Saturday, November 20, 2021

In the Weeds: Around the World and Behind the Scenes with Anthony Bourdain by Tom Vitale

When Anthony Bourdain died by suicide in June of 2018, the devastation was immediate and lasting for so many, including me. It felt like a good friend died, even though I'd never met him.

Someone who did know Anthony Bourdain was author of In the Weeds, Tom Vitale. Having worked with Anthony Bourdain for over 15 years as a producer/director on No Reservations, The Layover, and Parts Unknown, Tom Vitale knew Tony better than almost anybody. In the Weeds is Vitale's story of working with such a complicated, mythical figure as Anthony Bourdain.

When I started reading In the Weeds, it was initially slow-going because it felt like Vitale was telling Tony's story from his backseat/behind-the-camera view. But as the story progressed and when the book started to feel the most engaging, was when Vitale became more confident in asserting his own story of traveling around the world rather than just describing Tony's reaction to everything. Some of my favorite moments in the narrative are when Tony isn't even present, like when Vitale went scouting locations for the Jamaica shoot of Parts Unknown and he and producer Josh Ferrell made all manner of absurd proposals just to spite the new line producer who was slashing costs left and right and forced their team to get pre-approval on any cost over $200 despite the fact that they were never extravagant with money. I also really appreciated his story of having dinner with Asia Argento in Rome after Tony's death because he did a something that I don't think Laurie Woolever's oral biography did, which was to take care not to come off as blaming Argento for Tony's death. One thing that has bothered me in the collateral damage of Bourdain's death is the misogynistic hot takes that have plagued Argento, essentially saying that she is the one responsible for his death by suicide. While Vitale does not absolve Argento, going so far as to say to her, "Everyone thinks he killed himself because of you," he also allows readers to come to their own conclusions and even manages to give her some grace. And finally, I found his telling of the behind-the-scenes chaos, drama, and choreography that was required to pull off that one short scene with President Obama in Vietnam in 2016.

Die-hard Bourdain fans will be initially be drawn to this book for untold Tony stories, but they will ultimately stay for Vitale's own gifted storytelling.

In the Weeds: Around the World and Behind the Scenes with Anthony Bourdain by Tom Vitale*
Published: October 5, 2021
Publisher: Hachette Books
Genre: Memoir
Audience: Adults/Travel lovers
Disclosure: Library copy

*Purchasing the book from the above Bookshop affiliate link supports independent bookstores and gives me a small percentage of the sale. 

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