For a quick laugh: 3 Fanfiction plus 1 Nonfiction

It’s been a while since anyone’s posted, so I’m going to recommend four short stories that are crazy good for a laugh. Two of them are so short that they don’t even have titles, but still, go read them!

LINK for FIC
by kyraneko

Fandom: crossover between State Farm Insurance Commercials and All State Insurance Commercials

Original Inspiration for Fic: “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there” we chant, and another agent appears in the pentagram. He screams. The Dark Lord feasts tonight.

LINK for FIC
by paginationline

Fandom: Marvel’s Avengers comic books

Original Inspiration for Fic: “Clint.”
“I know—“
“You have the army after you and no health and you’re falling out of a crashing plane.”
“I know, Nat—“
“It’s a bass fishing simulator, Clint.”
“I know! It just—it just happens!”

LINK for FIC: Your Highnessness
By shadydave

Fandom: crossover between Guardians of the Galaxy and Jupiter Ascending

Summary: A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far a—
Yeah, I know that’s not when it happened, but that’s how you start this kind of—
I don’t know, do I look like George Lucas?
No, he made the movie. No, it doesn’t have Kevin Bacon. Not everything has Kevin Bacon!
Of course it’s still good!
Fine, you dicks. If you think you know better than one of the greatest stories of the human race:
A short time ago, in this galaxy…

LINK for FIC: So I used to be a martial artist
By textuallyaroused

Fandom: nonfiction, autobiographical

Example paragraph: Now, Sensei Diven was not a stupid man and he hated high-ranking kids that showed a bad attitude. This kid had a bad attitude. So he must have seen the evil gleam in my eye from a mile away and decided it was time for a little improvisation.

Thug Notes

Like Anna, I’m a bit embarrassed to make this next recommendation during Black History Month because while this is awesome and by black creators and celebrating black culture, it shouldn’t be restricted to just the one month. This isn’t just awesome within the context of black culture, it’s just plain awesome.

Thug Notes is a YouTube series of videos and it is AWESOME! And I really wish it had been available when I was in high school. These videos take classic books and, in about 5 minutes each, summarizes the plot and talks about the main literary analysis.

  • Great Expectations, which I slogged through in high school and just got entirely bogged down in the details, laid out nice and neat in 5 minutes.
  • Lord of the Flies, which I never managed to get past the first page of, broken down for me and presented.
  • Pride & Prejudice, which I have read way too many times and absolutely love, getting shown in a new light that I hadn’t noticed before.

What makes them particularly funny is that they’re all narrated by Sparky Sweets, PhD, coming at you from the Houston Rap subculture and he is keeping it real about what these homeboys of literature are up to, from a set straight out of Master Piece theater with all of its proper British overtones.

The implied culture clash is hilarious mostly because no clash is ever actually realized. As Jared Bauer, one of the creators, says:

The idea behind Thug Notes was always that ‘the joke is that there is no joke…’ because the analysis is just so accurate and so smart.

There are 64 of them (so far) and they are just brilliant. Go check them out!

How To Be Black

By Baratunde Thurston

Clearly I’m not so much the intended audience for this book, though author Baratunde Thurston was very kind of include a welcome to non-black readers in his introduction:

Book Cover: How To Be BlackIf you are not black, there is probably even more to be gained from the words that follow. They may help answer the questions that you’d rather not ask aloud or they may introduce a concept you never considered. You will get an insider perspective, not only on “how to be black” but also on “how to be American,” and, most important, how to be yourself. This book is yours as well.

He does provide a caveat though:

If you purchased the book with the intention of changing your race, I thank you for your money, but there will be no refunds. None.

This made me laugh and also feel better about reading about it, though not enough to read it in public. (In fact, Rebecca told me that it made a list of poorly-chosen books to read in public.) Then, I felt worse when I realized when I was reading it. Another excerpt:

Now, more to the heart of the matter, the odds are high that you acquired this book during the nationally sanctioned season for purchasing black cultural objects, also known as Black History Month. That’s part of the reason I chose February as the publication date. If you’re like most people, you buy one piece of black culture per year during this month, and I’m banking on this book jumping out at you from the bookshelf or screen. Even if you’re reading this book years after its original publication, it’s probably February-ish on your calendar.

And so I am. Sigh. I actually heard about the book through Samantha Irby on her blog bitches gotta eat, (which I’m slowly reading all entries backwards in order to catch up) in which she talks about getting to open for Thurston at his Chicago show.

Anyway, the book is a combination of his personal memoirs, thoughts on the black culture in the United States, and interviews with a group of other writers and artists. It is just really funny (as it should be—Thurston works for The Onion), and really informative.

This is making me very uncomfortable to write, but I think it is important. It is very easy to fall into the liberal trap of ‘black people aren’t scary, just culturally different’ while still keeping them very much grouped as one solid entity and separate from yourself. I was continually surprised at how many similarities there were between my childhood and Thurston’s.

First off, my mom and his mom would have gotten along like gangbusters, both outspoken and often radical feminist professionals in large urban areas (Boston and DC, respectively) with long-standing hippy tendencies. We were both the first ones in our peer group to know what tofu was and to have eaten, if not enjoyed, it regularly for dinner. Both of our parents struggled with the idea of sending us to underfunded public schools, before deciding to send us to the local private Quaker schools (of course, his turned out to be Sidwell, so he won this round).

