Book Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: March 1, 2012
Source: Borrowed

Greg Gaines is the last master of high school espionage, able to disappear at will into any social environment. He has only one friend, Earl, and together they spend their time making movies, their own incomprehensible versions of Coppola and Herzog cult classics.

Until Greg’s mother forces him to rekindle his childhood friendship with Rachel.

Rachel has been diagnosed with leukemia—-cue extreme adolescent awkwardness—-but a parental mandate has been issued and must be obeyed. When Rachel stops treatment, Greg and Earl decide the thing to do is to make a film for her, which turns into the Worst Film Ever Made and becomes a turning point in each of their lives.

And all at once Greg must abandon invisibility and stand in the spotlight.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is one of those books that I’ve put on my TBR and then taken off and then put on and then taken off seemingly countless times since it came out. I put it on my TBR because I liked the cover. I put it on because I saw a good review one time. I put it on because it has an interesting name. Every time, I took it off because I knew I wouldn’t actually like it.

And yet I checked it out from the library.

And, entirely unsurprisingly, I didn’t actually like it.

First things first, I was bored. I mean, books about cancer and death aren’t usually my cup of tea, but at least they’re not usually boring. You’d think, with all the filmmaking and the illness and Greg being a generally terrible person, that I might actually feel something other than boredom while listening to do this audiobook. You’d be wrong.

Actually, you know what? That’s not true. I felt annoyed. And not for the reasons that I’ve most commonly seen in the negative reviews I’ve read. Those reviews rightfully point out that Greg is awful, that the book uses a terminally ill teenage girl as a plot device, that the way the author continually refers to his book as horrible is pretty cringey… and all of that is true. But what really bothered me about this book was all of the casual racism that continually goes unchallenged.

And for every argument, there’s a counterargument, so I’m sure you could argue that this book is absolutely not racist at all or something. But I’m just going to say that I, a white person, knew that this book was written by another white person as soon Earl, a black character, made his first appearance.

Let’s talk about Greg first. He’s grown up in a loving, at least reasonably well-off family with parents that are still together. Both of his parents care about him a lot, but his mom especially is very involved in his life. Greg is also white, and so are basically all of the other characters in this book. The lone main character of color is Earl, Greg’s best friend, who is… a caricature at best, and an incredibly racist stereotype at worst. Because Earl is the opposite of Greg. He really has no adult supervision in his life. His father is completely out of the picture, his mother is an alcoholic who spends all of her time on the computer upstairs, his brothers sell drugs, their house is falling apart, and THE WAY THEY TALK. Did you know that you can write dialogue with a character of color without resorting to cringey stereotypes? I think Earl is the only character in this book who ever uses slang, and it’s the only way he ever talks. I hated it.

Add to that the completely unnecessary discussion on how bisexuality isn’t real and I’m just… heavily sighing. Like, there’s not even a bisexual character in this book. There’s just this random conversation where Greg and Earl talk about how bisexuality can’t be a thing because then you’d want to have sex with literally everything all the time and it made me so angry.

Now, you may notice that I’ve addressed Greg (the “me” in the title) and Earl and yet I have hardly any mention of “the dying girl.” This is because, despite being a titular character, she barely exists. I mean, sure, the plot kind of revolves around her, but she could be anyone. All she ever does is giggle and go to the hospital. Rachel and her illness only exist to further Greg’s character development. It really reminded me of All the Bright Places, in which Finch and his mental illness only exist so that Violet can react to them.

This book really just made me sad, and it’s not because of the cancer or anything else that was supposed to make me feel something. No, this book made me sad because I think it could have been a great concept, but it was absolutely ruined by almost everything that happened. As I finish up this review, my computer is telling me that it sounds “disappointed,” “sad,” and “confident” in what I’m saying. Good. I guess I’ve gotten my point across.


Have you read Me and Earl and the Dying Girl? Is it on your TBR?
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Book Review: Seriously… I’m Kidding by Ellen DeGeneres

Seriously… I’m Kidding by Ellen DeGeneres
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: October 4, 2011
Source: Borrowed

“Sometimes the greatest things are the most embarrassing.”

Ellen Degeneres’ winning, upbeat candor has made her show one of the most popular, resilient and honored daytime shows on the air. (To date, it has won no fewer than 31 Emmys.) Seriously… I’m Kidding, Degeneres’ first book in eight years, brings us up to date about the life of a kindhearted woman who bowed out of American Idol because she didn’t want to be mean. Lively; hilarious; often sweetly poignant.

