4 stars

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I just did crack.Snap 2013-04-16 at 13.55.08

And by “did” I mean “read”.

And by “crack” I mean “The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins”.

I’ve actually never done crack (or any drugs) and I am not just saying that because my parents subscribe to this blog. But reading this book sure felt like what I would imagine a crack hit to feel like. Do they even call it a hit? I really don’t know.

So, even though I am probably one of the last people to read The Hunger Games, I promise to not to spoil anything about the story that took the world by storm, resulted in a movie that appears to be as loved as the book and is now a multi-million dollar franchise deal for Collins. That lucky duck. But I am going to tell you that I really enjoyed this book. Even when I was so anti-Hunger Games, to the point I was proud I had not read it.

Well, I am here to let you in on something: being wrong really smarts.

But you know that, so let’s not dwell on that shall we? Let’s talk about why this book works!

  1. A Kick-ass Female Lead. There’s lots of girl power in this dystopian YA thriller. Katniss Everdeen is the young, powerful, stubborn, expert hunter at the heart of The Hunger Games who volunteers to take her younger sister’s place as a tribute in the Capitol city’s annual Hunger Games. The games, which pit a boy and girl from each of the Capitol’s 12 districts, is a death match designed to yield only one victor and offer a reminder that the citizens of the Capitol are not in charge of their lives. Nice, huh?
  2. Strong Sexual Tension. Upon taking her sister’s place as the District 12  female tribute, Katniss then learns that her male counterpart will be Peeta Mellark, a boy she hardly knows. After sizing him up, Katniss remembers that Peeta once saved her starving family with the simple act of giving her a loaf of bread. That memory must be erased as they are now bitter enemies. Despite this, Peeta is stealing glances and making passes at Katniss. Are his feelings true or just part of his strategy for the games? Regardless, I had a thing for loverboy and found Peeta to be quite a sweeta(heart), liar or not.
  3. Cracker Jackers. So there are these murderous wasps in part of the story… and I LOVE that they are called cracker jackers! I think it must have to do with the fact that I am actually allergic to wasp (and bee) stings and these cracker jackers, which cause intense swelling and pus to accumulate (and death!), reminded me of my own run-ins with these flying terrors. You can be assured “cracker jacker” will now be my term of choice for the little bastards.
  4. Creative-as-all-get-out Story. The story is crazy. And y’all should know by my reading choices that l don’t like to suspend my disbelief too far. Yes, I know, It’s hard to stomach a futuristic world where children must engage in combat style warfare, but once you put that aside it was the right mix of wild and interesting that it kept me turning the pages and devouring this book in about 8 hours. It’s addictive reading.

Now it doesn’t matter that I was on a deadline to get this book knocked out asap for the upcoming May Snotty Literati column and it doesn’t matter that I am on vacation this week. The Hunger Games was a delightful break from the heavier stuff I am reading (yes, heavier than kids killing each other) and I ate it up, all hungry like the wolf… yes I did.

Rating: 4 stars
Pages: 384
Genre: Young Adult



State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

State of WonderI think by now everyone knows how much I adore Ann Patchett. Every book of hers that I read, I thoroughly enjoy. Plus, she’s so dang smart, and literary, and she opened her own bookstore, Parnassus Books in Memphis and was one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People last year. I mean, what CAN’T this woman do?

Well, she couldn’t write a book that all the Book Babes agreed on—gasp! I know. Really. Shocking. Stuff. Here’s how it went down:

January’s host mandated State of Wonder for our book club read. All of us were thrilled, knowing how much we loved Truth and Beauty and The Magician’s Assistant. It was clear we all were eager to start.  Personally, I was even more excited to read it knowing that my mother, stepmother and good friend Deirdre—all solid readers whose book opinions I trust pretty much without reservation—loved it. 

I pulled out my signed copy that I picked up last May and dove right in. From page one I was immersed in the story of Dr. Marina Singh, a pharmacy researcher under the employ of Minnesota drug manufacturer Vogel, who is sent deep into the Amazon to check up on a colleague. Dr. Annick Swenson, an OBGYN researching the possibility of the next miracle in fertility medicine, has been away from the lab for years. She has been completely out of touch with Vogel, working on her own timetable with no respect for shareholder goals and the company’s schedule.

