Category Archives: Humor

Review: The Real Thing by Tom Stoppard

Today I have something a little different to review, a play by the Czech-born British writer Tom Stoppard.  This is a very short work, fewer than 100 pages long.  But it is full of great humor and insights about love and relationships.

My Review:
The Real ThingWhen the play opens, Max and Charlotte are having a discussion about Charlotte’s recent trip to Amsterdam.  It becomes evident to Max that Charlotte never went on any trip and it was all just a cover to have a clandestine rendezvous with her lover.  Max commends Charlotte for making the trip seem as authentic as possible by bringing back souvenirs for her mother.  We soon realize that the scene between Max and Charlotte are not really married but were acting in a play that was written by Charlotte’s husband, Henry.

Stoppard plays quite a bit with drama and reality and oftentimes blurs the distinctions between the two as I noted in the first scene.  We learn that Charlotte and Henry’s relationship, much like that of Charlotte and Max’s onstage relationship, has its issues.  After Henry and Charlotte separate and marry other people, Henry makes an interesting observation about commitment; he believes that many people say they are committed in a relationship and never give it a second thought.  But for a relationship to succeed, both parties involved must renew their commitment on a daily basis.  He concludes, very astutely, that there are no real commitments but bargains that are constantly being made between lovers.

The characters in the play are flawed and are trying, like everyone else, to figure out what love is and to find long-lasting love.  They deal with their relationship issues with humor but also with golden nuggets of wisdom that they have learned through experience.  One of my favorite speeches in the play is given by Henry to his young daughter about love.  He uses the Biblical Greek word “to know” in his definition; “to know” someone in a carnal sense is a euphemism in the Bible but Henry feels that it is a fitting definition for love because it is through the flesh that we allow one special person to truly know us like no other.

THE REAL THING is a quick yet thought-provoking read.  If you want to add more drama to your reading lists then I highly recommend it.  This play has also made me want to explore more of Stoppard’s works.

About The Author:
StoppardSir Tom Stoppard OM CBE FRSL (born Tomáš Straussler; 3 July 1937) is a British playwright, knighted in 1997. He has written prolifically for TV, radio, film and stage, finding prominence with plays such as Arcadia, The Coast of Utopia, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, Professional Foul, The Real Thing, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. He co-wrote the screenplays for Brazil, The Russia House, and Shakespeare in Love, and has received one Academy Award and four Tony Awards. Themes of human rights, censorship and political freedom pervade his work along with exploration of linguistics and philosophy. Stoppard has been a key playwright of the National Theatre and is one of the most internationally performed dramatists of his generation.

Born in Czechoslovakia, Stoppard left as a child refugee, fleeing imminent Nazi occupation. He settled with his family in Britain after the war, in 1946. After being educated at schools in Nottingham and Yorkshire, Stoppard became a journalist, a drama critic and then, in 1960, a playwright. He has been married three times, to Josie Ingle (m. 1965), then Miriam Stoppard (m. 1972), and Sabrina Guinness (m. 2014).

 

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Review: Reader for Hire by Raymond Jean

I received an advanced review copy of this title from Peirene Press.  This novella was first published in French in 1986 as La Lectrice and has been translated into this English version by Adriana Hunter.

My Review:
Reader for HireMarie-Constance is looking for some kind of occupation to fill her time; even though she never finished her university degree, she loves literature and decides she will hire herself out to strangers for reading sessions.  When she puts an ad in the local newspaper offering her services, the editor is skeptical and warns her that people might get other ideas about what she is offering.

The novella almost reads like a series of short stories as Marie-Constance meets and reads to a very different and interesting cast of characters.  Her first client is a disabled teenager who goes into an epileptic fit when Marie reads him Maupassant’s short story The Hand.  After this traumatic experience, she decides that poetry might be a better choice for him and as she reads to him he seems to be emotionally and physically moved not only by her reading choices but also by her voice.

Marie-Constance also takes on an old woman who is a Hungarian countess that was married to a former French general.  The countess still staunchly clings to her communist roots and has Marie read to her from the tomes of Marx.  The old woman also tries to participate in the local unions attempts at a rally by waving her communist flag out her bedroom window.

