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R&R 133 | Bossypants

Tina Fey
Bossypants
First published in: 2011
This edition: Sphere, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-7515-4783-2
Genre: humor, memoir, non-fiction
Pages: 285 (including Q&A, reading guide)
Cover design by Mario J. Pulice; cover photo by Ruven Afanador

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In a nutshell?

Man. I was feeling really down the weeks before heading to the UK for our annual book shopping… I mean toy tractor show trip. And then I found Tina, which makes Bossypants my bible.

Comedy writer and actress Tina Fey (Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock) has that delightful self-deprecating humor, which I already knew from being an avid watcher of her show 30 Rock, in which Fey plays herself a comedy writer named Liz Lemon, whose passion in life is a good sandwich.

So when I heard she'd written a memoir, I was on it so fast, I got it almost a year after it was first published, at a charity shop for what amounts to about 2 bucks. Now that's commitment right there. Right. There.

I'd just started reading Julia Child, bless her, but The Fey tempted me and I started reading that instead (after finishing Bossypants, I switched back to Julia Child and have her my full dedication). And I'm so, so glad I did. I needed this. I needed to crylaugh and be confronted with turning 40 ten years from now (an eye opener). But no, seriously. I did need this. Bossypants and the type of humor in it is the perfect prescription against having the blues.

Fey's memoir starts with this hilarious introduction – as I read it I swear I could hear Tina speaking to me… I'm Kaat d'Arc – ensuring you that you were about to read a winner. Fey proceeds to take you through her childhood, her teenage dreams, her experiences with her first jobs, That Palin Skit and how 30 Rock came to be. Bossypants is funny and varied; there's not a dull page in there. It's a wonderful way to get to know Tina Fey, if you're a fan, and I personally am really psyched that she wrote this. Tina Fey is honest and very personal about everything, with a healthy dose of self-mockery, and always keeps it upbeat.

But even if you appreciate humor – of the David Sedaris Genre, yes, I said genre – but have never even heard of 30 Rock (because you've been living under it), this book is for you. I had trouble putting it down. The humor isn't cheap or predictable, but exquisitely funny.

One of my favorite chapters is about Tina Fey's honeymoon, "My honeymoon, or A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again Either", describing how their cruise ship caught on fire, effectively ruining what cruise director 'Dan Dan the Party Man' hadn't already. (Fey is married to 30 Rock composer Jeff Richmond.) (And I'm never going on a cruise. You can forget about it.)

I enjoyed reading where The Bossy in Bossypants began: during her job at the (chapter is also entitled) "Young Men's Christian Association". It's fun to stay there. She also writes about improv, which I actually found very useful reading.

As a photographer I especially enjoyed reading about Tina's experiences with photo shoots and her opinions on retouching in "Amazing, Gorgeous, Not Like That". You kinda get to see it from a whole new perspective. It was one of the chapters which birthed one of several epic crylaughs: unstoppable laughter while the Niagara Falls streamed down my face. (Wil came into the living room during one of these momentous occasions, and proceeded to stare, not sure whether this was good or bad and whether he should hide yes or no.)

I appreciate her chapter "30 Rock: An Experiment to Confuse Your Grandparents", telling us how the show came to be, and introducing us to the people who have written or are still writing for the show using snippets of script to point out their various talents. (It was then that I learned Donald Glover, who plays Troy in Community used to be a writer on 30 Rock.) I appreciate the chapter because I am a fan of the show, but also because I think Fey did a wonderful thing by including her fellow writers in her book.

When I finished the book, I felt a little sad and empty. It was over and done with. I knew I would need to write Tina Fey a bunch of fanmail now begging, BEGGING, for an autographed glam photo and for her to write a second book. It was going to be a chore. I heaved a sigh, and then my eye fell on the Q&A and reading guide sections, usually reserved for the publisher to go all out and inspire us readers to discuss amongst ourselves the value of what we'd just read and the social impact.

But no, this wasn't standard. I encourage you not to skip these parts, as the humor just continues. It's a bit of a bonus. This was a Fey Encore and for now, I am a very satisfied reader. You will be too. Read this book.

The only thing that bothered me about Bossypants is that it didn't come with a free sandwich. But I suppose there's always room for improvement and I'm sure Tina will take my (one time, limited) free advice to heart when she works on volume 2. I'm sure of it.

In a nutshell

Pros:
– Really funny. Really. It will cheer you up.
– and it's varied!

– Great for Tina Fey fans, but also for fans of humor in general
– You might experience crylaughter, which is both strange and relieving.
– Bonus: the Q&A and reading guide

Cons:
– Re: sandwich not included.

Special thanks to Wil for agreeing to be my man-arms & man-hands.

