Humor

Always nice to see evidence that some people still have a sense of humor.

So we're in the middle of a record snowy and cold November here. When I was out today, this is a sign I saw in an elevator:

"Snow in November happens when people decorate for Christmas prematurely. We know who you are. Stop it."

I enjoyed that quite a bit, on the same level where I enjoy London Underground signs like this one: One Direction film premiere in Leicester Square.

That is all. Go about your business.


Read "The Diary of a Bookseller" today!

BooksellerTo everyone who told me to read Shaun Bythell's memoir The Diary of a Bookseller: You were so right!

I loved this book. It's just that simple. I read it in a couple of days, and then I turned back to the front page and read it all over again. Then for another month I read different pages of it while I ate my old-lady breakfast of Fiber One cereal* and coffee.

What surprised me most about this book was how dense it was. A lot of times when you get bookish or reading memoirs, or even retail memoirs, they're rather light on text. This book is a solid 300+ pages and the type is surprisingly small. Bythell is the owner and proprietor of The Book Shop in Wigtown (designated the National Book Town of Scotland), and this is the diary of a year in his life running the used bookstore, getting along (kind of) with his employees, his life in the community and among his friends, and taking part in the town's annual Wigtown Book Festival. He begins each entry by noting how many of the store's books were ordered that day through various online channels, and ends each one by noting how many customers were in that day and what the "till total" was.

All the highlights of the used book trade are here--people thinking they own very valuable first editions when they want to sell them, and thinking all used books should be cheap when they want to buy them; dealing with eccentric help when you're a bit eccentric yourself; driving hither and yon to assess and buy book collections in all manner of conditions. Bythell also clearly enjoys his environment, both the shop and the natural one; he includes entries about the difficulties of heating the shop and trying to keep the rain out, as well as about the sunny and not-so-sunny days when he ducks out to do a little trout fishing.

This should give you an idea about Bythell's tone, which I thoroughly enjoyed:

"Opened the shop five minutes late because the key jammed. The first customer of the day brought two Rider Haggard first editions to the counter, 8.50 each. At the same moment the thought 'Those are seriously underpriced' entered my head, he asked, 'Will you do them for 13?' When I refused to knock anything off them, he replied, 'Well, you've got to ask, haven't you?' so I told him that no, you do not have to ask." (p. 115.)

What a great read. It took me right back to my job in a used bookstore, which I loved and loved and loved, and would be doing still if I hadn't needed health insurance and if the owners hadn't eventually closed the store and taken other jobs because they needed health insurance too. If you have sold books or love books, read this one. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

*Don't get me wrong. I love my Fiber One honey flakes cereal. It makes my life better. But it doesn't really make for the most exciting breakfast eating ever, which is why it's so nice to put them together with a very strong cup of coffee and a lovely book.


Something a little lighter for endless winter.

Mr. CR is firmly of the belief that all I read is "depressing nonfiction." He makes a fair point, as Mr. CR often does. I read a lot of depressing nonfiction. But not EVERYTHING I read is terribly sad. Take, for instance, the thoroughly delightful book Weird Thigns Customers Say in Bookstores, by Jen Campbell.

I blew through this one the other night as the delightful March breeze in my corner of the Badger State was taking us down to a record-breaking temperature below zero. In MARCH. That is not right. So, I was glad to have this very funny book to read.

It's organized in sections like "What Was That Title Again?", "Parents and Kids," and "Customers Behaving Badly," among many others.*

The anecdotes range from the brief and delightful:

"Customer: Do you have a book of mother-in-law jokes? I want to give it to my mother-in-law as a joke. But, you know, not really as a joke at all." (p. 20.)

To the slightly longer and delightful:

"[Child finds the light switch and begins to flick it on and off...and on and off.] Child's Mother: He's playing a game he calls night and day.Bookseller: Could you please ask him to stop? I need to be able to see the register to help these customers. Child's Mother: It's ok. He'll stop in a few minutes. See, he's pretending to snore at the moment. He'll stop soon and pretend to wake up, and switch the light on like it's the sun. He's so imaginative, isn't he? David, what time is it in the game? Child: It's five in the morning! Child's Mother: [to bookseller] See. Not long to go now. Just be patient." (pp. 48-59.)

Gosh, it made me miss working in a bookstore. It also just made me miss bookstores, full stop. This online world sucks.

Now, book people, go get this book and enjoy.

*All of which I'm sure librarians can appreciate too, although we would have to add a chapter for "Weird Things and People we Have Had to Pull Out of Bathrooms."


Michael Perry's Montaigne in Barn Boots.

Michael Perry is just one of those authors I enjoy pretty much no matter what he writes.

My favorite book of his, I think, will always be his first memoir, Population: 485, just because it was such a perfect little jewel of a memoir, it was set in my native Wisconsin, and my Dad really liked it too, so I will always feel fondly of it. Since then Perry has produced multiple memoirs, essay collections, newspaper columns, even YA and adult novels. I always like him because he is trying to support his family as a full-time writer, and in this day of rampant medical and insurance costs, that is not so easy. I enjoy that he doesn't make it LOOK easy. Every time I read his stories about traveling around for literally hundreds of days in a year, giving talks and selling books in person and just generally doing the really hard slog of writing and selling books, I cringe a bit at how hard it can be to make an artistic living. Luckily he grew up on a farm, so he's no stranger to hard work.

MontaigneWhich brings us to his latest offering, titled Montaigne in Barn Boots: An Amateur Ambles Through Philosophy. Although it still has the flavor of a memoir, this is more a series of essays about his reading of the philosopher/essayist Michel Montaigne, and how Montaigne's writings have added meaning and knowledge to his life. I love essays, and generally I am positive about Montaigne, although I don't really know much about him, so this was a pleasant and fast read. It doesn't really get into the philosophy aspect very deeply, but that's okay with me. I often find that the more philosophy is explained to me the less I understand it.

