Category Archives: Humor

The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances by Matthew Inman (the Oatmeal)

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I have read The Oatmeal for years, and generally like it and sometimes adore it (the comic on loading the dishwasher, for instance, explains my relationship with my dishwasher pretty well, though I will load the thing if my husband is in France and no other options are available). But with this particular comic about running (and eating, and bees…part of what I love about this book is the tangents), I get the impression that Matthew Inman can actually see inside my mind and has written a book that says everything I have ever secretly thought and believed about running. And eating. And my own propensity to exercise only as a means to eat more fried foods. If you have ever found yourself adopting an exercise regimen only because you lack the willpower to follow a healthy diet, this book is for you.

It’s good to read it online, of course, but way better to buy the book because not only does Inman probably get paid more for his brilliance if you buy it, it comes with Blerch and 0.0 stickers. This sticker might actually break my resolve not to put bumper stickers on my car. Also, the book has the bonus tangent section about the Japanese bees that kill wasps, which makes it educational.

If you like Allie Brosch’s Hyperbole and a Half, or Randall Munroe’s XKCD, or…fill in your favorite irreverent, quirky comic here…, you might like this book. If you like running in particular, you will like it even more. Incidentally, I was unreasonably pleased that Inman mentions Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running in this book – until this book came out, Murakami’s book had been my favorite running book ever. I guess now I’ll have to have two favorites? Well, there’s also Born to Run : a Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall, which is up there, too. Maybe I should stop reading about running and go for a run or something.

 

Raising the Perfect Child Through Guilt and Manipulation by Elizabeth Beckwith

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My siblings should all read this. It explains a lot about how my parents raised us. Not that we turned out perfect, but then neither did Elizabeth Beckwith, presumably. The point is, I’m convinced that one of my sisters (or possibly one of my cousins – many of my aunts and uncles practiced this parenting technique, as well) actually wrote this book and changed some names to avoid embarrassing my parents…or giving them credit (blame?).

The book isn’t fabulous – it’s kind of a one-note joke, and works best if you break it up and read a chapter every now and then, rather than gulp it all down at once. But it’s surely worth reading just for this gem of advice, which I am SURE she stole directly from my parents:

Speak loudly and disparagingly of people who do bad things. For example: “Can you believe how fast that guy is driving through the parking lot? What a moron! That’s how people die!” (It’s always good to sprinkle the fear of death into these lessons whenever possible.)

Her whole concept of creating an us vs. them mentality in your children, and then constantly pointing out what’s wrong with all of the “them”s reminded me so much of my own parents that I laughed out loud more than once. My parents were always big on pointing out people that they disapproved of and telling us in no uncertain terms that we didn’t want to be like THOSE people, did we? Yes, if I didn’t know all of my sibs personally, I’d think this woman grew up with us. All in all, a fun read, even if you just skim the highlights.

Not exactly a read-alike, but in a similar vein: The Three-Martini Playdate: A Practical Guide to Happy Parenting by Christie Mellor.

Worst. Person. Ever. by Douglas Coupland

worst person

I think the title of this book says it all – Raymond Gunt, our protagonist, is quite simply the worst person ever. But for some reason, I read the book anyway, mostly just to see what ludicrous situation Raymond would wind up in next, and whether or not he’d learn anything from it. He never did, but the book is entertaining anyway. The basic premise: Raymond is an unemployed B Camera operator in London. His ex-wife gets him a job filming an American reality TV show in the South Pacific. He recruits a homeless man out of a cardboard box on his block to be his assistant, then makes his way to LA, then on to the South Pacific, offending nearly everyone he encounters along the way. He kills a show executive with insults, gets stopped by Homeland Security, and manages to instigate a nuclear incident before he even gets to the film site, and just when you think Ray can’t sink any lower, he does. Blah blah, the end. (And though you’d like karma to work and Ray to suffer, the ending is vaguely happy.)

You have to like a book where the character who gets fished out of a cardboard box turns out to be the most morally upstanding of the lot. The homeless but cultured Neal is basically a good man, but not naive – he knows better than to take any crap from Ray. I think Neal is the real reason I read this. Everyone else is not as bad as Ray, but certainly none of the characters surrounding him are going to win any humanitarian awards – they’re all jerks.

Best for fans of Douglas Coupland – i.e., people who loved Generation X and actually get the Smiths reference in Girlfriend in a Coma. Also good for anyone who has every worked in the entertainment industry. Not good for anyone offended by Very Poor Behavior, sexist pigs, insult comedy and/or crass descriptions of people, places, and things.

Readalike: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosch

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Go out right now and buy this book. Whether you are a neurotic mess like me or not, there will be at least one segment that will speak to you. When it does, it will make you laugh until you cry. Trust me. And come on, how could anyone fail to enjoy a book with the subtitle “Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened”?

Allie Brosch is a blogger who writes mostly about her odd childhood experiences, her dogs, and her various brushes with anxiety and depression. She illustrates her blog with pictures she draws using Paintbrush. If you have ever used Paintbrush, you probably know immediately that these illustrations are … well, primitive would  be the polite word. How she manages to get such expression onto the faces of what are basically fattened-up stick people and dogs I will never know.

I have been reading her blog forever, but when I heard that her book would contain FRESH NON-BLOGGED ABOUT MATERIAL, I signed right up. Yes, I bought 4 copies, because I knew some friends needed this one for Christmas (sorry if I haven’t seen you yet and just spoiled the surprise…). Partly I admit I bought the book because her blog is so funny I felt guilty reading it for free and thought I’d cough up now that some of it exists in print. Also – what if the Internet stops working? I will need this shit archived! And then I realized I hadn’t reserved one of my four copies for myself, and got one from my library until I have more book money.

