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Archive for the ‘Comedy’ Category

Emma

Emma

by: Jane Austen

I love rereading books by listening to the audio books but I often struggle to find books narrated by women.  I don’t know why, but there are times when I strongly prefer to listen to a woman’s voice over a man’s and while I have plenty of podcasts that fit the bill, it’s harder for me to find audiobooks.  But I decided, after listening to Pride and Prejudice, that I should continue with my Austen adventure and downloaded Emma.

Emma, is, of course, a classic novel by Jane Austen. Written in Georgian-Regency times (thanks Wikipedia!), it follows the titular character through the perils of matchmaking, romance, and growing up.  My audiobook was narrated by Juliet Stevenson, who was really excellent. Her voice is elegant and has just the tiniest hint of merriment.

When I first read Emma, I was in early high school.  I only read it the once, so while I knew the plot, I really wasn’t prepared for all the comedy I’d missed the first time around.  I had to stop myself from laughing out loud more than once, and I’m sure that I walked around grinning like a fool while listening.  Austen pokes fun at her characters dryly and deservedly, though kindly.  I missed a lot my first read and I remember thinking the plot dragged a bit.  Now, when I can appreciate the subtle satire and the ridiculousness of the scenes, I didn’t think it dragged at all, even though not much happens in the story.

It’s a cohesive story and solid plot, but what I loved best are the individual scenes that can stand on their own.  My favorite scene involved two rather self-absorbed characters, one quite good-natured, engaged in a conversation where each is determinedly wresting the subject back to their favorite brag every time they speak. I was thoroughly entranced and amused the entire scene – it felt real, funny, and I could definitely think of a few people who it reminded me of!  It could have been taken from the story and read just as a scene and been just as satisfying.

Like all Austen books, some of the references and subtle pokes haven’t aged as well – a very few, but there were times when something was clearly supposed to be obvious and I had no clue what was being referenced.  And, of course, there’s a lot of subtlety and unspoken context going on in the novel, as in any Austen novel.

I will say, the ending did feel like it dragged on a bit and then, when it did end, it felt rather abrupt.  It was particularly noticeable because I was listening to it; I couldn’t start skimming over the last bit after I knew the major problems were resolved.  Austen thoroughly ties up every plot line, perhaps a tad too neatly and leaves the reader completely satisfied.  Her characters are believable and engaging. Overall, despite the more complex language, it’s a great escapism novel.

If you like things to happen in your novel, clear and straightforward writing, or a hot ‘n’ steamy romance, this, unfortunately, is probably not the book for you. If, however, you like old-fashioned and sweet stories, you love absurd but realistic humor, or you’re just looking for a book to read in a garden with a glass of wine, then I strongly encourage you to give Emma a read.

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Coyote Blue

coyote blueHi guys! Long time, no post – but I’m finally getting back into the swing of things. (Summer has been insanely busy!) My latest read was Christopher Moore’s Coyote Blue.  

I’ve read and reviewed Moore before and he is a hilarious author, though he can be a bit hit and miss for me – sometimes I can’t put his books down and sometimes I can see that they’re funny but I don’t actually have a reaction to it.  This one hit the spot.  

It’s the story of Sam Hunter, a Crow (the Native American, not the bird) who left the reservation at a young age and became a successful insurance sales man in Santa Barbara.  Unfortunately, Sam’s spirit guide is the trickster Coyote, who decides to enter his life in a major way. 

I read this after a bit of a Native American book kick (The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian and Navajo Weapons, both excellent) and it rounded out the trio rather well.  It’s a fictional work (the other two are quasi-fictional and non-fiction) and though Sam’s relationship with his Crow heritage is focused on, the focus comes more on his spiritual connection and reconnecting with who he is, rather than what it actually means to be Native American or exploring Native American traditions in detail.  

I also liked that Moore pulled from a tradition that is largely ignored in the literature scene, though I can’t say I learned a large amount about the Crow people or their religion. However, Moore did use it to explore something that is both familiar and foreign to every American without romanticizing the culture or othering his main characters.  They were the same wacky everyman that Moore generally writes about.  Sam’s struggle with his heritage and going home, while unique to his situation, is something most people can identify with. (Though, generally not with a crazy spirit guide leading the action.) 

That being said, I did like Anasazi Boys more in terms of using a religious or folklore tradition not usually scene within Western literature.  Coyote Blue was still really good, though, don’t get me wrong. 

The plot was fast-paced but not terribly convoluted.  I had an easy enough time following it and by about halfway through the book, I had reached a “can’t-put-down” state of reading.  Moore used flashbacks and storytelling to great effect – though I like short legends interspersed throughout, I’m not a huge fan of flashbacks but his usage didn’t bother me.  

