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Cool, Calm & Contentious

3.24  ·  Rating details ·  1,133 Ratings  ·  201 Reviews
In this hilarious collection of personal essays, "New York Times" bestselling author Merrill Markoe reveals, among other things, the secret formula for comedy: Start out with a difficult mother, develop some classic teenage insecurities, add a few relationships with narcissistic men, toss in an unruly pack of selfish dogs, finish it off with the kind of crystalline perspec ...more
Kindle Edition
Published (first published November 1st 2011)
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Jul 25, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The best analysis of what happens to people who grow up with crazy mothers I have ever read. It turns out the desire to rearrange grim facts into jokes develops in direct proportion to the humorlessness of the environment in which one is raised!

"You'll get unconditional love when you do something to deserve it"
Mary Bloodworth
Jan 09, 2012 rated it it was ok
Some years ago I read Merrill Markoe's book "What the Dogs Have Taught Me." I remember it as being side-splittingly funny, so I was happy to see that she had a new one out. (turns out she's written a number of them, I guess Merrill and I haven't kept up.)

Merrill Markoe is a bitter woman. Let's just get this out there now. Each chapter is a story of its own, and I don't know if all of them were written for the book or for other things and compiled into the book. Whatever it is, it's a bit front-
A palate-cleanser in between other things. Markoe is always sharp and funny, and I love how she writes about animals vs. humans. (Hint: she often likes animals better, and thinks they're smarter and funnier. I agree.) There's some sadness and anger under the humor, whether she's writing about men in her life, her narcissist mother, or the state of the world as run by smug, jowly white dudes. I get that. I also get her mixed responses to an all-lady whitewater rafting trip, with an emphasis on "f ...more
Jan 18, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I dig Merrill Markoe. She's funny and and smart and a powerful female writer role model and she loves dogs. What more do I need? I wish we were friends. I would like to hang out with her.

The book was fun and funny and a pretty light and easy read. I quite a bit appreciated her opinions that in order to grow up funny you should have a crazy mommy, as well as her very astute insights into narcissists. I will say the section on her life in college/art school was a little weird because it's rolling
Dec 16, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
This book gave me the willies. Not because it was scary by any stretch of the imagination, but because every time I read a chapter I had the weirdest feeling of déjà vu. I had to keep checking to see if I had read this book already even though I've never read any Merril Markoe before. It was a strange and unexplained phenomena.

No déjà vu reading the dog essays though. I skipped over those. I get the appeal of dogs as pets, but dog people speaking in their dogs voice, well, that also gives me the
Oct 15, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I would give this book four stars if you took out all the essays about dogs. I love dogs, but come on! Enough already! The rest of the essays are great, especially the ones about Markoe's personal experiences. I think my favorite was "Medusa's Sister," which starts out as (view spoiler) I wish this book weren't so uneve ...more
Rebecca Burke
Feb 13, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book of essays has an addictive quality to it; I couldn't put it down until it was finished. Though I've never dated David Letterman (here, "Bobby"), attended any fetish conventions, or had any interfaces whatsoever with the Hollywood entertainment industry, I have become a writer and fan of black humor and dogs in response to my childhood and understanding of men and politics. So yes, I'm channeling Merrill Markoe.

This being MM, I knew there would be plenty of wacky female misadventures, f
Feb 28, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays
Here's what happens with my book selections. I find a book I think I will like on Goodreads. If it's not available at the library I put myself on the hold list. At some point in the future I get a notice from the library saying that my book is available. By the time I get to the library, I don't even know what the book is going to be. It's feels like my birthday and I've surprised myself with a book gift! With this book, I completely forgot what kind of book it was but I knew that my old self di ...more
Dec 14, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having never heard of humorist/novelist Merrill Markoe before her recent Daily Show interview with host Jon Stewart, I was drawn to Markoe's story of her tumultuous relationship with her mother, in which she uses humor to successfully cope. Markoe's stories are honest accounts of milestones and mundane events in her life. Most of her material centers on a lifetime commitment to her self centered (albeit remarkable) mother and happier stories of the unconditional love that her canine pals have gi ...more
Heidi The Hippie Reader
I had never heard of Merrill Markoe or read any of her books before, so this was a totally new experience for me.