R&R 132 | Lucky

I'm sorry for, again, the lack of updates and for neglecting to approve comments. I'm having a hard time keeping this blog up, it's quite a lot of work and I've still been very, very busy with work & my business. But I'm trying to make a change – to make the time to read a bit more and am slowly getting back into that 🙂 I hope that my drive to review will follow suit. Here's a review of Lucky. I've read it at the end of 2011.

Alice Sebold
Lucky
First published in: 2002
This edition: Picador, 2002
ISBN: 0-330-41836-X
Genre: non-fiction, memoir
Pages: 251
Cover photography by Paola de Grenet

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I've read and reviewed both of Sebold's fiction works; both books I still consider among my favorite novels. Yet something, for the longest time, kept me from reading her other book, her debut: Lucky.

It's the subject: Lucky is a non-fiction account of Sebold's rape back when she was a freshman in college. But more than that, it was sensing – from knowing Sebold's bold writing style – that she would be brutally honest and that she would not hold back. It would be a tough book to read. I was probably scared. Rape is a nightmare. For too many women (and also, men), it is a reality. Sebold's book is all too real and very confrontational.

So I admit, I had trouble picking it up and starting it in the first place. But once I did, once I had gotten through the first pages (in which the rape is described, in detail), I could not put the book down anymore. I was committed to seeing this one through.

I greatly admire Sebold as an author and I admire her even more as a woman. To say I admire her for having survived something that was done to her, that's not what she wants from anyone. Sebold doesn't want anyone's pity, she doesn't want to be looked upon as a victim, to be defined by having been raped. That's not why she wrote this book. I think she wrote it as a way to understand what happened, to get it out of her system. To let go. I have to respect that – Sebold commands respect most of all. I commend her for writing this invaluable, important book.

While generally, logically, she had a very, very hard time with it all – mostly because she was treated differently after the rape; everyone knew she was That Rape Victim and there was a stigma, now – she remained strong and remained true to herself even though everyone else thought she'd changed. Yes, she did. But she didn't break down (which is what was almost expected of her, and I as a reader would have understood if she had); instead she hardened and wanted to fight to bring her rapist to justice. Sebold thus addresses how everyone else also changed because of Alice's rape.

Alice Sebold discloses directly (but never very emotionally – like I said, she hardened) the aftermath: the effect the rape had on her life (a consequence was drug addiction) and how she coped. She seems detached at first, but that's what I mean by honesty. Sebold describes herself as she really was at that time instead of analyzing well after the fact her various feelings and emotions, which she did not yet understand right after the rape. The way Sebold writes her story does not provide us with every bit of insight in the emotional department, but it rings more true.

Sebold is a strong person, that to me is very clear. But she's also very real and honest. She's not leaving anything out to spare us. A large portion of the book deals with the trial against the rapist and the strain that puts on a rape victim. Having to constantly repeat details and events from that day. Being put on the stand and having everything dissected, the defense insinuating fault with the victim at every turn.

Despite understanding that Sebold didn't seek pity when writing her story, that doesn't mean that I didn't feel anything. The account of her rape was terrifying. Women do not want to imagine rape. I skip rape scenes when they appear in movies. I love the show Criminal Minds, but the show's rape scenes horrify me, and they're not even all that graphic. The idea of it happening to anyone, my adrenaline begins to rush immediately. It does something to a woman, imagining this. I think at moments like these women feel strong empathy for their gender. And that's why I felt I had to read this. It could happen to any one of us. That's mostly what I felt when I read those first 20 pages. A strong sense of connectedness to women in general, a solidarity. And I felt the drive to fight when I finished the book.

R&R 131 | The Stupidest Angel

Aaaaand we're back! I'm going to do my best in 2012 to balance work & personal photography projects! Here's the first review for 2012! Yes, Christmas is over, but I didn't finish this book until after Christmas, which makes an untimely review acceptable. Make-up (and some photoshop to enhance the eyes and dead-looking skin) is inspired by Super 8's easy zombie make-up 😀

Christopher Moore
The Stupidest Angel: A Heart-Warming Tale of Christmas Terror
First published in: 2004
This edition: Orbit, 2007
ISBN: 978-1-84149-690-0
Genre: satire, fantasy
Pages: 243
Cover illustration by Steve & Sian Stone; design by Peter Cotton (LBBG)

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In a nutshell?

It was Christmas, 2011. I'd just finished reading a book, and being a complete Christmas buff, wanting to get in the mood, I wanted to read a Christmas book. What to do, what to do? I hadn't yet gotten around to ordering my intended read for the year's holidays, the newer version of Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris, which would contain 12 stories instead of the 6 that are included in my older edition. So I repeat: what to do, what to do?

Why, reread The Stupidest Angel by Christopher Moore, of course!

