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July 20, 2012 |

JEN’S MUST READS: Part 3

BY Jen Hatmaker

I lived in Houma, LA from 4th to 7th grade. Oh, how we loved that place. Within five days of moving there, I’d eaten crawfish and alligator and shrimp poboys, and that’s a true story. My fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Crochet, was the Queen of Mardi Gras, and there are not enough superlatives to describe the loot and parties we scored that year as her students. (Then there was the year me and my friend Julie kyped Screwdrivers from her parents’ car trunk, which was doubling as a bar at a parade, and the rest is very fuzzy history and another story altogether.)

Anyhow, we had the hands-down, tip-top fabulous, best babysitter in the history of babysitters in Houma: Amy Bowen. Why she agreed to sit the four rowdy King kids is absolutely beyond me, but she did, and we loved her like a fat kid loves cake. She was fun and crazy and hilarious, and we basically wanted our parents to adopt her so we could have her every second of every day.

One time when I was in 4th grade, Amy was babysitting, and I don’t remember how it began, but she started tickling me. Because she’d let us all have Coke and Kool-aid and chocolate milk all night (GAH I loved her), my bladder was full, but because I was laughing so hard I couldn’t make sound much less produce words to tell her I was in trouble, right there, right in our living room, I peed my pants.

I have a point.

Somewhere between the emails this week that said, “STOP POSTING BOOKS THAT JACK WITH US” and “I like you so much but sometimes I wish all ten of your typing fingers were broken,” I realized that Book Week is about to make a bunch of you pee your pants. You’ve hit your limit. The bladder is full. Time to back off.

So. I’m still going to recommend books today, but these are guaranteed to not urge you to sell your house or move to Guatemala or start using recycled toilet paper. These are in a different category: fiction or memoir or humor or anything else in the genre of Lighten Up, Jen.

These are books I looooooooved. Loved. Loved. Lovelovelove. L.O.V.E.D. Loved. (Not all of these books are G-rated. The end. Great literature never has been. The Bible has some very X-rated material, in fact. Do not send me emails saying some of these books said ess aych eye tee.)

Bossypants
Tina Fey
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Oh my gosh. OHMYGOSH. Help me, Lord. Help me not pee my pants again like in 4th grade. It’s like this: Tiny Fey is my comedy muse. How can anyone be this funny and smart?? I love her so much, I want to break into her house and whisper into her ear while she sleeps that Jen Hatmaker should be her best friend.

You cannot read this book in public, because it will induce snorting and outbursts and tears of hysterics. I have read this book four times, if that tells you anything. Funny, funny, funny, funny, funny! Especially if you’re a Saturday Night Live fan. Or a fan of comedy. Or laughter and joy. Or smiling.

Let me give you this excerpt from Tina’s “Prayer for my Daughter” in Bossypants and leave it at that, because if you don’t think this is hilarious, all hope is lost:

First, Lord: No tattoos. May neither Chinese symbol for truth nor Winnie-the-Pooh holding the FSU logo stain her tender haunches.
When the Crystal Meth is offered, May she remember the parents who cut her grapes in half and stick with Beer.
Guide her and protect her when crossing the street, stepping onto boats, swimming in the ocean, swimming in pools, walking near pools, standing on the subway platform, crossing 86th Street, stepping off of boats, using mall restrooms, getting on and off escalators, driving on country roads while arguing, leaning on large windows, walking in parking lots, riding Ferris wheels, roller-coasters, log flumes, or anything called “Hell Drop,” “Tower of Torture,” or “The Death Spiral Rock ‘N Zero G Roll featuring Aerosmith,” and standing on any kind of balcony ever, anywhere, at any age.
May she play the Drums to the fiery rhythm of her Own Heart with the sinewy strength of her Own Arms, so she need Not Lie With Drummers.
Grant her a Rough Patch from twelve to seventeen. Let her draw horses and be interested in Barbies for much too long, For childhood is short – a Tiger Flower blooming Magenta for one day – And adulthood is long and dry-humping in cars will wait.
And should she choose to be a Mother one day, be my eyes, Lord, that I may see her, lying on a blanket on the floor at 4:50 A.M., all-at-once exhausted, bored, and in love with the little creature whose poop is leaking up its back.
“My mother did this for me once,” she will realize as she cleans feces off her baby’s neck. “My mother did this for me.” And the delayed gratitude will wash over her as it does each generation and she will make a Mental Note to call me. And she will forget. But I’ll know, because I peeped it with Your God eyes.”
The Middle Place
Kelly Corrigan
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SIGH. Sigh. Memoirs have been my favorite genre for the last three years, and it all began with The Middle Place. READ IT. I’m not even kidding. I’m not even afraid to boss you around right now. I cannot even tell you how much I loved this book. Every word. Every story. Every perfectly, beautifully, poignantly, endearingly captured moment. It is a masterpiece. Kelly Corrigan should be sainted as a writer. She is a glorious gift to literature. This family. This story. These people. It’s just too much. I can’t handle it. The writing and the stories and the love and the heartache…it’s too good. I’m sick.

