Thursday, November 27, 2014

Dark humour for dark times.

"There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt." -- Erma Bombeck.

This is a hard time of year. Daylight is shrinking, the season of impossible gift lists approaches, exams are bearing down on students, it’s too cold to go out but not cold enough for fun times in the snow, and men everywhere are sporting cheesy moustaches. If you are like me and feeling the gloom of winter getting under your skin I have a seasonal gift for you: a list of laugh-out-loud memoirs you can enjoy in small or large doses in between shopping trips, holiday concerts, and beginning and ending the work day in the dark. You’re welcome.

Jenny Lawson, also known as “The Bloggess”, is no stranger to walking the line between pain and humour. Her memoir Let's Pretend This Never Happened (a mostly true memoir) is a collection of the best posts from her very successful blog ( She paints a picture of her dysfunctional small town Texas childhood and ongoing struggles with mental illness in a series of anecdotes that are both awful and awfully hilarious. Chapters range through various time in her life depicting, among other things, her eccentric taxidermist father who brings home random wild animals (which he may occasionally throw at someone as a form of greeting), very funny episodes from her time working in HR policing employees’ use of company email to send pictures of their private parts, to a ridiculous argument she has with her husband via post-it notes.

What I loved about this book was Jenny Lawson’s voice –it’s conversational, irreverent, and very real. Her adventures are sometime extreme, but the basic fears she has are totally relatable. Many of us feel uncomfortable at a party; most of us are not so uncomfortable that we tell our spouse’s coworkers an imaginary story of how we survived being attacked by a serial killer. Thank goodness Jenny Lawson is here tell us what it would be like if we did. I found myself often actually crying with laughter while reading this book (this also provided some secondary entertainment for other passengers in the car I was traveling in. Good times).

Note: Jenny Lawson’s humour is edgy and there is a liberal amount of profanity in this book, so you may want to pass if you are offended by strong language.

Another blogger turned author who delves into depression and turns it into something funny is Allie Brosh, creator of the blog “Hyperbole and a Half”. In the book based on her blog, Hyperbole and a Half: unfortunate situations, flawed coping mechanisms, mayhem, and other things that happened Brosh creates very simple but extremely expressive drawings to tell stories from her childhood and adult life, through which she has suffered from crippling depression. Another reader who also lives with depression told me they found it “the best account of depression I’ve ever read”.

I know –you’re thinking: “that doesn’t sound very fun”. You just haven’t seen her art. The wobbly stick figure-like drawings of herself, her family, and her wild-eyed “slightly retarded” dogs, capture the ridiculous in a unique way that will leave you laughing. And if you are feeling down, well at least you’re not alone. Allie Brosh is down there too.

David Sedaris’s wry collection of biographical essays Me Talk Pretty One Day begins with a chapter in which he is in elementary school and has been sent for speech therapy to correct a lisp. In the ensuing battle with his speech therapist the young Sedaris eventually adapts all his speech so he uses only words which do not contain the sound “s” –perhaps this is the origin of his talent for language.

Me Talk Pretty One Day provides many laughable moments as we meet Sedaris’s eccentric family, follow his adventures through art school, teaching, and eventually living as an American ex-pat in France. This man is not afraid to mock himself for our enjoyment, and the results are extremely entertaining.

Lastly, if you haven’t already read it, there is Bossypants. Tina Fey, a star of Saturday Night Live and creator of Thirty Rock wrote this autobiography of her youth and career in an industry where it is not easy to be a woman. Aside from the funny parts, of which there are lots, Bossypants is a meditation on what it means to be a successful woman. Fey’s writing voice, like Lawson’s, is very conversational and fans of her work will enjoy the back stage view of what it is like on the set of her shows. Especially interesting is the political satire which shaped the 2008 election (remember Sarah Palin)? Most of all: it’s very funny.

By Kristine Leger, Central Library Adult Services

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