Thursday, September 29, 2016

A Review of "Crush" (edited by Cathy Alter and Dave Singleton)

A quick review of a book I just finished reading:

I'm sure you've figured out by looking at the front cover that I bought Crush because Stephen King contributed an essay to it.
Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that King's contribution consisted of a mere three paragraphs.  Nevertheless, I recently dusted it off my shelf and sat down to read the meager half-page, and once I'd finished I remembered a vow I made once upon a time: when I buy these anthologies in which King's work appears, I'd resolved to read the whole book and not merely the story or essay by the person(s) whose name(s) induced me to spend a few bucks.  I recently broke that vow when I read and reviewed the short stories of Cooper O'Connor, and felt a little bad about it.
This, then, was my chance to get back in the saddle a bit.
I'm glad I did, because Crush turned out to be a highly enjoyable book.

Let's run through the table of contents, and then we'll call it a night:
  • "And They Called It Puppy Love" by Jodi Picoult:  In which Picoult remembers running away from home so that she could find and live with Donny Osmond.
  • "Beautiful" by Stephen King: King on Kim Novak.  Not his best work as an essayist, but apart from the brevity, there's nothing wrong with it.  Kim Novak starred in my favorite Alfred Hitchcock movie (Vertigo), so I am in considerable empathy with King.
  • "I've Got a Crush on Julia Roberts . . . and Six Words" by Larry Smith and Smith Magazine contest winners:  You can figure that one out.
  • "Start Me Up" by Hannah Rosin:  I never quite understood the appeal of Mick Jagger, and this essay didn't clarify that for me much; but I enjoyed reading it.
  • "Dynamite" by Dave Housley:  This one is about Kristy McNichol, specifically the cover of Dynamite magazine #8.  I'd show you it, but I don't think #8 is actually the right issue.  I think Housley is talking about #45.  Since I do not know this for a fact, I shall show you nothing.  Bonus King connection: Carrie is mentioned in offhand fashion.
  • "Kissing Michael Jackson" by Nicola Yoon:  In which you will discover how the author spent a year kissing Michael Jackson.  King connection: Uncle Steve wrote the story for M.J.'s "Ghosts" music video.
  • "The Love Boat" by Andrew McCarthy:  McCarthy writes a few pages devoted to the bosom of Adrienna Barbeau as it appeared on an episode of The Love Boat.  King connections: Barbeau, of course, co-starred in Creepshow; and McCarthy co-starred in Kingdom Hospital.  I could not find a screencap of Barbeau's bosoms from The Love Boat, but I hope you will accept this one from The Cannonball Run as a salacious substitute:
stolen from