Even writing about The Middle Place makes me want to run back to my tattered copy and read it for the 8th time. (Kelly’s dad, Greenie, bears such resemblance to my larger-than-life, beloved, infamous Dad, that as my sisters and I read this book individually, we’d text each other on breaks, in airports, and from workplace bathrooms to discuss which parts made us think of Dad while we were bawling and trying to act inconspicuous.)

I’ve mentioned before here that thanks to my Dad, I’ve been overvalued my entire life, so I’ll leave you with one of my favorite sections from The Middle Place:

In a revealing scene from the period right after she and Edward move in together, she gets in a snit when he isn’t appropriately demonstrative following her midday phone call saying she’s landed a new, high-paying job: Instead of arriving home that evening with a bottle of Champagne, he walks through the door and starts reading a bill from the day’s mail. She explains her disappointment, and he smooths things over, but she knows she is inwardly comparing him to her dad, “a man who crowed about her ordinary achievements to strangers on the commuter train as if she had learned to live underwater.”
I Was Told There’d Be Cake
Sloane Crosley
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Sometimes, when a writer reads other people’s writing, she is overcome with a weird cocktail of awe, adoration, and envy, and that is exactly the narcotic that overwhelmed me when I stumbled upon Sloane Crosley. Smart. Hysterical. Nuanced. Inventive. This is the way Sloane Crosley writes her satirical essays. When will I ever be this funny and observant and awesome and bonkers?

She is a young New York resident and writer, which provides us its own bizarre demographic of retail, society, neurotic, and ambitious hilarity. She manages to draw you into the grief and confusion of life, as well as its outrageousness and irresponsibility. She is unique and endearing and hilarious, I’ll just leave you with some quotes from I Was Told There’d Be Cake and let you decide for yourself if you want to become one of her converts:

“I never asked my mother where babies came from but I remember clearly the day she volunteered the information….my mother called me to set the table for dinner. She sat me down in the kitchen, and under the classic caveat of ‘loving each other very, very much,’ explained that when a man and a woman hug tightly, the man plants a seed in the woman. The seed grows into a baby. Then she sent me to the pantry to get placemats. As a direct result of this conversation, I wouldn’t hug my father for two months.”
“Because, ten-year-olds of the world, you shouldn’t believe what your teachers tell you about the beauty and specialness and uniqueness of you. Or, believe it, little snowflake, but know it won’t make a bit of difference until after puberty. It’s Newton’s lost law: anything that makes you unique later will get your chocolate milk stolen and your eye blackened as a kid. Won’t it, Sebastian? Oh, yes, it will, my little Mandarin Chinese-learning, Poe-reciting, high-top-wearing friend. God bless you, wherever you are.”
“Life starts out with everyone clapping when you take a poo and goes downhill from there. ”
“…and there’s something about having an especially different name that makes it difficult to imagine what you would be like as a Jennifer.” (Cry me a river, Sloane. I was the 7th Jennifer in every class EVER.)
The Book Thief
Markus Zusak
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Well, I cannot possibly say anything that hasn’t already been said by every critic, every reader, every human with a beating heart that has read this book and gone straight mad over it.

This book grabbed my heart out of my chest, pulverized it into oblivion, and handed it back to me as if it could ever be the same. Fiction. Narrated by “Death.” Set in Nazi Germany. It describes a young girl’s relationship with her foster parents, the other residents of their neighborhood, and a Jewish fist-fighter who hides in her home during the escalation of World War II.

I can only tell you that I sat in my reading chair, getting to The Critical Parts, and I sobbed like a sobbing, hysterical, inconsolable baby until I thought I would simply die, I would die from sorrow and love. I would die from this perfectly written story and these characters who belonged to me, they were mine, they were my precious people and I was devoted to them. I would perish without them. I was there. In the basement. In the terror. In the bravery. In the devotion. In the sorrow. In the elation.

Gavin told me a few weeks ago: “Mom, I have to read a book this summer for AP English. It’s called The Book Thief. Do you have it?”

And I came unraveled and overreacted and staged a reading schedule and book talk and made my 7th grade daughter read it too and said YES YES YES we will read this together and we will cry and we will be moved and inspired and we will never be the same, and they are reading it right now, and if my kids don’t respond like I need them to, I will be forced to send them to boarding school and pretend like they are not of my blood line.

~

So there you have it. And for the other emails saying, “You are making us poor with these book recs you’re forcing us to buy. Why do you hate us?” I’ll remind you that all of these gems are in your local library. You can have free awesomeness. Unless, of course, you never return your books on time, and by the time you actually do, you owe more fines that the books actually cost, and your little “money saving initiative” has basically turned into a bill.

I’ve heard of people like this.

Back me up, people. Did you love these books too? What else have you read lately that we just have to know about?

(Last day for comments on Sacrilege and Anything. I’ll draw winners this weekend!)