mini-reviews: earth and hooey

I was dealing with an international move last June, so I felt like I needed some levity during a time of stress (and excitement, of course). I also drove between Kansas City and Madison twice in that month, so audiobooks were in order! Here are two humor books I listened to on audio during that crazy month:

After listening to America: The Audiobook in August 2015 I’ve had Earth (The Book): A Visitor’s Guide to the Human Race by Jon Stewart, et al on my list. I’m sure I missed some of the visual gags listening on audio instead of reading on paper, but this one had the same great performances by The Daily Show alumni with the same great irreverent, sarcastic, biting humor I expected. Although I didn’t find it quite as consistently laugh-out-loud as AmericaEarth was another fine lighthearted roadtrip selection. I still miss Jon Stewart on Daily Show (although I love Trevor Noah now, too!)

The short story collection A Load of Hooey is Bob Odenkirk‘s authorial debut. When I say short I really mean short—if I recall correctly, the audiobook was less than three hours long, even. As with all short story collections, there are some hits and misses, some memorable and some forgettable. A year later there are a handful of stories I remember liking a lot: “One Should Never Read a Book on the Toilet,” “Didn’t Work for Me,” “Obit for the Creator of Mad Libs,” “Abs,” “Origin of ‘Blackbird’,” and “Second Meeting of Jesus and Lazarus.” Many of these selections are seemingly random soliloquies that read like sketches, and if you like Bob Odenkirk’s offbeat Mr. Show humor you’ll like Hooey—it’s a fun way to pass a couple hours.

Listened to audiobooks in June 2016.

mini-reviews: celebrity food memoirs

Food is one of my favorite things on earth—I love eating, cooking, trying new cuisines and restaurants, and learning about other cultures through food. Aside from experiencing my own culinary adventures, I usually can’t resist a good Michael Pollan book or memoir by a celebrated chef. Last year, I read to two such books by famous personalities in food and cooking:

I’ve been a fan of Padma Lakshmi from her hosting gig on Top Chef for years. She’s poised but has a sense of humor and shows knowledge of food as a judge. I also have one of her cookbooks, Tangy Tart Hot & Sweet. I listened to her recent memoir Love, Loss, and What We Ate on audiobook (read by Lakshmi). I really liked the parts about her childhood between India and the United States, as well as her career trajectory from model to TV show host to author. She also talks at length about having endometriosis, her romantic relationships, and becoming a parent. At times she is too self-pitying for her level of wealth and fame, but overall this is an enjoyable, light celebrity memoir. [Listened to audiobook in May 2016.]

Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson has been on my radar for a few years now. Samuelsson has a fascinating background, starting with overcoming tuberculosis as a child Ethiopia and adopted in Sweden. I enjoyed learning about his upbringing, and how his race, heritage, and family shaped his love for food and development as a chef. However… I didn’t connect with Samuelsson on a personal level at all. I understand that you have to have a certain degree of self-centeredness, arrogance, and uber-confidence one has to have to succeed on the world stage (whether it’s as a renowned chef, famous musician, or whatever), but his relationships (as an adult) with his adoptive family and daughter—while I can appreciate his honesty and recognize that no one is perfect—are rather off-putting. It was a decent book, though, if you’re interested in celebrity chef memoirs. [Listened to audiobook in September 2016.]

reading recap: february 2017

I had a busy February. We saw three awesome concerts (Periphery, Joe Satriani, and Guns N’ Roses), went to the Singapore Botanic Gardens, tried more new restaurants, saw some good movies (Lego BatmanMoonlight), and I read a lot. I think I might have hit a new personal record for number of books read in one month (especially the short month of the year!).

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Difficult Women — This collection of stories was captivating, tumultuous, distressing, and real. Gay’s writing is almost poetic and cuts deep. She presents women who are complex, emotional, damaged, and who persevered through tragedies. I loved it—read it in two days.  **favorite**

You Can’t Touch My Hair — I wish Phoebe Robinson was my friend. And she gets her wish for Michelle Obama to be her friend. Basically I wish Phoebe and Michelle and I were all friends. I loved how Phoebe uses unfiltered humor to tell stories from her life while discussing how they relate to race, gender, pop culture, and more. My favorite part might be the letters to her young niece at the end.  **favorite**

Another Day in the Death of America — Gary Younge picked a random day and examined the short lives of ten children and teenagers who were killed by guns on that day in the US. It puts each victim and their death in context of economic and familial situations, education, race, etc. It’s a powerful book in line with Matthew Desmond’s Evicted. My only quibble is that the author said this book is not about gun control, and while it’s true that he doesn’t delve into the politics of gun control, a book about ten children murdered by guns can’t entirely not be about that.

