nonfiction

Book review: There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done: Actors and Fans Celebrate the Legacy of Supernatural, edited by Lynn S. Zubernis

So I was browsing NetGalley a few weeks ago, checking out the selections (I don’t often request books; my blog is still kind of small and I don’t necessarily think I’ll be approved for many titles, but I like to know what books are out there that I can look forward to!), when the first part of the title of one book reached out and punched me in the face: There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done: Actors and Fans Celebrate the Legacy of Supernatural, edited by Lynn S. Zubernis (BenBella Books, 2020). The song by Kansas has been a long time favorite of mine, so I was immediately curious as to what the book was about, and I was a million times more delighted when I read the rest of the title and learned that this was a collection of essays about the CW show Supernatural, a show my husband and I binge-watched two years ago on Netflix and which I’ve enjoyed ever since. The book was offered as a ‘Read Now,’ and I happily clicked the button. (And since I was pulled in by the title, I’m counting this as my read for the 2020 PopSugar Reading Challenge prompt of ‘a book you picked because the title caught your attention.’)

Lynn S. Zubernis has edited a collection of essays and interviews by both cast and crew members and fans that speak to not only the brilliancy of the show, but the camaraderie and deep friendship that has blossomed among its ardent fans. Cast, crew, and fans alike refer to themselves as family (the SPNFamily, to be exact), and in every essay, their bonds are made obvious by the love the fans show each other, the charity work that every person even loosely associated with this show is moved to participate in, the deep desire to follow Sam and Dean’s footsteps by making the world a better, safer place, and the courage to be open, vulnerable, and thus, free.

The essays run the gamut, from experiences on set and how they changed an actor or actress’s life, to how being part of the fandom helped each fan to grow, but the common theme here are the permanent effects one single TV show has had, and the effects are massive. Far from being a mere aside of pop culture, Supernatural has acted as a catalyst for personal growth, from inspiring fans to keep fighting with the anxiety that has plagued them for years, to pushing them to take steps and make changes that they’d been afraid of taking. For a show that carried on for fifteen seasons, that’s no small feat, and no small amount of changed lives. The effects of Supernatural are long-ranging.

There’s an awful lot to fall in love with in this book. The actors’ willingness to connect with their fans is truly remarkable, and their essays, in which they detail their involvement in fan conventions and on social media, is absolutely heartwarming. But what really shines is the dedication to charity that this show has fomented among its followers. Almost every essay has some mention of how its author engaged in work that benefited people they never met- fundraising, multiple crisis support networks, helping other fans to pay off devastating medical bills- because that’s what family does, even far-off family you don’t often, or ever, see face-to-face. And the Supernatural fandom is the family everyone deserves.

The book isn’t without its criticism of the show, particularly towards earlier the seasons’ treatment of women. It’s never harsh, but it’s fair, and I appreciated such an even-handed take, because when you love something, you want it to be the very best it can be, and we should all be able to criticize the things we love while still loving them. And there are deep dives into certain characters (Charlie is a particular favorite, but there’s plenty of love for Sheriffs Jody Mills and Donna Hanscum as well) and their far-ranging influence, but my favorite essays were the ones that demonstrate that Supernatural‘s ripple effects are less like a tossed pebble and more akin to a giant bolder dropped into the middle of a lake.

Actor Rob Benedict sharing his experiences with suffering a stroke helped a fan to recognize that she was experiencing similar symptoms, and that pushed her to get medical help in time to save her life. A professor used the show to develop a course that helped veterans suffering from PTSD return to civilian life. Fans crowdfunded gender correction surgery for another fan who had decided to move forward with living his best life. Other fans raised money to start a school in Nicaragua and a children’s center in Haiti. The list go on and on and the stories are no less impressive as the book nears completion. Ms. Zubernis has chosen a set of essays that reveal the depth and heart of a television show about two brothers saving the world from things that go bump in the night (and day!), and its true legacy is the love its fans have extended from the show itself to each other and the world beyond.

If you’re a Supernatural fan, this book, this love letter to not just the show but to you and the friends you’ve made because of it, is one you can’t miss. Even for the casual fan like me, There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done was an utter joy to read: the fandom’s love and connection to each other is evident on every single page, and that kind of love is absolutely what the world needs right now. To be honest, I didn’t want this book to end, and I’m looking forward to reading Ms. Zubernis’s other works at some point as well.

