Monty Python Speaks is a book that gathers decades of interviews into one chronological source. In and of itself, that is a fantastic idea, and I don't know how you could screw that up. 

Does that mean I can recommend this? Well, with some qualifications, sure.

First of all, there is little here that will be shocking or revelatory. I have read several books on Python and I've seen the documentaries on Netflix. If you have an interest in what they did before coming together as a six person troupe, there is a wealth of material out there to go through. You can see the different factions and how they worked in British television before the initial run of the series.

This book captures some of the negotiations and the discussions and will allow the business associates a voice that doesn't really come out in the documentaries. So, you can get some of that here. In fact, I wish there were more books. That's a pet peeve of mine, and I don't know how to get over it. I remember reading a book that had the scripts of the show Ripping Yarns, and I loved it. Very little of that ended up in this book because it only involved two of the Pythons and no one thought to interview them about it.

However, this brings up my chief complaint with this book and that is, they really should have annotated each excerpt with a date and time of interview. It doesn't do you any good to go through the chronological history without telling the reader, "so-and-so said this on Feb 4, 1976 when he was in a foul mood and angry at that other son of a bitch who said something in return on April 8, 1977 when he found out what had been said about him."

You will begin to understand why Terry Gilliam is a bit of a pain in the ass about things because there are ample statements from everyone as to why that is. And then, in return, you'll discover that John Cleese was very much a pain the ass from the beginning because everyone seems to say so in their rather polite way. 

Someone could write an entire series of books and detail why Gilliam and Cleese are absolute pains in the various asses of everyone who comes into contact with them. Not sure if those would sell, but there you go.

Second, the book is missing contributions from Graham Chapman (who died, of course, after a lifetime of being a pain in the ass and had serious issues) and from Eric Idle (who is very much alive, is a nominative pain in the ass like we all are, sometimes, and likely didn't care to contribute anything).

Third, this is the updated version and carries through the diagnosis of dementia for Terry Jones (a right miserable pain in the ass about things, as you'll read) right after their farewell run of shows at the O2 arena. No mention that that's what Led Zeppelin did as well, and I've always wondered who else might use the O2 to tell everyone "we're done, now go fuck off."

Clearly, Idle told everyone to fuck off and kept the money he made from Spamalot, so maybe there's a book in that I need to go read. If you look at how successful the Broadway show was, you come away wondering why they didn't do more with that and expand into the larger Python universe with more songs and more shows. There's a book there, too!

I thought there should have been more material with regards to Python's tour of Canada and the United States. There could be a whole book on that. And the absence of any real commentary from Idle, aside from some one-liners that deliver some zings, cripples the narrative. 

There is a wealth of back and forth from Cleese, Michael Palin (who everyone loves and no bad words are said about him because he was easy to get along with and was not a pain in anyone's ass, ever),  and Jones and Gilliam that significantly advances the reader's understanding of their various projects. You will learn exactly why they made two disappointing films and two great films and you'll learn why everyone seemed to have been disappointed in everything regardless of whether it was successful or not.

Oh, and someone should write an entire goddamned book about their goddamned albums because they are, without question, entirely ignored by a world that should be reintroduced to the comedy album format. Goddamn it all anyway.

For completists only, in other words.

The Root Beer Stand

This is a business model that makes sense.

Drive up restaurants like this have been around forever. This is just one version of the idea that you could provide food and somewhere to park for people to use for their dining enjoyment. I've seen so many variations of this over the years, and given our need for social distancing and isolation from others, it really makes sense for this to be the choice right now.

The Root Beer Stand was closed, of course, and it wasn't even dark yet. In better times, I hope people flock to places like this and keep them in business.

Think of the simple meals to be had here. Not a bad way to go, and certainly better than having everything enclosed right now. When things get back to normal, I suppose we'll all prefer to gather in one place and eat shoulder to shoulder. For right now, nah. Just stay in the car.

A Dog in Dolores Park

Not my photo, but I sliced this out of an image taken in Dolores Park in San Francisco. The image of the dog, no leash, no owner nearby, made me think of social distancing.

You should not practice social distancing with your dog. Keep your dog close.

Richard Boone

Every once in a while, you stumble across a hidden gem or a tremendous performance. Watching Richard Boone in John Wayne's last film, The Shootist, is a case study in watching a masterful actor rise above the material.

Michelle Obama Reads to Children

There are a lot of people who could be doing this, but Michelle Obama is probably the best candidate for the job:
On “Mondays With Michelle Obama,” which begins today at 12pm EST, and will run from through May 11, the former first lady will livestream a reading of a classic children’s book as part of the PBS Kids Read-Along series. She joins an ever-expanding pool of celebrities reading books for kids online during the pandemic, but I think it’s safe to say she will overtake both Dolly Parton and Tom Hardy as the Lit Hub Slack favorite. This is our future president, people. (Just kidding, that would be in the good timeline, for which we have clearly not been chosen.)
The first book will be Julia Donaldson’s The Gruffalo. Watch “Mondays with Michelle Obama” on the PBS Kids YouTube channel or Facebook page, or at Penguin Random House’s Facebook.
It is probably not fair to expect the former First Lady to have to entertain other people's kids, but there it is. She is gracious and generous with her time and probably enjoys the process. If she provides this service, then I believe that she deserves the praise that goes with it. I suspect that she will reap a vast amount of scorn for her abilities, and it's like we're living in the mid-2010s all over again.

Any number of public figures could be doing this. We could encourage judges to sentence them to reading books to kids if they get crossways with the law. I don't know if that would go over all that well, but it's a good idea.