Monday, September 30, 2013

Kiss, Kiss; Switch Bitch; and My Uncle Oswald by Road Dahl

Triple Laughter (Still Laughing Week)

Last week we looked at laugh-out-loud funny books that were memoirs or biographical in nature.  They were essays about real people and real events. They were definitely amusing. But they were not plot- or character-driven.   For the most part, they weren't structural stories complete with a background, conflict, climax, and resolution. 

If you find yourself craving for more than funny essays and memoirs. If you’re craving for silly with no hint of reality, meshed with a traditional beginning, middle, and end, then you may want to peruse Roald Dahl’s My Uncle Oswald.

Hmm… Roald Dahl, you say?  Sounds familiar? Yes, that’s right. Roald Dahl’s name might ring a bell because he was a famous children’s writer.  He delighted children all over the world with Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Danny, Champion of the World, just to name a few of his books. My son loved Roald Dahl.  He had most of his books and I loved reading them with him.  They were funny and imaginative, always enjoyable.

What a lot of people don’t know is that Roald Dahl didn’t just cater to kids.  He wrote a few adult books, and when I say “adult” I mean they weren’t always appropriate for kids.  Still, his style remained funny and imaginative, but the books included talk about sex and all those taboo topics that seven-year-old little Johnny may not be ready for. 

My Uncle Oswald, for instance, centers on Oswald Hendryks Cornelius, an oversexed bachelor who had slept with more women than he could count.  In this funny novel we find out how Oswald became a very wealthy man after discovering a natural aphrodisiac, compliments of the Blister Beetle. Oswald’s brilliant mind for business and pleasure worked overtime, and with the help of a professor of chemistry he devised a plan to rake in even more money.  It involved the assistance of a beautiful woman named Yasmin who would offer great, famous, and powerful men of their times chocolates laced with the ultra-potent Blister Beetle aphrodisiac.  The men went wild. They were uncontrollable animals and ultimately had their way with Yasmin.  Just as planned.  She then ahhh… obtained “manhood specimens” from them, which the professor froze. The frozen products would later be sold for great sums of money to women who want a child fathered by the likes of Renoir, Monet, Puccini, Freud, Einstein, or the King of Norway. Perverted?  Yes!  But it was also laugh-out-loud funny!  BTW, as a side note I have to mention that I am not into erotic literature.  I do not read romance novels, and I have not read any of the Shades of Grey books. The main draw of this book is that’ it’s really funny--and it just happens to be about sex.

If you’re not quite sure how much of Uncle Oswald you may be able to take, you may want to start with a collection of Dahl’s short stories.  One is called Switch Bitch, a mix of humorous tales, not all sexual in nature.  In Switch Bitch, we first meet Uncle Oswald in a short story called. “The Visitor.” This story involves the seduction of a mother and daughter living in a private oasis in the Sinai Desert where Oswald is a guest of the distinguished Mr. Abdul Aziz. The circumstances don’t turn out as he anticipated and the result is pure laughter.

If Uncle Oswald’s overactive sexual escapes don’t seem to pique the slightest interest, you may just want to read another collection of Dahl’s short stories that do not have an appearance by the wicked uncle.   Kiss, Kiss  has tamer stories such as the “Parson’s Pleasure,” about a man seeking to scam a man out of a priceless Chipendale commode.

“He found himself giggling quite uncontrollably, and there was a feeling inside of him as though hundreds and hundreds of tiny bubbles were rising up from his stomach and bursting merrily in the top of his head like sparkling-water.” (When he was about to scam Mr Rummins out of a Chippendale commode.)
Roald Dahl, Kiss, Kiss, “Parson’s Pleasure” (1953; reprint, New York: Bookspan Quality Paperback Book Club with Penguin Group, USA, 2003), 67.

“A delicious little quiver like needles ran all the way down the back of Mr. Boggis’s legs and then under the soles of his feet.” (When he was about to scam Mr Rummins out of a Chippendale commode.) 
Roald Dahl, Kiss, Kiss, “Parson’s Pleasure” (1953; reprint, New York: Bookspan Quality Paperback Book Club with Penguin Group, USA, 2003), 67.

