Good morning, readers!
A few updates, and I’ve gotten barely any sleep so if this is lacking in coherency then you can blame that.
Because I never ever lack coherency under normal circumstances, as we are all very aware. Right? Right?
Okay, moving on.
Below is your poll for humor. We decided to transition over to this genre a few days ago, because many of you were interested in a lighthearted read. This also will help accommodate our in-person meetup this July.
Speaking of which, the dates for these book meetings will be Saturday, June 25 just like our usual meetings, and July 7th probably around 7:00 eastern instead of 9:00. While this meeting will have several of us discussing in-person, we will open the Zoom for virtual attendees if you’d like to join us! 🙂 I’ll get more info to you about that as we get closer.
I pulled almost entirely from the book submissions for these options (thank you so much for the recommendations). You can choose two, and I’ll close the poll sometime on Monday. Unlike other months, we will be reading the longer book first and the shorter second, given people’s travel plans and the earlier meeting date.
I appreciate your patience as we navigate this; I’m learning as we go and am always open to your thoughts and suggestions! To the couple of new people we’ve had sign up, please reach out if you need any clarification. The next few weeks are pretty abnormal for us, but I and anyone else are more than happy to help it all make sense.
Our next genres are memoir and litRPG. Please submit your recommendations!
Finally, I’ve updated the submission form to have a few more questions. This will help me and hopefully the group.
Here are your book options! Please vote for two.
Internet star Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess, makes her literary debut. Jenny Lawson realized that the most mortifying moments of our lives—the ones we’d like to pretend never happened—are in fact the ones that define us. Lawson takes readers on a hilarious journey recalling her bizarre upbringing in rural Texas, her devastatingly awkward high school years, and her relationship with her long-suffering husband, Victor. Chapters include: “Stanley the Magical, Talking Squirrel”; “A Series of Angry Post-It Notes to My Husband”; “My Vagina Is Fine. Thanks for Asking”; “And Then I Snuck a Dead Cuban Alligator on an Airplane.” Pictures with captions (no one would believe these things without proof) accompany the text.
Notable Review by the author
I wrote this book so I think I’m required to like it. But I’d like it even if someone else wrote it. Although if they did I’d sue them for stealing my life story.
Much like the book.
Notable Review by Katie Mercer
Basically the best review I can give this book, is that as a librarian I’m pretty much giddy with excitement waiting for the things people will come tell me after they’ve read this book. From the (boring) I loved that it was an honest look at mental illness and survival (very true) to the (no seriously I can not wait) YOU LET MY CHILD READ THIS AND NOW THEY WANT A DEAD SQUIRREL PUPPET and THIS BOOK IS BLASPHEMY AND READING IT KILLS PUPPIES AND KITTENS.
I pretty much giggled in excitement when I won the advance copy, and then waited not really patiently to get my copy and then it came and I was away and that basically destroyed me and there was a 3 day long emotional trauma period. Anyways. I finally got to my copy and it was everything I wanted it to be. Heart-breakingly (also, it tries to auto-correct breakingly to lawbreaking. Fitting) wonderful, actually laugh out loud funny (not just LOL’d) and hands down one of my favourite memoirs and books out there.
Go. Buy it. As soon as you can. I might buy it again so I can see the pictures. But then, I kind of loved that they were blurry. But I’m weird.
He’s one of America’s most recognizable and acclaimed actors-a star on Broadway, an Oscar nominee for The Aviator, and the only person to ever win Emmys for acting, writing, and directing, during his eleven years on MAS*H. Now Alan Alda has written a memoir as elegant, funny, and affecting as his greatest performances.
“My mother didn’t try to stab my father until I was six,” begins Alda’s irresistible story. The son of a popular actor and a loving but mentally ill mother, he spent his early childhood backstage in the erotic and comic world of burlesque and went on, after early struggles, to achieve extraordinary success in his profession.
Yet Never Have Your Dog Stuffed is not a memoir of show-business ups and downs. It is a moving and funny story of a boy growing into a man who then realizes he has only just begun to grow.
It is the story of turning points in Alda’s life, events that would make him what he is-if only he could survive them.
From the moment as a boy when his dead dog is returned from the taxidermist’s shop with a hideous expression on his face, and he learns that death can’t be undone, to the decades-long effort to find compassion for the mother he lived with but never knew, to his acceptance of his father, both personally and professionally, Alda learns the hard way that change, uncertainty, and transformation are what life is made of, and true happiness is found in embracing them.
