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: Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch

Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: July 23, 2019
Source: Borrowed

A linguistically informed look at how our digital world is transforming the English language.

Language is humanity’s most spectacular open-source project, and the internet is making our language change faster and in more interesting ways than ever before. Internet conversations are structured by the shape of our apps and platforms, from the grammar of status updates to the protocols of comments and @replies. Linguistically inventive online communities spread new slang and jargon with dizzying speed. What’s more, social media is a vast laboratory of unedited, unfiltered words where we can watch language evolve in real time.

Even the most absurd-looking slang has genuine patterns behind it. Internet linguist Gretchen McCulloch explores the deep forces that shape human language and influence the way we communicate with one another. She explains how your first social internet experience influences whether you prefer “LOL” or “lol,” why ~sparkly tildes~ succeeded where centuries of proposals for irony punctuation had failed, what emoji have in common with physical gestures, and how the artfully disarrayed language of animal memes like lolcats and doggo made them more likely to spread.

Because Internet is essential reading for anyone who’s ever puzzled over how to punctuate a text message or wondered where memes come from. It’s the perfect book for understanding how the internet is changing the English language, why that’s a good thing, and what our online interactions reveal about who we are. 

You may have heard me mention once or twice that I’m really into linguistics. So into it, in fact, that it’s what my degree is in. I really love reading nonfiction about linguistics, but I’m often left disappointed. When I saw Because Internet pop up on my library’s “recently added” shelf, I couldn’t resist. I’ll admit that I was a tad skeptical. I mean… Because Internet is a pretty risky title. It’s either going to be cringy or amazing.

I’m happy to report that this book definitely falls at the “amazing” end up that spectrum.

Ever since I was an undergrad in my first Intro to Linguistics course, modern linguistics has intrigued me. I love how language changes over time, but there was never a course on the linguistics of the internet back then. This book was like a crash course in everything I find fascinating.

If you’ve ever wondered about the linguistics of…

  • ~*sparkle punctuation*~
  • Tumblr Emphasis™
  • lolcats, doge, and snek
  • lol
  • text-based emoticons and emoji
  • keyboard smashes
  • friendly vs. passive aggressive texts
  • or, really, almost anything else you could think of

… you’ll probably enjoy this book. If you’re a hardcore prescriptivist (someone who lives by language rule books and lectures people online about ending sentences with prepositions and splitting infinitives), you probably won’t enjoy it as much. McCulloch takes the language of the internet very seriously in this book and presents an in-depth analysis of its evolution.

I was blown away by not only how informative this book was, but also how much I enjoyed it! Excuse me while I go find five hundred more books to read on linguistics.


Have you read Because Internet? Do you have any interest in linguistics?
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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: Bad Blood by John Carreyrou

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 21, 2018
Source: Borrowed

The full inside story of the breathtaking rise and shocking collapse of a multibillion-dollar startup, by the prize-winning journalist who first broke the story and pursued it to the end in the face of pressure and threats from the CEO and her lawyers.

In 2014, Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes was widely seen as the female Steve Jobs: a brilliant Stanford dropout whose startup “unicorn” promised to revolutionize the medical industry with a machine that would make blood tests significantly faster and easier. Backed by investors such as Larry Ellison and Tim Draper, Theranos sold shares in a fundraising round that valued the company at $9 billion, putting Holmes’s worth at an estimated $4.7 billion. There was just one problem: The technology didn’t work.

For years, Holmes had been misleading investors, FDA officials, and her own employees. When Carreyrou, working at The Wall Street Journal, got a tip from a former Theranos employee and started asking questions, both Carreyrou and the Journal were threatened with lawsuits. Undaunted, the newspaper ran the first of dozens of Theranos articles in late 2015. By early 2017, the company’s value was zero and Holmes faced potential legal action from the government and her investors. Here is the riveting story of the biggest corporate fraud since Enron, a disturbing cautionary tale set amid the bold promises and gold-rush frenzy of Silicon Valley.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the Theranos story, here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Elizabeth Holmes had an idea to create a small machine that could run several blood tests using a single drop of blood.
  • She convinced investors to contribute nine billion dollars to the company under the pretense that she already had a functional device.
  • She provided false data in demonstrations because the machine rarely worked.
  • Despite mounting evidence that the machine gave dangerously bad results (imagine getting a false positive in a blood test for prostate cancer or a false negative on an HIV test), she somehow finagled contracts to put her machines in Walgreens and Safeway.
  • As the company began to fall apart, Holmes and other Theranos higher-ups did everything in their power to hold on to their fraudulent device, including threatening their employees with lawsuits and attempting to convince the United States government that their laboratory didn’t need to meet standard requirements.

