Category Archives: Humour

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, by Samantha Irby

wearenevermeetingMany readers probably picked up this book because they’re familiar with Samantha Irby’s blog, but I just saw the description of the book and thought it sounded interesting and funny, so I didn’t know what to expect.

Irby is indeed a very funny writer, of the “my life is actually objectively terrible but I’m writing about it in a funny way” school of humour. She writes about an impoverished and abusive childhood, the death of her parents, chronic illness, and a string of failed relationships — as well as her adoption (and subsequently the death) of an antisocial cat who, like Irby herself, is plagued with medical problems. Sounds like a laugh a minute, doesn’t it? This could just as easily have been a heart-rending memoir (and sometimes it is) but in a humourist’s hands, it’s easy to laugh at the funny side of a life pockmarked by misfortune and failure. (Some things have clearly gone well for her, like a wildly popular blog, a book deal, and the one relationship that didn’t end in disaster, so there’s that, too).

Irby’s humour is sometimes a little too raw and graphic for me in dealing with sex, bodily functions and illness — but I am a noted prude and squeamish-person, so that reflects more on me than on her (but is a warning worth noting for other squeamish prudes). Still, despite a few cringes I found this an enjoyable read.

It’s interesting, by the way, to compare this memoir (or collection of essays — it doesn’t unroll in the continuous flow you’d expect from a memoir) to Roxane Gay’s Hunger, which I also read recently. There are definite similarities between the two writers: both African-American women who write about body image, food, sexuality (including bisexuality), physical and mental illness and disability. Gay is a very serious writer who can at times be quite funny; Irby is a humour writer who brings a sardonic eye and voice to very serious topics. (Apparently Gay and Irby are friends in real life, and this article about Irby begins with a funny anecdote about a reader confusing the two, so it’s clearly not just a case of lily-white me thinking All Big Black Women Who Write About Their Bodies Look Alike).

What is the mysterious alchemy that makes one book an acclaimed literary soon-to-be-classic, and another a fun, commercial read? I’ve always struggled with this question in reading fiction, as I read both popular and literary fiction, and I still can’t pinpoint the difference. It’s there in non-fiction too — I can see that Roxane Gay and Samantha Irby are doing different things with quite similar material, but I can’t quite explain what the difference is, apart from the fact that Irby plays her experience for laughs. But as with popular and literary fiction, both are great reads, as long as you know what you’re getting. If you’re not too squeamish about sex, swearing, and (especially) poop, you’ll enjoy We Are Never Meeting in Real Life.

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Filed under Humour, Nonfiction -- memoir

The Money Shot, by Glenn Deir

Layout 1The Money Shot is one of several novels coming out in the next few months or so that I have some insider knowledge of: it was one of the strongest entries in an unpublished-novel contest that I had the honour of judging a couple of years back. Glenn Deir’s tale (although I didn’t know it was Glenn Deir’s then, as the contest was blind-judged) of an unscrupulous, back-stabbing local news reporter was a wickedly fun romp from start to finish. When I found out that the author was someone who had considerable experience in that world of local journalism, I knew that even if The Money Shot is not a roman a clef about the local CBC station (and you kind of hope it’s not, because you’d hate to think your evening news is being brought to you by anyone as awful as Deir’s antihero, Sebastian Hunter), still, there’s got to be some kernels of truth there.

The Money Shot is a scathing, funny, wicked look at the world of local TV news: more cut-throat than you might think. It’s a page-turner and a thoroughly enjoyable read from start to finish.

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Filed under Canadian author, Fiction -- general, Humour, Newfoundland author, Uncategorized

Furiously Happy, by Jenny Lawson

furiouslyhappyIf you’re planning to pick up the latest book by Jenny Lawson aka The Bloggess, you should expect more of what you get on her blog, or what you got in her first book, Let’s Pretend this Never Happened. That is to say, you’ll get laugh-out-loud funny tales of situations so bizarre, painful and twisted that you almost feel guilty laughing at them. It is, as the subtitle says, “A Funny Book About Horrible Things,” so don’t say you weren’t warned. This is almost certainly the funniest book ever written about living with mental illness (or at least, it’s on a par with Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half), so if you want to laugh at the things we don’t usually talk openly about, this is the book for you.

