Allison's Book Bag

Super Pop by Daniel Harmon

Posted on: December 7, 2013

Top Ten Lists are a popular item on the internet. Now Daniel Harmon aims to replicate this format in Super Pop, subtitled “Pop Culture Top Ten Lists to help you survive in the wild and make it through the holidays”. For this review, my husband and I join forces to do our first joint post since the spring of 2011. Here you’ll find our own ten reasons to like or dislike Super Pop.

FIVE REASONS TO LIKE

  1. The idea behind Super Pop has potential. According to the introduction, Harmon tired of finding the same old titles being recommended. Whether the titles are for books, games, movies, or music, Harmon wanted to take recognizable occasions and genres and offer some new ideas. “…. My goal was always to create lists that would resonate with people, but which the internet would not be able to populate on demand.
    It’s not necessarily a bad thing to find the same title on every list. When I was growing up, my dad used to look at recommended books lists and purchases those books which appear on multiple lists. After all, if multiple sources contain a book, it is probably a worthy purchase. Nowadays, I often follow the same principle when trying to find movies to watch.
    At the same time, I agree with Harmon. When it comes to Christmas movies, anyone who has watched any movie has probably seen A Charlie Brown Christmas, A Christmas Carol, A Christmas Story, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, It’s A Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, The Nutcracker…. Unfortunately, I guess when it comes to Christmas, even Harmon was hard-pressed to come up with original movies. He named all of the previous classics. On the opposite spectrum, he completely ignored Easter and Father’s Day fare. That said, he did come up with less common titles for other holidays. My husband and I might just have to check them out.
  2. Super Pop offers a wide variety of categories. When I think of recognizable genres in books, shows, and movies, I think of adventure, comedy, fantasy, horror, romance, and western. Harmon digs deeper to offer lists about the aristocrat, the underworld, or the genius. Or about such outlandish topics as love of words, procedurals, and emotional intelligence.
    The downside is that Harmon tries so hard to be cute with his category titles, his book will difficult to use as a reference, which kind of defeats the purpose of lists. For example, “Drink the Kool-Aid” refers to books and movies about quirky individuals. “Watch the World” apparently is about all things historical.
  3. Titles are listed for a wide variety of formats. Just now I typed in “Top Ten Mysteries” and my search engine returned lists of top ten mystery books, top ten mystery films, top ten mystery puzzles, top ten unexplained…. In other words, I can find examples for one format in a single list but for a variety of formats. It’s nice to have such a mix within one book. All are even delineated with recognizable icons.
    If there is a downside, it might be that some formats perhaps work less well than others. For example, if I’m trying to decide whether to try out a song, I really need to hear a sample of it. Also, as my above list shows, there are popular formats which Harmon left out such as puzzles.
  4. The end of each section contains a list of trivia related to other aspects of pop culture. According to online definitions, pop culture is the entirety of ideas, opinions, images, and other phenomenon that are within the mainstream of a culture. Given that definition, I would expect a trivia book about pop culture to reference more than books, games, movies, and music. Harmon doesn’t fail. He lists catchphrases, inanimate objects, celebrity quotes, proposed holiday amendments, and even ideas about how to fix pop culture.
    Once again though, Harmon tries so hard to be funny that these lists proved impractical. One of the most interesting lists to me involved inanimate objects. A few of them included the monolith, garden gnomes, the ring, and Dr. Pepper. If you were thinking that you might actually learn what any of these are, where they first appear, or what their significance is, you would be wrong. For example, garden gnomes are described as: “Because they clearly travel on the cheap and that takes some doing.” In his introduction, Harmon wrote about how he thought pop culture could be used for self-improvement. All the wisecracks made me quickly realize that I wasn’t going to be educated, although perhaps he would at points entertain me.
  5. Super Pop could serve as an example to students of how to create their own Top Ten Lists. Each entry contains a title, date of publication or air time, an icon designating its format, and a description. Teens could create their own lists and slant them to entertain, inform, persuade…. Whatever their teacher’s heart desires. They might even get more creative by adding their own pictures. If they were to produce their lists online, which I suspect is where most Top Ten Lists work best, they could even include video. The possibilities of how they could build on Super Pop are endless!

FIVE REASONS TO DISLIKE

  1. For a book about pop culture that is marketed to young adults, it has very little to say about the youthful side of pop culture. I’m too old to consider myself an expert in these matters, but… When Lady Gaga is only mentioned in the context of a joke, something is wrong. When completely missing are the likes of Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Nicki Minaj, Justin Timberlake, Avril Lavigne, and Selena Gomez, something is wrong.
    No, it isn’t completely devoid of teen pop culture favorites. An Adele song is mentioned. A Beyoncé video is mentioned. So there’s some teen and young adult pop culture — just not very much. There’s far more middle-aged-man pop culture.
  2. The book has no practical use, despite suggestions to the contrary. The front cover says the book will help you win at trivia. But the categories are so random and artificial that I don’t believe anyone could use the book as a reference.
    Let’s take the very first top ten list as an example: The Best Places to Mingle with the Elite. What’s it about? Well, I’m not sure. At number ten on this list is a 1963 film called The Leopard, which is “a historical epic chronicling the political turmoil of nineteenth century Sicily.” Is Sicily one of the best places to mingle with the elite? Why? I’m asking because even though I read the entry, I really don’t know.
    It’s a list of movies, books, and television shows that, I guess, feature locations that the author finds appealing. But what use would such a list be to anyone?
  3. If the book has no practical value, then it should at least entertain. And while at times it tries to, I’m afraid it fails. The back cover says that it contains “hilarious top ten lists full of quick insights and rapid-fire commentary.” But much of the content of the top ten lists is serious.
    For example, the description of My Dinner with Andre is just that — a straightforward description of the film, which constitutes the first paragraph of its list entry. But then there’s a second paragraph that careens wildly into the topic of “trust falls.” I’ve read the paragraph multiple times and I still don’t get the connection to the film. Worse, it’s just not entertaining. Here’s a snippet: “On an unrelated note, can I just point out how ridiculous ‘trust falls’ are? It’s on my mind right now because trust falls is a thing that is still happening in the world. That seems kind of weird.” It goes on, but it doesn’t get any funnier.
    There are greater attempts at humor in the introductions to the lists. But when I read that Abraham Lincoln had a spirit animal named Oswald the Chipmunk… Well, humor is just really hard to do well.
  4. It’s too wordy. Roger Ebert said: “No good movie is too long and no bad movie is short enough.” So, yeah.
  5. It isn’t about pop culture. It’s lists of movies, television shows, songs, and books. A book about current pop culture should include those things, but also celebs, internet memes, websites, quotes, events, scandals, fads, products, commercials, fashion, and more.

My rating? Leave it: Don’t even take it off the shelves. Not recommended.

How would you rate this book?

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Summer Reviews

Books can take connect us with strangers, take us to unique places, and introduce us to new ideas. They can also offer hope in a chaotic world. And so I must share what I read!

Each week, I’ll introduce you to religious books, Advanced Reader Copies, animal books, or diversity books. Some I’ll review as singles and others as part of round-ups. Just ahead, there will be reviews of:

  • Joni: The unforgettable story of a young woman’s struggle against quadriplegia & depression by Joni Eareckson
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