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The State of Play

posted by: February 9, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for The State of PlayVideo gaming is one of the most rapidly growing and ever evolving hobbies of the 21st century. The gaming industry grosses more money each year than the movie and music industries combined. With figures like this, it’s no surprise that a gaming counterculture has arisen, eager to create and share games that shun traditional styles in favor of a more indie appeal. In The State of Play: Creators and Critics on Video Game Culture, notable game designers, players and critics sound off their opinions on the current trends and directions of both the AAA and indie game movements.


One of the topics most frequently discussed in The State of Play is the concept of player identity. Evan Narcisse’s “The Natural,” Hussein Ibrahim’s “What It Feels Like to Play the Bad Guy,” and Anita Sarkeesian and Katherine Cross’ “Your Humanity Is in Another Castle” all make great arguments for more diversity in every aspect of the characters players control and interact with.


Zoe Quinn, creator of the notable indie game Depression Quest, details her harrowing experiences developing, launching and living through her game and gives readers a glimpse into what it was like to come under fire during the infamous #Gamergate movement of late 2014. Merritt Kopas’ essay “Ludus Interruptus” makes a great argument for much more open-minded views of sexuality and acts of sex in Western gaming. Despite making massive strides in both technical and creative compositions in the past few years, video games have still remained very old-fashioned when it comes to sex and how it’s initiated, portrayed and perceived in media.


Readers who identify as gamers or are interested in the increasingly complex culture of video games should read The State of Play. Games are currently one of the most powerful creative mediums for expression, offering users the chance to become fully immersed in their experiences through interaction. The State of Play is a fantastic, unprecedented collection of reflective literature on different experiences from every angle. Every essay is spliced with Internet links and footnotes leading to resources for further exploration, and there is much to be learned.




Thing Explainer

posted by: January 20, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Thing ExplainerAfter his success with What If?, Randall Munroe is back to tackle yet another aspect of science in everyday life — exactly how is the world around us constructed? In Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words, Munroe delves into the workings of our world, from the insides of our cells to our solar system and a lot of what’s in between.



Munroe states in the introduction that “…there are lots of other books that explain what things are called. This book explains what they do.” So this book won’t help you pass a vocabulary test or memorize the terminology, but it will explain in simple terms how a lot of the world around us functions. And this is on purpose — Munroe crafted a list of the “ten hundred” most used words in the English language and then restricted himself to only using those words in the book. So instead of the Curiosity Rover diagram or Human Torso diagram, Munroe breaks down the Red World Space Car and Bags of Stuff inside You (by the way, this book has forever changed how I view bags).



It may seem slightly ridiculous or humorous to be discussing boats that go under the sea (submarines) and food-heating radio boxes (microwaves), but Munroe is known for balancing scientific fact and innovation with humor, and this book is no different. His blue and white sketches of the items he’s discussing include funny little asides from his stick-figure illustrations on almost every page.



Even still, his depictions of these engineering marvels are anything but ridiculous. Thing Explainer is a fascinating and stimulating read for all ages, letting us remember to appreciate the world around us because it’s a lot more complicated than it may seem on the surface. Even if we can explain it in ten hundred simple words.


But Enough About Me

posted by: January 7, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for But Enough About MeBut Enough About Me: A Memoir is Burt Reynolds' no-holds-barred account of the people he has known throughout his life, including childhood friends, mentors and, of course, Hollywood celebrities. Sharing both his viewpoint and notable stories, you learn as much about those he has come in contact with as the man himself.


Told mostly in chronological order, Reynolds begins with his childhood in Rivera Beach, Florida, just south of Palm Beach. He then moves on to his time as a football player for the Florida Seminoles, with the remainder of the book focused on his career as a Hollywood stuntman and actor. Stories about the movie Deliverance, Gore Vidal and Johnny Carson are mesmerizing.  You will savor his thoughts on Bette Davis, Paul Newman and Clint Eastwood. And you will feel his strong sense of regret as he discusses his relationships with Dinah Shore and Sally Field. Sparing no details, he also shares the embarrassing aftermath of posing nude for Cosmopolitan magazine, and the hesitation he had about working in the movie Boogie Nights, the role for which he received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nod.


If you are a fan of Reynolds or just like Hollywood stories, you'll enjoy this memoir. You'll smile, laugh and at times shake your head in disbelief! Reynolds delivers an entertaining yet honest portrait of himself and those he has known over the years. Humorous and even embarrassing, this book is definitely worth the read!


Readers who like this book may also want to check out Make ‘Em Laugh: Short-Term Memories of Longtime Friends by Debbie Reynolds or Judy & Liza & Robert & Freddie & David & Sue & Me: A Memoir by Stevie Phillips.


