Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Review: Joss Whedon: A Biography by Amy Pascale

Joss Whedon: A Biography
by Amy Pascale
Chicago Review Press
Pub Date: August 1, 2014

I received an ARC of this title from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Do I need a synopsis for this? It's a biography on Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and so many other amazing pieces of entertainment. I've been trying to figure out how to write this review, because I'm afraid it's going to come out as more of a review of Joss Whedon's life than it is a review of the author's book. I guess I've never reviewed a biography before.

Well, first let me just say that this book was pretty long, and yet I still would have happily kept reading forever. The author did an excellent job of keeping a narrative going throughout the book. She devoted separate chapters to separate projects of Joss's, while also keeping things chronological even though he hopped from one project to the next and back again. I almost felt like I was reading a fictional story, with character development, foreshadowing, conflict, tension, and resolutions. I also think the author did a great job of piecing together many different people's thoughts while working on various projects in order to give the reader a complete idea of what it was like to be there with Joss at that time.

So basically I'm saying that this biography was excellent. Excellent excellent excellent. I was fascinated the entire time…

And that, of course, is why I feel like I should be reviewing Joss the person rather than this actual book. I don't want to take away anything from the wonderful job the author has done, but I obviously wouldn't have been so invested in reading a biography if I wasn't so obsessed with its subject. Joss Whedon has been probably my biggest hero for a really long time, in the sense that I admire his work--both as a consumer of it for entertainment, and as a creator myself.

While he writes scripts and I write novels, I feel like the fundamentals of storytelling are the same. And I found so much inspiration in hearing exactly how Joss creates his stories. One tidbit I especially enjoyed was how he talks about writing episodes of Buffy. While the show is told in a very monster-of-the-week format, especially in earlier seasons, Joss was adamant about keeping the conflict of each episode grounded in the emotional conflicts of the characters. He always asked himself and his other writers, "But what's the Buffy of it?" I think I need to write this on the top of my dry-erase board when I'm making notes for a novel, perhaps substituting "Buffy" with my own MC's name. Or then again, perhaps not!

I know I'm not the first person to say this about him, but another thing I really admire about Joss is the way he cultivates his own family of creative and talented people, keeping them close around him. If you watch his shows, it's obvious that he uses a lot of the same actors for many different projects, but he also uses the same writers, etc. I can understand why he does this, and I also feel most comfortable when I'm around other creative people. While I can't cast my friends in TV shows, I appreciate how Joss does this. It is also interesting how he has created his own family, while he often talks about that idea as being a big theme in his shows. And the fact that his "family" gathers at his house to give Shakespeare readings just makes my heart swell a little bit. 

I also feel like I share so many personal beliefs with Joss, about humanity, feminism, religion…and it was great getting to read his thoughts on the subjects and about how his beliefs have shaped his work. I already knew that he was an atheist, but I found myself majorly connecting with him during moments of this book, especially whenever he takes issue with the idea that you need to have religion in order to have a sense of morality. 

There are countless other reasons I could give for why I pretty much worship Joss Whedon, but I think maybe I'll save that for a separate post. I'm just going to end this with a few Joss quotes I found in this book that really kind of hit me in the gut.

"Very often you'll be in a group and you'll discover that every single person in it feels like they're the one on the perimeter."

"…we, all of us, are alone in our own minds, and I was very much aware of that from the very beginning of my life. Loneliness and aloneness--which are different things--are very much…[among the] main things I focus on in my work."

"It made me realize…that every time somebody opens their mouth they have an opportunity to do one of two things--connect or divide. Some people inherently divide, and some people inherently connect."

"I believe the only reality is how we treat each other. The morality comes from the absence of any grander scheme, not from the presence of any grander scheme."

"The enemy of humanism is not faith. The enemy of humanism is hate, is fear, is ignorance, is the darker part of man that is in every humanist, every person in the world. That is what we have to fight. Faith is something we have to embrace. Faith in God means believing absolutely in something with no proof whatsoever. Faith in humanity means believing absolutely in something with a huge amount of proof to the contrary. We are the true believers."

And finally, a quote from Amy Pascale that I wholeheartedly agree with:

"When I say that Joss Whedon changed my life, I'm not being hyperbolic. If anything, it seems inadequate to say that he changed it only once."

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