I can only be grateful that my sixth grade self never put pen to paper about his love for the television show Miami Vice. But I’m also grateful that so many people have taken the fateful step of recording their gawkiest thoughts and feelings for posterity, and that David Nadelberg has been collecting them now for nearly a decade under the “Mortified” banner. In response to the popularity of his stage shows and web site, where contributors reveal their most comically embarrassing teen scribblings, Nadelberg has published two Mortified collections in book form, and last winter the Sundance Channel began airing his Mortified Sessions, a weekly interview show during which celebrities such as Ed Helms, Eric Stonestreet, and Paul Feig reveal their own awkward expressions of teen angst.
I recently picked up the library’s copy of Nadelberg’s first Mortified collection, and found it to be one of the most entertaining books I’ve read in some time—a true laugh-out-loud experience. Among the high points for me were the rhymes of Pumpmaster and Smooth Boyz, contributed by the adult version of the Pumpmaster himself, who now freely admits that he has never seen Queens, and was a broke, 6-foot tall, 120 pound 14-year old when he rapped: “Straight up off the mean streets of Queens/I’m a big time, big huge rapping machine/My words flow like an Elizabethan sonnet/And all that money?/My name is on it.” Another amusing entry is a piece of Duran Duran fan fiction whose obsessed narrator amazingly meets Duran Duran in a hospital waiting room just moments after she has learned her parents have perished (coincidentally, John Taylor’s father has suffered a mild heart attack in the same town). Because each member of Duran Duran likes her so much, she is immediately invited to live with the band, and, after a torrid affair with Simon Le Bon, accepts a marriage proposal from John Taylor (now hospitalized himself after being struck by a car). Additional wince worthy writing samples abound: poetic odes to the 1988 Olympics and Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, multiple drafts of love letters never sent, diary entries plumbing the depths, even a diatribe written by an erstwhile member of a Future Farmers of America cotton judging team.
While a few contributors skirt some pretty dark territory, the tone of the book somehow manages to remain lighthearted and sympathetic. Nadelberg comments in his introduction that “there is something sadly heroic about each of these entries,” and that “most of the appeal is simply because we desperately want these kids to come out okay.” Each piece includes a healthy bit of perspective in the form of adult commentary by its author, and a section at the end of the book provides reassuring biographical blurbs. I also found the form of the book refreshing; not only was it hilarious, but the short length of each entry makes the book a perfect palette cleanser, or just something to pick up at times when one’s brain might not be ready for anything much heavier. In fact, I found the very nature of the writing almost impossible to continue reading for more than 15-20 minutes at a time. After all, it’s pretty much impossible not to be ready to move on to something else after reading a 5-page homage to Joey McIntyre. - Dan C., Collection Development