Never Have Your Dog Stuffed, filled with curiosity about nature, good humor, and honesty, is the crowning achievement of an actor, author, and director, but surprisingly, it is the story of a life more filled with turbulence and laughter than any Alda has ever played on the stage or screen.
Notable Review by P. Kirby
Before the series had run its course, I would let a tarantula the size of a small grapefruit walk across my hand. I could feel the pads on his feet and could sense the life of a fellow creature in him, something I could never do when I recoiled in fear from these animals.
At this point, I decided the teeny, off-and-on crush I had on Alda in my youth was totally justified.
I have no patience for the asinine, irrational, histrionics exhibited by spider and snake haters. And bee haters, although, thanks to education, there are less of them now. But when I was coming up, without fail, any outdoor outing with anyone not-outdoorsy would see the eventual shrieking, idiocy if a lone bee flew past. Most people with a brain now realize the importance of bees. Now, if only more would get educated about spiders (and snakes).
In his memoir, Alda tells of encountering a tarantula in a pool as a child and smashing the poor creature to bits. Thanks to what he learned in the show Scientific American Frontiers, however, he evolved to the person described in the excerpt above. And I love him for it.
Alda’s memoir is what a memoir should be: emotionally available without a lot of overdone contrivance. I don’t read a lot of memoirs, but many, like Tina Fey’s, are dominated by an overly self-aware tone without actually letting the reader in. Both of Carrie Fisher’s memoirs were also like this–cute and very “performancey.”
Speaking of performance, a good deal of Alda’s narrative is spend on his struggle to reconcile the concept of “performing” with “acting,” and the realization that the two could be coincident. As an aspiring actor, I enjoyed his exploration of improvisation which gave me a greater appreciation for the art form. Not a love, though. I still see it as an acting warmup, like scales for a violinist. As a audience member, I find improv like teen sex, awkward, even painful, though punctuated by a few good moments. But reading about his experiences, I grudging admit that my weak improv skillz are a hindrance as an actor.
The memoir is its strongest toward the latter half where he talks about his experiences on MAS*H, Scientific American Frontiers, and a harrowing medical emergency in Chilean boondocks. But there is a lovely sense of poignancy throughout, especially when he delves into his relationship with his father, also an actor, and his mentally ill mother.
Also unlike Fey and others, Alda doesn’t write of his experiences in film or theater as though he expects the reader to get all the references, as though he assumes the reader is a fan. He just writes. Consequently, this memoir is accessible to fans of his looong career and those who just want to read about the experiences of a seasoned actor.
Running with Scissors is the true story of a boy whose mother (a poet with delusions of Anne Sexton) gave him away to be raised by her unorthodox psychiatrist who bore a striking resemblance to Santa Claus. So at the age of twelve, Burroughs found himself amidst Victorian squalor living with the doctor’s bizarre family, and befriending a pedophile who resided in the backyard shed. The story of an outlaw childhood where rules were unheard of, and the Christmas tree stayed up all year round, where Valium was consumed like candy, and if things got dull an electroshock- therapy machine could provide entertainment. The funny, harrowing and bestselling account of an ordinary boy’s survival under the most extraordinary circumstances.
Notable Review by Kevin
Were it fiction, I would have thought it outlandish and far-fetched. As a truthful memoir, it’s mind-blowing. This is a recounting of piss-poor parenting of astronomic proportion. Who does this to a child?! And yet Augusten perseveres, his sense of humor (and fashion) intact, even when everyone around him seems destined for a mental or penal institution.
There were times when I had to put this book down and step away, but credit Burroughs’ skill as a writer, interweaving levity into an often dark and tragic biography, I always came back.
Don’t Make a Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings: Madea’s Uninhibited Commentaries on Love and Life by Tyler Perry
If you can count on one thing from “Madea” Mabel Simmons, star of the smash hits Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Madea’s Family Reunion, and Madea’s Witness Protection, it’s that she’s got something to say. Now the beloved, sharp-tongued, pistol-packing grandmother has her own lifestyle book-part memoir, many parts hard-won, hilarious, straight-up in-your-face words of wisdom. Don’t Make a Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings is a #1 New York Times bestseller and a won a Quill Award for Book of the Year, Best Humor Book in 2006.
Notable Review by Zetta
This relatively short book (254 pages, hardback) needs to be read it from cover-to-cover, but it is divided into eleven sections making it easy to jump to where you need help most.
The purpose of this book is instructional and the clue is in the title. You don’t want to make a black woman take off her earrings. Why? Because this is your last clue that you have crossed the line and sistah-girl is about to throw down. Your mouth has written a check that is about to be cashed on your behind. So it’s better to learn how not to get into such a situation.