Happy reading,


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Monday, September 23, 2013

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

Me Like Book (Laugh Out Loud Week)

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris had me laughing out loud.  This book is just plain funny.  It is not a book with an intriguing plot; it has no plot at all. But the characters sure are memorable, starting with David.  This book comprises essays of David’s life beginning with his lisp to qualms about his IQ.  He tells us about his analytical father and introduces us to his beautiful sister, who likes to wear disguises including the bottom half of a fat suit. If you are sensitive to the “F” word, you may want to skip the chapter about his brother, but I think you’d be missing out.  It was f%#@*ing  hilarious. One of the funniest parts of the book is when he moves to France with his boyfriend Hugh.  There he takes French lessons from a woman with a nasty, almost sadistic disposition.  At one point she tells David, “Every day spent with you is like having a cesarean section.”  Nice teacher.  Each chapter delivers laughter on varying topics.  The comparison of David’s life to Hugh’s upbringing in Africa, was side-splitting. So was his encounter with Americans on a train in France.   If you’re looking for a quick pick-me-up, then pick up this book. 

Other laugh out-loud books: Click on blue titles to read reviews.

700 Sundays by Billy Crystal pays homage to Billy’s father who died when the now well-known actor was just fifteen. In the book he tells not only of his music-loving father, but also allows us glimpses of other sometimes quirky family members who touched his life.  Funny and touching.

The $64 Tomato by William Alexander is a humorous account of a gardener battling to start and maintain a whopping, ├╝ber-sized 2,000 square foot kitchen garden. A funny warning to ambitious amateur gardeners.

Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank Gilbreth, Jr and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey is a memoir about an eccentric but loving father in the early 1900s.  Funny with a nostalgic touch.

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain is a witty and sarcastic memoir of chef Anthony Bourdain’s humble beginnings to the journey of renown chef. Funny with a side of eye-popping reality.

Life with Father by Clarence Day, Jr is funny memoir about a persnickety, opinionated father in the Victorian age of the late 1800s to early 1900s. Funny with vintage grumpiness.

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen is memoir about returning to her quirky Mennonite family after her husband of fifteen years left her (for another man). Funny with honesty and affection. 

The Reluctant Tuscan: How I Discovered My Inner Italian by Phil Doran is a funny memoir about this comedy writer moving to Italy with his wife. Funny with foreign warmth and quirkiness.

The Ridiculous Race by Steve Hely and Vali Chandrasekaran is a ridiculously funny memoir about two sitcom writers racing each other around the world.

Roughing It by Mark Twain. A weaver of wit, sarcasm, and astute observation, this memoir of Twain’s life is a trip through Nevada, California, and the Sandwich Islands, now known as Hawaii in the mid 1800s. Funny with classic Twain humor.

Stuffed by Patricia Volk - Recounts Patricia’s crazy, loving, restaurant family. The affection she had for her relatives was obvious, and the descriptions of her family members made me laugh. Charming, light reading.

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle is a humorous account of a British couple who moves to an old farmhouse in Southern France. Funny interspersed with mouth-watering food descriptions.

Happy reading,


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Monday, September 16, 2013

A Good American by Alex George

A Good Read (Book Club Grab Bag Week--Add-on)

A Good American by Alex George grabbed me and held me from the first page, not because it was action packed, but because the narrator had a luring, lyrical voice that pulled me into the lives of a couple of German immigrants and their families down the line. The narrator is the third-generation member of the Meisenheimer family now rooted in America.  He tells how his grandparents came to the United States and forged a new and unfamiliar life in the small town of Beatrice, Missouri. This book was rife with colorful and memorable characters from all of the Meisenheimers including Frederick, a good American, to the people who touched their lives like Lomax the cornet player, or the hell-fire, long-haired reverend, or Mrs. Fitch who taught more than music.  I wanted to hear about the people of Beatrice and was almost sad when the book ended.  I wanted to hear James, the narrator, eloquently weave more humorous and touching tales.  True to life, there were sad incidents that got me choked up, but I also found myself laughing out loud at times.  This novel is a reminder that America is a land of immigrants. Being a first-generation American, I felt a connection to this book.  My parents came from Germany, too, of course, under totally different circumstances.  Everyone has a history to cling onto. But like most Americans, I feel blessed to be living here.  I think Alex George summarized it beautifully.

