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.


Friday Book Lists: 23 September 2016

A round-up of the week's bookish lists from your friend and mine, the Internet.

IndieBound: bestselling books the week of Sep. 22

Ten books for readers who love Liane Moriarty.

Don't read these if you're on a diet: 21 tales of chocolate-themed romance

Christian Science Monitor: best books of September Oh, my God, a new Tracy Kidder. I must have it.

Chicago is emphatically not my kind of town. (I've just never liked it.) If you do, however, this list of Chicago books might be for you.

Friday Book Lists: 16 September 2016

A round-up of the week's bookish lists from your friend and mine, the Internet.

IndieBound: bestselling books the week of Sep. 15

The New York Times makes 9 book recommendations for you this weekend

USA Today: New and Noteworthy Books

9 books to help you cope with anxiety Now here is a book list I can get behind!

Politico: "the smartest minds in politics name the best books they read this year"

People Magazine's best fall books You know I'm going to have to check out the Jennifer Weiner memoir, even though I am no fan of Jennifer Weiner.

On the boob tube: 11 fall shows we can't wait to see

Here's a list I really enjoyed this week, as a reader who loves autumn: 9 things book-lovers can't help doing in the fall

Friday Book Lists: 9 September 2016

A round-up of the week's bookish lists from your friend and mine, the Internet.

IndieBound: bestselling books the week of Sep. 8

The fall previews just keep coming!

Rolling Stone's fall book preview, full of music tell-alls

This fall's biggest books, critiqued on the basis of their covers

Stories of robot love

The world's most boring book list, but here it is anyway: LibraryReads October 2016

The 10 best books of October, according to Amazon's editors (You know, I might have to try the Bruce Springsteen autobiography. I was so surprised by my love for Patti Smith's Just Kids, and I didn't know anything about Smith when I started that.)

New York Times: 9 great books to start off September (I've already put Avalanche: A Love Story and Patient H.M. on hold at the library, and am thinking I'm really going to have to get that Attica prison revolt book too.)


Friday Book Lists: 2 September 2016

A round-up of the week's bookish lists from your friend and mine, the Internet.

Christian Science Monitor: Best books of August

Paste Magazine: 16 best nonfiction books of 2016 (so far)

i09 picks all the best fantasy and SF for the fall

The Guardian: 10 best "seaside novels"

13 supernatural stories for fans of 80s horror

Entertainment Weekly's Fall Preview

New York Times: 9 books for back-to-school time. Oooh: "...while the books below don’t offer light reading, they do offer plenty to chew on." I totally have to get that book by Nicholson Baker, about his experiences as a substitute teacher.

Awesome: "30 tales of librarians in love."

If anything rivals my love for nonfiction and reading, it's my love for TV and movies. Hence: 20 must-see movies this fall.

IndieBound: bestselling books the week of Sep. 1

Labor Day 2016: The Reading List

So in past years I have also done some lists of great books about work. Last year I was late with the Labor Day list, and I didn't want to do that again, so here we are. Happy Labor Day! Start celebrating now and take a few days off.

The list below sums up the work-related books I read over the last year. Links go to my posts about the books, when available. Must-reads are in bold.


Alison Stewart, Junk: Digging Through America's Love Affair with Stuff. I'm calling this one at least partially a work book because there's a ton of stuff in it about junk removal people, professional organizers, etc.

Dan Lyon, Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-up Bubble. Memoir of a baby boomer's time in a marketing/tech company.

Steve Osborne, The Job. Cop memoir.

Kevin Hazzard, A Thousand Naked Strangers. Paramedic memoir; pretty wild stuff.

Burt Reynolds, But Enough About Me. Actor's memoir, with a lot of behind-the-scenes info from Deliverance, Smokey and the Bandit, and more television and movies.

Jacob Slichter, So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star. Musician memoir, from the drummer of Semisonic.

