-Ferris Bueller's Day Off
So, take a minute and stop and look around this post because you won't want to miss today's TLC Book Tour review of Searching for John Hughes: Or Everything I Thought I Needed to Know About Life, I Learned From Watching '80s Movies, a memoir by Jason Diamond. And you especially won't want to miss the recipe I have paired with this book, Magnolia Bakery's Banana Pudding.
For all fans of John Hughes and his hit films such as National Lampoon’s Vacation, Sixteen Candles, and Home Alone, comes Jason Diamond’s hilarious memoir of growing up obsessed with the iconic filmmaker’s movies—a preoccupation that eventually convinces Diamond he should write Hughes’ biography and travel to New York City on a quest that is as funny as it is hopeless.
For as long as Jason Diamond can remember, he’s been infatuated with John Hughes’ movies. From the outrageous, raunchy antics in National Lampoon’s Vacation to the teenage angst in The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink to the insanely clever and unforgettable Home Alone, Jason could not get enough of Hughes’ films. And so the seed was planted in his mind that it should fall to him to write a biography of his favorite filmmaker. It didn’t matter to Jason that he had no qualifications, training, background, platform, or direction. Thus went the years-long, delusional, earnest, and assiduous quest to reach his goal. But no book came out of these years, and no book will. What he did get was a story that fills the pages of this unconventional, hilarious memoir.
In Searching for John Hughes, Jason tells how a Jewish kid from a broken home in a Chicago suburb—sometimes homeless, always restless—found comfort and connection in the likewise broken lives in the suburban Chicago of John Hughes’ oeuvre. He moved to New York to become a writer. He started to write a book he had no business writing. In the meantime, he brewed coffee and guarded cupcake cafes. All the while, he watched John Hughes movies religiously.
Though his original biography of Hughes has long since been abandoned, Jason has discovered he is a writer through and through. And the adversity of going for broke has now been transformed into wisdom. Or, at least, a really, really good story.
In other words, this is a memoir of growing up. One part big dream, one part big failure, one part John Hughes movies, one part Chicago, and one part New York. It’s a story of what comes after the “Go for it!” part of the command to young creatives to pursue their dreams—no matter how absurd they might seem at first.
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (Nov. 29, 2016)
"We're all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it, that's all."
-Andrew, The Breakfast Club
It's pretty impossible not to have been entertained, influenced, or both by the movies of John Hughes if you fall into the Generation X world and even if you are younger or older and don't immediately recognize the name, you are bound to recognize many of the titles from his teen films--Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, The Breakfast Club, Some Kind of Wonderful, and Pretty in Pink and his many other movies such as Mr. Mom, National Lampoon's Vacation and Christmas Vacation, Uncle Buck, the Home Alone series, Miracle on 34th Street, 101 Dalmatians, Planes, Trains and Automobiles... the list goes on and on. I walked into my local coffee house carrying this book and my favorite barista asked me what it was about. As I explained it was the memoir of a writer who was trying to write a book about the filmmaker John Hughes, she wrinkled her (barely 21-year-old) nose and said, "I have no idea who that is!" It only took about three movie names for her to decide that she loved John Hughes's movies. But, as much as I could go on and on with my fondness for Hughes and his films over the years and I begin to quote good sections of them, this book is definitely not a Hughes biography--instead it's the coming-of-age story of writer/editor Jason Diamond, in which his obsession with Hughes's movies and the man behind them shaped his life.
If you took time to read the Publisher's Blurb about the book, I want to object to the fact that they called this a "hilarious memoir." It has funny moments for sure but for me, Jason Diamond's story leans firmly to the poignant side rather than the funny. This guy had a pretty crappy childhood with two people who did not deserve to have children. His father was both physically and mentally abusive and although his mother did gain custody of him and stop the visits with his father, she was distant, refused to speak to him as punishment, and ended up moving away and leaving him virtually homeless and hanging out in diners all night or sleeping in friend's closets and on couches while he was in high school. Diamond used John Hughes movies as a way of escaping, relating to their suburban Chicago backdrops and tending to identify with the more quirky and misfit characters in the films. "I wanted to live in a John Hughes film. I wanted everything to turn out just right, and I wanted to feel as though no matter what, if my parents forgot my birthday or if a principal was trying to hold me back, that everything would be fine." Ultimately his English teacher gives him a place to live and helps instill in him a love of books, reading, and writing. Later, Diamond leaves Chicago for New York, intending on becoming a writer and comes up with a plan to write a biography about Hughes, a process he spends years on that while not resulting in the book he planned, helps him sort and clarify his life and do some growing up.
