Looking for a heaping dose of full-throttle fun? These three books can help.
Society journalism—that is, the gossip pages—doesn’t carry the same gravitas as other areas of journalism. That might change with Gatecrasher. Author Ben Widdicombe, a former gossip reporter, shares lessons about the world’s wealthiest people gleaned from attending Academy Awards parties, lunches at Elaine’s and weddings at Mar-a-Lago for the past two decades.
Widdicombe worked at three of the biggest outlets in gossip: Page Six (New York Post), Rush & Malloy (New York Daily News) and TMZ. Gatecrasher could have been just a dishy memoir about the sex tapes, prison sentences and infidelities of A-listers and the upper crust. And yes, there is plenty of dirt in these pages. However, Gatecrasher’s strength is in its thoughtful cultural critique of celebrity and wealth, and the media’s symbiotic relationship to both. Widdicombe delivers some uncomfortable home truths about American cultural appetites. Take, for instance, his assertion that Paris Hilton is the “most culturally influential person in twenty-first-century America.” Surely that’s incorrect. It must be Beyoncé or Bob Dylan or Oprah or . . . well, anyone but a hotel heiress who made a sex tape.
Yet it makes perfect sense when Widdicombe spells it out: Hilton’s shameless willingness to cash in on being a wealthy person paved the way for everything from “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” to the Trumps. “A gossip culturalist understands how the trashy stuff connects to the bigger picture, and that we ignore it at our peril,” he writes.
Whether you’re a student of US Weekly or cultural studies, Gatecrasher manages to be fun, frothy and just the #inspo you need to topple the bourgeoisie.
The Hungover Games
British writer Sophie Heawood was living her dream, working as a journalist covering the entertainment industry in LA. She wrote breezy celebrity profiles, went out every night and came home to her tiny Sunset Boulevard apartment.
Then she unexpectedly became pregnant by a man who emphatically did not want to be a father. In the hilarious and intimate The Hungover Games, she chronicles her bumpy journey from woman-about-town to single parent.
Heawood relies on her group of friends (whom she calls her “holy congregation”) and her loving yet judgmental parents as she returns to London to have her baby. She finds a funky house in a neighborhood affectionately known as Piss Alley, a home with “a bench where you could sit and inhale some of East London’s less aggressive pollution, because there was a house three doors down that had managed to plant a tree.”
Like so many new mothers, Heawood is flooded with love, hormones and responsibility. She’s a fantastically funny and unapologetic writer and is candid about the weirdly overlapping bouts of joy and boredom that come with parenting. In a just-between-us tone, she shares her birth story, the “ghost that sat on my shoulder” of the baby’s father who couldn’t commit and what it’s like to venture out in the dating world while still nursing a baby.
The Hungover Games is by and about a single mom, but Heawood’s story of finding love where you least expect it is universal.
Do you think helmets are for wimps and seat belts are for suckers? Is following rules something other people do? If your answer is “Hell, yeah!” then you would’ve loved Action Park, a 35-acre New Jersey amusement park that provided dangerous entertainment for 20 crowded, wild summers beginning in 1978. Gene Mulvihill was the charismatic, impulsive, creative, law-avoiding, retail magnate, millionaire founder, and Andy Mulvihill, who wrote Action Park with journalist Jake Rossen, is his son.
When Andy was 13, his dad came up with a way to monetize his Vernon Valley/Great Gorge ski property in the warm months: He was going to be “the Walt Disney of New Jersey.” The Alpine Slide was the park’s main attraction in its debut 1978 summer, and people flocked to the mountain to try it. Speeding 2,700 feet down a winding track, riders perched in a small cart with a steering rod and iffy brakes. There were no helmets, and thrill-seekers were likely to fly off the track into the woods.
Was it dangerous? Definitely. Did people love it? Absolutely. The park hosted about a million people per year over its two decades, which saw the introduction of additional high-risk attractions like the Speed Slide (100-foot drop + 45 mph = actual enema) and the Wave Pool (25 water rescues daily). Andy recalls his years at the park—during which he went from laborer to reluctant ride tester to lifeguard to manager—with a mix of fondness and frustration, pride and disbelief. It’s indeed amazing that Gene essentially did whatever he wanted for nearly 20 years. Not even countless injuries and six deaths at the park, plus a 1980s indictment for insurance fraud, could put him out of business for long.
Action Park is a fascinating up-close portrait of an eccentric father and gonzo businessman who angered loads of people and was beloved by even more. And it’s a nostalgic chronicle of a place that was horrible or wonderful, depending on your perspective—“a place that, by all rights, should never have existed.”
—Linda M. Castellitto