Review: Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern

While browsing the library for a book to read (preferably a humorous one at that), I stumbled upon Justin Halpern’s Sh*t My Dad Says. I then proceeded to open up the light read on a random page to see if it’d capture my attention… And it succeeded in making me laugh out loud with this one passage:

On Bob Saget’s Demeanor While Hosting America’s Funniest Home Videos

“Remember that face. That’s the face of a man who hates himself.”

What follows is a book that delivers pretty much everything I’ve been seeking: laugh-out-loud funny anecdotes, family, cursing, and so much more.

Here’s a couple more gems I’d like to share:

On How to Tell When a Workout Is Complete

“I just did an hour on the gym machine. I’m sweaty, and I have to shit. Where’s my fanny pack? This workout is over.”

On Chivalry

“Give your mother the front seat…. I don’t give a shit if she said you could have it, that’s what she’s supposed to do, and you’re supposed to say, ‘No, I insist.’ You think I’m gonna drive around with my wife in the backseat and a nine-year-old in the front? You’re a crazy son of a bitch.”

But the true key to fully enjoying this book was listening to it on audio (which is, by the way, only three hours long). The narrator, Sean Schemmel, does this hilarious deep voice that perfectly captures the anger, frustration, and love behind the dad’s words. This read wouldn’t have been as laugh-out-loud funny without the audio format for me. But I do have to note that Schemmel’s choice of using a high-pitched voice for the female characters was absurd and completely threw me out of the story, so I tried to tune that out as much as possible.

On another note, getting to read about Justin Halpern’s relationship with his dad, who’s a rather blunt individual, and sharing his quotes and quips, surprisingly evoked a wide range of reactions. From laughing at one section to being moved deeply by another, I was never short of experiencing numerous emotions throughout my reading experience.

One part that stuck out in particular was this breakfast shared with his father at Denny’s:

“Dad, can you please get to the point you’re trying to make? I don’t want to talk about this the whole breakfast with all these people around us,” I said, as I looked to my left and right, indicating that people were listening and that it was embarrassing for me.
He paused and looked around the restaurant, and then right at the college kids next to us, who quickly glanced away.
“You give a shit what all these people think, huh? Even though you never met a goddamned one of them,” he said.”

Sam Halpern really made me shift my whole view with just the one sentence: “You give a shit what all these people think, huh? Even though you never met a goddamned one of them,”

And on said thought, that will no doubt be playing over and over in my head, I’ll end my review for this noteworthy book I’m beyond glad to have listened to. If you’re looking for a swift and comical read that’ll have you laughing out loud, Sh*t My Dad Says is the one.

4/5 stars

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Review: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down.


Fun story: I finally caved into the hype for Little Fires Everywhere when my fries nearly burned down the oven this past Tuesday. I was, needless to say, scared shitless when I saw smoke covering the kitchen…

“Most of the smoke had gone, but a mugginess still hung everywhere, like the air in the bathroom after a long, hot shower.”

But, the day after, when I randomly decided to read the first chapter of this book, which has its premise set around a fire, I was swept into the world of these lively characters in Shaker Heights. (I’m still mad at myself for having to go through the above, in order for me to get fully into the storyline.)

Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood – and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster.

Celeste Ng breathes such livelihood into each and every one of her characters that I can clearly imagine them in my head, so much so that I have to remind myself that they only exist in this fictional piece of work. And it works so well because the author pays close attention to the tiniest of details that I wouldn’t have thought to notice at first, but then it’s those features that make the story feel that more tangible.

Take for example this introducing passage to the last (and the wildest) of the Richardson children:

“Izzy, at ten, had been apprehended sneaking into the Humane Society in an attempt to free all the stray cats. “They’re like prisoners on death row,” she’d said. At eleven, her mother—convinced that Izzy was overly clumsy—had enrolled her in dance classes to improve her coordination. Her father insisted she try it for one term before she could quit. Every class, Izzy sat down on the floor and refused to move. For the recital—with the aid of a mirror and a Sharpie—Izzy had written NOT YOUR PUPPET across her forehead and cheeks just before taking the stage, where she stood stock-still while the others, disconcerted, danced around her.”