What I particularly appreciate about Perry is that, while he is not overly detailed or gritty, he is also not afraid to share the personal (and potentially embarrassing) details, which is what I demand in my favorite memoir reads. Here he offers an entire chapter on how Montaigne's health challenges (most notably numerous and horrible kidney stone attacks) informed his writing, or, as another essayist that Perry quotes has it, "Montaigne's kidney stones are his path to humble brilliance through the vulnerability of describing illness" (Perry is quoting a writer named Sonya Huber). I am in overall good health, but I am drawn to writing about the vulnerability of the body, because I've had enough health blips that I totally understand the vulnerability of the body. Here's what Perry writes, about his own vulnerabilities:

"I believe I can match Montaigne mood swing for mood swing, but when it comes to kidney stones, I have a shameful admission.

Montaigne dropped a dump-truck full.

I passed one. Years ago.

And still I pee in fear.

But I'll tell you want Montaigne didn't have: Proctalgia fugax.

And if he did, he wasn't brave enough to write about it, despite all his protestations about utter self-revelation.

Remember a few chapters back I plucked up my courage and perhaps ran off half my readership by invoking masturbation? Well, that was spring geraniums compared to Proctalgia fugax.

Which I have got.

It first struck one night in my early twenties. I'd been asleep for just a short time when I awoke to an indescribable pain that I will describe anyway as amateur proctology performed with a red-hot and poorly grounded curling iron. I mean, we are talking a bullet-sweat, bubble-eyed, liver-quivering, bust-out-the-smelling-salts situation...

It's like you can wait to faint." (pp. 171-172.)

It is Perry's particular genius that he can write about his butt pain and make me simultaneously weep in empathy for him and laugh until I cry. I enjoyed the book, and it gave me the desire to read more about Montaigne (or maybe even read some actual Montaigne). Good stuff all around.


John Hodgman's Vacationland.

Here's my one-line review of John Hodgman's Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches: I read the whole thing, although I'm still not sure why.

VacationlandOkay, I can give you a bit more information. This is a collection of essays by Hodgman, most known for his spots on The Daily Show and his appearance as the "PC" in the very popular Apple ads from a few years back. I suppose this collection would be called humor, although it mixes humor with enough midlife ennui that while some of it makes me (a fellow midlifer) chuckle, some of it also makes me whimper with both recognition and sadness.

As far as I can tell these seem to be the hallmarks of midlife: short bits of very rueful, very hilarious laughter, mixed with lots of whimpering and sadness.

Ostensibly this collection is about Hodgman's two vacation homes (that's right, two--although he admits his family can't really afford to continue ownership of both houses, you can see why one of his friends refers to his stand-up as "the white privilege comedy of John Hodgman") in western Massachusetts and Maine. Really it's about parents, kids, marriage, the challenges of maintaining physical homes, aging, and making your way through the world as a white man who's been on The Daily Show. It was okay, but it's run through my mind like the sands through an hourglass. Wait...I think I can remember something...the chapter on how Hodgman and his wife backed up their garbage disposal and entire septic system made me laugh very hard. Here's what happened after they inherited the western Massachusetts vacation house from Hodgman's mother, and found a bunch of expired food items they wanted to get rid of, but didn't want to haul to the dump, because there is no trash pickup in western Massachusetts:

"My wife wanted to lay claim to this house and clear all this dead food out, and her plan was to disposal every last bit of it. She started opening and grinding, opening and grinding: cans of Stewart's shelled beans and jars of old pickles and capers. It went on for hours. It was a hot Saturday afternoon. I sat at the kitchen table, watching her sweat and open and grind. It was probably the most erotic moment of our marriage.

Eventually she found her way to the back of the cupboard. She dislodged three boxes of Cheerios, yellow and blue. They were five years old. She showed them to me.

'What are you going to do with that, baby?' I said.

'I'm going to disposal all of this,' she said.

'That's fucking right you are,' I said.

She did. It was a terrible idea. Here is some homeowner's advice. Do not put even a single box of stale Cheerios down the garbage disposal, never mind three. Because when you grind up Cheerios into oat powder and shove them into your pipes with a bunch of water behind them, the Cheerios do not slide easily through your pipes to the leach field (maybe?). They absorb the water and swell up. And then you have a Cheerio tumor in your pipes. And then you have to explain that tumor to the plumber you have had to call to cut it out. He will stand in the basement with his hacksaw, tapping at the Cheerio metastasis, the pipe making a solid, grim thunk.

He will look at you and say, 'How did this happen?'

And you will have to say, 'I'm sorry, Pipe Daddy. We were just having a sexy disposal time.'" (pp. 117-118.)

So yes, his white privilege comedy can be funny, particularly as I am a privileged white female.* Mainly I enjoyed that because I have done many idiot things in my house too, but even I know to treat my garbage disposal and my pipes with respect. (Ask Mr. CR. If he ever approaches the sink with anything I screech, "Don't use the disposal! It's for appearances only! Our pipes are not up to code!!")

*By which I mean I have always had enough food and shelter and I am thankful for those things. I do not usually call myself a product of white privilege, though, because if you saw my farm upbringing and how many hours I've spent in my life doing shit jobs (literally: including cleaning the bathrooms at multiple restaurants and stores in the area), you probably wouldn't call it privileged. Hodgman went to Yale without loans or financial aid. So there's privilege, and there's privilege. And Hodgman is a lot less privileged than a lot of Bushes, Trumps, and Zuckerbergs I could name (who are not funny, so they don't even offer that). I don't mind our culture's conversations about privilege but I wish we would approach the subject with just a tad more nuance.


Reading while not paying attention.

I'm having a very odd autumn. I'm reading a lot, but I can't say I'm enjoying a whole lot of what I'm reading, or paying too much attention to it. I feel like I'm skimming a lot of books, and my feeling while reading them is, "yeah yeah, been there, done that."

IrbyTake Samantha Irby's essay collection We Are Never Meeting in Real Life. Irby blogs at bitches gotta eat, and I've been seeing her book (and its eye-catching cover) get a lot of attention. I did read the whole thing (it's a quick read) and laughed in parts, but after a while I thought, yeah, okay, LOL, I don't mind all the caps, but I GET IT NOW SO THAT'S ENOUGH KTHANKS. I will give her this: she'll tell you anything, and I like memoirists who do that. Take this scene, when she tries to spread her father's cremains in Nashville, on a trip with her girlfriend:

"As the better part of the cremains shook loose from where they had settled, a huge gust of wind came from the east. OF FUCKING COURSE.

