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

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick

Scrappy Little NobodyScrappy Little Nobody

by Anna Kendrick

Hardcover, 271 pg.
Touchstone, 2016

Read: December 22 – 26, 2016


Unlike some of the celebrity memoirs I’ve read this year (and yeah, there’s been a lot of them — I’m not sure why), this is a pretty straight-forward one. Roughly chronological, it covers Kendrick’s life and career from childhood to the last year or two. What separates this is Kendrick’s voice — it is so strong, so funny (I almost wish I’d gone for the audiobook version — narrated by the author — instead for her literal, not just authorial, voice), so brutal.

Thankfully, she saves most of her mockery for herself, so she comes across as charmingly self-deprecatory and insecure.

I’m not sure what to say about this, without resorting to a very long list of quotations that will be too long, and yet not long enough.

I chuckled often, I enjoyed the look at her life and strange childhood; the behind-the-scenes anecdotes about some of her films and award-shows; the present-day social awkwardness. I may not have much to say, but it’s only because my brain isn’t firing right tonight (it seems), not because the book doesn’t deserve it.

If you’re a fan of Kendrick’s, you’ll enjoy this. If you wouldn’t call yourself a fan, but have enjoyed some of her work, you’ll probably enjoy this. If you don’t know anything about her, you still might like this (and get a list of movies to go look into).

—–

4 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

No Problem, Mr. Walt by Walt Hackman

Reposting this in honor of the book launch tomorrow. This’d make a great Father’s Day gift, for those looking for something that’s not a tie. . .

No Problem, Mr. WaltNo Problem, Mr. Walt: A Memoir of Loss, Building a Boat, Rebuilding a Life, & Discovering China

by Walt Hackman
ARC
Publish Authority, 2016
Read: February 18 – 26, 2016

Walt Hackman led an interesting life — sometimes, too interesting. At the age of 55, while trying to decide how to move forward from some major life changes and recover from a great tragedy, he decides to fulfill a long-held dream and move onto a boat. The question was only: what kind of boat?

He decides on a Chinese Junk. And then proceeds to figure out how to get one built for him — not a replica, not a used Junk — but an authentic, Chinese, made they way they’ve been made for centuries, built just for him.

As mid-life crises go, it’s a lot more creative and original than a red Porsche. *

The process was long, involved, troubled, and confusing. Which is works out well for the reader, because it makes for an interesting story for Walt to tell. He walks us through the process involving banks, embassies, multi-national shipping, translators (professional and not), engineers, trans-pacific flights, and a whole lot of tea.

But it’s not just a story about getting his Junk built — it’s a story about Hackman learning how to get things done in China, what he learned about the culture, and how he applied that. For me, this was the most appealing part (really, as interesting as it was, the boat portion of his tale was pretty straightforward).

Hackman did a lot of research into Chinese culture and history — and shares that with his reader. You could get a quick and dirty understanding of Chinese history just by reading the little his chapter introductions. But it’s not just about the big things like the Great Wall, the history of Chinese shipbuilding, various leaders, and whatnot — he talks about culture — the need to make sure everyone saves face in a discussion (and how to ensure that), and even Chinese singing and fighting (??) crickets — which are sometimes kept as pets, in tiny little boxes.

It wouldn’t be a book about international travel, business, and misunderstandings without some travel horror stories — but wow, he had some doozies. Which is probably why those kind of stories are so ubiquitous, they’re great bits of temporary drama that everyone can relate to. They’re also great reinforcement for those of us who aren’t that into travel to stay home.

Second only to travel horrors, are stories about food when it comes to narratives about other countries/cultures. Hackman described both restaurant and home-cooked meals. He gave a lot of detail about home-cooking — both by his Chinese-American friend and her family in China. Also, thanks to an encounter Hackman had walking around and talking to strangers, I learned more about the traditional way to prepare duck than I ever wanted/needed to know.

