Books. Opinions. Good times.

Archive for the ‘Humor’ 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.

Advertisements

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! 

American Savage

american savage

by: Dan Savage

Dan Savage is the author of “Seattle’s Only Advice Column”, Savage Love, which focuses on questions about relationships love, sex, and more sex.  I have a secret addiction to advice columns, and his is one of my absolute favorites, from the wacky questions he tackles to his favorite piece of advice – DTMFA (dump the motherfucker already.) He’s not the type to wrap hard messages in a sweet and gentle delivery; he’s a “tell it like he see it” sort of person and I really enjoy that.  Not to mention, that’s a rarity on advice blogs! (Alison, from askamanager.org, which you absolutely should be reading if you’re not, also does a great job of not sugarcoating, though with much more finesse than Savage.)

Anyway, this is Savage’s 3rd-ish book*.  It’s more a collection of essays, with each chapter devoted to a separate topic, than any sort of comprehensive non-fiction.  Savage is very honest, so if you’ve been interested in a controversy he’s been involved it, the latest two are given an entire chapter and you can read all about his experience and thoughts.  It’s pretty interesting.

Other things covered are equal marriage rights, healthcare, monogamy, abstinence-only sex ed (spoiler alert: it doesn’t work), politics, being GGG, and a very heart-wrenching chapter on his mother’s death.

I loved this book.  It was a fast read, and it was funny enough to make me laugh, yet sincere enough to be more than a collection of comedic rants. It gave Savage an unexpectedly human dimension and, though the book is part of his public persona, sure, you walk away feeling as if you understand him as a person rather than a public figure.  My favorite chapter dealt with cheating and monogamy; I already knew that Savage and I had similar views but hearing his thoughts expanded and dealt with fully resonated with me.

I don’t think this book is going to change anyone’s mind on anything, except as it gives a sense of humanity to a public gay person, which can be important.  But if you already agree with many of Savage’s opinions and are looking for ways to organize and develop your arguments, or explain your feelings, than this book is probably a great read for you.  Even if you don’t agree, if you’re interested in seeing the reasons behind his stances, Savage is crystal clear throughout the book about why he feels the way he does. It just didn’t strike me as particularly persuasive – I don’t think the intent of the book was to get converts.  But maybe that was just me?

Anyway, if you’re looking for a fun read full of rants and left-leaning political opinions that will make you laugh, you should definitely read this book.  If you’re looking for a serious political treatise, though, you might want to give it a pass.

 

 

*Depending on how you count; a/k/a I was lazy and Wikipedia did not provide an easy answer.  Savage heads up the It Gets Better Project, an outreach effort to LGBT kids who are being bullied or ostracized or who feel forced to hide their sexuality.  There’s an amazing book he edited – hence the -ish – and a whole bunch of YouTube videos and if you know anyone who you think could use support, definitely leave a link or a the book around for them to find.

The Carpet People

carpetpeopleby: Terry Pratchett

The Carpet People is Terry Pratchett’s very first book – kinda.  It was the first book he ever published but after he made it big – long after this was out of print – people started trying to find it.  So he went back and reread it and then he rewrote it as a 40-ish successful writer.  In the introduction, he says it is not the book he wrote at 20 but also not the book he would have written at 40. Which makes it a fascinating book to read, if you’re curious about his development as a writer.

Though the writing is unmistakably Pratchett’s, it doesn’t actually have many elements of a Pratchett book.  Oh, you still find the humor and the occasional Pratchett funny truism, just on a much smaller scale.  The plot is extremely straightforward and easy to follow, with no big surprises or moments where suddenly everything makes sense.  The Pratchett-ism I really missed was the characters – those characters who really should be caricatures or even stereotypes but somehow end up being fully developed characters – Corporal Nobbs and Sergeant Colon, for instance.  Or Lord Vetinari.  There were none of them in this novel, though you can see the inklings of that development in a few of the characters.

That isn’t to say the characters aren’t good; they are.  They’re pretty well-developed, given the simplicity of the story and the plot.  It’s enjoyable and quick-paced and it doesn’t have the moral that most Discworld novels have, hidden deep inside, which makes it a little more escapism reading than Pratchett’s novels usually are.  I mean, there are inklings of a moral here and there, but it didn’t make me think and laugh simultaneously the way most of the Discworld novels do.

