Need a Good Laugh?

broshreview01To be honest, I was skeptical about Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh. It was an internet phenomenon. Hordes of people LOVED it, but hordes of people love other questionable things like D*n@ld Tr^mp, NASCAR, and lima beans.

In spite of that, I picked up a copy because I was determined to finish my local library’s summer reading challenge, part of which required me to read a book that would make me laugh out loud.
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Mission accomplished.

If you’re unfamiliar with the book, then let me boil it down for you. It contains  self-deprecating but insightful stories  about Ms. Brosh’s experiences. They’re accompanied by some charmingly primitive drawings, kind of like my feeble attempts here.

I carried this everywhere for a few days. I read it on breaks at work. I read it while commuting to and from the office on the bus. I read it in coffee shops and while standing in lines. It literally made me laugh out loud and caused strangers to stare.

My favorite pieces were the stories about her single-minded pursuit of a birthday cake and an epic battle with a goose. I also appreciated her funny tales about her goofy dogs.

broshreview03Hyperbole isn’t just a funny book. It addresses some heavy topics in a sensitive fashion too. Anyone who has experienced clinical depression will relate to the two stories about Ms. Brosh’s own struggles. If you care about someone with depression, but can’t quite fathom what they’re going through, this is the first thing I’d recommend you’d read.

I adore this book. I’m going to leave it out on the coffee table to tempt my kids and visitors. Maybe even the cat will be interested in it, since it contains insider info on her sworn enemies: dogs.

If you haven’t already cracked the spine of this book, you really are missing out. It’s sublime.

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Kindred by Octavia Butler

“The ease. Us, the children … I never realized how easily people could be trained to accept slavery.”

― Octavia E. Butler, Kindred

60931If you were to hand me Kindred and tell me to shelve it in the appropriate section of the bookstore, I’d be stymied. It defies categorization. While it’s often billed as the first science fiction written by a black woman, I don’t think that’s entirely accurate. It is a novel of rich literary complexity written by a black woman; however, it’s not exactly science fiction. One of its key elements is time travel, but the book provides no pseudo scientific explanation for how that occurs. Kindred is more accurately an amalgamation of fantasy, historical fiction and slave narrative. It’s a unique and powerful story about power.

Dana, the main character, is a 26 year-old woman living in California in 1976. She has a white husband, aspires to be a writer and works degrading jobs to make ends meet. Ironically, she and her fellow temps refer to the staffing agency as the “slave market.”

One day, without any warning, she is thrust back in time to antebellum Maryland. There, she rescues a young white boy from drowning and faces down the barrel of a shotgun. Abruptly, she ends back in her own time and place. Over and over again, she travels back and forth between the two times, each time to rescue the same young man, who she learns is a slaveholder and her distant relative. She grows to understand that she needs to keep him alive long enough to father her great-grandmother.

While I had an academic understanding of how awful the treatment of slaves was, this book made me feel it on a more visceral level. Dana often admits that she, a modern woman, does not have the fortitude to endure what many of the slaves took for granted. You or I might think to ourselves, I’d never put up with that. I’d run away. The book makes it abundantly clear how impossible that would actually seem to a person caught in that world.

Kindred also explores how there can be a strange mixture of love and hate for someone who has absolute control over your life. At times, Dana experienced maternal and sisterly feelings towards the slaveholder. Many other times, she struggled with her revulsion and her need to comply.

Notably, Dana’s mission in the past was not to undermine the oppressive system. She had to endure it, like so many before her. The experience changes her utterly. It complicates her relationship with her white husband, and her family and friends. A piece of her will always be left in the past–as I think is true for anyone with such a traumatic and dehumanizing heritage.

“I began writing about power because I had so little.”

~Octavia E. Butler

Curious about Octavia Butler? Here’s a great piece on her in the Independent. An aunt told her “Honey, Negroes can’t be writers.” Fortunately for us, she ignored that advice.

Circe, by Madeline Miller

“…named me Hawk, Circe, for my yellow eyes, and the strange, thin sound of my crying.”
― Madeline MillerCirce

There are few lessons from my school days that I remember with as much pleasure as when I first learned about Greco-Roman mythology. They held much of the same charm as the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales I had previously enjoyed: frightening monsters, unlikely heroes, and lessons packaged in compelling and memorable ways.

But there was something that set the myths apart from the tales: people believed in them. They didn’t just recount the stories to entertain or to instruct. They actually sacrificed cattle to appease angry gods and built temples to worship them. While I did not share their belief, my own religious devotions at the time helped me appreciate the import these stories had for a part of the world at a specific time.

Not only that, but the imagery developed in the myths were pleasurable to savor: ruby red pomegranate seeds; the silhouette of a winged boy soaring towards the fiery sun; gorgons with their reptilian hair; fleet ships; the wine dark sea; slavering maws of monsters; intricately detailed shields; finely honed bodies; and narcissi nodding over mirror-like ponds.

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