Category Archives: nonfiction

Review: Bossypants by Tina Fey

23rd October 2013

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I am a latecomer in terms of appreciation of the hilarity of Tina Fey. I once thought she really wasn’t all that funny. It took half a dozen episodes of 30 Rock (watched when all my other shows were off season) for me to appreciate it. But then? I couldn’t get over the wisdom of Tina Fey’s character Liz Lemon. I was spouting off Liz Lemonisms way too frequently.

So when I quoted her one too many times to my brother in a text, he asked if I had read Bossypants yet. Which, of course, I hadn’t. I promptly paid much more than I ever do for an ebook ($7.99, if I recall) and began reading. By afternoon, I was finished.

Bossypants is, as many collections of personal essays are, a bit all over the place. The writing isn’t phenomenal. There are moments when it isn’t even that funny, so don’t go in expecting early David Sedaris. That said, Fey’s story of her life prior to her run as Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live and Liz Lemon on 30 Rock is pretty special. It’s more of an insider’s view backstage those two shows than anything else, so if you aren’t familiar with either, then Bossypants may not be for you.

And she does bring the funny:

Q: Is 30 Rock the most racist show on television?

A: No, in my opinion it’s NFL football. Why do they portray all those guys as murderers and rapists?

*****

(By the way, when Oprah Winfrey is suggesting you may have overextended yourself, you need to examine your fucking life.)

*****

We began our breast-feeding journey in the hospital under the tutelage of an encouraging Irish night nurse named Mary. We tried the football hold, the cross-cradle hold, and one I like to call the Bret Michaels, where you kind of lie over the baby and stick your breast in its mouth to wake it up.

*****

Lesson learned? When people say, “You really, really must” do something, it means you don’t really have to. No one ever says, “You really, really must deliver the baby during labor.” When it’s true, it doesn’t need to be said.

*****

I have a suspicion – and hear me out, ’cause this is a rough one – I have a suspicion that the definition of “crazy” in show business is a woman who keeps talking even after no one wants to fuck her anymore.

The only person I can think of that has escaped the “crazy” moniker is Betty White, which, obviously, is because people still want to have sex with her.

*****

At times, such as in the last bit of dark humor, Bossypants seems to bemoan the fact that women in television haven’t come all that far, but by virtue of Fey’s prominence (and I would include Amy Poehler here), it’s evident that the strides, though small, are being made. And I plan to review Mindy Kaling’s book tomorrow, a similar book but one that varies in pretty significant ways, i.e. generational differences. [Tip: Everyone I know who has read this has raved about the audio, and as I could hear Tina Fey’s voice as I read, I can imagine it’d be a pretty good listen.]

Add this to your Goodreads shelf.

Review: A Matter of Life by Jeffrey Brown

19th September 2013

*This book was sent to me by the publisher Top Shelf Productions in exchange for an honest review.

Jeffrey Brown tags this book as “an autobiographical meditation on fatherhood and faith” – and it’s an apt description. A series of moments reflecting on both subjects, the book is full of moments of wisdom and humor.

A Matter of Life is dedicated to Brown’s father and son, and throughout, Brown teases out moments of poignancy. At one point, he and his brother are sitting down to pizza with his father. His father has filled glasses with ice, but one son drinks out of the can while the other prefers a glass without ice. The dad remarks that he’s only trying to help as they sit down to eat. The last frame shows two glasses with ice sitting on the counter. I can’t quite put into words why this particular snippet stuck out to me, but it did. I thought of my own parents and the small things they do for me that perhaps I don’t fully appreciate or even recognize.

Though A Matter of Life is a series of meditations and not one continuous storyline, it was still an enjoyable, quick read. Brown’s questioning nature and difficulties with his faith seemed sincere, particularly after he details his youth when he is passionately spiritual, giving rote answers at summer camp or Bible study. picky3

Plus, Brown’s style is pretty recognizable, so much so that when I stumbled across Darth Vader and Son, I instantly knew it was the same artist, even before the name clicked. And I must say, even though I’ve never watched Star Wars, it’s pretty brilliant.

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A Matter of Life is on sale for $7.50 for the print copy or $5.99 for digital through September 27. Add it to your Goodreads shelf.

