Archives for category: Non-Fiction

mindy kalingGenre: Nonfiction, Humor, Essays

Notes: Book 1/50.  I want to hang out with Mindy Kaling

Review: Mindy Kaling is adorable in an “I’m a (mostly) respectful daughter of Indian immigrant parents, I don’t do drugs and didn’t drink in high school, and come from a place that any awkward girl can identify.” In case you don’t know who Kaling is, she is a writer on The Office and also plays Kelly Kapoor in the show. She also writes and stars in her own show The Mindy Project. Mindy seems so refreshingly real and a welcome break from more generic celebrities who fit the mold of what America finds desirable and attractive. As sad as it is, most women who are hilariously funny find themselves behind the camera more often than in front of it if they don’t fit the standard of American beauty. You know, size 2, petite, pretty face, etc. I mean, Tina Fey had to lose like 30 pounds before she could get on television (even though Liz Lemon on 30 Rock fantasizes about food and eats like shit and should NOT be as skinny as she is, but that’s a rant for another day), but Mindy somehow snuck her way onto television without us taking a ton of notice or shouting “Hey! She’s breaking those norms!” I mean, really, she’s a pretty woman who probably fits the average American woman’s body. She’s a size 8. I’m a size 8. But compared to the twiglets in Hollywood, she probably feels like a bloated whale who is always stuck in a navy blue dress. (Which is apparently the color they dress anyone over a size 4 in because someone decided it was flattering)

This book isn’t Bossypants, but it’s a fun, quick read about someone who has been wildly successful in Hollywood as a writer and actress. Kaling makes you feel like anything is possible as long as you just keep at it. The way Kaling tells it, it took one super successful entry into the International Fringe Festival to get her noticed and get a spot as one of the writers on The Office. She embodies the American Dream because he parents immigrated from India to give their children a better life here and what immigrant parents doesn’t harbor the desire that their child will become a star in America? (Or a doctor or lawyer more likely) She provides an interesting narrative on what it means to grow up Indian in America and not quite fit into the WASP-y American ideal as a child. (The school pictures she includes in the book are priceless). However, I think Kaling barely skims the surface on what could be a deeper discussion about the lack of diversity in Hollywood or not fitting into the standard body in Hollywood. It’s not my book (obviously), and I’m sure Kaling skirted around those topics for a reason.

Bottom Line: This book is cute, funny, and light. It takes all of a day or so to read so if you’re looking for something to read on a plane or on a lazy Sunday, this is the book for you.

Genre: Non-Fiction

Notes: 23/50 Chilling, well-researched, and fascinating.  About time someone got it right

Review: While I don’t remember Columbine as well as others (I was in elementary school at the time), I still remember vague echoes of horror and a little tightening around my parents about sending my sister and I off to school.  In my mind, this is the first school shooting that really rattled America and made school seem like a battlefield rather than the safety it was supposed to provide.

I remember hearing about Cassie Bernall because I want to a small, evangelical Christian school, and they lived for modern day martyrs. Cullen debunks the rumor that “she said yes” about her faith in God before Eric Harris shot her in the face.  And you know what’s so great about this book?  There’s no malice.  Cullen didn’t set out to tear the rug out from under the Bernall family and prove their daughter didn’t die for her faith, as they hoped.  He just reported the facts as he understood them. There’s no shaming the community, the police response, or blaming the Harris or Klebold families for raising sons who murdered fellow classmates.  This account simply is.

Cullen presents a painstakingly researched account of what happened at Columbine that day in 1999, an attempt to explain why, and how the community struggled to rebuild and come to terms with what happened.

What

What exactly happened that day?  Or, really, what didn’t happen?  Columbine wasn’t just meant to be a school shooting, Eric and Dylan weren’t two loners who snapped at jocks, they weren’t a part of the Trench Coat Mafia, or any of the other silly rumors circling after the shooting.  It was a bombing gone wrong.  Eric and Dylan didn’t want to shoot specific students or have a hit list, they wanted to kill everyone.  When police and emergency personnel rushed to the scene, they wanted to blow up Dylan’s car to increase the body count even more.  The guns were merely to pick of stragglers picking their way out of the wreckage of a bombed school.

Cullen was a member of the media covering Columbine and they made serious leaps of faith with little facts and primarily contributed to the myths and rumors that surround Columbine to this day.  In my opinion, this was the first truly American strategy that played out on television with the 24/7 news machine.  Reporters constantly vamp and speculate when new information isn’t available in an attempt to keep the audience engaged.  The leaps they made were logical leaps but ultimately untrue.

Why

The first question people tend to ask when something like this happens is “Why?”  We need to know motive.  It helps us tie things into neat little packages.  We need a world that makes sense and follows rules.  Outcasts picked on one too many times fit the bill.  It made sense.  Sad, tragic, yes.  But unfathomable?  No.

