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R&R 139 | Holidays on Ice… v.2.0

David Sedaris
Holidays on Ice
First published in: 1998 (first edition), 2008 (second edition)
This edition: Back Bay Books, 2010 (second edition)
ISBN: 978-0-316-07891-7
Genre: memoir, humorist
Pages: 166
Cover design by Chip Kidd; cover photography by Marshall Troy

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The first thing I plan on doing when I'm done writing this book review is to deconstruct the myriad of branches and bulbs that is our Christmas Tree – which, I should add, is our second tree. We've managed to kill off our first one. It was quite a pathetic sight, really: limp branches, falling off. Needles everywhere. Duct tape couldn't save it. Tears were shed, some out of pride: that dear ole tree lasted us 4 whole Christmases. The rest of the tears were the direct result of my husband and I crylaughing our way to the gardencenter to pick up our new tree.

The holidays are once again over and done with. So this review is, as we Dutch would say it, "butter after the meal" and thus completely unnecessary and too late. BUT. It's how I roll.

When I bought HOLIDAYS ON ICE v.1.0 in 2010 at a second-hand book store, I wasn't actually aware of there being a newer version published two years earlier. I found that out when I reviewed it, but also figured I'd get to the rest of the book at some point! Now, I'm reviewing v.2.0, but only the 6 additional stories as I already covered the rest several years ago.

The first "new" story I discovered in v.2.0 is Jesus Shaves, from one of my favorite Sedaris bundles, ME TALK PRETTY ONE DAY. It's more about Easter, but generally can be read as a story about any holiday, and holiday traditions. And how they vary across cultures. And how secretly, one can be pretty intolerant about someone else's beliefs – whether we're talking about easter bunnies here… or about something deeper. What I believe? That works. That makes sense. What you believe (or don't believe)? Man. That's fucked up. I liked that bit of social commentary here because it's true! It's what we humans do. Many tend to judge everything that doesn't fit within their own mindset. And I love how Sedaris addresses that with light humor.
What I also loved about this story is the dialog, which is in broken French (as it's set during a French class) translated to broken English for the sake of this story. Hilarious. It's like Sedaris ran Google Translate over it before getting it ready to send to the publisher.

Us and Them continues with the theme of intolerance for other people's traditions and beliefs and non-beliefs. (But takes place during Halloween.) The Tomkey family, you see, doesn't watch TV. They don't believe in TV. But it's so normal! Everyone watches TV! Etcetera. It's a great analogy. Or at least, that's how I read it. It's not quite as direct of a Christmas story, but it was still apt: it made me think about how some people clutch their pearls when someone deigns to say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. I say Happy Holidays. Not to stomp on Christians… but to include everyone.

The next story is a short one with a big message: Let it Snow, about Sedaris' siblings and stubborn mom (I love reading about her, I really do), is about forgiveness and loving your mom – no matter what insane crap she pulls at times.

Six to Eight Black Men is a little close to home, and a great addition to the collection. The Dutch holiday Sinterklaas, after all, is how Santa Clause originated.
It's one thing to live in this country during this Holiday (December 5th/6th; a time of arguments about political correctness, or the amount of pepernoten you'll find in stores nationwide from freakin' August on), it's another to try and explain it to foreigners without feeling embarrassed… or being called a racist. See, Sinterklaas doesn't have elves as helpers: he has black men. Six to eight black men. The story behind this is that Sinterklaas freed slaves, and gave them paying jobs. People who don't know this tend to assume they are slaves, and they judge us harshly, probably based on our history.
…the blackface doesn't help. While kids here are taught that "Black Petes" are their friends (a good message), I still cringe every time I see shoe polish (!!!) and bright red lips mixed with golden hoop earrings and a bad afro wig… on white people. To refer to Jesus Shaves for a moment: "Man. That's fucked up." I don't know what I'll do about this holiday when I have kids.
Thankfully, Sedaris doesn't make us feel like we need to crawl into a corner and never show ourselves again. Every country has embarrassing traditions and silly stories to tell. We've all got something that makes others raise their eyebrows all the way into their hairline. (Sedaris mentions how a blind man in Michigan can legally hunt.)

So far so good: all the new stories, despite different holidays, seem to fit well with the older six. It seems it's become more about holidays in general, making the bundle a lot more varied. The stories are each unique and just very different, and the book's a joy to read. But The Monster Mash could easily have been excluded from the bundle, and I wouldn't have missed it. Don't get me wrong, it's funny – morbidly funny (it's about David working at a mortuary), but there was no holiday spirit like with the other stories. Any other time of the year: bring it. I'll read it and love it. But it's not something I'm looking to read specifically over Christmas.

The final story is from Sedaris newer book SQUIRREL SEEKS CHIPMUNK (which is on my to-be-reviewed pile). This illustrated bundle of books is about animals doing human things, which is both bizarre and hilarious to read. The Cow and the Turkey is definitely Christmas themed (as barn animals are doing their annual Secret Santa), and it covers selfishness and how karma will eventually bite you in the ass. It's a bittersweet ending to a fun bundle of Holiday stories.

Sedaris is a walking oxymoron: the best cynical sentimentalist I've ever had the joy to read. I'm just grateful he's writing. He's cheered up many a foul mood of mine. And he's given me at least 11 (out of 12) reasons to enjoy Christmas even more. Thanks man.