Although I signed up for this tour mainly for the John Hughes angle and the humor, I found myself pulled in and often deeply touched by Diamond's story. There are enough quotes, stories, and facts about John Hughes, his films and the complicated man that he was to keep me entertained, along with firmly rooting for Diamond to stop writing what was sounding like the worst biography ever and find his way. Even when bogged down with depression and struggling to get by, Diamond preservers and there is a good message in that. A great book if you grew up in the '80s and '90s and are a fan of John Hughes work, but also just a good, touching (but with some humor) and relatable memoir overall.
Author Notes: Jason Diamond is the sports editor at Rollingstone.com and founder of Vol. 1 Brooklyn. His work has been published by The New York Times, BuzzFeed, Vulture, The New Republic, The Paris Review, Pitchfork, Esquire, Vice and many other outlets. He was born in Skokie, Illinois, but currently lives in Brooklyn with his wife, his two cats and his dog named Max.
Find out more about Jason at his website, and connect with him on Instagram and Twitter.
There is some food in Searching for John Hughes, including a depressed Jason Diamond teaching himself to cook from old cookbooks, but I found my inspiration for my book-inspired dish within the first dozen pages. When we first meet Diamond, he is the "cupcake bouncer" who guards the door and monitors the line at the Magnolia Bakery in New York. A Sex and the City episode in 2000, made the bakery a popular destination for visitors looking for cupcakes like Miranda and Carrie ate in a scene filmed in front of the store. Having stopped there myself for a brief SATC pilgrimage in 2008, and being pretty unimpressed with their cupcakes (sorry to any fans), when a branch opened in the Ala Moana Shopping Mall here, I felt no urgency to visit--but a friend gave me a container of their banana pudding and I will admit, it was damn good pudding!
The Magnolia Bakery banana pudding scene takes place when Diamond runs into an old classmate and makes up a lie about working there to write an article on cupcakes and why people wait in line for a cupcake they could easily make at home and he is feeling depressed and bitter about his life.
"As I boarded the already crowded L train at its starting 8th Avenue stop, I looked down at the pint of banana pudding I'd taken with me and all I could think about was how if John Hughes had written this scene, things probably would have gone a lot differently. That was usually how I comforted myself, but it wasn't really working this time. I started spooning the banana pudding into my mouth as the train pulled out of the station. Within five minutes, thanks to a sudden stop and a passenger's bag hitting me at the same second, I was covered in the stuff. Best night ever."
-Searching for John Hughes by Jason Diamond
Turns out that the Magnolia Bakery Banana Pudding recipe is in their cookbook and a bunch of places online and it pretty much is only 5 store-bought ingredients + water. It takes minimal effort and some chilling and setting time to get this popular bakery treat at home.
Magnolia Bakery Banana Pudding
From Magnolia Bakery Cookbook, via PopSugar.com
(Makes 12 Servings)
1 1/2 cups water
2/3 cup instant vanilla pudding mix
1 (14-oz) can sweetened condensed milk
3 cups heavy cream
1 (12-oz) box vanilla wafers
4 bananas, sliced
Mix together the water, pudding mix, and sweetened condensed milk until smooth. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or overnight until it sets up.
Whip heavy cream until soft peaks form. Working in thirds, fold the whipped cream into the pudding mixture until well incorporated.
In a trifle bowl, layer vanilla wafers, sliced bananas, and pudding mixture; continue until you've used up all the pudding mixture. Refrigerate for at least another 30 minutes before serving.
Notes/Results: This will win no awards in the healthy-eating department but it is quite delicious--light and creamy pudding, the vanilla wafers softening to a cake-like consistency and the bites of juicy, ripe bananas--you can see why its their top selling item. They even have a chocolate version, although I think the original appeals (slight banana pun intended) more. I looked up the prices online--at least here in Hawaii, a small serving is $3.75, medium $5.50, large $6.75, and single bowl that serves 10 is $38.00. So, making it at home is a bargain (even if heavy cream is expensive, like it is here), especially if you catch sales on the ingredients. I made a couple of individual portions and put the rest in a glass bowl/pitcher. I didn't top the larger bowl yet as I need to find it a home so it doesn't live on my hips. ;-) Someday maybe I will attempt a vegan version but heck, I will probably just make this recipe again when I need some pudding comfort and indulgence.
I'm linking this post up to the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.
Note: A review copy of "Searching for John Hughes" was provided to me by the publisher, Harper Collins and TLC Book Tours. I was not compensated for this review and as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own.
You can see the stops for the rest of this TLC Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.