  •  "The Liril Soap Girl" by Amin Ahmad:  In one of the book's best essays, Ahmad tells a Romeo-and-Juliet-esque story about an actual romance inspired by the Liril Soap girl, a famous advertisement in his home country of India.
  • "The Force Is with Mark Hamill" by Shane Harris:  By no means is the book limited to hetero crushes, and some of the essays which fall outside that realm are fascinating to a lame-o straight guy like me.  I remember having a fondness for Mark Hamill myself -- albeit for Luke Skywalker moreso than Hamill -- but as a point-of-view figure and not what Harris describes (which is actually quite chaste).  However, the memories are close enough that it fascinated me to sort of briefly relive my own childhood through this very different prism.  King connection: Hamill cameos in Sleepwalkers.
  • "The Secretary" by Jason Diamond:  I am going to keep it to myself as to who this is about.  I got a nice grin out of it, though.
  • "The Decent Man" by Roxanne Gay:  This is about the character Manly Wilder from the Little House on the Prairie books.  You don't necessarily think about having a crush on a character from a book, but it makes sense to me.  I had some rather tender feelings toward Black Cat from Spider-Man comics, for example.  Just as realistic as some of my real-life crushes...
  • "Harry Chapin: A Crush of the Soul" by Michelle Brafman:  I don't know much about Harry Chapin.  Michelle Brafman does.
  • "I Gave Birth to Tatum O'Neal" by Jessica Anya Blau:  A few of the book's essays focus on crushes that are mostly non-romantic, as Blau's seems to be.  Her crush stems as much as anything from a resemblance to its object.
  • "Crushable: John Lennon" by Janice Shapiro:  An 11-page comic about the Beatle whom it was apparently not so okay to crush on at one point.
  • "Crushin' on River" by James Franco:  Another double-whammy in the King-connection department, with the star of 11.22.63 writing about River Phoenix, co-star of Stand By Me.
  • "Little House" by Joanna Rakoff:  Another Laura Ingalls Wilder essay, this one focused on the girl herself.
  • "Me Tarzan" by Kermit Moyer:  The King of the Jungle, Tarzan himself, is the subject of this one.  Specifically, the character as written by his creator, Edgar Rice Burroughs.
  • "The Chosen" by Shulem Deen:  This fascinating essay is about the movie The Chosen, its protagonist Danny Saunders, and/or the actor who played him, Robby Benson.
  • "My Preteen Speed Addiction" by Jamie Brisick:  Speed Racer, to be precise.
  • "Newman's Own" by Barbara Graham:  Paul Newman, one of the all-time great movie stars, probably got crushed on by so many people over the years that a sort of emotional black hole must have formed somewhere as the result of all that metaphorical gravity.
  • "The Captain" by Sam Weisman:  A one-day Hollywood director was, once upon a time, drawn to Lew Alcindor, aka Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.  King connection!  He's the Monster-Shouter in The Stand.
  • "Dance With Me?" by Kimberly Dawn Neumann:  The author details her dreams of one day dancing with Mikhail Baryshnikov.  
  • "Oh, Mary!" by Larry Doyle:  Larry Doyle apparently once had the hots for Mary Tyler Moore something fierce.  And why not?  She was a fox.
  • "I Think I Love Him" by Dave Singleton:  Dave Singleton apparently once had the hots for David Cassidy something fierce.  And why not?  He was a fox.  So I'm told, at least.  This is a great essay, and one that, at fifteen pages, puts the contributions of certain authors represented here to shame.
  • "Deborah Harry Doesn't Dance" by David Keplinger:  Keplinger writes quite persuasively about Debbie Harry's non-dancing dance as featured on American Bandstand performing "One Way or Another."  You can get a similar version of that from their performance of "Heart of Glass."  And here's the thing: like...I knew intellectually that Debbie Harry was hot as balls back then, but I didn't KNOW it, you know?  I know it now.  Thanks, David Keplinger!
  • "Jarlsberg and Sourdough" by Anna Breslaw:  Adrian Grenier is the subject/object of this one.  I had a deep suspicion after reading this that Anna Breslaw is herself hot as balls.  And, uh, yep:
  • "My Own Private Danny Zuko" by Yesha Callahan:  One of the book's best essays, this one is about John Travolta -- King connection! -- except not really.
  • "Jerrys and Greggs" by Marion Winik:  In which the author writes of being a groupie-by-proxy.  Terrific stuff.
  • "You're the One That I Want" by Jill Kargman:  See, you THINK it's another one about Travolta.  Nosir; Jeff Conaway all the way.
  • "The Lonely Life" by Richard McCann:  A thirteen-pager about Bette Davis.  One of the book's highlights for sure.
  • "99/86" by David Shields:  Shields got a mere two paragraphs about Barbara Feldon, so Stephen King didn't contribute THE shortest essay in the book, at least.  Although it's possible he'd lose on word-count; I didn't check.
  • "Fantasy Bonds" by Tony Tulathimutte:  Rydia from Final Fantasy II.  God damn, this one fascinated me.  I bet you there are TONS of people who've had mad crushes on video game characters.
  • "Mom, I Want to Marry a Murderer" by Karin Tanabe:  Andy Garcia as he appears in The Godfather Part III is the subject/object of this one.  Garcia seems like the kind of guy who should have been in a King movie at some point; but he never has.
  • "Puppy Love" by Kathy Alter:  Donny Osmond comes up again.  Good stuff here, a second time.
  • "Still Rivers Run Deep" by Julia Pierpont:  Rivers Cuomo from Weezer is crushed on in this one.  She gets over it.
  • "Brian Austin Greene: Pen Pal" by Caroline Kepnes:  This one is mortifying, but great.
  • "My So-Called Crush on Jared Leto" by Emily Gould:  I hope Jared Leto never reads this essay.
  • "Celebrity Fantasies and Their Logical Conclusion" by Carolyn Parkhurst:  I won't say anything about this except that it's a great way to end the book.
I'm not sure I'd say I've ever had a celebrity crush, not in the way they are described here.  I mean, sure, there are thousands of women I crush on while watching them in movies or television shows or music videos or whatever.  But for my personal definition of "crush," I think it's got to involve some element of real-world potential, even if only of the one-sided would-be variety.  And while I certainly do turn emotional backflips of a sort while watching Bryce Dallas Howard in anything, would I say that I had a crush on her?  Nah, I don't think so.
You might say that I had a crush on Princess Leia when I was a kid, or on Solitaire from Live and Let Die, or Melina from For Your Eyes Only.  But in no way did I have feelings about them that might prompt an essay of the sort that appears in this book.
I could write you a few of those about some real-world crushes, though.  I'm not going to; but I certainly could.
Anyways, I enjoyed this book quite a bit.  Well worth picking up, I'd say!


  1. This definitely sounds like it'd be a fun and kind of squirmy read. Nice.

    I've had celeb crushes but just in general my relationship to celebrities seems to be different from so many other people's. I usually struggle to relate when people gush over someone. I love artists' work passionately but it rarely transcends to the feelings I hear expressed on the artist his or her self personally.

    And like you say for actresses or characters you find hot or what not - different relationship altogether.

    How disappointing to discover only 3 paragraphs in there! And that the subject was Kim Novak in "Vertigo," which could inspire far more, one would think, if only as an excuse to talk about the film. Outside the scope of the project, sure, but 3 paragraphs is kinda lame. (And remarkable for so normally verbose an author as King.)

    1. Yeah, definitely. If I'd ended up only caring about King's contribution, I'd feel like I'd wasted my money. Luckily, that's not the case.

    2. Oh! And I should have clarified: King was writing about Novak's appearance in "Picnic," not "Vertigo." It's just that "Vertigo" is the only thing I know her from.

    3. It's funny - "Picnic" is one of those movies that's mentioned enough from guys in a certain age range where I get the sense it was a sort of "Phoebe Cates from 'Fast Times at Ridgmont High'" moment for that generation. But when I saw it for the first time, having been introduced to Kim Novak via "Bell Book and Candle" and "Vertigo," I thought she was relatively plain-Jane-ish. (Well, as plain-Jane-ish as someone like Kim Novak can actually be).

      Love that music theme from "Picnic," though. So mellow.

    4. I know nothing about "Picnic," but it sounds like something I should check out.