There’s a significant problem with Marina’s trip. The previous Vogel employee, a trusted colleague of Marina’s that was also sent to find Dr. Swenson, is now missing. The other issue? Dr. Swenson is Marina’s former boss (former because of a horrific accident that Marina never wants to relive). It is with this fear, uncertainty and insecurity that Marina takes what turns into a life-changing, life-saving journey.

Sounds interesting, right?

Actually, it was pretty interesting and three of the other Book Babes agreed with me. We each gave the book an A, citing the beautiful writing, strong character development and the complicated, yet engaging plot. Two were in somewhat close agreement with us and decided a B was fitting. Two were lukewarm, citing frustration with some of the characters and directions the story took and one questioned whether she read the same book we all did after firmly announcing her grade of an F. Her rationale was that she didn’t connect or have interest in any of the characters. Not a one. Wow. Really?

I told her that she was entitled to her opinion, even though it was wrong.

And then we laughed, thank goodness, because we are that kind of group.

State of Wonder is by far, after almost 10 years of reading, dining and dishing, the most controversially discussed book by our group. I wouldn’t have expected it in a million years. And even though our impressions were all over the board, I have to say it was one of the best discussions we have ever had. Patchett creates an Amazon environment full of challenges, intrigue and drama. There are no easy answers for the characters, and it’s very interesting to see the choices they make and the consequences they experience.

It’s because of this discordance in our views on State of Wonder that I want even more people to read it. I found the subject matter so interesting that I would love other opinions on it. You don’t have to spend a lot of money; patronize your local library. I can’t promise you will enjoy it. However, I can promise it’s an astutely written story like nothing you have read before.

If you do check it out, check in here and let me know your thoughts.

Rating: 4 stars

Pages: 386

Genre: Fiction

If Jack’s In Love by Stephen Wetta

“You can choose your friends but you sho’ can’t choose your family, an’ they’re still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge ’em or not.” ~ Harper Lee To Kill a Mockingbird

And if you are 13 year-old Jack Witcher, you can’t pick either.

Jack Witcher may be the smartest boy just outside of El Dorado Hills, Virginia. But Jack is poor. His alcoholic and habitually out-of-work Pop, his achingly unattractive mother and his pot smoking, bullying, brother Stan are the family he can’t shake. It’s because of this band of misfits, to which he only seems connected by DNA, that he can’t make his way or any friends.

Now add in the complications of pretty Myra Joyner, the equally smart classmate Jack has eyes for and her super-jock brother, Gaylord, who leads the call in Witcher ostracizing and you have the makings of a good story. Place Stan Witcher as the prime suspect in the disappearance and possible murder of Gaylord Joyner and what you have is a suspenseful, page-turning novel.

Set in 1967, If Jack’s In Love is a timeless story. Jack is like any other boy navigating life and love. Innocence is lost, lessons are learned and there’s a lot of angst. And all these little phrases I have rattled off could make If Jack’s In Love sound like something you have read before; I promise you haven’t. Author Stephen Wetta’s element of mystery breathes fresh life into the boy-meets-girl story line. It also helps that Wetta captures Jack’s persona and voice so very well. Jack is bright and insightful, unflinchingly certain about Myra, yet unsure his brother didn’t in fact murder Gaylord. He wants help with Myra, yet doesn’t know to whom he can turn.

“There didn’t seem to be a soul I could confide to. Mom had been burned too many times to think any good would come of love. Her hope was that I would find some nice, ugly girl, after I turned thirty. As for my going with Myra that would be reaching for the stars, and she’d never encourage such overweening vanity… and Pop was too manly to have much regard for feelings. So I locked up my dreams and walked alone.”

