24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Tag: humor

Abby Reads: The Harm in Asking: My Clumsy Encounters with the Human Race by Sara Barron

The Harm in Asking: My Clumsy Encounters with the Human Race by Sara Barron
Three Rivers Press, 2014, 320 pages
Nonfiction Humor Essays

It’s admittedly been a while since I’ve read The Harm in Asking. I toyed around with the idea of not writing a review for it at all because, frankly, I have few positive things to say about it. In fact, I never even took a picture of the book because I was so sure I wouldn’t review it. However, I’m committed to reviewing as much as I read as possible and, despite being woefully behind in that, I have no real reason to not review Barron’s collection of essays. If you’re interested in the particulars of why I was less-than-impressed by this book, read on.

Barron’s essay collection is very like many other essay collections: she describes her various misadventures as a twenty-something living in New York City while pursuing the seemingly unreachable goal of a profitable career as a holder of a Bachelor’s in English. Barron suffers getting locked out of her apartment multiple times within a day, breaking a leg, and the horror of washing her landlord’s back on a regular basis among other tales. There is, in true white-girl-English-major fashion (yes, I’m aware I’m a white-girl-former-English-major), lots of alcohol involved. Overall, the theme of Barron’s collection can be summed up in two titlewords: privileged irresponsibility.

I get the whole self-deprecating humor thing. In fact, it’s something I love to do (and feel I’m pretty good at, if you don’t mind me saying so) myself. It’s my intimate knowledge of this particular brand of humor that leads me to believe Barron fails at it. While feigning self-loathing, Barron actually turns the hate on everyone around her in each of her stories, managing to blame just about everyone except herself for her problems. To her credit, she does sometimes admit to this and it’s sort-of-kind-of in her subtitle. But I found it to be a bit much. She’s regularly offensive, using long-outdated and consciously-insulting words for “jokes,” and isn’t above any category of slur. I could go on about why Barron’s take on humor is harmful, but I’ll leave the research to you (unless it pops up in the comments, in which case I’m happy to oblige). In any case, Barron’s essays felt condescending while she played the victim and everyone else was a villainous *insert racial/homophobic/ableist/sexist slur here*. It was disheartening. And this isn’t to say that Barron necessarily is condescending and plays the victim and all that — I haven’t met Barron. Her writing may be an act for all I know. This is merely how these set of essays came across.

If you can get past the general offense of Barron’s writing and take a look at the writing style, it’s really nothing remarkable. Overall, it’s not poor writing, but it also doesn’t tickle any particular sense to life. There are no especially clever turns of phrase, no heart-stopping similes, no exciting plays on words. The pace flows quickly enough and doesn’t feel disjointed or anything like it, but you’re not going to hold up this book as a piece of Great Literature.

Of the stories Barron tells, most of them are fairly similar if you take enough steps back. Barron thinks things are going well, she makes a bad decision, she complains about the situation she’s now in, she blames it on those around her, someone else solves the problem or she ignores it until it goes away (or it turns out to not really be a problem after all). With this predictable formula present in each story, it’s easy to become bored, especially as you’re inevitably turned off by one or more of her comments that somehow feel like person attacks even though she’s not saying any of this directly to you. I hate to come back to this issue and I know I’m what people like to call a “sensitive person,” but the ongoing offense became tiresome. Not only was it in poor taste, but it seemed to be a main theme and it just felt old and not funny and unoriginal. Because this was the foundation of so many of Barron’s stories, it’s hard to come away from the book with any sense of joy. If Barron’s collection is supposed to be a book of humor, I think she missed the mark.

I did manage to finish it, if only just, so it gets a heart for that. But nothing more.

❤ out of ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤

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 ❤❤❤❤❤

LIBR 200: What I Really Do Meme

We’re all familiar with the “this is what my mom thinks I do, this is what my friends think I do, this is what society thinks I do,” and so on meme. This week, I was challenged to take on the perspective of my information community (readers of YA) and develop my own. Check it out below and then read on for some additional commentary!