Robert Kolker, Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery. This one is actually True Crime, but I'm calling it a work memoir because wow, there's a lot of sad details in it about women working as "escorts."


Menna Van Praag. The Dress Shop of Dreams. Kind of strange/magic realism about a dress shop where the seamstress can work magic for her customers (through her dresses).

Melissa Jacobs. Love, Life, and Linguine. A restaurant consultant finds her chef boyfriend cheating on her and moves home to resurrect her family's failing restaurant. Chick lit.

Amy Reichert. The Coincidence of Coconut Cake. Milwaukee chef Lou receives a caustic review from new British restaurant reviewer Al--but yet somehow sparks fly. Chick lit.*

Go forth and do not labor, at least for a few days. Ah, Labor Day. No family obligations, no gift requirements, no religion, no celebrations of war. It's the most wonderful time of the year!

*Yeah, I read a lot of chick lit (when I can find it). You got a problem with that?

Friday Book Lists: 26 August 2016

A round-up of the week's bookish lists from your friend and mine, the Internet.

Six beach reads for the end of summer

The latest and best in crime fiction. The continuing huge popularity of crime fiction is starting to creep me out a little bit.

Nine great new books for August (from the New York Times)

Amazon's pick for their Big Fall Books Mostly fiction books here, with new titles coming from Nicholas Sparks and Jodi Picoult. Snore.

A free, back-to-school, audio book bonanza

Love these NPR lists: summer reading picks from booksellers

Publishers Weekly: Religion and Spirituality books preview, Autumn 2016

Paste Magazine: The best 10 YA books of August 2016

Hey, political junkies: here's 9 nonfiction books about the Republican Party

Friday Book Lists: 19 August 2016

A round-up of the week's bookish lists from your friend and mine, the Internet.

IndieBound: Bestselling books the week of August 18

4 audiobooks by women, telling women's stories

A Minnesota bookseller offers three summer reads

9 forthcoming book to movie adaptations (can't say I'm excited about any of these, but look at Ewan McGregor in "American Pastoral"--gosh, he's cute)

Eleven new (!) books on the Donald

The Daily Beast: Ten best books about the Olympics

Friday Book Lists: 5 August 2016

A round-up of the week's bookish lists from your friend and mine, the Internet.

Flavorwire: Ten books to read this August

Amazon: Ten best books of August

An indie bookseller recommends 3 summer reads

"Teen memory loss novels"

Gen X Bookshelf: 18 books for forty-somethings

IndieBound's bestselling books the week of August 2

A Detroit bookseller offers three nonfiction books for your summer reading consideration

Royal Society Science Book Prize: Shortlist

Friday Book Lists: 22 July 2016

A round-up of the week's bookish lists from your friend and mine, the Internet.

Amazon: Best Books of July

Summer reading list from Booklist

Reads to Prepare You for the Upcoming Conventions (NPR)

IndieBound: Bestselling books the week of July 14

The Millions: Best Political Fiction

New York Times: Man vs. Machine books. All of these books look super interesting, although they will probably just end up depressing me.

Friday Book Lists: 8 July 2016

A round-up of the week's bookish lists from your friend and mine, the Internet.

Beyond Brexit: 10 books that re-imagine Great Britain.

Read 'N Raves from the last ALA conference: actually a much more interesting list than I thought it would be, and a great reminder that a new biography of Shirley Jackson is coming in September.

Booklist: Focus on contemporary middle-grade fiction.

35 sweltering tales of summer romance.

A review of "mid-year reviews"--everyone's doing them!

IndieBound: bestselling books the week of July 7

Short list this week. Hope to make this a regular feature but hopefully a more interesting or comprehensive one. Thoughts?

Great investigative narratives written by women.

I'm stealing that headline from a Booklist article titled "What She Knows: Great Investigative Narratives Written by Women." I like the title; I like the article; I LOVE investigative works (you'll notice, please, I have a tag for "investigative" over in the right sidebar--that will take you to my reviews of investigative works), either by women or not. And I cannot resist a challenge. Booklist gave up five titles, including Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and Adrian Nicole LeBlanc's Random Family (two of my favorites), so how many can I list? Go!