But Jack does find a confidante, in the unlikeliest of people, and his plans to win Myra’s love take shape. Meanwhile, community pressure mounts to arrest Stan and Pop’s desire to protect his son grows with a vengeance. When Jack raises even the slightest possibility that Stan was involved in Gaylord’s disappearance, he’s completely shut down. “Witchers aren’t snitchers!” Pop roars. It’s then that Pop and Stan begin an internal campaign to keep Jack quiet and now Jack is being bullied outside his home and within.

If Jack’s In Love expertly captures themes of alienation, desire for connection, and ultimately, resilience. My only complaint with If Jack’s In Love is out of Wetta’s hands. This gem of a book has been marketed as Young Adult fiction. Certainly, I love any effort to get younger folks reading! However, there seems to be a new practice of shelving books in the YA category because the protagonist is a child. This may be appropriate, yet I fear great books will miss the broader audience they deserve.

There’s a lot of great YA fiction out there that doesn’t involve vampires or sci-fi-fantasy. Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars and now Stephen Wetta’s If Jack’s In Love are all worthy of readership by anyone who enjoys reading.

Rating: 4 Stars
Pages: 368
Genre: Fiction

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

I acquired Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk as a free Kindle download sometime this summer. I don’t take every free book that comes my way, but this one struck me as potentially worthwhile. But due to the stack of books silently beckoning from my e-reader, my bookshelves and my nightstand, it had to wait in the wings.

Then it was nominated for the National Book Award.

And I don’t know about you, but I am a super fan of the National Book Awards. I think the NBA’s are a much better arbiter of success, accessibility and readability than those snobby Pulitzers are. Let’s just say I’ve liked a number more NBA winners than I have Pulitzer Prize winners. Yeah, I said it. So that endeared me even more and there you go… I was reading it.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk centers on Bravo Company, an Army unit being heralded for surviving an intense firefight with Iraqi insurgents at the “battle of Al-Ansakar Canal.” The battle, captured on film by an imbedded FOX news team has made the young men of Bravo national heroes and stars of their very own brief U.S. victory tour before heading back to the Gulf.

Bravo’s victory tour, and Fountains novel, takes place predominately in the stands, breezeways, and skyboxes of the Dallas Cowboy’s stadium on Thanksgiving Day in a match up against the Bears. Escorted by Hollywood movie producer Albert Ratner, the man convinced Bravo Company’s story is made for the big screen, the young soldiers are corralled through a bizarre and dizzying day of awkward fan encounters, a halftime show theatrics, physical altercations and constant negotiations.

Fountain excels crafting a wholly accurate picture of this young band of brothers. Bravo Company is what we would expect of an Army unit—brave, brash, loyal and humble. Their dialogue is sharp, witty, foul and even tender at times. In one moment these testosterone-charged men are thrilled at the prospect of meeting their halftime show partners Destiny’s Child, mingling with the Cowboy’s cheerleaders and closing in on a deal that will bring their life story to the big screen. They can go from wobbly uncertainty to a full about face at a moment’s notice. The military teaches you that.

“Billy felt his stride going wonky, his arms starting to flail, but a quick glance at Dime settled him down. Shoulders square, eyes forward, head tipped six degrees as if dignity was a shot glass you balanced on your chin… Fake it till you make it, he reminds himself. This is how he’s survived Army life so far.”

The man faking it is the star of the show, Specialist and Silver Star William Lynn. The 19-year old Bravo Company member grapples with his own ‘celebrity’ while internalizing conflicting feelings of faith, family, love and his own military service. Billy isn’t old enough to vote, but he’s old enough to die defending freedom—this reality is not lost on him or the reader.

Fountain didn’t win the National Book Award for Fiction this year (it went to Louise Erdrich). That’s okay. Billy Lynn is his first novel. What he has done though, is brought to life a character that a reader can instantly identify with, connect with and root for. He’s created a story that hits close to home in an important and necessary way. Add in the expertly woven themes of patriotism, politics and propaganda and he’s created a story as funny as it is heartbreaking.

