I enjoyed this book a lot, but only because I had previously seen An Idiot Abroad. This was sort of like a behind the scenes version from Karl's persp...moreI enjoyed this book a lot, but only because I had previously seen An Idiot Abroad. This was sort of like a behind the scenes version from Karl's perspective - many of the same scenes & events were on the show, so they were recognizable. But there were also bits included about what it was like to be filming a travel tv show, which I thought were interesting.
I don't think this book would make much sense as a stand alone book to someone who hadn't already watched & enjoyed An Idiot Abroad. But it did make me laugh a bunch, I liked it.(less)
I enjoyed this book enough to read it relatively quickly, and there were some sections and anecdotes that were just as funny as the blurb on the back...moreI enjoyed this book enough to read it relatively quickly, and there were some sections and anecdotes that were just as funny as the blurb on the back implied.
The author said that the idea for this book came from her friends, who she was emailing with updates about her life while she was on sabbatical in her childhood hometown, with her parents. They thought her email updates were hilarious and should be made into a memoir. (Spoiler: They were.) BUT these friends apparently did not mention that there should be significant amounts of editing involved, because huge chunks of this book bounced around with no segue whatsoever, as though someone had just copied and pasted...email updates to their friends. It was a little hard to follow the author's train of thought sometimes. Most of the time.
So my suggestion would be to organize anecdotes into something more like a short story format, instead of free form thoughts.
There were some sections that were more coherent (many of the sections on religion and women), and I liked those a lot. I also had higher expectations for the writing, given that the author is an English professor and PhD.
I learned a LOT about Mennonites, who I had always assumed were pretty similar to the Amish, but this is clearly not the case. I appreciated the (funny!) Mennonite appendix in the back of the book.
I wanted to hear more about the author rebuilding her life post-divorce, but there were a lot of reminiscences about her ex-husband, who, to me, was an abusive jerk. It was not totally clear that the author fully realized how abusive her previous relationship was. She kept describing this guy as "artistic" and "creative" when he was obviously a mentally ill violent alcoholic. eg "In spite of Nick's depression, or because of it, he and I managed to achieve a working intimacy."
I really liked all the stories about her family, although I cannot imagine that many of them are speaking to her after she published this book. I really liked the sections about cooking and food and religion. I just wish there was a stronger editor involved in this book!(less)
I read this because I love Project Runway (and keep up on what everyone is doing via Blogging Project Runway) so I knew a little bit about Laura Benne...moreI read this because I love Project Runway (and keep up on what everyone is doing via Blogging Project Runway) so I knew a little bit about Laura Bennett already.
This was okay - I think in a lot of ways it was trying too hard to be funny 100% of the time, but there were some moments where in spite of that it was touching or real or made an important point about the sheer ridiculousness of helicopter parents. These moments were WAY better than the trying-too-hard-to-be-funny moments.
I LOVE that the nannies Alicia, Nicole and Blake are not only acknowledged, but featured prominently. I love that Laura does not ever apologize for being a working mother and having a good career making good money.
I was a little bummed that there was not more dirt about what it was like to be on Project Runway. (less)
I was looking forward to reading this, speaking as someone who has several draft versions of a craigslist ad for a local friend saved on their compute...moreI was looking forward to reading this, speaking as someone who has several draft versions of a craigslist ad for a local friend saved on their computer. (Too afraid to ever post it, since craigslist users seem to be unclear on the definition of “platonic.”) My closest friend in the area when I moved here was Debbie, who I have known since I was 12, but she is an hour away at least. (DC and Baltimore are not so close, factoring in traffic. 25 minutes on a Saturday morning equals 2 hours on a Thursday evening for the same distance.) I would LOVE to join a local bookclub where all the other members are younger than 65. I would love to have someone to go to the movies with on a Thursday night who is not also the person I am dating. (Although is it dating when you own a house together? There is not really a good word for this.) I wanted to read this both for tips, and to see how this person’s quest worked out.
