Pop Culture Presence: Five Memoirs

The Bedwetter by Sarah Silverman

I wasn’t a fan of Sarah Silverman before I read her book.  I knew that she was a Saturday Night Live cast member and I had seen her television show on Comedy Central where I had felt that she was “trying too hard”.  The book opens with the most shocking and candid family secret, leaving me stunned and staring into space.  I had no idea where she was taking me, but it certainly wasn’t funny.  As I read on, the layers of judgement were quickly stripped away as she discussed her experience and hardship as not only a woman trying to make it in comedy during the 1990s, but also one who often leaned towards vulgarity and potty humor-often synonymous with the masculine realm of the comedy business.  Her stories left me face-to-face with a new Silverman–witty, sensitive, hilarious, and honest with a heart as big as her ovaries.  This autobiography was a humbling lesson in shutting my mouth when I don’t know what I’m talking about.

What can I say?  Don’t judge a woman by her cover.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling

If you read my previous post, which directly addresses Mindy Kaling on marriage, then you know that I greatly admire her first book.  Kaling’s autobiography describes her journey from childhood, being a somewhat overweight, comedy-loving child with hardworking immigrant parents who set the bar for her current work ethic, to present day (roughly 2011) on becoming a comedy writer, an actress, and a true believer monogamy.  She has a fiercely pragmatic outlook on life and love that is soberingly inspirational.  Kaling’s style is intelligent, smart and the book extremely well-written.

This book is A-List material for any gal or guy who has faced the following:

1. Thought s/he was too fat

2. Worked for really long and hard on what s/he loves and had to jump what seemed to be too many hurdles

3. Had an obsession with any number of TV shows and/or romantic comedies

4. Believes in the power of love

Hiding from Reality by Taylor Armstrong

Now you may be questioning why reading Taylor Armstrong’s (from Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills) autobiography on her husband’s suicide would be good for your health.  True, you may not have a lot in common with a Beverly Hills housewife, you may not have ever been in an abusive relationship, and you may not even have cable and have never heard of the show.  Despite all these and possibly more, Armstrong’s book is good for your health whether it be physical, mental or emotional.  She describes a lifetime of abuse in all varied forms, low self-esteem, helplessness and co-dependency.  She shares her story to reach out to women or men in abusive relationships and also probably to make some money after the debts lumped upon her after her husband’s suicide, and also to talk about that suicide, which so many of the show’s viewers want to get the dirt on.  Hiding from Reality sneaks up on you, leaving you to reflect on your own current or past relationships and also shines spotlight on your treatment of others.

Girl Walks into a Bar by Rachel Dratch

 You most likely know Dratch from Saturday Night Live as the quirky and elvish cast member who often had a baby-arm stemming from the top of her head.  Post-SNL, she was left with a somewhat open professional calendar filled with roles that type-cast her as the butch lesbian, the best-friend, the crazy person, the old woman with severe deformities…use your imagination.  As she approached her early 40s, Dratch found herself unmarried, underworked and accidentally pregnant.  She begins by taking us back down her dating roads, filled with absurdity, alcoholism and red flags and drives us right up to her future, filled with an uncertainty that encompasses boyfriend and her baby, which she appropriately deems her “midlife miracle”.  Dratch’s point of view is refreshing as she resists framing her story through rose colored glasses.  Her life took an 180 degree backflip and she’s taking it day by day.

Oh, and she loves being a mother.

Bossypants by Tina Fey

I don’t know how she does it, but when I closed this book, I felt like we truly were best friends.  Though that may sound brimming with stalker tendencies, I also heard that same reaction from likeminded girlfriends.  Despite the fact that I am a huge Saturday Night Live aficionado, I can’t exactly pinpoint which sketches Fey had written.  However, it is clear to see that her comedic acting skills, especially as Sarah Palin, are nothing to sneeze at.  After absorbing her book for a few months now, I see that there are obvious reasons for her popularity in television–the girl has mastered the power of introspection and incredible observation.  Fey’s autobiography is similar to that of Kaling, Silverman and Dratch where she documents little girl Fey through adulthood and her journey to becoming the  comedic powerhouse that she is today.  What sets Fey’s style apart is that she talks about the obvious and while this may seem to be a simple task , it’s extremely jarring given that she has such insight into her own life experiences and what happens around her.  When Fey describes her childhood and living in Chicago (she even went to the Planned Parenthood that I worked at years ago!), it reminds us that many artists come from humble beginnings and have tripped more than once along the way.

2011: Explore My Literary Feminisms!

