Okay, so partly my disconnect with this book was my own fault. I'm used to Vowell's other books, so I didn't bother to read the summary, just read theOkay, so partly my disconnect with this book was my own fault. I'm used to Vowell's other books, so I didn't bother to read the summary, just read the sample and clicked "buy." So I didn't realize until after I bought it that, aside from the first chapter, it was a collection of reviews and essays that are, at this point, a decade and a half old.
Here's the thing: you can (and I do) read Dorothy Parker's reviews, which are almost a century old, and enjoy the hell out of them. Never heard of the play? Never heard of the author? Doesn't matter. You'll laugh your ass off anyway. Sarah Vowell is...not Dorothy Parker (well, I mean, who is?), and her reviews do not stay interesting long after the subjects have ceased to be. Same with her essays. Her writing just isn't worth reading for its own sake.
So, yeah, this bored me. At the end, I felt like I knew Vowell a little better, but honestly I would've had way more fun reading random essays in Vox. That's -- not good. And neither is this book....more
I think I'm done with Notaro for right now. It's not that I didn't enjoy this - I did, in places - but I think I'm getting diminishing returns - lessI think I'm done with Notaro for right now. It's not that I didn't enjoy this - I did, in places - but I think I'm getting diminishing returns - less laughter with each subsequent book. I'm also getting sort of tired of Notaro. One book is apparently my recommended yearly dose of her, and now that I've had three times that, I'm definitely feeling like I've overdosed.
The good news is that this book didn't make me flinch the way I Love Everybody did - there's less childishness and less shrieking. Notaro really has refined her voice a lot. It's just that she's kept in some parts I really wish she'd get rid of, and the number one entry on that list is self-deprecation. I have a few friends who can't open their mouths without insulting themselves, and I love them anyway, but talking to them can make me twitch. (And I can insult myself with the best of them, I truly can. I mean, I'm female, of course I can. But I try to keep that from being my primary mode of communication, is all.) Laurie Notaro is just like them - I'm so fat! I'm so clumsy! I'm so dumb! I'm so messy! I'm such a walking disaster of a person! - except here's the thing: she's not my friend. And so, it turns out, I don't love her anyway.
I guess the thing is - I want to laugh with Notaro. Not at her. And after three books, I'm just not doing much of either. Instead, I'm asking myself a lot of depressed questions, like: is this the only way a woman can be funny? By cutting herself down before anyone else gets the chance to?
In short, I need to back away from Laurie Notaro for a while, until I can read her books with more joy than sadness again. ...more
Previously, my rule has been that if a book makes me laugh out loud, it gets four stars, period. I value laughter, and comedy is hard. This book made me change that rule, because it was such a weird blend of laughing and, well, cringing. While reading these essays, I found myself really, really hoping this was all an exaggeration, that she was claiming to have said things she only thought, that she didn't really act that way. And even though I mostly think that's true, some of these stories still hit a squick I didn't even know I had, some close kin to my embarrassment squick. "You're an adult!" I kept wanting to say. "You have a job and major debt and a husband! Stop acting like a junior varsity football player who has a really good steroids connection!"
Still. I did laugh out loud from time to time, when I wasn't wincing away from the page. And I probably will buy another book by Notaro; her work is basically the print equivalent of cotton candy, which is, as it happens, exactly what I'm in the mood for right now.
I just wish it was cotton candy that didn't make me flinch every other chapter, that's all....more
This book's title should actually be Paris in the 1960s and 1970s, Described by Joseph Wechsberg and Naomi Berry. And therein lies the problem.
I expeThis book's title should actually be Paris in the 1960s and 1970s, Described by Joseph Wechsberg and Naomi Berry. And therein lies the problem.
I expected, from the subtitle and from the other Gourmet collection I've read, to find here a variety of writers covering the full time span. And, technically, this book has both - seventeen authors (although that's a ludicrously small number for a 350 page anthology of short magazine pieces), and, well, if not quite sixty years, close. But the book is 85% Joseph Wechsberg and Naomi Berry by volume - apparently they provided the majority of all Gourmet's material on Paris, or just the majority of everything Ruth Reichl liked - and they cover only short periods; Berry part of the sixties, Wechsberg part of the seventies. So already this fails as an anthology - it's not providing a range of voices and experiences.
