I want to start a new segment on the blog called “Reading Roundup” where I’ll do a brief review/recommendation of the books I’ve read in the past month. Half the reason is that I want to keep myself on track with reading, and half is it’s easy content in a boring life without a million horse shows… win-win!
Dear Mr. You by Mary-Louise Parker
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I read Mary-Louise Parker’s memoir. I’d seen her as an actress in the show Weeds, where I got exceedingly annoyed with the character’s poor choices and her tilted head and doe eyes as she tried to make her way out of the world of shit she put herself into. However, someone in my memoir class recommended the book so it made its way to my reading list.
This memoir is written in a series of letters to men in the narrator’s life, ranging from her family members to lovers to friends. By the second letter, I was blown away. How she wrote about the loss of her father resonated with me so much, I felt compelled to write some quotes down.
To convey in any existing language how much I miss you isn’t possible. It would be like blue trying to describe an ocean. – Mary-Louise Parker
Some of the reviewers have noted the book for its humor, but I didn’t find anything necessarily funny. While a few letters had a hard time holding my interest, most were gripping and emotionally tense. This is the kind of book you can pick up and read for five to ten minutes, and actually get somewhere. The letters are mostly short, and there are lots of them. At times it’s written more like poetry than prose, but I find that a quality that ensures this book will leave a lasting impression on me.
The nutshell version – buy this book if you have a complicated history with men, love your father or enjoy poetic prose. It hits all three points, and is a quick/easy read.
Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson
I had high hopes for this humor memoir, but it didn’t meet my expectations. Jenny Lawson became famous with her blog, which has noteworthy content like Beyonce the chicken. I’ve read her work before and enjoyed it, but this book rarely made me actually laugh. When the back cover of your book compares you to authors like David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs, I expect to be rolling.
This next statement is most likely going to label me as a huge, insensitive snot (you have been warned), but part of the reason I couldn’t get behind Furiously Happy is Lawson’s way of handling mental illness. Look, I think mental illness is a prevalent issue that effects so many people and should absolutely be talked about. I’m not someone who wants to sweep unsightly things like anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder under the rug, but I’m getting a little tired of the “oh I’m crazy but crazy is funny and sometimes amazing and look how funny my crazy is!” Maybe it’s where I am in life and the kind of work I’ve read in the past few years, but it feels tired.
Don’t get me wrong, the book is humorous. I smiled a lot, and Lawson wrote a clever Q&A format about depression that I think everyone should read. This is not a bad book by any means, but it wasn’t my favorite and the jokes will fade pretty to me now that I’ve finished.
The nutshell version – If you love her blog, get the book. If you want to smile, get the book. If you need to work on your compassion and understanding for mental illness, get the book. If you’re looking for your next great comedy writer, pass.
The Kiss: A Memoir by Kathryn Harrison
This memoir is both so gripping that you want to read the entire thing in one sitting, and disturbing enough that you need to put it down at times. Why disturbing? The subject matter deals with incest between a father and daughter. Now I’m sure you’re probably thinking, LAUREN! WHY DID YOU WANT TO READ THIS BOOK? That’s not an unreasonable question.
I was reading Mary Karr’s Art of Memoir last year, and in that book she talks about coming of age memoirs regarding sexuality. Karr mentions that men have written tons of memoir about questionable sexual practices in their path to adulthood, and nobody bat an eye… but in Harrison’s memoir where she was manipulated by an absent father she barely knew, critics went BANANAS. They called it vulgar among other oh-so-kind descriptors, and I simply had to read it for myself.
Overall, I’m not sure what I think about the book. I won’t lie, it’s hard to read. I can’t relate to any of the narrator’s struggles with her mother or the incredibly fucked up situation her father put her in. It’s all a hot mess. It’s beautifully written at times, but man it is rough.
The nutshell version – if you have a morbid curiosity, this is worth a read. It’s certainly honest. I would skip if manipulation (possibly molestation) is a trigger for you, because Harrison does not shy away from her subject. Jane Smiley writes the afterward and she’s a horse person/novelist, so there’s that.