Rebecca Traister's All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation

Brigid Schulte's Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time

Jennifer Senior's All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood

Helaine Olen's Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry

Rose George, Ninety Percent of Everything and The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters*

Jeanne Marie Laskas's Hidden America: From Coal Miners to Cowboys, an Extraordinary Exploration of the Unseen People Who Make This Country Work

Amanda Ripley's The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - And Why and The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way

Emily Oster's Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong-And What You Really Need to Know

Really, Booklist? You forgot Barbara Demick's Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea?

Anything by Stacy Horn

Barbara Ehrenreich's now-classic Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America

Ten titles, without even breathing hard. Suck it, Booklist.

(Although, in all fairness, I too noticed a while back that I have a hard time finding investigative books that I enjoy that are written by women. If they're all being marketed as memoirs, as the Booklist article suggests, that might at least explain a bit of that. And hey--if you click on the link above, you'll find a lot of other great women investigative writers listed in the comments. You commenters are so great, and you know your stuff!)

*This book is so good. If you read only one title on this list, make it this one.

The National Book Critics' Circle Award winners have been named.

Here are the books and authors that were named winners of the National Book Critics' Circle awards for 2015:

Ross Gay, “Catalogue of Unabashed Gratitude” (University of Pittsburgh Press)
Maggie Nelson, “The Argonauts” (Graywolf)
Margo Jefferson “Negroland” (Pantheon)
Charlotte Gordon, “Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley” (Random House)
Sam Quinones, “Dreamland: The True Story of America’s Opiate Epidemic” (Bloomsbury)
Paul Beatty, “The Sellout” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
The John Leonard Prize
Kirstin Valdez Quade, “Night at the Fiestas” (W.W. Norton)
The Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing
Carlos Lozada
The Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award
Wendell Berry

Once again I haven't read any of them, although of course I have read (and love) Wendell Berry. I also had "Negroland" home from the library twice and didn't get it read before it had to go back--does that count? I must say the Mary Wollstonecraft biography looks excellent, and I'd like a crack at the "Dreamland" title as well.

How about you? Read any of these?


What's a Good Book on...Civil Rights?

A while back I had this idea that I would work on some book lists with some "good" books on a variety of topics. I didn't necessarily mean books that I considered "good," or even just that I had enjoyed, but rather a list of representative books. Some well-reviewed books, some well-known/popular books, some "definitive" books, even some lesser-known outliers. I've had this idea for a million years, because when people used to ask me for nonfiction suggestions at the library, often they would ask for help like this:

"What do you think is the one book to read on the Crusades?"*

So I'm just going to sneak this one in under the wire, for February as Black History Month. What are some "good books" on civil rights?

This Little Light of Mine, by Kay Mills. A biography of civil rights hero Fannie Lou Hamer. I've talked about this one before; it's one of my all-time favorite reads. You hear hardly anything about Fannie Lou Hamer anymore, but the scope of her life is amazing when you consider the circumstances into which she was born and the sheer energy it must have taken for her just to live her life AND fight (amazingly effectively) to advance civil rights. A very readable biography of an entirely unique hero. One of her most famous quotes was "I am sick and tired of being sick and tired." AMEN, Fannie Lou Hamer.

Taylor Branch's trilogy about Martin Luther King, Jr. (Parting the Waters, Pillar of Fire, and At Canaan's Edge.)I've not read all of these--only parts of one--but if you are looking for the definitive books on MLKjr, these arguably could be the ones. Comprehensive, yet very story-driven, covering America in the years from 1954-1968.)

Savage Inequalities, by Jonathan Kozol. Kozol has made a career out of writing about racial inequalities in the education system, and I remember this one as being very eye-opening. He's also a snappy and personal writer; although it is extremely dated, his first book, Death at an Early Age, is also worth a look. That one's notable because it was published at a time when very few civil rights had really been won (1967), and when you realize, sure, it's old, but it's really not that old in the grand scheme of things, well, that gives you pause. Or at least it should.