The characters were actually very well-done.  I wanted to hate Sam, but instead found myself rooting for him.  Calliope should have come off as annoying but instead came off as sympathetic.  And Coyote – you wanted to pity him but rather found yourself amused by his bravado.  Some of the side characters were a little too caricature-ish for my tastes, but they didn’t play prominent enough roles for me to get annoyed by it. 

The humor was good, though expect it to get a tad crude or violent at times (nothing too horrible!).  There are a few one-liners you’ll want to quote to your friends and more than one scene where I found myself chuckling in public, though not outright laughing.  

Overall, if you like comedic fantasy and you’re looking for something bright, funny, and a bit different, you should definitely check this out! If you’re into a humor that’s more wit and wordplay than zany wackiness, or if a hard-to-like main character isn’t your thing, then, alas, this may not be the book for you! 

Hyberbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, and Other Things That Happened

hyperbole_and_a_half_book_1

by: Allie Brosh

If you’ve never read the side-splittingly funny blog that is Hyperbole and a Half, you should stop reading my blog and head on over there pronto. Allie Brosh’s deliberately crude drawings and hilarious tales of childhood and life’s misadventures are not to be missed.

Her posts on depression are some of the best takes on the disease that I’ve ever read.  My mom suffers from pretty severe depression and it took me a long time to understand it; I wish Brosh’s comics had been around back then to help. I think the way she writes about it makes the disease really accessible for people who have never been depressed.  The comics are so important: for people suffering from depression – solidarity; for people who are affected by others’ depression – understanding and compassion; and for helping the general public understand depression – de-stigmatizing. (There is nothing more infuriating than someone without any experience with mental illnesses proselytizing that “sad people only need to think happy thoughts!” when the subject of depression comes up. Don’t do that.)  She manages to treat the subject with a kind of gallows humor – you laugh in the middle of these painful posts, but it’s a good laugh.  The kind of laugh that adds to your understanding instead of masking it.

Onto brighter things – the rest of her blog and book deal with rather more lighthearted things.  Childhood exploits, like eating an entire cake in one sitting, or quandaries of adulthood – being an adult is hard, y’all! – are all painted with the same brightly colored, achingly comedic brush.  The book contains probably 50-75% new material.  (Some of it is best of posts from the blog, though.)  I liked reading the old posts in book form – I got the e-book – and if I ever get the chance, I’ll buy the hardback and get a signed copy. Sadly, she’s not heading to my part of the U.S.A. anytime soon.

Some of the others stories made me put my Nook down and just laugh really hard, even the ones I had read before! I was having a really bad night last night – the family dog got accidentally poisoned – and I so desperately needed the laugh.  I was surprised that I laughed as hard as I did, honestly.

The last and biggest part of the book was a story on how she has impostor syndrome as a “good person.”  It was a little long for my tastes and I didn’t really relate all that much, but I suppose many other people will.  It was the only part of the book I didn’t absolutely love – but I still liked it. That is literally my only criticism for the book – so yes, it is that good.

My suggestion is pop on over to her blog and see if you like it. If you do, buy the book! It’s fantastic!  Even though some of the stories are in the blog, it’s nice to have your own copy that you can mark up and access and share anytime, with anybody who reads English.  And if you know someone whose life is being affected by depression, consider sending them a copy of the book or a link to the blog posts. Like I said, it’s a really important work on depression.

(NPR’s Fresh Air did a great interview with Brosh here.)

Men at Arms

menatarms

by: Terry Pratchett

Men at Arms is Pratchett’s take on guns – or, as it’s known in the Discworld, a gonne.  I, of course, was re-“reading” this on audiobook, with the same talks too quickly narrator as last time.  I’m on a Terry Pratchett kick, so don’t be surprised if you see them popping up on my blog fairly frequently for the next month or so.  (Terry Pratchett, by the way, is a British comedic fantasy writer who uses his universe, the Discworld, to do wonderful satires of the Roundworld.)

First off, Nigel Planer read this and while I generally liked him, he got Vetinari wrong.  In my humble opinion, everyone gets Vetinari wrong; I’ve yet to see a depiction that matches the vision in my head.  Also, again, he reads a tad too fast and you can’t slow him down with really screwing up the audio quality.   Finally, the audio quality varied wildly from chapter to chapter.  (The audiobook breaks up the recording into chapters even though Pratchett generally doesn’t.)

Onto the book itself:  I rather like Men at Arms.  It features many of my favorite characters – all of the Night Watch, but especially Vimes, Vetinari, and the occasional appearance by Death, who’s working on his delivery.  (Death is my all-time favorite Discworld character and he usually has a hilarious little side story going on.)  It’s set in Ank-Morpork, which is not at all like a Discworld version of London.

