Read: June 2019
Author: Jenny Lawson
Genre: Nonfiction / Memoir
Pages: 336 (hardcover)
Selected By: BillMo
“Jenny Lawson realized that the most mortifying moments of our lives – the ones we’d like to pretend never happened – are in fact the ones that define us. Lawson takes readers on a hilarious journey recalling her bizarre upbringing in rural Texas, her devastatingly awkward high school years, and her relationship with her long-suffering husband, Victor.”
BillMo abstained from reading her selection for two reasons:  life happened, and  some people – sane people – don’t see the humor in making hand puppets out of dead animals.
First, I got to chapter eight before I gave up the ghost on this one. I love animals, not animal rights love, but I don’t want them mistreated and I have no desire to read or hear stories about a sadistic father who thought playing with the corpses of animals like puppets was funny or entertaining in any way. That was the first seven chapters and quite frankly, it pissed me off and disgusted me to the nth degree.
Second, these folks who feel it necessary to write a memoir without actually accomplishing very much in life is killing me. Trevor Noah surviving apartheid South Africa as a bi-racial child, without getting arrested or murdered is an accomplishment. Being a hillbilly (honestly redneck may be an upgrade for her) who managed to get a popular blog, not so much.
In general, this wasn’t my cup of tea to begin with and there really isn’t much to say about it other than, I did not find it funny in the least, nor amusing, nor mildly inspiring. I did feel bad for her for having to tolerate a sadistic father, and wonder if mental defects run in the family. I have no idea what she blogs about, nor do I want to know. This definitely did not make me curious about her other writings; in fact, it inspired me to put in the RED LIGHT, DO NOT GO, DO NOT EVEN THINK ABOUT IT. It’s more like, “LET’S PRETEND YOU NEVER WROTE THIS AND I DIDN’T TORMENT MYSELF BY READING IT.”
Lady Esbe’s Favorite Character(s): No one.
Lady Esbe’s Review of the Narration: . So annoying, I couldn’t stand it.
Esbe listened to the Penguin Audio edition of this selection, narrated by Jenny Lawson.
The only thing Lawson gets right with this memoir is the title: there is nothing I would enjoy more after having subjected myself to a portion of its contents than to pretend I never read any of it.
Full disclosure: I didn’t read this whole book. To be honest, I don’t know how anyone has read this whole book. From the stream of consciousness Introduction forward was a struggle, and I called it quits after only about a quarter of the way through – had this been a personal selection and not a Gigglemug monthly pick, I’d not have even managed that much.
To begin with, I don’t like this new practice of everyone having a memoir. And if Neil Patrick Harris’s story isn’t worth reading yet, then you can bet your arse that the struggles of Nobody Nobody to distance themselves from their white trash roots by embracing those white trash roots is nothing worth spending a single penny or minute on.
According to the book jacket, Lawson is the next Tina Fey, which is… misleading at best (but I’ll call straight b.s. on that). Tina Fey is a clever, intelligent, humorous woman whose name is well-known due to her being a clever, intelligent, humorous woman with shrewd business sense. Before BillMo picked this selection, I’d never even heard of this Jenny Lawson person, whose big claim to fame is that she runs a blog that’s popular with… someone. I don’t know who her target demographic actually is, but I’m going to assume, based on what I managed to consume of her book, that it’s probably middle-class American Caucasian women.
Not that there’s anything wrong with being an American middle-class Caucasian woman – my mum is one, so I’m obviously perfectly fine with them. But I think we can all agree at this point that Americans of a certain background have a certain amount of… privilege. And with that privilege comes expectations. And it is those expectations to which Lawson is clearly comparing herself and her upbringing, a sort of “wink-wink, nudge-nudge, wasn’t this pathetic” sort of inside joke that only someone with those expectations would find humorous at all.
In short, the troubles which plagued Lawson’s entire childhood and scarred her so thoroughly – with the exception of her father’s disgusting practices (more on these in a moment) – just come across as more whinging from another out-of-touch white American. Lawson talks about well water and poverty as if they’re anomalies in the Southern United States, which, after having lived in a handful of U.S. States in the Southeast for a time, is simply untrue. Well water, and all of the dangers that come with its pollution (including salmonella, cancer, and mental and digestive illnesses), is still common today and was even more common in the 1970s and 1980s, the time period in which Lawson would have spent most of her childhood. Poverty is prevalent throughout the South – sure, there are neighborhoods, cities, and / or counties in which wealth may be found, but they are the exception, not the norm. You can’t drive from Atlanta to New Orleans or from Panama City to Louisville without passing more shacks and trailers than actual houses, and of those cities, most of their affluence has come solely from gentrification: in theory, a big cleanup of the established neighborhoods, but in practice a pricing out of the poor (typically minority) population to conform a hot location into a cleaner, nicer area for upper-middle-class (typically white) buyers. Personally, I think Lawson could do with a slice of humble pie served up fresh and hot from the nearest reservation or government subsidized housing neighborhood (i.e., the projects).