To my family: you know how you’ve probably wondered all these years what is wrong with me? Read this, it will explain (nearly) everything.

Utterly Heartless by Jan Underwood

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Disclaimer: a friend of mine’s wife wrote this. But I promise you that even though I know her I wouldn’t tell you to read her book if it wasn’t worth it. Well, maybe if she was sharing the royalties, but she isn’t. So there’s nothing in it for me.

Utterly Heartless is about a college Latin professor named Linnea who is – well, heartless. She finds herself on a bus, but doesn’t remember leaving work or boarding the bus, and there is a large empty hole in her chest. Because she has no religious affiliation, but once published some essays about Ancient Rome, she finds that the Underworld Powers That Be have assigned her to Hades. She learns from her new dead friend, Vergil (yes, he turns out to be that Vergil) that she can apply for a transfer to some other afterlife, or if someone who loves her does some great deed for her within two weeks, she might be redeemed. She can’t even begin to decide what afterlife she should pick, so Linnea appears to her friend and office-mate Dori, and asks her to reunite her with her heart. This, she hopes, will be a great enough deed to redeem her.

Dori is overwhelmed. Her best friend has died, the college is trying to eliminate all of their jobs, and she’s expected to take on all of Linnea’s paperwork. Linnea’s temporary replacement is incompetent, and as a result his students come to Dori for advice and comfort. Plus she’s finally just met a guy. She wants to find the heart, but she also wants to find out who killed Linnea in the first place and not get killed herself. Was it the flunking student? The colleague who wanted her job? A higher-up who knew she was trying to work with a union?

Meanwhile, we also meet Alice, Linnea’s student, who lives with an assortment of housemates who all do ridiculous things for tuition money (Alice strips, Jillian is a surrogate mother, and Guppy takes drugs for medical trials, for example). Alice is hurt both personally and academically by Linnea’s death – not only was she her favorite professor, but Alice desperately needs the Latin credits. We follow Alice as she negotiates her personal financial, romantic, and work disasters – all while trying to figure out how she can help find the killer.

Don’t read this book for the plot – there isn’t a lot of whodunit to it, and while I fingered an accomplice the first time s/he (not giving away any spoilers here!) appeared, I never did figure out who actually did it or why until s/he was revealed. The suspense level isn’t terrible – it’s not the kind of book that leaves you in terror of the character’s safety so the anxiety keeps you awake and reading – it’s the LAUGHS that keep you awake and reading. The murder is sort of beside the point – the reason to read this book is to have a good giggle at the follies of academia (if you have ever been a student desperate for money, a professor desperate for respect or tenure, or a cog in any huge machine, you will say “amen” more than once) and of Portland, Oregon (the city in the book is called “Bridges”, but if you live in Portland, you will realize in the first chapter as Alice goes to her job at the strip club that it couldn’t possibly be anywhere else). There are also literary references aplenty for the book geek in all of us (Linnea’s various trips to the underworld are rife with mythological and historical characters), and enough pithy Latin and French quotes to make you sound smart at your next dinner party if you can only remember them. Oh, and the mental picture of Vergil squatting in a Portland (ahem, “Bridges”) apartment, collecting women’s shoes and struggling to finally finish the Aenid after all these years is well worth the cover price.

Read alikes – hmm, I don’t read a lot of mysteries because I frighten easily, but this sort of reminds me of Alexander McCall Smith’s books – fun and entertaining, but not too scary. Humor-wise, if you liked the TV series Dead Like Me, or have ever lived in the rainy Pacific Northwest, or have ever made great sacrifices for an education you’ll probably never use, you’ll identify with this. I read another review that said it was like Dead Like Me set in Portlandia, and that sounds about right to me.

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach

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OK, I promise I will stop listening to Mary Roach books in the car and then telling you about them. But I had to mention this one, because it’s the only time I have ever blushed furiously while driving in my car by myself with the windows up. There are chapters of this book so embarrassing that you think you should be listening with a black bar over your eyes. There are others so cringe-worthy that you will actually physically squirm. At one point, the author actually talks her husband into participating in a study where they have ultrasound pictures taken of them while they have sex. If this wasn’t bad enough in itself, he makes small talk with the doctor, and she takes notes WHILE THEY DO THE DEED. (And that wasn’t even the chapter where I cringed the hardest – that one involved rods being inserted into a man’s penis, which made me cross my legs in sympathy and shudder even though I don’t HAVE a penis.) Go get it, read or listen to it, and enjoy – right now. But not when anyone else could be listening, unless you have a high threshold for embarrassment.

Incidentally, I started Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife this week, and I have to say, Mary Roach has finally written a book I probably won’t finish. This might be due to the reader (who has, quite possibly, the most irritating voice on the planet), but is probably also due to the fact that I am just not that interested in reincarnation research, weighing souls, or spiritualism, which she has covered so far. Hopefully it’ll pick up with some real science instead of the psuedoquackery.

It Looked Different on the Model by Laurie Notaro

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OK, so maybe I only thought this book was funny because she mocks people from Eugene, OR, but I listened to the whole audiobook anyway, despite it being one of those self-deprecating humor books where the author tells you everything that is wrong with her/him and somehow makes this funny rather than pathetic, but only just. The book was totally worth it if only for the chapter where she describes the adventures of “Ambien Laurie” – a character who is adamantly NOT the author, but nonetheless amuses all of the author’s friends while ruining her reputation and damaging her marriage.

Authors with a similar tone (“there’s something wrong with me and I’m going to make you laugh about it even while you are horrified”): Nora Ephron,  Jen Lancaster, Jenny Lawson, Edward Ugel, Augusten Burroughs, Henry Alford, David Sedaris.