Do not mistake Madea for being a humorless, strict, church lady who looks down her nose proclaiming, “Isn’t that special?” Back in her youth, Madea was a stripper. Fortunately for us, she has collected all of her advice from her life experiences and put them in a convenient book for our use.
Madea has something to say about everything, and she makes it clear that we would be wise to listen.
On ageing: “You don’t get older—you get better—if you’re wise.”
On weight: “There’s nothing sexy about a rib cage.”
On beauty: “Vaseline.”
On sex: “If you’re looking for a roadmap to heaven, follow these stretch marks along my thighs!”
On self-defence: “My momma didn’t give me any instruction on the gun. She just told me, ‘Aim and pull.’”
The effects of aging on the body: “You know, I stepped on my nipple today.”
And much, much more.
As mentioned above, you don’t get Madea’s age and experience if you’re stupid. But she points out that living in today’s society makes it harder to find sources of wisdom.
“See, grandmas today are twenty-nine years old. If you’re twenty-nine, you don’t know the things you know at sixty-eight.”
Madea is all about owning up to responsibility and working to your full potential. If you don’t believe me, just read the section: “What in Hell Is ‘Acting White’ Supposed to Mean?” Her response: “It’s not acting white. It’s acting like you got some sense!”
Further on in the chapter she says: “It’s like laws in America. If you break the law, you pay the consequences […:] So when you’re raising kids, remember—you are the law. Lay the law down and they will respect you.”
Do we really need Supernanny???
Madea is funny. She is over the top. Not all of her tips can be taken seriously. For example, you probably don’t want to try your luck by bouncing checks all over town, or leaving fish heads around your house to discourage houseguests, but that’s not the point. It is the spirit in which the advice is given that counts.
New York Times bestselling author and stand-up comedian Jen Kirkman delivers a hilarious, candid memoir about marriage, divorce, sex, turning forty, and still not quite having life figured out.
Jen Kirkman wants to be the voice in your head that says, Hey, you’re okay. Even if you sometimes think you aren’t! And especially if other people try to tell you you’re not.
In I Know What I’m Doing—and Other Lies I Tell Myself, Jen offers up all the gory details of a life permanently in progress. She reassures you that it’s okay to not have life completely figured out, even when you reach middle age (and find your first gray pubic hair!). She talks about making unusual or unpopular life decisions (such as cultivating a “friend with benefits” or not going home for the holidays) because you don’t necessarily want for yourself what everyone else seems to think you should. It’s about renting when everyone says you should own, dating around when everyone thinks you should settle down, and traveling alone when everyone pities you for going to Paris without a man.
From marriage to divorce and sex to mental health, I Know What I’m Doing—and Other Lies I Tell Myself is about embracing the fact that life is a bit of a sh*t show and it’s definitely more than okay to stay true to yourself.
Notable Review by Bri
Before reading this book, I had never heard of Jen Kirkman, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying her memoir that largely details navigating a tricky break up (is there ever one that isn’t tricky?), the pressure to get married, the related pressure to stay married, the peer pressure to have certain feelings about divorce, and living life in your late 30s/early 40s as a single lady.
Kirkman is serious about her career and she doesn’t apologize for it, despite the many pleas that others have for her to focus more on being in a serious relationship regardless of her emotional state or physical state (as in is she in a single place long enough to see someone regularly?). Despite all of her experiences not overlapping with my current pursuits, I found her insights and stories comforting to read, highlighting a few lines here and there that resonate with an icky feeling I’ve previously experienced.
This is an easy, funny read that you’ll probably gobble up after two lounge sessions by a pool/body of water/large bath tub over the summer. I found myself laughing out loud a few times, which may be because all of Kirkman’s material was brand new to me. Another review stated that many of the jokes and stories were duplicates of her stand up jokes, but I wouldn’t have been able to notice that and I found them enjoyable.
I have to share my favorite piece of advice from Kirkman’s book that anyone dating someone seriously absolutely needs to know: if you question why you’re in a specific relationship multiple times or if you can’t actually see a future with someone, END THE RELATIONSHIP!! Now!! Do not keep coasting along until you continue your questioning as you make out with your partner in front of all of your loved ones on your wedding day! END THE RELATIONSHIP! Save yourself, your partner, and pretty much everyone who interacts with you the meaningless pain by getting out of that thing quickly and moving onto something that you’re sure about doing, whether that be another human, your career, or literally anything else that might excite you.