Most of us have seen enough travel shows, documentaries, etc. about China to get the idea just how foreign a land it is to Western eyes (even The Drew Carey Show sufficiently demonstrated that), and Hackman’s descriptions helped reinforce that. But more effective was his bringing things like coming home to the aftermath of the L. A. Riots (that he had no idea were happening) demonstrated the contrast with his time in China and underlined how otherworldly it can be over there (although in the age of 24-hour news cycles and smartphones, that might not be as stark now.).

It’d be easy to expect this book to be an exploration of Hackman’s dealing with the emotional and familial hardships in his life — but nope. It’s just what it promises: a story about a man trying to get a boat built. That other stuff happens, you can tell, but that’s not what this book is about — part of me would’ve like to see how his construction project helped him find the distance or whatever he needed — but I just found it refreshing that he didn’t use this story as an excuse to deal with all that in print.

Actually, now that I think of it — that’s pretty typical of Hackman — he doesn’t share his thought process (by and large) with the reader. We don’t really get an explanation for his choice of Chinese Junk, just that after some thought, he picked that. We see the results of his thinking, we see some of what his research (both via book and being around the culture) have taught him — but we get almost nothing of the process. Now, that’s a strange approach for this kind of book (at least by current standards), but it works.

The book’s subtitle is: “Building a Boat, Rebuilding a Life, & Discovering China.” Well, Walt Hackman does all three, but we really only get to see two of those. Building his boat and discovering China are enough to carry the book, and allow him to do the rebuilding. This is not the kind of book I normally read, but when Hackman contacted me about reading an ARC, something about it made me sign on — and I’m glad I did. It’s a fascinating book and an easy, rewarding read. Give it a shot, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Disclaimer: I was provided an Advance Reader Copy in exchange for an honest review – I still might end up getting a hard copy, just so I can have that cover to look at easily (can’t tell much from that thumbnail, but it’s great – click through to the website and check it out).

* I’m not trying to make light of everything Hackman was going for, his crises were a lot worse than most.

—–

3.5 Stars

No Problem, Mr. Walt by Walt Hackman

No Problem, Mr. WaltNo Problem, Mr. Walt: A Memoir of Loss, Building a Boat, Rebuilding a Life, & Discovering China

by Walt Hackman

ARC
Publish Authority, 2016
Read: February 18 – 26, 2016

Walt Hackman led an interesting life — sometimes, too interesting. At the age of 55, while trying to decide how to move forward from some major life changes and recover from a great tragedy, he decides to fulfill a long-held dream and move onto a boat. The question was only: what kind of boat?

He decides on a Chinese Junk. And then proceeds to figure out how to get one built for him — not a replica, not a used Junk — but an authentic, Chinese, made they way they’ve been made for centuries, built just for him.

As mid-life crises go, it’s a lot more creative and original than a red Porsche. *

The process was long, involved, troubled, and confusing. Which is works out well for the reader, because it makes for an interesting story for Walt to tell. He walks us through the process involving banks, embassies, multi-national shipping, translators (professional and not), engineers, trans-pacific flights, and a whole lot of tea.

But it’s not just a story about getting his Junk built — it’s a story about Hackman learning how to get things done in China, what he learned about the culture, and how he applied that. For me, this was the most appealing part (really, as interesting as it was, the boat portion of his tale was pretty straightforward).

Hackman did a lot of research into Chinese culture and history — and shares that with his reader. You could get a quick and dirty understanding of Chinese history just by reading the little his chapter introductions. But it’s not just about the big things like the Great Wall, the history of Chinese shipbuilding, various leaders, and whatnot — he talks about culture — the need to make sure everyone saves face in a discussion (and how to ensure that), and even Chinese singing and fighting (??) crickets — which are sometimes kept as pets, in tiny little boxes.

It wouldn’t be a book about international travel, business, and misunderstandings without some travel horror stories — but wow, he had some doozies. Which is probably why those kind of stories are so ubiquitous, they’re great bits of temporary drama that everyone can relate to. They’re also great reinforcement for those of us who aren’t that into travel to stay home.

