Weekend Shorts: Awesome Ladies on Audio

Why Not Me?, by Mindy Kaling
Why Not Me?Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? on a solo drive a while back and enjoyed the heck out of it, so I was happy to find her new book available when I needed a new audiobook. This edition of Kaling’s memoirs focuses on being a lady, being a lady in Hollywood, and dating cute boys. It’s not super memorable several weeks later, but I definitely enjoyed the listen on my drives and runs.

Awesome essays from the book:

“How to Look Spectacular: A Starlet’s Confessions”, full of advice of varying practicality for regular people. Have lots of hair! Get spray tanned! Tailor everything! Don’t pose the same way in every darn picture!

“Player”, about falling in love with a new friend to the exclusion of everyone else, and how that’s really never a great idea.

“One of the President’s Men”, in which Mindy meets a hot dude and has approximately the most frustrating relationship with him.

“A Perfect Courtship in my Alternate Life”, which is a made-up story told through emails about Mindy Kaling the Latin teacher and, well, a suuuuuper cute courtship.

This was a super fun audiobook and if you’re a Kaling fan or a fan of chicks with opinions in general, you’ll probably like it.

Furiously Happy, by Jenny Lawson
Furiously HappyAnother excellent second book to follow up an amazing first book. I love Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess, whose blog is the most ridiculous and wonderful thing I read on a regular basis. She’s never met a tangent she didn’t want to go off on and she has a way of purposely misinterpreting the world that makes her life, and our lives, better for it.

Lawson writes amazing essays about things that happen to her that start off mundane (going to sit in a cemetery) and end up insane (finding herself accidentally attending a funeral in said cemetery), and also things that start out insane and keep going (corralling her husband into couples therapy because she wants him to get regular therapy and then fearing all the things he might possibly tell the therapist while he’s there without her). This book also includes several essays on the topic of depression, anxiety, and various other mental illnesses that I found really touching and important to listen to as a mentally okay person and that are probably way more empowering for the people who share Lawson’s mental states. This is definitely a book everyone needs to listen to, not leastly because Lawson’s narration is almost funnier than her stories.

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), by Felicia Day
You're Never Weird on the InternetThis is Day’s first book and it is uh-mazing. I loved this book the most out of all the books in this post, and that is saying something. The best part is Day’s narration, which, like Lawson’s, feels more like swapping stories with a friend than listening to a performance. It’s full of awesome voice acting and nervous laughter and when Day tells embarrassing stories you can hear that embarrassment in her voice and it is awful and wonderful at the same time.

Also awesome is just hearing the story of Day’s life, from her childhood as a weird hippie homeschool kid right after homeschooling was legalized (Day notes that she doesn’t have a GED but does have a 4.0 double-major college degree) to being the wildly internet-popular chick from The Guild and Geek and Sundry that she is today. I have never been homeschooled or had internet-only friends or been addicted to WoW or started a web video company, but now I basically don’t have to because I’ve felt all the associated feels.

I was surprised to find that Day’s memoir contained pieces on anxiety and mental illness, which she talks about very frankly and smartly and between this and Lawson’s book I’m thinking a lot of internet-savvy ladies will be getting their brain chemistry checked out soon. Yay for healthy brains! I was not surprised to find a chapter on the whole GamerGate/misogynist internet dudes debacle of the last year, although Day admits she almost didn’t write it because who wants to go through that all again, and I was thrilled that she lays out the beginnings of the movement clearly for people like me who only caught the tail end of the blow-up. As she says, she’s not going to change anyone’s minds by talking about it, but maybe people will be a little more moderate in their reactions? On the internet? We can hope?

Overall, an amazing book and one I couldn’t wait to get back in the car to finish listening to but at the same time that I didn’t want to listen to obsessively because then it would be over and what could I possibly listen to next?

Let Me Tell You: New Stories, Essays, and Other Writings, by Shirley Jackson

Let Me Tell YouI often tell people how much I love Shirley Jackson, what with having read and enjoyed The Haunting of Hill House and having read and LOVED We Have Always Lived in the Castle and, of course, The Lottery. Shirley Jackson! She’s so great! She writes the creepiest things!

If you had told me before I started this new collection of her work that the pieces I would enjoy most would be the ones about her everyday life as a parent and housewife, I would have thought you’d had the wrong Shirley Jackson, is what I’m saying.

Not that there aren’t creepy stories. The book opens with a story called “Paranoia”, in which one Mr. Halloran Beresford is just trying to get home, but he keeps running into and being followed by some weird guy in a hat. Another story, called “Mrs. Spencer and the Oberons”, involves a woman who receives a weird letter, ignores it, and then reaps the consequences. Even some of Jackson’s biographical essays have a spooky sort of slant to them.