Freedom is a Constant Struggle — This is a very thought-provoking collection, if repetitive and in need of another round of edits. I’m not sure it’s the best one to start with if you’re unfamiliar with Davis. The email interviews weren’t engaging at all. I did appreciate Davis’s articulation in connecting struggles throughout the world, from the US to Palestine to Turkey to Africa. She’s a brilliant scholar-activist to whom we should pay heed, especially in these times. Her take on remaining optimistic and mass movements through community organizing uplifted me.

Blood at the Root — This is the true history of how more than 1,000 black citizens were driven out of Forsyth County, Georgia, starting in 1912 when three black men were accused of murdering a white woman. It’s a fascinating, horrifying, difficult read but important that we learn the truths of our country and not the sugar-coated, edited versions. I think I would have gotten more out of this one reading on paper instead of listening on audio. Still, the events of Blood at the Root especially sting in that we still experience this sort of racial cleansing today, be it “white flight,” gentrification, disproportionate incarceration rates, etc.

Wishful Drinking — I was standing in line for a concert while I read this short, irreverent book by the late, hilarious Carrie Fisher. It was a great book to cleanse my palate after three heavy, serious reads. Carrie rambled and went off on tangents at times, and I guess I was expecting more depth as far as her addictions went. I bet this is 100 times better on audio, but it worked pretty well as an ebook on my phone.

Fever Dream — I did like the unsettling sense of dread throughout this brief, creepy novel, but overall I feel neutral. This was an audio hold that came through, so maybe it was the wrong time for me for this one. Truthfully, I may need to read it again, and on paper instead of audio. (Or maybe not. I have a ton of other books to get to!)

Sleeping Giants — I started Sleeping Giants with my husband but he lost interest about halfway through. The premise is intriguing, if not the most original ever. Too many of the characters left a bad taste in my mouth (the actors gave them condescending, snotty attitudes) for me to continue with the series.

Beasts of No Nation — I saw the Netflix film a few months ago and thought it was astounding. I was looking for a book to fill the “author your age” square for the Litsy Reading Challenge, and Uzodinma Iweala is just one month older than I am, but I would have been interested in reading this regardless. Nyambi Nyambi did a phenomenal job performing the young protagonist Agu on the audiobook. Even though Beasts is a fiction, nothing about this story is “fake” in the sense that this is the harrowing, scary reality for many boys in war-torn countries of seemingly endless conflict.  **favorite**

Fire Shut Up in My Bones — My friend Anthony and I decided to resurrect our little two-person book club (now international!) and chose Fire Shut Up in My Bones. I loved Charles Blow’s introspective, descriptive, and poetic writing. He really gives you an immersive picture of the world in which he grew up. He’s an impressive figure who overcame a childhood fraught with poverty, betrayals, and inner turmoil. I had a couple of expectations going in that weren’t met, which is actually totally fine… it’s hard to talk about this without spoilers. I think I was just mislead (likely by my own self) in what may or may not have happened to him to shape his life journey. Anyway, it’s a fantastic memoir.  **favorite**

OKAY! This is a long post; maybe I should go back to singular review posts?? How was your February for reading?

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reading recap: may through july 2016

I’m back! I’m still getting settled in here in Singapore, and I admit I haven’t been real motivated to blog. I haven’t been really interested in being on the computer at all much since the move. I don’t exactly feel like I’ve been on vacation here, but I think I needed the break. But now, two months in here, I’d like to catch up and get back into a regular habit of writing and keeping track. Even though I haven’t blogged, I have been reading! Here are my books read from May through July:

may-july-reading

  • Love, Loss, and What We Ate (audio) … Padma Lakshmi, read by author (May)
  • Earth: A Visitor’s Guide … (audio) … Jon Stewart, read by Daily Show cast (June)
  • A Load of Hooey (audio) … Bob Odenkirk, read by author and various (June)
  • League of Denial (audio)…Fainaru-Wada/Fainaru, read by D.H.Lawrence XVII (July)
  • I’m Just a Person … Tig Notaro (July)

All three non-fiction books here were outstanding, but I’m torn between naming League of Denial or I’m Just a Person my favorite of these months. League, which covers the NFL and traumatic brain injuries in (primarily) football, was horrifying, infuriating, and disheartening but so interesting. It’s an important book for any fan of football and other high-impact sports. Tig Notaro, who suffered two life-threatening diseases and the death of her mother all in a short time period, had me in tears by the end of I’m Just a Person. Padma Lakshmi was so relatable in Love, Loss, and What We Ate, like visiting a close girlfriend. I didn’t know much about her life beyond Top Chef and her marriage to Salman Rushdie, and it was a pleasure to learn more about her life, in her own words and voice.

