Friday November 03, 2017

Should I Read It? Becky Toyne reviews debut books by Tom Hanks and Matthew Weiner

(Jeff Spicer, Mike Windle /Getty Images)

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Hollywood star Tom Hanks and Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner have both taken time away from the screen to write their own, very different, books.

Hanks has a surprisingly large short story collection called Uncommon Type, which came out earlier in October. All 17 stories feature a typewriter, though not always in a starring role.

Meanwhile Weiner has written a novel, Heather, the Totality, that's short enough to be considered a novella.

Each of these books manage to draw on their creator's signature charms, according to Day 6 book columnist Becky Toyne.
 

For instance, Hank's collection may be physically large, but the tone is light. The stories all have happy endings with a bit of the cheesy but heartfelt tone for which Hanks is known.
 

Signature charms in full force

"You can't read the stories and not picture Tom Hanks in many of the roles. So a lot of the stories I felt were sort of protagonists that were the kind of character that Tom Hanks might play in a movie," Toyne told host Brent Bambury.

Hanks even reads the audiobook, allowing him to voice his own characters.

As for the typewriter motif, Toyne says it doesn't feel forced and gives the reader something to keep an eye out for in each story.

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Writer and director Matthew Weiner speaks onstage at An Evening With 'It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia' at The Paley Center for Media. (Emma McIntyre/Getty Images)

"[It's] like the Hitchcock cameo or like a shooting star in every Spielberg film. For me, it's that's kind of motif. It didn't feel gimmicky."

Weiner's book, Heather, the Totality, has an entirely different tone than Hanks', focusing on parallel narratives between a rich girl, Heather, growing up with obsessed parents and Bobby, a boy whose mother is addicted to drugs and lacks even a modicum of parental instincts.

These two stories, one of wealth and one of poverty, eventually crash into each other, bringing Bobby and Heather together in a tragic way.

book cover

Where Hanks' characters are folksy, Weiner's are unequivocally bad, complicated people.

"It's a very uncomfortable read," says Toyne, pointing to the book's brutality and violence.

"It makes it very difficult for you as a reader to figure out who, if anybody, you sympathize with in this book. Everybody's pretty awful in this book."
 

But should I read them?

Weiner and Hanks are hardly the only celebrities to make a turn towards to book-writing, but few do it well, Toyne points out. Steve Martin's Born Standing Up is critically acclaimed — Ethan Hawke's Rules for a Knight not so much.

Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks

Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks is a collection of 17 short stories. (Penguin Random House Canada )

Neither of these figures likely received a rejection letter of any kind when shopping their books.

Hanks began his collection with a short story for the New Yorker called "Alan Bean Plus Four," which led to phone calls from agents asking for more.

Weiner's work fits into the pattern of showrunners writing books. David Benioff, one of the two showrunners behind the popular TV series Game of Thrones, wrote the well-regarded City of Thieves.

Despite the lack of barrier to entry, Toyne argues that these books are closer to Martin's foray than the latter. Both books are worth picking up if you're interested in either author.

"It's an embarrassment of riches," says Toyne.
 


Day 6 has two copies of Tom Hanks' Uncommon Type and Matthew Weiner's Heather, the Totality to give away. To enter our random draw, send an e-mail to day6@cbc.ca with Should I Read It? in the subject line. Be sure to include your mailing address. We'll pick two winners at random before next week's show.

To hear Becky Toyne's full column, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.