Review: Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris (& Giveaway)

23rd April 2013

pg1*This book was sent to me by the publisher Little, Brown in exchange for an honest review.

I am an unabashed fan of David Sedaris and have been, from the first time I cracked open Naked on an airplane and embarrassed my sister by laughing out loud for the greater majority of the flight. Since my Sedaris reading was all pre-blog, I haven’t had an opportunity to share my love until today*. When I read that his latest book would come out this week, I decided I would gift it to myself for my birthday. Then, lo and behold, this book (actually two copies) appeared on my doorstep last month. I may have been a little excited, considering I’d just driven home from Dallas (a five-hour drive) but plopped down and read this in one sitting.

After the disappointment of When You Are Engulfed in Flames, I was nervous about Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls. I needn’t have been. One of the first stories describes how Sedaris’s father would drop trou each evening, remaining all business up top but sporting his undies for all and sundry to see, regardless of who or what was about. He talks about his parents, and their parenting methods, comparing them to modern parents: “I don’t know how these couples do it, spend hours each night tucking their kids in, reading them books … then rereading them if the child so orders. In my house, our parents put us to bed with two simple words: “Shut up.” That was always the last thing we heard before our lights were turned off. Our artwork did not hang on the refrigerator or anywhere near it, because our parents recognized it for what it was: crap. They did not live in a child’s house, we lived in theirs.” Harsh as it sounds, Sedaris successfully points out the pretty massive changes in our societal view and treatment of children now as compared to many of our own childhoods.

Along with his typical essays are short, fictitious monologues (which I could have done without), a form he says he’s learned from teens who perform “Forensics” for judges, and Sedaris is sharp tongued in the monologues, pointing out the absurdity of all of us – a man who justifies murder because of gay marriage, a woman writing to berate her sister for a cheap wedding gift after she’s stolen the sister’s intended – but he’s just as pointedly critical of himself. He discusses his compulsive diary writing: “I tried rereading it recently and came away wondering, Who is this exhausting drug addict? I wanted to deny him, but that’s the terrible power of a diary: it not only calls forth the person you used to be but rubs your nose in him, reminding you that not all change is evolutionary. More often than not, you didn’t learn from your mistakes…”

Although not as packed with laughs as perhaps Naked or Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, Sedaris’s collection reflects a maturing essayist and humorist. Yet even with the moments of sincerity and sobering self examination, Let’s Explore Diabetes is the bold, funny, and mildly offensive return to the Sedaris for which most have long waited.

Add this to your Goodreads shelf.

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*Which I’ll do in this review but also as I hand out copies of Me Talk Pretty One Day for World Book Night. Yippee!

“When I have a little money, I buy books…”

15th April 2013

“When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.”
― Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus

I only realized last week as I was scrolling through Bloglovin, that as much as I skip through posts of people showing the ARCs they get in the mail each week, I absolutely love seeing what they’ve picked up at library sales and various other used book scenarios. In fact, Heather at Between the Covers pushed me over the edge with her post about books she acquired during her library sale, and I realized I had never posted my lovelies that I picked up last month.

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One Saturday morning right before Spring Break, my best friend called about a book sale. She had gone to a local event last year and been astounded at the prices – a local used bookstore hosts the book sale for scholarship funds. Hardbacks were 50 cents!!! Paperbacks were 3/$1.00. I got all of the books above for $7.00!

  • The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester
  • The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie
  • The Mirror Crack’d by Agatha Christie
  • They Came to Baghdad by Agatha Christie
  • A Caribbean Mystery by Agatha Christie
  • A Murder Is Announced by Agatha Christie
  • Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie
  • Royal Flush by Rhys Bowen
  • Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  • Cane River by Lalita Tademy
  • Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (bought because my dad kept asking for the sequels, and I had borrowed from a friend)
  • Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
  • Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niefenegger
  • The House at Riverton by Kate Morton
  • Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris
  • Daphne by Justine Picardie

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This bunch I actually picked up at Half Price Books. There isn’t one near me, but I visited my other best friend in Dallas the week of Spring Break, and I made her promise we’d stop by. We spent a lovely two hours (thanks to her sweet husband for keeping the girls) browsing books. This is actually when I realized, too, that I needed to split up my Goodreads “to-read” shelf into fiction and non-fiction. There was entirely too much running back and forth in an attempt to locate as many of the books on my TBR as possible.