“We are all immigrants, a glorious confection of races and beliefs, united by the rock that we live on. As the years wash over us and new generations march into the future, family histories are submerged into this greater narrative. We become, simply Americans.”

Alex George, A Good American  (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2012), 371.

I give this book a thumbs-up. Es ist gut! 

My book club had the following to say about it:  They all liked it. Okay, so this time we weren’t talking all that much about the book, but we had a good reason. I just became a first-time grandma and, of course, baby talk trumps book talk. My granddaughter is just adorable! See the picture?  Don’t you agree?  This third-generation American looks a lot like her grandma.  :)  Well, I like to think so anyway.  Welcome to the world little one!

“Each note Joseph sang was a small starburst of beauty, too beautiful for the world into which it emerged.”

Alex George, A Good American  (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2012), 69.

“My grandmother’s life had been one long opera. There had been drama, heroes, villains, improbable plot twists, all that.  But most of all there had been love, great big waves of it crashing against the rocks of life, bearing us all back to grace.”

Alex George, A Good American  (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2012), 329.

“We cannot exist without our histories; they are what defines us.”
Alex George, A Good American  (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2012), 356

Happy reading,


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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Firefly Lane by Kristen Hannah

To Cry or Not to Cry (Read ’Em and Weep Week)

Firefly Lane by Kristen Hannah was on our book club suggestion list for a long time now.  So far, it has not been voted in—a matter of too many books, too little time.  But one of my friends in the club said she read it on her own and really liked it.  She said it made her cry.  “Hmmm…” I thought. I wonder if we’re made out of the same stuff? I wonder if it’ll have me weeping like I did with Of Mice and Men?  So, I read it too.  And I must confess, I did NOT cry. Clearly my friend might be a softer, kinder person than I am.  But I did find the book touching.  I enjoyed the story of two very different girls who became lifelong friends.  I felt privileged to be peeking into their relationship, finding out how it developed and continued through to adulthood. 

I also enjoyed the book because the author gives detailed descriptions of time periods I’m familiar with starting with the 70s. When the author talks about “low-rise, three-button jeans with tie-dyed wedges in the seam to make elephant bells” or the Carol Burnett Show, or the fact that the girls looked “foxy,” I was smiling from ear to ear thinking of all those old memories.  What really got me was when she mentioned tanning with baby oil and iodine.  The iodine was a trick we missed somehow, but my sisters, friends, and I would slather ourselves nice and good with the baby oil and lay in the boiling hot Vegas sun frying like fish in a pan.  We’d burn so bad we couldn’t walk upright, wear bras, or be touched for days!  What idiots!  That was us—and Tully and Kate, too.

The book continues through the eighties, nineties, and right into the new century.  While the descriptions of the styles and events of the times are thorough, it’s Tully and Kate’s friendship you’ll end up remembering.  To have a lifelong friend like that is a special thing. Most of us just get busy in our own lives, or move away, or grow apart.  Kate and Tully were there for each other together till the end. Oh sure, there were rough times.  Every relationship has them.  But through and through they were the “TullyandKate” duo.  

I’m curious if those who have read this book have cried or not?  Send me a quick email or leave a comment.  Admit it, are you a softie or do you have a semi-hard shell?

Novels That Made Others Cry:
Moloka’i by Alan Brennert made one of my book club members cry, but it may not be a fair test of her tenderness.  After all, she was pregnant at the time. Hormones were bouncing around her body like a pinball machine. Read the review at

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls made my sister cry. She’s a real animal lover.  Her furry little heart almost broke.  I probably cried too, but that was so long ago I can’t swear to it.