Unfortunately, Eric and Dylan didn’t fit into these boxes.  The FBI’s assessment of Eric concluded that he was a psychopath.  He simply enjoyed killing.  There was no motive that prompted his killing.  He simply liked to watch people suffer.  He felt no empathy and very little emotion even though he could charm the pants off of any adult who felt any suspicion toward him.  Dylan simply hated his life and needed a direction – he followed Eric because it offered him a way out, it seems.

When I read this account, and I couldn’t help but think of the shooting in Aurora, CO in the movie theater of the Dark Knight Rises premiere. When I heard, I was disgusted and sad.  It hit me harder than I thought it would because my friends and I frequently see midnight premieres.  I wanted a motive.  Why would anyone do this?  What purpose does it serve?  But, unfortunately, I think reading this book gave me the answer.  He did it to do it.  Killing people was the motive, not the result. He likens himself to the Joker in the series.  Like Alfred said “some men just want to watch the world burn.”

How

The community, obviously rattled struggled for years to become normal again.  Long after the world stopped paying attention to them and long after (sadly) the nation really cared anymore.  There were lawsuits, angry parents, and students on suicide watch constantly.  Cullen’s interviews and portrayal of the principal, Mr. D, are refreshing. That man deserves a medal for taking care of his students as well as he did.

Eventually, the community reclaimed Columbine High School.  Even while today Columbine is synonymous with “school shooting,” students wanted their school back and shouted “We are..COL-um-BINE” to reclaim their identity and their pride. The world crushes us all, but they became stronger in the broken places, as Hemingway so gracefully puts it.

Bottom Line: Forget everything you thought you knew about Columbine.  This book isn’t depressing or gruesome or graphic.  It is just an attempt at an accurate account of that day and those involved. Highly recommend!

Genre: Memoir

Notes: 20/50 books.  Slightly funny throughout with some legitimately pee your pants hilarious moments.

Review: OMIGOSH I love Jenny Lawson.  I read her blog, thebloggess, regularly and snort with laughter as she describes her love affair with taxidermied animals, her relationship with her saint of a husband, and her wild country life in the Texas hills.

I love Jenny Lawson, but I probably wouldn’t be he friend.  Reading her blog is hilarious, but he book is slightly exhausting.  It’s totally manic, neurotic, and panicky.  She openly admits she has an anxiety disorder, struggles with depression, and a whole host of other issues like rheumatoid arthritis and gets her point across – it is tough living in Jenny Lawson’s head.  And you know what? I totally get that.  I also come across much better and put together over email, blog, or text.  I can come off as witty when I have a chance to think about my response whereas in person, I mostly just say awkward things.

So, some of these chapters tend to get overwhelming, but it keeps a pretty even keel of funny moments.  However, there are some moments that are legitimately hilarious.  One of my favorite chapters/stories is from her blog: Beyonce the Metal Chicken.  I had read this about a year earlier when my friend sent me the link – I almost spit coffee all over my office computer.  And the chapter where Jenny ate wayyyy too much Ex-Lax and she thought her cat was a rapist – that sounds weird typing it, but I cried reading that chapter.  Cried in a good way.

Basically, I don’t know if Jenny Lawson should have a whole novel.  Or, maybe, she just needs a better editor.  I think all of the material is there, but I’m not sure the execution is there.  Some of the chapters are pure genius (the chapter about the shit she dealt with in HR was amazing), but most of the chapters lack direction.  She creates great moments of hilarious-ness, but lacks a narrative thread.  It is mostly musings from Jenny Lawson which is perfect for a blog but less perfect for an entire book.

The thing I liked most about the book is the Jenny finally comes to the realization that weird is good.  Weird is interesting. (which might be her narrative thread, but it gets lost)  Nerdy people rule the world, and everyone is a little bit crazy.  I like to think I’ve embraced my nerdiness and have become more myself as I’ve gotten older, and I’ve rarely ever yearned to fit in. I mostly didn’t give a shit about what anyone thought by high school and did my own thing.  Being weird is cool! I feel like I’m going to tell this to my tween when she is 12 and she’s going to punch me. Regardless, weird > not weird.

After I read this book, I was drinking beer on a rooftop deck at the beach and the wind was making the can move a little.  I put my hand around the can, not touching it, and concentrated really hard.  When the can moved because of the wind again, I felt like a magician.  I promptly told my friends that I was a magician and offered absolutely no follow up or reasons why I felt like a magician.  I’m pretty sure they thought I was drunk, but it’s really just the Jenny Lawson Effect.

Bottom Line: Read this book.  It’s worth it!