Rating: 4 stars.
Pages: 307
Genre: Fiction

Love Slave by Jennifer Spiegel

I’m just going to say this right now: I know Jennifer Spiegel. I have known her for 20 something years having met in college, losing touch and reconnecting a couple of years ago via Facebook. She asked me to read her book, but she’s asking everyone. She should. If a writer can’t or won’t promote his or her own work, who will? It’s her first published novel and this is a pretty super freaking big deal if you ask… well, anyone. What she didn’t ask me to do, however, was review it. But as I read it for this month’s book club pick and talked it over with The Book Babes, I knew I would. It’s really so very good.

Semi-Spoiler Alert: Early on Love Slave’s heroine, Sybil Weatherfield, declares: I can write the pants off any man. Guess what? Jennifer Spiegel can, too.

Love Slave follows Sybil Weatherfield a writer in her early 30s as she navigates life and love in the Big Apple, circa 1995. A writer for New York Shock, Sybil heads up Abscess a column of rants and raves that generate quite a chatty and engaged readership but not enough money to keep her from temping during the day to make the ends barely meet. She’s in a relationship with financial analyst and pretty boy Jeff Simon who loves that Sybil’s life is artsy, bohemian and struggling. Sybil loves that he’s kind, smart, well put together and nice to look at. They love what they think the other represents, without actually loving each other. She celebrates her triumphs and disasters and romantic woes with gal pal Madeline, a perfect go getter to Sybil’s comfortable stay putter. And then there’s Rob, sexy, edgy, lead-singer-of-a-band Rob who’s still in love with his dead wife.

Can you see it coming? A love triangle. Every good love story has one and Love Slave is a good one for someone like Sybil, temping her way through work and life, struggling with who she wants to be versus who she actually is. Bring on the drama! Bring on the angst! Bring on a book that feels like it was written for me! And really for my generation, Generation X.

And that’s what I did. I brought Love Slave to my book club, The Book Babes, who actually read and discuss books each month and not just drink wine. But there is wine, trust me. And talked and talked we did, just like any smart women reading a smartly written book would do. The result was a lively convo that didn’t always end up in agreement—the best kind if you ask me. Here are some of the highlights.

On Sybil
We loved Sybil’s authenticity even though some of us found her insecurity irritating. “I wanted Sybil to have her life together by this point in her life,” lamented one. But so many people don’t, which was an endearment for me.

On Female Friendship
We love good female friendship in books and thought Madeline’s take-on-the-world attitude was a nice contrast to the slightly neurotic contemplator Sybil.But their relationship had some challenges, and while it added depth to the story, we were shocked by Madeline’s actions.

On Rocker Rob
We loved Rob. We hated Rob. He was passionate. He was a bit of a whore. He was probably a bit too real for us. “It’s real easy for guys to separate sex from love.”

On Resolution
We all liked how the book ended, which is a bit surprising. The Book Babe that always wants a little more, still wanted a little more. But for most of us, it ends at just the right spot in just the right way.

On What Kind of Book Is this Anyway?
We have a tendency to label books written by women, starring women and involving a love story as Chick Lit. And yet when I read Love Slave, I didn’t get a Chick Lit vibe at all. Love Slave has heart, but it also has more literary bite than typical Chick Lit fare. Spiegel has crafted a flawed, yet likeable, protagonist in Sybil Weatherfield, who is clever and witty behind her words, but a bit of a mess when she’s not. Sybil is perfectly imperfect like we all are, really. In Love Slave we get to experience writing that goes above and beyond the Top 10 Summer Beach Reads. Not that I don’t love a good beach read, but I loved this more and most were in agreement.

But there was a dissenter (there always is in good discussions). “It’s totally Chick Lit and I can see it being marketed to that group of readers. It has all the elements of Chick Lit.”

Despite some of our disagreements, we agreed on one thing: liking it. Love Slave gave us a lot to talk about, reminisce over and even shift uncomfortably as we saw some of ourselves in Sybil. But mostly, we agreed, it was refreshing to read such a smartly written contemporary love story.

On You
Now it’s your turn. Grab a copy a copy of Love Slave and form your own opinion. Take it to your book club or share it with a good friend and talk it over for yourselves. Even better? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Happy reading!

Rating: 4 stars
Pages: 280
Genre: Fiction

This review originally appeared on www.popcultureworldnews.com on 10/17/12.