Bad Blood chronicles the incredible story of what happens when someone is willing to do just about anything to gain fame and fortune. I’d like to say that the sheer entitlement of the major players at Theranos came as a surprise, but it didn’t.

After working in the medical field for most of my adult life, I’ve met more than one person that I could see going down a path like this if they were given enough money. I’ve met more than one person who thought that government regulations shouldn’t apply to them because of one nonsensical reason or another. The amount of times I had to say, “NO, WE CAN’T DO THAT, THAT IS LITERALLY THE DEFINITION OF FRAUD” during seven years in a private practice means that I’ve lost most of my faith in any kind of for-profit healthcare institution. All of that is to say that while this is an absolutely mind-boggling story, I can also kind of see how it would happen.

I’m very happy that Theranos has been shut down and I’m looking forward to the results of the fraud trial. I don’t know if John Carreyrou plans to write any more books like this, but if he does, I’ll be first in line to read them.


Have you read Bad Blood? What’s the last really good nonfiction book you read?
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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: Proof of Collusion by Seth Abramson

Proof of Collusion by Seth Abramson
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: November 13, 2018
Source: Borrowed

For the first time, the full, explosive record of the unthinkable: how a US president compromised American foreign policy in exchange for financial gain and covert election assistance.

Looking back at this moment, historians will ask if Americans knew they were living through the first case of criminal conspiracy between an American presidential candidate turned commander in chief and a geopolitical enemy. The answer might be: it was hard to see the whole picture. The stories coming in from across the globe have often seemed fantastical: clandestine meetings in foreign capitals, secret recordings in a Moscow hotel, Kremlin agents infiltrating the Trump inner circle…

Seth Abramson has tracked every one of these far-flung reports, and now in, Proof of Collusion, he finally gives us a record of the unthinkable—a president compromising American foreign policy in exchange for financial gain and covert election assistance. The attorney, professor, and former criminal investigator has used his exacting legal mind and forensic acumen to compile, organize, and analyze every piece of the Trump-Russia story. His conclusion is clear: the case for collusion is staring us in the face. Drawing from American and European news outlets, he takes readers through the Trump-Russia scandal chronologically, putting the developments in context and showing how they connect. His extraordinary march through all the public evidence includes:

-How Trump worked for thirty years to expand his real estate empire into Russia even as he was rescued from bankruptcy by Putin’s oligarchs, Kremlin agents, and the Russian mafia.

-How Russian intelligence gathered compromising material on him over multiple trips.

-How Trump recruited Russian allies and business partners while running for president.

-How he surrounded himself with advisers who engaged in clandestine negotiations with Russia.

-How Trump aides and family members held secret meetings with foreign agents and lied about them.

By pulling every last thread of this complicated story together, Abramson argues that—even in the absence of a report from Special Counsel Mueller or a thorough Congressional investigation—the public record already confirms a quid pro quo between Trump and the Kremlin. The most extraordinary part of the case for collusion is that so much of it unfolded in plain sight.

Proof of Collusion is one of those books that I put on my Overdrive wishlist right after it came out and then just… didn’t read. Fast forward almost an entire year and I’m working at a job where I can just listen to audiobooks all day, so I decided to check it out.

This is, without a doubt, the best book I’ve read about Trump. Forget Fear, forget Fire and Fury, Proof of Collusion is far above them. This is finally the well-written, well-researched, cohesive book I’ve been wanting to read about Trump’s campaign and presidency.

I’m not going to comment on the politics of this book. What I will say is that there is a lot of information here from a lot of sources. Sometimes Abramson would address a certain topic and I’d think, “Oh, wow, it’s hard to argue against him on that one.” Other times, I’d think, “Well… that’s a bit of a stretch.” A small nitpick is that the book can get pretty repetitive, but I’ve found that’s the case with a lot of nonfiction that I’ve read recently.

Overall, though, this is a very good book on the topic of Trump’s election and presidency and if that’s something that interests you, I’d highly recommend it.


Have you read Proof of Collusion? Is it on your TBR?
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