Civil rights reading often seems to coincide with narratives about education. The personal side of the integration story is powerfully on display in Melba Pattillo Beals's memoir Warriors Don't Cry. She was one of the original Little Rock Nine who went to Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas, to try and further integration. Also of interest on Little Rock: Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock, a book about Elizabeth Eckford, another one of the Little Rock Nine, and Hazel Bryan Massery; they were both subjects of a famous photograph showing Hazel protesting the integration while walking behind Eckford.

Paul Hendrickson's Sons of Mississippi is the outlier book here. Full disclosure: I LOVE Paul Hendrickson. For my money there's not a better nonfiction prose stylist anywhere. And all of his skills are on display in this book that was born out of the consideration of a single photograph: the one on the cover, picturing white lawmen preparing for unrest when African American man James Meredith first started attending Ole Miss. Hendrickson delves into all of the men's stories, as well as Meredith's, and uncovers many quietly unsettling facts about living in the American South.

Novels: Please skip Kathryn Stockett's The Help and Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees. I mean, you can read them if you want to read some bestsellers, but to me they both seemed like the simplest of schlock focusing on a number of tired tropes: women sticking together despite race, the "feisty" African American maid who exacts revenge on her boss and is made to suffer, the quiet and wise black sisters living together. I thought a much more interesting read was Denise Nicholas's Freshwater Road. This one's about a young black woman from Michigan, who goes to Mississippi in 1964 to help with voter registration and education tasks. (Nicholas was also a long-time cast member on In the Heat of the Night.) It was not a quickly paced novel, but one of the reasons I liked it because it really showed some of the main character's struggles with going from the Michigan environment to the Mississippi environment, physically and culturally, and I really REALLY liked it because it was very visceral and it actually made me feel the heat and humidity of Mississippi in a way that most other Southern novels do not.

Bonus pick for the kids: Christopher Paul Curtis's The Watsons Go To Birmingham 1963. About a family from Flint, Michigan who goes to visit other family in Birmingham, during the summer when a well-known African American church was blown up.

Honorable Mentions: Michael Durham's Powerful Days: The Civil Rights Photography of Charles Moore; Nick Kotz's Judgment Days: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Laws that Changed America; and David J. Garrows's Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

*This example is true, and I always felt badly that I didn't really have an answer, although we did find some books on the subject that seemed to make the patron happy. Sadly, though, I didn't really get such questions as often as I had hoped when I first studied to be a librarian. Mostly the questions I got were: Where are the tax forms? Why can't I have more than 90 minutes on the Internet per day? Where are the video game cheat code books? I'm a teacher doing a unit on climate, could you pull together all your books on that for me and I'll stop in one minute before you close to check them all out, thereby making you do all my work AND keeping you past your paid worktime? (I paraphrased that last one a bit.) Ah, the glamorous life of the reference librarian.

Link: A Presidents' Day reading list.

Courtesy of Becky at RA for All, a great list of authors for books about American presidents, both fiction and nonfiction:

Enjoy! Maybe if you keep busy reading any of those books you'll be able to ignore the rat race (and I do mean race of actual rats) of this year's presidential election season.


It's that time of year again...New York Times Notable list time!

Yes, of course, it's the time of year for all the "Best of" books lists. Ninety-nine percent of which bore me silly. But every year I'm always excited to see the New York Times Notable Books list. Not because I look to it for recommendations or anything, but because I enjoy seeing how few notable books I read every year.

So how did I do this year? Well, on the fiction side: .5. Down from 1 in 2013! I say .5 because I only read about half of Lauren Groff's novel Fates and Furies and HATED it. Not only that, there's only about two titles here I'm still interested in reading: Outline, because I enjoy Rachel Cusk; and Lucia Berlin's A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories, because I like the title.