The men who hire Marie for her services are the most interesting characters in the book.  On the surface, they all want to better themselves by learning more about literature.  But as Marie’s voice lulls them into feelings of peace and tranquility, their other manly senses seems to kick in as well.  The final scene in the book is hilarious and Marie learns that the editor at the newspaper might have been right after all about what her listeners are expecting from her services.

This is a clever, funny, unique and interesting novella from Peirene Press.  This is the perfect title to bring with you to the beach for a quick, delightful read.

About The Author and Translator:
Raymond Jean (1925–2012) wrote more than 40 books during his lifetime – novels, short-story collections and essays. He was awarded the Prix Goncourt de la nouvelle in 1983. His novella La Lectrice (Reader for Hire) became a cinema hit starring Miou-Miou. The film won the César Award for Best Supporting Actor and was named the best feature at the 1988 Montreal World Film Festival.

Adriana Hunter has translated over 50 books from French, including works by Agnès Desarthe, Véronique Ovalde and Hervé Le Tellier. She has already translated for Peirene, Beside the Sea by Véronique Olmi, for which she won the 2011 Scott Moncrieff Prize, and Under The Tripoli Sky by Kamal Ben Hameda. Adriana has been short-listed twice for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.

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Filed under France, Humor, Literature in Translation, Novella

Review: Thank You, Goodnight by Andy Abramowitz

I received an advanced review copy of this title from Touchstone through NetGalley.

My Review:
Thank You, GoodnightTeddy Tremble is a lawyer at a Philadelphia law firm and when we meet him we get the impression that he is vaguely dissatisfied with his life.  He is on his way to Ireland to take a deposition for his law firm and he doesn’t seem interested in anything that his going on around him.  He makes a few phone calls back home to his long-time girlfriend and he also seems indifferent towards her.

We find out that being a lawyer was not Teddy’s first career choice and he and his band “Tremble” had a rather successful stint in the nineties as a rock band.  When their second album was judged a complete flop by the critics the band broke up and all of its members went separate ways.  Through a series of hilarious circumstances, Teddy suddenly has the itch to make music again and revive the band.  But convincing the other members, who all have very different lives and careers now, won’t be an easy task.

Teddy sets out on a series of road trips to convince each former band mate to make another go at a new album.  The first band member we meet is Jumbo, a guitar player and the hot mess of the group, who lives in his ex-wife’s basement and has an odd “career” as a midwife.  Jumbo is on board right away with Teddy’s scheme but when Teddy reconnects with his loveable but irresponsible friend again Teddy begins to wonder if he has made a terrible mistake by reviving the band.

The other two members of the group, Warren the drummer, and Mackenzie the bass player, are much harder to convince to drop their lives and rejoin a band whose last hit was more than a decade ago.  Warren is a music teacher at a high school and he has a wife and young son; he has no desire to drop a successful career and spend long hours away from his family in order to fulfill what he thinks is Teddy’s midlife crisis.  And Mackenzie, with whom Teddy had a fling that ended Teddy’s marriage, is now a sex therapist and Teddy isn’t sure that she will even speak to him.  We are left in suspense for a good part of the book wondering if Teddy will triumphantly pull together his band mates for one last musical hurrah.

The strength of this book lies in Abramowitz’s ability to write witty and humorous dialogue and sustain it for the three-hundred plus pages of the book. Teddy is crabby and sarcastic and looks at the world through a negative, yet hilarious lens.  It is difficult for an author to sustain such comical quips throughout the writing of an entire book but this author does it with aplomb.

I also have to add that this book is a great read for anyone who appreciates music and wants a trip down a musical memory lane.  It is obvious that Abramowitz plays, writes and listens to a wide range of music; his references to Geddy Lee, the legendary bassist from Rush, and quotations from Rush’s hit “Limelight” sold me on his in depth knowledge of music.  It would be interesting for the author to make a playlist available on his website of all the great songs and artists that are mentioned in the book.

Last summer one of my favorite books was I am Having So Much Fun Here Without You which was also published by Touchstone.  It looks like they continue their streak of excellent summer reads with THANK YOU, GOODNIGHT.

About The Author:
AbramowitzAndy Abramowitz lives in Center City Philadelphia with is wife and two daughters. He practices law by day and various artistic endeavors by night. Thank You, Goodnight Night, his first novel, is the product of frequent bouts of insomnia.