Lawson makes excuses for her father, that he was weird and wacky but not a complete lunatic… but let’s be honest, he was a complete lunatic. Lawson warns the reader ahead of time, of course, that if you’re a judgmental super-sensitive PETA-backing animal-lover, you’re not going to like what’s coming… but I find it ironic that it’s the PETA-backing animal lovers who have the problem in Lawson’s mind and not, you know, the lunatic who shoves a dead, hollowed-out squirrel carcass onto his own hand and uses it as a hand puppet with which to entertain his two small daughters, even going so far as to let the littlest one stick her own hand inside of it. He kills a female opossum and then hand-feeds her orphaned babies what Lawson herself believes might have been white paint. He rescues (after killing their mother, of course) a few baby raccoons and then keeps one as a pet for his children, which they dress up and take photos with… until it grows up and acts like the wild friggin’ animal it is, at which point he takes it out back and, as Lawson herself admits, probably shoots it. The book jacket would have you think he’s a professional taxidermist, and maybe he takes up this profession later in life, but in the beginning, no, he most certainly was not. He was not a professional taxidermist or biologist, nor was he performing necropsies on any of these animals… he was just a bored white-trash dude with a gun and no kind of moral compass whatsoever.
She also has a go right out of the gate at Laura Ingalls Wilder for having misled people about the fact that Little House on the Prairie was fiction, which isn’t a topic about which I’d typically care to argue, except Lawson is allegedly supposed to be some sort of journalist. So let me just clarify for readers that Laura Ingalls Wilder never intended Little House on the Prairie to be considered her memoirs. In fact, Laura Ingalls Wilder did write a memoir, which was rejected by publishers (I can’t recall how many times, but for some reason I’m thinking it was three) and which she gradually reworked into the historical fiction that would become the Little House on the Prairie series. She referred to herself as a novelist and her works as novels, and she knowingly and openly withheld many of the facts from those novels due to their being unfit for younger audiences. An annotated version of this memoir, called Pioneer Girl, is available for those who would like to know more about the woman behind the Little House children’s books.
Besides the fact that she drags Wilder’s name through the mud in her Introduction, she also compares herself to the popular children’s book author by saying that, unlike Wilder, her stories will be true. Which is… kinda true. What she doesn’t tell you in that Introduction is that you’ll slog through page after page of stream of consciousness stories only to be essentially told suddenly, like a slap in the face, “Oh, hey, so I made that up. That didn’t happen. If I’d done such-and-such, that might’ve happened, but I didn’t, so it didn’t. But it could’ve.”
Lastly, Jenny Lawson’s whole thing, her whole shtick, is damn annoying. I mean daaaaaaaayum annoying. As mentioned earlier, it’s piles of stream of consciousness writing with the occasional “just kidding, that didn’t happen” moment, but all of this is also punctuated by her incessant need for the reader to think Jenny is a wacky and unique snowflake. Instead of telling the stupid stories of her stupid life and letting the reader determine for themselves what’s funny and what’s odd, she frequently comments on the weirdness of her own life and how weird it was how weird it is how weird she is and how weird everyone in her life is and isn’t that weird? I can’t verbalize how annoying it is, other than to admit that I have started referring to the sort of people with these I-need-you-to-think-I’m-weird personalities as Jennies. It seems a very Jenny thing to do – to sit around telling stories which you judge and comment on for all the people around you. “I was, like, so totally doing this thing, and it was, like, so totally weird, and then, like, don’t you think that was, like, so totally zany? Like, I’m so wacky, right? Like, wow, I know, I’m such an oddball, huh?” Yep, Jenny. Totally.
Or, to summarize why I didn’t like this book: Jenny is a Becky who needs a better editor. Or an editor. Or maybe she has one, but even they got sick of the shit after a while and just passed it with a wave of their hand and a put-upon sigh.
And all of that is why Jenny Lawson’s story of how she overcame being poor (weird) white (weird) Texas (like, so weird) trash to become a (weird) professional (gosh, so weird) blogger is getting no cups of tea from yours truly. I will not ever read anything else by this woman. I will never even visit her blog.
I will simply pretend this never happened. And that is 100% true.
Elle Tea’s Favorite Character(s): No one.
Elle read the Amazon Kindle edition of this selection.