I just finished a set of essays by Chelsea Handler and their styles are completely (!!!) different- Markoe's are far better written and with less swearing, but Handler's make me laugh out loud while Markoe's have me smiling every once in awhile.

I wasn't enjoying them much until Markoe laid the trauma hammer right into my unsuspecting brain with her essay about sleeping with her colleg
May 17, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: stopped-reading
Just couldn't get into this. Only gave it two essays.
Dec 18, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wish I didn't relate to just about every word Merrill Markoe writes.
Jan 05, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a solid three and a half stars, an intelligently written book of essays I enjoyed. Having grown up with a critical parent, I can relate to the opening chapters about her mother. Having grown up with someone who had what I thought (for years!) to be 'abundant confidence', I enjoyed the chapter focusing on Narcissists. I had to laugh though, when it took me until three quarters through the 'Bobby'chapter to realize she was talking about her relationship with David Letterman (and the i ...more
Overall, kind of meh about this one. Parts of Merrill Markoe's memoir, Cool, Calm and Contentious, were very, very funny. The bits with her dogs, in particular, had me chuckling. l. She discusses all of the things that she allows her dogs to do -- wake her up at the crack of dawn to eat, hog every inch of the bed -- and asks us to imagine a human being exhibiting similar behavior.

Unfortunately, most of the rest of the book wasn't very good. I did enjoy her stories about her mother's narcissism -
Aug 02, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Forgive me, Ms. Markoe, but the entire time I read your book, I kept thinking of another book of essays written by a very funny person: Bossypants by Tina Fey. You see, you and Ms. Fey demonstrate how very funny – and diverse – female comediennes are (your greatest similarity might not be your gender but the fact that, when your essays are not funny, you both miss the mark in a big way). You and Ms. Fey don’t have much in common in your comedic styles, except that you both tap into humor in uniq ...more
This feels like a collection of essays rather than a straight-forward, purpose-built memoir, as there's no real throughline between the stories. Each chapter is a different episode in Markoe's life and thee are a few imagined conversations with her dogs. I remember enjoying her earlier book What the Dogs Have Taught Me , but that was more than 20 years ago and memories fade. Except Merrill's, apparently. She's still kind of pissed at her mom. But then, who isn't, really? Well, according to Merri ...more
I won an advanced reader copy through Goodreads.

I have to admit that I am not a big nonfiction reader. I want a story. But the synopsis of Merrill Markoe’s Cool, Calm & Contentious it was described as “hilarious”. I could use some “hilarious” so I entered. If you like you humor dark, this book is for you.

I did find the essays well written. If I were giving out stars alone on that basis I would probably do a 4.5 (round up that’s a 5) but the stars definition is on how much I liked the book. I
Jun 26, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Overall a fun, funny read. Markoe is at her most successful when she's telling stories about specific experiences like being a wallflower at the S&M ball ("I could buy one of those mini nurse/go-go dancer uniforms just like the ones the Red Cross nurses all wore that time a hurricane hit a brothel and everyone had to take refuge in an S&M dungeon.") or being belittled by her narcissistic mother (“If I can’t criticize you, what are we supposed to talk about? The weather?”).

I was less fon
Feb 04, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I, too, bought this based on her amusing interview with Jon Stewart, which made it sound like the entire book was about her relationship with her hilariously angry and unhappy mother, and how Merrill discovered her mom's extensive journals after the funeral. And indeed, the first couple of chapters were funny and poignant. And then: an entire chapter about her effing dogs. She's already written at LEAST two entire books about her effing dogs! Enough with the dogs already, Merrill! I skipped that ...more
Carla Stafford
One of the reviews for this book was written be Jon Stewart. Apparently, his support, his witty disposition, his fabulous hair, and my apparent shallow reasoning for book selection, led to me checking out Cool, Calm, and Contentious, by Merrill Markoe from the library site.