Genre: Non-Fiction, Sex, Baller-Status

Notes: 10/50 books. This book is a hilarious hot mess.  In a good way.

Review: Oh. My. God.  This book had me rolling on the floor.  If you enjoy reading about sex (and who doesn’t) Stef will pretty much give you everything you can ask for.  Chasing the Jersey is based after her popular blog of the same name found here about her ridiculous sex-capades chasing athletes and the occasional B-list, puppet obsessed actor.

I hate to get all feminist and preachy on here, (Actually, that’s a complete and total lie – I love getting feminist and preachy) but there are a few points I want to bring up.  First of all, I love that a woman can write about no-holds-barred sex.  Like, legitimately shady shit just to get a good bang.  Would I go to London on a hope and a prayer after google stalking the English Premiere League team?  Probably not.  Do I enjoy reading about someone else doing this?  ABSOLUTELY. I’m sure Stef has been called every derogatory female word in the book – slut, bitch, whore, prostitute, etc. But why is it okay for Tucker Max to write about about his stupid frat parties and banging and everyone thinks he is “the man” while every girl who has sex with more than one guy is a slut?  Or a girl who just has sex for pleasure? Anything than the monogamous, virginal attitude is met with angry whispers and pointed fingers.  Fuck you and your superior attitude, society.  I can have sex with whomever I want as many times as I want.

On the other side, I will have to say one thing that troubled me.  Girls, please stop giving up your lives for your boyfriends.  It’s not cool.  Or cute.  Or even appreciated.  In fact, it’s kind of pathetic.  I’m not saying Stef is pathetic – she’s a total baller – but I’m saying I found it troubling that whenever she addressed a boyfriend in the book, she was traveling all of the earth (literally) to go see him play, to soothe his bruised ego, and basically drop everything for him.  In those chapters, there is no mention of friends, no mention of girls nights out, and no mention of a “Fuck you, don’t talk to me that way you bitch. I hope you choke on your baseball and die.” Girls Girl Girls, this idealizing our boyfriends and thinking that he is the only relationship that matters hasgotto stop.  It reminds me of everything I hate about Bella Swan.

Whatever you think of Stef Williams and her book, you can’t deny the hookups are hilarious.  It’s like Victoria’s Secret mixed with sports and lots of sex.

Bottom Line: Read it!  The book is only available on ebook from Amazon, but its only $5.99 and totally worth it.  And she sleeps with an actor who is obsessed with puppets!  (Who, I have on good authority, is Jason Segel.  Surprised?  NOPE.)

Genre: Auto-biography

Notes: Book 9/50. FOOD. PORN.

Review: Be careful what you get good at.  You might just be doing it for the rest of your life.

Gabrielle Hamilton never set out to be a chef.  She just kind of ended up being a chef to support herself after her parents’ tumultuous divorce that left the kids to fend for themselves.  She passed herself as 16 when she was 13 to get a job as a dishwasher in a local restaurant and passed herself off as 21 to work in a NYC bar.  Everything just kind of snowballed from there.  Eventually, without every working as an executive chef or sous chef in a restaurant and very little formal schooling, she opened her own restaurant in NYC called Prune which has absolutely raving reviews on Yelp.

The book itself is glorious.  Hamilton has an MFA from the University of Michigan, so she knows how to handle the written word and craft a story.  Hamilton separates the book into three sections: Blood, Bones, and Butter.  After reading fan fiction, this book felt like a cool drink of water on a hot day.  The first section, Blood – I can’t even describe.  Hamilton writes about her idyllic childhood in rural Pennsylvania so clearly I felt transported back in time.  It was nostalgia overload in a good way.  The other two sections of the book, Bones and Butter, didn’t quite deliver but they weren’t really a disappointment either.  I devoured this book ans savored the descriptions of food, her round about way of becoming a chef/owner, and her weird INS sham/ not-sham marriage.  (You married an Italian man so he could stay in the country and you’re slightly shocked it didn’t work out?  Really?)

One of the things I didn’t like about the book was her focus on her marriage.  Granted, I get marriage is a big part of a person’s life and the subsequent failure or success shapes a lot of your personality.  But the way Hamilton writes about her marriage to her M.D/Ph.D husband just oozes contempt.  And surprise about ever being married in the first place.  She began an affair with Mr. Italian (I forget his name at the moment, but most of his personality is boiled down to his Italian-ness anyway) behind her then girlfriend’s back and, when his visa runs out, she decides to marry him.  She waltzes up to the court house, some friends on tow, and marries him – all the while assuring everything this is just for the INS.  She describes it as a piece of dramatic theater she took to the finish and it never really meant anything.  I mean, my god, in the span of their three year affair, Gabrielle never introduced her lover to her friends, never really got to know him, and never really laid any sort of foundation for a marriage. And yet (!) a lot of her book talks about how she feels her marriage should be more.  That she wants the partner that marriage provides, not this name on a piece of paper or this man who is the father of her two children and little else.  They even live separately.  She says, “”Ever since I was actually married, I have hoped for it to be everything I think a real marriage should be, an intimacy of the highest order.”  But why?  You picked totally the wrong guy, picked someone you didn’t really even seen to like that much from the beginning, and tried to forge this sham of a life.  And then you brought kids into your weird marriage mix?!  WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?

