The Genius Under the Table by Eugene Yelchin

Subtitle: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain.

I thought this was terrific. My only complaint is that it was too short and I wanted more! I haven’t read Yelchin’s other books, but I know he is an esteemed author who has won a Newbery Honor award. And I know the criteria for being a Newbery winner is being an American author, so I automatically knew that his story would end eventually with him moving here and becoming a citizen at some point.
Everything about this was SO fascinating. It’s just hard to believe that people lived like that and that they thought it was ok. Or, if they didn’t think it was ok, they couldn’t do anything about it.  Before the Berlin Wall came down I was pretty fascinated to imagine life in Communist countries and would have absolutely loved to read this book about someone around my age at the same time.

Almost American Girl by Robin Ha

I have mixed feelings about this memoir. On the one hand, the book itself is quite good. I like her illustration style and the story drew me in and kept going quickly. On the other hand, and I feel bad saying this because it’s a memoir so these are real people, I thought her mom was so awful!! And the people in mid 90s Alabama were absolutely terrible, too. And then when you learn more and have a better understanding of where she’s coming from you find yourself thinking that Korea sounds like an awful place to live. The bribery and abuse by elementary school teachers was just terrible! And completely accepted! As was the treatment of her mother as a single mother. Honestly, this poor girl seemed to have a really shitty life and all the people she encountered just were awful. Awful! At least you knew things would eventually look up given that she successfully published this memoir. It sounds like I hated this book, and I didn’t. I just hate that it was true.

A Very Punchable Face by Colin Jost

Jost is not my favorite SNL player and not one I’ve even thought about too much. But then Paul brought home his book after we read one of the chapters in the New Yorker and found it to be funny. This was a super fast read and laugh out loud funny. I was so surprised by nearly everything-he’s a Harvard grad, he’s been at SNL a long time, he’s a writer really first and foremost and then became a Weekend Update host.

With the exception of him pooping his pants so often (what?!) I would say this is also a pretty clean book. Hilarious but not vulgar.

Best Friends by Shannon Hale

This was one of the most hotly anticipated publications this fall for my students (and me), along with Telgemeier’s Guts. I thought Real Friends was so terrific that we own a copy, I promote it a lot at school, and I gave it to the guidance counselor to read. I wouldn’t call it warm and fuzzy, but very realistic (as it should be–it’s her life) about the ups and downs of childhood friendships. With an added layer of Shannon having very real anxiety (and ocd.)

Just like my own kid, Shannon is now in 6th grade. Things have changed a bit since her tumultous 5th grade year, but she still struggles to figure out who is a best friend, can you be a best friend and not leave someone out, and more.

As solid as the first one.

Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Carey Gilbreth

I LOVED this book when I was a kid. And it’s one of those books where certain things in it stuck with me. Whenever I see someone with elbows on the table I want to “Thump” them, whenever I hear boring prattle I want to say “not of general interest”, whenever Paul drives around a corner too fast I whisper in my head “not so fast, not so fast.” (It turns out that last one I never could remember where it especially came from, and it was in this book, which delightful to see. ) Sadly, neither of the kids or Paul has ever read it.
We recently took a trip to Virginia and this was the perfect opportunity to get everyone else in the family to have the same frame of reference as me. To my delight, they all enjoyed this very much (audiobook, of course.) and I was THRILLED to hear it all over again as it’s been quite a while. It really is a fascinating look at not just a large family, but the really the motion study business and Frank and Lillian’s careers.  And of course all kinds of interesting details about the time period.

Anyway, we all liked it a lot and hopefully we’ll listen to Bells on Their Toes next.

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett Krosoczka

This was just terrific, and sad, and inspirational. Though I know Krosoczka’s work because Lunch Lady is very popular in my library, I haven’t actually read any of his things. Nor have I seen the Ted Talk that inspired this book.  (Pause: start watching the video, it’s touching already.)

Anyway, this was a really great memoir. Jarrett’s grandparents adopted him as a toddler because his mother was a heroin addict who was either in jail or rehab for most of his childhood. His grandparents weren’t the sweetest easygoing-est people–they are heavy drinkers and smoke like crazy. Lots of swearing, too! But they loved him so much and they invested in him and supported his art,which led to him becoming a successful graphic novelist today.

This was a compelling story and I highly recommend it!