Happy new year, everyone. I hope 2014 will bring you a lot of happiness and joy; that you will accomplish what you hope to accomplish or at least find the spirit and inspiration to try; that you and yours will be safe and in good health. And of course I hope that in 2014 you'll have the chance to explore lots of new stories and worlds…
XO Kaat Z

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

book133-1000px

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 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 129 | The Undomestic Goddess

Sophie Kinsella
The Undomestic Goddess
First published in: 2005
This edition: Black Swan, 2006
ISBN: 9780552772747
Genre: chick lit
Pages: 416
Cover illustration by Gavin Reece; design by Stephen Mulcahey

R&R 129 | The Undomestic Goddess

I'm fine with books that aren't perky and happy. I'll read those that move me to tears. But I need some laughter and fun at times, too. I stocked up on chick lit the first weekend of April, and read one immediately. I needed it (as well as a glass of red wine). Sophie Kinsella is usually a safe bet if you want giggles and enjoyment.

THE UNDOMESTIC GODDESS offers plenty of humor, as Samantha Sweeting finds herself in a rather silly situation all of the sudden. A smart – with an IQ of 158 – and driven lawyer, Sam is up for partnership at London's most prestigious law firm… but then there's The Error. The one Sam made, costing the firm 50 million pounds, most likely costing Sam her job. In a humiliated daze, Sam flees the city, taking a train to some obscure town in the Cotswolds, where she's quickly mistaken to be the applicant for a new job as housekeeper for the Geigers. Sam figures her life in London is as good as over. Why not… start somewhere fresh? So, she takes the job.
There is just one catch. Sam has absolutely zero, NIL experience at housework. She can't even make toast. Needless to say, the Geigers' new housekeeper is anything but the domestic goddess they believe her to be…

Yes. This one's very silly indeed, but it offered me what I needed at the time, which is several giggles. Sam is, despite some inconsistencies which I'll get to in a moment, a very sympathetic character and I enjoyed her story, generally, because of her likability. She does remind me of SHOPAHOLIC's Becky Bloomwood, but Sam's far less irritating and you know, less crazy. She has more of Becky's better qualities.

The setting is lovely; I'm a fan of rural England, especially the Cotswolds: utterly charming and visually stunning. I could picture being there. Kinsella did make me feel like I was completely in the Cotswolds zone during this read.

And then there's the romance, which is predictable – The gorgeous gardener? Hello Captain Obvious – but very, very cute nonetheless. There is chemistry between Sam and Nathaniel. I simply took a shine to him, because he seems to be a great guy and a fine love interest. Not too perfect, not too confident, a quiet one. I liked that he owns a pub, too. His mother Iris is a warm character I instanly adored. Even the Geigers are somewhat likeable, though they are a handful at times.

I never have high standards when I read chick lit, that would be unreasonable, but several things about GODDESS bothered me.

For one, Sam uses her real name while on her rural hideout from the world, but in this day and age of Google – and her Error being all that's talked about online – surely… I mean, the Geigers strike me as the Curious Kind, and they do own computers. Sam should've used a fake name to make the story a bit more believable.

But either way, the story borders on ridiculous at times; Sam is supposed to have an IQ of 158 but I was convinced throughout the book that she's actually dumb as a doorknob. A lot of housework isn't so much about being a full-on domestic who's handy with everything, as it is about having common sense. It's trial and error, and usually you catch on quickly enough. But not as quickly as Sam catches on the art of cuisine. In a few weekends she can bake the perfect double-layered cake and cook her way through French cuisine. For a girl who didn't know how to boil an egg properly to become Britain's master chef over the span of a few weeks, now that's equally doubtful.

A supersmart lawyer doesn't know how to make toast, thus is actually an idiot; several weeks later said idiot is the new Julia Child, thus is actually a genius. I could not suspend my disbelief in either case.

But you can kind of see it coming, a book entitled THE UNDOMESTIC GODDESS – of course at the end of it all, she's a rockstar in the housekeeping department. The book is generally predictable: I knew what the deal was with Sam's Error immediately.

I also noticed a bit of a black and white view of London/city versus the countryside. London career life is soul-sucking, unsocial, lifeless, pale skinned miserableness – while life in the country is pure and good… blah blah. Career women have lives too, though admittedly women like Sam who live and breathe for partnership may be taking it a step too far. But it doesn't mean that life as a domestic in the country is all contentment either. It depends on who you are and what you want out of life and what makes you happy.

But I do understand that Sam needs to figure out what she wants, and what she wants isn't the career and city life anymore. She needs to see the good in the other side of things. (Sam, thankfully, does evolve and learns a lot in this story.)

Finally, the ending, I won't give it away, but it is disappointing because it's all over the place. The book "ends" several times, at least that's how it feels. But then Kinsella has a change of heart and inserts another plot twist. And another, and one more. The reader feels kind of pulled in every direction.
I do wish Kinsella would have made the ending less of a roller coaster, and focused her energy and pages instead on providing closure on other storylines and characters which had been left somewhat in the balance. What happens to the Geigers, what happens to selected people from Sam's law firm, Sam's relationship with her mother…? It would have been better if GODDESS had been a bit more neatly wrapped up. It's hard to explain this one, because I can so easily give something away, but I'll just say that GODDESS would've been a more satisfying read had Kinsella allowed her characters to go through with some necessary confrontations.

Overall I did enjoy the book. I was looking for breezy and funny and I got that, of course I did. THE UNDOMESTIC GODDESS is a fun read, perfectly light, but it's not without its flaws. But I wasn't looking for much, and its cuteness makes GODDESS alright enough for me.