I want to start off by saying that while I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen of Ellen, I don’t really go seeking her out. I mean, I’ve seen a lot of clips from her show and I think she does a great job. She’s funny and she seems like she’s a really nice person, but I don’t go out of my way to catch her show. And yet I decided to listen to Seriously… I’m Kidding.

I’m not really sure what I expected with this one. A memoir, I guess? This is more a collection of funny thoughts that Ellen had and decided to compile into book form, but I’m fine with that. The book is literally called “Seriously… I’m Kidding,” so it’s not like I was expecting a serious piece of literature.

This book is very short (the audiobook is only like three hours long), which means that I don’t have a lot to say about it. I stand by my original point that Ellen is funny and seems like a nice person. I enjoyed her rant about showing up on time for parties, but I think my favorite was the casino chapter. As someone who was recently in a casino for the first time and yelled at for doing something I didn’t even know wasn’t allowed, I could totally relate.

I might check out Ellen’s other books at some point, but mostly, I’m just pleasantly surprised at what a fun book this was to listen to while working.


Have you read Seriously… I’m Kidding? Is it on your TBR?
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Book Review: What If? by Randall Munroe

What If? by Randall Munroe
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 2, 2014
Source: Borrowed

Randall Munroe left NASA in 2005 to start up his hugely popular site XKCD ‘a web comic of romance, sarcasm, math and language’ which offers a witty take on the world of science and geeks. It now has 600,000 to a million page hits daily. Every now and then, Munroe would get emails asking him to arbitrate a science debate. ‘My friend and I were arguing about what would happen if a bullet got struck by lightning, and we agreed that you should resolve it . . . ‘ He liked these questions so much that he started up What If.

If your cells suddenly lost the power to divide, how long would you survive?

How dangerous is it, really, to be in a swimming pool in a thunderstorm?

If we hooked turbines to people exercising in gyms, how much power could we produce?

What if everyone only had one soulmate?

When (if ever) did the sun go down on the British empire?

How fast can you hit a speed bump while driving and live?

What would happen if the moon went away?

In pursuit of answers, Munroe runs computer simulations, pores over stacks of declassified military research memos, solves differential equations, and consults with nuclear reactor operators. His responses are masterpieces of clarity and hilarity, studded with memorable cartoons and infographics. They often predict the complete annihilation of humankind, or at least a really big explosion. Far more than a book for geeks, WHAT IF: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions explains the laws of science in operation in a way that every intelligent reader will enjoy and feel much the smarter for having read.

For this review, I’m throwing it way back to 2007 when I was obsessed with xkcd. So was one of my friends, and we did things like printing the comics out to hang in our lockers, doodling the comics in class, and referencing the site in casual conversation. Senior year of high school, he signed my yearbook with a recreation of one of the comics. I may have had a panel of the ball pit comic as my Livejournal icon for a while. When I say obsessed, I mean obsessed.

So when I saw that Randall Munroe had written a book, I did what anybody who obsessed over someone a decade ago and hadn’t thought of them since would do — I completely ignored it. I mean, I’d seen it on Goodreads. I’d seen it in stores. I’d thought about reading it, but then I thought, “Sara, what if it’s terrible and it completely ruins your teenage years for you?” Then one day I just decided to go for it.

It wasn’t terrible.

It wasn’t great, either, but it wasn’t terrible.

I think, more than anything, it showcases how intelligent Munroe is. When faced with these questions, his mind goes to absolutely ridiculous lengths to answer them. He’ll provide a quick answer as to what would happen, and then branch off into the effects of that, and the effects of that, and the effects of that… until basically the entire planet is destroyed or humanity dies out. This was fun for a few of the questions, but a little much for the rest.

I’ll probably read Munroe’s other book at some point, but I feel like they’d be better spaced out than read back-to-back.


Have you read What If? Have you read xkcd?
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Book Review: My Squirrel Days by Ellie Kemper

My Squirrel Days by Ellie Kemper
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: October 9, 2018
Source: Borrowed

Meet Ellie, the best-intentioned redhead next door. You’ll laugh right alongside her as she shares tales of her childhood in St. Louis, whether directing and also starring in her family holiday pageant, washing her dad’s car with a Brillo pad, failing to become friends with a plump squirrel in her backyard, eating her feelings while watching PG-13 movies, or becoming a “sports monster” who ends up warming the bench of her Division 1 field hockey team in college.