I… love her.tumblr_lrhsgyfici1qgw1fbo1_400

I haven’t fallen under the spell of a family so entirely since I read Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin. Speaking of, if you liked the characterization in YJY, you’ll most likely enjoy this worthwhile read just as much. Also, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara is a prime example of exploring the dynamics of main and side characters and the threads connecting them all, just as this novel does so brilliantly.

Celeste Ng breathes so much humanity into her characters that the everyday becomes compelling. And with each coming chapter, I became that more bewitched with these strangely compelling families.

“The truth was that she wanted to study the Richardsons both when they were there and when they weren’t. Every day, it seemed, Pearl absorbed something new from the Richardson family: a turn of phrase (“I was literally dying”), a gesture (a flick of the hair, an eye roll). She was a teen, Mia told herself over and over; she was trying on new skins, like all teenagers did, but privately she stayed wary of the changes she saw.”

I love how the author can capture such specific and private moments with a particular turn of phrase. These careful observations of her characters are enthralling.

There’s so much I want to discuss, everything from the enigmatic Mia Warren, “who seemed to make her own rules with no apologies”, to the complex and deeply intricate adoption case surrounding Mirabelle McCullough (“or, depending which side you were on, May Ling Chow”). I’ll just say on the latter that the heated debate that lasted for months in their community, continued on in my head (and out loud to anyone who was willing to listen) without pause.

“It came, over and over, down to this: What made someone a mother? Was it biology alone, or was it love?”

The case really got my blood boiling and my head spinning, and I was so invested in the outcome of the court, that their final decision would have quite the impact on whether this introspective book was a 5 star read* or lower for me. And I see that as an immense success in my eyes because it’s rare that I get this overly invested and absorbed in a storyline. The author knows how to spin a web, and I would encourage you to experience it firsthand from the book.

“Something about the case had lit a spark in her, though she could not yet put her finger on it, and would not be able to articulate it for a long while.”tumblr_ohjcy2ojz61qk96v2o1_500

I still can’t fully wrap my head around all the intricate details Celeste Ng planted along the way. I truly applaud her for creating such distinct voices in each character. She played to her strength by giving the time and place to expand a character’s arc to fit into the overarching theme. And thanks to their extensive background presented without any bias, even those I came to disagree with, I still understood their point of view, their raison d’être, and their vehement fight to get people on their side.

“Here, she found, everything had nuance; everything had an unrevealed side or unexplored depths. Everything was worth looking at more closely.”

This novel is a prime example of succeeding at creating plot and tone through its multifaceted characterization. Which is why I’m also impressed that even though the main storyline didn’t appear until halfway through the book, the author kept up our interest with expertise on all accounts. It was a pure pleasure, watching her click everything into place.

All I wanted was to devour this oddly endearing book in all its glory, and in the same beat cherish it so it would last me forever.

Plus, I can’t stop thinking about how consumingly evocative and vivid the writing style is. The specificity behind each sentence was very well woven together both by the storyline and the character development. It was bold, it had a purpose, and it didn’t feel aimless. Like this passage that paints a clear of picture how close the siblings are:

“You’d think she was the mother,” their mother had said once, half in tones of complaint, half in admiration.
They had their own words for things, a jargon of obscure origin: for reasons even they had forgotten, they referred to butter as cheese; they called the grackles that perched in the treetops icklebirds. It was a circle they drew around the two of them like a canopy. “Don’t tell anyone from France,” Mia would begin, before whispering a secret, and Warren’s reply was always, “Wild giraffes couldn’t drag it out of me.”

I wish I could explain in words how much I love Celeste Ng’s skill for capturing something so specific and addictively relatable.