My problem when it comes to making friends is that I am nerdy and sarcastic and terrible at small talk and not incredibly outgoing and loud. I also have a really busy schedule because I work a lot. It is immediately obvious that this is not a problem at all for this lady – for many of the friend-dates she goes on, she already has a connection to the other party through a mutual friend, or summer camp, or work, etc. So it’s not exactly true when the blurb for the book says that she knows no one in a new city. I am coming at this from the perspective of someone who doesn’t even have 150 “friends” on facebook (the Dunbar number), which includes a whole bunch of people who flat out hated me in highschool, and people who are only “friends” with me because I have not set up a fan page for my dog.
The psychology sections were interesting, but would have been so much better with footnotes or sources. (Although I think most books could be improved with footnotes, so I am a little biased.)
I kept getting REALLY distracted by just how well off and privileged the author and her husband are. She would mention these little details, probably meant to be scene filler, such as her husband’s trip(s!) to Vegas with his highschool friends, jetting off to Miami or Croatia or Cape Cod or NYC or Maine or somewhere else to a family reunion AND a high school reunion, or the cost of going out to lunch, or dinner, or a show, or classes, or pedicures, etc etc etc with all these friend-dates, daily. (“O’Hare Airport is like my second home!” Oh, how droll!) Being able to just up and quit a job because it wasn’t bringing her inner peace or happiness. Going out for drinks and a shopping spree afterwards – I kept thinking – who are these people? Do they not realize how much $$ they have? And how much free time in which they do not have to work? If I had this lifestyle it would bankrupt me AND I would be fired for taking so much time off. The lady who wrote this book is the same age as me – but she lives in an entirely different universe, financially. She sort of mentions this but in a haha, isn’t this sort of out of budget, how amusing! way, not as though it is an actual problem. It felt incredibly tone-deaf, especially in the current economy.
I also wonder how many people stopped being friends with the author after this was published, because she was not very charitable in describing the people she knows. (This made for much more interesting reading, though!) But there were definitely some instances where I was cringing on behalf of the people she was describing. She was moderately successful at meeting lots of new people and getting to friend level status with a bunch of them, even though there was not ultimately a BFF in the cards at the end of the book. Reading about the process, though, was fascinating. I felt a little bad for the author – her husband was super unsupportive and came off kind of like an asshole; even though she would SAY, “Oh, Matt loves me so much,” Matt in person could not sit through a holiday party on her behalf because the other men who were invited were coming late, so he left her there and met up with some guys in a bar. And these are the incidents she HIGHLIGHTS about their relationship.
I generally enjoyed the concept of the book and the theory behind it, but I feel like the author and I would never be able to be friends personally (granted, not the point) – practically the only things we would agree on are Harry Potter and bookclubs. So it was a little hard to relate, given the extremely personal nature of the book. I feel that this article from The Onion sums this up well: Female Friends Spend Raucous Night Validating The Living Shit Out Of Each Other (less)
I was kind of disappointed in this - there were a couple of scenes and lines that were amusing, but it was not as good as the other books I've read by...moreI was kind of disappointed in this - there were a couple of scenes and lines that were amusing, but it was not as good as the other books I've read by this author. I never really got the gist of what was going on. Were these once newspaper columns that were collected into a book? It really bugged me that each short story was SUMMARIZED in the one after it, as though readers could not be expected to remember events that took place two or three pages previously.
And while I generally love some self-depreciating humor as much as the next person, it was really just a little too much in this book. Not every sentence has to be funny, individually. Sometimes sentences can be used to make a larger point, which is then funny. The author didn't seem to know this, though. That style - each sentence being its own joke - made this a really dense and tedious book to get through.