Joshua Barker hopes he doesn't get into too much trouble for not being home on time. As he tries his best to make his way home, he just wishes that he won't be punished too badly. When he witnesses Santa (also known as Dale Pearson: scumbag) being hit over the head with a shovel, and falling over lifelessly, Joshua realizes he's REALLY in for it now. Please please please, somebody, ANYBODY, make this go away. Bring Santa back to life?

Enter Raziel (of Lamb fame), a beautiful blonde hunk of angelic being, who's – unfortunately – as dumb as he is magnificently gorgeous. In search of a child on earth to grant one wish to ("a Christmas miracle!"), he figures, "Sure! Let's bring the dead back to life!"

So obviously crap really hits the Pine Cove fan. Theophilus Crowse (Pine Cove's sole police presence) already has his work cut out for him in a town full of crazies, which includes Theo's own wife Molly, former Z-list actress best known for her role as Kendra: Warrior Babe of the Outland, and her psychosis. Add zombies to that list, and it's really no wonder the poor guy is at a total loss. Luckily, he has help in the form of a heartbroken biologist, a Warrior Babe with bonus voice in her head, Santa's ex-wife, a pilot and a chatty fruitbat with pink sunglasses.

I first read this heart-warming tale of Christmas terror riiiiiight before I started the Reading & Reviewing project, Christmas 2007. I remember being at my inlaws' farm the day I read most of the book, and how Broer (Wil's dad) asked me, "what are you reading?" and I replied, "Oh , someone's killed Santa and there are zombies, too". And Broer, perplexed, just started giggling (he's a giggler), because that was an answer he wasn't expecting. I think prior to that day, Wil's parents must have (mis)taken me for a Very Serious Reader.

When I visited Wil's parents again on Christmas 2011, I told Broer I'd started reading 'the one about Santa' again, and his eyes twinkled as he remembered that I told him about it 4 years ago. How could you forget a book about Santa murderin's & zombies? There hasn't quite been a book like it yet, and that's pretty much what you can say about every single one of Christopher Moore's books, most of which deserve to be read at least 2 times.

The Stupidest Angel has been the first one I've reread, though, possibly because it was one of the first I read (I was a Moore-virgin until the summer of '07, when I read A Dirty Job) and the timing was right, also because it was Christmas… but also because I have a soft spot for Moore's Pine Cove setting and characters, originally from the book The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove. I feel Theo, Molly + narrator, Mavis and Gabe make up for the funniest group of characters yet, with awesome dialog and interactions. A great addition to the cast is Skinner the Dog; I think it's so funny how Moore will sometimes shift to Skinner's point of view: "Will that guy give me food?" It's an example of why I appreciate Moore's humor so much. He's just a tad silly, but in an unpretentious, brilliant and memorable way.

The Stupidest Angel is a delightful treat of a book: unconventional, ridiculous and funky. Buy it, read it and then put it in someone else's 2012 Christmas stocking, and when they've read it, ask to borrow it so you can read it again during Christmas 2013.

In a nutshell

Pros:
– It's really unforgettable & worth a reread
– Moore's best characters & setting are in this one
– Unconventional and original. Love that.
– Made of awesome: giggleworthy material aplenty

Cons:
– None! (You should know what you're in for with Christopher Moore.)

R&R 130 | Girl in Translation

…well. That took a while. I've been busy getting my photography butt back into gear, working with models a lot, so that's a good reason. Another is that I've been having a few issues with my computer; now I have a new one and I'm ready to continue this project properly. I've been focusing on reorganizing my office and thus largely, my life. That's going well.
I haven't been reading a lot the past few months, photography & work – yup, I've got a job now apart from taking my photography to the next level – got in the way of that. I kind of gave up on my resolution to read 75 books this year, just to allow myself to use my spare time to get organized and get moving on what I want to accomplish in the next year. But in 2012 I will challenge myself properly and keep it up, though 75 won't be doable for me I'm afraid, haha. Enough yapping. Book review time. That's what you're here for after all 😉

Jean Kwok
Girl in Translation
First published in: 2010
This edition: Penguin, 2011
ISBN: 9787-0-141-04274-9
Genre: coming of age
Pages: 290
Cover photography credited to Getty Images. C'est tout.

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In a nutshell?

I needed a book to save me this summer. Save me from my inability to connect phrases and words, my failed attempts to grasp a story. I found it in Jean Kwok's debut GIRL IN TRANSLATION, a book that for a while now had been on my list of books I knew I would love, a book that I knew I would enjoy.

Kimberly Chang is but eleven years old when she and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to the United States, New York to be exact. Neither speaks a word of English, and their shocking state of poverty – their apartment without windows, freezing cold in winter; their few square feet of space shared with cockroaches – only adds to the feeling of alienation in their new country. Kimberly, however, is as determined as she is smart; she quickly realizes that school is the answer. Giving her all, during the day Kimberly strives to improve her grades and learning the language, while at night she helps her mother by working in their aunt's sweatshop.

