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Arts and Entertainment

To Anna David, Reality TV Matters A Lot

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Anna David | Photo: Matt Vacca / used with permission
Since LAist let met Anna David, the talented author has been writing and editing "Reality Matters," an ambitious new book. It features a team of successful authors detailing their intimate relationship with their favorite reality TV programs.

Shockingly amusing and periodically poignant, "Reality Matters" gives college-educated reality show fans permission to smile about their devotion to America’s guiltiest lowbrow pleasure.  

On Monday, April 26, at 8:00pm, David will be joined by some of the book's authors as well as those they've written about at Les Deux in Hollywood. Reality stars Jennifer Gimenez (”Sober House,”) Charlie O'Connell (”The Bachelor,”) and Will Gilbert (”The Real World: Hollywood”) will join David and scribes Neil Strauss (”The Game”), Ben Mandelker John Albert, and Wendy Merrill for readings, anecdotes and discussion.

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On Wednesday, April 28 at 7 p.m., Anna David, and "Reality Matters" contributors Stacey Grenrock Woods ("Esquire,") Neal Pollack, Richard Rushfield and Mark Lisanti, will be reading/Q&A-ing/signing at Book Soup in West Hollywood.

LAist had a chance to talk to Anna David about all of this.

LAist: What is Reality Matters?

Anna David: A collection of essays celebrating a genre of entertainment that's all too often derided. Each piece is essentially the writer's ode to the reality show that they either most love or hate -- or the one that most inspired them to feel something. I told the individual writers to consider what they wrote as a personal essay masquerading as a pop culture piece -- meaning, that while the shows themselves are important, what I most wanted them to get at was why that particular show had an impact on them.

Who is it for?

Reality TV fans and those who appreciate good writing. I've long hoped that this pretty much covers everyone -- the high and low brow among us, if you will. And I'm optimistic because I've had plenty of people tell me after they've read it that they were shocked by how gripping or funny they found it since they hate reality television.

Still, I'm not out to convince someone who despises elimination ceremonies, confessionals and every other reality show staple that they need to appreciate the finer elements of watching Flavor Flav woo a bunch of hoochie mamas. But I would like them to see that there are interesting elements to these shows -- and also that they're worth examining if only because their popularity provides insight into what we're interested in today, whether it's escapism or crazy people to compare ourselves to.

What draws you week-after-week to reality TV?

It depends on the show. I really only watch three: “Real World,” “The Real Housewives of New York” and “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew/Sober House” (I count them as one). With Real World, it's about watching what twenty-somethings, most of whom have been cast precisely because they seem to have a thorough inability to control their id, do when provided with an existence devoid of real-life concerns. I hate to admit it but I completely relate to their petty battles, their efforts to control and manipulate one another, and their inability to see how much they're in their own way. If I don't act on those emotions anymore, it's only because I learned through repeatedly doing it before that this kind of behavior didn't endear me to anyone or make me feel very good.

The appeal of The Real Housewives and Celebrity Rehab is actually quite similar; in Housewives, all those women, against all odds, seem to have never emerged beyond their adolescence. I marvel at them almost in the way I would at an alien civilization, if only because life hits most of us with so many hurdles that we have no choice but to grow up. The fact that they all managed to avoid this fate and that Bravo managed to find and cast them on the same show is nothing short of a miracle to me. And the Celeb Rehab people are interesting because of that same arrested development element. Also, since it's a state of arrested development I was most definitely in before I got sober, they serve as a solid reminder to me of why I'm on the path I'm on.

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Favorite Dr. Drew reality show season to date?

That's a bit like Sophie's Choice to me. Whatever show is currently on is always going to be the one I'm going to pick. “Sober House” right now? With Tom and Heidi alternating between being loving and then horrible to another and Shifty acting like the model patient? How could anything be more gripping?

Will you miss recently-canceled The Hills?

To be honest? No. My time with The Hills passed a long time ago. I think when those girls crossed over into genuine celebrity-hood they sort of ceased to be interesting to me. Though I have to say that one of the essays in the book -- by Rex Sorgatz -- kind of changed my perception of The Hills. To him, it's the most brilliant show in the history of television because of the way it's able to reflect back at us just how fake we as a society are. For that reason, I will miss it but I have no doubt that those girls will all manage to spawn new shows.

Which author was the hardest to get?

Probably Neil Strauss. He had committed early on but had his own book coming out that he needed to promote when I needed pieces in and I basically just kept emailing and calling and guilting and begging like I never had before. I had actually completely given up when his hilarious piece -- that I can say in retrospect was well worth the cajoling it took to get it -- arrived in my inbox one day. I had ways of getting to the others. With Jerry Stahl, I went to a reading he was doing in New York and asked him in person -- I think in front of someone he worked with who said it sounded like a great idea, so there was a witness when he said yes.

What do you have planned for Monday's event at Les Deux?

It will be a big, silly, fun party where Ben, Wendy, John and I will read from our essays and then people from the shows we read about -- Big Brother, The Bachelor, Sober House and The Real World, respectively -- will answer the questions we pose. Neil Strauss isn't going to read from his piece but he'll be telling his best reality show anecdote which I personally can't wait to hear. I'm excited that I got Jennifer Gimenez from Sober House, Charlie O'Connell from The Bachelor and Will Gilbert from The Real World: Hollywood to agree to co-host. I'm still trying to talk Mike Malin, who's one of the Les Deux owners and was a Big Brother winner into answering Big Brother questions but he's a man of many hats who has, well, an enterprise to run so that may take more cajoling than even I'm capable of.

Follow Caleb Bacon on Twitter @thecalebbacon.