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Imagine being a poor, motherless girl in rural Mississippi. Now, imagine being a poor, motherless 14 year-old pregnant girl in rural Mississippi and Hurricane Katrina is days from landfall. This is Esch, the protagonist of Jesmyn Ward’s award-winning novel Salvage the Bones.

This young mother-to-be lost her own mother five years ago after a complication during delivering her final child. Esch is the mother of the household to her three brothers. Randall aspires to be a basketball player, Skeetah’s sole focus is his prize-winning pit bull China, and Junior is a typical curious and rambunctious preschooler. The patriarch, known only as Daddy, is working frantically to prepare for the rapidly advancing Katrina and to protect his family despite their extremely limited resources.

With that brief introduction, Esch walks us through an eventful eleven days prior to Katrina’s landfall, the day that changed their lives forever, and one day after, offering a brief glimpse into what might become after such a horrific event. The Batiste family is preoccupied. Daddy with the storm, Randall with the basketball scouts, Skeetah with the dying litter his dog just birthed and Esch with her growing belly and how she will tell Manny. How she will tell her family.

Ward has created a complex and very real picture of poor, rural Mississippi life and the sacrifices families must make when disaster hits. Her words are rich, although a bit overwritten at times. She makes up for it with fully developed and engaging characters that sometimes make you shake your head, but that mostly you empathize for. Ward’s ability to make Katrina a character in this novel, was exceptional. The storm snuck in early on, whistling through trees, rustling through thorn-filled blueberry bushes, covering the sky in a gray haze and building a momentum that brought the story to a heart-stopping and devastating climax.

I recently read a column by magazine editor Greg Zimmerman where he wrote:

“Nothing is more real than fiction. Nothing helps us make sense of the real world more than fiction. Nothing instills in us empathy for others like fiction.”

I couldn’t agree more.

And, that’s why I would encourage you to read Salvage the Bones. It’s gritty and brutal and, at times, hard to read; but it’s important. Ward’s fictional Batiste family could be any poor, struggling family ravaged by a natural disaster that doesn’t have the luxury of leaving before landfall. They don’t have the luxury of choice. The only thing they can do is stay and hold onto each other, hoping for the best.

Rating: 4 stars
Pages: 273
Genre: Fiction

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Let me start in the shallow end of the pool. Summer’s wrapping up, so why not? I love the cover of Beautiful Ruins. The imagery! The colors! The font! Doesn’t it call out to your lying-by-the-pool-sipping-a-cocktail-and-diving-into-a-juicy-fun-not-oily-smoldering-Fabio-romance-sensibilities? And with a name like Jess Walter, I was picturing a sassy novelista new to the chick lit scene and I kept meaning to pick it up.

Really, I did.But I didn’t.

And then I found out Jess Walter was a dude.

And then I found out Beautiful Ruins wasn’t chick lit.

And then I found out Jess Walter was doing a reading at my local independent bookstore.

And then I was even more intrigued with Beautiful Ruins.

So, I attended the reading, without having read the book and was totally charmed. This Jess Walter, who again, is a guy, is really cool. Totally smart. Funny as hell. And easy on the eyes.Yep, ring me up cashier lady, I am officially a fan. Thank goodness the book lived up to his talk.

Speaking of the book… Beautiful Ruins is fabulous. It’s April 1962 and a dying actress has just stepped foot onto Porto Vergogna, Italy and into the heart of hotelier, Pasquale Tursi.But you know what? It’s also today, and an elderly Tursi is on the grounds of a Hollywood production lot trying to find his lost love.

Beautiful Ruins goes back in forth in time between the days of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor starring in epic flop Cleopatra, and who also play minor starring roles in Walter’s tale. To the modern day challenges faced by Hollywood production assistants like Claire Silver who wants to claw her eyes out if she has to watch another pitch for reality shows like “Eat It (obese people racing to eat huge meals) and Rich MILF, Poor MILF (horny middle-aged women set up on dates with horny young men)”. How are these two eras connected? Walter’s fantastic characters and globetrotting storytelling make this story work. You are just going to have to trust me on this.

