Well I had an interesting weekend.
I do not refer here to the culmination of two months of Christmas shopping (thank you Union Square holiday market,) or my time spent intermittently watching trashy television and drinking spiked punch with friends. Rather, my weekend was illuminating in the revelation that my grandmother—mentioned on this blog before in reference to her self-published novel Vision Quests—has released another book, this one a 410-page tell-all memoir outlining everything from the most mundane to the most intimate details about my family.
A copy of said memoir is waiting for me at my mom’s house in Pennsylvania (yes, my grandmother had whatever the opposite of presence of mind is to send each of us individual copies, the authorly equivalent of spitting in someone’s food and then proudly telling them about it) so I have yet to peruse the book in its entirety. But through the powers of Amazon, I managed to glean that it’s full of the kinds of details, anecdotes and personal correspondence that I typically only share with my closest confidants, things I confess to girlfriends and significant others over multiple bottles of wine, not stuff I generally shout from the rooftops.
As I’ve mentioned, this is not my grandmother’s first foray into self-publishing, but it is the first time her books have focused on anything vaguely resembling reality. My family’s shock (limited by the fact that Nana is and has always been a slightly crazy person who does slightly crazy things) is tempered by the reality that this book cannot possibly sell. Not only because it’s surely one of the worst-written things Amazon has ever permitted to appear in its inventory, but because what the memoir has in completely unnecessary and torturous detail it lacks in marketability to literally anyone who isn’t in my family. A detailed list of everything I’ve eaten in the last 30 days would have greater public appeal.
Anyway, my point here is not to add to the exposure, however minute, that my family faces by virtue of my grandmother word-vomiting 30+ years of irrelevant observations, in a tome to which I refuse to link. I suppose a more rational person would find a discreet way to cope with the sudden publication of intimate details of their childhood, something less foolhardly than referencing said publication on the Internet. But having spent the last few days speculating on how strange it must feel to read yourself as a character in someone else’s book, I suppose I felt the irony was too great to overlook, or to leave out of this review.
Which reminds me, this is in fact a book review! One I have been, or at least was until the discovery of Nana’s ramblings, rather nervous to sit down and write.
Lay the Favorite was introduced to me through a coworker, whose wife is its author. Generally speaking, I’m wary of reading or reviewing books written by people I know, or written by people who know people I know, only in part because I don’t like the idea of judging someone who isn’t a complete stranger. More importantly, and specifically with Lay the Favorite, I wasn’t sure how I’d cope with suddenly having personal information about someone that they hadn’t explicitly shared with me. “Hey man, can you get me that story before 2 p.m.? Oh, and how’s it coming with your inability to come across as accepting and uncritical in romantic relationships? Good? Cool; see you at the afternoon meeting.”
To said coworker’s credit, he was supportive of various staff members—myself included—reading a book in which he plays a somewhat significant role. And after reading Lay the Favorite, I have a much better understanding of why. The book follows narrator Beth Raymer as she journeys through Vegas, New York and the Caribbean in the pursuit of a somewhat randomly discovered career in professional gambling. Along the way she meets all manner of interesting people who, regardless of whether they’re objectively ethical or admirable, are somehow people you wish you knew. Maybe not forever, but at the very least over a few beers in a dive bar. Lay the Favorite is a book of characters, really really interesting characters. So to be one of them is probably just slightly more exciting than it is nervewracking.
(Additionally, and perhaps by virtue of its ensemble cast, Raymer’s memoir has all the makings of an enjoyable movie, so I am not surprised to know that one is set for release next year. I can only hope that the book’s irreverent tone, interspersed with jargon-heavy descriptions of professional gambling and stories from a 20-something female’s coming of age, doesn’t result in some plucky Anne Hathaway-esque production, like a shitty mash-up of 21 and Crossroads. The book certaintly deserves more.)
Anyway, although my brief cameos in my grandmother’s ode to nonsense are in no way on par with my coworker (or anyone)’s treatment in Lay the Favorite, it is interesting to be reminded twice in the same week that every memoir has its cast of corresponding real-life characters, a veritable army of people whose lives have been reduced to a series of adjectives, a few descriptions and a bit of dialogue. I only wish that my grandmother had taken it upon herself to write something as insightful and even-handed as Lay the Favorite. I wish I could call her up and say “Hey Nana, it was kind of weird reading about myself and the rest of the family, but I totally appreciate that I knew about it ahead of time and that our lives were presented as part of a coherent and well-developed manuscript.” Instead, I have to figure out how upset to be over my family’s inclusion in something that serves no purpose except to indulge someone else’s warped idea about what life experiences are worth sharing and how to share them without putting your close relatives’ privacy at the mercy of an advanced Google search.
So, in the end I guess this was half book review, half personal rant. I can only hope that amid my own selfish introspection, I’ve managed to also explain how good Lay the Favorite is, even taking into account that I hate reading about tropical adventures when I’m holed up in a Snuggie next to my radiator. It is many an aspiring writer’s dream to turn their life experience into a narrative the general public would find interesting. Some just do it better than others. Like, way better.
TITLE: Lay the Favorite: A Memoir of Gambling
AUTHOR: Beth Raymer
PAGES: 228 (in hardcover)
ALSO WROTE: n/a
SORTA LIKE: Bringing Down the House meets I Was Told There’d Be Cake
FIRST LINE: “The thing I liked best about working at Komol was Jowtee, the invisible spirit who controlled the restaurant’s destiny.”