Thursday, August 10, 2006

SECOND VERSE, AS GOOD AS THE FIRST

Posted on Thu, Aug 10, 2006 at 4:00 AM

The Sound of No Hands Clapping
Publishing House: Da Capo/Perseus
WorkNameSort: Sound of No Hands Clapping, The

Unless you're a first-person prodigy along the lines of Mark Twain or David Sedaris, is there any reason to have published TWO memoirs by the age 42? Exceptions can be made for those reared by paraplegic kangaroos, but being ambitious and British hardly seems enough cause for a $24 book. Or so you might think.

A few more reasons to dislike Toby Young, author of The Sound of No Hands Clapping: He's as vapid and fame-famished as the cast of a thousand Real Worlds. The critical eye he capably turns on pop culture, love and marriage is looking out the window when it comes to examining his insatiable desire for recognition.

In How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, Young fell (hard) from a seemingly enviable journalistic perch at Vanity Fair magazine, where he upset celebrities and editor Graydon Carter in equal measure. Years later, married and returned to his native London, his gaze remains fixed on America, this time on the Hollywood film business. Contracted by what he assures us is a Very Powerful Hollywood Producer ' name withheld for legal reasons ' Young busies himself adapting a book about a legendary disco-era record producer into a screenplay. Only it never really takes, and, at the risk of being reductive, drama ensues.

At the same time, Young has become a father and, oddly enough, an actor while holding down a day job he admits to being totally unqualified for: theater critic. None of this is exciting, mind you, but the thing about Young is that despite all the reasons to dislike him, he is genuinely funny and charming.

The Sound is hardly a book without problems. Young's self-deprecation grows suspect due to the preternatural frequency of his buffoonery. In short, he puts his foot in mouth so often he might as well brush his teeth with Kiwi polish.

Maybe it's because Americans instinctively put British folk on a pedestal of erudition that it's such a relief to find one who, however book-smart, is an absolute social imbecile. In his first memoir, an exasperated Graydon Carter tells Young he's 'like a British person born in New Jersey.â?� It's a slight from on high, though it's not entirely untrue. Young couldn't buy couth in a Greenwich country club with a fistful of Vanderbilt zygotes. But thank goodness for that, because it's what makes his memoirs work. He's a tacky Brit in a country that hasn't heard of such a thing. If only more British people were born in the Garden State.

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