The Sense Of Humor by Max Elliot Anderson

The Sense Of HumorThe Sense Of Humor: Let Humor Fast Track You to Healthier, Happier Living

by Max Elliot Anderson

Paperback, 330 pg.
Elk Lake Publishing, 2016

Read: February 15 – 22, 2017

E. B. White famously said, “Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.” And I’ve found no exceptions to this in the couple of decades I’ve looked. Nevertheless, when Anderson asked if I’d read the book, I said yes. Sadly, White’s quip contains more meat than Anderson’s 330 pages.

The central thesis of the book is that humor and laughter are good mentally, physically, socially and spiritually. I’m pretty sure most people know that (at least with most of these things) without Anderson’s help. That doesn’t stop him from saying it over and over again — almost every time, it’s like he hasn’t said it before. As it’s such a benefit, he argues, we need to increase our use of it in our family, relationships, professional life, etc. A time or two, he adds a vaguely Christian-ish gloss to this to add some weight to his argument, but those attempts are pretty weak and best ignored for the author’s sake.

His use of sources is laughable — there are no footnotes/endnotes, many of his citations come in the form of “one entertainer said, . . . “, his history is easily demonstrably wrong. In short, the writing is shoddy and in dire need of a capable editing — which would make the whole thing a lot shorter.

The humor used to tell his point? Well, it’s mildly amusing at best. His chapter “Humor that is No Laughing Matter” is basically a narrow-minded nag-fest about sticking to types of humor that Anderson has arbitrarily decided is appropriate and avoiding humor that he doesn’t like. Everything else is just dull. Overall, the tone and content of the book don’t match up to the subject matter.

This would have made a fairly benign and marginally interesting magazine article, or TL;DR blog post — but as a book? Nope, it just doesn’t work — it ends up spreading what material there is too thin to be any good. It’s too filled with what everyone already knows (and repeats it) and shoddy writing to waste your time with.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest thoughts, I think it’s pretty clear that it didn’t bias me toward the book.


2 Stars

Hungry Heart (Audiobook) by Jennifer Weiner

Hungry Heart (Audiobook) Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing

by Jennifer Weiner , Jennifer Weiner (Narrator)

Unabridged Audiobook, 13 hrs, 15 min.
Simon & Schuster Audio, 2016
Read: February 6 – 14, 2017

I’m not the biggest Jennifer Weiner fan in the world, nor am I in her target demographic in any way, shape, or form — but I’ve enjoyed (in some cases more) those books of hers that I’ve read. So I figured there was a better than even chance that I’d appreciate this collection of essays about her life, career, love life, dogs, social media and more. It’s also read by Weiner herself, which is almost always a winning characteristic for me.

Sadly, this audiobook was better in theory than it was in real life.

There’s a scene in the last season of Gilmore Girls where Logan points out to Rory that despite her prejudices, attitudes and belief, she’s actually part of the same privileged class that he is — which she doesn’t take too well (understandably). I kept thinking about that as I listened to some of Weiner’s tales of woe about her childhood and college life. I’m not saying that she didn’t have problems in her childhood, that she didn’t have trials that no one should have to go through, or overcome a lot in her professional life. But man…the self-pity was overblown — she got an Ivy League education, came out of it with less debt than many people I know who went to less prestigious schools, took a high school trip to Israel, and a largely pleasant childhood.

It doesn’t get much better when she starts talking about her adult life, either. She assumes sexism — and has faced, continues to face, and will probably face a good deal of it in the future — but seems to have some fairly strong gender biases herself. She will frequently say something like “As a woman, I know I’m supposed to be X in this situation.” Almost every time she said something like that I thought, actually a man in the same situation would be expected to behave the same way — it may not be honest, healthy, or “authentic” in the contemporary understanding — but it’s what how an adult person in polite Western culture should act.