It did not help that I was reading this at the same time as Mindy Kaling's book, which I loved, which was actually funny.(less)
To be honest, I have not ever seen the American version of The Office, so I had no idea before reading this that Mindy Kaling writes for/plays a chara...moreTo be honest, I have not ever seen the American version of The Office, so I had no idea before reading this that Mindy Kaling writes for/plays a character on that show, which is kind of embarrassing. (I have seen the Ricky Gervais version, which is great.) BUT I love comedy and in particular the Tina Fey/Amy Poehler/SNL style comedy, even if I am woefully out of date in actually watching it. I picked this up because I had this Curtis Sittenfeld article rolling around in my head while I was browsing at the library. (Is it weird how much I love Curtis Sittenfeld’s articles and reviews but at the same time I am not a fan of her books?) Also, I have a soft spot for memoirs and short stories, and especially memoirs composed of short stories, which this is. I listened to the audiobook version of this, which was perfect. (Except for the chapter towards the end, with pictures.)
So I looooved this book, it was as though Mindy Kaling and I could be best friends because we are so alike! (It appears many people thought this, in the reviews here, and either liked or hated this style.) Except for the fact that I do not have a successful career as a writer, have not graduated from an Ivy League school, am not funny, couldn’t act to save my life, and in fact I am not a very good writer at all, even of emails. But OTHER than that! We wear the same size, we could share clothes! We have the same basic outlook on dating/relationships/commitment AND dieting. I appreciated how context was provided for every story or situation that was dated or dependent on a timeline. I love how much of this took place in the 90’s.
The whole way through this, I was thinking to myself, “Can I give this 5 stars? This is not deep, serious, moving literature. I should give it 4 stars.” But then I would get to another part where I either laughed a lot, or agreed 100% with Mindy, and I changed my mind. This book was awesome. (less)
I don’t remember where I heard about this book – maybe from Goodreads? Maybe from an article somewhere else on the internet. But I am so glad I read t...moreI don’t remember where I heard about this book – maybe from Goodreads? Maybe from an article somewhere else on the internet. But I am so glad I read this because it really resonated with me – it’s about aviation in Alaska, superficially, but more importantly it’s about life. I, for one, am not familiar with aviation in the slightest, but it didn’t matter, reading this.
I loved the writing in this book. I think the essay format was perfect for telling these stories.
I also loved the stories – the pseudonyms got a little confusing (Tony Sam Scott Frank Bob etc) – especially since it was obvious that every one of these people was living larger than life in the author’s mind, bland and interchangeable pseudonyms did not do them all justice.
What I most want to know is how the author got this book published without drawing down the legal wrath of, well, anyone. Did she time this specifically for after the Company went out of business, or did they go out of business because of stories like this? Or for some other reason entirely? This sort of tell-all style has gotten more than one person fired or sued, and I am sure there were a number of people who were not pleased that all the blatantly illegal details of how the business was run that are shared in this were made public. Especially since many of the deaths of the titular pilots in question were directly or indirectly caused by Company policies or procedures. (less)
I really like memoirs, and I really like short stories, and I like reading the Yarn Harlot's blog, so I liked reading this book. I was a little disappointed that some of the stories were recognizable blog posts - I remembered reading them previously.
Many of the stories were more about life as a knitter/person with a giant stash of yarn than about knitting itself. This DEFINITELY helped diversify the audience for this book - for instance I knit stuff, but sort of slowly and ineffectively, and I could identify with many of the stories in this book despite that.
Wow. Um. So. I read this in less than 24 hours, it was really compelling for me. The author was so real and raw and honest about his thoughts and feel...moreWow. Um. So. I read this in less than 24 hours, it was really compelling for me. The author was so real and raw and honest about his thoughts and feelings and struggles with food and eating and weight and life that in reading this, it seemed like he was someone I knew, or someone I would want to know. Someone that reminded me of myself. (Except that I am obviously less successful in my career.) I want to know what happens next, what is going on now that Mr. Bruni is no longer the NYT food critic? Obviously he becomes an opinion columnist at work, but what about personally?(less)
I think this is meant to be some kind of general overview about modern India in the last 10 years or so – BUT when I read this I thought of it more as...moreI think this is meant to be some kind of general overview about modern India in the last 10 years or so – BUT when I read this I thought of it more as being the author’s memoir, comparing the impression of India from his childhood in the US to the rapidly modernizing reality he found when he moved there. He then goes into in-depth investigations of different facets of this phenomenon, but he never really removes himself from the narrative.
