(Bonus) Book Review: Hyperbole and a Half

Image via Goodreads

Rating: 4 out of 5

I’m calling this book review a “bonus,” because I’m a weird book blogger who has specific rules when it comes to counting a book toward my reading quota. Currently, I’m half-way through with my 20th and last book of 2014: Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld. However, technically I have read more than 20 books this year.

As I’ve noted on the “Books I’ve Read” page, I only list novels, novellas, memoirs, and short story collections. I don’t include individual short stories, poetry, or graphic novels because their text is so bite-size that it’s feels like cheating to count them.A whole book of an author’s short stories? Sure! One short story? Come on.

I also don’t review most non-fiction genres, such as academic texts, self-help, and any of the numerous guides to cooking, crafting, health/fitness, and travel. It just doesn’t make sense to uphold these books to the same standards I follow to review fiction, because I read non-fiction for the purposes of education, not entertainment.

The only genre that blurs the line between fiction and non-fiction is memoir, which I do review, because most that I read are written by comedians. It’s safe to assume that their anecdotes have been dramatized for our amusement. It seems conventional in the book blogosphere to make exceptions for these stories.

My point is that sometimes I read something that I don’t consider official, but I find it interesting enough to share it. Case in point: Allie Brosh’s 2013 graphic novel, Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things that Happened.

I have had this book on my TBR list ever since it was published, as it’s one of the top books recommended to me. I first fell in love with Brosh after discovering her comic on the misspelled word “alot:”

“I CARE ABOUT THIS ALOT”

You’ll also recognize her work from the oh-so-popular “ALL THE THINGS!” meme:

Go big or go home!

Her childish illustrations combined with her insightful introspections make for hilarious stories. Just take a look at what awaits you in Hyperbole and a Half, the book which highlights her best work from her blog of the same name:

This is a book I wrote. Because I wrote it, I had to figure out what to put on the back cover to explain what it is. I tried to write a long, third-person summary that would imply how great the book is and also sound vaguely authoritative–like maybe someone who isn’t me wrote it–but I soon discovered that I’m not sneaky enough to pull it off convincingly. So I decided to just make a list of things that are in the book:

Pictures
Words
Stories about things that happened to me
Stories about things that happened to other people because of me
Eight billion dollars*
Stories about dogs
The secret to eternal happiness*

*These are lies. Perhaps I have underestimated my sneakiness!

If that blurb doesn’t convince you to read this book, I don’t know what will!

Pictures, words, margins, and possibly even page numbers?! Sign me up!

Brosh discusses her childhood obsession with cake, her deranged dog, and her addiction to procrastination with an abnormally heightened sense of self-awareness, which can either be extremely funny or uncomfortably painful, and oftentimes a bit of both.

Throughout her life, she has been plagued with anxiety and depression, and she reveals her struggles with finesse. Even if you haven’t experienced suicidal thoughts like she has, you find yourself relating to her, forming this bond of solidarity. Everyone has felt sad, lonely, and hopeless at times, and regardless of the severity of those feelings, Brosh becomes your spirit animal, the girl who just ‘gets it.’

So don’t be fooled by her crude drawings. Brosh’s ability to express deep and often disturbing emotions through her art is what makes this book so special. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll do both after discovering a tiny piece of corn underneath the refrigerator.

“Corn + floor = cloorn?”

Favorite Quote: “On a fundamental level, I am someone who would throw sand at children. I know this because I have had to resist doing it, and that means that it’s what I would naturally be doing if I wasn’t resisting it.”

Audiobook Review: Yes Please

Image via Goodreads

Rating: 5 out of 5

In January 2012, I bought my first audiobook: Tina Fey’s Bossypants. This outrageously hilarious book led me to read a long string of memoirs by other famous women (Mindy Kaling, Chelsea Handler, Sarah Silverman, Samantha Bee, Jenny Lawson, and Lena Dunham), but tragically, none of them lived up to the reigning comedic queen. I was ready to accept the fact that no one was going to be able to rise up to that level of humor.

But then! Everyone’s prayers were answered when it was revealed that Amy Poehler would be writing Yes Please. Finally! Who better to top Tina than her “Saturday Night Live” costar and very own BFF?

I’m overjoyed to say that Yes Please is everything we’ve been waiting for and more! It’s difficult to decide where to start my praises, so here are a few tidbits from the book for you to get a sense of the awesomeness that awaits you:

“I recently hurt myself on a treadmill and it wasn’t even on. I was adjusting my speed and stepped wrong and twisted my ankle. I felt a moment of frustration filled with immediate relief. I didn’t have to actually work out, but I still got credit for trying. It was a gym snow day.”