The funny thing is that some real disconnect for me happened around college, when Thurston describes going to Harvard, and while he mentions certainly having to deal with entrenched racism, the experience was overwhelmingly positive and his main take-away was that anything was possible for him and his fellow Harvard grads. At which point, the grubby little communist in me rose up to bitch about how these rich college boys think they can just have whatever they want whenever they want, which was certainly not a response I thought I would have to this book.

Honestly, though, the biggest take-away for me, the thing that was the most important lesson and revealed some hidden racism on my part, was just how funny I found the book to be. Because a lot of humor is shared experiences and personality, and I guess I’d figured that Irby and I are both women, so I relate to her humor in that way, but I just hadn’t expected to relate to Thurston so much. I’m glad I did, of course, and more than a little ashamed that I assumed I wouldn’t.

—Anna

The Best of the Rest of 2014

I’ve said here before that when I read a really great book, I am so excited to share it with people that I immediately write a blog review. Hence, my short list of the best things I read this year would be The Goldfinch, The Signature of All Things, Love, Nina, and Americanah. (I was looking at the list of the books I read this year and wondering why it was so much shorter than last year–I read about 45 books this year, rather than my typical 80-100. Maybe it’s because I spent half the year reading giant doorstop literary novels that took forever? At least most of them were good; let’s just not talk about The Luminaries.)
But  I did read a few other things in 2014 that I loved but that never made an appearance here. So before this year runs away from us entirely, let me put in my vote for a few more things:

1) Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy

I have a love for the first Bridget Jones book that I cannot explain. I just think it’s brilliant and is working on about four different levels and I still reread it once a year. Even Helen Fielding would probably admit that the second one went off the rails a bit, but I really, really enjoyed this third Bridget installment. Rather than picking up where things left off, the book ages Bridget and puts her in an entirely different situation. Bridget is still recognizable, but she’s gown up a little, and as predictable as the book was, I found it charming and surprisingly touching.

2) Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking

I am kind of obsessed with the Soviet Union, but I find it really difficult to find things to read about it. Nonfiction books tend to be incredibly dense, academic tomes along the lines of “and then that other diplomat issued a statement that countered the previous statement  . . . ” And fiction tends to be unbearably dark, which is understandable but difficult to read (Child 44, you still give me nightmares). This memoir uses food–from pre-revolutionary excess to the siege of Leningrad to Soviet institutional cafeterias–to show how the Soviet state affected the everyday life of it’s citizens. And it shows how one family rebelled against that state, at least partly through food. Really charming, although I’m not likely to cook any of the recipes provided.

If you are not already reading the website Bitches Gotta Eat, you should go do so immediately, because it is one of the funniest things on the Internet (assuming you’re over 18–if you’re not, please go look in our YA tag for something more appropriate, because this sure isn’t). Meaty is a collection of essays by Samantha Irby, who writes the site, and it is equally funny. However, I should warn you that she uses the essay format to also tell some less funny stories about her life, including one about her mother that was so sad it made me put the book away in a drawer for several months so I could recover. But the funny stories are really funny, the sad stories are stunning, and Irby definitely deserves a bigger outlet than she’s gotten so far.

Love, Nina

Some of my favorite people on Twitter are a group of British authors that includes Bim Adewunmi (@bimadew), India Knight (@indiaknight), Jojo Moyes (@jojomoyes), and Emma Beddington (@Belgianwaffling). In addition to being generally hilarious, they often have conversations amongst themselves about what they’ve been reading, and paying attention to those back-and-forths is a fabulous way of staying on top of what the cool (but non-pretentious) kids in publishing are reading and enjoying. The problem is that not everything they talk about is available in the U.S. I spent months watching them rave over a memoir that I couldn’t get, but just when I was about to cave and pay the insane shipping on amazon.co.uk, Love, Nina: A Nanny Writes Home by Nina Stibbe came out in the U.S. And it is just as great as they said it was.

Now, if I had just read a description of the book, I’m not sure if it would have caught my eye: in the 1980s, a young woman takes a job working as a nanny for two boys whose parents run in London’s fancy literary/artsy circles, and this is a collection of the letters she wrote home to her sister. I don’t know, it sounds very, innocent-country-girl-in-the-city? Or like a pre-Internet mommyblog? I’m just not sure I would expect much. But it is so much more sharp and thoughtful and, friendly than it sounds.

First of all, Nina and the family she works for are all hilarious. It’s clear that MK (the mom) was far more interested in a nanny who was clever and could keep up with the jokes and get along with the kids than in someone who could cook, clean, or successfully park a car. So there’s no employee-employer feel here, but rather it seems like you’re reading about the daily lives of a snarky bunch of friends. In the letters themselves, Nina often entertains her sister with retellings of conversations she has with the kids or MK, which are awesome. And presumably because these were going to a sister she was close to, Nina doesn’t try to make herself look good in the letters (there is kind of an on-going joke about Nina lying when she gets stuck in unpleasant situations). But that just make her seem even more relatable, and like someone you’d very much like to hang out with. In fact, the whole books feels like you’re getting to be in on all the jokes and secrets of some very cool people—there is one bit when Nina is evaluating a number of people on whether she is going to try to make friends with them, and I found myself thinking, “I really hope she’d have thought I looked worth the effort.” There’s no huge dramatic arc here, or any big tragedy, it’s just a lot of smart people who like each other chatting and having tea and reading things. It’s the perfect life, really.

