BookRiot 2019: Humor Books

I have to justify the exceptions I have made in this post to the I hate celebrity memoirs complaint that I have been blogging about for years.

I hate them, and I have talked about why likely on multiple occasions.  So then why, when I have to read a humor book, would I choose to read these?  There are plenty of funny books out there that aren’t autobiographies. But, there are plenty that are.  And not all of them are exercises in white privilege.

One of them I talk about in this post is, and one is most certainly not.

They were both mostly consumed via audio, as is always best with a humor memoir read by the author.

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Born a Crime, Trevor Noah

This audiobook was the highest-rated new book of 2016 and the best male narrator that year.  Very highly recommended by a friend of mine who, while very bright, doesn’t always go in for heavy books.  She has done her share of them, certainly, and when she tells me I need to read a heavier topic book I take heed.  I had to finally listen to this long time TBR surfer.

And it’s so not about white privilege and at times so very not funny that partway through the book I looked up the genre to be sure that I didn’t once again read something that I thought fit the BookRiot category but in fact did not once I had committed myself (The Friend, In Cold Blood, hopefully not etc). It’s the story of a man growing up colored (mixed race) in South Africa and apartheid.   Of course his brilliance is in finding a way to laugh at years of being a child who doesn’t fit in anywhere.   And the hardship afforded him by living in his place and time.  The lack of options. The struggle with not fitting in with the white or the black kids.

Essentially, his spicy mother, with her own rough personal history, steals this show.  This wouldn’t have been as brilliant, or as heartbreaking at times, without her.  She’s tough but she’s 110% heart, so even in her most desperate power struggles with her son and her most extreme parenting choices you can see her good intentions shining through.  Her constant efforts are always to get her kid into the kind of shape that wouldn’t participate in trouble and therefore go unnoticed for the darker forces in the world.  And even though she is tough, she is desperately loved and her son feels like a team with her against the world.  I love her devotion to God and her ability to survive and thrive despite all the misfortunes dealt her.  I even googled her face after reading this because I just had to see it.

So it is a credit to the other book I read that I could still get through it and care about the narrator despite the next universe level of privilege:

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Yes, Please, Amy Poehler

Also, a long time TBR lister, if that fact is surprising to you. It probably is.  The other memoirs I have read for past challenges were mostly not books I had been wanting and meaning to read.

But I had been meaning to read this because I read Bossypants by Tina Fey, and I wanted to read the other side of the comedy duo. I like Amy’s work with Tina.  And I liked this more than Bossypants, even though I feel that I have seen more of Tina’s work than Amy’s.

It was better because Amy’s brand of humor is not constantly self deprecating, like Tina’s is. Tina’s self deprecating humor is rampant in her show 30 Rock and her book is similar.  I had always thought that she was lovely and she talked about how fat and hairy she is in real life.  It can be funny, certainly, but it was in the teeth gritting amount of it. Amy made comments that she is short and has difficult eyebrows and her personality quirks, but they did not feel as central to the narrative.

The other reason I could stomach this after Born a Crime is the fact that Poehler emphasizes her luck throughout.  She openly acknowledges a life of unconditional love and support from her family and how she saw things a differently than people who didn’t have that experience.  And she has a whole chapter on mindfulness, which she states is time travel, which is an interesting way to put it.  Mindfulness is about taking more control of your feelings and thoughts, but she makes it even more evident by framing it as a way to control time.

Poehler is funny and poignant, of course, and she put in a lot of time to be where she is, which is a good reminder to anyone who really wants to make it in the creative world (and academic world, for that matter.  It took me over ten years to go from HS grad to licensed Psychologist) but she also takes the time to be grateful.  She talks about motherhood and those young years with no money but all the time in the world in ways I can relate to.  Because yes I’m privileged too.  I love how she talks about motherhood and her silly boys and the active decision not to answer questions in a way that could scar them for life.

One of the only things she wrote about that I couldn’t really relate to was doing drugs.  It’s never been super appealing to me and I mostly just drank during my youth, in amounts in college that were not healthy but a certain level of drunk was way more optimal then than it is in my sweet mom, full time job, chasing the writing/running thing life.  I like to sleep and too much alcohol ruins a good 9-10 hour go on the weekend.

I don’t expect the privileged to grovel for forgiveness in their privilege.  I certainly don’t have that kind of time.  But when you take a moment to breathe in the sweetness you have been dealt, and use your privilege for the improvement of the lives of others, that’s better than drinking yourself into ruin and lamenting your lost looks.  I mean, often washed up stars that end up like that have their own trauma and demons.

So I have my excuses, but I did enjoy both of these.  And I have been pleased with my TBR getting hacked into this year.  I’m probably reading too much long and should be burying my face in shorts because I have been writing those for submission.

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BookRiot: Nonhuman Narrators

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

I met my husband at a St. Patrick’s Day party nine years ago, and no,  it’s not a sordid tale of debauchery.  Nine years ago it was in the middle of the week so there was nothing crazy going on, I was coming home from work when I stopped in and was going to work again the next day, so, nothing too interesting.  The first thing my oh so lucky husband said to me was “Do you want to try some of the wine I made?'”  I was like, sure, all the time thinking there was no way this guy is just hanging out single waiting to be snapped up.   But he was! And there were (obvs) no serious deal breakers involved.  Luck o the Irish, indeed.