And another utterly enchanted passage on mother/daughter bonds that’s worth the lenghty read:

“It had been a long time since her daughter had let her be so close. Parents, she thought, learned to survive touching their children less and less. As a baby Pearl had clung to her; she’d worn Pearl in a sling because whenever she’d set her down, Pearl would cry. There’d scarcely been a moment in the day when they had not been pressed together. As she got older, Pearl would still cling to her mother’s leg, then her waist, then her hand, as if there were something in her mother she needed to absorb through the skin. Even when she had her own bed, she would often crawl into Mia’s in the middle of the night and burrow under the old patchwork quilt, and in the morning they would wake up tangled, Mia’s arm pinned beneath Pearl’s head, or Pearl’s legs thrown across Mia’s belly. Now, as a teenager, Pearl’s caresses had become rare—a peck on the cheek, a one-armed, half-hearted hug—and all the more precious because of that. It was the way of things, Mia thought to herself, but how hard it was. The occasional embrace, a head leaned for just a moment on your shoulder, when what you really wanted more than anything was to press them to you and hold them so tight you fused together and could never be taken apart. It was like training yourself to live on the smell of an apple alone, when what you really wanted was to devour it, to sink your teeth into it and consume it, seeds, core, and all.”

I feel the truth of these words echoing inside me. And it goes to show how parts of Little Fires Everywhere made me emotional to the point of crying and they weren’t even sad, just so absolutely stunning.

It’s been so long since a book evoked such a wide range of reactions out of me. But this multigenerational tale of family bonds, youthful romance, generational conflicts and hidden secrets had me compulsively turning page after page. I haven’t felt this strongly about a book in nearly half a year (back when I read The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem by Sarit Yishai-Levi). This thought-provoking read in all its messy complexity will stay with me for a long time to come. And in the meantime, I’ll be devouring all the other books the author has released so far.

5/5 stars

*Oh, who am I kidding? This book deserves all the stars in the sky.

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Little Fires Everywhere, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

Review: Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

In Modern Romance, Ansari combines his irreverent humor with cutting-edge social science to give us an unforgettable tour of our new romantic world.

“The world is available to us, but that may be the problem.”

Fun fact: I actually started 2017 with this read, but at the time it didn’t feel relevant enough for me to get the most out of it, so I put the book down. Fast forward to November, when I discovered the wonder that is the Hidden Brain podcast, where it featured an episode with Aziz Ansari sharing laugh-out-loud funny excerpts from Modern Romance. After having a genuinely good time listening to his voice on the podcast, I was convinced to take another shot with the audiobook .

And having watched and completely loved Ansari’s Netflix show Master of None back in  May when the second season was released (check out my May 2017 Reading Wrap Up to read more of my ravings on that), I was more than ready to dive back into his world. Plus, I’m glad I got to read the book a while after having watched the show because the many parallels of my favorite scenes from the show being present in here was beyond gratifying to experience again.

Modern Romance interweaves stream of consciousness storytelling with scientific research that will ultimately make you see your own life through a different lens. Thankfully, though, the book has a generous mix of absurdity and depth. Aziz Ansari tackles head-on the subject of culture and technology and the ways they’ve shaken romance, and he provides us with “a much richer understanding of the new romantic landscape.” But Ansari never fails to include a much-needed comical anecdote or food reference to lighten up the text. Speaking of which, here’s a passage from the first chapter that sealed the deal for me:

“To be honest, I tend to romanticize the past, and though I appreciate all the conveniences of modern life, sometimes I yearn for simpler times. Wouldn’t it be cool to be single in a bygone era? I take a girl to a drive-in movie, we go have a cheeseburger and a malt at the diner, and then we make out under the stars in my old-timey convertible. Granted, this might have been tough in the fifties given my brown skin tone and racial tensions at the time, but in my fantasy, racial harmony is also part of the deal.”

That’s my exact thought process with people who tend to romanticize the past.

The only downfall to this book was that, though it highlights a vast set of issues related to modern romance and emerging adulthood, it does so in a very narrowed down look, specifically centered around American middle-class straight couples. But to give credit where credit is due, there are a couple of chapters dedicated to exploring romance in other parts of the world, such as Buenos Aires, Tokyo, Paris, and Doha.

All in all: I’m just glad I finally got around to reading Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance with the end of the year in sight.

4/5 stars

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Modern Romance, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!