And now, ta-da! Nonfiction: 3.5. The three I read were Kate Bolick's Spinster: Making a Life of One's Own, Rosemary Sullivan's Stalin's Daughter, and Kathryn Edin's $2.00 a Day Living on Almost Nothing in America. Again, a .5 because I read about a quarter of Ta-Nehisi Coates's Between the World and Me and then had to take it back to the library because it was overdue. At least I recognized most of the titles on the nonfiction side (and had had some home from the library; just didn't have the time to read them); most of the fiction titles I'd never heard of at all.

Sigh. Evidently I will never be a serious reader of notable-type books.

In other news, the GoodReads Choice Awards/Best Books of 2015 list is out too, and as much as I'm not really a fan of GoodReads (if you search for a good book on "civil rights," there, for the love of God, it suggests Kathryn Stockett's novel The Help), at least some of those lists are interesting. I'm not sure I agree with the choice of Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari as the "best nonfiction" of the year (it was good, but I don't know that it was that good), but at least this nonfiction list includes some books I'd still really like to read. (The Science list there is interesting too.)

What do you think? Any "Best of" lists you particularly enjoy or dislike? I'm starting to think I should run my reading spreadsheet from June to June, and then post a "best of" list in the middle of the year. Mainly I just get so tired of these types of lists at this time of year.

Nonfiction November

I was just working on a post about how I have gone on a fiction bender for the last month or so, and how distressed I am that my writing about my nonfiction reading has been lackluster of late (when it has been posted at all). I don't know if it's general emotional and physical fatigue, blog fatigue, or nonfiction fatigue, but lately I just haven't been having strong, writable opinions about nonfiction.

How lucky, then, that other bloggers have been all over the month of November by dedicating it specifically to nonfiction!

First, there's Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness. She started off the hosting duties with a post titled "My Year in Nonfiction," explaining what she had been reading, and asking a few basic questions about other people's reading experiences thus far this year. I'm so sorry I haven't participated more in this event--and in coming posts I'll highlight posts from the month's other Nonfiction November hosts--but I wanted to answer her questions (good ones) here:*

What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year?

I just looked at my reading spreadsheet for 2015, and honestly, it's not really been a great year for me and nonfiction. That said, there are a few nonfiction books that made me THINK, even if they didn't make me particularly HAPPY. These were: Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me, Catherine Bailey's Black Diamonds: The Downfall of an Aristocratic Dynasty and the Fifty Years that Changed England, Robert Putnam's Our Kids, and John Brockman's What Should We Be Worried About? I probably most enjoyed, on the most basic level, Amber Dusick's humor books Parenting: Illustrated with Crappy Pictures and Marriage: Illustrated with Crappy Pictures. The best book I read, although, again, it was a major downer, was probably Robert Kolker's Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery.

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?

Most likely the Kolker, although let me tell you, getting anyone interested in that one is tough. True Crime is an uncomfortable sell. Get over it. There is some True Crime you just must read.

What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet?

Actually, and I'll talk about this in a future post, I'm a little burned out on nonfiction. What I read the most of are what Mr. CR calls "Downer Books," investigative or historical nonfiction on dreary topics--poverty, crime, war--but I'm starting to wonder if maybe I haven't read enough of that.

Her follow-up post, listing readers' recommendations, was also very enlightening. I can't tell you how much good it did my soul to see that someone recommended Carl Zimmer's superlative science book, Parasite Rex.

Thanks to Kim (and others; hopefully I'll get to post about them later) for hosting Nonfiction November.

*One reason I'm very bad at participating in these things is that my schedule is never really my own, so I never really end up participating in time. Also, although it seems hilarious in view of the fact that I write a blog, I cannot really think in the online environment. Trying to keep track of who is hosting what, what the Twitter tag** is, and what I'm supposed to do where to participate, is actually beyond my current befuddled-by-two-small-children-and-life-in-general brain.