We got married in an Irish pub and had an Irish band and I’m half Irish, but he isn’t any Irish at all, try as he may to emulate my fine people.

I also had some fun years in college making my own Shamrock Shakes with some festive mix-ins.  I never went to the parade when I lived in Scranton, although my friends came down one year and we went out when it was over and we got to see some guy’s bare rear end in the pub we went to.  Not the guy I married, I didn’t meet him for 4-5 more years.  He was past his ‘show your butt to strangers’ phase by then.  And no, the featured image is not the engagement photo that came a year after that fateful night.

Anyway.  The books I talk about in this post have nothing to do with the holiday, because I just didn’t plan it that well.   And this is a family blog!  Rated PG!  Maybe PG 13 sometimes, when I am talking about romance novels.

Somehow it turned out that both of the books I read for this category have not only to do with non human narrators, but also totalitarian governments.  They both felt surreal at times too, in their own ways.  And neither were cutesy in the least, despite some appealing protagonists.

A Book In Which an Animal or Inanimate Object is the Point of View Character:

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The Bees, Laline Paul

This has been waiting on my kindle since late 2015.  I’m really pleased with how the reading challenge has been helping with the backlist.

I love social insects. I took an Animal Behavior course in college and I spent the semester fascinated.  I did my project for that class on ants.  I love a novel that can combine science or history with story, use real research to create a plot and a character arc.  I loved how Flora 717, the lowly Sanitation worker, used smells and transmission of information via antennae and to receive the Queen’s Love.  Because Flora 717 can transcend her station, Paul also talks about what it is like to forage and collect pollen, dance out the coordinates for the other foragers, see the ultraviolet in the flowers that human eyes cannot detect, how to keep the hive clean, and what it was like to (traitorously) lay an egg.  She found a way to talk about most aspects of being a bee that could not normally be described with a typical single bee, one that operates within the typical restricted role.  The drones were believable pains in the butt. Then she frosts on the anthropomorphism to make their structure make sense to us.  Describing their emotional lives, the high of Love that binds them into a whole.  And sometimes, it was brutal and bloodthirsty, but I won’t give the details of those parts because they are well imagined and I am not a spoiler.

And the other bugs…the nasty wasps, the sneaky spiders, the bluebottle flies all add interest to the structure and lives of the bees.  Somewhat of a bee dystopia.  Or utopia?  Not sure.

This book felt surreal in parts.  Sometimes I needed to give it time to figure out what was going on, when she was exploring prophecies and given other roles within the hive by a priestess.  I missed it that she was a mutant, which allowed her to move into other niches.  Initially I was like, how is she being allowed to move between classes and roles?  This book was beautiful and well done, but sometimes it didn’t hold my attention well.  That could be my problem.  But it’s worth reading.   And anyone can comment if its a bee dystopia or utopia.

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Memoirs of  Polar Bear, Yoko Tawanda

I broke my rule that I struggle to stick to for this challenge and bought this book specifically for this challenge. It was intriguing, with its magical realist underpinnings, to read three generations of polar bears who are also, inexplicably, writers.  The grandmother and mother were stage performers, where the grandson was merely an exhibit in a zoo.  They all end up talking about their experiences as bears in different places and times with different roles.  it was interesting and beautiful in parts.  Bears loving their human masters.

But it could also be surreal and felt inconsistent, and Goodreads didn’t disagree. At times, when I feel like I might not ‘get’ a book, I look into what others had to say about it to see what I may have missed, and this time, people generally agreed that this book could be difficult to understand.

Some parts were interesting, like the sea lion who steals the grandmother’s writing and publishes it behind her back while telling her it’s nothing, and then other times, it felt inaccessible, like when the daughter was talking about her animal trainer, and I didn’t always know who was narrating.  Perspectives changed sometimes.  Sometimes they were too hot, being in the wrong part of the world, and they ate a lot more than humans, and they lived lives that could be sad.  People who liked weird books weren’t necessarily into this one, it seemed to resonate with people who liked a certain brand of weird.  I couldn’t decide if there was a plot or not, and what about the meaning of the celebrity cameo at the end of the last section.

But some felt it was hypnotic, moving, and metaphorical.  To each his own.

I’m absolutely open to what others thought of these books.  They were less accessible in places to me than some of the ones I have read lately, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth the time to read.  And it seems weird that they are both in the context of rigid governmental structure.

Comments/likes/shares!

2019: the Intentions

So it’s all died down post holidays and in theory we are all back to our regular, and where I am, wintry lives for the next few weeks, and a new year ahead to fill with goals and speculation.