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Filed under Humor, Summer Reading

Review: The Jesus Cow by Michael Perry

I received an advanced review copy of this title from the publisher through TLC Book Tours.  Michael Perry is a humorist who is known for his nonfiction books.  This is his debut fiction novel.

My Review:
The Jesus CowHarley is a simple bachelor living in rural Wisconsin on a very modest 15 acre farm.  Although he works 12 hours a day in a factory, he keeps a few beef cattle as a hobby.  When a calf is born on Christmas Eve with the image of Jesus on its hide, he views it as a bad omen.  He does everything he can to keep others from finding out about his special calf.  His best friend, Billy, thinks he should cash in on his holy bovine, but Harley doesn’t want to disturb his quiet life.

But when the calf gets out of its pen and the mail lady sees it, the pictures of this special calf go viral.  The scenes in the book in which droves of the faithful are clamoring to get a look at the “Jesus Cow” are hilarious.  The only way that Harley can stop this madness is to hire a California public relations firm that closes off his property with security forces which the President would be jealous of.  Harley’s quiet, unassuming life has been shattered in a matter of hours.

Harley also has a love interest throughout the book.  When he spills coffee on Mindy at the local gas station he can’t keep his mind off of her.  She is a character full of quirks and surprises; she lives in an old granary and is an artist who uses metal and welding as her medium.  The entire cast of characters in the book are all quirky for that matter.  Maggie, widowed at a young age, runs her own towing and car wrecking business; Carolyn is a former, disgraced academic who lives at the base of the town’s old water tower.  And Klute is a failed real estate tycoon who is addicted to listening to ridiculous motivational tapes.

In the end, the lives of all these lonely characters end up intertwined.  My only complaint about the book is the rather abrupt ending for which the reader is not really prepared.  It felt rushed and incomplete.

THE JESUS COW is a funny and entertaining story that makes for the perfect light beach read this summer.  Michael Perry finds humor in small town life, religious fanaticism and the perils of modern technology.

About The Author:
Michael PerryMichael Perry is a humorist, radio host, songwriter, and the New York Times bestselling author of several nonfiction books, including Visiting Tom and Population: 485. He lives in rural Wisconsin with his family

 

 

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Review: Don’t Try This at Home by Angela Readman

I received an advanced review copy of this title from And Other Stories.  They are a small not-for-profit literary press with am impressive selection of books.  Please visit their website for a complete list of great titles: andotherstories.org

My Review:
Dont-Try-This-at-Home-_-cover_-FINAL1-300x460This is a quirky, bizarre collection of tales that also deal with serious social topics.  Child custody, divorce, and gender issues are all explored with an accompanying twist of magic or fantasy.  In one story a mum who works at a chip shop is tired of her mundane life; it is only when she transforms herself into a hip-shaking Elvis that she feels happy and fulfilled.  This story is an interesting commentary on gender identity and the ways in which we suppress our true selves when we try to conform and fit in.

Some of the stories seem downright absurd.  In the title story, “Don’t Try this at Home ”  a woman wants to spend more time with her husband, so she chops him in half.  When the couple needs more money, she chops him in quarters and eighths so he can work more at various jobs.  When one of his other halves has an affair the woman has mixed feelings about her decision to chop up her husband into so many different persons.

I particularly enjoyed the last three stories.  They featured individuals that are misunderstood by their family, friends and neighbors.  In “Keeper of the Jackalopes,” a man lives in a run down trailer with his six-year-old daughter and taxidermies animals for a living.  Business has been very slow so they rely on food tossed into dumpsters behind grocery stores for their meals.  The loyalty that the little girls shows towards her father is very touching and it is this little girl’s advice at the end of the story that helps him deal with some sad issues in his life.

DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME is a fantastic and entertaining group of stories with memorable characters.  I highly recommend that you add this collection to your summer reading list.

About The Author:
Angela-Readman-_Photo-by-Kevin-Howard-460x250Angela Readman’s stories have appeared in a number of anthologies and magazines, winning awards such as the Inkspill Magazine Short Story Competition and the National Flash Fiction Competition. In 2012 she was shortlisted for the Costa Short Story Award for ‘Don’t Try This at Home’ – an award she would go on to win in 2013 with the story ‘The Keeper of the Jackalopes’. Readman is also a published poet.

 

 

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Filed under Art, Humor, Literary Fiction, Short Stories