Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

For me, a sign of a good book is one that makes me insist on narrating passages to unwilling listeners. I read nearly two full chapters of ‘Let’s Pretend This Never Happened’ out loud to various friends and coworkers, and there were several other sections I wanted to share, but I was too busy not breathing and shredding my abdominal muscles from silent, shuddering laughter.

Best bits? I took personal delight in reading tales of The Bloggess’s adventures working in human resources, and any chapter that detailed exchanges with her husband. Theirs is a bizarre, messy, confrontational relationship and I enjoyed the vicarious snippets she shared; kind of Liz Taylor and Richard Burton with a touch of Bonnie & Clyde.

From a stylistic point of view, her writing is sort of a bastard child of the later works of James Joyce and Hunter S. Thompson. Vast swathes of stream-of-consciousness give you a deeply raw and naked look inside a disturbed mind. Sometimes this is hilarious; other times tedious. One mildly annoying quirk that I wish her editor had dealt with was Lawson’s addiction to adverbs; her text is cluttered with words ending in -ly, when a more elegant solution to the phrasing was often available.

Brilliant use of footnotes, post-scripts and post-its made for an entertaining variety of form and presentation that worked well with the subject matter and how the author relates it. All the flavour of a blog with none of the typos and the added spice of occasional notes to/from the Editor and with a very po-mo awareness of the way book publication and marketing works in today’s literary market.

The chapters where Lawson describes her anxiety disorder and her attempt at making friends with girls grated on me a little, but I suppose she felt that making light of this subject might make her an asshole or something. That’s a fair argument, but was a jarring change of tone in the midst of an otherwise jovial memoir.

While often side-splittingly hilarious, not all of this book is funny. There’s a lengthy chapter about Lawson’s challenges with conception and carrying a baby to term that’s pretty grim, but (spoiler alert) there’s a happy conclusion, plus it was a fairly important lead in to further discussion of her vagina, which is the source of infinite jest in this novel, so all’s well that ends well?

To conclude, this book will not be for everyone, especially given the liberal use of profanity, unrelenting focus on sex organs, proliferation of dead animals, scorpions, fecal matter, animal husbandry, teenage drug use, and taxidermy.

However, if you are one of my friends in the 30-something over-educated urban crowd, with or without children, gay or straight, single or coupled, I suspect it will repay you to check this book out for its ribald humour, gleeful experimentation with the English language and educational information about how HR really works.

Also, I probably already bought you a copy for Christmas. You’re welcome.

If you find Jenny Lawson entertaining, you might also enjoy…

1) David Sedaris’s ‘Me Talk Pretty One Day’

2) Tina Fey’s ‘Bossypants’

3) Anthony Bourdain’s ‘Kitchen Confidential’

4) Graham Roumieu’s ‘In Me Own Words: The Autobiography of Bigfoot’

4 of 5 stars / bookshelves: read, biography, comedy, 318 pages, Publisher: Putnam (2012)
Read from September 10 to 15, 2012

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

If you’re an aspiring chef, hoping to preview the glamorous life of celebrity sightings and slavishly devoted patrons that lies before you, this book will be a sharp kick to the gonads/ovaries. Bourdain does not paint a pretty picture of the NYC restaurant scene, but I will say, he writes about ghoulish goings-on with panache.

I’ve never tasted this man’s cooking (much to my chagrin), but his vocabulary is delicious. Fiefdoms, putative, dipsomaniacal… Private school education may not have taught him how to saute, but it shows to advantage when he’s penning a book. At one point he refers to kitchens that restrict their chefs to a paltry two towels per shift as “criminally parsimonious”. SWOON.

Military metaphors abound, as Bourdain likens the mass production of meals to running an army campaign.
“-next thing you know, the Russian tanks are rolling through the suburbs, misusing your womenfolk, and Mr Restaurant Genius is holed up in the bunker thinking about eating his gun.”

So, it’s nasty. How nasty? Here’s a wee dose, see how you take it:
“All the cooks’ necks and wrists were pink and inflamed with awful heat rashes; the end-of-shift clothing change in the Room’s fetid, septic locker-rooms was a gruesome panorama of dermatological curiosities.”

Is there swearing? Obscenities GALORE. The F-word is the LEAST of your worries. If you’re averse to profanity, run-don’t-walk far away from this book. If you’re okay with some vulgarity but not the whole cock-filled enchilada, skip the chapter titled “The Level of Discourse”.

Is it honest? Phew. No holds barred! Let’s take the skeletons out of my closet and dance with them! Brutal unflinching honesty.

Is it charming? Very. This passage made me clap and squee:
“My last semester at Vassar, I’d taken to wearing nunchakus in a strap-on holster and carrying around a samurai sword — that should tell you all you need to know.”

Is it funny? Oh yes. Black humour to be sure. But you’ll laugh.
“He has an unusual and frankly terrifying tic; when he eats, one eye rolls up into its socket. I’m told he makes funny faces when he has sex, too, but I try very hard not to picture that.”

Will I learn anything about cooking?
While Bourdain does his best to shoot off quick explanations of what’s going on in his kitchen, I would have liked a handy glossary, for us non-chef folks who have no clue what a “navarin” is, or what goes in the ominous sounding “boudin noir”.

The real benefit to a glossary is that it wouldn’t be nearly as snarky as Bourdain, who always has to add a dash of condescension to his definitions, as per: “Rouille – that’s a garlic pepper mayonnaise garnish, for the newbies.” At one point, he asks, “Does anyone need ‘livornaise’ explained… again?” and I actually put my hand up in the air and waved it around while reading.

Navarin d’agneau, boudin noir, demi-glace, choucroute garnie: I don’t know what the hell any of these things are, but now I want to put them in my mouth and find out. And isn’t that why we read? To vicariously experience someone’s struggles and loves and hatreds, to discover new tastes and new places, to add items to the ever-growing “must try” list?

That’s why I read, anyway. This book delivers on all accounts.

Some other books (and a movie!) that will make your mouth water…

1) Ruth Tal Brown’s ‘Fresh at Home’

2) Irma Rombauer’s ‘Joy of Cooking’

3) Best movie about food ever! (In Japanese w/subtitles) ‘Tampopo’ on DVD

4 of 5 stars / bookshelves: read, autobiography, comedy, 312 pages, Publisher: Harper Perennial (2007 – updated edition; first pub 2000)
Read from July 30 to August 06, 2012