book review

Book Review: “Hyperbole and a Half” by Allie Brosh

Brent Hopkins

This book was released last year and I always had interest in reading it but failed to find it in a Korean bookstore until this week. Hyperbole and a Half was an extremely popular blog by Allie Brosh that followed the little nuances of her life. The drawing point of the blog was that it was weird in an almost fictional way. People of course exist like this, but you rarely see it illustrated in Microsoft Paint glory.

clean all the things

You may have seen this at some point during your Internetting.

This clearly isn’t a review of the blog, so let’s jump into the book. The first thing I noticed about it is the quality. This book feels absolutely amazing in the reader’s hands. The pages are thick and glossy and the color quality is perfect for giving an almost handheld blog feel to it. This might be the best feeling web-to-print book I have ever handled and honestly, maybe one of the best feeling books I have ever owned. I tend to give away and discard books due to living abroad but this is one that will make its way to a bookshelf I will someday own.

The meat of the book is the same as the blog. Allie Brosh illustrates different aspects of her life while filling the other space with narration. I hadn’t read the blog in a year, so it all felt relatively fresh to me even though I knew there were stories from the blog repeated in the book. If you like the blog then I think you will appreciate this book, but there is a bit more to it than meets the eye.

Brosh’s magnum opus (the blog has been silent since the book’s release) is not what I would call humorous. There are moments where I would smile or chuckle, a bit but the focus was very decidedly on the narration. This felt more like a memoir than anything else, following her from the eccentricities of her childhood to the same eccentricities in her adulthood. One thing that is well documented is Brosh’s struggle to deal with her depression. This book details how she gets there and the struggle to come back. It is surprisingly poignant and the conclusion is by no means sugarcoated to make the reader feel better.

People tend to keep up a facade of how they want to be perceived. Brosh completely deconstructs herself in this book and it is somewhat jarring to take in. There is simply a “This is who I know I am” and then the book ends. I can’t help but recommend it. It is a quick read and it clearly has a purpose.

Plus, the illustrations are pretty dope to look at.

Brent Hopkins considers himself jack-o-all-trades and a great listener. Chat with him about his articles or anything in general at brentahopkins@gmail.com.

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Book Review: “Think Like a Freak” by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

image source: freakonomics.com

image source: freakonomics.com

Brent Hopkins

I have rarely harped on it when writing here, (too busy raging at games and reviewing comic books) but I am a huge business and economics fan. I have my undergraduate in International Business and am currently working on a master’s degree in Human Resource Management, so something is always drawing me to this side of literature. That being said, I am no economist, but I think it is fascinating how certain things are correlated.

Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner came to prominence with their collaboration Freakonomics. This book and its sequel, SuperFreakonomics, used economics (though you can argue it’s a lot of sociology and criminology as well) to help explain the correlation between a myriad of things that would seem ridiculous to a normal person. This goes from abortion affecting the crime rate to teachers cheating to boost grades. There have been some issues brought up from other researchers with their methods and phrasing, but as long as you read with a reasonable mindset the books are incredibly engrossing.

This brings us to the third book, Think Like a Freak, which was released this summer. The book takes a break from telling stories about how approaching problems with a different mindset can lead to unique solutions and instead uses little tales to try and get the reader to think uniquely in various situations. The entire book comes off as almost a self-help work, but refrains from really pointing out direct flaws in people that need to be fixed. Instead, the authors explain how problems don’t always have simple solutions, but when you think like a “freak” amazing things could, not will, happen.

I am a pretty practical and positive person so it was a treat to read something that resonates with me at the age of 28. Two topics in particular stuck with me as they talked about quitting and redefining problems to help redefine solutions. They used two rather fascinating stories to draw the readers in: one focused on Takeru Kobayashi, the famous Japanese eating champion, and how he figured out how to eat hot dogs so quickly and another story about a company that invents things but often has to give up on ideas if they aren’t feasible. The line “Fail Quick and Fail Cheap” is simple but makes a lot of sense from a business mindset. These topics will make the reader step back and ask: “Could I handle doing that?” which I feel is precisely what the authors set out to do.

This book is largely about self-limitations, fear, and dealing with pride. Most of the situations brought up are not about external issues, but instead about how people get so focused on either being right or setting up artificial boundaries that they can never get to the next level. Think Like a Freak holds your hand through these issues and packs a lot of depth for such a short read.

Should You Read It?

Yes. It may not change your life, but I think it has enough depth to really be applicable to anyone’s life.

Brent Hopkins considers himself jack-o-all-trades and a great listener. Chat with him about his articles or anything in general at brentahopkins@gmail.com.

Book Review: Oryx and Crake/The Year of the Flood/MaddAddam, Margaret Atwood’s Dystopian Trilogy

Awtood trilogy

Jonathan May

I read Oryx and Crake when it came out in 2003, certainly never anticipating two follow-up novels. I was given the next two books as gifts over the years as they came out, but would set them gently next to the first, like glass miniatures on a shelf. Facebook was blowing up recently with news of Darren Aronofsky adapting the three books into an HBO miniseries, so I decided it was time. I read all three books over the course of a week and a half, finishing just fifteen minutes prior to the composition of this piece. As always, I aim for brevity when I write for this site, so pardon my simplifications.

