Mindy Kaling Is Obviously My Best Friend

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

How thrilled was I when I got the chance to read Mindy Kaling’s new book ahead of publication!? I will give you a hint: I WAS SO THRILLED. Like I squealed when it showed up at the door.

I loved her first book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns). It was funny, relatable and interesting in terms of learning more about Kaling and how she got to where she was. Kaling is that writer with a voice that sounds like you’re just having a conversation, probably one of the reasons we all think we could totally be best friends with her.

In her follow up, Why Not Me? Kaling addresses working and confidence and dating. She talks about wanting an Emmy nomination and fighting the little green monster in all of us when she wasn’t nominated (but was announcing the nominations). She tells us about all the times that she’s met President Obama, including the time the president mentioned that his daughter had been reading her book on their recent vacation. There’s an essay on body image and on frenemies, a list of the ways that she and Mindy Lahiri are different and the ways that they are the same and a section that is basically a whole story she made up about an alternate life where she is a latin teacher engaged in inappropriate emails at work.

Basically it’s like all those other comedy writer books. It’s a collection of essays and thoughts that are put together to form a book. And even though I knew that that’s what it would be and there was a part of me that was like “oh”, I still really enjoyed it. I read this when I was really sick and it was totally able to hold my attention. I actually read it in one sitting, giggling to myself while downing all the liquids and blowing my nose. And when I finished reading it, I binged on two seasons of The Mindy Project because I realized that despite starting it, I had never devoted myself to it and that was a problem.

Mindy Kaling is super successful. And she’s the first person to tell you that she worked her ass off to get there. The final essay, where she addresses where she gets her confidence for a young woman who asked her that at an event and was kind of blown off because Kaling was really tired and she felt bad about it, is really worth reading. She talks about how she became confident because she worked hard to become really good at what she does. That essay alone is worth the price of this book, honestly.

Because even when Kaling is telling you she worked her ass off to get to be a famous, talented showrunner, she is still so damned relatable. OK so you don’t have your own show that you write and produce and star in and have funny, famous friends like BJ Novak but I guarantee you have gone to McDonald’s to eat your feelings, have Facebook stalked a potential love and know that two drinks transforms your social anxieties into the perfect party guest but three drinks is a mess.

Mindy Kaling has no problems letting it all hang out and that’s why her books are such fun to read.


Struggling to Read More Non-Fiction? I Can Help!

Just over three weeks into the new year, how are you doing with your bookish new year’s resolutions? Are you getting in the numbers? Getting to those genres you neglected last year? Making more of an effort to read more male or female authors? Crushing your pages read goal?

What about the non-fiction goal? Are you hitting that?

Right before 2014 was ending, when 2015 held all the promise of a fresh start, a lot of bloggers took the time to think through reading goals for the coming year. I didn’t do it but I enjoyed reading the posts and it got me to thinking about my own habits and what I would like my bookish year to look like in 2015. I noticed that a lot of readers seemed to want to make more of an effort to read more non-fiction but acknowledged that this would be difficult as they’d always had a hard time with non-fiction.

This used to be you reading non fiction.

This used to be you reading non fiction.

Remember when I came up with a few tips and tricks to help people read more? Now I’ve come up with some ideas I think will help those of you struggling to like non-fiction come over to the dark side.

You see, I’ve always liked non-fiction. It’s never been a chore or a hardship to me read or to find non-fiction that I love. There’s a lot of non-fiction out there that is REALLY good. But it can be intimidating to take the plunge so let’s see what we can do about it.

