Book Reviewed: The Big Rewind: A Memoir Brought to You by Pop Culture, by Nathan Rabin
If the AV Club is my favorite website (and it really, really is), then Nathan Rabin is my favorite writer there. I've had a crush on Rabin's often-hilarious writing since I was a measley college freshman who sneaked peeks at the AV Club when I should have been working on papers. Along with current editor-in-chief, Keith Phipps, Rabin has been with the AV Club since its infancy, and he's currently the site's Head Writer. He's not the Club's best writer (I'd give that honor to Noel Murray, probably), but he's the funniest and his love for all things pop culture is ridiculously contagious.
Throughout the years, Rabin has made passing references to a rough childhood. It wasn't until he released his memoir, The Big Rewind, last year that I realized just how rough it really was. His mother abandoned him when he was a toddler, and although his father was basically a saint, Rabin couldn't live with him for many years for a number of reasons (his father had MS, was unemployed and poor, and could barely look out for himself). He spent a month in a mental institution for no real fault of his own, then spent all of his teenage years in a Jewish group home. Eventually, he made it through college and into the national spotlight as a well-loved film critic, but it didn't keep him from being haunted by a past he was too ashamed to speak about. Pop culture was the thing that saved him from a life of misery and regret, and eventually it made him feel comfortable enough that he could start talking about his old life.
Rabin's story is a sad one indeed, but he never gets bogged down in the depressing details. Despite battling with depression all his life, he found a purpose in pop culture that lifted him above his problems. It helps that he has a great sense of humor that works very well in this book.
It took me a while to get my hands on a copy of this book, but I'm glad I finally did. I really enjoyed reading The Big Rewind. It's a little uneven at times, though. Rabin has always struck me as someone who occasionally tries too hard for a joke, and sometimes the book has a little too much forced jocularity in it. Luckily, it's offset by some lovely moments of humanity. Rabin always seems to think he's a jerk, but that's clearly not true. The book's best chapters involve his love for his father, his relationships with group home compatriots, and even his failed love affairs with women as troubled as him. My favorite chapter is "You Know Mom's Crazy, Right," in which he meets with the biological mother who abandoned him when he was two years old. It's a bitter meeting, and we get to see Rabin be equally indignant and unsurprised as he talks about his feelings toward this woman. There's nothing neat or cathartic about this chapter, and yet it's a testament to both Rabin's strength and his father's caring hand.
Overall, The Big Rewind isn't the best memoir I've ever read. But it was often funny, insightful, and even sweet. There's a reason I'm so attached to Rabin and the AV Club institution that he proudly claims to be his only stable home.