Book of the Week

Book of the Week: Vacationland

As I mentioned yesterday, was a bit of a week last week and there nearly wasn’t a BotW post this week – until I finished this on the train home on Sunday evening.  And after a long spell without an essay collection as a pick, we’ve now had two come along in quick succession.  Such is the way of reading. Or more accurately, such is the way of library hold queues.  This also continues a bit of a theme of things that I discovered through Jon Stewart, which includes previous BotW Jim Henson: A Biography (and you could argue Born A Crime as that’s where I first saw Trevor Noah – when he was a correspondent before he got the gig when Jon left) as well as a whole host of books people, shows and music I haven’t written about here, although the list here will expand further tomorrow. Aren’t I a tease?!

Cover of Vacationland by John Hodgman

Anyway, you may know John Hodgman for his turn as Deranged Billionaire* on The Daily Show in the Jon Stewart era.  Or as the PC in the apple ads in the 1990s. Or for his Judge John Hodgman podcast.  Anyway, he’s carved out a bit of a niche for what he calls in the book “Privilege Comedy”.  This is a book of essays which form a memoir about his travels through two states – Massachusetts, where he spent his childhood holidays and early adult summers and Maine, where his wife spent her childhood holidays. It’s also about losing a parent, realising that you’re a man in your forties, actually a grownup and that you need to learn to deal with it, and that freshwater clams are scary.

My life is really quite different from John’s, but I found this funny, reflective and thought provoking.  It’s also a lot more real than I was expecting given John’s stage personas.  I saw him do Judge John Hodgman live a couple of years back, and while it was very funny, it was definitely a performance of a character.  This is not that. I came away feeling like I had more of a handle on who he is behind the act, and what makes him tick.  He’s also very aware of the position that he is in, as a well-off white man and points out all the things that he is able to do (and tell you about) in this book because of that and that is refreshing in itself.

And as someone whose knowledge of New England comes almost entirely from Rich People novels and biographies or cozy crime, and of Maine specifically mainly from Murder, She Wrote, I felt like I came away knowing a lot more about that part of the American coast, what it looks like, how its economy work and what it really means when little towns in Maine or Massachusetts pop up in novels.

My copy of Vacationland came from the library, but it’s available in Kindle, Kobo and audiobook, as well as in hardback in the UK and paperback if you’re prepared to order in from the US. Foyles don’t have any available as click and collect, but say they can have the hardback to you in a couple of days, and Waterstones found one London branch and a brighton one with stock for click and collect so it is probably an order a copy job rather than a pop in and pick it up one.

Happy Reading!

*John in Deranged Billionaire mode on his final Daily Show appearance

Bonus picture: A terrible iPhone picture from when we saw him live!

John Hodgman on stage in a judge costume

 

American imports, Book of the Week, memoirs, non-fiction, Uncategorized

Book of the Week: Southern Lady Code

I had a really lovely week of reading again last week. And there were difficult choices for book of the week this week, but actually I haven’t picked a book of essays in a while and this one was just delicious.

Cover of Southern Lady Code

I wrote about American Housewife back in 2016 and I’ve been waiting for more from her ever since.  American Housewife was a short story collection though, and this a bit different. Across more than twenty essays, Ellis examines what it means to her to be a Southern Lady – and in particular what it’s like to be a Southern Lady living in Manhattan.  Her mantra is “If you don’t have something nice to say, say something not-so-nice in a nice way” and there are a lot of laughs to be had because of this, but there are also ghosts, retro buffets, cleaning as a method of keeping the spark in a marriage and how to shop for a formal event.  It’s funny, clever and true – or at least mostly true. Probably.  But basically Helen Ellis makes me laugh.  I’m not a Southern lady, and I’m a bit younger than Ellis, but there was so much here that amused me and spoke to me.

If you like wry sideways takes on American life, this would make a great addition to your autumn reading list. It was definitely worth waiting two months in the hold queue for it.

As you might guess from that, my copy of Southern Lady Code came from the library, but I’ll be buying myself a copy when it’s out in paperback here. It’s available in hardback, kindle and kobo.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, non-fiction

Book of the Week: You Can’t Touch My Hair

Two non-fiction books in a row as BotWs?  This is unprecedented I hear you say.  Well yes, given that I read (on average) 1 non-fiction book a month, this is quite unusual.  But both these books were very, very good and truly deserve their spots as my Books of the Week.

Phoebe Robinson is an actress and comedian, and one half of the Two Dope Girls podcast (the other half is former Daily Show star Jessica Williams)  – which I need to add to my ever growing list of podcast subscriptions.  Her book of essays, You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain takes a look at the daily life of a young black woman in America today. As a stand-up comedian she’s used to finding the funny side of things and looking for humour in situations, and she is very, very good at that – so good in fact that at times I found myself sitting back and thinking “hang on, she’s being funny, but this is seriously bad”.

This book deals with serious and sensitive issues – stereotypes, bigotry, coded language and more – and it does it directly, apologetically but with such an engaging voice that you never feel like you’re being shouted at or lectured.  Robinson writes at length about the “Angry Black Woman” trope – and the difficulties that it creates in her life, in trying to get her voice and her opinions heard and valued, but she also discusses – at some length – her ranking of U2 in the order she’d like to sleep with them and how a female president would change the world.

I’ve thought long and hard about how to describe this book and its effect on me.  I finished it a week ago and I’m still digesting it. This whole book is measured, articulate, affecting and thought provoking.  And on top of all that, its so, so funny. It should be compulsory reading  – particularly at a time when the world seems so divided and divisive.

My copy came via NetGalley, but you can get one from Amazon, Waterstones (who have it mislabelled as by Jessica Williams who wrote the foreword) and Foyles (mislabelled again) and on Kindle and Kobo. You can even have Phoebe herself reading it on Audible.  And I suspect it may even make it in to the non fiction sections at some of the bigger WH Smiths and supermarkets.  It certainly deserves to.

Happy reading!