If I tell you more, I will have told you too much. I can say that I am not typically a fan of fiction that incorporates real people in the mix, but Walter has given Burton perhaps his meatiest role and I found myself enjoying the parts with his brash and bawdy character some of the best. I can also say that this book is a reflection of the times and where our society’s collective tastes have gone in terms of entertainment: “reality TV”, dumbed down storylines and movies made for shock, not awe.

I can also tell you it’s a sweet and wonderful love story—of one of the very best kinds.

Rating: 4 stars
Pages: 352
Genre: Fiction

V is for A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan

When I saw the cover of Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, I immediately wanted to read it. I mean, isn’t it great? The composition and color and the tweaked out guitar strings are just perfect. And then I read the summary and I was kind of nonplussed. It seemed to echo the summaries of books like Bright Lights, Big City or Less Than Zero which I have had no desire to read (shock, horror, I know, whatever) about privileged people doing a lot of drugs and screwing up and maybe there’s redemption and maybe there’s not. Who knows? I haven’t read them. Go figure.

But then, I needed a V book and it had that damn-near perfect cover. It also didn’t hurt any that Egan just won the National Book Critics Circle Award for A Visit from the Goon Squad either. So I caved. Because really, I am not that shallow about books. Just shallow enough that Visit starts with V and fills a void on my alphabetical list.

Here’s the thing about A Visit from Goon Squad: There are some privileged people. There are some drugs. There’s even some screwing up. But there’s also some of the most creative storytelling I have read in a long time. A Visit from the Goon Squad is far from ordinary. It’s a contemporary novel told from the various perspectives of its many and varied main characters: Sasha a younger-looking-than-she is music industry assistant with a tiny kleptomania problem; Bennie, her middle-aged manager struggling to find and book the next big act; Lou an overly tanned, skirt chasing father of 6 (by 3 different wives) who attempts to defy the passage of time; Dolly (aka La Doll) an out of work PR maven who gets her groove back making the worst (the really really worst) look their best; Jules Jones, a celebrity reporter who lands himself in jail after failing to keep his business all about the business.

That’s probably only half of them. And Egan has them all interconnected, all telling their story from their own unique voice. From that perspective, it’s really a sort of mini masterpiece. Never once could I tell where the story was going and that kept me not only interested, but invigorated, much like the characters at their most energetic moments. Egan accomplishes a significant amount of character development, considering how many key players there are and I was astonished how impacted I was by just a few of them who had smaller, bit parts to play (oh sweet Rolph!).

A Visit from the Goon Squad is different. It’s unlike anything I have ever read. Perhaps had I read more (or more of the stuff I have tended to avoid), I may not feel this way. Who knows? What I do know, is I thoroughly enjoyed it, in all of the quirky, eclectic goodness that it is.

Rating: 4 stars
Pages: 352 pages
Genre: Fiction

H is for Half a Life – Darin Strauss

“Half my life ago, I killed a girl.” begins acclaimed author Darin Strauss’ intimate account of a regular day turned tragically inside out and upside down. As shockingly written as any first sentence of a harrowingly told tale, the shock lies in this being the true story of 16 year old Celine Zilke inexplicably swerving into 18 year old Strauss’ car, leaving her dead and Strauss forever changed.

Strauss was not cited. The Long Island police declared the accident completely unavoidable and the insurance company agreed. The books and any potential case were closed. Life could officially continue on. Yet, being absolved of any blame or fault didn’t erase the fact that Celine Zilke was dead and Darin Strauss was involved in her death. These two facts stayed with Strauss, affecting his life in profound and different ways.

Strauss has bravely exposed himself, sharing the complex emotions of grief, anger, fear, guilt and egocentrism he experienced in the years that followed the accident. Processing her death was complicated. Was it an accident? Could he have done something differently? Did Celine want to die? Why on earth would she turn into traffic? In addition to the unrelenting questions swirling in his head, he wrestled with his feelings (what they were, what they should be) and how to fit into a world that now knew him in relation to Celine’s death.