So the next question is - does it entertain, despite its flaws? And the answer is that it sort of does. Sort of because I don't like Wechsberg's writing (which is unfortunate for me vis-a-vis Gourmet's collections; Reichl apparently worships the ground he walked on) very much. Especially when he's writing about Paris, he's irritatingly pompous. Seriously, dude, if you're writing for an American audience, why throw lumps of random French into your text? Especially given that you're going to translate it in the next sentence. And I'm not talking about French that actually isn't easily translated, or that has special meaning - I'm talking about, like, the French for "from his home" or "car." But my real problem with him is that, Wechsberg is sexist, snobbish, and priggish. I know he had a fascinating life, and I'm sure he was a great guy, but his writing voice and style just basically make me want to poke him with a stick.
And, of course, since this book is about half Wechsberg, not liking him means not liking the book much. Which is a pity, because the places where this actually does act like an anthology, like the first and last sections, I was a very happy reader; Paris is a fascinating subject, and normally I love any book that features people talking about a place or thing that they love. And I didn't mind reading all the essays by Berry, even if they were rather limited in terms of era. But. Just. This book left me gritting my teeth and saying, "Shut up, Joseph Wechsberg."...more
I admit it. I picked this up only and solely because it was available for free on the Kindle from Amazon. And this probably biased me pretty heavily -I admit it. I picked this up only and solely because it was available for free on the Kindle from Amazon. And this probably biased me pretty heavily - to say my expectations were lowered (especially after some of the other books I've gotten for free for the Kindle) is really understating things.
And yet. This book had me truly, helplessly laughing out loud on several occasions, and for that, four stars are basically guaranteed.
I'm not saying it's perfect. Notaro's voice has strong echoes of Erma Bombeck, and while Bombeck was great, her voice was never her strong suit. And I could have lived with slightly fewer fat jokes and a lot fewer self-deprecations (oh, I'm so dumb, I'm so fat, I'm so bad at this). And there are essays in here that just did not work for me. But then, when are there not? David Sedaris isn't great because he's always funny - he's really, really not - but because when he's on, he's really damn funny indeed. Even Thurber wasn't funny all the time. Notaro isn't Sedaris, let alone Thurber, but when she's on, she's genuinely funny.
I enjoyed this book a lot - enough that I'm going to pay for another of her books, just to see what else she's got. ...more
Okay. Let it be said: "Santaland Diaries," the first essay of this book, is wonderful. But the rest of the book is basically filler; this was before SOkay. Let it be said: "Santaland Diaries," the first essay of this book, is wonderful. But the rest of the book is basically filler; this was before Sedaris found his niche (humor essayist), and it really shows. He should never, ever write fiction, for example, and yet he tries to here. The results are not pretty, or even very readable.
It's also notable that half of the pieces in this short book have appeared in other collections of his. So, really, this is not worth buying; get "Santaland Diaries" some other way, and regret nothing about missing the rest of this collection....more
This book should be called "A Short Introduction to Nearly Everything"; it's superficial entertainment for the science-minded, and the content is seriThis book should be called "A Short Introduction to Nearly Everything"; it's superficial entertainment for the science-minded, and the content is seriously lacking. But it has two great strengths: style and details.
For me, the content is just...sad. On basically every topic, he covers the basics that everyone already knows, and then just as he's getting to the interesting parts, he switches topics. After a while, this got really frustrating. I'd be thinking, "Hey, I know where he's going with this, and it's going to be awesome when he gets there," but then he never got there. So I guess you could say this is 500 pages of scientific foreplay, without any of the mind-blowing orgasms science can actually give you. (Eeeech, that metaphor. Um. Yeah. I never promised to be verbally skilled, you know?)
Stylistically, this book is wonderful: Bryson's got a brisk, breezy, engaging narrative voice, and he really uses it to advantage here. And he gives great minor details, too - the pieces of trivia about the lives of some scientists, for example, were super, and many were unknown to me.
Basically, it's fun to read this book. It just isn't very interesting. Or educational - I didn't come away from this feeling like I learned anything other than a few bits of trivia. I realize you can't cover very much of the good stuff in science in 500 pages, but surely Bryson could do a bit better than this....more