But primarily the short stories in this collection are teeny vignettes (a page or two at most) of mundane life, brief peeks into a household or a relationship that require the reader to fill in some of the meaning and importance. Many of these I just did not understand, others I could kind of figure out but wasn’t thrilled with.

The humorous essays are where Jackson shines, especially, as I said before, talking about family and home life. “In Praise of Dinner Table Silence”, “Questions I Wish I’d Never Asked”, “How to Enjoy a Family Quarrel”, “The Pleasures and Perils of Dining Out With Children”… these are all stories I could see being written today, except that they’d be gif-filled BuzzFeed lists and not nearly as hilarious.

Second place in the awesome category, behind those essays, is the title story of the collection, which is only in second place because it’s not actually finished. When I saw the editor’s note that it was only a partial story, I was like, uh, okay, but after reading it I completely understand why it was included. It is the start of a longer story, and is much longer than possibly everything else in the book, and it is kind of beautiful. It’s almost unfair to include it in this book because a) it stands out like a sore thumb as a well-developed longer story amongst a sea of super-short stories and b) all that development comes to naught when the story ends abruptly in the middle of some nice exposition. But I still managed to enjoy it immensely, so I guess it works out?

I highly recommend this collection for fans like me, who have read just a couple wonderful things and haven’t gotten the full spectrum of Jackson’s writings, and for Jackson completists. If you’re a Jackson newbie you should probably stick with her previous story collections or We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which is the best ever.

Rating: 8/10

Bad Monkey, by Carl Hiaasen

Bad MonkeySomewhere around eight million years ago (read: before this blog and therefore lost to time), I read Carl Hiaasen’s book Skinny Dip and recall loving it dearly. But then somehow I managed not to read another of his books, which seemed like such a shame that I picked his newest book for my library book club just so I’d have an excuse to read it. I am smart like that.

Now I think I understand why I didn’t immediately read every Hiaasen available. Bad Monkey was funny, ridiculous, absurd, and weird, but it was also… weird.

So basically, there’s this guy, Andrew Yancy, who was a cop until he assaulted his girlfriend’s husband with a vacuum cleaner where the sun don’t shine, even in Key West. Now he’s on roach patrol, but angling to get back into the police department’s good graces. He gets tasked with driving a severed arm found in the Gulf up to Miami and ditching it for their cops to take care of, but instead he ends up storing it in his freezer and deciding to take on the case of this dead guy in order to get his job back. In the meantime, there’s a dude called Neville Stafford living in the Bahamas with his ex-movie star monkey, Driggs, trying to pull some voodoo on a rich white dude who bought Stafford’s land from Stafford’s sister. Stafford just wants his house back, but between the questionable loyalty of his voodoo witch and the strong right hooks of the white dude’s security team, he’s got some work to do.

The story was almost too obvious from the beginning — obviously Yancy and Stafford’s stories will collide, obviously the dead guy story has something more to it, obviously things aren’t going to be as straightforward as anyone (including me!) wants them to be. I thought one key plot point was so clearly labeled that Yancy would catch on immediately and then spend several dozen pages trying to convince everyone else, but instead he spent those pages and more doing everything but catch on. Come on.

But I suppose one doesn’t come to a Hiaasen novel for the intricate plotting, one comes for the zany characters and the hilarious writing, of which there are many and much, respectively. Yancy’s nuts, obviously. Then you’ve also got this poor guy trying to sell an eyesore house next door to Yancy’s place, which Yancy is passive-aggressively against (but more aggressive than passive, really). Then there’s Yancy’s old girlfriend, who turns out to be wanted by the cops for something completely unrelated, and Yancy’s new girlfriend, who works and does more than work in a morgue. Stafford and his monkey and the voodoo witch and the bodyguards and basically everyone we meet on the Bahamas is a little off, and the dead guy’s family is a piece of work, too. Altogether I am very happy with the relatively sane friends and family I’ve got!

So, A for absurd characters but, like, D for deranged but dragging plot. I might read another Hiaasen in the next eight million years, but it’s going to have to come with some strong recommendations.

Recommendation, mine: Read it if you love everything Hiaasen or need a book that will break your brain in the best ways.

Rating: 7/10

Weekend Shorts: Thrilling Adventure Hour

Thrilling Adventure HourSince we last spoke of podcasts, months ago, I finally got caught up on both Literary Disco and Welcome to Night Vale, and it turns out that when you’re not binge-listening to two shows, there’s suddenly a lot more time in your week. The solution: moar podcasts!