Almost Interesting

posted by: January 4, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Almost InterestingIs David Spade’s memoir Almost Interesting? No way, I say! It's actually extremely interesting. Filled with hilarious childhood stories, Saturday Night Live anecdotes and embarrassing tales of life in Hollywood, it's both entertaining and quick to read. He serves up his life story, warts and all!

Told chronologically, he takes us on wild ride through his childhood in Arizona, to his days as a struggling L.A. comic, followed by his tenure at SNL and ends with his life as a Hollywood celebrity. Uncontrollable laughter will overtake you as you read his account of pledging a fraternity, losing his newly purchased car in Hollywood and being catfished by a model’s parody account. Seriously, that happened, and quite recently, too! Even the story of his crazed assistant Skippy attacking him is hilarious. You'll also enjoy his tales of working on SNL. He candidly offers up both his favorite and least favorite hosts and musical guests. Trust me, he goes there! My favorite is his account of the infamous Sinead O’Connor performance. Finally, you will feel his overwhelming sense of loss when he discusses his best friend, Chris Farley.

If you’re a fan or just like to read about celebrities, I encourage you to get your hands on a copy of Almost Interesting. I’m not kidding. Do it! You can read it in quick bursts or in one long sitting, but since Spade is a comedian be prepared to laugh out loud, and even more so if you listen to the audiobook, since he narrates it. Be forewarned though, at times he is raunchy, but nothing wildly inappropriate. To see Spade in action on SNL, check out the DVD Saturday Night Live: The Best of David Spade. Knowing the backstories makes it much funnier.


Furiously Happy

posted by: December 15, 2015 - 7:00am

Furiously HappyAs if the cover featuring a deliriously excited raccoon wasn’t enough to get you laughing, every vignette in Jenny Lawson’s new memoir Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things will certainly do the trick. Based on her wildly popular blog The Bloggess and follow-up to her New York Times bestseller Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Lawson’s thoughts about living with mental illness have touched readers who identify with her daily struggles.

Chock-full of helpful advice on how to properly approach the Australian government with a request to hug a koala while wearing a koala costume and featuring chapters titled things like “Things I May Have Accidentally Said During Uncomfortable Silences,” Lawson’s sense of humor never overshadows the fact that dealing with mental illness is difficult, but rather celebrates her uniqueness and tenacity in getting through the toughest days.

Recently, Lawson made international headlines by admitting to her hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers that she replied, “You, too!” to an airport cashier after being told to enjoy her flight. What followed was an avalanche of embarrassing moments, tweeted in by thousands of people, which started trending worldwide. The particularly cringe-worthy tweets are available on her blog. In Lawson’s world, we may all be crazy and flawed, but at least we’re not alone.

Devoted fans may also want to check out It Sucked and Then I Cried by Heather Armstrong or Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh.


Why Not Me?

posted by: November 4, 2015 - 6:00am

Cover art for Why Not Me?Mindy Kaling has become a well-known leading lady, writer, director, fashionista and general force to be reckoned with. Because of her show The Mindy Project, we are now on a first name basis with her. Her new collection of essays, Why Not Me?, is just like catching up with an old friend who happens to be doing all of the talking, though we don’t even mind because she is truly that charming. Her essays are hilarious, insightful and even more personal than those in her first book.


She offers up plenty of celebrity stories with the likes of Bradley Cooper, Reese Witherspoon and even President Barack Obama. However, she is always completely relatable. Her response to fame, and the unique situations she finds herself in because of her fame, is exactly what you or I would think if we were suddenly “a little bit famous.”


In this collection, Kaling addresses questions she didn’t feel prepared to tackle before, like being asked how she maintains her confidence by a young woman who had lost her own. Kaling confesses that she didn’t have an answer at the time, but now she does. Her secret is hard work — 19-hour-day kind of hard work.


There is an entire essay in which the author imagines her alternate life as a Latin teacher at a private high school in New York, told to us through email correspondence. It was delightful. I would read an entire book about alternate Mindy. I also hope this potential book gets turned into a movie starring Mindy.


For die-hard fans, it's worth it to check out both the book and the audio book because each contain extras that the other does not. The book has many great pictures, including an entire “Day in the Life” segment. However, the essays truly come to life when delivered by the author in the audio version. She has perfect comedic timing and obviously the best delivery of her own jokes.


Readers who enjoy this book will love her first essay collection Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), Yes Please by Amy Poehler and You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day.



Modern Romance

posted by: August 13, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Modern RomanceParks and Recreation star Aziz Ansari is the latest comedian to try his hand as an author. Rather than write the typical memoir, Ansari has joined sociologist Eric Klinenberg to study dating in Modern Romance. Ansari and Klinenberg conducted research around the world in an attempt to discover how romance has changed in recent years and present it to readers in relatable way.