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult made my other sister cry.  I haven’t read it, but I think that one might actually crack my veneer.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck made my mother cry.  It was actually kind of cruel the way we tricked her into reading it.  “It’s a great, short book--a classic! Give it a whirl.  It’ll take you no time to read it,” we told her.  All true. But we didn’t tell her to get her Kleenex ready.  She wasn’t too happy with us at the end of the book, but later she forgave us because, well, it really was a great book. Read a review at

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See also made my mother cry.  She called me long distance and I couldn’t understand a word she was saying, she was sobbing so hard.  Again, she wasn’t so happy with my sisters and me.  But she loved the book (as we all did), and she ended up buying a copy as a gift for her friend’s birthday.  –Yeah happy birthday to you! Hopefully she sent tissues with the book.

Finally, if you still can’t get your fill of good heart-wrenching reads, check out Oprah’s Book Club.  While I pretty much like the books she recommends (the handful that I’ve read), I have to wonder, does Oprah ever read anything light and amusing?  Does she ever have a good laugh?  I hope so.   

Happy Reading,

What about you?  What book made you cry?  Enter a comment or email me at and I will post your answer.

What did you think of this book? Post a comment or email:

Monday, September 9, 2013

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Cry Like Nobody's Watching  
(Read ’Em and Weep Week)

Sometimes we all need a good cry.  A good cry is cathartic, a purging of the soul. Tears can provide a good emotional washing and afterwards you feel fresh and new.  It just feels good.

That’s why we love a good tear-jerker movie every once in awhile. Something like, oh, how about “Steel Magnolias”?

My mom and I went to see “Steel Magnolias” when it first came out in the theaters in 1989. During a particularly heart-breaking scene when Julia Robert’s character wasn’t doing so well, I got a little choked up.  As the scene went on and on and got sadder and sadder, I desperately tried to keep my composure. Tears threatened to break through my tough veneer, but valiantly I held them back. I was ashamed, ashamed to let my vulnerability be known.  Instead of letting loose and embracing that mental release, I held a big burning grapefruit size lump in my throat.

Suddenly, I heard a sniffle in the crowd.  The sniffle worked its way into a sob, then several sobs. They became louder and louder. That made me feel better. Apparently I wasn’t the only sap. Maybe I could cry too.  So, I scanned around to see the brave soul; the person who let it all out, and you know what?  It was a man! Yes, it wasn’t some weepy woman.  It was a burly man. He was sitting a few rows ahead of us and as the scene went on, he cried louder and longer than any woman in the audience.  Well, that sealed the deal.  If a man sitting all by himself in a theater of women can let loose and cry, well then so could I. Finally, I quietly released my own captured tears. I let the hot drops of sorrow flow out of my eyes and down my flushed cheeks.  As they slid down the waterslide of my face one by one and landed on my shirt I slowly felt the lump in my throat dissolve. And you know what?  It felt good! 

That’s the same with books.  Every once in awhile it just feels good to read a sad book and have a good cry. Of Men and Mice by John Steinbeck is just that kind of book. Growing up, it was required reading in school, so many people have already read it.  But sometimes as kids we don’t appreciate books as much as adults. If you read it in school, it’s probably worth a second look. If you’ve never read it, like my mom who did not grow up in America, it’s time you read it too.  

Of Men and Mice by John Steinbeck is about the bond of friendship between two migrant ranch workers. It’s also about compassion and a heartbreaking decision. George takes care of Lennie, a man with limited mental abilities, as best as he can.  They share a dream of buying their own property, but Lennie always seems to get them in trouble. This time things just went a bit too far.  Find out the fate of George and Lennie in this quick and easy read.  I think it’s a story that will stay with you a long, long time.

When you do read it, remember, it’s really okay to let those tears flow.  Read it and weep.

As a side note: Katie Couric listed this book as one of her favorites in the February, 2003 issue of O. MagazineRead more:

Likewise, author, Dan Brown, considers Of Mice and Men one of his favorite books, too. "This tale is simple, suspenseful, and poignant," according to O. Magazine, September 2003 issue. 

Happy Reading,

What about you?  What book made you cry?  Enter a comment or email me at and I will post your answer.

What did you think of this book? Post a comment or email: