Book Reviews

Review: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) – April 2013

is everyone hanging out without me Firstly, I’ve learned that I really need to write my reviews much closer to the time that I finish the book. And this is especially true with audio books. It’s much more difficult to go back and refresh my memory for the details.

That being said, I really enjoyed this audio book. I love that Mindy Kaling narrates, because she is inherently funny and, much like with Tina Fey’s Bossypants, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns) feels like an extended intimate stand-up routine. Kaling weaves a story of growing up in Boston, dating, working, managing a career, and being single (all while being a “woman of color,” natch). I love hearing completely relatable personal stories and hilarious anecdotes from women I admire.

I have two complaint with the audio book format for this particular book. The first is that Mindy Kaling uses a ton of lists, and hearing them over and over feels very repetitive and not terrible funny. I don’t think I would have this problem if I were just reading the text, and I can’t really explain why. I think it has something to do with the nature of intimate story-telling and listening to the writer narrate, that makes that specific writing trick underwhelming when heard (and not when read).

Also jarring was her use of two male voices, so that some vignettes were more like scenes in an audio play, rather than a simple story being told. I think this only bothered me because it was unusual, but it didn’t take away any enjoyment.

So. The book was good. Legitimately enjoyable. But not great. It hasn’t really stuck with me in the way that some of the other books I’ve read this year have.

I really wish I’d written this sooner. 3.5 Stars

Book Reviews

Review: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running – March 2013

WITAWITARHaruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is a lot of things, but first and foremost it is a series of personal essays documenting a writer’s training program leading up to the New York City Marathon. It is a memoir, chronicling  the life of a former smoker and bar owner, novelist, professor and runner. It is a memory of one man’s journey from Athens to Marathon. It is running as a metaphor for writing and writing as a metaphor for running. It is a beautiful story about aging gracefully. It is a sad and heartwarming story of the inherent tragedy of an aging athlete.

This book was lovingly crafted by Murakami to tell a very intimate story about his own life, his own experiences, and his own struggles with a very personal sport. I related to some parts and found myself inspired by others. The fluid storytelling, the beautiful imagery, and the painstakingly detailed physicality were all so incredibly written that I was engaged from the first words, and didn’t let up until the last.

One note – I would not recommend listening to this book. The narrator was great, but Murakami jumps around so often in his personal timeline that I found it hard to keep up, and had no easy way to reference the When. Obviously for me, this did not detract immensely from the book, but it was enough that towards the end I was a little frustrated.

Overall, I would definitely purchase this book and keep it around to read again from time to time. 5 Stars

(See also: Random Thoughts II)

Book Reviews

Review: Bossypants – February 2013

bossypantsFirst audio book of 2013 completed! Achievement unlocked.

This is a book that I was sorry to see go. I listened to it on my drive into work and on my way home every day for a week. I listened to it while I tried my very best to find motivation for a bike workout. And I listened to it with my boyfriend, the two of us lounging around, engaged in nothing but shared laughter. Tina Fey is a goddess.

Bossypants is a memoir. And a self-help book. And an extended recording of stand up. And a verbal history of SNL (circa 1997-2008). It is funny, irreverent  and heart-warming. Kind of. It’s kind of heart-warming. Mostly it’s just funny. As in laugh out loud hysterical funny. From the awkward teenage nostalgia, to tips on improv, to struggles with breast-feeding, this book has it all, and “it all” is comedy gold.

The book maneuvers through personal history, with anecdotes and familiar names (Alec Baldwin), and I knew to expect that. (“It’s kind of like a book version of SNL — lots of funny shorts. It’s what I think of when I think of Tina Fey.” Krista, Pajiba, Cannonball Read III.) But my favorite interludes, which were equal parts surprising and obvious, were her takes on women in comedy. Her struggles and frustrations were are certainly not exclusive to her industry, but her sense of humor and her intelligent writing eloquently pointed out a prevailing mentality that we baby-makers are faced with every day – “No one wants to watch a sketch with two women.” I won’t water down her brilliance with a recap of my own, but I really do hope that the men reading (or listening to) Bossypants learned something about the female voice, and how we are constantly muffled by ignorance and misogyny.

This is a must read. It’s easy, hilarious, intelligent, and all around pretty fantastic. 5 Stars

Notes on Reading

Notes on Reading: Bossypants & Audio Books

I read an article recently that discussed how best to avoid stress during a long commute. After step 1 (accept your fate and go with it), the article suggested using the time to strengthen your mind. Some suggestions:

  • Download a podcast;
  • Learn a new language;
  • Listen to an audio book.

I had an aunt who suffered from MS and was legally blind for as long as I can remember. She was bed ridden since before I was born and did not much enjoy watching television all day, every day. She listened to audio books. Lots and lots of audio books. And I would crawl onto the bed with her, curl up in her arms and listen to them as well. Look, this woman was smart and funny and kind and loving and wonderful, but her taste in literature was incredibly dull. I think I may associate audio books with the unbelievably boring things she listened to in my youth.

And yet. Once I was all grown up, I did try to listen to an audio book of my choosing. One that was contemporary, with beautiful imagery and hilariously fun characters. I was on a long road trip with a friend, and I had been endlessly gushing about this incredible novel by an up-and-coming Brooklynite author named Jonathan Safran Foer. The book was Everything Is Illuminated, and it continues to be a favorite of mine (as long as I choose to forget that totally off key movie version starring Elijah Wood). We purchased the book to listen to on our 12 hour drive home. I can’t tell you why, but I hated the experience. Maybe the book was too complicated to keep track of, maybe I hated the narrator, or maybe I was just too distracted. Whatever the reason was, I decided that audio books were not for me.

I read tons of healthy living blogs every day, and there are several runners who preach the audio book gospel to help pass the time on a treadmill or a long run. Between these inspiring women (who in my opinion, are obviously never wrong), as well as a slew of friends on Facebook constantly “liking” Audible, I finally decided I needed to give this fuddy-duddy innovation another try. For my first book, I chose Tina Fey’s Bossypants, as narrated by Tina Fey.

And you know what? It’s been marvelous. I’ve listened to it on my commute for the last two days, and once while I was exercising on a recumbent bike. This audio book has actually started to make me look forward to traffic!

This is a shocking revelation, I know.

But I have a few questions now.

  1. Is listening to an audio book “cheating”? I don’t mean for the purposes of my blog, because I’m totally counting them and donating a dollar for every one I finish. I mean in the larger sense – is listening to an audio book the same as reading a traditional book or is it a step closer to seeing the movie version? I suppose on the one hand the reader is still using his imagination to fill in the world of the book, but on the other hand, he isn’t required to devote total concentration and become immersed as he would reading a traditional book.
  2. Is the content of the book different based on the format? In Bossypants, Tina Fey regularly makes jokes that are audio book specific, or that reference a bonus PDF that comes with the audio file. Is this common, and am I therefore missing out on other content that is traditional format specific?

I’m almost finished and a review is forthcoming. I’ve already got my next (March) audio book lined up, Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), as narrated by Mindy Kaling. And some random guy.

I’d like to stick with more simple subject matters when listening to audio books: comedy, memoirs, beach reads, etc. Leave a comment with your favorite “brain candy” to help me pick my book for April!