  1. Read what you’re interested in. This may seem like a no brainer but I think a lot of people have this idea of non-fiction as being stuffy and horrible. If you like movie stars, read about movie stars. If you love gossip, I can recommend LOTS of books. If you like to read about politics or the history of drinking or money or fashion, I promise you there is non-fiction out there that you will love.
  2. Start small. If the idea of reading non-fiction intimidates you, maybe don’t try and start with Ian Kershaw’s epic Hitler biography. Maybe start with the always delightful Malcolm Gladwell. Or hang out with Mindy Kaling for a bit (just because it’s funny, doesn’t mean it’s not non-fiction). Reading non-fiction doesn’t mean getting stuck with a thousand page tome covering the entire history of the Third Reich.
  3. Don’t force it. If you’ve given a history of capitalism a few hundred pages and it’s not doing it for you, then it’s not doing it for you. Reading, even reading non-fiction (that’s not assigned reading) is supposed to be fun and if you force it, you lose that essential quality. Last year I tried to enjoy biographies of Queen Anne and Lucretzia Borgia and I didn’t. So I stopped reading them and moved on.
  4. Read the first page. Next time you at the library or a bookstore, poke around the non-fiction sections and read the first page of books you might like to read. This helps you get a sense of the author’s style and will honestly go a long way towards helping you to know if it will be something you will enjoy reading.
  5. If you liked this, read that. Start paying attention to those recommendations when you’re looking up books online. Bookish.com also has a pretty great recommendation system – you just type in the title of a (non-fiction in this case) book you recently enjoyed and it will come up with a list of similar books. If you find yourself reading non-fiction book reviews, pay attention to what links come up at the end of the post because they will be similar to what you’re reading about.

The big thing to remember here is that non-fiction is not scary. You can still totally enjoy non-fiction reading every bit as much as reading the latest fiction best seller. I promise.


Serving Victoria: Life in the Royal Household

Downton Abbey has given us all an appetite for life below stairs.

The ultimate behind-the-scenes look would be those servants in service to a monarch amiright?

That’s what I thought I was getting with Serving Victoria: Life in the Royal Household.

I imagined Kate Hubbard giving us access to the maids and butlers and valets, in thrall to the longest serving Monarch in British history. That there would be Carsons and Daisys and Mrs Patmores. That we’d find out all the gossip about the august royal personages from those tasked with looking after their more basic and bodily needs.

Alas, like when I picked up a book supposedly about regular people during the Tudor period, Serving Victoria was more concerned with those in more senior positions within the household: ladies-in-waiting, personal secretaries, ladies-of-the-bedchamber, physicians and deacons. Basically the lives of the paid companions of Queen Victoria only insofar as they affected Queen Victoria.

serving victoria

It’s not that it wasn’t an interesting read. It was. Well-researched and executed it was an extremely interesting book, full of little tidbits about a bunch of different Royalties. It just wasn’t what I expected. But again, these are the lives that are documented aren’t they? The folks with the level of education needed to serve the Queen in their individual capacities, those that were able to read and write. The below stairs servants likely didn’t leave anywhere near their level of record behind to make research possible.

The early years, when we get to know the nursery governess were good. Sarah Lyttleton provided insight into the psyches of and treatment of the royal children from the start. The Princess Royal was very much her father’s daughter, brilliant and precocious and bored until the found her a tutor that was better able to challenge her. But the poor Prince of Wales was from the start always thought to be lacking in judgment and intelligence, early opinions that really set him on a course of assuming he’d disappoint before he ever got started.

Having read a variety of books about Queen Victoria and her various relations, I get a sense that depending on when and how you knew her, she was very different to different people. There were very few that she trusted enough to be her full self, and especially after the death of Prince Albert she clung to those that she felt capable of relaxing with and talking to almost as an equal. In her early years she was easily amused and liked to play silly games and gossip, although once she married she tended to defer to her husband in most things. After he died, she spent a lot of time marking anniversaries of the deaths of everyone around her. And since she outlived a lot of her children and contemporaries, this really took over her life.

The people that served her found it exhausting. I’d never really thought about how tiring it must have been to have to hang out with a Monarch and spend a lot of your time waiting for her to decide what you were going to do that day. She hated when her ladies-in-waiting had the nerve to get married but woe to the men in her life if they should decide to get married. Her doctor had served her for over 20 years and was nearing 50 when he decided to get married and she wouldn’t allow it to go ahead for months.

