I read Yearbook way back in May, but because of life I am only now getting around to writing about it. I also read it in about two days – partly because it’s so short and partly because it was so engaging – so it was one of those reading experiences that just sort of whips past you and you have to take a minute, or perhaps four months, to process what just happened. There are pros and cons to reading a whole book in such a short space of time.
In terms of pages per hour, I consider myself a reasonably fast reader. I used to be faster overall before I became a parent, because bloody hell is that time-consuming. If I could I would read for a couple of hours every day, as I used to on most days. So I used to tear through books. Now I manage ten to twenty a year, which is nothing. So when I can tear through a book because it’s short and brilliant, it’s kind of nice. This particular book was pure escapism for me.
As a rule, I love memoir and I love Seth Rogen. As soon as I heard that he was writing a book of essays, in 2020 I think, I knew that I just had to read it. It’s easy to dismiss a “movie star memoir” as fluff, to not take it seriously, and I’m sure that is sometimes to case; but not here. I find Seth Rogen to be kind of fascinating and very likeable and engaging. He has had a very specific life and experiences, and this part of why I wanted to read Yearbook – I love memoirs written by people with unusual and interesting lives, especially if I like or admire them in the present and I want to know more about how they came to be who they are. This was the case for the other “celebrity” memoirs I have read, by Angelica Huston and Drew Barrymore.
The specificity of Rogen’s life shows you exactly how his path formed ahead of him – from being funny at school, to doing stand up, then on to acting and writing, and within a really very short amount of time more or less becoming the actor/producer/writer that he is today. I remember reading in an interview with him earlier this year that one of the reasons he is so prolific is because he is doing exactly what he always wanted to do – he is literally fulfilling his life ambitions all the time. In some ways, on paper, in this book, his life has been very simple – enjoying life, making plans, and being just lucky enough every time to become incredibly successful. But of course, amongst the humour and in the fast pace, there are more personal elements, deeper moments of considering the influence of heritage, grandparents, and parents. There are hints of more. No one’s life is ever really simple.
Rogen has very distinctive speaking patterns, and after a couple of sentences you start to hear Yearbook in his voice in your head. Not many people write exactly as they speak, so I wonder if this informal immediacy is a skill or habit from screenwriting. He is certainly a brilliant storyteller, drawing you in no matter what he’s talking about. Some of the stories in this book are just stories – engaging and entertaining without too much depth. They’re funny and ‘a good story’. But then there are the stories that are deeper, that show a little more of Rogen’s inner life and psyche – for instance when he talks about his parents or about mental health. Still, there were many instances where I wished for a little more personal insight or reflection. I think to write a memoir you have to be ready to share personal things, and there has to be a point when you make a choice about what you are or are not willing to share. I think it’s understandable that as a person in the public eye, with so many fans and critics, there is a choice to keep things “personal but impersonal”, as Roxane Gay said in her GoodReads review. Like her I respect this choice, but it is a little frustrating for the reader.
Perhaps it’s nosiness, perhaps it’s a desire for salacious details, perhaps it’s our weird fascination with famous people. Why do we ever want to read about other people’s lives? I think nosiness is part of it, sometimes in a negative way, but I think there is also the desire to understand other people by learning more about them and their lives. To try and understand why people are the way they are. To hear about other people’s childhoods and adolescence – did what I experienced also happen to them? How did they deal with growing up? With becoming an adult and all the highs and lows? Perhaps when we want to learn about other people and understand them, we also want to learn about ourselves and understand ourselves – and have other people understand us too.
So I suppose my desire for more personal moments was fuelled by all of these things. And perhaps a desire for some sort of connection through this. I certainly enjoyed reading Yearbook and I would recommend it to anyone who likes Seth Rogen and who likes an unusual memoir – and one that you’ll read really quickly.
Published in 2021 by Crown Publishing (USA). I read the hardback edition, pictured above.