24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Month: November 2015

Abby Reads: Is Everyone Hanging out without Me? (and Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

Is Everyone Hanging out without Me? (and Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling
Three Rivers Press, 2012, 222 pages
Nonfiction Humor Essays

I am embarrassingly unfamiliar with Mindy Kaling’s work. I mean, I know who she is and I know some of the things she’s been in, but I’ve never seen her in action. I know she was in and wrote for The Office. I know she’s got The Mindy Project going on. But really, that’s it. While I had planned on waiting to read this until I’d become more familiar with her other work, I decided there was really no point and jumped right in. I am now even more curious about her main works. Is Everyone Hanging out without Me? is fun, mostly. Kaling plays around with differDSC_0250ent styles and formats, she includes pictures from her life, her voice is very much her voice. But I was troubled by how cheaply she often pursued jokes, while at the same time berating comedians for going for low forms of humor.

While telling readers a bit about her past, how she got to where she is now, and airing general grievances about the injustices of life (trivial and otherwise), Kaling resorts to making light of sexual assault, mental illness, disabilities, Jews, trans* people, body image, and sexism. As Kaling is a person of a marginalized group (women of color), I was surprised to see all of this. I was disheartened at her use of slurs for people with mental disabilities. I was disappointed at her entire chapter on Jewish stereotypes because, “No, really, all my friends are Jews.” It’s all rather hypocritical, too, as she dedicates an entire chapter to why comedic “roasts” (in which a comedian targets a particular individual with some harsh words about them meant to be humorous — you can imagine many pieces on the Kardashians, for instance, and likely find at least a few roasts there) are inappropriate and pathetic attempts at humor. Okay, Mindy.

Despite my feelings about these issues, I did finish the book and it wasn’t all bad. Kaling has her funny moments and, when she’s not stooping to the likes of what I described above, she’s very good. Moments I wouldn’t expect to translate well in text worked. Small observations of life that, in the right light are hilarious, were riots. Kaling has the tools to do this well. She wouldn’t be where she is without her talent and skill. But the harm she does with jokes about how girls are all about getting their nails done and cupcakes (and much worse) is hugely problematic and severely knocked down my enjoyment of the book.

I found Kaling’s use of footnotes charming, if a little spare. Rather than feeling like an important piece of the way Kaling approaches comedy, they felt like an after-thought gimmick with so few sprinkled throughout the book. I’m also a fan of footnotes, though, as someone who uses too many commas and even more parenthetical asides, so maybe I’m biased.

Personally, I feel Kaling could have done better. The skill is there, the writing is there, the content isn’t.

❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Shut Up, You’re Welcome by Annie Choi

Shut Up, You’re Welcome by Annie Choi
Simon & Schuster, 2013, 270 pages
Nonfiction Humor Essays

In an effort to make NaNoWriMo to go more smoothly this year, I’ve been trying to read exclusively collections of humorous essays by women. There are a ton of them out there, but they are not all stellar exemplars. Shut Up, You’re Welcome by Annie Choi isn’t, either, but it’s also not bad. Choi writes largely about her family, though also about friends and other personal adventures in her life. Unlike many similar collections, Choi’s book has the relatively unique perspective of growing up Korean American. This in itself isn’t completely unique. There are many Korean Americans living in the DSC_0025United States. However, Choi’s perspective as an author is unique — racism, intended or otherwise, is alive and well in all facets of life, publishing included. Many of the essay collections you’re likely to encounter are written by white women who grew up in middle class families, probably had a publishing internship, and now live in New York. Such is not the (complete) case for Choi, which makes this selection stand out from the others. Combined with Choi’s generally excellent sense of humor and balanced writing style, it makes Shut Up, You’re Welcome an enjoyable read.

After reading a few collections already, one of the things I most appreciated about Shut Up, You’re Welcome, was Choi’s sense of humor. All humor essayists have some sense of humor or they wouldn’t be writing what they do. Choi’s humor, however, generally refrains from much of the problematic “jokes” I’ve read in other books. It’s not completely free of issues, but is far better than some of the others. The Harm in Asking by Sara Barron, Is Everyone Hanging out without Me? by Mindy Kaling, and The Idiot Girl’s Action-Adventure Club by Laurie Notaro (at least what I’ve read so far of that one) fares far worse with “humor” about rape, trans* people, eating disorders, self harm, and various other things that really should not be joked about, some while decrying cheap humor based on “roasting” individuals. Choi, for the most part, avoids this. This does not mean her book is any less funny. In fact, I think the lack of these “jokes” makes the book more hilarious because I’m not constantly stopping to think, “Woah, went too far there. Now I’m going to be uncomfortable for the next five paragraphs.” This also indicates to me that Choi is reaching for higher forms of humor that are not as easy to achieve, but more admirable both in content and effort.

