Reading Round Up – January

Reading Round Up – January

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. 

18 thoughts on “Reading Round Up – January

  1. Love this new segment 🙂 I’m trying to read more in 2017 and can always use suggestions/warnings. I am currently trying to finish a not-so-great book and am looking forward to moving onto something better.

  2. Can we be best friends yet? No? Okay, I’ll just go on cyber stalking you!
    Love this new section, I’ve been trying to bump up my reading volume. Your review of furiously happy is exactly why I opted not to read it. I also see in your photo you have Amy Schumer’s memoir, loved that one. Also I really liked Born a Crime by Trevor Noah.
    Looking forward to future recommendations!

  3. Sorry if this gets posted twice. The page refreshed last time I was typing this. Anyway, I really like Lawson’s previous book Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. I thought it was hilarious. I also found the second one to be good, but not really funny so you may like the 1st one better.

    1. I’ll have to read the 1st one eventually. Like I said, I’ve read her blog and enjoyed it so I think it’s not a personal distaste… just couldn’t get into this newest one.

  4. I read Furiously Happy and had the exact same response. I’m not familiar with Jenny Lawson’s blog, so I just chalked it up to not really getting her humor. I’m glad I’m not alone in my experience. On a side-note, I have read everything Burroughs has ever written. His earlier stuff was great, his latter stuff… Meh. Sedaris I never got.

    Count me in on reading The Kiss. I like disturbing and F’ed up. The author I most related to in High School was Brett Easton Ellis. That should tell you something. Less Than Zero was my favorite novel for a long, long time.

    1. Oh, I like hearing I’m not alone in my thoughts! I felt a little weird critiquing that one, since it’s so focused on mental health. As for Burroughs, love him. I don’t love him as much as Sedaris, but “Dry” is one of the best books I read last year. I read Burroughs’ stuff in a weird order though – first his recent book of essays, then Dry and last Running With Scissors.

      If you like disturbing, you’ll love The Kiss. It’s really well written – bonus!

      1. Magical Thinking was probably my favorite. Sellevision, not a memoir but a fun read. I don’t recommend any of his others.

        1. That’s the one that I read. I liked it, but not as much as Sedaris. 😉 If you haven’t read “Me Talk Pretty One Day” I HIGHLY suggest it. His later stuff, not so much… but that book is one of my favorites ever.

  5. For memoirs may I suggest:
    The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls
    Straight Pepper Diet, Joseph W. Naus
    Wild, Cheryl Strayed

  6. This month I read “All You Need is Love” by Jennifer Arnold. It’s a dog training book about bond-based training. A few times it was a little too much for me, but I picked up a lot of really great tidbits about dog training, and some of the things she said even applied to horses! A good read overall, especially for anyone currently training a pup!

  7. My book club (also known as BFF and i using books as a legit reason to drink wine on a Tuesday) read Furiously Happy and just couldn’t get into it. We found some parts to be very uncomfortable to read.

  8. This is a great piece! I am excited to get book suggestions from real people I know. I don’t read as much as I would like to, but I do use Audible and love it. I just finished Art of Memoir last week (or the week before). Really liked it. Today I bought Ann Voskamp’s The Broken Way on Audible.

  9. I love this feature!

    Memoir is one of my non-fiction mainstays; this month I read The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisie Coates and I’m finishing up The War I Always Wanted by Brandon Friedman. The former is excellent and I would recommend it to anyone; the latter is an interesting read and is definitely making me think but isn’t all that great.

  10. I’m glad you’ll be doing book reviews and I’ll look forward to them!

    Best memoir I’ve ever read is The Glass Castle so I’m glad it’s on your list! Truly a book I will *NEVER* forget. Wild is also very good but Cheryl can be a bit… much. Sort of in the Elizabeth Gilbert way, if you know what I mean.

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