“Please don’t drive drunk, okay? Seriously. It’s so fucked up. But by all means, walk drunk. That looks hilarious. Everyone loves to watch someone act like they are trying to make it to safety during a hurricane.”

“However, if you do start crying in an argument and someone asks why, you can always say, “I’m just crying because of how wrong you are.”

She begins her book with her preface, “Writing is Hard,” which is absolutely perfect for its tongue-in-cheek honesty about the writing process. Each following chapter is filled with her wisdom regarding body image and aging, dating and divorce, and balancing career and parenting.

Poehler talks about treating your career like a bad boyfriend and owning up to your mistakes. Her fiercely feminist views are a breath of fresh air, and the way she describes her own frustrations and insecurities as a woman are very relatable.

From the mouth of an awesome lady 🙂

What’s not so relatable is all the shameless name-dropping she does, but you still forgive her for it, because hey, it’s not her fault that she knows a ton of super cool, famous people. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be her friend? She even has a few celebrities guest-star on the audiobook, including Seth Meyers, Carol Burnett, and Patrick Stewart. Her parents also drop by to talk about marriage advice and what Amy was like as a child, making this the most sickeningly cute book I’ve listened to ever.

I also really appreciated how much time Poehler spent discussing what actually made her a star: her years at “SNL” and her famous parodies of Hillary Clinton, her experiences on “Parks and Recreation,” and her hosting the Golden Globes. As much as childhood stories can entertain, fans want to be flies on the wall of a celebrity’s most famous moments, and I’m so glad that Poehler shares hers so candidly.

And while Yes Please is filled with more sage advice and less hilarious anecdotes than Bossypants, it was so fun to listen to that I finished the audiobook in a weekend. You’ll crack up laughing at everything from Poehler’s lessons learned on mushrooms to the pranks she pulled on her costars. Yes Please is a delightfully charming read that might just make the spot of my favorite book of 2014!

Damn straight, Amy!

Audiobook Review: Not That Kind of Girl

Image via Goodreads

Rating: 3 out of 5

Hi everyone! Somehow I managed to schedule a blog post during week one of NaNoWriMo, which is going pretty well for the most part. I’ve reached 10,000 words so far, so I’m about a day behind, but I’m trying to stay positive! Only 40,000 words to go! Wishing all the other Wrimos out there good luck!

As for my latest audiobook review, when it comes to Lena Dunham, I have mixed feelings. On one hand, I love watching her show “Girls” and admire her dedication to depicting realistic portrayals of beauty, love, sex, and friendship. I respect her as a proud feminist, raising money for Planned Parenthood on her book tour and speaking out against misogyny in the media.

On the other hand, I recognize the level of privilege that Dunham has attained and understand criticisms that she has not done enough in regards to representing people of color on-screen. Let’s face it, if her parents weren’t renowned artists and she wasn’t able to attend prestigious schools like Saint Ann’s and Oberlin, it’s less likely that she would have gained such an exalted place in the arts community and impressed Hollywood enough to give her $3.5 million to write a memoir at the mere age of 28.

“A” is the key word here.

Of course, I also realize that male artists do not receive such flack like female artists do, which is why I don’t mean to single Dunham out. She’s certainly not the first rich white person who became famous thanks to the nepotistic network she was born into, and she won’t be the last.

This is why it can be difficult to relate to Dunham. Her book Not The Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s ‘Learned’ suffers from the same navel-gazing that “Girls” does. Dunham can’t help it: the first rule of writing is to write what you know, and all Dunham has known is her upper class world in New York.

Special snowflake syndrome: Exhibit A

In this world, Dunham is a special snowflake, coddled by her parents, nannies, educators, and therapists. She discusses working in retail and finally dating a nice guy after a series of jerks…which all sounds relatable until you learn that her boyfriend is Jack Antonoff, lead singer of Fun., and her part-time gig was at Geminola, a vintage boutique that supplied outfits to “Sex and the City” and is owned by the mother of her friend/costar Jemima Kirke.

That’s not to say that Dunham hasn’t experienced hardships in her life. Suffering from OCD, anxiety, and depression, Dunham has spent most of her life keeping her mental illness at bay, whether that be with her prescriptions or self-medicating with drugs, such as cocaine.

She also writes about her excruciatingly painful endometriosis and a heartbreaking incident in which she was raped by a friend of a friend in college. I applaud her for discussing these experiences and normalizing them for her readers, even if there’s little in Dunham’s life that could constitute what most Americans consider normal. At least by putting herself out there, women around the world can know that they are not alone.

