If you need to know just a few things about Shea: He’s a Spurs fan, he loves rap and he’s watched a ton of movies. The former middle school teacher and San Antonio native never envisioned a career in writing. Now, he has three books out, a cult following of more than 300,000 on social media and is a staff writer and podcast regular at The Ringer.
“Movies (And Other Things)” is Serrano’s third book and fourth project with illustrator Arturo Torres. The two teamed up for New York Times best-selling books “The Rap Yearbook” and “Basketball (And Other Things),” and also produced an e-book about “The Office” called “Conference Room, Five Minutes.”
MOAT is not a definitive history of movies, or anything close to it. It’s quite literally a book about movies with a strong emphasis on the (and other things). It’s 30 delightfully engaging chapters of not serious questions written quite seriously. Serrano digs deep to consider the dinosaur in the Jurassic World series: were the raptors just misunderstood? He compares tough-guy dog owners, ranks movie villains by which would be the best hang and breaks down who “gets it the worst” in the Kill Bill series.
Serrano’s book tour comes to Third Place Books in Seward Park on Friday, Oct. 11 at 7 p.m. Space for the event is limited and free tickets will be available starting at 4 p.m. at the door and will be limited to the first to arrive.
The Seattle Times recently gave Shea a call ahead of his visit to our city. In the spirit of MOAT, this is a series of questions about movies (and many other things).
What was your inspiration for the project?
With “Movies (And Other Things)”, every chapter is a different question that are separate of each other but make sense when they’re read altogether. It allows me to really just lean in to the stuff I like without covering the stuff you don’t, because you’re not presenting these books as like the history of basketball or the history of movies. It’s like, here’s some (stuff) that I thought was fun.
You’ve written a book about rap, a book about basketball, an ebook about The Office and now a book about movies. Is that a pretty accurate representation of things you like and are passionate about?
Yeah, that’s pretty good. I really like rap, I really like basketball, I really like movies and I really like TV. So I’m just gonna keep on doing (stuff) that I like until somebody tells me I have to do a real job.
You used to be a teacher before switching over to journalism. Did you always have the ambition to be a writer?
Not at all. I didn’t even know writing was a thing you could do for money. I was teaching and that was the job I wanted to do for my whole life. I thought I’d be a teacher for 30 years, and like be the guy when the kids come to class, I go, ‘Oh I taught your dad.’ My wife was a teacher as well and she ended up having some medical complications during her pregnancy and couldn’t go back to work for a while. We needed the extra money because a teacher’s salary wasn’t enough. I tried applying to other jobs on the side like restaurants to be a waiter or Target and Walmart and they told me I couldn’t get hired because I was already working a full-time job. So that’s how I ended up writing. I went on Google and started researching home jobs and was like, well f**k it, I’ll be a writer. And then I just started trying to learn that whole world. I started at the Houston Press. I learned how to write, I learned how to source a story and all that. And just kept on going from there. It just got bigger and bigger and eventually it overtook teaching. So I quit that to try this thing and see what happens.
Your writing style is very conversational. Is that intentional?
That’s a 100% conscious decision. You can write in a bunch of different ways. And early on, I tried to write in different ways. That one just felt like the most natural. Especially when you’re talking about the stuff you’re talking about when I’m writing. These are not academic conversations you’re having. You can take something very seriously without using a thesaurus. That doesn’t help. That doesn’t make you seem smarter. That just makes you seem like you had a book next to you when you were writing the thing. There’s a definite intention when I’m writing to make it feel that way.
You have a giant Twitter following. You use it for a lot of different things: politics, basketball, promoting your work, etc. What does that platform mean to you in terms of connecting with your audience?
What it feels like at this point is like a safety blanket. We’re talking about how turbulent of an industry that we’re in. I feel like Twitter affords me at least a small measure of security — not a lot, but enough. Enough that if Bill (Simmons) was like, ‘I’m gonna shut this down’ and the Ringer ends up disappearing, I feel like someone would eventually reach out on Twitter and offer some work. It gives like a second life, sort of, and that’s reassuring. It’s also helpful for book things, when I’m pitching an idea to the publisher and can go, ‘I have direct contact with this many people.’ Let’s say half our bots and people not even on Twitter anymore, I can still reach 150,000 people. That’s an appealing thing for publishers or anyone else who’s trying to sell stuff. I think you need that now especially.