I didn’t really know a lot about the topic – I have read a fair number of books on the experience of immigrants from the India of, say, the 70’s or 80’s coming to the US and the cultural issues that entails, but not much about India currently. It was especially interesting because the author and I are roughly the same age, and grew up in roughly the same way (except that I am obviously not Indian). But I was able to connect with the author’s story a little more because of this, I think.
Because this is such a personal story, it is hard to think of the subject on a nationwide (global?) scale. The author does score some fantastic interviews, though. And it’s much more interesting to me to read about cultural/political change from the perspective of the man on the street rather than that of a scholar or journalist or politician. The best parts of the book are the sections that involve the author’s personal experience or that of his family – it gets dry and stuffy and boring when he tries to address topics more formally.
I thought this was a charming story about a guy who retires from England to Provence with his wife and dogs. (And a BOATLOAD of money, although this i...moreI thought this was a charming story about a guy who retires from England to Provence with his wife and dogs. (And a BOATLOAD of money, although this is never explicitly stated.) I really enjoyed the descriptions of the characters involved, especially all the builders, I could have done with less about the food – but I think that’s why most people would read this. It’s not food writing per se, but the author does describe many meals. I do not think I would have appreciated all the home improvement based sections prior to owning a house myself.
My mouth did water in the March chapter, when a team of vine planters sits down to a lunch that consisted of “four liters of wine and an enormous pile of sugared sliced bread called tranches dorées.” I was reading this while eating MY lunch, at work - a Trader Joe’s freeze dried rice noodle and mushroom microwavable soup bowl, the benefit of this being that it only costs 99 cents. At the time, I would have given my left arm for four liters of wine and an enormous pile of sugared sliced bread.
Sometimes the writing is a little witty, but mostly it’s a nice memoir. I wonder how much this experience has changed in the 20-odd intervening years since this was written. Especially the difference in prices since the Euro was introduced. I liked that the 2010 postscript was included but wish it was a little more extensive. (less)
I got this at a used book sale solely because of the title – which is great.
This hits on two of my favorite genres – memoirs and short stories, so I...moreI got this at a used book sale solely because of the title – which is great.
This hits on two of my favorite genres – memoirs and short stories, so I thought I would really like it, but it fell surprisingly flat. The best thing about it was the titles – both of the book and of the short stories in it. It really seemed like the author was trying just a *little* too hard to make what was a completely normal childhood/young adulthood come off as eccentric and unique. She uses a lot of self-depreciating humor, but it was insincere and read as false. It was like the author was saying, “I am obviously gorgeous and perfect, but deep down I am just as flawed as you are, let me recount a quirky tale!” (Subliminal message: buy my book/give me a literary award/don’t forget I’m actually more special than you) But her definition of “quirky tale” was a story about playing the Oregon Trail game in the early 90’s, or having a collection of knickknacks, or going to a swank summer camp as a kid. (Note to author: Not quirky.)
Also – as a young woman from the suburbs, the author moves to New York City as a young adult. The way she chooses to demonstrate that she is a Real New Yorker is by namedropping place names into every possible conversation or description. Since I myself am familiar with New York, I kind of knew what/where she was talking about, but if anyone had not been to the city, a lot of the references would make no sense. (But of COURSE – everyone who is anyone has been to New York City! Where else could you possibly go?) It was as though the author could not imagine any of her readers being from different states, or countries.
I think the only story I found even blandly amusing was "You on a Stick", about being the maid of honor at the wedding of a former high school friend.
