lizz free or die

For my first read of 2013, I chose the memoir-essay collection Lizz Free or Die by Lizz Winstead, comedian and co-founder/creator of The Daily Show and Air America Radio. Beyond those facts, I really didn’t know too much about her.

Well, Lizz Free or Die set quite a high standard for the rest of the year, because I absolutely loved it! 5/5 stars! Winstead’s sharp, irreverent humor cuts through each essay, and there are many notable moments of tenderness and vulnerability. I was completely hooked by the second chapter, and almost read the whole book in one evening.

From her religious upbringing in northern Minnesota, to her time in college, relocation to New York City, and burgeoning comedy career which transitioned into media writing and producing, Winstead takes her readers on an intimate, honest, and relatable journey through her life and career. Winstead gives specific examples of why she dives headfirst into situations, her inquisitive (and sometimes exhausting) nature, and her appreciation for the talented and loving people in her life. While the essays aren’t all perfectly linear chronologically, the events, people, and circumstances that lead Winstead to liberal progressivism, activism for women’s rights, and a career in political satire are clear.

All the essays are memorable, and I genuinely laughed out loud during many of Winstead’s exploits in the book, especially the stories of her inexplicably weird dogs, the cringe-worthy spa situation she found herself in on a Moroccan vacation, and Catholic childhood during which her imagination ran completely and often hilariously wild. The behind-the-scenes accounts of the birth of The Daily Show and Air America Radio are interesting and educational, especially for a fan. I had tears in my eyes while reading the essay about her father’s death, which was especially bittersweet and emotionally affective.

Lizz Free or Die was my selection for the humor genre of the 2013 Eclectic Reader Challenge, hosted by Shelleyrae at book’d out, and my first read of twelve books total for the challenge.

Read from January 2 to 4, 2013.

day twenty-seven | 30 day book challenge

30 Day Book Challenge | Day 27 — A book you regret not having read sooner

I feel a sense of slightly embarrassed regret every time I read a book off my TBR shelf that has been sitting there YEARS and I end up loving it, and the most recent example is…

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain (read my review here). I bought this at a used bookstore in Seattle last time I was there visiting family in 2008. Sat sat sat sat on my shelves, moved twice with me across town into new homes, and finally this past summer (four years later) I read it. And of course I could hardly put it down—I ended up reading it all in one weekend (really fast, for me). So I’m kind of embarrassed that I had this thing in my possession for years—this thing I was destined to love—but didn’t indulge in it for so long. Of course, how was I to know how much I’d love it? But on the other hand, I did buy it and just let it sit—and the longer books sit, the harder it is to pick them back up. My bad. Such is the blight of a bibliophile.

Which book(s) do you regret not having read sooner?

my story

The fiftieth anniversary of Marilyn Monroe’s death inspired me to pick up her autobiography this month. It had been years since I had seen one of her films, so I also watched The Seven Year Itch after I read My Story. I forgot how captivating Marilyn is on screen, even in a lighthearted comedy in which she’s typecast as a “dumb blonde.”

Marilyn’s memoir My Story is a simple, elegant, personal account of the infamous actress’s life. Unsurprisingly, it’s rather melancholy. Marilyn mentions often episodes of crying in bed all night and having moments when she had wished she were dead. Her haunting vision of herself as “the kind of girl they found dead in a hallway bedroom with an empty bottle of sleeping pills in her hand” was disquieting.

My Story begins with Marilyn’s childhood as an orphan deep in poverty: mistreated, abused, and unwanted. It reveals the emotionally and philosophically complex woman behind the sex kitten image on screen. It reveals a troubled woman with crippling insecurity and vulnerability, but also yearning for a sense of belonging, true unrequited love, and a place in this world. She possessed a strong appetite for learning about history and the arts. Marilyn’s perseverance in pursuit of her Hollywood dreams despite the challenges and uncertainty in this business was inspiring, as was her drive to hone her craft. She talks about being desperately broke much of the time, but never comes off as pathetic or complaining. Marilyn regarded acting as an art form, something to be taken seriously, and she worked hard to reach the highest plateau she could in Hollywood. Marilyn climbed to the top with grace and integrity; she recalls refusing offers of starring roles for sex with top studio executives, which could have been career suicide. She also had several marriage proposals with large sums of money behind them, which she turned down because she wanted to marry only for love.

This is not a tell-all full of juicy scandals. Marilyn does talk about a couple of supposed feuds with other Hollywood starlets, but she claims these ladies (and many others) were just jealous and truly had no reason to be so. She had no interest in married men (or hardly any men, for that matter), and she had no interest in sleeping her way to fame. She was honest, reserved off-screen, and devoted to her work. It was heartbreaking that Marilyn seemed to be able to count the number of people who were kind and helpful to her on one hand, and the countless number of people who tried to exploit her.

