Book Bag: November, 2010, Doyennes of Comedy – Explore the Land of Laugh

Reviews by Sharon L. Shervington

book_isitjustme.jpgIs It Just Me or Is It Nuts Out There
By Whoopi Goldberg

Although her current gig is as a co-host of The View, Whoopi Goldberg is one of the all-time great comedy talents, a feat that she has accomplished in what has been, and remains, one of the clubbiest of the Old Boys’ Clubs. Here, she shines by wittily skewering the follies of our over-connected techno-age. Her pet peeves include air-travel rudeness, texting while driving as well as addiction to handheld devices of all kinds, which she refers to as “crackberry.”

Is It Just Me is held together by a theme of social civility in areas such as politics, media, and transportation. It is a kind of courtesy that Ms. Goldberg seems at times to believe has gone the way of the dinosaur – to the detriment of the culture as a whole.
The other key theme in the book is boundaries. Whether regarding something as deceptively insignificant as bringing stinky foods from home into such confined spaces as airline cabins or workplace cafeterias, or as profound as the issue of many parents who seem willing to do anything to be buddies with their children, Ms. Goldberg has a soup for that and a zinger to go with it.

 

Short quizzes peppered throughout are a little bonus. Readers can check
how they are doing in the boorish or clueless department. More deftly
curmudgeonly than Andy Rooney ever was, sarcastic and original, Whoopi
makes you think, but most importantly she delivers, as always, the kind
of belly laughs that remind us of our connectedness and humanity.

Is It Just Me or Is It Nuts Out There, by Whoopi Goldberg; Hyperion; $22.99; 200 pages.

 


Growing Up Laughing: My Story and the Story of Funny
By Marlo Thomas

book_growinguplaughing.jpgIn general it is not surprising when someone goes into the family
business, expanding what was created by earlier generations. It is a lot
more rare, however, when a woman goes into a business that has been off
limits to whole gender.

Essentially, Marlo Thomas, the daughter of Danny Thomas, did just that
when she became That Girl, starring in a sitcom that portrayed a single
woman living on her own in the big city. That was just the beginning,
even though her father wasn’t too keen on her becoming an entertainer.
But Ms. Thomas has made a career of pushing the boundaries and revising
gender stereotypes.

Her latest book is a memoir. But it is a memoir in which a couple dozen
of the funniest people you can think of also get to talk about what
makes life funny. It is a beautifully designed book with caricatures of
all the major talents she interviews, including Robin Williams, Tina
Fey, Chris Rock, Stephen Colbert, Jerry Seinfeld, Whoopi Goldberg and
many others. There are also many photographs sprinkled throughout, along
with stories and jokes you can pass on to your friends. Ms. Thomas’s
life has not been without its low points and difficulties and she
includes some of those too.

Of course, it was an extraordinary childhood in Beverly Hills that
created this extraordinary woman, but what seems clear is that it was
not the money and success that shaped her most, but the love and
laughter that were always around her.

She has always given the impression that she would be a wonderful
friend, a friend who would fight for you as she has for so many in books
like Free to Be….You and Me, which focused on lightheartedly
dismantling gender stereotypes. When I was doing my homework to write
this I googled Free to Be; there were over a billion entries. That’s
what I call some serious laughs.

Growing Up Laughing: My Story and the Story of Funny, by Marlo Thomas; Hyperion; $26.99; 382 pages.


book_tasters_guild.jpgThe Taster’s Guild
By Susannah Appelbaum

Stylish and original best describe volume two of the Poisons of Caux
trilogy. The first was printed entirely in green ink, this one is in
blue. The 11-year-old protagonist is Ivy Manx, a healer in a beautiful
and ancient land steeped in poison and deceit and ruled by the
malevolent Nightshade family. With her young friend Rowan, Ivy uses all
her skills to find her way into a parallel world that hold’s the key to
her own land’s future.

The Taster’s Guild; By Susannah Appelbaum; Knopf; $16.99; 366 pages.


book_replacement.jpgThe Replacement
By Brenna Yovanoff

This first novel centers on the traditional fairy-tale theme of
changelings, an otherworldly baby switched for a human one. Here the
changeling is a sympathetic and troubled teen, Mackie, who is not sure
whether he can survive in the human world. When the baby sister of a
girl he is drawn to disappears, Mackie finds a way to face his past and
future.

The Replacement: by Brenna Yovanoff; Razorbill; $17.99; 342 pages.


book_fan_tales_box.jpgAmerican Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny
The Boxed Set, edited by Peter Straub

These two beautifully cloth bound and jacketed volumes will provide
endless hours of shivery delight, and are an excellent gift. The first
volume is from Poe to the pulps, the second from the 1940s to now. Both
include writers known for the fantastic, such as Washington Irving, H.P.
Lovecraft, Shirley Jackson, Harlan Ellison, Stephen King, and of
course, Edgar Allan Poe.

But many other stories here show another side of authors like Edith
Wharton, Truman Capote, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Vladimir Nabakov, an
eerie side that isn’t the first thing to come to mind when one thinks of
these literary giants. Evil, mystery, death, revenge, and love are
among the themes that stalk these addictive pages.

The stories are sometimes subtle, sometimes overpowering, and
occasionally quite vulgar. Even the connoisseur will find something new
and fresh in this one-of-a-kind collection.

American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny; The Boxed Set, edited
by Peter Straub; The Library of America; $70; About 1,400 pages.

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