This one, for me, is going back to the used book store. (less)
I knew practically nothing about eastern Europe in the 90's before reading this book. Only things I vaguely remember hearing on the news. etc. I learn...moreI knew practically nothing about eastern Europe in the 90's before reading this book. Only things I vaguely remember hearing on the news. etc. I learned a LOT. It is by no means a comprehensive history or political overview of each region, just the author's experience as he walks across eastern Europe - anecdotes and a peppering of facts about each area. (So many of which were poor and deeply depressed, economically.) I do wish that the history lessons and the author's modern-day experiences had been delineated a little more clearly. They were all sort of jumbled together in the same paragraphs. This is a very very different writing style than the Yashim series by the same author.
I was kind of amazed at the massive volume of meat products that this group were offered and then consumed - although I understand how food would become a fixation on a journey like this, several chapters seemed to solely focus on the different types and quality of sausage they ate. This, combined with the constant search for cigarettes, was a little off-putting to me, as a vegetarian non-smoker. (Although this made me even more relieved that I was not on this trip - a common theme.)
The author's previous trip was to India - it doesn't say this, explicitly, but I had to look it up, because SO many things are compared to the people, regions, or customs of India. Reading this now, it feels like these were really weird comparisons to make, but I guess to the author at the time, it was the closest experience on hand that he could draw from.
The downside to doing this trip, walking through several countries on the way to an ultimate destination, is that all the observations and experiences are restricted to the superficial - when you are only spending a night in someone's barn and leaving early the next morning, you do not get the opportunity to get to know them, their town, or the region well. For this reason, any of the generalizations the author makes about whole countries or groups of people are especially grating. I was also a little disappointed that the author did not include more of his own thoughts and feelings about the trip, instead of solely making factual or scholarly statements about the events that occurred. How did those facts and events make him, as a human being, feel? It was hard to tell. The other people on the journey, Kate in particular, seemed to be ghostly figures, as their thoughts & feelings about the journey rarely made it onto the page. I do wonder whether any of the people the author met along this trip ever learned about this book. And what has changed in this region in the 20-ish years since this trip occurred? I read an old edition of this (with a distracting number of typos), maybe there is a followup in a more recent copy?
I am not even sure a trip like this would be possible today, with The Threat of Terrorism. Reading this, I kept thinking about the 3 American hikers that were arrested in Iran in 2009. The outcome of this could have been very different. At one point, it was mentioned in an offhand manner that friends & relatives thought the author & his fiance were missing, and embassies were involved, but not mentioned again - these were dismissed as sort of superficial concerns by the author.
The reason I enjoy reading travel memoirs like this is to learn about & experience vicariously a region or culture or country that I will never in my lifetime visit or experience otherwise. This was a very interesting account, and WOW, what an accomplishment! But - such an unpleasant sounding trip. Reading this book makes me very glad that someone else had this idea, and wrote about it, so that I won't have to ever do this to learn about it. It was nice to be able to live vicariously without having to sleep in haystacks or develop blisters or negotiate with locals with whom I do not have a language in common or evade border checkpoints or get into fights with fellow travelers. One good thing, I guess - my own personal life was not going so well, in the time that I was reading this book. And the whole time I was reading it, I was thinking to myself, "Well, my life could always be worse, I could be on this trip right now." So it was sort of cheering, but I doubt that was the intention. It honestly sounds like a completely miserable trip - I was exhausted for the author while I was reading this.
Also - this might give it away - but they only get to Istanbul on the last sentence of the last page, and there is no further analysis or insights provided on the subject. This was kind of a letdown, after reading all about the journey. (less)
I got this book from the library after I saw it in the goodreads genres list. I had no idea what to expect - the reviews that I glanced at were not th...moreI got this book from the library after I saw it in the goodreads genres list. I had no idea what to expect - the reviews that I glanced at were not that great.
However - I LOVED this book. I REALLY enjoyed reading it. It is as though I and the negative reviewers were reading two different books.