I enjoyed the audiobook because it allowed me to hear her tone and get a better sense of her storytelling. Although some parts don’t shine through orally, like her unnecessarily long entries in her food diary, there were many gems of writing that either amused or inspired me.

Ultimately, I wished that Dunham would have spent less time romanticizing her own neuroticism and more time revealing behind the scenes stories of “Girls.” It’s the same issue that I had with Samantha Bee’s I Know I Am, But What Are You? Fans are less interested to hear the backstory from before you were famous than the juicy tales behind why you’re famous.

Let’s hope that the next memoir on everyone’s to-read list, Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, makes up for these disappointments by being a book that not only speaks to me, but also speaks for me.

Finally, something we can agree on!

Book Signings in SF!

Hey everyone!

I just popped in to brag that I had an awesome time last night meeting the one and only Scott Westerfeld! The YA author of the Uglies trilogy visited Books Inc. in San Francisco to discuss his recently published novel Afterworlds and do a signing.

The coolest part about the event–besides seeing an admired author in the flesh–is that 15% of the book proceeds support NaNoWriMo! In fact, I only found out about this signing on Tuesday after logging into my NaNoWriMo account and reading a memo from one of my region’s Municipal Liaisons.

Why the fundraising? Well, it turns out that Afterworlds is about a teenage girl named Darcy who creates a novel during NaNoWriMo that later gets published, thereby inciting her writing career.

And the uniqueness about Afterworlds is that it swaps chapters between Darcy’s world and the world that she brings to life in her own novel. I love the idea of reading a book within a book, so I’m really looking forward to this one!

I would have recommended Scott Westerfeld before meeting him, but especially so afterward. He was such a down-to-earth guy with a great sense of humor. I appreciated his insights about the YA community and his writing advice regarding POV. Needless to say, I’m inspired to revive my own writing for NaNoWriMo!

Thanks for the autograph! 🙂

The good times continue to roll next week, since Books Inc. is hosting another signing for Azar Nafisi, best known for her novel Reading Lolita in Tehran. That book was an exquisite window into her experiences as an English Lit professor in post-revolutionary Iran, and her new novel The Republic of Imagination describes her path to American citizenship.

So big thanks to Books Inc. for coordinating these opportunities to learn from these wonderful writers. I’ll see you again next week!

Audiobook Review: I Know I Am, But What Are You?

Rating: 3 out of 5

To call Samantha Bee eccentric would be understated. In this 2010 comedic memoir by “The Daily Show” correspondent, Bee talks about her life growing up in Canada with her divorced parents and their extremely different parenting styles.

Unsurprisingly, Bee had a series of rebellious stages–that is, after she got over her obsessive girlhood crush on Jesus Christ. I found it hard to believe that a woman whose famous persona is a total square once spent her time stealing cars and dating much older men, but it was fun imagining her doing it nonetheless.

Craziness just seemed to follow Samantha Bee, from the numerous men who flashed her to her experience working in an erectile dysfunction clinic to her cat Newton who tried to rape her head. She also attracted crazy, since she fell in love and married fellow comedian Jason Jones, also from “The Daily Show,” after they starred together in a live-action production of “Sailor Moon.” The idea that she met “The One” wearing a Japanese schoolgirl superhero costume is hilariously adorable.

Now married since 2001 with three children only four years apart, Bee and her husband balance work and family with a twisted sense of humor. I wish that she would have discussed her experiences with Jon Stewart and the rest of the “The Daily Show” cast, but alas not a peep! Hopefully, she can write a sequel of juicy career tidbits soon!

Bee’s dirtier than Tina Fey and Mindy Kaling, but not nearly as offensive as Chelsea Handler and Sarah Silverman. Her awkward, unpopular personality also reminded me of Jenny Lawson, so to sum up all the female comedic memoirs I’ve listened to so far, here’s a list from good to greatest:

So it turns out that nobody has been able to top Tina Fey, since Bossypants continues to be the funniest book that I have ever read. But we’ve got a great contender coming soon: Amy Poehler’s Yes, Please, which will be released on October 28. I can’t wait!

In the meantime, I’m welcoming more audiobook suggestions! With my long commute to and from my new job in San Francisco, I’ve got plenty of time to kill and would love some recommendations!

Audiobook Review: The Bedwetter

Rating: 3 out of 5

As it was pointed out to me recently, I’m suffering from a so-called “First World Problem:” I’m running out of female comedians with audiobooks to listen to! After Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling, and Chelsea Handler, I gave Sarah Silverman a shot with her 2010 memoir The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee.