Is it the biggest travesty in the NBA that Seattle doesn’t have a team?
It’s really sucky. We have a project right now on The Ringer about The Supersonics called “Sonic Boom” and how they left Seattle. It’s just such a (sucky) story. It doesn’t make any sense when you look at it. I mean, I get if a team has to leave a city. Like a Vancouver situation, where it’s just not working out. But Seattle? Like a team with the history and a team as beloved as the Sonics were, it just doesn’t make any sense at all. It’s a total super sucky situation. That’s why we spent so much time on the basketball book talking about the Sonics. It’s why we wanted to have Seattle on the book tour this time. It sucks a lot.
Interesting. That’s a part of the reason you’re coming to Seattle?
Yeah, I had never been to Seattle. We tried to come out when the basketball book came out, but you have to get on the book store’s schedules early. I ended up doing an impromptu one in Portland — that’s as close as I could get to Seattle. When they asked me what cities I wanted to hit (on tour), I was like, ‘Can we please go to Seattle? Never in my life have I been there.’ For some reason I have a bunch of memories in my head of it. One because of the Sonics, but also, remember the Real World season that was in Seattle in 1998? It’s like a whole Seattle section of my brain. It seems like a cool place.
It is a cool place. Are there any things in particular you’re looking forward to?
This is gonna sound really dumb, but I want to go to that fish place. The place that’s like the most touristy spot where everybody goes. I was really kind of psyched about that because I’m going to go out there and see it in person.
The Storm had a big year without Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird. Last year, you wrote they could be the next great sports dynasty. You’re a big WNBA fan, do you still follow them closely?
Yeah, I love the Storm. My favorite team in the league and the one I cheer for the most is the Las Vegas Aces. But the Aces missed the playoffs last year, so I was just watching the playoffs and the Storm started playing and it was very clear early on that watching Breanna Stewart, we’re looking at something special here. She played all four years in college. All four years she won a national championship. She won player of the year three times. Just like an unstoppable force. You’ve got her, then you learn about Sue Bird. And you go, this is just incredible. Watching her vs. the Mercury. She had 14 points in the 4th quarter to win the series. With the mask on after she broke her nose, after she had a stretch where she missed like 7 or 8 shots. Then she just takes over. That’s like the exact moment you’re looking for when you start watching sports. Then of course you’ve got Natasha Howard, and Alysha Clark and all these other players, and you’re like oh (shoot) this is an interesting team to think about.
At the time, you’re thinking there’s potential to rattle off three or four championships in a very small period of time. If they would’ve been healthy this year, watching the teams now, it seems like they would’ve won it again. They’re a little more powerful than the Mystics are when they’re at full force. I’m going to cross my fingers and hope one of the Storm players shows up to the signing. I tagged Sue and Breanna on Twitter when I announced the event.
You started getting into the WNBA last year? How did that happen?
You know what it was? The basketball book came out, and there’s a writer named Natalie Weiner, who writes for Bleacher Report. She writes a lot about the WNBA and she got a file of the book and searched WNBA players and was like, ‘What’s going on here? If you love basketball so much, why aren’t you watching all of basketball?’ I saw it and at first in my head I was like, ‘It says in the intro this is a book about the NBA,’ and your body just goes into instant defense mode. But then I slept on it and the more I thought about it I realized she was right; this is a blind spot for me, why am I not watching this? I’ve never really watched this or given it an honest effort. I’ve never taken the time to learn about it like I have other stuff. I started watching the college tournament, which was the beginning of it.
Okay let’s do some rapid-fire movie questions. What’s the best Seattle-based movie?
I didn’t realize “The Ring” was a Seattle-based movie. That’s a fun one to watch. My kid and I were just talking about because Halloween is coming up. But for me, it’s “Sleepless in Seattle.” I’m a big rom-com guy. Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, it all works. All the pieces fit together here. Give me that one.
What is the most rewatchable rom-com?
“My Best Friend’s Wedding.” I think that’s the pinnacle of the form right there. You’ve got Julia Roberts, who’s the greatest rom-com start that’s ever been. You have this really fun premise of like if we’re not married by this point, we’re going to get married. And then Dermot Mulroney finds his soon-to-be wife and has to decide between Julia and Cameron Diaz. And how do you pick between one of these two? You’ve got the singing montage, the moment on the boat where it’s like, ‘Ah, just tell each other you love each other!, you’ve got the chase scene at the end where he goes ‘Who’s chasing you?’ Ah, it’s so good.