One question: Did grown up successful Jarrett ever meet Jack Gantos? I sure hope so

Calypso by David Sedaris

I have one expectation with a David Sedaris book and it is this–to laugh out loud while reading it, possibly in public and unable to stop.
Expectation met!
Even though my husband was all “oh I already read most of the stories in The New Yorker” I never read the New Yorker and they were all new to me. So there. Pretty much every store made me laugh out loud at something-I just love the things he says, the way he writes. But in this collection I also found a certain sweetness or poignancy. Although you can tell that events in stories span a few years by references to his niece’s age, most of the stories are about his whole family being together at the beach house he and Hugh bought in South Carolina. (I suppose reading them all together, rather than spaced out in the magazine makes it all seem like everything happens in one year.) There’s always been stuff about his family, but his youngest sister’s suicide is what really brings out the stories about how much he and his siblings really get each other and love each other, how much they loved their mother, and how they are with his now pretty elderly father. They’re a weird and funny family and I love reading about them.

I probably laughed the most reading about the Japanese stores he and his sisters can’t resist shopping at.

Calling Dr. Laura: a Graphic Memoir by Nicole Georges

lauraThis book had been on my radar for so long that it was rather built up in my head. For the longest time I wasn’t able to get it and finally my library had it and I was so excited to receive it. Not surprisingly, it couldn’t quite live up to what I had it built up to be. That said, this was a fine graphic memoir and I did enjoy it.  I liked the illustration style. The story itself is a memoir, all about Nicole’s family secrets (her family told her her father was dead-he wasn’t) and coming out to her family. The Dr. Laura part was smaller than I thought it would be (again, built up in my head.) Overall, this was good but not the best I’d ever read.

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (almost) by Felicia Day

dayIn this book Day talks a lot about being “situationally famous”-that at certain places and among certain crowds she is hugely famous, but anyone out of that setting just doesn’t know who she is. So as you read this entry you either know who she is, or don’t. In a nutshell, Day is an actress/writer/producer best known for creating (and starring in) the web series The Guild, and also co-starred in Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog (a Joss Whedon production), and then she headed up a big YouTube channel called Geek & Sundry. She’s known for being a big part of the gaming/geek world and HUGE in the Twitter world.  Somehow I never looked at a single thing on Geek & Sundry and I kind of hate Twitter so I miss out on her there, but I was a fan of The Guild and Dr. Horrible. She runs with the Wil Wheaton/Joss Whedon crowd (and in the last season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was one of the new slayers!) And add to that list of things she does, talented writer. Because this was a super enjoyable, engaging, funny book. I hesitate to say memoir, that term doesn’t seem right, though it is about her and it is in the Biography section, so there you have it.

So yes, it is a memoir in that Day recounts growing up as a weird homeschooled kid and her rise to fame. But what I think makes this good and enjoyable for all, is that she tells the stories and anecdotes as a way to embrace her differences and show how being weird and different is totally ok and makes you who you are. I’m kind of in total awe of her now after learning that in addition to all the stuff I already knew about her, it turns out she’s super smart and a violin prodigy as well. She went to college at 16 and ended with a 4.0. So she’s brilliant and funny, but you get the feeling that in real life she wouldn’t be intimidating but could be your friend. Although maybe not, because you also find out that she’s pretty neurotic and her drive to succeed led to some pretty serious depression and mental health problems.

I loved finding out how The Guild came about and how it was created. Fascinating details! The book ends on a bit of a downer when she talks about #GamerGate, a terrible phenomenon that I hadn’t even been aware of happening, but makes you lose your faith in people.

So, would you enjoy this book if you are not part of that world? Absolutely yes. It’s funny, thoughtful about the internet, and also an interesting look at a particular moment in time when web series were new and YouTube was also brand new.  And perhaps also if you enjoyed Mindy Kaling’s memoir Is Everybody Hanging Out Without Me? or Tina Fey’s Bossypants, this would be up your alley as well.

Rapture Practice: A True Story about Growing Up Gay in an Evangelical Family by Aaron Hartzler

raptureI admit that I began reading this with undisguised fascination for the inner rules and workings of an evangelical Christian family. But it really ended up being more than that. Hartzler is a good writer and manages to convey his genuine love and affection for his family, all while beginning to question the very tenets of his faith. He is also gay, something he is slowly realizing (though never comes out and acknowledges during the book.) I did find myself fascinated and horrified by his parents’ strict rules and thought it was pretty amazing that raised as he was he was able to question the logic of the actions of God (for example, if everything is preordained, why would God bother to create a world that would require the bloody sacrifice of his son? and, best of all, if his parents felt he was damaging his soul by listening to an Amy Grant cd, how could it be that serial killer Ted Bundy could accept Jesus before being put to death and get into the same heaven?)
Well written, but it definitely left me wanting more (something he acknowledges in the afterword. Though I will add a different question I want answered-did he remain friends with Bradley?)