Marriage rant aside, Hamilton’s rise to fame is a good one.  As far as chef authors go, she and Bourdain top my list.  Non-professional writers (although Bourdain might be more of a writer than chef these days) who can still write are a weakness of mine.  I think writing (in any profession) is essential and people who can’t compose a tight paragraph or a clear sentence make me scream.

Bottom Line: Loved it!  Don’t read on an empty stomach though – the descriptions of food alone were enough to get me salivating.

Genre: Memoir

Notes: A total mess.  If half the stuff in this memoir is true, I don’t know how Augusten Burroughs functions as a human being.  Much less a successful human being who doesn’t live in a mental institution with padded walls.

Review: This story is insane.  I never watched the movie, but I would imagine the movie is a little lighter and a little easier to digest.  The novel made me a little disturbed, a little disgusted, and a little bad for laughing at a clearly desperate situation.

Augusten Burroughs grows up in what can only be described as the strangest circumstances.  True stories are the best stories, because you couldn’t make this stuff up.  As a young boy, Augusten lived with his parents who fought constantly with a mother who thought herself an important poet.  In a weird turn of events, his parents divorced and Augusten’s mother signed custody of him over to her psychiatrist who lived in a dilapidated house with no rules and lots of heathen, barbarian children.

Here is just a taste: The psychiatrist believed that God was attempting to communicate with him through his bowel movements.  When he pooped, be trooped the whole family to view the toilet and decipher the message from God.

Augusten began a relationship with a man 15 years older than him at age 14.

The psychiatrist’s wife eats dog food as a snack.

And it continues like that.  Without stopping.  This whole book had my mouth hanging open half of the time – but I’m not willing to believe it is all true, even if it has memoir stamped onto the cover.  Like, really?  I’m sorry, but no.  Maybe the gist of the story is intact, but I have to believe most of this has some embellishment.

Bottom Line: It’s a quick read, so if you’re looking for something to read on a plane or on vacation, this is a good one.  Plus you can talk about how ridiculous it is and give me your opinion.  Fiction or nonfiction?

Genre: Non-fiction/Fiction, Gonzo journalism, Drugs, semi-autobiographical

Notes: This is a movie starring Johnny Depp, and I haven’t seen it, but something tells me he would be great at playing a drug-addled journalist searching for the American Dream.

Review: Drugs.  Drugs times a billion. Uppers, downers, booze, cocaine, weed, acid, anything you can think of.  This book is one giant drug trip through Vegas.  Which, clearly, the right place for an epic drug trip.

For anyone not familiar with Hunter S. Thompson, let me explain.  Thompson is a legendary journalist.  He is the Barney Stinson of journalism.  He pioneered a new form of journalism he called “gonzo” journalism.  In his mind, the only way you could accurately report a story is to experience it and write about the experience as it happened.  He did not think reporters should view everything from a lens, removed from the story.  Granted, even this doesn’t give a completely accurate representation of the story because people have inherent bias, but it allows the reader to understand the feeling of a story, instead of a dry list of facts.  Granted, in real life, Hunter S. Thompson was probably batshit crazy (supported by the fact that he committed suicide in 2005) but he was still a freaking genius.

Oddly enough, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas did for me what Requiem for a Dream did – made me never want to get completely twisted on drugs.  I mean, Fear and Loathing does have a powerful element of beating the system and sticking it to the man, but the stuff they see is scary!  Thompson describes powerful hallucinations of a woman having sex with polar bear, lizard people eating regular people at a bar, and a hotel worker morphing into a moray eel.  While all this is going on, Thompson is theoretically on assignment to cover a dirt race, the Mint 400, in Vegas as well as a Drug and Narcotics convention for cops.  Clearly, the assignment only provides background music and a reason to be in Vegas completely destroying hotel rooms and ringing up insane bills.  The story really centered on Thompson and his lawyer using drugs and not sleeping for days.  He uses different names for his two main characters, Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo, but most critics have pegged this book as a semi-autobiography, because Duke so clearly emulates Thompson.

Bottom Line: It’s a good read, I can’t lie.  It’s weird, focuses on Old Vegas, and give readers a glimpse at an era gone by.