College out of town was a bit of a reprieve. Yet Celine was always with him, not experiencing the things he was able to experience. Creating relationships with new friends or women proved challenging. At what point do you share with someone this part of your past? Celine haunted him, shaped him and helped to create the man and writer that he is today. In fact, Strauss shares that her death likely lead to his work as a writer.

I can’t imagine such a fate. To have known you were involved in another person’s death is incomprehensible and emotionally devastating to me. Still, these types of unimaginable situations happen everyday. While families and communities mourn the loss of life, rarely is time or attention is spent on those who were spared. Half a Life give us that perspective in a completely raw, vulnerable and realistic way.

Rating: 4 stars
Pages: 204
Genre: Memoir

S is for Sleepwalk with Me: And Other Painfully True Stories – Mike Birbiglia

Anyone who knows me, knows I love, love, love Mike Birbiglia. He’s the funniest guy most everyone hasn’t heard of; but that’s about to change. And, no, not because of my review. But because he’s at that place in his career where he’s really taking off. He’s paid his dues growing up an awkward child, into an awkward adult, traveled the country doing standup in every venue imaginable (yes, even for a college study hall, while the kids were trying to study). He’s recorded a few comedy CDs, performed at some larger venues, like the Hollywood Avalon (where I saw him two years ago) and the Tempe Improv (where I saw him again last January). Last year, he had his own one man show, Sleepwalk with Me on Broadway and now he’s got a book, of the same title, that chronicles his life, including his issues with sleepwalking.

Birbigs, as he’s often called, hasn’t produced something I haven’t loved; and I expected this book to be no different. Thankfully I was right. His comedy is made up of great storytelling, and his conversational writing tone carries the same feeling. The only thing that would make reading the book better, would be to watch him tell the stories. He’s hilarious to both watch and hear. Because Birbigs is a storyteller and not a one-liner comedian, it’s hard to pull out any zingers from the book, but here’s my best shot at some of my favorites.

On his love of pizza:

“Pizza is probably my biggest weakness. I love pizza. I would marry pizza, but it would just be an elaborate ploy to eat her whole family at the reception.”

On his love of the Cheesecake Factory:

I simply can’t drive by a Cheesecake Factory without stopping. I love their chicken sandwich the size of a soccer ball and their piece of cake as large as an entire cake. I love the Factory’s generous portions. Their like, “We could sell you grilled cheese sandwiches for a buck fifty, or we could stuff a loaf of bread with three pounds of mozzarella and call it the Mozza Mountain.” And, hey, if the Factory says it’s one serving, who am I to question them? They’re making this stuff to factory specifications.

On his addiction to email (which I share):

I check my phone messages and email about forty-five times a day. I don’t even know what I am expecting to get in these messages. Maybe Visa will call and say, “We just realized that we owe you money!” or I’ll get an email from a high school classmate that says, “We’ve reconsidered and we’ve decided you are cool after all.”

On the multi-tasking ridiculousness of products and technology:

When you go to buy anything these days, the guy’s always like, “You know, it’s also a camera.” And it’s a slippery slope. Like one day I’ll go to the store to buy something and they’ll be like, “It’s also a camera.”

“I just wanted a grapefruit.”

“It’s a camera grapefruit. You take pictures of yourself eating the grapefruit, and then you poop the pictures.

“That is the opposite of what I wanted.”

But Birbigs comedy isn’t all pizza, cameras and Factory specifications.

Growing up, he was diagnosed with bladder cancer and in his 30s developed a dangerous sleepwalking condition that has required medical intervention. Even through these challenges, he’s able to keep his sense of humor. Upon being diagnosed with bladder cancer:

“The doctor found something in your bladder.” Whenever they tell you that, it’s never anything good like, “We found something in your bladder… and it’s season tickets to the Yankees!”

It’s really safe to say that I am probably not the most objective reviewer of Sleepwalk with Me. If I had any one complaint, I would say that watching him perform or listening to his comedy CDs is better than reading a book of his. But, if this is all the Birbigs I can get right now… I will take it.

Rating: 4 stars
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 189