In the hardcover illustrated edition I have, Milton Greene’s photos are peppered throughout in full color, showing many shades of Marilyn: the screen siren; the playful woman; and the sweet, poor girl inside. My Story abruptly but sweetly ends during her marriage to Joe DiMaggio, on a bright note about looking forward to performing for U.S. soldiers stationed in Korea—a life unfinished.

Read from August 15 to 16, 2012.

kitchen confidential

My family is full of amazing cooks. When I was young, though, I never wanted to help my parents in the kitchen. My mother will tell you a famous reply of mine was, “no thanks, but let me know when it’s done.” I never started cooking real meals for myself until I was a senior in college, maybe even into my master’s degree. My whole life, though, I barely ever ate fast food or junk food, and when I began living on my own I just ate light and simple fare like sandwiches and salads. Nothing too skill-intensive to put together. But when I was finally bit by the cooking bug, that was it for me. Since then I have loved being in the kitchen, being creative, testing my culinary intuition, learning, keeping my hands busy, and producing beautiful and delicious meals that appeal to all the senses. My husband, of course, reaps the benefits of the successes and is sweet not to tease me (…much!) about my failed experiments.

As much as I have enjoyed my discovered love for food and cooking, there is no way in hell I would work in a restaurant. I have no illusions of culinary grandeur! In an alternate universe, my dream job in the food industry would be more along the lines of one of my blog heroes, smitten kitchen—photos and recipes from her sweet little New York home gathered into a cookbook. Looks (tastes?) like a pretty fabulous life to me.

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain is a book that’s been on my own-need-to-read shelf for a few embarrassing years. It might have sat there longer too if I weren’t currently on a memoir kick and didn’t have a renewed focus to get through my unread dust-collectors. It was a quick read for me and I’m so glad I finally read it!

I admit that I started Kitchen Confidential thinking, Here we go, Anthony Bourdain—let’s see how much of a smug asshole you really are. (I am familiar with his Travel Channel show, No Reservations, but not so much with his newer shows.) I was pleasantly proven wrong in my assumptions. Part memoir, part exposé, part editorial, KC was totally engrossing for me. Bourdain brazenly describes his inflated self-confidence and youthful pride, while admirably owning up to mistakes, failures, and shameful moments in his career. He gives credit where it is deserved and shows honest appreciation for hard work, dedication, and tenacity in the kitchen. Bourdain knows he is not a perfect chef—or human being, for that matter. I like how Bourdain did not gussy up his writing with too-unusual terms or flowery language. He rhapsodizes about food, of course, but in a genuine, down-to-earth way. After all the descriptions of how nasty, chaotic, and vulgar restaurant employees and kitchens are (in Bourdain’s experience), I really loved the chapter about Scott Bryan and his kitchen.

Written over a decade ago, I think the non-biographical parts of KC have become a bit dated. The behind-the-scenes chapters were less scandalous than I was expecting. Also… shallots? Really? Shallots are mentioned way too much. We get it—they are the ultimate secret to elevating your cooking (…in 2000). So, occasionally there was redundancy. The chapter on chef’s toys and tools, too—taste in brands change over time. I did enjoy many of these sections of the book—not quite as much as his career retrospective—but they seemed all over the place and could have been organized in a better order. For example, the chapter on the cook’s personal language—some of which is obvious and non-exclusive to the culinary world—could have come earlier in the book for me.

Overall, I loved the book. Another new favorite. I came to realize Bourdain’s sardonic and sharp personality is more refreshingly no-nonsense than condescending snobbery. He calls it like he sees it and doesn’t suffer fools or bullshit silently!

Read from June 23 to 26, 2012.


I bought Tina Fey’s Bossypants on a whim at O’Hare airport in Chicago last Sunday after realizing bringing Catch-22 with me on that trip as a mistake… I’m a nervous flyer to begin with and reading about WWII bomber jets wasn’t going to work for me. I couldn’t have picked a better book for the flight; it immediately caught my attention and I found it hard to put down for the next three days. Bossypants successfully treads between actual memoir and humor essay. Fey writes with sardonic humor but in an unpretentious and conversational voice. Her anecdotes about SNL and 30 Rock were interesting, and it was great to read praise for her coworkers and gratitude for her career instead of nasty gossip. Fey’s frequent self-depreciation was a bit wearisome for me, but never to a depressing point. She incorporates messages of feminism throughout with humor and provides an honest insight into the comedy and television businesses as a woman. Her chapters on leadership and her father were highlights for me. I also loved her spin on physical appearances—after a laundry list of random and annoying beauty standards women are supposed to achieve, she says, “If you retain nothing else, always remember the most important rule of beauty, which is: who cares?” A lot of her insights boil down to common sense, but Fey is so silly, endearingly nerdy and awkward, sharply hilarious, and refreshingly real that I found myself nodding in agreement and laughing out loud. First “love” book of the summer for me!

Read from June 10 to 13, 2012.