Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), by Mindy Kaling

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without MeSo, true story, I actually read this book nearly three months ago. I grabbed the audiobook, read delightfully by Ms. Kaling, and took it with me on a relatively short but very boring road trip to Tallahassee. But near the end Kaling skipped past a chapter of photos since, you know, audio, and I felt like I didn’t really want to talk about the book until I’d obtained a print copy and read that chapter. I put it on hold immediately after I got home. Mmhmm.

I didn’t know much about Kaling outside of, “She’s that girl from The Office, a show I used to watch,” but like Tina Fey before her I’d heard enough vague statements about her awesomeness to be convinced. And apparently so had the rest of the world, with that long line ahead of me! Luckily she totally lives up to that reputation.

The book is a collection of short essays about Kaling’s life: growing up as a chubby Indian kid, working in show biz, what she looks for in a guy, how she sees herself. Mostly topics I can relate to, except for the whole “writing for a popular TV show” thing. Some of the essays are a little boring, like, unfortunately, that picture-based essay I waited all these months for, but some are absolutely fantastic.

Awesome essays:

“Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (Or How I Made My First Real Friend)” — Here Kaling talks about friends and cliques and how things that seem super duper important one day can seem totally unimportant the next. Especially in high school.

“Day Jobs” — In which Kaling takes on a few less-than-ideal jobs but still manages to get herself some pizza bagels and a free ride to work.

“Guys Need to Do Almost Nothing to Be Great” — This is a chapter that all guys should make copies of for themselves and all their friends.

“Married People Need to Step It Up” — As a person in a happy marriage, I have been called upon by Mindy Kaling to tell you all that it’s totally possible. Being pals is the best.

“Strict Instructions for My Funeral” and “A Eulogy for Mindy Kaling, by Michael Schur” — It worries me a little bit, the amount of thought that Kaling has put into her funeral. It’s maybe a little weird that I laughed the most at the part of the book not written by Kaling, but of course it wouldn’t be funny at all without the rest of the book as a primer.

Recommendation: Do read, or definitely listen if you have that option. Kaling has a great voice.

Rating: 9/10

Those Across the River, by Christopher Buehlman

Those Across the RiverMan.  I really dislike it when I think a book is going to be awesome, or, as is the case here, pretty decent, and then I read it and it’s just… not.

This book was pretty bad from the start, but it was the only thing I had to listen to at work when I ran out of podcasts every day, and so I forced myself (seriously, I was like, self, do I have to?) to continue in the hopes that maybe it would get better. It refused.

Those Across the River opens with the narrator all caged up with potential cannibal people and he’s all, man, I made some serious mistakes in getting here and let me tell you about them. So then we learn, very slowly, that our friend Frank has moved to Georgia with his lady-friend (whom he stole from a former colleague who subsequently prevented Frank from getting hired anywhere) to write a book sometime after World War I, of which Frank is a veteran, I think. So that’s already lovely. Then it turns out that Frank was never supposed to move there at all because his aunt what bequeathed him the house was also all, I am totally batshit crazy but you should definitely trust me and not live in the damn thing so just sell it, okay? Which, I mean, come on. Crazy lady tells me not to do something? I’m going to at least check it out.

And so of course the house is fantastic but the neighborhood is also totally batshit crazy and there are creepy people Across the River who totally want to scare the poo out of Frank and also everyone else because they aren’t getting pigs to eat anymore (just go with it) and are maybe looking to eat some people.

This could be sufficiently creepy to make me a happy listener, but there were so many things that prevented my happiness. First, the whole “no really don’t come live here thing” was, as I mentioned, totally never going to work and “but she’s a CRAZY person” is not enough to keep my disbelief suspended indefinitely. Then there’s this whole vibe of the Across the River people being out to get Frank that was very Castle-esque and with him being a vet I was like, oh lord, he totally came here with a PURPOSE and there’s going to be TORTURE, and I was not exactly wrong, actually, though it was not as terribly written as that awful awful book. And then, spoiler alert, it turns out that Those Across the River are totally werewolves, but Buehlman refuses to call them werewolves even though they change into wolves at the full moon and can be killed by silver bullets and I am pretty sure that… okay, I just looked it up, and werewolves weren’t actually much in pop culture at the time so maybe I can give Buehlman a pass on historical accuracy. But it bothered me while I listened to it, so it still counts.

Soooooo yeah. It’s certainly not the worst book I’ve ever read, but it’s so solidly meh that I can’t help but dislike it.

Recommendation: If you’re more into horror than I, you might stand a better chance.

Rating: 3/10

The Enthusiast, by Charlie Haas (14 September — 21 September)

The descriptions I’ve read of this book are very deceiving. I thought I was looking at a light-hearted romp through the life of a guy working for enthusiast magazines (like Kite Buggy and Crochet Life), but it’s really only the second part of that.

We meet Henry Bay as an idealistic kid who wants to become a public-interest lawyer because of his dad, who got laid off when his company’s management took all the money and ran. Fun! But he gets to college and starts working for a public-interest lawyer and simply isn’t happy, so he takes an offer to come work for Kite Buggy, a magazine he once wrote an article for. But enthusiast magazines aren’t exactly stable employment, and Henry ends up moving from magazine to magazine, never settling down, never caring much about settling down, and never really happy. Eventually he does settle down, just in time for his brother, the uptight scientist, to start cutting loose, which really changes Henry’s perspective on life.

This book kind of reminded me of On the Road, what with Henry’s transient-ness and the whole finding-yourself vibe and the real lack of plot. I was rather enjoying that, but then the part with the brother happened, and some really strange things happened that I’m not sure a) made any sense or b) added to Haas’s story, except maybe to say that taking risks is bad? I don’t know.

I’m actually really excited that this is the first book for my new book club; I wasn’t too sure it was going to be good when I started reading it (and am still not sure!), but it’s definitely raised a lot of questions that I’ll be glad to get opinions on.

Rating: 7/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2009)

See also:
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Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

Dictation, by Cynthia Ozick (7 August − 13 August)

This is a book of four short stories (less than 50 pages each) that weren’t really connected in any way, as I thought they were going to be when I picked up the book.

The first is about the amanuenses (typists, basically) of Henry James and Joseph Conrad. James’s girl has a plot to hatch, and by golly she’s going to seduce every girl she needs to to get it done. No, really.

The second is about a bit actor who gets a leading role but has to change himself to do it, and oh, also he’s being sort of stalked by the father of the woman who wrote the play he’s in. Hmm.

The third is about an American writer type who goes off to a conference in Italy and gets himself married to the chambermaid four days later. This one I understood the least.

The final story is the one I enjoyed the most; it’s about a girl who, through her mother and her mother’s crazy universal-language-loving cousin, learns a lot about lies and deception.

My problem with the set was really that the stories were a bit too literary — they reminded me of trying to decipher Hemingway and I just wasn’t in the mood.

Rating: 5/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2008)