Tag Archives: Funny

The Family Fang

Oh I loved Kevin Wilson’s *The Family Fang*! Funny, whimsical, smart. The premise: two performance/conceptual artists have two children A and B who they raise as part of their art. The children and parents perform their disruptive, chaotic art as the children grow-up. Once grown, the children abandon their parents/the art to pursue their respective lives as an actor and writer. A split timeline allows the reader to follow the present of the two children (Annie and Buster) as they grapple with failures in their lives and the disappearance of their parents as well as the past lives of their art pieces/growing up.

The interwoven scenes and the unfolding plot let the reader explore – through humour, the absurd and a reworking of the classic take on the modern American family – what it means to make art, what constitutes commitment and trust, what we owe our parents/children and the limits of familial love.

A terrific read.

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Filed under Fiction, Funny, Prize Winner

The Lost Diaries of Adrian Mole: Mediocre

Loathe as I am to say anything negative about Adrian Mole (being, as I am, a lifelong reader and admirer of Sue Townsend’s work) I found the “Lost Diaries” a bit of a stretch in terms of plot and tone. It wasn’t as funny as I’m used to and seemed more like a franchise grab than like anything really innovative or exciting was happening with Adrian’s character. Disappointing.

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Filed under British literature, Fiction, Funny

Bossypants: Not about being funny

         

Tina Fey’s Bossypants is not about making the reader laugh. To clarify: the book has funny parts, an occasionally sarcastic tone, and intentional jokes; however, the purpose of the book (if I can be so bold as to discern it) is not about the reader having a chuckle, or about noticing how witty Tina Fey is; rather, the book is about – and sometimes cumbersomely so – institutional and systemic sexism (and, yes, I’m aware this sentence has too many clauses).

An odd place to begin a review, you might be thinking, with a description of what the book is not about. Well, in telling folks that I was reading Bossypants (a gift from S.) I heard from a few people that “Tina Fey is not funny,” or “the book is not funny.” Well, that’s swell, and perhaps true (defend “what is funny” – or get N. to defend “what is funny” and we’ll talk), but it is also totally beside the point.

The tone of a book – whether satirical, whimsical, condescending, depressed, or didactic – is often intended to reflect, compliment or contrast with the content. (see in the previous sentence an example of didactic – or condescending? – tone). Whether or not a book succeeds in being “funny,” the content of the book still remains open for questioning and consideration. And so leaving aside the contentious (and not altogether productive) conversation about the relative hilarity of Fey’s humour, I’d like to suggest this as a book to read for its engagement with institutional and systemic sexism.

Fey’s self-conscious reflections on the decisions she’s made as a woman ask readers to consider the expectations working women place on themselves and on one another. The book’s explicit call for readers to reconsider supposedly “finished” debates about opportunities for women to advance in the workplace are complimented by thoughtful engagements with “continuing” conversations about work-life balance, unrealistic maternal expectations, and gendered employment opportunities.

Occasionally Fey references personal discomfort with classist, racist and heteronormative assumptions that underpin or have underpinned her decisions, and I do wish greater space had been given over to these reflections. Given that the book is an autobiography, and so about a white woman’s experience in the entertainment industry, I don’t mean to suggest Fey ought to explore the plight of all women of all races, classes, and sexual orientations. Instead, I had hoped that in the moments when Fey does consider her relationship to other women – I’m thinking here of the chapter addressing her nanny “babysitter” – she might have turned to the self-reflection that characterized her engagement with her high school gay friends, rather than glossing the relationship as one that makes her “uncomfortable.”

That said, her exploration of the ways her gender has impacted her work and personal lives through specific, personal and poignant examples was engaging. I did not always agree with her assessment (see the chapter on photoshopping), but I was never meant to agree with her. The book aimed – I think – to raise questions for the reader about the supposedly finished and unfinished conversations that surround white working women in North America, and it succeeded. Whether I laughed or not? I’m not telling, because it really (really) doesn’t matter.

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Filed under 100 Books of 2011, American literature, Book I'll Forget I Read, Funny

The Commissariat of Enlightenment: One embalmed thumb up.

            

Ken Kalfus’s The Commissariat of Enlightenment has some brilliant passages of startling and beautiful descriptions. The observations about the role of cinema and the visual in modern life are made more striking by the obvious reliance in the text on the written word. In one scene describing the interior of a movie theater Kalfus so captures the intimacy and community of the theater experience that I had to wonder whether this was a book made to be a movie. And yet, it’s not the sort of book that wants to be a movie and has been written imagining its later adaptation (think here The Da Vinci Code), but rather creates such vivid scenes that are plotted in such a way to create an affinity between the text and the visual. I wouldn’t want to see this as a film, as I loved the third person limited narration of Gribshin/Astapov and the often subtle, but nevertheless disruptive shift in narrative voice (almost as though the narrative camera had panned elsewhere). I will admit that the shifts in narrative voice at times left me frustrated and disoriented (however intentional such an experience might have been).

The novel opens with Tolstoy’s death and ends with Lenin’s. My favourite scenes came in the last pages as Lenin narrates posthumously the comings and goings and rapid shifts in time and power. I thought to recommend this book to my colleague who studies “time and narrative,” because the novel’s meditations on the beginning and end of political and social eras as tied to technology is fascinating, and utterly appropriate for our time. I should read more about Russian history. I say this without any intention or plan to act accordingly, but whenever I read bits and pieces of the story I am reminded of how fascinating a history it must be. Good thing N. knows the history well, as questions about Gorbachev and Stalin always come up at quiz night, and I never know. Alas, having read this book won’t help, as the history was focused on how propaganda participated in the Revolution, and not, so much at all, on the politics of the Revolution itself. So there you go.

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