“Because family really don’t end with blood. And those of us who have been part of the SPNFamily, whose lives have been changed for the better by this show, are now a little more able to ‘carry on.'”

There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done is a beautiful, moving testament to a television show that transcended the bounds of pop culture and changed what it means to be a fan, and we’re all the better for it. Carry on, friends, and Always Keep Fighting.

Huge thanks to NetGalley for allowing me to read and review this wonderful book!

Visit Lynn Zubernis’s website, Fangasm the Book, here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

food · food history · nonfiction

Better Than Homemade- Carolyn Wyman

Food history! The history of food has always fascinated me. Books on cooking trends, food usage and availability, food justice, wartime rationing, and other food-related topics are absolutely my jam (hehehe. Jam. Get it?). And while I’m not exactly a foodie, I’m far from a ‘Break out the processed foods, guys!’ kind of gal. I cook probably about 90% of what we eat from scratch (right down to bread, yogurt, jam/preserves, veggie burgers, etc). I haven’t yet mastered tortillas and my granola bars have been crumbly in the past, but I’m comfortable in the kitchen and love trying new things. That said, Better Than Homemade: Amazing Foods That Changed the Way We Eat by Carolyn Wyman (Quirk Books, 2014) absolutely belonged on my TBR list, because, well, FOOD.

The second World War changed so much all over the world, and American food culture wasn’t exempt from these shifts. Food preservation technology had advanced, thanks to the need to store and ship food to the troops overseas, and the food industry poured a lot of effort into making the American public more comfortable with processed foods in an attempt to unload their leftover stock (and increase profits, of course). Processed foods were celebrated as time savers, as healthier alternatives to fresh (yes, really! Why have the vitamins that are actually in a certain food when you can strip them all out, then spray on a synthetic version? Looking at you, white bread…), and as technological breakthroughs for the modern home. Better Than Homemade brings this era to life in an examination of beloved (mostly) American products that revolutionized- and not necessarily a good way!- the way we eat.

Warning: you may see large portions of your childhood displayed in these colorful pages. Cheez-Whiz, spray cheese, Velveeta, Kool-Aid, snack cakes, the history of all these products and evolution of American food culture are laid out in this easy and fun-to-read book. It’s nostalgia between two covers, although you might be squinting at some of the products in a queasy haze, thankful that your tastes have grown and expanded.

I really enjoyed reading the brief histories of the companies who made some of my favorite childhood foods and viewing the different product packaging (it was kind of neat to recognize the labels and packages from my childhood on the pages that featured a lineup of product packaging). I don’t use many of these products any more- I do keep potato flakes around for a certain bread recipe; I keep a tube of refrigerated biscuits in the fridge for breakfast sandwiches; I do use cooking spray, occasionally I’ll spring for some Aldi-brand Tater Tots, and I still have some seriously ancient boxes of Jell-o in the pantry- but I ate Hamburger Helper, canned pasta in various forms, boxed macaroni and cheese, and crescent rolls as a kid, and my mother still uses Minute Rice, so reading through this book was a food-related stroll back through my younger days, days with far less concern for my own nutrition.

The funniest part of this book was turning the page, seeing a product I hadn’t thought about in years, and then having the television jingle from a commercial the company put out in 1987 run through my head. Like, SERIOUSLY, brain? There isn’t any better use for the brain cells storing that song??? This is why I did so badly in high school chemistry, you guys; my brain is too busy keeping a death grip on the Carnation Instant Breakfast jingle from when I was nine years old, and the rest of me is over here wondering what it was I came into the kitchen for…

If you’re interested in the intersection of food history and pop culture, or you’re my age (39 today!) or older and feel like revisiting the foods you ate growing up, a serving of Better Than Homemade just might hit the spot. 😉

Visit Carolyn Wyman’s website here.

nonfiction

I’ll Be There For You: The One about Friends- Kelsey Miller

Settle back on the comfy couch in your favorite local coffeehouse and grab yourself a latte in an oversized mug, because Kelsey Miller’s I’ll Be There For You: The One about Friends is an entertaining read that delves into nostalgia without hesitating to examine the more problematic areas of arguably the biggest cultural TV phenomenon of the 90’s.