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Filed under Humour, Nonfiction -- memoir, Uncategorized

Not That Kind of Girl, by Lena Dunham

notthatkindofgirlWell, here’s a case where getting a little behind on my book reviews has certainly had an impact on how I discuss the book. I read the memoir before the social media storm erupted around Dunham’s depiction of her seven-year-old self peering at her baby sister’s vagina and later, as a teenager, bribing the same un-cuddly little sister into being a more affectionate somewhat as “a sexual predator might.” A third controversial reference to her sister suggests that when they shared a bed, teenaged Lena sometimes masturbated while her younger sister was asleep in bed next to her. Never having had a sibling, I have no idea how normal or abnormal this behavior is, but it certainly has gotten the young actress, who is a polarizing figure anyway, into a huge controversy.

Before a right-wing website labelled her a pedophile for those scenes in the book, few reviewers seem to have commented much on those passages. Did they make me squirm a little uncomfortably while reading them? Absolutely. But did they make me squirm any more than various other things in the book — Dunham’s depictions of her family life, her boundary-challenged relationship with two different therapists, numerous sexual encounters with different men in her life? No. The entire book is witty, well-written, and eminently squirm-worthy. There’s no suggestion anywhere (to me, anyway) that Dunham is holding her own life up as anything but a complete mess. As the subtitle suggests, her experiences are more along the lines of “cautionary tale” than “role model.”

For my money, Dunham’s exploration of her baby sister’s private parts falls firmly into the category of childhood exploration (can a seven-year-old, who presumably has no sexual feelings herself, actually be a pedophile?); her reference to masturbating next to her sleeping sister is one of a thousand examples of stunningly poor judgement in the book; and her comparison of herself to a sexual predator while trying to get her sister to kiss or cuddle with her is a clear case of where her editor should have said, “Lena, cut this metaphor — you may love it, but it’ll cause you more trouble than it’s worth.”

I think the book suffers a little from the common problem of memoirs written by people under 3o — it feels as if Dunham is too close to the events she’s writing about to have any real perspective or insight into them. But she certainly is a sharp, witty writer who doesn’t mind shining a harsh light on her own faults and shortcomings. Whether that light will turn out to have been too harsh for her future popularity, only time will tell.

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Filed under Humour, Nonfiction -- memoir

Jew and Improved, by Benjamin Errett

jewandimprovedWith my well-known fondness for memoirs about spiritual journeys, I’d picked up Benjamin Errett’s Jew and Improved a few times, loved the title, and thought “Maybe I should read that,” but never got around to actually reading it. Then I read Alison Pick’s memoir Between Gods, and noticed on the author’s Facebook page that she linked to an article about her book by Benjamin Errett, which began: “When you convene all the Canadians who have written memoirs about converting to Judaism, there’s no need to book the restaurant ahead of time. Alison Pick and I easily found a table for two at a café on a recent Friday morning.”

That sentence convinced me I had to read Errett’s book — and if I was still in doubt, this passage, later in the article, sealed the deal: “Her book is as much about conversion as it is about depression, about searching for spiritual meaning to combat a biochemical feeling of meaninglessness. (My book? My book features brisket recipes.)”

That’s Errett’s authorial voice for you — breezy, funny, self-deprecating. He’s traversing similar ground to Pick here, in the sense that the book is about the conversion process, but he treads it with a much lighter foot. Rather than unearthing a painful and buried family history like Pick, Errett converts to Judaism for probably the most common of reasons: he marries a nice Jewish girl. There’s plenty of family dysfunction in Jew and Improved too, but it’s played for laughs rather than for angst. I highly recommended Between Gods, but if you’ve read that and you’re in the mood for something light and fun, while still thinking Jewish, try Jew and Improved. I liked it; you might too.

