A few months ago, I finally binge watched all of Glee. I was an early fan of the show, having watched the premiere for free on Apple iTunes in May 2009, when we lived in Germany the first time. I was quickly hooked on the quirky show about high school show choir and the musical theater geeks who are usually in them. I was not involved in music when I was in high school, but I did become musically active in college. I had lots of friends who were music and theater majors, and a couple who were Longwood’s first musical theater majors. Plus, both of my parents are/were musicians, as are a lot of my relatives. Add in my love of snarky, crude humor and you know I was a super fan… at least at first.
A series of life events caused me to quit being a regular viewer of Glee sometime around 2013. I think I quit watching around the time Cory Monteith overdosed and died. That was also about the time the show had kind of jumped the shark, as the original characters were obviously too old to be in high school and the jokes were getting a bit stale. The new people they brought in didn’t have the same chemistry, and to be honest, Lea Michele really annoys me, even though I know she’s extremely talented.
Anyway, I decided to watch Glee thanks to the pandemic and the fact that German Netflix has the whole series available… and I’m paying for Netflix and rarely watch it. Sometime during the period when I was watching Glee, I became aware of Naya Rivera’s 2016 book, Sorry Not Sorry: Dreams, Mistakes, and Growing Up. Naya Rivera, as you may know, tragically died last summer at the age of 33 when she and her then four-year-old son, Josey, went on an ill advised boating trip at Lake Piru, a manmade reservoir in Ventura County, California. Naya, who had been a good swimmer, evidently went swimming with Josey and, it’s theorized that she and her son got caught in a rip current. Josey wore a life jacket, but Naya did not, and evidently, the effort of saving her son by getting him back on their rented boat sapped all of Naya’s energy. She slipped under the water while her son looked on; he was found sleeping along on the boat. Naya was declared missing on July 8, 2020 and her dead body was found five days later.
Lately, Naya Rivera is back in the news, as her father, George Rivera, has publicly called out Glee creator Ryan Murphy for failing to set up a college fund for Josey, which Murphy had reportedly vowed to do when Naya suddenly passed away. She’s also in the news because she was left out of the “In Memoriam” segment at the recent Grammy Awards show, and many of her fans are reportedly outraged.
To be honest, I probably would not have read Sorry Not Sorry if I hadn’t recently binged on Glee episodes. Naya played Santana Lopez, who was originally a minor character who later took on a bigger role. Santana probably wasn’t my favorite character on Glee, but I did recognize her talent. And she got better as the show went on, while other characters became more irritating (ahem– Rachel Berry and Kurt Hummel). I hadn’t seen Naya’s other shows, either, so I wasn’t otherwise familiar with her work, except for on Glee and that creepy M&Ms ad she did in 2013. But as I watched her on Glee, I decided I liked her. She was a very talented woman and quite beautiful, with an interesting racial makeup that made her surprisingly versatile. And I guess I had a feeling her book would be a trip.
I finally finished reading it this morning and I’m left with mixed feelings. Overall, I found Naya’s book entertaining and somewhat juicy. She comes off as a fun and loving person, who was both down to earth and earthy, like me. I enjoyed reading some of her anecdotes about being in show business, as well as some of the dishing she did on her Glee co-stars. Naya Rivera dated Mark Salling, who famously committed suicide in 2018 as he was facing sentencing for possession of child pornography. Apparently, he wasn’t a very good date, and she adds a snide quip or two about his legal issues, although the book was written before his suicide. She mentions Lea Michele a couple of times, as well as Cory Monteith, adding that filming his tribute on Glee was very difficult. She’s also candid about her upbringing and family life, as well as some of the people she dated and almost married. Being an old fart, I don’t know too much about Big Sean or Ariana Grande. But they’re both mentioned in the book with no shortage of sass and candor.
On the other hand, I wasn’t all that impressed with her writing, at least at first. At the beginning of the book, she repeatedly uses certain phrases, like “to this day”. I got the sense that she was writing the book as she spoke, which can make the writing seem personal, but can lead to overusing certain phrases and words to the point of annoyance. The writing seemed to get better as the book continued. I also wasn’t all that wild about the “sorry, not sorry” premise, as if she was offering life advice to her readers. Some of what she wrote was actually kind of wise, but then she’d add lists of things she was sorry, not sorry for. I guess I’m too old for that kind of a gimmick. On the other hand, I’m probably not in the target audience group for this book, anyway.
I found a lot of Naya Rivera’s comments very poignant. For example, at one point, she writes that she intends to live a very long time. This book was published in September 2016. No one could have known that Naya was going to be dead less than four years later. Given the way that she died– really through what seems to be negligence and overconfidence– it seems odd to be reading a book full of advice by her. But then, as I said, some of her advice is sound and makes sense, and there are times when she is surprisingly articulate and insightful. She did also pay her dues on her way up the showbiz ladder. She worked at Hooters for awhile, and when producers would praise her talent, she would occasionally mouth off at them, asking them why they never gave her the parts she wanted. Above all, she comes off as a good person with a lot of talent who worked very hard to get where she was. It really is a pity that she wasn’t able to enjoy the fruits of her hard work for longer than she did. I feel especially sad for her young son, who was the last person to see her alive. He’s going to have to live with that for the rest of his life.
Overall, I think Sorry Not Sorry is a fun read. In my younger days, I probably would have finished it in one or two sittings, but lately I tend to fall asleep when I read. Maybe it has to do with Arran making us take him outside in the middle of the night. And given that Naya Rivera is now deceased, maybe the book is less fun and more poignant than it was in 2016, but it’s a nice tribute to a young woman who was taken much too soon. I get a sense that this book is authentic and comes straight from Naya Rivera, rather than a ghost writer. It was not a bad thing to leave behind. Maybe I would have thought she was too young to write her life story in 2016– she repeatedly reminds readers that she’s almost thirty in the book. But as it turns out, her life wasn’t going to continue to the old age she expected. So I’m glad she wrote this book, and I’m pleased to have read it. I will recommend it to those who are similarly interested in Naya Rivera’s story.
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