I should say that this is an incredibly English book. There is a lot of discussion of English foods and dish soap and lots of slang, and lots of references to people that I suspect are more household names in the U.K. than they are here. The book opens with a list of main characters, and I did have to refer back to it and to Google occasionally to make sure I understood all the references. But you wouldn’t have to do this—the point here is not the celebrity gossip, and I think you could skim over every odd English reference and still enjoy this immensely.

Kinsey’s Three Word Review: Cool, charming, and funny.

You might also like: This is not at all original, because a number of other reviewers have mentioned this, but Love, Nina feels a lot like 84 Charing Cross Road, another sweet English book of letters. And Nancy Mitford’s books are from a different generation, but I think they also have a similar chatty, inside-joke sensibility (with just a tiny little bit of added Nazis).

A Fun Story…

So, it’s been a week, hasn’t it? I have a treat for us all to see us into the weekend.

We occasionally link to other blogs that we have found particularly interesting, but I don’t know that we have ever linked to a specific piece of writing floating around the internet. However, Rebecca sent me this link that has been blowing up Tumblr over the last week or so, and it made me laugh until I cried, so if any of you haven’t seen it yet, treat yourself to what is being called by appreciative readers “Porn Prison”:

http://ofgeography.tumblr.com/post/94085997576/so-heres-a-fun-story-about-this-movie-guess-who

(Despite the title, this is completely fine for work; well, the content is fine – you will absolutely audibly laugh.)

—Anna

I Can Barely Take Care of Myself: Tales from a Happy Life Without Kids

By Jen Kirkman

Book Cover: I Can Barely Take Care of MyselfSo, I struggled a bit writing this review because this is a book-reviewing blog, not an autobiographical blog. But, clearly, I didn’t just pick up this book out of the blue, thinking, boy, I’d like to read more about comedian Jen Kirkman’s personal views on pregnancy and childhood.

Much like Kirkman, I have never felt a strong desire for children or even envisioned children in my future. Also like her, I have been told by people older than me, in very decisive tones, that I will change my mind when I get to be that age, and I guess I sort of believed them. I knew that I didn’t want children at the time, but accepted that I could change my mind (I’m a big fan of spinach now, and I wouldn’t have anticipated that when I was a kid, so, sure, tastes change) and that would be fine.

However, if I may put this delicately, I’ve come to the age, where perhaps sooner rather than later is a good time to plan for children, and I have experienced no change in my feelings. This really does seem to be a somewhat shocking aberration in our current society, and I thought it would be comforting to read someone else’s struggles with the same outlook.

So, I approached this book wanting a philosophical discussion on what it means to be a woman in our society who simply chooses not to have children. I was slightly disappointed right off the bat because it was no different than many other comedic memoires I’ve read, an overview of her childhood and young adulthood and what drew her to comedy; she’s funny and an engaging author, but it wasn’t what I was looking for in this particular book. About halfway through, though, she really delves into the subject of not wanting kids and her immediate surrounding’s reactions to that, and it was exactly what I wanted. I even understood that she had to set the stage before: that she was a normal kid, from a loving, intact family, with siblings who have happily chosen to have kids. There is no childhood trauma to be used as an excuse, and her lifestyle choice cannot be called a symptom of anything.

The most important thing that came out of the book for me is that she doesn’t ever explain exactly why she doesn’t want children, and I believe the truth is that she can’t. I certainly couldn’t, either. Can parents truly describe why they wanted children? I get that there are concrete reasons; I have concrete reasons, too, for not wanted children, but they aren’t really the whole story, or even most of it, are they? It is simply something deep down inside you that desires something, or does not. I have a million reasons why I don’t want kids, but reading this book helped me come to the understanding that they are all just extraneous excuses and it all boils down to the very basic truth that I simply don’t want them.

I have had various conversations about it with family, friends, and acquaintances, and found them all to be much more accepting than the conversations that Kirkman relates. Towards the end of the book, she goes on a bit of a screed about parents wanting to push everyone else to be parents, too. For me, though, reading this book made me more comfortable with my choice, but also more comfortable with people who chose to have children, as well. If my choice to not have children is deeply embedded in who I am (and it is), then their choice to have children is, too, and that is certainly something to respect and admire.

—Anna

P.S. – Jen Kirkman wrote a short column for Time Magazine, giving a brief overview of her book here.

P.S.2 – Jen Kirkman was also featured in the Boston episode of Drunk History, which I just love and you should definitely watch (but not at work)!

P.S.3 – A few days after reading this, I had a super realistic dream that I was pregnant and it was awful. Even in the dream, I thought “how ironic that after coming to a comfortable acceptance of not wanting children, now I will have one for the rest of my life.”