You’ll learn how she found her comedic calling in the world of improv, became a wife, mother and New Yorker, and landed the role of a bridesmaid (while simultaneously being a bridesmaid) in Bridesmaids. You’ll get to know and love the comic, upbeat, perpetually polite actress playing Erin Hannon on The Office, and the exuberant, pink-pants-wearing star of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

If you’ve ever been curious about what happens behind the scenes of your favorite shows, what it really takes to be a soul cycle “warrior,” how to recover if you accidentally fall on Doris Kearns Goodwin or tell Tina Fey on meeting her for the first time that she has “great hair—really strong and thick,” this is your chance to find out. But it’s also a laugh-out-loud primer on how to keep a positive outlook in a world gone mad and how not to give up on your dreams. Ellie “dives fully into each role—as actor, comedian, writer, and also wife and new mom—with an electric dedication, by which one learns to reframe the picture, and if not exactly become a glass-half-full sort of person, at least become able to appreciate them” (Vogue.com).

I’m a big fan of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (I actually dressed up as Kimmy for Halloween), so I was curious about Ellie Kemper’s memoir as soon as I saw it in my library. And, after reading it, I really like her. She comes across as a really down-to-earth, genuinely nice person who hasn’t been corrupted by having a super popular show on Netflix.

But being a really down-to-earth, genuinely nice person doesn’t necessarily make for an interesting memoir. Now, don’t get me wrong, Ellie is funny. The way that she tells the stories of what’s happened to her over the years is hilarious. She can take a normal day and make it funny, and that’s great.

But does it need a whole book? I’m not so sure.

On the one hand, I was happy to read a memoir that didn’t involve anything dark. Like, literally anything at all. Ellie projects a very upbeat, sunny personality in everything that she does, and her book is no different. The parts of her life that she’s chosen to share in this book are just as cute and quirky as you might expect. But, on the other hand, reading one cute, quirky story after another gets a little tedious. Can anyone’s life really be that perfect?

Overall, My Squirrel Days is well-written, it’s a refreshingly positive memoir, and it’s very, very reminiscent of Kimmy Schmidt. I enjoyed it quite a bit, but everything was so happy and so quirky and so perfect that I don’t think it’ll leave a lasting impression on me.

I’d recommend this if you’re a big Ellie Kemper fan, but if you’re not? You can probably skip this one.


Have you read My Squirrel Days? Do you like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt?
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Book Review: One More Thing by BJ Novak

One More Thing by BJ Novak
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: February 4, 2014
Source: Borrowed

From an actor, writer, and director of the hit TV comedy The Office (US version): a story collection that was “workshopped” at comedy clubs and bookstores on both coasts.

B.J. Novak’s One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories is an endlessly entertaining, surprisingly sensitive, and startlingly original debut collection that signals the arrival of a welcome new voice in American fiction.

Across a dazzling range of subjects, themes, tones, and narrative voices, Novak’s assured prose and expansive imagination introduce readers to people, places, and premises that are hilarious, insightful, provocative, and moving-often at the same time.

In One More Thing, a boy wins a $100,000 prize in a box of Frosted Flakes – only to discover that claiming the winnings may unravel his family. A woman sets out to seduce motivational speaker Tony Robbins – turning for help to the famed motivator himself. A school principal unveils a bold plan to permanently abolish arithmetic. An acclaimed ambulance driver seeks the courage to follow his heart and throw it all away to be a singer-songwriter. Author John Grisham contemplates a monumental typo. A new arrival in heaven, overwhelmed by infinite options, procrastinates over his long-ago promise to visit his grandmother. We meet a vengeance-minded hare, obsessed with scoring a rematch against the tortoise who ruined his life; and post-college friends who debate how to stage an intervention in the era of Facebook. We learn why wearing a red t-shirt every day is the key to finding love; how February got its name; and why the stock market is sometimes just… down.

Finding inspiration in questions from the nature of perfection to the icing on carrot cake, from the deeply familiar to the intoxicatingly imaginative, One More Thing finds its heart in the most human of phenomena: love, fear, family, ambition, and the inner stirring for the one elusive element that might make a person complete. The stories in this collection are like nothing else, but they have one thing in common: they share the playful humor, deep heart, inquisitive mind, and altogether electrifying spirit of a writer with a fierce devotion to the entertainment of the reader.

If there’s one thing I’m skeptical of, it’s actors getting published. Sometimes it works out pretty well, but most of the time I’m just left disappointed. In the case of One More Thing, I don’t even know how to feel. Like I wasted my time? Kind of offended? Entirely unamused?

