Saturday, September 20, 2014

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NY1 teams with contributors from The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, New York Magazine, Slate.com and Essence Magazine to review the latest books and book-related trends.

The Book Reader: "Difficult Men," "That's Not Funny, That's Sick..."

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Forrest Wickman of Slate reports for NY1 on newly released book titles and the world of publishing in "The Book Reader."

Two new books tell the stories of how two groups of men changed the face of American pop culture.

"Difficult Men," by Brett Martin, and out this week from Penguin, tells how the showrunners behind groundbreaking shows like "The Sopranos", "Mad Men", "The Wire" and "Breaking Bad" revolutionized the television drama. The book’s title refers to those writers and creators. The book illuminates the tense back rooms and writers rooms where these stories are made. But the difficult men are also the shows’ antiheroes, like Don Draper and Walter White, and the stars who played them. The book opens with the story of when James Gandolfini went missing from the set of "The Sopranos", in the middle of one of their most expensive shoots, for three days.

Martin’s brute-centric and brood-centric narrative gives too little credit to the role comedies like "Girls", "Louie" and "Sex and the City" have played in reshaping this golden age. But his reporting is excellent, and the wild tales behind many of your favorite shows are frequently just as thrilling, and, here, well-drawn, as what’s made it onscreen.

It’s comedy that’s the subject of "That's Not Funny, That's Sick: A History of the National Lampoon" by Ellin Stein, also out this week from Norton. The book begins with the so-called 'Poonies of the Harvard Lampoon, and Stein is not shy in commenting on the white male privilege they enjoyed, as they, as the stories go, smashed plates against the fireplace just because they knew the help would clean it up.

This exhaustively researched book may tire the uninitiated at first. It focuses, early on, on founding jokesters Henry Beard and Doug Kenney. But it soon moves on to more widely known names like those of Lampoon associates John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Gilda Radner, and Bill Murray. These satirists may not have eradicated the "Booboisie" they so antagonized, but, like the book, they took a unique eye to American culture and made for some good laughs along the way.

Read full reviews of many other great books about difficult men, on the Slate Book Review at slate.com/books.

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