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Filed under Canadian author, Humour, Nonfiction -- memoir

Hyperbole and a Half, by Allie Brosh

hyperboleLike many readers, I was first introduced to Allie Brosh’s blog, Hyperbole and a Half, by the post about the Alot, the mythical creature Brosh invented in her fertile and slightly twisted brain to help her deal with the murderous rage incited by seeing people write “alot” instead of “a lot.” Her deliberately scrawly yet brilliant drawings are the perfect counterpoint to her snarky yet perceptive voice as she tells stories from her childhood and her present life in ways that make you laugh till you cry … and sometimes just skip straight to crying. Never was this more evident than a couple of years ago when she wrote/drew a post called Adventures in Depression, which struck a chord with many readers who had been through similar experiences. Then she disappeared from her blog for well over a year, leading everyone to wonder if she was OK.

She wasn’t. But she wasn’t gone for good either. Brosh returned to the blogging world a few months ago with Depression, Part Two, which updated her story of dealing with depression and again, won huge acclaim and appreciation from people who were happy to see a popular blogger’s experience with mental illness described with precision, sensitivity, and humour. And for those who love Allie Brosh’s work, there’s now a collection on paper that you can hold in your hands and thrust into the hands of unsuspecting friends and relatives, as long as they have a sense of humour and don’t mind swear words (that last part is kind of important, because the language is as colourful as the drawings in this book).

While the Alot is sadly missing from this collection, some of Brosh’s best-loved posts are here — not only the ones about depression and other serious/funny glimpses into her psyche, but some hilarious stories from her childhood and, funniest of all in my view, posts about her dogs. Her drawings of dogs alone ought to earn her some kind of an award, but the accompanying text pushes them over into genius terrority. If you haven’t heard of Hyperbole and a Half, and you clicked any of the links above and thought, “This stuff is good!” then you really, really must buy this book. 

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The Woman Who Died a Lot, by Jasper Fforde

woman who died a lotI’ve read every one of Jasper Fforde’s books, although to my surprise in looking back over my old reviews I note that the previous book in the  Thursday Next series, One of Our Thursdays is Missing, somehow got read but not reviewed here on Compulsive Overreader. Really, what I say about one book in the series could pretty much be said about any of them — endlessly witty, inventive, quirky books with plot twists that have to be read to be believed. In the last book, Thursday’s adventures were mainly in the Book World, but in this novel she’s back in the so-called real world, taking over as head of Swindon’s libraries (libraries, and anything book-related, are far more important in the alternate universe of these books than in ours, so librarians come armed and with permission to use lethal force, if necessary, to retrieve overdue books). Thursday’s also dealing with family problems — her genius teenage daughter Tuesday showed a classmate her breasts for five pounds, her son Friday just had his entire future revoked, and her daughter Jenny still doesn’t really exist…or does she? Amid work and home pressures, Thursday has to help avert a smiting from an angry deity who’s promised to smite Swindon at the end of the week. Oh, and somebody’s making Thursday clones so realistic that occasionally the real Thursday wakes up inside one and doesn’t realize at first that she’s a clone.

It’s complicated. But isn’t it always?

Something new with this installment: it’s poignant at times, and surprisingly realistic. I know: “realistic” is not the first word you think of when you think of a series of books set in an alternate version of our world where (some) people are able to jump back and forth into the plots of novels. What’s realistic is that action hero Thursday is now in her mid-fifties and has barely survived her injuries from the last novel. Unlike a cartoon character (or her own clone) she doesn’t bounce back unscathed: she has to deal with permanent disability, physiotherapy, and no longer being young and strong enough to take down the evil emissaries of the Goliath Corporation at a single bound. Possibly the most unbelievable character in contemporary fiction, Thursday Next has become surprisingly real as her story has unfolded.

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Filed under Fiction -- fantasy, Humour