Friends debuted in September of 1994, during my freshman year of high school, and nearly everyone I knew watched it. While I never had a ‘Rachel,’ Jennifer Aniston’s iconic haircut, we did own a copy of The Rembrandts’ tape that featured the Friends theme song, and my mother had a Central Perk sweatshirt that I would occasionally borrow (and always feared spilling something on). For folks older than me, Friends was a reminder of those years just after you’d flown the nest and your friend group was everything; for people my age, it was a glimpse into the future, of all that could be possible and the friends who would support us as we made our way in the world.

Ms. Miller recalls the show’s origins, from the meeting of David Crane and Marta Kauffman in college, their time working together in theater, their pilots that didn’t quite get off the ground, and their initial success with Dream On, which eventually earned them an Emmy. I was charmed to know that the first iteration of the show was originally titled Insomnia CafĂ©, followed by Friends Like Us, then Six of One (changed to this to differentiate from the other NBC series in development at the time titled Friends Like Mine, which was later renamed Ellen) before it returned to simply Friends. This is followed by a brief history of each of the cast: where they grew up, how they got into the industry (Matt LeBlanc was originally training in carpentry and working in construction; Lisa Kudrow graduated from Vassar with a BS in biology and had plans for med school; Matthew Perry beat up Justin Trudeau when they were 10. Could that be any more hilarious???), and how they were selected, including other actors and actresses who auditioned and/or were offered the parts.

She follows the show through each season, reminiscing about the more memorable episodes and the many bits and pieces of the show that nestled comfortably into our cultural jargon (Smelly Cat, anyone?), never shying away from calling attention to the more problematic aspects of the series: its blinding whiteness, constant homophobia, slut shaming, fat jokes, transphobia. What makes this book different from so many of the scathing articles that have come out in the recent years detailing Friends‘ issues, though, is that Ms. Miller is quick to point out that for all those problems (many of which are viewed through that crystal-clear 20/20 lens of hindsight and cultural pivots), at the time, they were signs of growth. Ross’s ex-wife Carol married Susan on the show in what was the first televised lesbian wedding, and while it was bland and toned-down and lacked a kiss, it was there. The storyline of Chandler’s father, who was referred to only as gay, a drag queen, or the now-passĂ© cross-dresser (and would nowadays most likely be referred to as transgender), might not have been handled perfectly, but she was there, at a time when transgender people were only ever seen as murder victims on Law & Order. These were steps forward- maybe even the steps that started us down the path to a world of more acceptance and understanding, and that’s no small thing. As someone who always felt uneasy about these aspects of the show, I appreciate this perspective. It wasn’t one I’d considered before.

The final chapter of the book contained a lot of new-to-me information, including the lawsuit brought by Amaani Lyle, a writer’s assistant, against Warner Brothers, due to harassment in the Friends writers’ room (a #MeToo case that took place before society was ready to listen). By the time Friends was in its final two seasons, I had a small child and had lost interest in a group of people whose lives were so very different from mine (although, in a horrible moment that I’ll never forget, the episode where Rachel tries to cook and ends up making a trifle with layers of custard, ladyfingers, jam, roast beef, peas and onions played as a re-run the night of my first hospitalization for hyperemesis gravidarum- you know, the kind of morning sickness that can kill you. URP). Reality TV had begun its dominance of the network schedule, the storylines had played out, and the cast was ready to move on…but Ms. Miller’s description of the taping of the final episode? Bittersweet, with a side of teary.

This is no celebrity exposĂ©, nor is it a lurid tell-all with stories of infighting and on-set drama. While certain aspects of the casts’ personal life are mentioned- relationships, pregnancies, Matthew Perry’s drug addiction- they appear solely when relevant. Ms. Miller maintains clear focus on the show- its growth, how the cast grew with it, and how not only the US but the entire world changed because of it.

I’ll Be There For You is both a comfort read and an opportunity to remember where we were at the time Friends appeared, the paths it blazed, and the many things we’ve learned since those days. It’s a trek back to a simpler- though not necessarily better- time. There are no rose-colored glasses in this book, just an even-tempered, well-balanced examination of a beloved television show whose influence is still felt today. Now how about that latte?

Visit Kelsey Miller’s website here.

Follow Kelsey Miller on Twitter here.