Earth was fun—just what you’d expect from The Daily Show crew, but it’s predecessor (America) was better. I was excited to listen to A Load of Hooey as I think Bob Odenkirk is hilarious, and several of the short stories here were wonderfully ridiculous, but a few fell flat for me.

I’m not sure yet if I’ll go back to write up individual reviews for all these books from May to September, but recaps for my August and September reading will be coming soon!
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if you ask me

I needed something short and sweet for my recent rehearsal commutes, and If You Ask Me by Betty White fit the bill in spades. From Goodreads:

Drawing from a lifetime of lessons learned, seven-time Emmy winner Betty White’s wit and wisdom take center stage as she tackles topics like friendship, romantic love, aging, television, fans, love for animals, and the brave new world of celebrity. If You Ask Me mixes her thoughtful observations with humorous stories from a seven- decade career in Hollywood. Longtime fans and new fans alike will relish Betty’s candid take on everything from her rumored crush on Robert Redford (true) to her beauty regimen (“I have no idea what color my hair is and I never intend to find out”) to the Facebook campaign that helped persuade her to host Saturday Night Live despite her having declined the hosting job three times already.

Betty White might be one of the most likable celebrities ever. Her recent memoir If You Ask Me is a somewhat random collection of brief essays touching on topics from her career to her work with animals. Though it mostly focuses on the last 10–15 years of her career, she does talk about her youth a little bit and her family life as well. The audiobook was wonderful, hearing White read her own stories was so engaging and endears her even more to the listener. I’m not sure I would say I’d have preferred the paper book over audio—honestly I probably wouldn’t have thought to pick this up on paper—but I do feel like I missed some of the experience without any photos, which I understand are plentiful in the paper book.

If You Ask Me is a fun little tome worth the couple hours (or less!) it takes to get through.

Listened to audiobook from February 19 to 29, 2016.

as you wish

Our fantastic indie bookshop Rainy Day Books hosted actor Cary Elwes a couple weeks ago here in Kansas City on his book tour for As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, and I couldn’t resist attending! From Goodreads:

From actor Cary Elwes, who played the iconic role of Westley in The Princess Bride, comes a first-person account and behind-the-scenes look at the making of the cult classic film filled with never-before-told stories, exclusive photographs, and interviews with costars Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, and Mandy Patinkin, as well as author and screenwriter William Goldman, producer Norman Lear, and director Rob Reiner.

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Confession: Fred Savage was my first celebrity crush. [Photo]

Who doesn’t love The Princess Bride? It’s definitely a film I hold dear to my heart, one I’ve seen countless times and bonded over with friends and family. Somehow this movie never gets old! I finally got around to reading the book as a sophomore in high school in one sitting on a plane ride to Europe, and it was just as beautiful as the movie, of course. After reading Cary Elwes’s As You Wish, I had the natural urge to watch the movie again and eventually I’ll have to dig out my copy of the book and reread it.

The book tour event with Elwes was a lot of fun! There was medieval music performed by musicians in period dress, an elaborate sword fighting demonstration, a short documentary, and an hour-long conversation with Elwes before finally a book signing. Elwes was just as charming and good humored as you would expect. He related some of the stories we could expect to find in the book, answered questions, and even did a few impressions of Rob Reiner and André the Giant. When I got up to the table for the book signing, Elwes immediately noticed my Green Bay Packers shirt (it was a Sunday, I always wear a Packers shirt to support the team on game days!) and excitedly gave me a high five! “I love the Packers! Aaron’s a fan.” (Cue cute, irresistible smile.) I had a great time!

As for the book itself, it was the nicest book about the nicest people having the nicest experience making the nicest movie. It’s a sweet, uplifting read, and any fan of the movie or original novel will love going behind-the-scenes with As You Wish. The stories of André the Giant off-camera, the intense preparation for Elwes and Patinkin for the “Greatest Swordfight in Modern Times,” and the saga of getting the film made in the first place especially captured my attention. Now, I can’t say it’s the greatest piece of writing I’ve ever read—the continual praise of everyone and everything hinged on being a bit too saccharine and quickly became repetitive. Elwes would note something in the narrative, then another person on the film (or two) would repeat it in an inset. But I do believe it’s all genuine. This tactic may come across better in the audiobook version—I bet it would be cool to listen to the cast and crew recount all these great memories.

Read it! As You Wish was great fun and conjured up wonderful memories for me.

Read from November 2 to 4, 2014.