At the beginning of 2011, I set a goal to read 24 books before the year was through in the attempt to trump my 17 from 2010.  If I didn’t reach it, no biggie, the point is quality, not quantity.  I did feel though, that a good amount of my time was melting into endless nights of watching the uber-dramatic and the really important issues of wives from Beverly Hills and the Mob.  Maybe a portion of my time would be better spent on what I sometimes forget that I really love?

My choices were not preplanned at the beginning of the year and I tried to tackle a range of books resulting in some feminist, most not, and a surprising few dabbled in Library Science, which I saw as more bang for my buck in the end.

My reading plan for this year not only differed from last year in goal (from 17 to 25), but also price.  Besides one or two that were bought for me, I checked all of the books out from the library.  Like many library types, a good amount of us buy our books.  Shocking, I know.  A lot of us are collectors of books and pride ourselves on showing off our giant libraries.  Think of it as battle scars.  However, being on a fairly strict budget for much of 2011, I decided to put my money, or rather, no money, where my mouth is (I think this also had a direct impact on my increased number of books).  Once I remembered that I had free access to an endless amount of books, I found it difficult not to fill my arms with mass amounts of fiction and non-fiction with the  voracious appetite of a brain eating zombie who had just encountered fresh prey!

Top 10

The Night Eternal
by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan (2011)

The third and final book in the Strain Trilogy about vampires taking over the earth.  The trilogy was amazing and each book led me on an emotional roller coaster.  Needless to say, I cried when I closed the last book.

With GDT himself and yes, I am holding the first book of the Strain Trilogy

by Neil Gaiman (1996)

This year I discovered Gaiman, as you will see as you read further.  I read most of his adult fiction this year, and Neverwhere was my favorite Gaiman novel, and second favorite overall this year.  It had a happy ending, a very likable protagonist, and it sucked me in within the first few pages.  I also recommend this on audiobook because Gaiman himself reads the text and because of this, the audiobook expresses exactly what the writer was thinking when he was writing it.

Gunn’s Golden Rules
by Tim Gunn (2007)

This book is my Bible, or the closest thing I’ve ever read to a guide on how I want to live my life.  Gunn gives practical advice on how to act like a normal human being, encompassing good manners, the importance of treating yourself with respect and of course, making everything work.  I will definitely be reading this on a yearly basis and I recommend buying this one.

An Object of Beauty
by Steve Martin (2010)

If you like artwork, New York, fashion, Steve Martin, coming of age stories, color pictures in books or any combination thereof, then this book is for you.

by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1915)

Three men crash land into an all-female utopia where the women actually function just fine!  Go figure!  Plus, it’s a classic by a classic woman.  If you haven’t read CPG yet, I recommend starting with her short story the Yellow Wallpaper.

American Gods
by Neil Gaiman (2001)

Gods living on earth in human forms.  What more could you want?  This piece of fiction is epic and like Neverwhere, grabs you right away.  At times, this book tackles some tough life and death issues but not so much that you feel like you’re reading a Russian novel.

by Tina Fey (2011)

Fey is a feminist and Fey is funny.  And I also want her to be my best friend.  Recommended for women and men who aren’t scared of childbirth, rotten breath or pubic hair that resembles vermicelli noodles.

The Fellowship of the Ring
by J.R.R. Tolkien (1954)

This year I thought that I’d take on the book since I love the movies so much.  It really reinforced that books and film are two totally different mediums and therefore are difficult to compare.  The book fills in gaps in the movie that I didn’t even know there were.  Plus, I was surprised by what an easy read it ended up being.

Based Upon Availability
by Alix Strauss (2010)

Short stories about women who are interconnected by their association with the Four Seasons Hotel.  Like her last fiction novel, Joy of Funerals, Strauss is really great at writing from varied female points of view.

Men Are Stupid and They Like Big Boobs
by Joan Rivers (2008)

What can I say?  It’s Joan Rivers and she rocks.  She’s a bipartisan powerhouse with a voice and an opinion.

Runners Up

The Anansai Brothers
by Neil Gaiman (2005)

The story of two reunited brothers who are the sons of an African God.  Very Gaimanesque: death; life; Gods; whimsy; a somewhat awkward central character who comes into his own; and as always, he presents us with magic and superstitions and makes it so easy to want to be part of that world.

Oh No She Didn’t: The Top 100 Style Mistakes Women Make and How to Avoid Them
by Clinton Kelly (2010)

Kelly’s guide makes you reflect on  your own wardrobe, laugh out loud on the bus and then look around to judge everyone near you.  However, I think his critique on eyebrows is totally incorrect.