If nothing else, seeing the life of Queen Victoria through the eyes of those that waited on her is a new way of seeing that epoch of history. It’s a massive amount of time and things changed so much that it may surprise you to hear that it’s only 364 pages long. Hubbard has done an admirable job of boiling down the lives of these faithful folks to only the most salient details.


Charles Dickens as a Dad

As you may or may not know, Charles Dickens and I have had our ups and downs. We finally came to an understanding when I read (and loved) A Tale of Two Cities but before that, aside from the delight that is A Christmas Carol, I wasn’t sure that we would ever get along. I mean seriously, Hard Times?

Dickens' kids

According to Great Expectations: The Sons and Daughters of Charles Dickens, his children had a similar relationship with him.

To be fair, he did have nine children (he blamed his wife for the number of children they had, like he had nothing to do with it) that survived to adulthood. Maybe he was just overwhelmed with numbers.

So he had nine children, two daughters (Mamie and Katey) and seven sons (Charley, Walter, Alfred, Francis, Sydney, Henry, Plorn). Seven sons! What Henry VIII wouldn’t have given for seven sons. He was pretty decent towards his daughters, they really had no major complaints. But those sons of his – he was a hardass dad.

I don’t know much about Charles Dickens’ childhood but I know that he basically grew up in a workhouse and through sheer determination (and a whole lot of talent) he became the most famous novelist, possibly ever. His children, growing up wealthy with little to worry them, lacked that same gumption and it really bothered Daddy Dickens. So he shipped his sons all over the world and withheld his approval.

He also separated from his wife to set up a home with his mistress, and took the children away from her. If the children went to visit their mother, he barely spoke with them. Kind of manipulative really.

Considering this book covers nine people’s lives, it’s really short. Just 239 pages. It’s well written and actually a fairly straightforward read (I read it in a day, really helped pad my reading stats) but I couldn’t help feeling like it only scratched the surface. One of his daughters (Katey) ended up becoming a rather famous artist, while one of his sons (Henry) was a well respected judge (the only one of his children he ever felt amounted to anything) but their lives are still condensed into a few pages. Two of his sons died in the navy, two made a go of things in Australia and one of them was even a Canadian Mountie!

I’d say the best thing about the Dickens’ offspring is their names. Their first names are ordinary enough but their middle names! Tennyson, D’Orsay, Fielding, Haldimand, Bulwer, Lytton, Landor and…Jeffrey. I should point out that the youngest son, Plorn, was actually called Edward but Dickens’ nickname for him stuck so he was forever after known as Plorn.

Honestly I was surprised that Charles Dickens was such a tough and critical father but I guess he was a Victorian so maybe it shouldn’t be that surprising. It’s definitely made me want to read more about him – Claire Tomalin’s biography of him has been on my list for ages so maybe it’s time to look for that one a little more actively.

Did you ever read about someone famous and come away surprised by the reality?


Trivia Collecting

Last year I didn’t read enough non-fiction. This was a conclusion I reached after doing my 2012 Year in Review. I typically enjoy reading non-fiction (mainly biographies, histories and certain works of cultural significance) but for whatever reason, last year was mostly about fiction for me.

So I decided that in 2013, I would make more of an effort to read non-fiction.

As of this writing, I have definitely kept my word. With myself, but really if you can’t keep a promise to yourself…this seems to work with books and reading but never quite stretches to when I try and make myself go for a run. I can rationalize all kinds of ways not to do that.

But non-fiction I did read.

As of writing, I have read 64 books this year and just over 20% of those have been non-fiction! I even did math to make that come out in a percentage.

