Battle Of The Beverly Hills, 90210 Books
Jason Priestley's memoir dropped this week, so Sarah pitted it against Jennie Garth's autobio and Shannen Doherty's…whatever that was from 2010. Which tome is worth your time?
When we learned last year that Jason Priestley planned to pen a memoir, my esteemed colleague Tara Ariano and I COULD NOT WAIT to read it. Tara even theorized about what said memoir might contain, and when Jason Priestley: A Memoir dropped a few days ago, I rushed to acquire it. …Okay, "rushed" is a bit strong; I did the browser equivalent of strolling, and also I can take it as a tax deduction (FML), but disclaimers aside, the excerpted material I'd seen around the internet was promising.
Then I remembered I had Shannen Doherty's Badass: A Hard-Earned Guide To Living Life With Style And (The Right) Attitude kicking around on my to-read shelves somewhere, and I thought I'd pit the Walsh twins' literary product against each other, and then the Kindle store assumed that I'd have an interest in Jennie Garth's memoir from March of this year, Deep Thoughts From A Hollywood Blonde, so I had no choice but to throw all three books into a 90210-nderdome and see which one is best. Or sucks least.
It's probably not a fair fight, at least for Doherty, because her book isn't a memoir and didn't come out in 2014, and I probably should have included one of Tori Spelling's memoirs -- how many is she up to now, nine? -- but it is what it is. If you can only read one book from a Zip star, which one should you read?
Which one is written the best/least poorly on the prose level?
Priestley's, written "with Julie McCarron," is okay; the chapter naming convention -- all a la "Beverly Hills, 90210," but "South Kensington London SW7 5BD," e.g. -- is a cutesy, but kind of comes with the territory. At one point, though, he refers to "illiciting" an emotion, and overall it's kind of choppy.
Garth's is written "with Emily Heckman" and flows a lot better; Deep Thoughts sounds much more natural and conversational and not like a checklisty chore. Some of the stories don't land quite as hiiiiigh-lariously as the authors seem to think they do, but it's done quite well.
Doherty's is not good. Its first offense is in the title, which fails to hyphenate "bad-ass," and while MS Word feels this is a valid stylistic choice, it's not my preference, and you read the word seriously ten thousand times over the course of the book. But I could let that go if the book itself felt like anyone involved had had any real ideas past the title. It's also maddeningly unspecific about what makes a bad-ass, despite repeated and twee lists of bad-ass traits versus bitch traits; integrity is referred to but not defined. Incidents that taught Doherty to "face the truth about" herself are left vague. It's a how-to book with no how-tos in it, no particulars about Doherty's own pitfalls that might make her relatable or compel a reader to heed her counsel.
"A Southern woman is attractive and fascinating due to the dichotomy of her very being, that being the 'steel magnolia' factor." What? Then "accessible" is misspelled two sentences later. The layout is over-designed and obnoxious; there's no there there.
Who's the one you'd most like to hang out with after reading his/her book?
Priestley doesn't sound like a dick or anything, and the name-dropping is no doubt a requirement of his publishing contract; I just don't think he's my people. He's into race cars and beach vacay. Garth had a pony as a kid and is that friend of yours who still kind of believes in Santa and sometimes comes to Craft Night with only one sock on, but is loyal and sweet and makes great guac.
Doherty gave a speech at a Republican National Convention, and speaks admiringly in Badass about a woman manipulating the husband she knew she was about to leave into buying a pullout sofa, then splitting while he was at work and taking it with her. This is not cute. Doherty also, I suspect, thinks of the gay men in her life as unsexual pets.
Who's the least insufferable regarding (their) children?
Priestley's story about how the hit-and-run death of their German shepherd let his two-year-old daughter teach him a lot about life and love is ill-advised at best. Garth's children are older, so she's an older and less awestruck hand, and also more circumspect, perhaps in an effort to protect them, although she made certain choices vis-à-vis her divorce from the Fatch and she kind of glosses how those went down with her daughters.
But it's the rare win for Brinda, who's like, "Do your thing, all y'all moms!"
Who has the best pictures?