Oddly, for someone who lamented her own inability to be a stay-at-home mom/writer, the scorn she displays for stay-at-home moms later in the book seems out of character. Actually, she is dismissive of people with other beliefs and convictions than hers. I’m not suggesting for a moment that she shouldn’t be an opinionated person (of any sex), but it’s hard to respect anyone who can’t reason with their opponents with out dismissing or vilifying them.

I actually had a few more things in my notes along those things, but seeing this on the screen makes me want to stop before this becomes a diatribe against the book. Because, believe it or not, I enjoyed this book — when she tells a narrative or goes for a laugh, I really got into the book and wanted to hear more. It’s when she gets on her soapbox or when she doles out advice that wouldn’t work for women less-well-off than she is, I couldn’t enjoy it.

If anything, this book makes me like her fiction more — because the flawed people she writes about are a lot more relatable than she presents herself as. But listening (I think reading would be better — see below) to Weiner describe her problems with overeating, or the journey to get her first book published (and the real life experiences that shaped the book), her mother’s reactions to her book tours, getting the movie In Her Shoes made, stories about her dogs, and so on — man, I really liked that and would’ve gladly consumed more of that kind of thing.

As an audiobook, this was a disappointment. I found the little sound effect/chime thing between chapters grating. Weiner’s reading was too slow and her cadence demonstrates that she reads a lot to her kids. Which would be fine if the prose matched, but it didn’t.

I can’t rate this too low — it was well-written I laughed, I felt for her and some of the other people she talked about in a way that I can’t justify rating below a 3. But man, I want to.


3 Stars

Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham

Talking as Fast as I CanTalking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls, and Everything in Between

by Lauren Graham
Hardcover, 205 pg.
Ballantine Books, 2016

Read: December 12 – 31, 2016

This book isn’t a proper autobiography or anything (doesn’t claim to be, either); it’s stories, memories, thoughts and humorous bits that Lauren Graham shares about her life and career.  She uses the revival of Gilmore Girls as an excuse to look back on her both to this point, as her career is marked by looking back this year. I haven’t seen the new Gilmore episodes (still working my way through the series with my kids), so I could’ve read the material discussing that a little closer — although I did think the tributes to Edward Herrmann fitting and touching.

The book covers pretty much what you’d expect from an actor’s memoirs — discussion of her childhood, paying her acting dues, education, her big break and so on. All told with wit and charm. Graham’s personality shines forth and really draws you in. She spends a good amount of time talking about the original run of Gilmore Girls, Parenthood, and her novel. I was glad to see that she did that — so many actors/celebrities don’t give that much time or space to the things that made someone want to read their books in the first place.

A few of the highlights of this book are from the parts that aren’t de rigueur. There’s a section on eating and health tips, that made me laugh out loud — Graham learned the same lesson Jim Gaffigan and Weird Al did — food jokes work 99. 6% of the time. There’s some really good writing advice that Graham was given by a friend that helped her to finish this book — and seems like the kind of thing that could help many authors. There’s some recurring jokes about Ellen DeGeneres and the cast of Today. I don’t want to suggest those are all the highlights, but they’re are good sample. 

Most of the book feels like Graham set her phone to “Voice to Text” and cut loose. But there’s no way that it would’ve come out as good if that’s what she did — that kind of feel is the result of a lot of hard work and planning. It all paid off, this was one of the more enjoyable books to read that I’ve tackled recently — don’t get me wrong, the content was good, too — but the writing was as smooth as silk. Unlike that sentence. Between this and her novel, it’s clear that Graham’s really quite a writer, I hope to see more from her.

This was a fast, breezy read — a lot of fun with plenty of heart. Pretty much everything you want from/would expect from Graham. A sure fan pleaser.


3.5 Stars

Operation Cure Boredom by Dan Martin

Operation Cure BoredomOperation Cure Boredom

by Dan Martin

Kindle Edition, 260 pg.
Rascal Press, 2016

Read: October 11 – 12, 2016

In serious need of direction, training, something to do with his life post-rehab — and gullible enough to fall for the outrageous assurances of military recruiters — Dan Martin finds himself in Air Force boot camp. Which isn’t as bad as, say, what Eugene Jerome went through in Biloxi or what “Joker” Davis endured at Parris Island — but it’s pretty bad. Thankfully, Martin can now laugh about it. And he does a pretty good job getting his readers to do the same. Martin’s look back on his years in the military is told as a series of comic anecdotes — while he is trying to portray what happened to him, he’s doing it to make the reader laugh.