I read some completely irreverent books by some very funny ladies (Jen Lancaster, Mindy Kaling and Jenny Lawson) that totally count as non-fiction. Bill Bryson took me on a tour of the home through the ages, giving me all sorts of trivia that is sure to come in handy for ice breakers or games of Trivial Pursuit. I satisfied some of my Downton Abbey withdrawl with a closer look at one of the women who was mistress of Highclere Castle and enjoyed a very gossipy biography of the Churchills.

I loved Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead and recognized a lot of my own behaviour and hang ups in her words. I read Howard Schultz’s Onwards about the culture at Starbucks which did absolutely nothing to curb my daily Starbucks addiction. I loved Nancy Jo Sales’ The Bling Ring even though it made me want to watch a seriously trashy reality show (Pretty Wild) to see firsthand some of the events she described. (It’s on Netflix if you get the same urge)

Overall I know that my very favourite non-fiction read this year (and maybe ever) was Far From the Tree: Children, Parents and the Search for Identity. That book still pops up in my life every once in a while – like this morning when the cover of my local paper showed a transgendered girl grinning from ear to ear in her new identity while her parents fight for her right to be identified as a girl in school. Far From the Tree was one of the most honest, eye-opening, heartbreaking, hopeful and brilliant books I’ve ever read.

And I just went to the library and picked up 3 more non-fiction titles (Great Expectations: The Sons and Daughters of Charles Dickens, High Society: The Life of Grace Kelly and Christina, Queen of Sweden: The Restless Life of a European Eccentric) so we’re not done with 2013 yet!

I think a lot of people tend to dismiss non-fiction as boring or hard to read. But there are some insanely well-written non-fiction books out there. Sometimes they even make you forget that you’re learning new things.

And you know that when I’m done with 2013, I will totally be able to kick your butt at Trivial Pursuit.


Far From the Tree

After reviewing my Books Read 2012 list, I told myself that in 2013 I would read more non-fiction. I love non-fiction – history, biographies, culture – I love it all. But for some reason, there wasn’t a lot of it in 2012 (for me).

Nearly 2 months into 2013 and I’m off to a good start: Onward, Lady Almina and At Home have already been added to my Books Read 2013 list.

But the one I was most looking forward to reading was Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity.

I first read about this book on the Huffington Post’s Book section. When I was next in the bookstore I made a point of searching it out, read the first 2 lines and knew I had to have it. But it was Christmas time and any book hoarder will know, you can’t buy yourself books at that time of year. Far too risky. So I waited.

Good things come to those who wait – I got a whole bunch of book gift cards for Christmas and Far From the Tree was the first book I ran out to buy.

Andrew Solomon started writing this book as a way to work through his own complicated relationship with his parents. He is gay and it was always something that separated him from his parents in a negative way, something that he struggled with for a very long time. As a way of working through this relationship he decided to research how otherness affects the relationship between parents and children. He interviewed families of children who are deaf, dwarfs, have Down syndrome, are Autistic, Schizophrenic, commit crimes, are a product of rape, have severe mental and physical disabilities, or are Transgendered.

The central theme of his research seemed to be the decisions surrounding acceptance or trying to find a cure. For example people that have Down syndrome and a lot of their families, don’t think of Down syndrome as something that needs a cure – it is just a different way of being. Other families wish that there was a cure, or are very open about the fact that had they known before, they would have terminated the pregnancy. Each in their own way struggle with the acceptance of difference and/or the wish that things were different.

This book is heavy and if you read it in public, be warned that there is a high possibility of you crying in front of strangers. The chapter about children conceived in rape was particularly difficult to get through. But there are also lots of stories that are inspiring, like the parents that embrace their transgendered children despite the fact that in a lot of communities this is actually a very dangerous thing to do (what’s that about anyway? They are children).

I loved this book. I’ve been telling a lot of people about it and I know at least one person that has bought it for herself and I’m working on a second person. She won’t be a hard sell I don’t think.

I think that this book is an eye opener. A reminder to celebrate our differences, even the ones that terrify us.