The Night Watch is being forced to implement a diversity program, incorporating dwarfs and trolls and Om knows what else into their forces.  And Pratchett rather brilliantly satires prejudice here – oh, not the overt prejudice that people really notice, but the little, tiny comments and attitudes that can nearly silently and subtly attack people.  It’s funny but very relatable.  And no one is free from these attitudes – it’s nice how even the best of his characters are shown to have some sort of unrealized prejudice.

So, we have the Night Watch, highly diversified.  We have Captain Vimes, a few days away from his marriage to the highest-ranking lady in the city and coming apart a bit at the seams at the thought of his impending retirement.  We have a gonne, the only gonne in the Discworld, being used by an unknown perpetrator.  And we have Corporal Carrot, universally well-liked, respected, obeyed, and born with a fancy sword in mysterious circumstances.  Good times are to be had by all.
I think my favorite quotes were to do with the justice system and how justice ought to be served.  (Vetinari is of the belief, of course, that every crime ought to have a punishment and if that punishment happens to fall upon the perpetrator of the crime, well, so much the better.)  There were also some zingers about a monarchy vs. a dictatorship (Ank-Morpok’s current regime) which I thought were full of some commonly unrealized truths.

Now, Pratchett is British and he does share what I think is (but have no idea if it’s true) a British dislike of guns.  This is a book with the underlying message that guns are evil and shouldn’t be used.  (If you have a different reading, please let me know in the comments!) I’m a Texan and while I believe in reasonable laws regulating ownership of guns, I don’t believe in the abolition of guns – this is one of the few subjects on which Pratchett and I disagree.  It didn’t take away from my appreciation of the book or from the humor; I just didn’t agree with all the points he was trying to make.

So if you don’t want to read a book extolling, however hilariously, the virtues of gun control, if you don’t want to read a comedy where a well-developed and likeable character dies – sorry! but it is a comedy and you do deserve fair warning – or if you don’t like a Douglas Adams’ type wit, than I’d give this one a pass.  If, however, you love absurdist comedy, you love satire and clever truths delivered with a laugh, and you’ve been dying for a book that takes on modern police work, you should definitely give this one a try.

Fool

Christopher_Moore_Fool_cover_artby: Christopher Moore

More is another comedic/satire writer that I enjoy, though he doesn’t write fantasy. (I would classify him as general fiction with some fantasy elements tossed in occasionally, though perhaps that’s a bit finicky.)

Fool is Moore’s take on Shakespeare.  It’s a retelling of “King Lear” from, of course, the fool’s point of view.  I will admit, I’m not a huge Shakespeare fan – I’ve seen 3 of his plays, and love watching them but have read only “Romeo and Juliet” and parts of “Julius Caesar.” (“Parts” because my English teacher decided we could skip all the boring battle scenes.)  Anyways, that whole aside is to note that there are multiple Shakespeare references, puns, and jokes that I’m sure I completely missed, due to my unfamiliarity with the Bard’s works. Feel free to note any of your favorites in the comments!

Fool is told from Pocket’s, the jester of King Lear, point of view, first person.  Moore’s work in third person often feels a bit disconnected or even impersonal to me; I greatly prefer his first person narratives.

I was rereading this via audiobook and it wasn’t until the second time around that I realized what a complex character Pocket is.  He does have a bit of that “happy outside, sad inside” clown persona going on, though it’s subtly enough done that it doesn’t feel like a cliche.  But he gets joy from his quick wit and job as a fool; he’s intelligent, observant, and rather lucky.  He is kind in a time and place devoid of empathy; he’s aware of how the world works and is willing to work with the tools that he has

The story, of course, retains its tragic elements but nobody could accuse Moore of writing a tragedy.  Rather, it’s riotous humor tempered by grievous and dire events.  Oh, yes, riotous.  This book is vulgar.  Really, truly vulgar.  It is full of, to quote the fools, “heinous fuckery.”  If you’re not a fan of cursing, bawdy humor, coarse, crude, and licentious language and stories, give this one a pass.  If you blush easily, you may not want to read this one in public.  (And if you are listening to the audiobook in front of children, expect a number of awkward questions afterwards.)