Doherty has the most, all of herself with various who-cares friends and shot in a dated Free-People-catalog style. Priestley's are pretty good -- though by that point in the book you're juuuust about full up on the reminders that he and Brad Pitt were roomies -- but I didn't need quite so many selections from his wedding album.
Garth's aren't fabulous, but at least there's a range and she doesn't act like she's the first person to have a cute three-year-old.
Who has the best 90210 dirt?
Shannen doesn't refer to any actual incidents, just rationalizes her unprofessional behavior back then by saying that she pushed people away out of fear that her chronically ill father might die, which is both valid and at the same time somehow bullshitty, I think because her attitude is basically "well, I can't go back and change it, so, [shrug]." But Badass isn't that kind of book; it's meant to draw on the nasty rep she got from her 90210 days to inform the distinctions she tries (in vain) to draw between speaking your truth and being a C. Unfortunately, I don't buy that she's changed for a second…
…and neither does Priestley. His tales of the Zip mostly feature 1) Doherty acting an entitled fool and 2) our politely Canadian hero lecturing her quite Brandonishly on how she should act instead. I do appreciate that the chant he led ACTUALLY went, "Donna Martin masturbates," and got edited over in post (hee), but he doesn't get into a ton of detail about his long relationship with Christine "Emily Valentine" Elise.
But his take on the way the three female leads related to each other is pretty similar to Garth's, if more dismissive (especially of Tori Spelling); they both attribute it to the black magic that can happen among three women. Garth is considerably gentler in her treatment of it, and overall is restrained in discussing those days, and Doherty -- too restrained, really. The focus is on the punishing schedule, how the wardrobe department hid her pregnancies, and (seriously) several pages on how she decorated her dressing rooms to create safe spaces.
Priestley's take on stuff isn't great, tonally -- too self-congratulatory, too dismissive of the women -- but it's more specific and bitchy than Garth's, and the story of his directing the Donna Gives It Up episode and showing the cut to Aaron Spelling is pretty amazing. And I didn't know, or had forgotten, that Michael Cudlitz wasn't just Tony, Brenda's prom date; he was the full-time construction foreman on the show. Love that guy.
Winner: Priestley. (And Cudlitz. LOVE that guy!)
Who has the best other dirt?
Doherty spends a full third of the book counseling readers on how to vacation, and giving party-décor tips: "Always have good music playing in the background, but not so loud that your guests have to shout to talk to one another. If you have overhead lights, you should dim them, or use accent lighting." Forget "dirt," this isn't even new information to anyone over the age of eight, and Doherty's "Perfect Roast Chicken" recipe (SERIOUSLY) is not exactly revealing either. For realsies, this book is just weird. What is it for? Why is there an entire page devoted to "How a badass gets out of a [speeding] ticket"?
So again it comes down to Garth and Priestley, and Garth's take on whatever situation is invariably politic and toothless. Even her account of her marriage ending is so elliptical as to be pointless; maybe it really did hit the rocks because she pushed everyone away after her father's death, but like other parts of the book, it's coy and cryptic. Her father dies, the Fatch comes home and is like "let's separate," they do, she does the reality show…the 90210 chapters suffer from some of the same dislocated pacing, so you're like, "So but wait, it's the wrap party? You just got that haircut, though!"
Priestley, though, brings it. Dean McDermott: acts a fool. Mischa Barton: twat. I don't care that he match-made Ashley Judd and Dario Franchitti, but I do care very much that Sam Elliott chewed his ass ragged on the set of Tombstone for horsing around and that Priestley's like, "Respect." Because seriously.
Doherty's book is a huge disappointment, a self-regarding mish-mash of childish design, spirit-board home-keeping tips, and Clichés For Grownups -- "get rid of the drama" this, "invest in a good pair of cowboy boots" that. She's got interesting books in her; this isn't one of them.
Garth's made up the most distance; I thought I'd hate the book, or at least find it boring, and it is more boring than it should be, but she's very likable and it moves right along.
Priestley's has the best tales told out of school, but you've read the juiciest bits around the internet already by now, and it's free. If you're actually going to spend money and you'd like to skip the oval-track minutia, go with...