Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Book Review: Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini (audio)

Once again, I will marvel at how helpful books can be when you read them at exactly the right time. I was planning to read (listen) to this book after hearing it reviewed on BookRiot's podcast, All the Books. I checked on Overdrive and boop—it was immediately available through my local library! So I downloaded but then I didn't listen to it for a few days. The checkout times for downloaded audiobooks is only about 10 days so I had given up. But then I had a Very Bad Day. And I wanted to read, but I didn't want to read. And I wanted to go for a walk and listen to something distracting, but most of my podcasts are book-related and I didn't really want to hear about books right now as my Bad Day was work (and therefore publishing) related. So I thought I'd see how many days I had left on my checkout. Oddly, it showed I hadn't checked the book out (maybe it had been a full 10 days already and had expired?), so I did, again and started listening immediately. I should have been angry with someone, but I just didn't have it in me to be, and so Leak Remini became my surrogate anger stand-in, like Luther, Key & Peele's "anger translator" for Barack Obama.

I've always liked Leah Remini from Saved by the Bell to King of Queens to Dancing With the Stars. We're close to the same age and I've always liked her attitude which struck me as not too far off from her Queens character, Carrie. And I'm pretty sure I was right. She's feisty, loyal to a fault, not afraid to get in your face, and honest. And she takes it all out on Scientology.

Unlike a lot of celebrities or actors, she didn't come into Scientology as an adult, after her success (or as an effort to gain success). She was about 10 when her mother found Scientology and soon she and her sister were at the Scientology Center with their mother, daily. She talks about how she started studying and working almost immediately, doing grunt work for pennies, not going to school, all not just accepted but encouraged. She always seemed to know she would be an actress. She'd had a knack and it seemed natural from a very young age. In her teens she pursued it seriously, as the family at that point was living in Hollywood, and was very broke (spending all their money on Scientology courses). It took her a while to break in, but she finally did. She was in dozens of failed sitcoms, failed pilots, series that ran for one season or half a season. She certainly did not find immediate success. But she plugged away at it daily, as she understood that this was a job.

She also plugged away daily at Scientology. She truly believed that they were trying to clear the world of evil, and that L. Ron Hubbard (LRH) showed them the path and that if she worked her way through the courses and steps and levels, the world would be a better place. But as an adult, she started to see some sketchy things. Eventually, around the time of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes's wedding, the sketchiness became ugly and impossible to ignore any longer. Lies were being spread about her, rules were being blatantly broken for Cruise, and she also began to see the ugliness of asking ordinary people—not just successful actors—to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on these courses, often having to buy the same course or the same book over and over again, or having to buy something in order to make up for a transgression, and how that was seriously negativly affecting people's lives and putting them deeply into debt.

She didn't want to leave the church. And she didn't leave because she stopped believing. Her problem was with the church, not the religion or the beliefs. But according to Scientology, they are one and the same. Eventually, she left, and was declared a suppressor, which meant all her Scientologist friends and family had to completely cut her off. Luckily, most of her family also left at the same time, but she lost dozens of lifelong friends.

Sure, plenty of people will say she was just vindictive or that she herself was lying, but if you've seen Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah's couch, you tend to believe Leah's take on his batty behavior. If you've ever yourself lost your faith in something or someone, you'll recognize that her feelings ring true. In particular, as her small daughter charmingly points out that she can know in her head that it's wrong, but not yet know it in her heart, you can't help but understand that this was a serious struggle and challenge for Leah, and not something a person would choose to go through.

I loved that she narrated it herself. Her voice is so distinctive and so her. Once in her first brush with auditioning she was a sent to a voice coach, but he sent her home after just one session, saying her voice was great and she shouldn't change it. It conveyed too much of her personality to modify it. And it probably helped in some of the sarcastic or humorous parts, which I might not have totally gotten without her tone of voice.

Celebrity memoirs aren't my usual thing, but I thoroughly enjoyed this one. And learned much more about Scientology, and how an otherwise sane person can have gotten into such a weird religion. I think that religion is bizarre, but I'm more likely to cut its adherents some slack.

I checked this audiobook out of the library via Overdrive.

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