I can see how folks would be disappointed if they were expecting a travel memoir about personal revelations along the lines of Eat, Pray, Love, because this book is MUCH more like something by Mary Roach. It's really more about SLA, Secondary Language Acquisition, and all the neurological & behavioral research that goes along with it. There are lots of interviews with experts in the field. It's also very very honest about the author's personal experiences in learning a second language. (Summary: It is not easy.)
One of the things that really struck me was the research involving bilingual stroke patients. The possibility to retain a second language after losing the first language in a stroke was such a revelation. (The theory is that native languages and second languages are stored in different areas of the brain.) There were several stories about people who had strokes and could thereafter only communicate in, say, the French they learned in high school. This was a little terrifying to me, as a monolingual person - what would I be able to say if I had a stroke like that? Donde esta la biblioteca? Terrifying.
Why isn't a second language recommended more strongly for persons at risk of stroke, based on this research??? I can't stop thinking about this.
I really liked that this was not a glowing, romantic account of learning a foreign tongue in a foreign land. There were good parts, obviously. But there were also bad parts. Just like life. (less)
I read The Space Between Us last year, which I liked a lot. This is the author's memoir - also very good. It's impressive how honest she is about herse...moreI read The Space Between Us last year, which I liked a lot. This is the author's memoir - also very good. It's impressive how honest she is about herself as a child and a teenager - it made me feel sympathetically awkward for her, reading this. How hard is it to be a teenager the first time around, and then to write about it again, so clearly? Yikes. The mutual love between all the family members that lived with her as a child (except her mother) really shone, as well. Reminded me a little of Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table in tone - their mothers were also very similar. (less)
The whole time I was reading this, I found myself wishing that I was naturally a funnier person. Barring that, ridiculously successful. I kind of want...moreThe whole time I was reading this, I found myself wishing that I was naturally a funnier person. Barring that, ridiculously successful. I kind of want to be Tina Fey when I grow up. (Who doesn’t?)
This was a lot more poignant and honest than I was expecting, and a lot less like a standard celebrity memoir.* It’s short stories/essays, in chronological order. I read this in dead tree format, but after I found out that the audiobook was read by the author with the SNL audio excerpted, I want to hear it. I could read/listen to this again, it was great.
I loved how the chapter on depicting Sarah Palin also included the (clearly equally important) Peter Pan-themed birthday party preparations that were happening at the same time. AND that BRISTOL, paragon of responsibility, was volunteered by her mother to babysit for Tina Fey. (!!!)
I liked reading the last chapter – whether or not to have a second child, while keeping 30 Rock going – knowing what the outcome was: Well Played!
*Somehow, according to the NYT, this is not a memoir, but I can’t really see why not - unless this is one of those crazy distinctions you learn in English class, which I would not know because I never took one. A person writing about their own childhood and life experiences? I am putting this on my Goodreads “memoir” shelf, clearly this carries the same weight as a NYT classification.(less)
Very interesting. I wished it was longer - It's a compilation of columns, really, without interconnecting storylines, so you can read each chapter ind...moreVery interesting. I wished it was longer - It's a compilation of columns, really, without interconnecting storylines, so you can read each chapter independently. (less)
It was strange, in the second half of this book, how there was suddenly a large amount of emphasis on being Jewish. When the first half of the book im...moreIt was strange, in the second half of this book, how there was suddenly a large amount of emphasis on being Jewish. When the first half of the book implied that the author had been raised hippie-buddhist. I didn't really connect with much of this, although it was funny.(less)
I had thought this would be a narrative much like Bryson's other books, but it turned out to be very similar to the Garrison Keillor book above - a co...moreI had thought this would be a narrative much like Bryson's other books, but it turned out to be very similar to the Garrison Keillor book above - a collection of columns Bryson wrote for a three year period upon his return to America, just like it says in the title. Very funny. (less)