He never sees any kind of action — Desert Storm began and ended too soon for that, but he did travel the world as part of an aircrew maintenance team. Which leads him to all sorts of interesting locales — and even more not-so-interesting ones. Throughout his enrollment, he matures — somewhat — making this a sort of coming-of-age tale, and the Martin that is honorably discharged isn’t the same loser that enlisted.

I do think this could be 1/4-1/3 shorter, tightening up the narratives a bit would help. It meanders a bit, both in the individual stories and the overall narrative. I don’t know that I found anything out and out funny, but I found much of it amusing. That’s probably taste, or just the particular day I read it (although I think a more streamlined approach might have helped).

This could be the Non-Fiction Prequel to Joe Zieja’s Mechanical Failure, the sensibilities that characterize Sgt. Rogers are seen very clearly in Martin. Martin’s memories are good reminders for us that the military isn’t just full of heroes or hyper-violent patriots, it’s primarily full of regular Americans just trying to get their jobs done. Less over the top than Heller, Hooker and Abrams — but in the same vein, and hewing closer to the truth. Operation Cure Boredom is the military memoir we all needed.


3 Stars

Yes, Please (Audiobook) by Amy Poehler

Yes PleaseYes, Please

by Amy Poehler (Writer, Narrator),
with Carol Burnett, Seth Meyers, Mike Schur, Eileen Poehler, William Poehler, Patrick Stewart, Kathleen Turner

Unabridged Audiobook, 7 hrs and 31 mins
HarperAudio, 2014

Read: May 19 – 20, 2016

Amy Poehler’s memoir-ish, Yes Please has been on my “get around to it” to it list for quite a while, but I never seemed to until I started this whole audiobook at work experiment. I picked such a good one to start with, I’m actually glad I didn’t read it first.

Poehler interweaves comedy bits with the story of her life and career, starting with her early experiences in comedy and childhood friends, moving onto her start in improv and then on to SNL and Parks and Rec. Even when she’s being serious, she can’t help but be funny — while talking about her divorce, death, Haitian orphans, etc. you want that. She talks a lot about her two sons and sounds like a loving and devoted mother (if a bit twisted).

In addition to this, she talks a good deal about how to deal with the inner voice telling young(er) women (and, I assume, older) that they’re not perfect, that their physical appearance needs to be different or they’re not that worthwhile. As I listened to this, I wanted to play it for my daughter. When she talked about sex and drugs (not that much on the former, but enough), I lost a bit of that desire, but I still might.

It’s not just Poehler’s authorial voice that makes this work so well — it’s her actual voice, too. Poehler saying these wise words, confessing the details, sharing the stories herself, and not just some hired gun (as capable as they might be) elevates the project. Bringing in Patrick Stewart to read silly poems, Kathleen Turner to do the occasional line, her parents, Meyers to reminisce, Schur to read a list of alternate candidates for Leslie Knope’s name and talk about Parks and Recreation in general — were great moves, and a blast to listen to. I’m curious what those sections are like if you just read them, but probably not enough to go try. The last chapter is a recording of a live reading she did, the audience reaction and her playing to them added just the right touch.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but don’t read the book. Listen to the audio. It’s just that good. Heartfelt, funny, and inspirational (and did I mention funny?) — it’s everything you want from Amy Poehler (shy of another season of Parks and Rec).