Locke and Key
by Joe Hill (2008)

I am going to say it, Stephen King can’t hold a candle to his son’s writing.  Having never been a real graphic novel fan (besides being made to read Maus and Persepolis in undergrad), Hill’s graphic novel has prompted me to want to read the next three in the series.  A little bloody, a little disturbing and totally enthralling.  (May I also recommend Hill’s fiction: Heart Shaped Box and Horns.)

The Graveyard Book
by Neil Gaiman (2008)

The story of a baby who is adopted by ghosts in a graveyard after his parents are murdered.  Though technically a teen novel, I thoroughly enjoyed this coming of age story.

Carrion Comfort
by Dan Simmons (1989)

If you liked the Strain Trilogy, I’d recommend this novel as well.  Vampires living on earth unbeknownst to humans, a group of rag-tags on the hunt and characters that you fall in love with.  The end gets a little murky and I wouldn’t hold it against you if you speed read the last 1/4 of the book.

Tim Gunn’s Guide to Quality, Taste and Style
by Tim Gunn (2007)

Like Joan Rivers, I like everything that Gunn writes so naturally he’d make it to my runners up group.  Though not one that I’d stress that you buy, he does give good, solid advice on fashion and style, though through a somewhat more conservative lens.  Maybe it’s a New York high fashion thing.

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter
by Seth Graham-Smith (2010)

Sometimes we need something to read where we don’t have to think, right?  Well this is it.  Lincoln was actually a vampire hunter and guess what, slave owners were usually vampires.  It’s real!  Seriously!

by Paul Dinello, Amy Sedaris and Stephen Colbert (2003)

Yet another book where you can just laugh and not have to think much, though be prepared to accept the utter silliness and absurdity of the whole piece.  I’d recommend this on audiobook because Paul Dinello, Stephen Colbert and Amy Sedaris perform the voices for several of the characters.

Mister B. Gone
by Clive Barker (2007)

The concept for this book is really unique–a first person, or rather demon, point of view.  Demon Jakabok Botch is trapped within the pages of the book that you are reading, at that very moment, and he warns and implores you throughout the book to stop reading or else be damned!

The Vegetarian Low-Carb Diet
by Rose Elliot (2006)

Okay, so I am listing this as a runner up because I lost ten pounds in two months.  I was a vegetarian already but the low-carb thing really works.  I wouldn’t take this book as word, but it’s easy to use it as a general guide and make it your own.

Summer of Night
by Dan Simmons (1991)

This book is a prequel to another Simmons book, Winter Haunting and describes a group of boys over the course of one summer.  It entails possession, ghosts, baseball and creepy teachers.  It’s an easy, mindless read and I would recommend it if you have nothing better to read.

The Terror
by Dan Simmons (2007)

I keep reading Simmons because I feel like a lot of the time he almost gets there, but not quite.  This book falls in the typical Simmons style, much like Carrion Comfort.  Most of this book is great–the story of an arctic expedition, Eskimos with special powers, and a large killer spirit who kills off a ship of 19th century English explorers.  The first 3/4 of this book keeps your interest piqued, and then the last 1/4 goes a little off course.  If you can stretch your imagination and suspend belief for a few dozen pages, then you’ll be fine.


Holidays on Ice
by David Sedaris (1997)

I realize that by saying this I may be pegged with eggs on the street by strangers, but this book is not great.  The stories are disjointed and the book doesn’t seem to have much focus.  I think it could have been a lot better it if were just stories about his normal [holiday] anecdotes, but it pulls in some strange tales, such as a young Asian girl moving in with an American family and the mother killing her grandchild.  While this story is totally acceptable and somewhat entertaining, it seemed like it would be better in another book.

Salem’s Lot
by Stephen King (1975)

The more I read Stephen King, the more disappointed I am, and the more I read.  Stephen King is known as the king (pun intended) of horror, but I think that his novels are just okay.  I’m not drawn in, scared or excited by his stories and this novel was no exception.  There were a lot of gaps in the story and I was missing the meat of a great vampire tale.  The idea behind it was great, a vampire comes to a small town, but it lacked the follow-through.

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon
by Steven King (1999)

A little girl gets lost in the woods and is accompanied by a battery operated radio with the voice of commentators reporting on baseball player Tom Gordon.  I did like how King describes being perpetually wet and stung by mosquitoes, because we can all relate to this.  However, I felt myself becoming bored at times because like Salem’s Lot, I felt like the meat of the story was lacking.