I knew that Silverman was a vulgar comic from watching her roasts and viral videos like “I’m F***ing Matt Damon,” but I knew nothing about her personal journey.

So it was interesting to learn that she suffered from chronic depression, anxiety, and bedwetting until she was 16 years old. Because of her mental illnesses, she has even chosen to not pass down her genes and reproduce.

The book definitely gave me a newfound respect for Silverman. I empathized with her stories of childhood bullying, and shared in her success in capitalizing on feeling like an outsider. Let’s just say I hope that there are loads of people kicking themselves for mistreating this dark-haired Jewish girl turned celebrity!

Silverman has a knack for turning dark moments into comedic gold. She manages to make tough subjects like race and religion hilarious, as you can see in these gems:

“Some people need Hell. If you’re the type of guy who sees a hooker in an alleyway and instinctively thinks, “Hey, now there’s something I could rape and kill without any consequences,” then the concept of Hell might really keep you out of trouble.”

“I’m sympathetic to the nuns’ violent impulses. I mean, if I’d given up sex to devote myself to a man who I had to just trust loved me, despite never being physically around to prove it, I’d probably be smacking little children too.” 

 

Is The Bedwetter on the same level as Bossypants? Not by a long shot, but it is funny. The main downside I had with the book was its structure. The first half was fine, with linear chapters chronicling life from before she was born to her dropping out after one year in college to focus on stand-up.

However, after her ‘mid-word,’ it’s apparent that editing got a bit lax. The chapters jumped around from her various PR scandals over her many controversial jokes to her thoughts on her Jewish identity. She wrapped it up well in the afterword (written tongue-in-cheek from the perspective of God after Silverman’s future death), but I just wish that the second half had a better flow.

And like Chelsea Handler, Sarah Silverman is an acquired taste. Not everyone will enjoy her profanity and crudeness, but I hope that people can recognize the importance of free speech in comedy. You may not like her graphic descriptions of female sexuality, but I’m glad that she fights for equal opportunity vulgarity. Female comedians are constantly criticized for not acting ‘ladylike,’ and I applaud Silverman for refusing to silence her voice and follow traditional gender roles.

So while I would recommend The Bedwetter and was happy that Silverman narrated the audiobook, perhaps the narrative might make better sense in print. As for my next audio pick, I’m leaning toward I Know I Am, But What Are You? by Samantha Bee from the “The Daily Show.”

If you’ve got other audiobook suggestions, let me know!

Audiobook Review: My Horizontal Life

Rating: 4 out of 5

After listening to Jenny Lawson’s hilarious Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, I wanted to keep up the laughs. Each audiobook that I’ve purchased since I started spicing up my road trips has been written by a female comedian, so of course I had to follow this new tradition of mine.

This time I returned to a familiar author, Chelsea Handler. I enjoyed Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea (2007), and I knew it was only a matter of time before I picked up My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands (2005).

My Horizontal Life was Handler’s first memoir, published when she was 30 years old. As the title suggests, it’s a compilation of her craziest trysts during her teens and 20s. Her partners include a Vegas stripper and a little person working as a waiter in a cantina.

She also shares stories about her relatives: her German mother, Jewish father, Mormon sister, and four other older siblings. As the baby of her eclectic, opinionated family, it’s no surprise that she had a dubious dating life–if only to gain some much-needed attention.

I think that the book’s subject matter is self-explanatory, but I’ll mention this anyway: Chelsea Handler is not for the faint of heart. She’s crude, outrageous, and often politically incorrect. Her stories involve heavy drinking and drug use, which are often catalysts to her sexual escapades.

She can also be extremely self-absorbed and hedonistic. Her lovers are usually chosen on good looks alone, and are tossed aside quickly when they don’t meet her superficial standards.

But you know what? Who cares! These anecdotes would never have formed if she had stuck to the straight and narrow, and I applaud her for turning her rendezvous into a successful career in comedy.

I have to laugh at all the prudish pearl-clutchers who reviewed this book poorly. What did they expect? It’s not like they intended to buy a book written by the Duggar family, and this one jumped into their tote bag by mistake. Puh-lease.

So yes, if you bought a book about one-night stands and then got upset because it was too vulgar, then you’re as naive as Chelsea’s old roommate “Dumb Dumb.”

I’m not saying that Handler is the most feminist or sex-positive person, but I respect her for living it up in her youth and not settling down with a husband and kids just because everyone else thinks that’s what you should do. As long as everything’s safe and consensual, it doesn’t matter who or how many.

You do you, Chelsea. Grab another Ketel One and keep on having a blast!