This book was everything I needed this summer: a well written and moving story. A book that would leave a mark on me, not easy to forget. A book to get lost in.

Kimberly inspires, deeply. She's a wonderful narrator, one to fully root for, which you do. This young immigrant, I admired her greatly for her fight to change the lives of herself and her mother. I didn't want to put this book down. I wanted to know Kim's story, fully.

It's not just the story which captivates; Kwok's writing technique is, although simple in style, very commendable as it adds to the story in many ways. The English dialog is put down as Kimberly would have understood it, with misunderstood words and phrases printed in Italics. (Example: tuition is understood by Kim as "twosheen", and Kwok spells it this way, phonetically.) Sentences look a bit off-key at times, and the reader has some puzzling to do every now and again, but it's a very helpful way for readers feel what Kimberly struggles with. This technique helps bring us closer to Kwok's narrator.

Kwok applies this for translations of Chinese dialog, as well, by literally translating what is said by Chinese characters in English and having Kimberly explain them to us. (An example from page 191: "'You have one big gall bladder.' He meant I was brave.")
This play of words and phrasing, this mix and match of understanding and misunderstanding, stresses what it's like to live between two cultures, to find yourself juggling two languages.

While Kwok tells her story well by writing it well, there's a far more important element which makes Kim's story well told: it is authentic. Without prior knowledge of Jean Kwok's personal life, I recognized that Kwok speaks, through Kimberly, from experience. Upon further research I learned that, while GIRL IN TRANSLATION is not a memoir, it does bear similarities to Kwok's own life story, as she herself has emigrated to the US with her family, lived in poverty despite hard work, and applied herself in school to improve her and her family's circumstances. Kwok was five years old at the time, spoke not a word of English, and worked hard, earning herself early admission to Harvard.

And while I'm applauding Kwok for her accomplishments, and congratulating her for her skill in writing a story in a genuine voice, I also can't help feeling saddened. Reading this story shed a light on what I have to be grateful for. A lot. I'm also somewhat ashamed of myself for "being shocked", so to speak, at Kimberly's story. Was I actually surprised, "shocked that this can happen", or was it simply me finally opening my eyes, turning them towards the truth instead of looking away? A bit of both, I suppose, but mostly the latter. I'm sure this wasn't Kwok's intention, but in ways I did feel confronted with my own willful ignorance. But I think that's a good thing; another reason why this book is valuable. It does have a message, and it's not trivial. It's important. Open your eyes.

What did truly shock me, was how Kim and her mom are treated by Aunt Paula. She exploits her own family (as it's her sweatshop they have to work in to pay off their "debt" to her), and wishes for them to accomplish nothing, to be nothing, to have nothing. I'm aware of Chinese values with regards to family, and understood why it is hard for Kim and her mom to speak up (at the risk of being ungrateful). This only frustrated me more though: I was shocked at Paula's pettiness, HER lack of loyalty towards her family.

Yes, this is definitely a strong book about an immigrant overcoming hardships and unusual obstacles other teens don't necessarily have to deal with. GIRL IN TRANSLATION is a tale of personal triumph – but perhaps even more, it's an inspiring story about a girl growing up. A girl, being a girl with her own flaws and naiveté. I cannot relate to Kimberly in that I've been brought up in a home with a functioning radiator, in a home where I had everything and should have wanted for nothing. That doesn't mean that I couldn't understand her and root for her. Of course I did. Kwok made sure of that, as I've established earlier.

But I could relate, very much, to her coming of age. Being an outsider in school, being bullied and teased. Laughed at and feeling that no one gets you, and that you're alone. Feeling… less than pretty, going through puberty. All the awkwardness involved with starting to like boys for the first time. In many ways, this book is also recommendable for young adult readers.

Kwok focused a lot on Kim's coming of age, which I didn't mind. But I would have loved additional insight into Kim's (and her mom's!) day-to-day life, or read about more interactions with other immigrants – aside from those with a love interest. But I must admit I did expect this book to be about a young girl first and foremost, and an immigrant second.
I am glad the novel was not overly dramatized for drama's sake. The book doesn't weigh too heavily. There's optimism. I don't need to have everything spelled out to me, either, so Kwok did well in allowing us to realize for ourselves certain details.

I'll be keeping an eye on this author. I think GIRL IN TRANSLATION is utterly charming, but I have a feeling that Kwok has more to give.

In a nutshell

Pros:
– A breeze to read; unputdownable which is exactly what I needed
– Great play with language
– Relatable coming of age story
– An endearing, sympathetic character
– Genuine, authentic voice

Cons:
– Somewhat predictable at times
– Very much coming of age, focus is mostly on Kim; would have appreciated more insight into Kim's mom's and other immigrants' lives