I had been hearing about The Thrilling Adventure Hour on a semi-regular basis, usually from other podcasters talking about things that they like, but it wasn’t until I had all this extra listening time that I was willing to give them a chance. I think I was mostly concerned about listening to yet another hour-ish-long show, but despite the name most of the episodes are less than 30 minutes, with some coming in less than 10! These 160 episodes are not going to take as long as I thought!

The show itself is fashioned after “old-time” radio, which I have basically no experience with so I cannot vouch for accuracy. But basically there are lots of different story segments, and you get one installment of one story per week, and each segment starts with a cute little theme song and some previouslies and then there’s the story and then there’s a cliffhanger ending and a “tune in next time” with a little description of what’ll happen next. Thank goodness I’ve got a while before I actually have to wait any significant amount of time to find out…

As with any set of stories, there are some I like a heck of a lot more than others. The very first episode is part of the “Beyond Belief” segment, and if I hadn’t needed to listen to another episode I might have given up there, which is a shame because I do heart Paget Brewster. Luckily, the second episode was from “Sparks Nevada”, which has turned out to be my favorite of the series, so I’ve managed to stick around.

I’m only about twenty episodes in, and some of the segments show up more than others, but here are my first impressions:

“Beyond Belief”: I want to like this segment a lot, what with it being about a married couple that can see ghosts and spirits and such, and the latest episode I listened to in which Peter Pan steals a dude’s family and he kind of only really wants some of them back was pretty entertaining. But the conceit of the segment is a play on the word “spirits”, with the main characters being absolute lushes and drinking all the drinky drinks and after the first spoken “clink!” I am like, I get it. I’m pretty sure if you took out all the alcohol references this show would be thirty seconds long. Alas.

“Jefferson Reid, Ace American”, “The Cross-Time Adventures of Colonel Tick-Tock”, and “Down in Moonshine Holler”: I’ve only gotten to one episode of each of these segments, but they’re okay so far. Jefferson Reid is played by Nathan Fillion, so that’s like plus infinity points in my book, and the first episode of “Tick-Tock” had Neil Patrick Harris, so that’s redemptive of the rest of the episode. “Moonshine” was actually kind of awful, and I chalk that up to Gillian Jacobs acting like Britta trying to act, which is a terrible horrible thing. Fingers crossed for future episodes!

“Amelia Earhart, Fearless Flyer”: I have also only listened to one episode of this segment, but in it Amelia Earhart bit zombies to turn them into humans and loaded a gun with empty shells to shoot a ghost (spoilers!) so basically SOLD SOLD SOLD.

“Tales from the Black Lagoon”: This segment is the shortest one, and is narrated instead of… acted?, but still with a full cast (if that makes any sense). It’s a noir mystery based around the “memoirs” of the dude who played the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and it is very very odd.

“The Adventures of Captain Laserbeam”: Like “Beyond Belief”, this segment (well, the first two episodes, anyway) gets kind of caught up in its own conceits, with a little too much time devoted to repetitive gimmicks. It’s about a superhero who defeats bad guys with willpower, basically, so it’s not high on my list of favorites, but the second episode was a lot better than the first so I have hope.

“Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars”: OMG I love this segment. Sparks Nevada, as you may have guessed, is the Old-West-style marshal on a colonized Mars, and he’s got a Martian sidekick, Croach, who is under “onus” to the marshal for… don’t remember, don’t care. Sparks and Croach have this great old-married-couple relationship and Sparks is delightfully snarky and there’s this science alien with an inside-out-inating gun and if the podcast were just Sparks Nevada for the rest of time I would not mind. (Amelia Earhart can come, too.) (THE END!)

Hyperbole and a Half, by Allie Brosh

Hyperbole and a HalfI don’t have a ton of experience with the wonder that is Hyperbole and a Half, but I’m pretty sure it is some sort of comic/diary mashup and I am positive that everything I’ve read on it is awesome. I was introduced to the site via Brosh’s fantastic post about the mystical alot, and later the CLEAN ALL THE THINGS post; more recently Brosh put up two posts about depression that made the rounds of my internets and were actually quite informative though also sad-making.

Those may possibly the only posts I’ve seen on that site itself, so I was excited to read this book and see what I’d been missing — like other blogs to books, it is comprised of posts from the blog as well as some new content, though I could not tell you which might be which.