What Pixar movie made you cry the hardest?
You know what I should say, is the end of “Coco.” That’s supposed to be my answer. That’s a beautiful moment where Miguel sings to his abuelita (grandma). It’s so good and so touching, and I was definitely teary eyed in that moment. But the one that made me cry more than that that I had tears coming down my face in a real way was the end of “Toy Story 3.” When they’re sitting in the trash, heading toward the incinerator. They’re not going to make it and they’re all just sitting there and they hold each other’s hand and they’re looking at death and it’s like, this is it. This is the end. We are accepting our fate. And when that happens, there’s this music going ‘dun-dunn’ like the (freaking) Undertaker is on the way. I remember watching that and feeling so helpless. Like ‘How can they let this happen? How can this be the end for Woody? How can it end this way?’ I never thought a cartoon movie could make me feel that way but man, that was the one.
Rainn Wilson (Dwight Schrute) is a noted Seattleite.What’s your favorite Jim-Dwight prank sequence?
It’s silly and it’s just a fast little thing, but I love when Jim shows up to the office dressed like Dwight and he does the whole beets, bears, Battlestar Galactica thing. And then Dwight figures out what’s going on. There are so many good ones, like where he trains Dwight with the mints, Asian Jim is incredible, the Jello one of course. But I especially like this one. That’s an example of The Office throwing a thing at you that you weren’t expecting to see.
You wrote about misunderstood raptors in your book. Is there a Toronto Raptor that’s the most misunderstood in the NBA?
DeMarre Carroll. He’s on the Spurs now and I love him. It took just that fact. I was like, ‘I don’t like DeMarre Carroll.’ He’s the guy on the other team that’s just working so hard and it just becomes annoying when he’s not on your team. When he was on the Raptors I hated him. It turns out I love all of the things about him now.
Your first chapter is about dogs. You have a French Bulldog. It’s very cute. Is your next endeavor going to be “Bulldogs (And Other Things)”?
Laughs. I’m already working on it. Just 266 pictures of my dog. It’s probably going to sell more copies than all the other ones.
Is there a movie that would be made instantly better with a French Bulldog in it?
Every movie. But especially the “Jurassic World” movies. Put a dog in there? I’m in. Dogs and dinosaurs. The dogs can’t die, though. The dog has to make it.
Give me one book you’re reading, a show you’re watching and an artist you’re listening to.
I’m reading is Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino. She’s a brilliant writer and it’s cool for her to have a book out, which is just a bunch of smart essays and it’s doing really well. It’s on the best-seller list. I’m in on this book. That’s the one I have in my backpack at the moment.
I’m in the middle of a very hearty rewatch of “Scrubs.” It’s one of my other favorite shows. I got a Hulu subscription with no ads on it and I’ve just been powering through “Scrubs.”
I’ve been recently on a big Erykah Badu kick. She’s not a new artist, of course. But she’s got several albums out: one is called “Mama’s Gun” and it’s really, really good to have on while you’re working on other stuff. And it’s really good airplane music. It’s really calm and you feel safe while it’s on. it’s top-level stuff.
All-time favorite sports movie?
“White Men Can’t Jump”
Pick a Seattle rapper: Sir Mix-a-Lot or Macklemore
Sir Mix-a-Lot. Thank you. Macklemore gets a bad rap. I enjoy him. He’s earnestly fun. But I’ve gotta go with Sir Mix-a-Lot.
If you could write and direct your own movie, what would it be about?
It’s gonna be called “White Men Still Can’t Jump.” I’m bringing Woody back, I’m bringing Wesley back. I’m gonna have Gina Rodriguez in it. Rosie Perez is coming back. And I’m going to add Michael Peña. And I don’t know what the new roles are going to be, but it’s gonna make the movie even better.
“Movies (And Other Things)” by Shea Serrano; Twelve; 257 pp.; $25
Author appearance: Shea Serrano discusses “Movies (And Other Things)” at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 11, Third Place Books, 5041 Wilson Ave S., Seattle; $5; 206-474-2200, www.thirdplacebooks.com/seward-park