Category Archives: funny

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Lincoln in the Bardo

This is one of the most unique novels I’ve read in a long time. It takes place on one night in February 1862: the night President Lincoln’s young son, Willie, was laid to rest in a DC cemetery after a speedy illness. The book is narrated by a chorus of voices: historians excerpted in their works about the Lincoln presidency (at least some of which were real), contemporary journalists and letter-writers, and most notably, ghosts who don’t know they are dead and doomed to remain in the cemetery.

These ghosts welcome young Willie into their midst and are agog when President Lincoln returns to the cemetery to be with his beloved son. The reader gains a slow understanding of the dynamics of this realm, the bardo — how the ghosts are punished and by whom, how they might seek redemption, and what and whom are waiting for them to depart.

The book is at times grotesque and mordantly funny. Yet it was deeply moving and a powerful evocation of the desperate love between a parent and child. I barreled through this book and couldn’t put it down. As the book concluded I was hugely impressed with what Saunders has accomplished, including the deft way he wove his novel into Lincoln’s history, with a subtle suggestion about how this one night might have affected the president long after he departed the cemetery.

Availability:  COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Michael Dunn
Rating:  Highly Recommended
Challenge: Published in 2017

Al Franken: Giant of the Senate by Al Franken

Al Franken, Giant of the SenateImagine a political outsider with a significant media profile winning a narrow and bitterly contested election. When the outsider was sworn in he pivoted from the utter comedian and buffoon his detractors thought he was to a serious legislator bent on serving his constituents the best he could, and got to work learning the customs and procedures of representative government. Pouring over tomes of policy briefs, working across the aisle…

You could call that a pleasant fantasy, or you call it story of Senator Franken, and it’s the story– among others– that he details in Al Franken Giant of the Senate. Let me stop right now and say this: DON’T READ THIS BOOK. Listen to it on audiobook. Franken is a gifted humorist– one of the original and longest-enduring writers and actors on Saturday Night Live– and he knows how to intone and land a joke he wrote. His impersonations of Washingtonians like Mitch McConnell or Bob Corker or Ted Cruise are hilarious.

Kaitlyn Grigsby-Hall and I drove across Canada on our from Eugene, Oregon to Salisbury, MD, and listened to a number of audiobooks. Franken’s book is funny and informative– he wants to take pains to explain wonky political machinery not to lambaste it or bore you, but to help you understand how Washington works (or doesn’t). He is an unabashed liberal who continues to skewer lies and the lying liars that tell them, but he also makes a pragmatic pitch for bipartisan muddling through. He is clearly going to run for president, and this book is a great start to that effort.

Kaitlyn wants me to add that it is worth listening to this whole book just to hear the chapter “Sophistry,” in which Al Franken details his feelings about Ted Cruise.

Availability: COSMOS (Print & Audio), USMAI (Print only)
Review Submitted by:  Shane D. Hall
Rating:  Highly Recommended
Challenge: Published in 2017

The Te of Piglet by Benjamin Hoff

The Te of Piglet

The sequel to The Tao of Pooh, Te of Piglet does not capture the same essence of Taoism as its predecessor. The book reads pretty haphazardly, and I found it hard to follow. However, it does contain some nuggets of wisdom and purity, like this one: “If one wants positive results, one must be positive. Goodness persistently applied will always triumph over evil, even though it may seem to take a good deal of time doing so.” Therefore I recommend reading it with an open mind.

Peace & Love.

Availability: COSMOS, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Jeanette Warren
Rating: Recommended with reservations

The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff

The Tao of Pooh

Tao (pronounced Dow) of Pooh,  is an ABSOLUTE MUST READ. I have read it at least five times since discovering it last year. It overviews the principles of China’s Taoism through A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh. An absolute necessity for anyone stressed out, overworked, or just plain lost in the mindless activity of day-to-day life. One of my favorite quotes from the book: “the surest way to become Tense, Awkward, and Confused is to develop a mind that tries too hard– one that thinks too much.”

Peace, Love & Pooh.

A review of Te (pronounced Day) of Piglet will be posted later this week.