The book starts (well, after the introduction) with an essay about a time capsule Brosh left for herself at ten and dug up at 27, which contains a letter asking lots of questions about Future Allie, enumerating the kinds of dogs Ten-Year-Old Allie liked, and requesting that Future Allie please write back. Brosh takes this request to heart and writes back to several of her past iterations to give them some useful advice, though if they could have taken the advice we would not have this amusing essay or the rest of this book, so…

Several of the essays recount stories of Brosh’s two adorably mentally challenged puppies (is there any other kind?), and these might be my favorites just because I miss my own puppies and their ridiculous personalities but that is totally valid. Puppies are weird! They make strange noises and try to protect you from things that don’t even exist! These are truths I think anyone can relate to, unless they’ve managed never to have a pet, which is a situation that should be rectified immediately. But maybe not with one of Brosh’s dogs.

Actually, my favorite story might be the one in which Brosh’s mother takes her children for a nice walk in the woods that turns into a more-than-seven-hour attempt to find a way back to civilization. Brosh’s mother does not want to worry the children and sends them off to find all the pine cones while she figures out what to do, but of course she does not know what to do and her children are left wondering why they aren’t allowed to go home anymore. Brosh makes one of my worst nightmares a delightfully comical experience — probably because, spoiler alert, she survives to tell the tale.

Brosh makes a lot of things delightfully comical, whether they start out terrifying or sad or mundane, and her simple drawings make everything just that much better. I really didn’t need more things to read on the internet, but I think Hyperbole and a Half might just make the cut in my RSS reader.

Recommendation: For lovers of truth bombs, dysfunctional childhoods, puppies, and fun.

Rating: 9/10

Bossypants, by Tina Fey

I liked this book surprisingly a lot, considering that my first knowledge of it came at work, when I stared at that super-creepy cover for way too long as I processed a dozen or so copies. I didn’t really know anything about Tina Fey at the time outside of some random Weekend Updates I’d seen and of course her portrayal of Sarah Palin that confuses my husband to this day (Scott: “Wait, Sarah Palin didn’t make finger guns and go ‘pew pew pew!’?”)(dang that’s a lot of punctuation marks in a row), and so I was like, “I am definitely not interested in this… but let’s check out that back cover and book flap.” I don’t quite remember what they said, but I absolutely loved the fake blurbs (including a time-capsule one from Mark Twain) and the description of the book sounded not terrible, and I needed something to listen to at work, so I put the audiobook on hold. And waited.

In the meantime, Scott and I discovered 30 Rock, and holy HECK why didn’t you people make me watch that show sooner? I am holding all of you responsible for this. There are certainly a few too many scenes where I have to close my eyes and cover my ears and tell Scott to tell me when it’s over because otherwise I would die of empathetic embarrassment, but there are also some freaking hilarious jokes (my current favorite: “It’s not a Lemon party without old Dick!”).

So by the time the audiobook arrived, I was super excited. And I was not wrong to be. Tina Fey has a sense of humor and timing and sarcasm that I just love. And there is so much less awkward in this book than in her show! The stories that she tells run the gamut from hilarious to interesting to prescient to kind of weird, but no matter how I felt about the content, Fey’s presentation was spot-on. I need Tina Fey to read me things all the time.

One problem with loving Tina Fey as narrator, though, is that I really can’t remember what she talked about, I was so busy enjoying her voice! A few things stick with me really well, like her story about climbing a mountain for a guy she liked and the one about how she ended up doing the Sarah Palin gig, but everything else is just in bits and pieces. Funny bits and pieces, of course.

Recommendation: If you love Tina Fey, you’ve probably already read this book. So… if you like humorous essays as written/spoken by a dryly sarcastic wit, you’ll probably go for this.

Rating: 8/10

Funny in Farsi, by Firoozeh Dumas (16 August)

I posted a while back about how I don’t read enough funny books; I’m starting to think it’s because I don’t have the right sense of humor for them. I don’t know what sense of humor you need to read this book, but I certainly don’t have it.

The stories in the book were definitely interesting; Dumas talks about her life as an Iranian transplant to America and how she grew up translating things for her parents (even before she spoke English well) and how much culture shock there is between Iran and California. But there was only one story that actually made me laugh, and it had nothing to do with either of those topics — this story (the second to last in the book) detailed a trip to the Bahamas during the spring break season which led to Dumas and her husband judging a beauty pageant. Oh, yes.

I think the problem I had with Dumas’s stories was that she tried really hard to shoehorn a moral or just a point into almost all of them. Of course, a story should have a point, but I feel like if you have to tell the reader what the point is, the story didn’t have one to begin with. I found myself thinking of a Certain Journalism Professor throughout the book; he says that after you write a story, you should remove the last sentence and see if it still works. If it does, kill the last sentence. CJP would have used a trusted assassin for this book.