I have to focus on writing again this year, especially this winter, when obligations slow down for awhile.  No holidays, not yet sports, I need to run more over the winter but not blasting out long runs to prepare for races.  Here it is, the time to do it.  And before it gets stale.  Writing goals for 2019: (universe take note)

  1. Finish revising the novel I was working at last winter/spring.  It’s half revised and I know what I need to do with the rest.  I am experiencing some crippling doubt around it, afraid that if I dust it back off I will want to burn it all.  My consolation is I had a teacher getting me through it and reading much of it, so it can’t be that bad.  Right?  I won’t look at it and see unfixable writing disasters…right?  And then I am paying for a professional critique, fraught with the same anxiety that a new pair of eyes will be like, thanks for the three dollars a page but this sucks, I have nothing to say to un-suck this thing, you wasted all your time.

2. Revise the first novel I wrote that I also got some awesome ideas from my teacher on what to do with it. It’s not as complicated as the second novel I wrote, that one might be more fun and flow better to punch up.  And I have had more time with it.  Her comments are always energizing and I particularly liked the new breath she suggested I breathe into it.

3. Put something else out there to start getting traction as a writer.  Whether I want to do wattpad, revise three shorts/novellas I have been working on and try my luck self publishing on kindle, get a Submittable account and look into my sources on getting published in literary magazines/journals, something.  As you can see, I’m not entirely sure how I will go about getting my traction.  It’s less about making money (hence wattpad or if I tried a little KDP it would be a dollar a story or something) and more about this is what else you can look at as I eventually do want to send out my novel(s).  And my not being sure the details on this one yet is about focusing my emotional energy right now at facing goal #1.  I can work on other places and pieces when I am waiting for it to come back from being critiqued and I can’t get sidetracked by those.

4. Do my third year of 12 Short Stories.  If you don’t know what it is, it is a writing challenge where people submit a short story every month based on a prompt, hosted by Writer’s Write based out of South Africa. I have been experimenting, stretching my wings a little, and above all it keeps my cogs turning and keeps me writing.  Like this blog keeps me writing and thinking about what I read and why.  And because I did it from the very first prompt at the group’s inception back in 2016 when it was a Facebook page and not a wordpress site and I can’t stop now!  I been there since the start.   And I won their first writing contest, which got #1 on paper.   It’s moved me closer to my goals than I ever anticipated.

So all these writing goals on a primarily reading blog. Of course.  I can’t focus on binge reading all through this year, sadly.  I already started falling back into binge reading in December, knocking out Christmas reads and the last two challenges on BookRiot.   Similarly, there will be no Snow Read 2019 like there wasn’t one for 2018, and I will not pick a reading goal on Goodreads until later in the year, like I did this year when writing was on hold for everything else that had to happen.  No 5 over 500.

I will go back to blogging one book a week, except next week, because I already noted  that I got back into binge reading and the three books I tackled between Christmas and New Year deserve a post together.  As a final binge read tribute before I go back to swimming around in my self doubt and puzzling through weird thoughts when I am not working or parenting.  Or maybe when I am doing those things.  I bet I could come up with some brilliant things while racing my son in Mario Kart.  I found out I could reasonably follow a book in one ear too, as long as it wasn’t super complicated, while I play Mario with him.

But there will still be reading.  I am going to do BookRiot 2019 and already did one category and started another. There still has to be reading or else I will perish.  And maybe more reading than last year because I am not starting a project from a few jotted ideas and half of them turned out to be boring.  Ironing out foibles is possibly easier, but it still requires getting into a head space, and someone else’s story can crowd that head space.  Like my full time job does as well.  Yeah, that thing that stands in the way of flooding the world with my writing.

Just another note about BookRiot: I will be trying to read what I already have if I have something that fits the category.  Thankfully it’s happening pretty often as I am poking around the internets for the right choice:  I still want to read Exit West and that’s a category fitter, as well as some NK Jemisin, totally late to the party on her I think, Still trying to read down the backlist. I looked on my Amazon account yesterday and I definitely have over a thousand ebooks, which doesn’t count the piles of physical books engulfing my spaces in the house.  I still want to read down my TBR.  Desperately.   Maybe this also was why I didn’t pay attention to a lot of new releases in 2018 (I didn’t even read Circe or Less or Children of Blood and Bone or The Power or Milkman! But I have since procured Circe and I have the audio tagged on my library account).   And as I am writing this post I see Charlie Holmberg has a Kindle First release this month and I totally bought it with the audio.  I’m trying, I really am.

And if I can get in some short stories as challenge categories, I will shoot for that as well.  I could get some more short stories in via podcasts too.  If I stay away from the hilarity that is Literary Disco and let LeVar Burton read to this 80’s kid just a little bit more.

Wow, I was dreading this post a little because I was feeling unfocused for the new year, binge reading and learning how to crochet a granny square for like the third time while being perfectly aware I don’t need a new craft while I have a book to revise. It had more to say that I thought I did.  It always helps to make your intentions known.

I intend to finish at least one novel. And by finish, I mean something I feel is ready to be sent out for consideration for publication.

I intend not to start dyeing yarn in a crockpot either even though that’s a pretty writer-friendly hobby.

Comments and likes? Encouragement?  Happy 2019!