The pair started their research by asking residents of a New York retirement community how they found love when they were in their early 20s. They used this as a baseline to compare with the results from focus groups about modern romance. Some in the groups even allowed Ansari and Klinenberg to look through their phones to see how they interacted with potential mates through texts or on various online dating apps like Tinder or OkCupid. The pair also analyzed differences around the world, interviewing people from the United States, Argentina, France and Japan. The cultural differences were striking, as were the differences between larger cities in the United States, like New York City and Los Angeles, and smaller cities like Monroe, New York and Wichita, Kansas.


Modern Romance may not be what longtime fans of Ansari expect, but this sociological look at the world of dating is infused with his signature humor. Those familiar with Ansari’s standup routines will see similarities from some of his bits, such as analyzing people’s text messages. Listening to the book adds another layer of humor, with Ansari as the narrator who occasionally steps beyond that role to make fun of the listener. Modern Romance is an informative, funny look at the world of dating.



I’ll Have What She’s Having

posted by: April 17, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for I'll Have What She's HavingHave you ever wondered how Beyoncé stays so thin? Or what is Victoria Beckham’s secret to her svelte frame? Well, so did Rebecca Harrington, and in her book I’ll Have What She’s Having: My Adventures in Celebrity Dieting, she dishes up some interesting insights into the nutritional habits of the stars. In order to discover how effective her subjects' diets were, Harrington tested each one herself. Granted, her approach was not scientific — she only spent about a week on each diet and often times did not stick to the regime — but her compilation of her experiences makes for some entertaining reading.


The celebrities profiled range from the contemporary to the classic, and the diets range from the fairly sensible to the extraordinarily weird. Among the ones that seem not too off-the-wall is Gwyneth Paltrow’s — who Harrington gushes about throughout the book — vegan lifestyle and recipes which are palatable, if expensive to prepare. Then there is the yeast-centered diet of Greta Garbo or Dolly Parton’s Cabbage Soup Diet or even Victoria Beckham’s Five Hands Diet. As Harrington explains, Beckham apparently advocates eating five handfuls of food a day and “then for some unknown reason you declare yourself full.”


Harrington’s witty comments and occasional barbs are the real heart of the book. She doesn't really offer any serious insights into which diet is the best or the worst, instead she points out just how obsessed our culture is with trying to emulate celebrities. Harrington’s book may not cause you to lose any weight, but it will offer you a light and amusing read.


Failure Is an Option

posted by: February 27, 2015 - 2:18pm

CraftFail: When Homemade Goes Horribly Wrong by Heather MannEvery DIYer out there has a story or two about a project that ended up going awry. Heather Mann compiles hysterical craft disasters in CraftFail: When Homemade Goes Horribly Wrong. Spanning the worlds of food, home décor, fashion and kids, Mann’s entertaining collection will amuse non-crafters and comfort those dedicated crafters who have all experienced hiccups despite the best laid plans.


Mann, creator of the popular blog takes a look at what happens to those of us who aren’t Martha Stewart. The effort and good intentions are definitely there but, sadly, the end result doesn’t match. Photographs of craft failures, including new ones not seen on the blog, include glitter shoes that look like a puddle of sparkling slop and spaghetti-stuffed garlic bread which is anything but appetizing. These projects all sounded cool and seemed attainable, but the outcomes were decidedly dreadful.


Mann’s funny look at crafting gone wrong also serves as a celebration of the creative process. Failure is always a possibility, but that shouldn’t be a barrier to inspiration and imagination. The photographs and sharp writing all combine to create a humorous homage to the internal HGTV designer inside each of us who perseveres and keeps on crafting. This charming collection also highlights two important imperatives all crafters should adopt as a mantra when starting any project — follow directions and don’t substitute!


LOL-Worthy Literary Conversations

posted by: December 12, 2014 - 7:00am

Texts from Jane EyreMallory Ortberg’s Texts from Jane Eyre: And Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters is a funny, irreverent take on what it would be like if famous authors and classic literary characters texted. Ortberg takes books and authors that we read in high school or college and retells their stories in text form. From Hamlet to Elizabeth Bennett to the Lorax, from Edgar Allan Poe to William Wordsworth to Emily Dickinson, no character or author is out of reach for Ortberg.


Ortberg uses classic characters like Jo March and Jane Eyre, juxtaposed with more modern ones like the twins from Sweet Valley High and the members of the Baby Sitters Club. She brings these characters to life through text speak and emoticons, making the reader crack up at the thought of Plato texting the cave allegory to a close friend, or Hamlet text-yelling at his mother to keep out of his room. The texts referenced in the title of the book are particularly amusing—Mr. Rochester’s in all caps and Jane Eyre’s cool and distant, as he tries to lure her back to him.


Ortberg, one of the co-editors and founders of The Toast website and a prolific Twitter user, has translated her hilarious online writing career into print with Texts from Jane Eyre. Readers will be laughing along as they relive some of their favorite (or least favorite) literary characters in text message form. This is one that former English majors will devour!




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