Rating: 5/10

See also:
books i done read

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams (11 August)

I read this series of books for the first time in my senior year of high school (about five and a half years ago), after meeting a person who carried a towel around with him and asking him just why that was. He explained it was a Hitchhiker’s Guide thing, to which I said, approximately, “A who in the what now?” Well. I promptly purchased the full five-book trilogy (um, yes) and devoured it within a couple weeks. Maybe just one. Maybe it was a few days. I don’t remember, but it was rather quickly.

When I mentioned to my friend Nick (not the towel-carrier, in case that’s not clear) a few weeks ago that I was going to re-read them, he warned me that they wouldn’t hold up well to a second reading. I doubted him, but he was mostly right, at least with this first one. We’ll see how the rest go, I suppose.

For those still going, “A who in the what now?”, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a British humor novel about travelling the galaxy. Sort of. The story starts off with our main protagonist, Arthur Dent, finding out that his house is going to be demolished by the local planning commission to make room for a bypass. He is understandably displeased, and has a lie-down in front the bulldozers to protect his house, at least until his friend Ford Prefect shows up to lead him off to the pub and inform him that the world is going to end in about twenty minutes. Then the Earth is vaporized. Meanwhile, we meet Zaphod Beeblebrox, President of the Imperial Galactic Government, who, at the unveiling of a fancy new spaceship that he then steals. Then Ford and Arthur have a series of improbable adventures, having managed to hitch a ride on the spaceship that eliminated the Earth, and eventually meet up with Zaphod and have more improbable adventures.

There’s not much of a plot, and the humor really depends on its unexpectedness, which is where the book falls apart on a second read. It’s still funny, but not nearly as much so as it was five years ago. Alas.

Rating: 8/10
(Summer Lovin’ Challenge)

See also:
Book Nut

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Android’s Dream, by John Scalzi (23 July — 25 July)

So, remember when I said that I’d never experienced a story/cover mismatch that bothered me? Well, now I have, and this is it. The Android’s Dream cover looks like this, and there are absolutely no androids in the novel! I was expecting androids, people.

But that’s not to say that this wasn’t an excellent book, because it was. And it was a good way to break up the Harry Potter hullabaloo, even if it’s really just jumping from one obsession to another (I love the Scalzi). And while it wasn’t about androids, it was about sheep, which is apparently another Philip K. Dick reference I need to go learn about.

Anyway. This is one of those books where the first lines just really set the tone for the story, so here they are: “Dirk Moeller didn’t know if he could fart his way into a major diplomatic incident. But he was ready to find out.”

Yes, really. And he does succeed, though perhaps not in the way he thought he would, and it falls to the State Department of Earth to rectify the slight against the Nidu race, one of their closest allies. Oh, dear. To do so, the Earth’s government must find and procure one sheep of the Android’s Dream variety (with electric blue wool, of course) for the Nidu ruler’s coronation ceremony, which cannot happen without such a sheep. Unfortunately, someone out there knows this and has been killing all such sheep. But then Harris Creek and his truly intelligent computer (which has the brain of Harris’s long-dead best friend, no, really) find the last remaining sheep, which is good, but Creek and the sheep are being well followed by some people who would like to see the sheep gone. So they go on a cruise. Really. And there’s more, but then you’d just get confused and not read this book, and I strongly advise against that.

This book is really funny and packed with pop-culture references of awesome and is in that spectrum of weird where, sure, this story could totally happen, maybe. I call it perfect light reading for these oddly cold summer days.

Rating: 8/10

Agent to the Stars, by John Scalzi (18 May — 19 May)

I think I’ve mentioned before that I rather like John Scalzi’s work, from his Old Man’s War series to his wonderful blog. So when I saw this book, his first (but not first published) novel, for 25 cents at a street fair, well, I couldn’t help but purchase it. And Zoe’s Tale, for another quarter. If only the rest of his work had been there too!

Anyway. Agent to the Stars is fun and fluffy. Tom Stein is an agent to a variety of Hollywood “stars” — one real star, a few decent actors, and a bunch of riff-raff. After landing his star, Michelle Beck, a $12 million contract for some crap movie, Stein gets a meeting with the boss, all by his lonesome. His assistant isn’t even allowed in! This is because boss dude Carl wants Tom to represent a new client… a blob alien called Joshua. Joshua and his blob-alien kin have travelled to Earth to make friends and have decided that since American entertainment rules the world, why not get an American entertainment agent to represent their interests? Of course.

The plot is a liiiiittle ridiculous, but it’s throughly entertaining if you don’t think about it too hard. Which is as it should be. 🙂 I hope that my hypothetical first novel is (hypothetically) as awesome as Scalzi’s was.

Rating: 8/10