There are some very funny essays in this book. For some reason, I find it ESPECIALLY entertaining when Merrill Markoe writes from the point of view of her four dogs. I am not sure what that says about me, but there it is. I al
Samb Hicks
Jun 24, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was pained every few pages of the first three chapters as she described the hilarity of her mother. Then I read chapter five. Wow. My relationship with my grandmother sprang into sharp relief. Then I read this chapter to my wife, who immediately saw parallels to a majorly disappointing relationship in her own life. The rest of the book was a breezy read of delightful humor, other than the chapter on 'Bobby' (which was painfully honest) and the ridiculously apropos finale on the future of celeb ...more
Lisa Findley
The first essay, about Markoe's mother, is the best one, but there are several really good ones throughout the rest of the collection ("Bobby," about her relationship with David Letterman, "Medusa's Sister," which is so sad while it's being funny, "But Enough About Me," with her narcissistic mother making an appearance again). A few duds ("Saturday Night with Hieronymous Bosch" and all the dog ones), but that's to be expected in an essay collection.
Jul 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I loved this book! It's a wonderful book for the dysfunctional neurotically self absorbed, especially if you have a highly critical mom and a canine co-dependance, with LOL moments and some unpretentious insight. Last last chapter is a Happy Holidays to everyone who is a dog lover. (And yes, Ch. 5, I thought it was me.)
Mar 26, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, nonfiction, essays
This is a book a humourous essays by someone who is known mainly as a screenwriter. Despite living for most of her life in California, she comes across like a native New Yorker – her voice reminds me of Fran Lebowitz. This was good to dip in and out of, because of the short essay format. Her topics include mature adult dating, attending Berkeley in the 60s, and her life with a house full of dogs.
Apr 16, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The opening line is "For most of her life, my mother was varying degrees of pissed off," and the book just gets better from there. Brilliant essays and memoir from I think one of the under-appreciated comic forces of our time. This should be up there with the best of David Sedaris and "Bossypants." In fact, MM is kind of a grown-up Tina Fey and I mean that with love to both. A must read.
Feb 05, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays, humor, markoe, memoir
Some parts were really good--some a little hard to plow through. I really liked what she had to say about reality TV and her essay about narcissistic people was fascinating. I feel sorry for someone with parents like hers.
The essays about assholes, narcissists, and David Letterman were entertaining. The rest were just fine, but not particularly insightful. The ones (multiple!) where she has conversations with her dogs bumped it down a star.
Jan 13, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bookclub
I wanted to like this book more then I did. I think my expectations were much different then what the book delivered. I found parts to be funny and provide good advice, but overall, I don't think Markoe's writing connected with me.
Apr 13, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: essays, humor, nonfiction
How someone so unfunny could have been the head writer for the David Letterman show, I will never understand.

There were a couple of amusing moments, but overall she struck me as the kind of a person who could tell what should be a funny story in such a way as to result in only blank stares.
Aug 28, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned
I know these essays are supposed to be wry and humorous, but reading them just gave me such a profound sense of sadness that I couldn't bear to read another word. Markoe just wants so badly to be loved that it is painful to witness.
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“Younger love, it seemed, was mainly about the idea of potential--the illusion that magical transformations were bound to occur when the person you think you love has a miraculous impromptu awakening after some metaphorical lightning bolt, made out of your wishes and projections, suddenly brings them to their senses. On the other hand, older love is all about what you are hoping is still possible, after you have mourned the death of the idea of yourself as manufacturer of miracles. Older love starts with the unpleasant truth that expecting a person to change for the better spontaneously, simply because you wish it, makes as much sense as counting on the lottery for next month's rent.” 3 likes
“By the time the last of these relationships ended I was such a quaking mass of colliding, exploding neurotransmitter malfunctions that the only coherent sentence I could form in my native tongue went: "Never again.” 3 likes
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