4 Stars

Lessons from Tara by David Rosenfelt

Lessons from TaraLessons from Tara: Life Advice from the World’s Most Brilliant Dog

by David Rosenfelt

Hardcover, 227 pg.
St. Martin’s Press, 2015

Read: January 23 – 25, 2016

One of my resolutions this year was to read more Non-Fiction — I’m going to try for 1 a month, in addition to “whenever I see something that catches my eye.” So, I marched up to the New Release shelf at the Library and started browsing — hope sinking fast, a whole lot of diet, productivity and political books. Ugh. Just not in the mood, then I got to the 600’s and David Rosenfelt’s name jumped out at me. Had to do it, Rosenfelt talking about Tara (the inspiration for Andy Carpenter’s dog) might be cheating a little, but it was good enough.

I was expecting a little Marley & Me-ish type story about the Rosenfelts and Tara. I couldn’t have been more wrong — thankfully (this meant I sniffled far less than I would’ve otherwise). This is a collection of short (no more than 5 pages), mostly humorous, essays about their life and work with Rescue Dogs. Tara is mentioned frequently, as the work they do with Rescue Dogs was inspired by her, but she’s not the focus of this book. It’s their entire menagerie, those they’ve rescued that aren’t part of their pack, the humans they’ve worked with — and even a few they decidedly haven’t — and the lessons Rosenfelt has learned from them.

While every chapter has a joke or two, some are pretty serious — Rosenfelt talks earnestly about the way people treat dogs — particularly older dogs. The focus of The Tara Foundation is on older/senior dogs who aren’t that likely to be adopted from shelters. I know that he’s made me rethink what dogs I look at when we go to adopt next.

Fans of the Andy Carpenter series will be happy to hear that Andy’s voice is Rosenfelt’s — the book at times feels like an Andy Carpenter book without all the muss and fuss of a plot, murder, or trial. I laughed, I chuckled, I learned a thing or two, and I even got misty more than I wanted to. All in all a really strong read. If you’re a dog lover, or just someone who likes to read good things, find some time for this one.


4 Stars

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day

You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)

by Felicia Day
Hardcover, 258 pg.

Touchstone, 2015

Read: November 2, 2015

There is, a certain degree of difficulty in evaluating a memoir or autobiography, you can’t really critique the plot — “I just didn’t find the protagonist all that believable here,” “sure, things like that just happen…” You’re limited to writing ability/style and what’s contained in the volume (or what’s left out).

So let me start with my minor gripe: I’d have liked a little more information on The Guild — what we got was great, but we barely got any information/impressions on her castmates, the stories, anything beyond the process of getting the first episodes made and then securing the means to make the rest. Even more, I’d have loved more about her work on Buffy, Dr. Horrible, Eureka, and Supernatural which barely got a mention. I get that the book isn’t about that kind of thing — and I can appreciate that. But, I’d have liked to see that kind of thing (and I expect I’m not alone).

So what is the book about? It’s about Felicia Day — how the things in her life made her who she is. So yes, there’s a lot about The Guild, and what the process of making it did to her. Not too much about the other projects, sadly. But while reading it, I didn’t give it much thought beyond muttering to myself, “Oh, come on, we’re just skipping ____?”

Weighed against all the things about this book that really work, that’s really minor (but apparently takes me two paragraphs to explain). If you’re a fan of Felicia Day’s, you know that persona she’s established (I’m not saying it’s not primarily genuine, but she’s careful to keep it consistent). That persona shines forth in every sentence in this book. It’s hard, really hard not to hear Day’s voice in your head as you read this — at a certain point, I stopped trying because why should I? It’s fun hearing things in her voice — most of her readers are reading the book because they enjoy her — that’s why they got the book.

She talks about her mother’s unique approach to homeschooling (“for hippie reasons, not God reasons”), the various and sundry artistic endeavors she tried as a kid/teen — singing, dancing, acting, violin, and more, her college experience, her early acting days, discovering her writing/producing/creative mojo — and most importantly, discovering video games and the Internet.

This, and more, told in her indelible, inimitable, charming style, makes this book a winner — and a real laugh-out-loud read. Also, this book is noteworthy for the most mentions of Ross Perot in any book I’ve read this century. That really has nothing to do with anything, but it’s such strange distinguishing mark, I felt it had to be mentioned.


4 Stars