Book Review: Jeff Martin, “My Dog Ate My Nobel Prize”

Written by Book Reviews, Books

dog_nobelprize-thumb-400x600We live in an age when you don’t have to be a dignitary, famous celebrity or someone who survived tragedy to write your life’s story. In the past decade, blogs, Facebook and Twitter (to name a few) have given any person with a computer or cellphone the ability to create his own memoirs. Case in point: you wouldn’t be reading this review right now if I hadn’t started my own blog back in 2003, which led to Jeff Giles reading some of my ramblings and asking me to be a part of Popdose. In this era of immediate thoughts and short, succinct sentences, it was only matter of time before a writer took the approach of a blog entry or Twitter update to write their memoirs. Well, almost.

Jeff Martin, author of The Customer is Always Wrong: The Retail Chronicles (nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award) and a frequent contributor to National Public Radio, has written his fabricated memoirs, My Dog Ate My Nobel Prize (Soft Skull Press).

As Martin lays out in the author’s note, “Some of the events described almost happened as related, others were expanded and changed. Others were stretched from the smallest inkling of truth. Others were stolen from other memoirs.”  Right off the bat you know this is going to be a silly ride. This whimsical, quick read — it’s only 128 pages, none of which is a full page and including plenty of illustrations — brought me a smile and chuckle as it follows Martin’s “extraordinary” life from his birth in 1980 to the year 2061. Martin’s approach to his so-called life reminded me of Woody Allen’s Zelig and, more obviously, Forrest Gump: Martin is continuously present at some remarkable moments in pop culture history. Some examples:

As a young boy he’s personally hired by Michael Eisner at the Walt Disney Company. Their relationship crumbles when Jeff, then 4 years old, mishandles the release of The Black Cauldron.

After completing second grade, Jeff takes a public relations job with the Michael Dukakis presidential campaign and advises the Democratic candidate to pose for cameras in a tank.

In 1990, Jeff is hired by Sub Pop Records to “trim the fat.” He quickly terminates the contract of Nirvana because their debut record didn’t sell enough copies. Despite this error in judgment, Jeff has the foresight to purchase stock in a flannel company just as grunge becomes popular.

Other achievements in Martin’s celebrated life include working closely with John Lasseter on the first Toy Story film, traveling into space and accidentally starting a fire on the Russian space station, Mir, and advising Springsteen as he completes The Rising. Martin also falls in love with a photographer, Molly. That fact I believe may be true.

I’m not sure if Martin is trying to make a statement with his book. On one hand, he could be observing how much importance society places on celebrity in our culture, that you only get noticed if you’ve made millions of dollars and hung out with rock stars. But that would almost contradict the manner he’s using to write his book. By taking up the style of a blog entry or Twitter update, a style that any person with a laptop can use, Jeff Martin shouldn’t have to have done so many great things for us to want to read about him. Perhaps I’m reading too much into the book, and it was merely an exercise in being clever. If that’s the case, then Martin succeeds.

My Dog Ate My Nobel Prize is clever, and the quick anecdotes are an enjoyable trip through the last 29 years of popular culture. I believe it would have been a stronger work had the ideas been fleshed out more, even to two pages. But if Martin is poking fun at the Twitter age, in which people expect the writer to get straight to the point without superfluous writing, he succeeds by just giving the bullet points of his fake life and letting us marvel in his fake greatness.

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