Second only to travel horrors, are stories about food when it comes to narratives about other countries/cultures. Hackman described both restaurant and home-cooked meals. He gave a lot of detail about home-cooking — both by his Chinese-American friend and her family in China. Also, thanks to an encounter Hackman had walking around and talking to strangers, I learned more about the traditional way to prepare duck than I ever wanted/needed to know.

Most of us have seen enough travel shows, documentaries, etc. about China to get the idea just how foreign a land it is to Western eyes (even The Drew Carey Show sufficiently demonstrated that), and Hackman’s descriptions helped reinforce that. But more effective was his bringing things like coming home to the aftermath of the L. A. Riots (that he had no idea were happening) demonstrated the contrast with his time in China and underlined how otherworldly it can be over there (although in the age of 24-hour news cycles and smartphones, that might not be as stark now.).

It’d be easy to expect this book to be an exploration of Hackman’s dealing with the emotional and familial hardships in his life — but nope. It’s just what it promises: a story about a man trying to get a boat built. That other stuff happens, you can tell, but that’s not what this book is about — part of me would’ve like to see how his construction project helped him find the distance or whatever he needed — but I just found it refreshing that he didn’t use this story as an excuse to deal with all that in print.

Actually, now that I think of it — that’s pretty typical of Hackman — he doesn’t share his thought process (by and large) with the reader. We don’t really get an explanation for his choice of Chinese Junk, just that after some thought, he picked that. We see the results of his thinking, we see some of what his research (both via book and being around the culture) have taught him — but we get almost nothing of the process. Now, that’s a strange approach for this kind of book (at least by current standards), but it works.

The book’s subtitle is: “Building a Boat, Rebuilding a Life, & Discovering China.” Well, Walt Hackman does all three, but we really only get to see two of those. Building his boat and discovering China are enough to carry the book, and allow him to do the rebuilding. This is not the kind of book I normally read, but when Hackman contacted me about reading an ARC, something about it made me sign on — and I’m glad I did. It’s a fascinating book and an easy, rewarding read. Give it a shot, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Disclaimer: I was provided an Advance Reader Copy in exchange for an honest review – I still might end up getting a hard copy, just so I can have that cover to look at easily (can’t tell much from that thumbnail, but it’s great – click through to the website and check it out).

* I’m not trying to make light of everything Hackman was going for, his crises were a lot worse than most.

—–

3.5 Stars

Yes, My Accent Is Real by Kunal Nayyar

Yes, My Accent Is RealYes, My Accent Is Real: and Some Other Things I Haven’t Told You

by Kunal Nayyar
Hardcover, 242 pg.

Atria Books, 2015

Read: September 23 – 24, 2015


This book was all sorts of okay. Occasionally more, rarely less.

It’s a series of (primarily) autobiographical essays about his childhood in India, his family, his time in Portland during college, training as an actor, and his break on a little show you may have heard of, The Big Bang Theory. He closed the book by talking about meeting, courting and marrying his wife — probably the book’s emotional highpoint (the portions about his father are a close second).

Some are a page or two in length, some are longer. Nayyar doesn’t always come across looking good, he’s quick to point out his own shortcomings and how he’s trying to be a better person following that. Overall, he’s a decent guy, and that comes across pretty clearly.

As a fan of Raj, like (I’m assuming) 98.75% of the readers of this book, I enjoyed what little time he spent talking about the character and playing him. I particularly appreciated what he said about Raj’s selective mutism, the choices he made to depict that, and the audience’s reaction to that.

Some of these stories, I’d heard Nayyar tell before — like on Aisha Tyler’s podcast — in written form, with new (or fewer) details was nice, and unlike some, having previous exposure didn’t hurt the book.

Pleasant enough, funny, charming, even touching. It was a nice read. If you enjoy his acting, you’ll likely enjoy it. Yes, My Accent Is Real isn’t a must read, but it’s worth your time.

—–

3 Stars