Mavis's face was like Munch's Scream painting, all horrified wide eyes and open mouth, as I turned toward her with my dead father's charred bones and fingernails splattered across my face and crackling between my teeth. It was like coming home from a day at the beach, except replace 'sand' with 'gritty Sam Irby [her father] penis and entrails' lining my nostrils and in between my toes." (p. 183.)

And then there was the very different Homing Instincts: Early Motherhood on a Midwestern Farm, by Sarah Menkedick. This is a memoir about a woman who spent most of her life traveling, until she settled down on her parents' land in Ohio and became pregnant with her first child. Normally I eat that sort of thing up with a spoon (being interested in both farms and pregnancy) but this one didn't do much for me, even as I kept reading it:

"In my twenties, I flung myself into the world. I leapfrogged across continents, hungering for experience and proof of my own wildness. I taught English to recalcitrant teenagers on Reunion Island, picked grapes in France, witnessed a revolution in Mexico. To be aware was to be outside, under Mongolian skies and in bantam seaside bars, far-flung places where every conversation and scent prickled with exceptionality." (p. 4.)

The writing is fine and the subject is fine but while I was reading all I could think was "blah blah blah you travel it's all very exotic and now you're going to have a baby and connect with the Earth uh huh..."

I know. I'm a terrible person. You're really not going to like this next story.

BookshopLast week I also read a lovely light little novel titled How to Find Love in a Bookshop, by Veronica Henry. It's a nice little chick lit-ish romance, it's set in a bookshop, it's further set in Great Britain, and it's got several love stories that get happy resolutions. All of those things should have meant I should have been purring with happiness as I read it. And yet I wasn't. In fact part of me was distinctly thinking, as I said to Mr. CR, "Oh brother, go live your happy little love lives, bleah." Part of it was jealousy that the main character owned a bookshop and made it a profitable concern by the end of the book. I'm very jealous of that.

So there you have it. Don't send any cheerful, nice, gentle, earth-mothery, or lovey books my way this autumn. I won't be fair to them.


Tripp & Tyler's Stuff You Should Know About Stuff.

Sometimes you just want a short fluffy nonfiction book.

When that's what you want, consider Tripp & Tyler's (yup, they just go by "Tripp & Tyler") short book Stuff You Should Know About Stuff: How to Properly Behave in Certain Situations. Evidently Tripp and Tyler are a comedy duo who post their sketches on YouTube. I didn't find them there, and frankly, I don't even remember how I found this book.

StuffBut I enjoyed it. They offer sections on how to behave in public situations, situations involving communication, situations involving friends, and "situations we wanted to include in the book but couldn't figure out how to categorize" (among others).

When reading it, I just flipped through it at random and enjoyed it as it came, and here was the first thing I read, in the chapter titled "Recommendations for the next hotel I stay in":

"Please start washing the comforters. We all know that earlier in the day, a naked, sweaty, fat man rested his taint on the comforter while he blow-dried his hair. I know you can neither confirm nor deny this, but the least you could do is have the housekeeper bring a new comforter to my door, shrink-wrapped like an airline blanket." (p. 29.)

Oh, and there's a very funny picture to go along with that.

Another of my favorite chapters was the "Golf Rules for the Rest of Us" one:

"The vast majority of us suck at golf. We need to figure out a way to make the entire experience better; thus, Golf Rules for the Rest of Us:

When you hit a ball into the woods, just find a ball. It doesn't have to be your ball--any white ball will do...

No player should feel guilty for quitting after 14 holes. Everyone knows that is the ideal length of a round of golf." (p. 210.)

So, yeah. Is it great nonfiction literature? Nah. Is it a fun little read that might give you a few laughs? Yes, it is. Oh, and it includes this handy tip: "Get rid of a brain freeze by pressing your tongue against the roof of your mouth." Nice. Fun AND educational.


Love a good quick nonfiction graphic novel read: Andy Warner's Brief Histories of Everyday Objects.

Every now and then I like to read a good graphic novel (fiction or non, I'm open on graphic novels, for the most part) and Andy Warner's stupendously entertaining Brief Histories of Everyday Objects did not disappoint.

Brief historiesI found this title on some booklist of nonfiction graphic novels that I linked to in a weekly Citizen Reading post a few weeks or months back, leading me to once again say, YAY book lists. You gotta love a good book list, particularly one that is outside your normal reading interests or comfort zone.

In this lighthearted history Warner examines (very briefly, in just a few cartoon panels per story) the histories of some objects that we basically could no longer imagine living without: toothbrushes, kitty litter, silk, tupperware, traffic lights, beer cans, kites, and coffee beans (among many others). The drawings are clean and easy to follow (sometimes I'm too lazy to follow graphic novel layouts when they're too dense or complicated; I remain a word girl, not a picture girl, at heart) and the facts are fun, interesting, and very succinctly written. Also, at the end of each short history, Warner throws in a few panels of "Briefer Histories," with all the tidbits of research he couldn't really fit in anywhere else, like "Ingredients in ancient toothpaste included ox hooves, eggshells, oyster shells, and charcoal. Minty fresh!" (p. 5.)

I also really enjoyed running gags throughout the stories, such as when multiple visionaries/inventors failed to cash in on their inventions. In the first such instance, a briefer history discusses how "Walter Hunt's grave in Brooklyn's Greenwood Cemetery sits in the shadow of the monument of Elias Howe, who got rich manufacturing Hunt's unpatented sewing machine." (With a picture of Hunt saying, "Rub it in, why don't you?") (p. 47.) And by the end of the book Walter Hunt and a bunch of other poor visionaries are grouped together, saying "We've decided to move in together to save on rent." (p. 177.) I'm describing it badly, but it's funny stuff.

In other news, this book has a wonderful bibliography, including many popular micro-histories, and Mr. CR gave it the highest praise he can give a nonfiction book: "Hey, that book you've got in the bathroom right now is pretty good."