**And I just completely have never figured out Twitter. I never will, it's starting to look like. #WhoTheFuckIsSayingWhatNow?

Labor Day Reading List: Better Late than Never

Labor Day snuck up on me this year, which is ridiculous, considering that a. Labor Day was at late as it could possibly be this year, and b. Labor Day is my favorite holiday of the year.*

In past years I have been doing some lists of great books about work. This year I thought I'd look over my last year of reading (roughly) and see if any of the books I read had anything to do with work, jobs, labor, etc. Here's what I came up with. Links go to my posts about the books, when available. Must-reads are in bold.


Catherine Bailey's Black Diamonds: The Downfall of an Aristocratic Dynasty and the Fifty Years that Changed England. About coal mines, the miners, but mostly the people who once got rich off those coal mines.

Michael Gibney's Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line

Megan Hustad's More than Conquerors: A Memoir of Lost Arguments Hustad's parents were Christian missionaries.

Sandeep Jauhar's Doctored: The Disillusionment of an American Physician.

Michael Lewis's Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt. Book about finance and flash trading by one of my favorite authors of all time.

Judy Melinek's Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner

Mimi Pond's Over Easy. Graphic novel; waitress/artist memoir.

Ronald Rice's My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop

Brigid Schulte's Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time

Gina Sheridan's I Work at a Public Library

Victoria Sweet's God's Hotel. Doctor's memoir.

Lizz Winstead's Lizz Free or Die. Winstead is a comedian and one of the original creators of The Daily Show.

The following titles are about homemaking and parenthood, both of which certainly strike me as work.

Shannon Hayes's Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture

Wednesday Martin's Primates of Park Avenue

Jennifer Senior's All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood


Susan Gloss's Vintage. Women's fiction about a woman who owns a vintage clothing shop.

Stuart Rojstaczer's The Mathematician's Shiva. About math, and math professors and theorists. So great. One of my favorite novels of the year.

Julie Schumacher's Dear Committee Members. About academics, written entirely in the form of recommendation letters. A great book; a million times better than I'm making it sound.

Kathryn Stockett's The Help. Oh my God, what a terrible book. Set in the American South during the 1960s; about African American women who worked as "the help" in the homes of white women. I read it when I was reading about civil rights. I was going to say something (at length) about how I thought reading this book actually made me dumber, but I won't. Oops. Just did.

Daphne Uviller's Super in the City. Chick lit set in New York City; about a woman who becomes the super of an apartment building her parents own.

Michelle Wildgen's Bread and Butter. A story of brothers, set in the restaurants they own.

Gabrielle Zevin's The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. I was not a fan.


Cleo Coyle's On What Grounds. Mystery set in a coffee shop.

Chrystal Fiedler's Scent to Kill: A Natural Remedies Mystery. A crime-solving aromatherapist. (Really.) Honestly, I got these two titles just because I love reading about jobs, so I'm always suckered into these mystery series that focus on specific jobs, and they always turn out to be horrible.


*No religious ceremonies, no celebration of war, no enforced family gatherings, heralds fall (the best season of the year). The perfect holiday.

Good when you've only got a moment.

I very much enjoyed David McCandless's illustrated book The Visual Miscellaneum: A Colorful Guide to the World's Most Consequential Trivia. This surprised me a bit, as I am almost completely an UN-visual person. Looking at credit card reading machines, I can almost never figure out the correct way to run my card just be looking at the little icon. I never know what most graphic signs mean, and I'm completely stymied by pictures-only, no-text instruction sheets.

But this book is fun. It's a book of a variety of charts, pictures, and graphic illustrations of all sorts of trivia: Colors and Culture; Who Actually Runs the World; a Rock Genre-ology; Rising Sea Levels; Hangover Cures from Around the World; and so on. Perhaps my favorite chart was a list of the wives of dictators, listing their occupations, years of marriage, children, political power rating, obsessions, rumors, and reasons for death.