Choi also strikes the delicate balance of making fun of her family and their particular ways without making them totally unlikable or crossing the line after which they’d no longer wish to speak with her. (At least that’s my guess; I don’t know Choi’s family personally.) You grow to love Choi’s family throughout the book and, by the end, they feel like a part of your family. Chances are, you’ll likely find at least one trait from each “character” that mirrors that of someone in your life.

The prose which makes up Choi’s essays is equally well-crafted. Creative nonfiction can be difficult to do well, as employing too much dialogue ensures a lack of realism while too little can make for boring chapters. Choi seems to rely on regular phrases and verbal quirks of the people around her, picking up on pieces that will make her “characters” memorable for the reader. Setting is done similarly well, as Choi gives enough detail to settle the reader into a scene without drowning them in so much that the action of the scene is lost. Essays are fairly good lengths for people who enjoy reading for half-hour increments or so. They’re kind of like the “pick your own size” paper towels. What I really love about Shut Up, You’re Welcome, however, is its gimmick. I love a good gimmick. For Choi, the gimmick is short letters between each essay. The letters serve two purposes: to provide a breather piece between longer pieces and to introduce the following piece in some way. Letters are addressed to anyone or anything, and Choi refuses to hold back on how she really feels.

❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: The Revolution of Sabine by Beth Ain Levine

The Revolution of Sabine by Beth Ain Levine
Candlewick, 2008, 224 pages
YA Historical Fiction

In Beth Ain Levine’s The Revolution of Sabine, Sabine’s revolution is not the only revolution going on. Sabine is experiencing the American Revolution but through a lens which is atypical for American readers. Sabine is a young French girl, struggling with the idea of traditional womanhood in Eighteenth Century France. Her coming of age becomes more difficult as, not only her headstrong attitudeDSC_0027 leads her to want something other than what her parents want, but the presence of Benjamin Franklin in France and his grand ideas. It doesn’t hurt that her governess’s son, Michel, has been hanging around more often and has plans to run off to the New World to help the colonies fight their English parent.  When Michel offers Sabine the opportunity to come with him, she’s torn. Does she leave her controlling parents or let the boy who’s grown on her more than she expected go?

Characterizations of the inhabitants of Levine’s story are rather flat. While the motivations of some of them are very clear (such as Sabine’s mother), their actions and descriptions cause a caricature effect, pushing their personalities to the extreme and making them somewhat unbelievable. Unexpectedly, one of the most reasonable characters seemed to be Benjamin Franklin, who makes brief cameos in the novel but does not get directly involved in the action of the events. Sabine herself is predictable as the but-I-don’t-want-to-get-married-mother teenage daughter typical of similar stories. Some of the characters mirror, in a superficial way, characters of a Jane Austen novel. Sabine’s friends provide the gossip-y ladies who care only for marriage; her potential suitor the
antagonistic and rude upper-class would-rather-get-the-plague-than-marry guy; the we-grew-up-together-but-we-aren’t-actually-related love interest; the actually-pretty-cool dad — you get the picture. All of this might be fine except these characters are recurring in historical writing and feel unoriginal.

Although Levine’s main character is sixteen or seventeen, the book feels more appropriate for readers ages nine to twelve. The content may be a little political for readers of that age, but the writing style fits right in with other books readers of those ages might be reading. The themes of the book are similarly very clear, leaving little room for debate. This may make the book a good candidate for younger students doing book reports or analyses, but for the casual reader, makes the experience somewhat uncomfortable. If Sabine had a theme song, it would probably be “Free Bird.” We get it.

The ending of The Revolution of Sabine isn’t totally predictable if a little anti-climactic. It’s a strange mixture of realistic and unrealistic that left me feeling somewhat unsatisfied. It tied up the book as a whole with a shrug for me. This book had been sitting on my TBR list for several years and, ultimately, I didn’t feel like it was worth the anticipation and guilt I felt whenever I saw it sitting at the top of my Goodread’s list. This might be a great selection if you teach middle school English or are a middle school student. Beyond that, there are better options out there.

❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

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