I loved the female characters in this novel.  Goneril and Regan, the two elder daughters of King Lear, drive the plot.  They both enjoy sex, sans inhibitions, without becoming one-dimensional characters whose only defining characteristic is being sexy.  They have several, er, predilections in that arena which are traits, not defining characteristics. They control their husbands, manipulate the king, and plot for taking over the kingdom. But they don’t do so through womanly wiles and feminine deceptions.  Rather, they accomplish things through strength of will and intelligence.  They’re practical and not prone to being controlled by their emotions; instead they use their emotions to further their causes. Well. Regan is vaguely sociopathic, so we’re assuming emotions on her part.  Honestly, either of them could have easily been written as a man, even though throughout the  book it is clear that they are women.  (Which is awesome.  Many female characters are so stereotyped that writing them as men would require a major change in personality.)

Cordelia, King Lear’s youngest daughter, is amazing.  She doesn’t actually appear that much in the novel and probably has the fewest lines of any of the main characters, but even though her page time is limited, the reader gets a clear picture of a well-rounded, intelligent, powerful character who goes after what she wants.   (Ah! I want to go on but not at the risk of spoiling the plot.)

The side characters are written sympathetically and nobody comes off as one-dimensional – eh, perhaps the witches do; I can forgive Moore for that.  There are a few good jabs at those in power, monarchies in general, and the abuse of power; some of them are funny and some of them are not.  This is definitely a book with darker humor in it.

If you like Shakespeare, satires, great female characters, or complex, dark comedies, you should try this one.  If you’re a stickler for history (this isn’t accurate by any standards), if you don’t like lewd humor, if you’re not a fan of violence, or if you like your comedies to be light and fluffy, than, sadly, this may not be the book for you.

Small Gods

SmallGods_Coverby: Terry Pratchett

Pratchett is one of my very favorite authors and I decided that a little bit of Pratchett was what I needed to get through an incredibly busy workweek. (I have a very repetitive job that allows me to listen to audiobooks while I work.)  I was scrolling through his backlist when I saw Small Gods, one which I adore but had only read once. I decided it was exactly what I needed.

On the audiobook itself, the narrator, Nigel Planer, talks a tad too fast.  I really loved him but I wish he talked about 25% slower.  It looks like he narrates most of Pratchett’s books (or at least the two I’ve downloaded so far), so I would definitely give him a listen before buying – make sure it’s something you can put up it.

As for the book itself, Small Gods is the story of Brutha, a novice acolyte of Om (the god of Omnia and the Omnian religion, a monotheistic religion that draws heavily from the Catholic Church in particular and Abrahamic religions in general.) In a country run by the church and full of fanatics, Brutha is the last true believer, the only one on the Discworld who can hear the God Om, who was come to visit his believers in his latest godly form – a tortoise, if you please.  (Death be unto eagles!) Brutha has a perfect memory, a unique talent which Vorbis, the head of the Quisition, decides will be of use to him as he strives to rid the world of non-believers.

This is religious satire and religious satire at its best.  I love the way Pratchett deftly separates believing from participating, no matter how fervently, in organized religion.  Don’t worry; he gets in a few well-placed jabs at atheists as well as priests, brothers, and overly religious grandmothers.  The critiques are sometimes aimed at the gods – after all, in the Discworld, gods are much like people – but the majority comes from human interpretation of the god’s will, fair game and always relevant.  Pratchett manages to comically expose how much humans have misinterpreted the gods’ will in general and, using the truthful and steadfast Brutha as a foil, how little the current interpretation of Om’s will has to do with Om’s actual will.  Also, the evolution of Brutha’s faith is fantastically done; Brutha learns so much about Om, about the Prophecies, the Prophets, and how the faith is executed (somewhat literally, there), that one would expect his faith to disappear.  Rather, it changes into a more mature and realistic faith which seeks to meld the realities of the world with idealism that religion promotes.

Pratchett’s work, if you let it, challenges the meanings of faith, religion, and belief and satirizes how things are done or have been done in much of the Abrahamic traditions for most of written history.  Fun and easily digestible, certainly, but easy to find yourself thinking about it seriously as well.  You’ll never feel like he’s forcing a point down your throat; rather you’ll find yourself laughing at an exaggerated point that has described exactly how you felt at one time or another.  It’s a great satire – using humor to both mask and make his point.  If you want only an easy and fun read out of it, you’ll get only that.  If you’d like to read further in, you certainly can.  The best of both worlds!

Sometimes I have a hard time following Pratchett’s plot points – I just read along, certain that at the end everything will come together – but that didn’t happen this time.  Perhaps because I was rereading or perhaps because it was an audiobook, I was relatively sure of what was happening and why the entire time.  If you’re a fan of the Discworld series, you shouldn’t expect the normal cast of characters – Death shows up but not anyone else.

If you like religious satires, this is one of the best ones I’ve read.  If you like Pratchett or comedies, you should give this book a go. If you don’t have much of a sense of humor about religion, or if fantasy really just isn’t your thing, you may want to give this a pass.