Gods Like Us by Ty Burr: Our Book of the Week

According to the people who track these things, there are roughly 170,000 new books published each year in the United States -- an alarming percentage of which arrive, unbidden, at the L.A. Weekly office.

Each week, we'll offer a snapshot of a newish book that's caught our attention. Just as there's a lid for every crooked pot, surely, there's a reader for every one of these 170,000 books. This is our attempt to play matchmaker.

THE BOOK: Gods Like Us

THE WRITER: Ty Burr

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THE BACKSTORY: Burr is the film critic at the Boston Globe and author of The Best Old Movies for Families. He claims to have watched something along the lines of 14,600 films -- which is, of course, nothing compared to the number of books published each year, but still pretty darn respectable.

THE STORY: The story? What story? Presented as a "history of movie stardom," this is less a plot-driven book than a series of analytical essays on the appeal of various stars. They're interesting, and the book is sufficiently stuffed (and well-organized enough) not to feel rambling, but the whole is somewhat less than the sum of its parts. Stars: They're just like us! But you knew that already.

DON'T READ THIS IF ... You're already a classic movie buff: If you know that Cary Grant is really Archie Leach and Harrison Ford got cast in Star Wars after working as George Lucas' carpenter, there's not much you're going to learn from this book. Burr is insightful, but he's more armchair psychologist than a guy with a big new theory that will change the way you see the world.

READ THIS IF ... You're interested in classic films, but could use a crash course in how Warner Bros. differed from MGM. You love The Graduate and have always wondered how Anne Bancroft got to play Mrs. Robinson. And how did Marlon Brando change everything, anyway? This book is, yes, 413 pages, but it's breezy and easy - a well-written primer for someone who has time for a chapter here and a chapter there and has a whole lot left to learn about the movies.

A KEY QUOTE ... "No, I'm not saying that Animal House led directly to the election of Ronald Reagan two years later. But I am saying the movie empowered a generation of twentysomethings to aspire to a new hedonism - call it, at best, enlightened selfishness - that spilled over into the political sphere and helped crystallize the tenor of the times."

Follow the writer on Twitter at @sarahfenske. Also follow @LAWeeklyArts on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.


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