The thing is, I think BJ Novak is a good actor. I love The Office. I know he can write because he’s one of the writers on that show. And what he writes on that show is funny. What’s he’s written here is just trying too hard. It’s written like he thinks he’s smart and everyone else is dumb.

There are so many short stories in this collection that I feel like I can’t really go into any depth on any of them. They’ve all blended together in my mind to the point that only two stand out. One good, one bad.

The good? The one about the boy who wins the Frosted Flakes sweepstakes. I did not see that ending coming and thought that it was a really well-written story. The bad? The one about the teacher insisting that the N-word should be used more.

Once I figured out that each story sets a scene and ends in the way you’d least expect, it was much less interesting. The stories became very formulaic and it seemed like Novak was trying so hard to be edgy that he just came off as pretentious.

I think I’ll just stick with watching The Office and ignore whatever else he writes.

#ps19: a book recommended written by a celebrity you admire


Have you read One More Thing? What’s your opinion on actors getting published?
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ARC Review: The Escape Manual for Introverts by Katie Vaz

The Escape Manual for Introverts by Katie Vaz
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: August 6, 2019
Source: ARC via Netgalley

Feeling cornered at a wedding reception by gossipy guests? Stuck at a holiday party that lasts forever? This beautifully illustrated book is the ultimate funny, sometimes absurd guide to escaping those painfully awkward situations. 

Trapped in an airplane seated next to a chatterbox? Are you hosting a dinner party with people who just won’t leave? Katie Vaz has the key to your escape. The Escape Manual for Introverts guides readers through different scenarios with themed chapters (“Friends,” “Relatives,” “Strangers,” etc.). Each chapter covers a range of situations, from an invitation to karaoke night to group lunchtime. And she offers a number of escapes for each scenario: bringing odoriferous foods to lunch for a while, having a pet (real or imagined) that “requires” frequent check-ins, and even investing in a jet pack. This book features Vaz’s full-page illustrated spreads, hand-lettering, and spot illustrations. From the silly to the sincere, Vaz’s clever, hilarious escape plans and bizarre excuses speak to the introvert in all of us.

As an introvert and someone who likes to escape from uncomfortable situations whenever possible, I couldn’t not read this book when I found it on Netgalley. I read it in one sitting over maybe a half hour or so, and it was just as cute as I thought it would be.

I guess that the first thing I want to say is that I don’t think this is necessarily the kind of book that you just sit down and read. I think it would do a lot better as a coffee table book, one that you pick up, flip through a few pages, chuckle to yourself, and put back down. I think that my rating of three stars has a lot to do with the fact that I read all of the scenarios and all of the escapes back to back, which probably made them less entertaining and less helpful.

As you might expect, some of the escapes are reasonable, some are obvious, and some are just funny. The book is clearly meant to be cute, and at that, it definitely succeeds. It has a very lighthearted vibe, which I liked, but it didn’t leave me with any long-lasting positive (or negative) feelings.

#ps19: a book with an item of clothing or accessory on the cover


Have you read The Escape Manual for Introverts? Is it on your TBR?
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Book Review: How to Tell If Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You by Matthew Inman

How to Tell If Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You by Matthew Inman
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: July 15, 2012
Source: Borrowed

If your cat is kneading you, that’s not a sign of affection. Your cat is actually checking your internal organs for weakness. If your cat brings you a dead animal, this isn’t a gift. It’s a warning. How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You is an offering of cat comics, facts, and instructional guides from the creative wonderland at TheOatmeal.com.

How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You presents fan favorites, such as “Cat vs. Internet,” “How to Pet a Kitty,” and “The Bobcats,” plus 17 brand-new, never-before-seen cat jokes. A pullout poster is included at the back of the book. 

Earlier this year, I shared a review of Hyperbole and a Half, a graphic novel based on a blog I loved when I was younger. So when I found How to Tell If Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You in the graphic novel section at my library, I figured… why not? I loved The Oatmeal when I was in college, so I might as well see what this graphic novel was like.

And… it’s fine, I guess.

It’s cute.

Is it much more than cute? Not really.

A lot of the comics made me laugh out loud. Some made me cringe a little. Others (like the cats at work) started out cute but went on too long.

This is a quick and entertaining book that would probably make any cat owner smile, but I don’t know if I can really recommend buying it.

Have you read Technically, You Started It? Can you recommend any similar books?
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