I also have to confess that this shot isn’t accurate. I actually got a couple more books and a movie, Office Space, but for the life of me, I couldn’t remember which other books when I snapped this photo. The Chekhov and Cheever were just great little paperbacks. The Chekhov in particular is a lovely old paperback copy. The others, The Mysterious Benedict Society, Murder at Mansfield Park, the Betsy Tacy stories, The Girls of Murder City, The Master and Margarita, and The Moonstone are all recommendations that have come from other bloggers.

Since I also recently bought the Passing Bells trilogy by Phillip Rock and a couple of hardbacks and have received an inordinate number of ARCs because of my involvement with Bloggers Recommend (a monthly newsletter with bloggers recommending the best upcoming new releases), I am halting book buying for the next few months. But what a lovely little jaunt it’s been…

Review: Literary Rogues by Andrew Shaffer

25th February 2013

Once upon a time, writers knocked back drinks, knocked about women, and/or knocked themselves off. And people loved it.

Via Goodreads

Via Goodreads

*This book was offered to me via the publisher, Harper Perennial, in exchange for an honest review.

In January, a friend and I went to a Half Price Books. We separated, looking at the shelves obsessively. As I moved from one aisle to another, I heard this little gem:

“You know Hemingway hated women, right? He was, like, worse than Eminem.”

I looked at the only other person in the aisle, who happened to be my friend, and raised my eyebrows. Poor Hemingway. Worse than Eminem. For whatever (ok, some justified) reason, Hemingway has always been the poster child of authors behaving badly. But he was far from the only one, and Andrew Shaffer’s Literary Rogues: A Scandalous History of Wayward Authors takes a look at some of these authors, going all the way back to the Marquis de Sade and running up to (my least favorite) literary bad boy, Brett Easton Ellis.

Though you likely know at least a little about many of the authors included, Shaffer’s focus on their addictions and afflictions makes for interesting reading, particularly in the drugs of choice, which change according to trends. Absinthe, opium, and alcohol all make the list, as does LSD. The presence of all that mind-altering material makes you wonder how these people could possibly get any work done. Give me a glass of wine, and I want sleep. Give most of these guys a liter, and they’re workaholics.

Literary Rogues is like the crack it refers to so often. Even with my knowledge of almost all of these writers, I didn’t want to stop reading. It’s a compendium of bad behavior and a testament to the greatest generation of writers and their capabilities. Often, their stories are incredibly sad, and though Shaffer’s wit lightens the tone a bit, more often than not I was left with a vague sense of unease. Not that Shaffer attempts to romanticize these addicts and mentally ill people, but in a way, we as a culture do. Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton are revered by many, as is Dorothy Parker. Ginsberg and Kerouac have never lost their cult status. It is their genius in the face of their flaws that we seem to find so appealing. In fact, Shaffer refers to several agents and their inability to rein in their clients’ habits and addictions. Though it isn’t overt, Shaffer does seem to be asking if they were merely powerless or if they encouraged the persona and idiosyncrasies as a means of selling books.

Shaffer remarks at one point that the tame nature of most writers these days might be the availability of rehab and the lack of stigma. However, there’s something else that seems to mark the end of the depraved writers: MFA programs. He does get to some of the more contemporary writers (and two of my favorites), John Cheever and Raymond Carver and their stints at Iowa and its infamous workshops. But these are more cautionary tales – men who couldn’t get themselves out of their cups in order to teach. Once writing became something to learn, perhaps it lost its hedonism. Writing was then institutionalized, another form of constraint. Of course, Ellis and McInerny (who studied with Carver) would be the exceptions here. Shaffer does ponder the image changes, but the book never goes any further, and honestly, it isn’t intended to.

A fun book for lovers of literature, Literary Rogues is perfect for those in a reading slump, anyone who likes to prime their palette between books, and/or those who don’t ordinarily enjoy nonfiction.

Add it to your shelf on Goodreads.