It’s the story of the Munrung tribe, a people who live peacefully in the Carpet, and the troubles that suddenly beset them.  Mostly, it follows their leader, Glurk, and his younger brother, Snibril, as they attempt to lead their people to safety after the coming of the Fray.  Glurk is brave and Snibril is clever. There are other characters – wise, some, mysterious others, and a requisite few are evil.  It is, now that I think of it, a little formulaic; not subversively so, either.  That being said, it was easy to get caught up in the novel -it was a great adventure to go on!

The best thing about this novel was the world building.  The implication is that the whole world is set in someone’s living room carpet. It was so much fun to think about! From the details to the overarching narrative, Pratchett did an excellent job of drawing the reader into the world – and maybe making them think twice before carelessly trodding on their living room floor.  If you’ve got a vivid imagination or just love to revel in someone else’s, I would recommend this book in a heartbeat.  It is not only a fairly quick read but engrossing and delightful to think about.

It’s also a children’s book, or at least that’s how I would classify it.  Simple, exciting, imaginative and age-appropriate, with excellent drawings interspersed throughout.  And I realize I’m comparing it somewhat negatively to his other works, but I truly enjoyed reading it and would do so again without hesitation.   It was a book to get lost in, for the sheer fun of reading and ignoring the realities of the world.

If you love imaginative adventures, are looking for a book to read out loud with your kid, or are interested in Pratchett’s earlier work, I would definitely check out The Carpet People.  If you’re into Pratchett’s book because of their witty social commentary, if you like your adventures bloody and tense, or if you’re a big fan of complex, surprising characters, than alas! this may not be the book for you.

 

Hilarity Ensues

he

by: Tucker Max

Tucker Max, partier, drinker, and asshole extraordinaire, has written his final book, Hilarity Ensues. If you’ve never heard of Tucker Max, he’s the author of I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell and Assholes Finish First.  He’s basically made a living out of drinking, being an asshole, and drunken sexual exploits.  It’s rather impressive.

Max isn’t the best writer but he’s a damn good storyteller.  I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, while not as well-written as Hilarity Ensues, is probably his best book, if only because he put his best stories in there.   Now, Max’s stories are sexist, disgusting, vaguely racist at times (generally him riffing on someone else’s racism to make fun of them), full of drunken debauchery and sex, and crude.  Very, very crude.  They’re also, for most people, hilarious.   Like, laugh-out-loud, oh-my-god, he-actually-did-that, crap-I’m-in-public funny.

And, to be fair, most of the times the butt of his jokes are other party-going drunk people. Which makes a lot of them more palatable.

Hilarity Ensues is a better-written book than his previous ones, like I said, and Max is actually on his way to being a good writer.  He’s also on his way to growing up, because this is the end of his fratire novels.  He is fast running out of stories and no longer making any new ones.

Much of Max’s behavior is so far beyond the pale, I feel glad I wasn’t there, but I’m still laughing at the story.  Outré! Really, very few books have made me laugh like his, though I would say his sense of humor is definitely not for everybody.  He really is offensive. It’s funny for some and unbearable for others.

On the downside, he consistently refers to (drunken) women as whores and annoying or mean women as cunts (words cannot express how much I hate that word), and I definitely was more than a little irked by that.  I finished the book, mind you, but it tested my patience.  I think there was more of that language than in IHTSBIH, but perhaps I’m just more bothered by it.   Max does realize that women are people and it shows in the way he talks about some of the women throughout the book; he just tends to look down upon groups of drunken women in an entirely sexist way.

To be fair, he often makes fun of himself and his male friends, in ways that show he entirely understands his and their shortcomings.  And throughout this book, more so in the other books, I saw that he understood exactly why he behavior was so outlandish, beyond just “people seem shocked.”  Every now and then it feels like he’s riffing on the ridiculousness of how society hides its sexism and other -isms in polite masks.  But not very often.

(Also, Tucker Max’s writing is full of fat-shaming, especially towards women.  So I wouldn’t read this if weight is something you’re sensitive about.)

In short, if you want stories about outrageous drunken exploits with laughs garnered at the expense of polite and politically correct conventions, at the expense of the author and in a very frat-boy mindset, you will find that here.  You will laugh and laugh and occasionally you’ll see a glimmer of something deeper.  If you’re not cool with sexism in any form, if you’re not a fan of crude and wildly inappropriate behavior or sexual antics (and I certainly don’t blame you if you aren’t), this is probably not the book for you.  If you’re not sure, check out Tucker Max’s website, and read a few stories.  If they’re funny, read his books – they’re mostly new material and you’ll laugh.  I promise.  If not, well, his books are just an expansion of his website and won’t be worth your time.

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.)