The only part that I really didn’t like about the book was the essay where Kirkman details when she believed that she may have contracted Hepatitis C (Chapter 14, “Doctors without Boundaries”). It felt shame-y toward people who actually have STIs and the whole chapter should’ve been edited out of the memoir.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a physical copy of this book for free from Simon & Schuster in advance of the paperback release. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and have not been influenced by Simon & Schuster.
For more reviews, check out www.girlwithabookblog.com!
A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret.
Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.
When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.
But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.
An enchanting story, masterfully told, The House in the Cerulean Sea is about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place—and realizing that family is yours.
Notable Review by Chai
I think these days more than ever, with a pandemic ravaging every corner of the world, I understand more keenly how absolutely necessary it is to find the escape hatch in reality, to seek out a pleasant corner and while away the hours inside a story. And there is no better one I can think of than this one.
“The House in the Cerulean Sea” is a nonstop pleasure. It flooded every corner of my mind with delight and warmth and made me feel reassured and nourished in channels of my heart which had stood scraped dry for weeks. It’s a feeling I wish I could put in a bottle to carry it with me through the dark.
The novel’s premise is as simple as it is ripe with comedic potential. Caseworker Linus Baker of the Department in Charge of Magical Youths (DICOMY) has the distinct appearance of someone with a stick up his ass. His job is like a millstone, all weight and no warmth: investigate orphanages that house magical children, write a report that encourages either the continuation or discontinuation of these establishments, and justify it all within the uncompromising parameters of fairness. See, Linus Baker walks through life like a wound-up clock ticking dutifully through the seconds: he has a routine, rules that he follows with a stony rigidity, and a comfort zone that he’s sealed himself inside of. But when Linus is assigned to investigate an island orphanage for magical children deemed especially dangerous, his world unlocks.
There is something vital and wondrous about Arthur and the magical children that came to him with tragedies already packed in their suitcases, and Linus Baker is more or less the human opposite of vitality and wonder. During his stay in the house in the Cerulean sea, Linus becomes acutely, achingly aware of the empty place at his center, and starts wondering at the grim march of the life he’d lived before. At the beliefs he’d held close to his chest, and the rules he’d dutifully obeyed but never looked directly in the eyes. At the life that once seemed so perfectly fine, but which now pinches like tight shoes.
TJ Klune wears his heart on his sleeve, and “The House in the Cerulean Sea” is that much better for it. The novel is lively, exquisitely crafted and wildly propulsive. It brims and bubbles with quirkiness and playful detail, and the dialogue positively fizzes.
But it’s the cast of tenderly realized characters that carries the day.
There is something undeniably unconditional about the relationships here, and it stirred my heart. Klune’s cast of characters is achingly compelling. Arthur’s lightness of heart is infectious: he is a study in kindness, made of such a steadfast and dependable fiber, despite the sadness that haunts his eyes. His magical children are every inch as erratic and colorful as Linus is restrained and monochromatic, and together they made something like the word “family”, disappearing into one another like partly shuffled cards, and rubbing their rough edges smooth against each other. I can’t tell you how much I relish stories that don’t believe that blood makes a family, but that kin is the circle you create, hands held tight. Linus, Arthur and the kids could not have been more different, but they all formed the same desperate plea in their minds: to be seen, to be loved, to reach and to be reached for. And as they all moved, tremulously, one step along the road between unknown and familiar, I found myself full of wishes for them—for that house in the Cerulean sea, away from the gaze of malice and a happily-ever-after.
But as entertaining and unrelentingly fun “The House in the Cerulean Sea” is, it is hard to forget that it’s also calmly, intelligently damning, and full of tough questions about difference, prejudice and complacency. The novel delicately carves out the myriad ways in which we see and don’t see our own world and the people around us. It questions our tendency to categorize people to make them easier to understand, to slip into neatly received misconceptions and stereotypes to avoid the discomfort of confronting our own ignorance, our shame. But however grim the novel’s resonance with the real world is, “The House in the Cerulean Sea” is always leavened with hope. It knows hate, but believes in people too. It is, at its core, a joyful celebration of the nondiscriminatory nature of love that thoughtfully explores not only its rewards but its risks too, and a reminder of the extraordinary power of a gift as simple as kindness.
All in all, “The House in the Cerulean Sea” is a cracking, charming novel, and I find myself hoping for a sequel. In fact, knowing this is a standalone, and there are no more books to come in this wonderful world is the novel’s only disappointment.
If there’s one trait that makes someone well suited to comedy, it’s being able to take a punch—metaphorically and, occasionally, physically.