Meme

With all of the controversy around adults reading YA literature (see here and here for a few thoughts on it), I figured I’d start with the perspective of that particular part of the YA-readers community. Understanding how adults may feel when approaching librarians for assistance in finding a YA book can help us to better serve them. Even as a teen, I remember being terrified that the librarians or circulation staff would judge me (silently or otherwise) for picking up books that I considered “brain candy” (Twilight, for example — certainly not spectacular literature, but enjoyable all the same) or books that may be considered inappropriate for my age by some (nonfiction on the psychology of sex, for instance). So it wasn’t too difficult to imagine adult readers of YA seeing librarians as a sort of judge. Of course, we’re trained to not be judgmental, but patrons don’t necessarily know this.  So this skeptical, judgmental woman is likely an accurate representation of what many adult YA readers perceive or imagine us to be. If only they knew we read YA, too! (Hey, adult YA readers — let’s be friends, okay?)

I drew from my own experience a second time when I chose the second image. YA authors — or, aspiring ones, anyway — may see the librarian as a sort of teacher. My public library regularly held teen writing clubs and the librarian hosting them was expected to do some sort of creative writing exercise and lead the group as a teacher and mentor, whether or not they had any kind of creative writing background. Of course, some YA authors may also expect librarians to not only teach them the ways of writing well, but how to engage the YA audience, who the YA audience is, how to get an agent, and perhaps even what content will best catch the attention of YA readers. Of course, we do teach in some ways, but creative writing instructors we are (for the most case) not.

Let’s face it — everybody likes to eat. You know who likes to eat the most? College kids. After that, high schoolers. And a program is no good if there’s no food. This is something I’ve learned both during my coursework for my MLIS and my work as a resident assistant at Hollins University (a women’s college in Virginia where I also earned my BA). If you wanted your residents to come to a program, you better be sure there’s a pizza or chips or something. Otherwise, there was no incentive for them to come out for your little party, even if it was an event they had specifically requested. And we all love pizza, don’t we? Maybe being a pizza delivery person wouldn’t be so bad — no one is ever unhappy to see you, unless you’re late!

I can’t tell you how many middle school, high school, and college class periods were spent in the library learning for the umpteenth time how to correctly cite my sources in MLA. Hours and hours were wasted because (a) I wasn’t listening — why should I? I could look it all up online later and (b) most of the time the librarians didn’t seem to enjoy it much, either. They were mostly just glad to see someone using the library, I expect. Yet teachers set up these class periods time and time again and the librarians tried so hard to get us excited about putting periods after incomplete sentences in our works cited page. And remember, kids, it’s not a “bibliography” anymore! This sums up the librarian in the fourth image, instructing some students on a computer. By the way, I’d put money on those kids knowing how to use the computer better than the woman in the picture.

In addition to all of us liking pizza, we also all like to think we are crusading for some better good. Whether we employ our hobbies, our discussions, our volunteer work, or our jobs to make the world a nicer place, most of us humans want to leave the Earth better off than when we got here. Particularly in America, we strive for Freedom of Speech and Intellectual Freedom among other freedoms. Those things are hard to have when other people challenge and ban books for their own personal agendas. As an MLIS student and future librarian, I hope I’m doing my part to do just as this little girl in the fifth image: tell the world, “Don’t ban my books!” Or anyone else’s, for that matter.

And of course, the reality of it all — paperwork. Isn’t that the truth with every job? Well, except pizza delivery person. (That job looks better and better!) While the paperwork is split up among the staff and the majority of it is left for directors, there’s always enough to go around. Submitting orders for books, making note of disturbances, filing maintenance requests, it’s never ending. But we do it anyway because even ten hours of paperwork is worth that one happy patron with the book they’d been searching for.


 

Works Cited

Arnold, Karen. (n.d.) Yellow polka dot background. Digital image.Retrieved from http://bit.ly/1tQQa3v

b$/ram. (2008). Don’t ban my books. Photograph. Retrieved from http://bit.ly/1wCz36s

cybrarian77. (2011). Teacher at chalkboard. Photograph. Retrieved from http://bit.ly/13SIdkz

marcusbep. (2009). Dogimos 1. Photograph. Retrieved from http://bit.ly/1u7iazL

megnificent! (2010). So much paperwork. Pphotograph Retrieved from http://bit.ly/1tJ9v5j

Mullins, C. (2010). @velveteenmind aka “judgy Megan face”. Photograph. Retrieved from http://bit.ly/1u7iHBI

UBC Library Communications. (2008). IKBLC group study43. Photograph. Retrieved from http://bit.ly/1u7iXAQ

 

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