Availability: USMAI, COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Jeanette Warren
Rating: Must Read

Tuff by Paul Beatty


Published in 2000, this is Beatty’s first novel. [Editor’s note, Paul Beatty’s first novel, The White Boy Shuffle was published in 1996.] Like his Man Booker-award-winning novel, The Sellout (2015), Tuff is a simultaneously hilarious and scathing story about race in “postracial” America. Perhaps because I’m reading it in 2017, I can’t help reading the book as a story of populist politics breaking the two-party system that has long ignored large swaths of America. (But in a way that doesn’t make me want to emigrate to Mars). After narrowly surviving a drug-related shooting, Tuff decides, in fits and starts, to do something different with his life. His real dream is to make a “commercial” film called “Captain Crunch– the Movie” starring Danny DeVito (though he is far more interested in art-house films). He ends up, however, running for City Council.

The book is hilarious– Tuffy and his friends trade razor-sharp wit and philosophical observations about their lives in Harlem as they try one scheme or another to run minor cons, secure living-wage jobs, finish college, or raise their kids. “Acerbic, irreverent, biting, sharp, playful”– pick your literary descriptor for humor as you please, but this book is just flat-out funny. I should mention there’s enough swearing in the book to impress a fleet of sailors, and includes so many uses of the “n-word” that even Huck Finn would blanch or blush.

Availability:  USMAI, COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Shane D. Hall
Rating:  Highly Recommended
Challenge: Book with a one word title.

Himself By Jess Kidd

HimselfJess Kidd’s debut book, Himself, opens with the murder of a young mother in a forest near a remote village. Described through the eyes of her infant son, the murder of Orla Sweeney is the dark secret at the heart of this Irish novel.

Over 25 years later, the baby, brought up in a Dublin orphanage and now a petty criminal called Mahony, returns to the village of Mulderrig to uncover his mother’s killer. With his brooding good looks, Mahony initially charms Mulderrig’s residents but soon discovers that many would like to forget that Orla – who was a rebellious teenager and local “good time girl”- ever existed. It seems that many of the villagers, if not directly implicated in the murder, are at least unwilling to bring up the past.

Mahony is helped in his search by a hilarious and lovable cast of characters – both living and dead. Merle Cauley, an elderly retired actress, and her caretaker, the quiet Shauna Burke, are two of Mahony’s biggest defenders. He is also guided by hundreds of ghosts, drawn to damaged individuals looking to fill a void in their history. One ghost is six-year-old Ida, who once saw something she shouldn’t have in the woods and paid dearly for it.

Kidd’s novel veers from murder mystery to black comedy to paranormal thriller. In addition to the ghosts, there are plagues of frogs and soot and a holy well bubbling up through the office floor of a crooked priest. Although some might find these details overwhelming, I enjoyed the book’s humor and imagination. I highly recommend Jess Kidd’s Himself and look forward to her next book.

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Kaitlyn Grigsby-Hall
Rating: Highly Recommended
Challenge: A book with a one word title.

This is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz

This is How You Lose Her

This is How You Lose Her is a collection of short stories chronicling love won and love lost by Yunior, a swaggering, science-fiction loving Dominican immigrant from New York who lives in the shadow of his beautiful older brother, Rafa. Through the stories, you cry, laugh, and root for Yunior, who watches his father and his brother philandering with other women, who cheats himself and then realizes the horrible consequences of his actions. The book is not only about Yunior’s search for love, but about Yunior’s ultimate choice: to let himself be vulnerable and completely available to one woman, or to hold up a mask and keep from getting hurt.

The last story, “The Cheater’s Guide to Love”, is particularly fantastic. It starts out with Yunior’s confession: “Year O. Your girl catches you cheating. (Well, actually she’s your fiancée, but hey, in a bit it so won’t matter.) She could have caught you with one sucia, she could have caught you with two, but because you’re a totally batsh*t cuero who never empties his e-mail trash can, she caught you with fifty!”

For anyone who has found love and lost love, this book is for you. For anyone who has tried to win back an ex, this book is for you.

Availability:  COSMOS, USMAI, SMCM
Review Submitted by: Andrea Gesumaria
Rating: Highly Recommended
Challenge: Book Read in One Day