Lesson Learned

It seems that of late, all I can offer is my weekly column:

I have learned a valuable lesson: never judge a book by its blurbs. Case in point: I just finished reading Elaine Liu’s “sort of” (her words) memoir called enigmatically “Listen to the Squawking Chicken.” I loved the book. I could not put it down. Loosely it is about her life and the effect that her mother has on that life. Very loosely. But I will get into more of that later.

On the back of the book, titled Praise for “Listen to the Squawking Chicken”, were these words from the magazine HELLO! Canada: “If you’re a fan of dry wit, self-deprecation and unintentionally touching mother-daughter moments, then this book is for you. I pretty much spit my coffee out laughing through the entire thing. And it makes you want to hug your mother a little bit tighter.” My first bone to pick with this quote is that it used the pronoun “I” yet there was no name attached to the quote—so are we to determine that a magazine can talk? But that is just me being finicky. I also did not find the book funny. Not at all. If I were drinking coffee, I would not have spit it out in laughter.

CBC Books also had a quote that was not attributed to a particular person. And the quote also called the book “A laugh-out-loud, surprisingly sentimental, self-proclaimed ‘sort-of memoir’ that is a loving ode to Lui’s loud, no-nonsense and always-right mother.” I did not laugh-out-loud. I did not find the book funny.

Jan Wong from The Chronicle Herald called it “A funny, new Chinese-Canadian memoir….” Again I did not find the book funny. Perhaps my funny bone is located in a much different place than the reviewers quoted on the back of the book. The Winnipeg Free Press also called it “funny”, and author Kevin Kwan said that the book “had me laughing till I rolled off the bed.” I know this is getting repetitive, but I did not fall off the bed laughing; I did not spit out my coffee laughing; and, I did not find it funny.

What is funny? Perhaps my definition is too narrow. Funny to me is light-hearted. And this book was not all that light-hearted—though in the writing of it, the author, in her truth, did not spare any detail—whether it be unflattering or not.

Now there are a lot of things in the blurbs that I agreed with. Author Jenny Lawson said that she “devoured the book in one sitting…. alternately cheering, laughing, cringing and gasping in horror.” I think she wrapped the book up quite succinctly in her assessment and I agree with all but one of her observations (and I bet you can guess which one). The Winnipeg Free Press, besides finding the book funny, also found it “honest, fearless…..smart, wise and irreverent”. The book was all that and more. The more is explained by Jan Wong in the rest of her quote: “Blending explanations of feng shui and filial piety (family loyalty) with frequent-flying f-bombs, the memoir offers counterintuitive, yet wise, parenting advice. Regardless of cultural background, anyone—parent or adult child—can glean lessons.”

Memoir is such a gentle sounding word. One conjures up memories of everyone sitting happily around the dinner table at Sunday suppers, going to Christmas concerts and applauding the efforts of those on stage, standing on the sidelines at soccer games with orange slices at the ready for snack time, and generally all “the feel good” moments of life. But a true memoir includes all the grit and grimness of everyday life, as well as the good stuff. And this book is a true memoir. It does not hide behind sentimentality, and when it is sentimental—it seems so by accident.

I appreciated this book, and felt the same as Kevin Kwan did at the end. When he composed himself (after falling off the bed laughing) he said that he rearranged his “living room furniture in a panic at 3:00 a.m. to achieve proper feng shui” and called his mother “out of pure guilt.” He said, quite rightly that “The Squawking Chicken (as Lui’s mother is monikered) could eat any Tiger Mom for lunch.”

So my hypothesis at the beginning of this column is flawed. You can judge a book by its blurbs, but keep in mind that what others think is “funny” may not be what you think is funny. This book is entertaining, enlightening, shocking, and makes you think about your own parenting techniques, but it is not funny!

What is your idea of funny?

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Published in: on April 28, 2015 at 1:32 pm  Comments (13)  
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13 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I’ve not heard of this book but I’m sure I would have wanted to read after all these great reviews! I don’t always share the critics’ recommendations but I bet the author was grateful for all the accolades! The book does sounds like something I’d like to read though. I love all that gritty, real-life stuff. And real life is usually more than picnics with potato sale on the beautiful shore.

    My idea of funny? I thought This is Where I Leave You was funny but at the same time, it hit close to home. Philip Roth, Judy Blume, Erica Jong — funny. I love anything with self-deprecation involved. I so identify.

    I love your posts and sometimes they have made me spit out my coffee. ;).

    • thank you Brigitte–am going to have to delve into what I think is funny–you have a good grip on what makes you laugh–
      my friends make me laugh, and so does my husband and sons–

  2. I am a sucker for British humour…..but not Benny Hill!

  3. This is going to be the most brilliant comment I have ever left. My idea of funny is what makes me laugh. See? Brilliant.

    • I love your brilliance–in fact it is blinding me right now—loved your blog post today

      • Ha! Blinding brilliance on my blog post may be overstating it a tad!

  4. Gee, now I think I need to read this book to see if I think it is funny. I have been known to have a pretty twisted sense of humour, but not everyone reacts the same way to the same stories in a memoir, so who knows :).

  5. Tim and I have different tastes in humour, he likes Benny Hill and Adam Sandler both of who I cannot stand just thought you needed to know

  6. I just read ” Dear Committee Members” and I thought that was funny. ( I think you might like this book actually) I guess my reply to your question would be the same as that brilliant blogger, Robin and my other smart lady, Brigitte.
    I don’t like overt slap stick stuff or silly. And I never believe those quotes and blurbs either, too much hyperbole.

    http://www.npr.org/2014/08/12/339833454/in-a-funny-new-novel-a-weary-professor-writes-to-dear-committee-members

  7. Funny for me is things that happen in life, that turn out for whatever reason to have a humourous aspect to them… Diane

  8. It’s all a matter of perspective – I guess.
    Or – how much one gets compensated for their review.

    And – this topic is related to a conversation we had as a fam at dinner the other day too.
    What is funny?
    I like all sorts of humor – just depends on my mood.
    I like sarcastic humor & I like goofball humor & a few of the funnies in-between. It depends on the presentation of the humor too.

    Keep laughin’ – Keep livin’! 😀


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