From growing up in a family of firefighters on Staten Island to commuting three hours a day to high school and “seeing the sights” (like watching a Russian woman throw a stroller off the back of a ferry), to attending Harvard while Facebook was created, Jost shares how he has navigated the world like a slightly smarter Forrest Gump.
You’ll also discover things about Jost that will surprise and confuse you, like how Jimmy Buffett saved his life, how Czech teenagers attacked him with potato salad, how an insect laid eggs inside his legs, and how he competed in a twenty-five-man match at WrestleMania (and almost won). You’ll go behind the scenes at SNL and Weekend Update (where he’s written some of the most memorable sketches and jokes of the past fifteen years). And you’ll experience the life of a touring stand-up comedian—from performing in rural college cafeterias at noon to opening for Dave Chappelle at Radio City Music Hall.
For every accomplishment (hosting the Emmys), there is a setback (hosting the Emmys). And for every absurd moment (watching paramedics give CPR to a raccoon), there is an honest, emotional one (recounting his mother’s experience on the scene of the Twin Towers’ collapse on 9/11). Told with a healthy dose of self-deprecation, A Very Punchable Face reveals the brilliant mind behind some of the dumbest sketches on television, and lays bare the heart and humor of a hardworking guy—with a face you can’t help but want to punch.
Notable Review by Heather K
I’ve read about a million comedian memoirs, and to be honest, they usually disappoint me. It is hard to be funny in book-form, and it’s even harder to make a fairly drama-free upbringing sound remotely interesting. But Colin Jost made me laugh, like OUT LOUD, and I didn’t even want to punch him in the face once! (Well, maybe a little, but that’s just because I’m a very wimpy puncher and his face is just so punchable!)
I truly picked this book up with the most middling of expectations. Maybe one or two other comedian memoirs have really impressed me, and I didn’t think that a white guy from a good family with a Harvard education could be that entertaining. Yes, I enjoy Colin Jost on SNL, but I’ve enjoyed other comedian’s work and hated their too-earnest and painfully unfunny books.
But, holy crap, this book was just so great. I mean, if you have my sense of humor and you find stories about pooping your pants, getting drunk and vomiting random places, and having a harrowing edible experience to be hilarious. And, to be honest, haven’t we all done those thing? If you haven’t, we are possibly not friend-compatible…
The book isn’t all stuff that sounds dumb and juvenile (but, I swear, those things are funny in a way that isn’t just “drunk white guy”-funny). There are serious topics too, like the way Colin Jost’s mother was deeply involved in saving dozens of lives during 9/11, working tirelessly on the scene as as chief medical officer for the New York City Fire Department. I also really enjoyed the peak into the insane work ethic that Colin has that took him to Regis (fancy) for high school and Harvard for college.
But what really makes this book is Colin’s skill as a comedic writer. Colin knows how to tell a story and make it funny. That’s so difficult to do, and Colin makes his story feel like you are talking with your neurotic, hilarious friend from childhood who likes to hide in trees when drunk and injure himself way more than you think normal for a man of his age (and, no, Colin isn’t always drunk, just… well, yeah, he does talk about drinking a lot).
I did NOT want to put this book down. I have this rubric of book-ratings that I mentally go through when I’m reading a story, and if a book makes me want to read it while driving because it’s that addictive, then it’s an automatic 5-stars. And, no, I didn’t read it while driving, but I did longingly look at my Kindle at stop lights.
It’s hard to describe exactly why I loved this book so much, but I have to chalk it up to a combo of masterful comedy writing, a well-organized and edited book, and stories that I could personally relate to (doctor parent, happy childhood, good education… and definitely not the crapping your pants or edibles stories. I’m waaaay classier than that). And, yes, Scarlett Johansson fans, we get a very minor peek at their relationship and why she and Colin Jost are most likely wanted by the Paris police.
Wholeheartedly recommended for SNL fans and also people who just like funny stories. Colin Jost knocked this one out of the park.
What shall we read next? (Choose 2)
- The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune (30%, 9 Votes)
- Don't Make a Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings: Madea's Uninhibited Commentaries on Love and Life by Tyler Perry (27%, 8 Votes)
- I Know What I'm Doing and Other Lies I Tell Myself by Jen Kirkman (13%, 4 Votes)
- Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson (10%, 3 Votes)
- Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs (10%, 3 Votes)
- A Very Punchable Face by Colin Jost (10%, 3 Votes)
- Never Have Your Dog Stuffed: And Other Things I've Learned By Alan Alda (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 15