Thursday, February 12, 2009

'Death By Leisure: A Cautionary Tale' By Chris Ayres

'Death By Leisure: A Cautionary Tale' By Chris Ayres

Reviewed By Janet Maslin
New York Times

When Chris Ayres took his date to a Golden Globes party at the home of a former studio head, she had read about the place ahead of time. “If you push a button in the living room, a 20-foot movie screen drops from the ceiling, speakers rise from the floor and the bookshelf sinks down behind you to make way for a projectionist,” she said.

“If you push a button in my living room, the lights come on,” Mr. Ayres replied. “It’s incredible. I’ll show you sometime.”

Mr. Ayres was then Hollywood correspondent for The Times of London. And he found his life in California to be fiscally confusing. He had grown up in Wooler, a Northumberland village two hours south of Edinburgh, with a father whose proudest achievement was being middle class.

But he had relatives who sent him dollar bills as birthday gifts, and the idea of high-rolling American life fueled his imagination. One of the first words little Chris could say was “Lamborghini.”

He had done a brief but memorable nine-day journalistic stint in Iraq (the basis for his first book, “War Reporting for Cowards”) before California beckoned. Mr. Ayres moved there and took to his new beat.

“It is my job to ensure that the celebrity gossip is put into the correct sociopolitical context and recounted with the appropriate literary metaphors and allusions to Greek mythology,” he explains at the start of “Death by Leisure,” his book about time spent partly in the California trenches — and partly in the Hollywood Hills. This book is a comedic account of how California lured him into living large and introduced him to his inner Big Spender.

Fast and funny, “Death by Leisure” has the high spirits of a chick book, because its author is interested in chick-lit things: dates, celebrities, vanity and shopping. But it is also a tale of real woe. Even while abusing his American Express card and taking out a suicidal mortgage from a now-defunct company (his fictionalized “home loan specialist” works for “the You-Bet-You-Can Mortgage Corporation” — “Dealing in dreams since 2002!” ), Mr. Ayres kept on kidding himself and running up debts. He did that even though he anticipated what would happen to the California housing bubble, the dollar and the weather.

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