Oryx and Crake is Atwood’s only novel featuring a male, first-person protagonist (named Snowman); the other two novels vacillate between voices, with the third in the series having the most variety of narrators. I mention this only because it seems obvious that we need Snowman to contrast with one of the more prominent narrators in the latter two, Toby, a female Gardener. The whole world of the novels is a future wherein biological manufacturing is the norm and companies serve as the main units of life, housing families in compounds. Eco-groups like God’s Gardeners rise in reaction to the companies and their lapse of morality, maintaining “older” ways of life (keeping bees, gardening, etc.) Since all this doesn’t seem far off at all, the novels maintain a sharp sense of realism, even in the more absurd parts. Being grounded in a future that seems not only plausible but also eventual tethers the novel firmly to the ground, imbuing it with a prescience that I love about Atwood. Her characters and plots always surprise me in how true to life they are. So when you have pigs that think like people and invented bacteria that dissolve people into goo, it’s nice to be able to believe in them.

It’s obvious that Atwood favors Toby as a narrator; she is so true to Atwood’s other narrators, women who see the world as a series of mutable paintings. The only time I cried during the course of the trilogy was when Toby had to tell the bees of the death of a fellow Gardener who had taken care of the hive. The addition of things like talking with the bees and the word smile coming from the Greek for scalpel are classic Atwood (thank you to my Dad for help with the Greek there [see picture below]); I learn more from her books than almost any other author (except Cormac McCarthy, whom I read with a dictionary on hand). Just so you know, lambent means glowing or radiant.

Oryx and Crake, smile, Greek lexicon

All together, the novels function quite beautifully, weaving in and out of the chronology, fashioning from the whole a triptych of corporate dominance, human desire, and the ability to play God. Atwood’s world, before and after the Apocalypse, is so eerily close to our own that I felt an immediate desire to plant a garden and learn how to take care of an apiary, lest the grid fail tomorrow. It’s weird, but the novels most closely resemble morality tales than anything else. In other words, I feel only improved after finishing them.

Jonathan May watches too much television, but he’s just playing catch-up from a childhood spent in Zimbabwe. You can read his poetry at owenmay.com, follow him on Twitter at @jonowenmay, or email him at owen.may@gmail.com

Book Review: Tom Perrotta’s The Leftovers

The Leftovers

Jonathan May

I finished this novel recently, and my friend J—– informed me that it would be released this summer on HBO as a miniseries. My first question was How? But the more I think about it, my real question is Why?

The Leftovers takes as its main device the Biblical rapture, wherein the elect are called to Heaven, leaving those on Earth to repent or suffer. Within the first five pages, the religious aspect of the rapture has fallen to the wayside; just any people, regardless of character or religious affiliation, are taken. It seems God wasn’t so picky after all, if God is indeed to blame. The novel, pointedly it seems, lets blame rest on the self-conscious shoulders of the citizens of Mapleton, a Blue Velvet-esque town name if there ever was one. We focus mostly, in close third, on the newly elected mayor, an affable, forgettable character named Kevin Garvey. He tries to help his fellow citizens deal with the weirdness of it all, having lost none of his family in the “taking.” However, as people start to deal with the event by forming cultish groups, Kevin loses family along the way.

We’re in and out of his wife Laurie’s mind as well; she ultimately leaves him to join the Guilty Remnant, a chain-smoking silent group dedicated to asceticism, silence, and a mission. Smoking and in pairs, they rove the country, making sure no one forgets what has happened, and that the final reckoning is yet to come. The idea of silence is powerful within the novel; people literally vanished without a bang, without an inkling of anything. And so the silence must continue for some. Laurie as a character is very strong, but her intentions aren’t. Why does she join the group? Is it guilt, or something else? I feel like we never know.

This novel, like many of Perrotta’s others (Little Children, The Abstinence Teacher), dwells superbly within the contemporary suburban mind. He highlights deftly the quotidian and how necessary it is. But what the novel fails to do is provide us any sense of resolution; in fact, the way the novel ends (I won’t spoil it) actively works against resolution, forcing the reader to construct a possible ending. I found this cheap and flabby, as far as fiction goes. I would rather be pointed to a moral certainty about the work, even if it ends up being about amorality. Instead, we’re given some kind of Inception-like wishy-washy, choose-your-own-path scene that simply stops.

The writing is strongest when we’re bouncing around from character to character, and I wish there had been more of that. Since we settle on Kevin most often, his portions should have been the most arresting, but we’re given clichés like, “There was always that little secret between them, the memory of a summer night, the awareness of a road not taken.” I almost put the book down there, but my curiosity about what would happen to Laurie, the daughter Jill, and a certain unborn child who is introduced early on drove me to finish it.

I have no idea how this will translate to film; to build toward such a nothing of an ending seems like an incredible waste of time and money. But who knows? Maybe HBO will give some resolution where there was none.

You can listen to a sample from the audiobook of The Leftovers from Macmillan Audio here:

Jonathan May watches too much television, but he’s just playing catch-up from a childhood spent in Zimbabwe. You can read his poetry at owenmay.com, follow him on Twitter at @jonowenmay, or email him at owen.may@gmail.com.

Image source: io9