Now THIS is more like it: Mama Tried, by Emily Flake.

Remember a few weeks ago, when I was going on and on about how I'd love to see a parenting book whose author actually shared some of the gory details of childbirth? All I can say after reading Emily Flake's Mama Tried: Dispatches from the Seamy Underbelly of Modern Parenting, is HUZZAH!

Now THIS is what I'm talking about:

Mama tried"Just like in the movies, I was in the back of a cab making little hoo-hoo-hoo sounds and trying to assure the driver I would not have a baby in his car, though I couldn't guarantee I wouldn't crap all over it. Luckily for everyone concerned, the hospital was only a mile away; when I got out of the cab I was holding my belly and bellowing like a sow. I was put in a wheelchair and whisked into an examination room, where I stroked the wall very, very gently and waited for a real doctor (they'd sent in a med student to take my family history; I was impolite to him). A real doctor showed up, took a look at my lady parts, and took out a walkie-talkie. 'Clear a labor room,' she said into it. 'Wait, am I in labor??' I asked. 'You,' she said, clearly biting off the words 'you idiot,' 'are having a baby RIGHT NOW.' She said this because I was 9.5 centimeters dilated. That promise I made to the cabbie could very easily have been false, and I would have had the New Yorkiest of all possible birth stories to tell.

Only one thing saved the cab's upholstery: the baby was coming face-up. This is not nearly as worrisome as a butt-or feet-first baby, nor as awful as that thing where their head gets jammed to the side and they're somehow coming...neck-first? Yikes--but it does make the whole process a bit more difficult. There was an awful lot of pushing. I moaned piteously for ice...

But: back to my face-up baby, stuck in the canal. After a couple of hours we had all had it with the pushing; I asked if maybe they didn't have one of those vacuum thingies handy? They did. Three contractions, a Hoovering, and a big doctor squeezing down on my belly later, out came the baby. The placenta was less eager to make its debut; the cord snapped, and my OB--a...brisk woman--reached on up there with her hand to pluck it out of me. She regarded it quizzically: 'That's a really raggedy old-looking placenta,' she said." (pp. 86-88.)

Well, fucking hell and thank YOU, Emily Flake, THIS is what I'm looking for in a birth narrative, complete with not knowing when you should go to the hospital, birth not quite going the way you thought, doctor-being-a-dickhead moments. AMEN. And of course there's a reason I responded to this story with every fiber of my being...

SPOILER ALERT: PEOPLE WHO ARE SQUEAMISH OR WHO FEEL THEY DON'T KNOW ME WELL ENOUGH TO HEAR A LITTLE BIT OF MY CHILDBIRTH STORY SHOULD LOOK AWAY NOW.

When my second CRjr made his way onto the scene it played out much the same way: I dilated nicely and everyone at the hospital thought he would be popping out shortly after we arrived. Of course that is not what happened. I tried to dilate to the full 10 centimeters for many hours, and then pushed for several hours, before which a nurse actually said to me, "Huh, I hope he's not coming face-up, that can be..." and then she trailed off as she saw me looking at her, "...uncomfortable."

Of course he was coming face-up.

To make a long story short, because you, unlike me, may not be into gory birth stories, the littlest CRjr also made his appearance thanks to one of those "vacuum thingies." But, and here's the part you really may not need to know, I still have some physical issues from the experience. So for the last three years, no kidding, I have been beating myself up, thinking if I had just stayed home a little longer, I could have dilated further, birth could have gone faster, and maybe I could have avoided some problems...

But God bless Emily Flake, now I know that even if I'd arrived at that damn hospital at the full 10 centimeters things may not have gone any better. And I cannot tell you the good that this does for my soul. So maybe that's what I'm looking for in these birth narratives: solidarity with what women go through, and what they come back from.

OKAY, IF YOU LEFT DURING THE BIRTH STORY, YOU CAN COME BACK NOW.

Have I also mentioned that this book is hilarious? Not only is it a quick read, it's illustrated, and Flake's pictures and their captions are really the best parts of the book. Just imagine her pictures and captions for her description of the third trimester: "The Dampening." (Horrifying but hilarious.) At one point the author also asked her sister, a postpartum nurse and lactation consultant, who her least favorite patients were. Her sister's reply? "'Oh, you know, older, professional moms who read too many parenting websites.'" (p. 37.) In other words, patients just like the author. God love modern parenting.

It's a great book. Get it for any new (or newish) mom you know, who doesn't mind a bit of swearing, off-color humor, and a good gory birth story. (Or, even if you don't get this one, consider Let's Panic about Babies!, another hilarious, truthful book about parenting.)


Female Comedian Memoirs: the scorecard.

So earlier this summer Mr. CR asked (begged) me to read some happier nonfiction. Or at least stop bringing home and telling him about sad nonfiction that I was reading. So I thought, okay, I'm going to bring home some memoirs by female comedians. (I decided on this project when I saw that Amy Schumer had a new book coming out this fall, so I thought I'd read some other memoirs this summer, then finish up with that one because it would be a timely topic.) That should have been light reading, right?

Well, kind of. Not really, actually. Taken as a group, I found that this group of books kind of depressed me. On the plus side, they were all pretty quick and easy reads. On the negative side, I didn't find most of them hilarious. And at their worst, they made me horribly sad. So let's do this thing, shall we?

A note: I forget what order I read these in, so they're just presented in the order in which I re-piled the books up on my table, so I could look them over and write about them here before returning them to the library.

BedwetterSarah Silverman, The Bedwetter: Stories of Redemption, Courage, and Pee. I actually don't know a lot about Silverman's comedy, and I've never seen an episode of "The Sarah Silverman Program." But for whatever reason, I think she's kind of funny  (go to :45 on that clip) and she doesn't much bother me. (You know how you form these opinions of celebrities, or entertainers? Like you know them personally or something?) And I'll say this for her book: it didn't make me want to kill myself as much as some of the other books on this list did. The book is primarily personal essays and memoir, with some chapters on how she broke into stand-up and the production of her television show.

And she doesn't waste time: on page ten, she relates the story of the accidental death of her older brother (when he was an infant and she wasn't yet born). Her parents went on a cruise to Bermuda that her mother had won while appearing on a game show, and while they were gone, they left the baby in the care of his paternal grandparents, where he accidentally smothered in his crib. (Is that terrible or what?) So yeah: you can see how this family and person might develop a dark sense of humor. And the title's not really a joke either: Silverman really did have a problem wetting her bed at night, well into later childhood and her teens. Or, as she puts it: "At eight years old, my urine showed no promise of abandoning its nightly march out of my urethra and onto my mattress. New Hampshire was running out of clean sheets." (p. 21.) Some of the funniest things in this book were the separate headings within the chapters; here's one of my favorites, how how she suffered from clinical depression as a teenager: "Another Chronic Condition that Nobody Has Any Fucking Clue How to Treat." (p. 30.) And that was followed immediately by another hilarious, if sad, heading: "An emotionally disturbed teenager is given a bottomless well of insanely addictive drugs as a means to improve her life, and other outstanding achievements for the New Hampshire mental health community." (p. 31.) Grade: Okay. I got some chuckles. (Yeah, no letter grades, no star ratings. I refuse to use quantitative standards when good old ambiguous qualitative standards are available to me.)

Tiny Fey, Bossypants. Actually, this one was a re-read. I don't think I finished it last time and I wanted to see if I'd underestimated it. I stand by my original assessment: Tina Fey is Not Funny. I did finish it this time, though. Grade: Pointless, but at least not appalling (See: Lena Dunham's Not That Kind of Girl).

Not that kind of girlLena Dunham's Not that Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's "Learned." Another re-read, as I couldn't finish this one the first time I had it either. (I know. I am not a fast learner. But I was so appalled by so many of these "funny" memoirs and by the positive reception of them by other reviewers and readers that I kept thinking, well, I must just be missing something.) This was another book that was primarily a book of not-that-great personal essays with a few chapters thrown in about Dunham's professional life and her seemingly sudden and meteoric rise to fame and omnipresence on the Internet thanks to the popularity of her TV show "Girls." This book made me the most unhappy, because Dunham was the youngest author whose book I read, and all I could think when I was done with this one was, Wow, I'm so sorry for all the young girls out there.

I'll illustrate. Here's a charming story from her chapter titled "Barry," about a man with whom she had an unpleasant (if not illegal, on his part) sexual experience when she was in college: "Barry leads me to the parking lot. I tell him to look away. I pull down my tights to pee, and he jams a few of his fingers inside me, like he's trying to plug me up. I'm not sure whether I can't stop it or I don't want to..."

Okay. In addition to being disturbed by that, it's also where I lose some patience for Dunham. Really? How is this guy even getting in a physical position to make that happen while she's peeing? What part of that don't you want to stop? I'm not trying to be judgmental, really. I literally just don't get it. It continues:

"Now Barry's in my place. Now we're on my floor, doing all the things grown-ups do. I don't know how we got here, but I refuse to believe it's an accident." This continues until: "Before sunrise, I diligently enter the encounter into the Word document I keep, titled 'Intimacy Database.' Barry. Number Four. We fucked. 69'd. It was terribly aggressive. Only once. No one came." (pp. 58-60.)

Nobody in this book, even the author, sounds like they're having any fun, and it's certainly not funny. Grade: I may need some True Crime to cheer up after this.

Amy Poehler, Yes Please. There were some funny bits in Poehler's memoir, but as with Fey's, I didn't find it that interesting, either. Grade: If you must read something by a female SNL alum, choose this one over Fey's.

Mindy Kaling, Is Everyone Hanging Out without Me? (and other concerns). Okay, again, I wouldn't put this one in the class of great literature, but at least I laughed at it throughout and Mindy did not make me feel that being a woman today, putting up with the industry and men (wow, that is a lot to do), is just the worst job ever. These are mostly personal essays too, in sections titled "I Forget Nothing: A Sensitive Kid Looks Back," "I Love New York and It Likes Me Okay," "Hollywood: My Good Friend Who Is Also a Little Embarrassing," "The Best Distraction in the World: Romance and Guys," "My Appearance: The Fun and the Really Not Fun," and "My All-Important Legacy." Her look at her career trajectory is probably the most interesting one among these memoirs; she thoroughly describes her low-level entertainment and TV jobs, her two-woman play "Matt and Ben," writing for The Office, a brief stint at SNL, and her writing process in general.

Mindy also scores as the only writer whose book I recalled pleasurably after reading it. She has this very hilarious, and strange, chapter titled "Why do Men Put on Their Shoes So Slowly?" It's all of one page, and here's most of it: "Why do all the men I know put their shoes on incredibly slowly? When I tie my shoelaces I can do it standing, and I'm out the door in about ten seconds. (Or, more often, I don't even tie my shoelaces. I slip my feet into my sneakers and tighten the laces in the car.) But with men, if they are putting on any kind of shoe (sneaker, Vans, dress shoe), it will take twenty times as long as when a woman does it. It has come to the point where if I know I'm leaving a house with a man, I can factor in a bathroom visit or a phone call or both, and when I'm done, he'll almost be done tying his shoes." (p. 188.) Ever since I read that, I've noticed the many, many times I've waited for Mr. CR to put on his shoes and get out of the house, while I wait in the car. It wouldn't be so funny, except if I'm in the car, it means I've dressed myself, dressed two small boys, packed our going-out bag, and gotten said two small boys strapped into their car seats...all while Mr. CR is still putting on his shoes. Mindy is onto something here.

Grade: If you're going to read one book on this list, make it this one. It's funny, it's interesting, it's personal without being TOO MUCH, and if you're trying to inspire a woman to be a writer and entertainer, this is also probably the most positive book here.

Jessi Klein, You'll Grow Out of It. I reviewed this one not long ago. Grade: Points for some solid laughs, but overall? It left me wondering once again why smart, funny, good-looking women are taking semen shots in the face (that they don't seem all that excited about getting) and trying so hard to be what guys want. Not really Grrl Power, in my opinion.

Last but not least:

Girl with the lower back tattooAnd then we come to Amy Schumer, and her book The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo. I just struggled to get through the first 75 pages of this one. May I illustrate? The first essay is titled "Open Letter to My Vagina," and here's how it starts: "I know I've put you through a lot. I've had hot wax poured on you and the hair ripped from you by strangers. Some of the strangers have burned you even though I told them you have very sensitive skin. But it's on me for going to a shady-looking place in Astoria, Queens, that you thought may have been a drug front. I've been responsible for getting you yeast infections and UTIs and have worn stockings and Spanx for too long, knowing it could cause you problems. And I want to apologize for Lance on the lacrosse team, who treated you like you owed him money with his finger. That sucked, and I'm totally with you in being pissed. But you've also had a lot of nice visitors, right? Huh? You have to admit we've had a lot of fun together. I even fought to be able to call you 'pussy,' which I know you prefer, on television." (p. 3.)

Yeah, I don't know. I'm just not laughing. And this hurts me, as I know Amy Schumer and her writing team are capable of some really funny stuff, as in this clip from her show: Last fuckable day. Overall I much preferred it when she was talking about getting started in stand-up, and writing her show, and learning the business. And I'll admit that I laughed out loud as she describes writing down the first joke she really "wrote":  "This old woman on the subway asked me, 'Have you heard the good news?' She was trying to save me. I said, 'Ma'am, I'm so sorry. My people are Jewish.' She said, 'That's okay, your people just haven't found Jesus yet.' I said, 'No, we found him. Maybe you haven't heard the bad news.'" (p. 153.)

But once again there were too many personal stories that just made me unhappy, thinking of what women put up with. And that's really not how I wanted to feel after my "lighter reading." Grade: Okay, if you're really interested in Amy Schumer. Personally, I'm heading back to some good depressing nonfiction so I can cheer up.

 


Jessi Klein's "You'll Grow Out of It."

Oh, I was so on board to enjoy this book by Jessi Klein*.

Jessi kleinFirst, there's this excerpt on the back of the book: "Everyone is charmed by a little tomboy. A scrappy little girl in overalls with a ponytail and scraped knees, who loves soccer and baseball and comic books and dirt. But what are we charmed by? It's not just that she's cute. It's that she so innocently thinks she's going to stay this way forever. But we all know she won't. And why is that?

Because as much as we like a tomboy, nobody likes a tom man."

Tee hee. And then there was this, about "learning the secrets of being a woman":

"Being a woman usually means you are born with a vagina and after that you'll probably grow boobs and most likely pretty soon after that you'll have long hair because it's no secret that men are pretty non-negotiable about that, except for the times when some Frenchwoman with an insanely long neck pulls it off and a certain segment of men who are open to being a little different go fucking bananas for her." (p. 14.)

Oh, I laughed at that. Laughed and laughed and laughed, the way only a short-haired girl who does not have an insanely long neck and has relied on that (tiny) segment of men who are open to being a little different for my dating and marriage action can laugh. So I was totally on board. But then, later, there was this, in the essay titled "Long Day's Journey Into Porn":

"What I was not prepared for was sex in the age of Internet porn, and how interested Harrison was in ejaculating on my body, and then, gradually, when I didn't flee or register protest over that act, my face. I was unhappily surprised by it, but I was so timid about my lack of experience at the advanced age of twenty-seven that I didn't want to ask any of my plentiful follow-up questions, among which were: 1. Why did you want to come on my face? 2. How do you think I feel about you coming on my face? 3. Is this A Thing everyone is doing? 4. What gave you the idea to do this?

The answer to #4, of course, was Internet porn. I didn't know this yet. I was at the very beginning of this new trend where masses of young men learn how to have sex from watching porn..." (p. 179.)

And the essay ends with Klein using porn herself as an "assist in pleasuring myself." One night she takes care of business while completing the gift registry for her expected son, and this is how the essay ends:

"They finish. I finish. I close out of the window with the x's and by default I am back on my last webpage, face-to-face with the elephant humidifier. At first it feels like the proximity of these two tabs is a bit profane--these things shouldn't have been so close to each other. But then I think, Well, isn't all this part of life. Birth and sex and porn. Exciting and horrible and great and disgusting and joyful." (p. 186.)

I don't know. She's keeping upbeat but the whole thing just depressed the hell out of me. Seemed like a lot of compromising for a tom man. But maybe that's just me.

Want a more complete review? Try this one at Paste Magazine or this much more comprehensive one at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

*Perhaps best known as head writer on the series "Inside Amy Schumer."


I won't be reading "Furiously Happy" just now.

Furiously happyAlthough, actually, I was happily surprised by Jenny Lawson's first bestselling memoir, Let's Pretend This Never Happened, and I actually like her voice.*

This one is less a memoir than a collection of essays and other writings about living with depression. This is how she herself describes the book:

"So I took to my blog and wrote a post that would change the way that I would look at life from then on:

October 2010

All things considered, the last six months have been a goddamn Victorian tragedy. Today my husband, Victor, handed me a letter informing me that another friend had unexpectedly died. You might think that this would push me over the edge into an irreversible downward spiral of Xanax and Regina Spektor songs, but no. It's not. I'm fucking done with sadness, and I don't know what's up the ass of the universe lately but I've HAD IT. I AM GOING TO BE FURIOUSLY HAPPY, OUT OF SHEER SPITE." (p. xvi.)

So this is a book about Lawson's "saying yes to anything ridiculous," all in the name of being furiously happy (and perhaps helping keep her depression and anxiety at bay**). And you know what? I salute her. I really do. I can think of worse ways to face your depression than to decide to be furiously happy. But for some reason this week I just didn't have the energy to read this book, or to feel that saying "yes" to everything is any sort of answer. Most days I just try to reach something like a low-level contentment.

Although I almost did reconsider after reading the bit below. It made me laugh out loud:

"You still have to call the vet though when your cat has eaten a toy consisting of a tinkle bell and a feather and a poof ball all tied together with twine. That actually happened once and it was really the worst because the vet told me that I'd have to ply the cat with laxatives to make the toy pass easily through and that I'd need to inspect the poop to make sure the toy passed because otherwise they'd have to do open-cat surgery. And then it finally did start to pass, but just the first part with the tinkle bell, and the cat was freaked out because he was running away from the tinkle bell hanging out of his butthole and when I called the vet he said to definitely NOT pull on the twine because it would pull out his intestines, which would be the grossest pinata ever ever, and so I just ran after the cat with some scissors to cut off the tinkle bell (which, impressively, was still tinkling after seeing things no tinkle bell should ever see). Probably the cat was running away because of the tinkle bell and because I was chasing it with scissors screaming, "LET ME HELP YOU."" (p. 9.)

*She's about a gazillion times funnier than Jen Lancaster, and I can appreciate that.

**It didn't always work, she notes, and I can appreciate the honesty of that too.


A little bit of love for Aziz Ansari's Modern Romance.

Modern Romance
by Aziz Ansari, Eric KlinenbergHardcover
Powells.com

I enjoyed the hell out of Aziz Ansari's Modern Romance.

Now, don't get me wrong. I didn't really find it uproariously hilarious, and it was definitely on the "social sciences lite" side of psychology. But I very much enjoyed the comedian's combination of personal dating anecdotes, thoughts on love and relationships, and a wide variety of poll findings and sociological data (which are also on display in his new Netflix series). It was a quick and somewhat informative read, and in my current distracted state, I find that's about all I can ask of a book these days.

Aziz moved from a discussion of how we used to date and marry people (we mainly met them where we lived) to how we meet people today, how we ask for dates, how people search for love internationally, when and why people settle down, and what happens when sexting and cheating tear apart relationships. Some of the information was enlightening, and some was funny, but most of what Aziz found horrified me:

"Today, if you own a smartphone, you're carrying a 24-7 singles bar in your pocket." (p. 31.)

That gives me the all-over shudders.

"The issue of calling versus texting generated a wide variety of responses in our focus groups. Generally, younger dudes were fucking terrified of calling someone on a phone." (p. 39.)

That just makes me sad. I don't really like using the phone either, but come on, just to talk to someone? Someone you might like? Overall I am just wowed by men's fragile egos. I had one great male friend who told me he didn't mind rejection a whole lot, because he thought "every no just brought you closer to a yes." Simple and upbeat. Please note that this friend married an unbelievably attractive woman. And they're still married.

"A woman who came to one of our focus groups discussed how she got so fed up with text messaging that she cut off her texting service and could only be reached by phone calls. This woman never went on a date with a man again. No, she actually started dating someone soon afterward. She also claimed the guys who did work up the courage to call her were a better caliber of man and that she was, in effect, able to weed out a lot of the bozos." (p. 40.)

So yeah, I enjoyed this book, even though it made me feel old. Those crazy kids these days.

This just in: Ansari's book won Best Nonfiction in this year's GoodReads Choice Awards.


Unabrow: Misadventures of a Late Bloomer--funny stuff.

I struggle to find humorous writing that I really enjoy. Everyone does, I think. For some reason, quality humor writing seems hard to find, and individual readers' tastes in humor can vary widely.

So it was a pleasure to find and read Unabrow: Misadventures of a Late Bloomer, which honestly, I think I chose based on its cover alone (although I can't remember where I would have seen it). The author, Una Lamarche, blogs at The Sassy Curmudgeon, and also apparently writes YA novels. She also writes very, very funny essays.

I particularly liked her essays about childbirth and parenting. In one essay, on the stages a woman goes through in her lifetime with her body, here is how she describes childbirth:

"By the time you've lived in your body for thirty years or so, there's not much it can do to surprise you anymore. All its sounds and smells and unsightly bulges have been cataloged and then either frantically hidden or hopelessly ignored. Which makes it all the more shocking when your body up and does something you never thought possible. Which, in my case, was to make a cuter, littler body inside of mind...Since I am lucky enough never to have suffered a major illness or been forced to run more than fifty feet in my adult life, I'm here to talk about the transformative experience of baby making."

And she concludes that story with:

"And I never criticized my body ever again.

Hahahahaha. Lies. Of course I do. But it has gotten a lot better, with the exception of my vagina, which I choose no longer to look at, since the last time I did, it resembled an appliance that you try to shove back in its original box, but it won't fit, and there are cords and polystyrene peanuts hanging out. It was depressing, so we just email now." (pp. 31-33.)

There's nothing earth-shattering here. But the whole book was a really enjoyable read, and I came away from it really just liking Una.* Give this one a try if you're looking for a good light nonfiction summer read.

*Yes, of course I know I don't really know Una. But I do know how she feels about her vagina.


No, thank you.

Yes Please
by Amy Poehler
Powells.com

I'm going to go ahead and file Amy Poehler's memoir Yes, Please, under the "Largely Forgettable Nonfiction" heading.

On the one hand, it was a pretty serviceable comedian's memoir. I've never found Amy Poehler hilarious, but I've also never found her as annoying as Tina Fey. On the other hand, I've read most of it, and even looking at it now, there's very little about it I can remember.

I did have one laugh-out-loud moment: I found Poehler at her best in her chapter about her divorce from Will Arnett, when she lists all the books she wants to write about divorce. One will be titled:

"I Want a Divorce! See You Tomorrow! If you have small children you will understand this book. This book deals with the fact that most people who divorce with small children still need to see each other every day...Chapters include: Fake Smiling, How Important is the Last Word?, Phone Calls on the Way Home from Therapy, and Everyone Needs to Stop Buying Toys." (p. 88.)

Now that's good writing. So yeah, there's moments. I just don't know if they're worth 327 pages to get there (unless you're a huge, huge fan of Parks and Recreation--then it's probably worth it no matter what).


Very British Problems...

as a Twitter account* posting such items as the below was more than enough. I really don't know that it needed to be made into a book.

"'Right, well, anyway, good, I suppose I should really probably soon start to think about maybe making a move" - Translation: Bye" [Note: Evidently, this sort of thing is considered a "very British problem."]

And there you have it. My brevity may not be the soul of much wit, but it is all I have the energy for tonight. Have a great weekend, all.

*p.s. I still don't understand Twitter, and honestly, I think I'm happier that way.


Some new "meh" fiction for your consideration.

Last week was not a real winner for me and fiction.

First off, I read David Duchovny's new novel Holy Cow, and all I can say is, wow, David Duchovny needs some more people around him to tell him when something's a bad idea. It's not the worst novel I've ever read, but I pretty much made it through only because it's a fast read and 206 pages long. It's narrated by a cow who dreams of going to India, where cows are sacred, because she learns by sneaking out of her enclosure and watching TV through her humans' windows that Americans raise and butcher cows in horrible surroundings. This shocks her, and she starts making her plans for exodus. Along the way she picks up a pig who wants to go to Israel (where they don't eat pork, of course), and a turkey who wants to go to Turkey (just because). I'd say, hilarity ensues, but it doesn't, really. Here's your sample bit:

"My ancestors, my great-great-great-great-great-etc.-grandmother came from somewhere in what humans call the Middle East. That's where the Maker made us and first put our hooves on the ground. They called it the land of milk and honey. And guess who provided the milk? Though I'm told that goats also get milked by humans. Are you kidding me? Come on. No offense, but goat's milk does not compare with cow's milk, unless you're a goat kid. Have you ever seen a cow trying to drink milk from a goat? Case closed.

And now I hear stories of humans milking something called an 'almond' and another called a 'soy.' I've never seen a wild almond or a say galloping about in its natural habitat, but cow milk is the best. I'd bet three of my four stomachs on it." (pp. 11-12.)

And there you go. All I know is all week when I was reading other novels and Mr. CR wanted to know how they were, he would phrase the question this way: "Is it better or worse than the Duchovny cow book you've got in the bathroom? Because that thing is terrible."

Your other "meh" choice (although better, I think than the Duchovny cow book in the bathroom) is Ellen Meister's Dorothy Parker Drank Here. Here's the premise: Dorothy Parker, witty member of the Algonquin (Hotel) round table of the 1920s, along with many other authors and luminaries, signed a guest book owned by the hotel's manager. Turns out it was a magic book and if the person so chooses, after death they can "go to the light" or sit around the Algonquin. Dorothy chooses the latter, but is lonely, so she tries to get another author staying in the same hotel to agree to sign the book, so when he passes, she'll have company. Enter a gung-ho TV producer who wants to get that author booked on her talk show, and who learns Dorothy Parker is still hanging out at the Algonquin. I'd say, hilarity ensues, but, well, it doesn't. It's an okay book and actually Dorothy Parker's lines are believably witty, but all the rest of the characters (and most of the story) is serious dullsville.

Back to nonfiction for a while.


Still love The Oatmeal; this book, not so much.

Because I love The Oatmeal, I picked up his latest book, The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances.

I should have known from the title this would not be the book for me. I don't know where I heard this line, but I've used it many times: I only run if I'm the victim or perpetrator of a crime. The cartoon is still interesting, but not enough to carry the whole book, and most of the other cartoons deal with running as well.

But The Oatmeal is very generous with his cartoons on his website, so you can check them out there and decide for yourself if you want to get any of his books. This week you should totally look at "If My Dogs Were a Pair of Middle-Aged Men." I laughed and laughed.


The search for lighter nonfiction.

I've been cranky as hell the last few weeks.

I was saying something to that effect to Mr. CR the other day (as if he hadn't noticed) and he said, "Well, get some happier reading, would you? Good Lord, the nonfiction you've got around here is depressing me when I just read the titles."

This was a fair point, as I do indeed have a record number of downer nonfiction titles on the go. So I thought I'd try a light memoir/collection of humorous essays that a friend recommended a while back: Mindy Kaling's Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

And I enjoyed it. I enjoy Mindy Kaling, I enjoy "The Mindy Project" (although where they are going with the pregnancy storyline, I have no idea), and I'm always a fan of some good humorous nonfiction. There's nothing earth-shatteringly hilarious here, but I think Kaling has cemented my affection forever in her chapter titled "Guys Need to Do Almost Nothing to Be Great":

"Here's my incredibly presumptuous guide to being an awesome guy, inside and out...

#6. Avoid asking if someone needs help in a kitchen or at a party, just start helping. Same goes with dishes. (Actually, if you don't want to help, you should ask them if they need help. No self-respecting host or hostess will say yes to that question.)" (p. 164.)

Simple and right on. Kindly but firmly stated. Kaling's my kinda girl.*

So yes, a good light read. However, I was done with it in a couple of hours. Clearly I need a bigger stockpile of chipper nonfiction titles. Suggestions?

*And frankly? She's roughly one million times funnier than Tina Fey.


The title made me want to like it.

With a title like People I Want to Punch In the Throat: Competitive Crafters, Drop-Off Despots, and Other Suburban Scourges, I really wanted to love Jen Mann's book.

It's a short book of humorous essays on parenting, of the sort I've been consuming like bon-bons ever since I had the CRjrs. There's a lot of this sort of thing:

"I love my cleaning lady just a little bit more than I love the Hubs. No, that's not true. I love her a lot more than I love the Hubs, and I'm not afraid to tell her, or him." (p. 32.)

And this:

"I have a confession to make. No, this isn't the part where I reveal that I'm a closet crafter who has a craft room in my basement where I hoard countless dollars' worth of rubber stamps, paint, tulle, ribbon, and glue guns (yes, glue guns, plural, because every good crafter worth her glitter knows you need more than one size). Even though that's all true, I'd rather talk about my even more embarrassing confession: I want a minivan. Baaad." (p. 103.)

Yeah, it's okay. I read the whole thing (it's only about 200 pages long). And it had a few moments. But overall? It just wasn't all that funny. As types in the genre, I'd much more heartily recommend Karen Alpert's I Heart My Little A-Holes, Drew Magary's Someone Could Get Hurt, or even Amber Dusick's Parenting: Illustrated with Crappy Pictures.