Crying in H Mart

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Michelle Zauner
Genres: Memoir, Non-fiction
Pub. Date: Apr. 2021 (read Sep. 2021 on Audible)

I’ve had a bunch of people asking me my thoughts on this one and it’s a book that has me really conflicted. I’ve heard so many great things about Crying in H Mart, and I would definitely not hesitate about recommending this book. But I was really on the fence about how to rate it. I decided on a 3 star rating because I had started to lose interest during the last third of the book, but after writing this review, I found a lot more arguments for why this was actually a really good book, so I decided to increase my rating to 4 stars. One of the reasons I love taking the time to actually write reviews is it forces me to meaningfully reflect on what I’ve read.

Crying in H Mart is a memoir about the author’s relationship with her mother, food, and how the two have become intertwined. It is a deeply personal book. The primary reason I would recommend this is because the author has such raw honesty, it really did blow me away. She lost her mother to cancer a few years ago and this book is very much a manifest of her grief. It is sad and moving to read – it almost feels wrong to rate it at all, even highly, because the author so clearly wrote this book for herself more than anyone else.

The story does have some ebbs and flows. Like I mentioned, I found the last third a bit slow moving because it focuses more on the author’s life after her mother’s death (which I found somewhat monotonous and not as interesting to read), whereas the first half is so shocking in its honesty that you become completely engrossed. But what makes it powerful is it’s not just about the author’s grief, instead it’s an in-depth look at her complicated relationship with her mother, her culture, and her mixed-race family. A lot of her observations about her mother are very unforgiving. She doesn’t remember all the good things about her mother, but rather, she remembers everything about her mother – the good, the bad, and the ugly. It takes so much courage to write that kind of memoir about grief, which is why I applaud the author and ultimately why I decided to bump my rating up to 4 stars.

Even though parts of this story were less compelling to me as a reader, I feel like Zauner is committed to the memory of her mother as she was and the exploration of her grief through and through. It doesn’t matter what path grief takes or how it looks to other people, it only matters how it feels for you. It’s kind of beautiful to think that our memories of our loved ones don’t have to be confined to one narrative. We are not only the good things or the bad things that we did, we are all of those things, and I can see how remembering it all, good and bad, could be cathartic.

Overall, I think I would recommend the paperback over the audiobook. The audiobook is read by the author, which I usually love, but she is very monotone and I think that may have contributed to my fatigue with the book.

A Very Punchable Face

Rating: ⭐⭐.5
Author: Colin Jost
Genres: Humour, Memoir
Pub. date: Jul. 2020 (read Jul. 2020 on Audible)

This was a fun read that pretty much delivered what I was expecting, with a few surprises. Not totally sure why I picked this one up, I think I just saw it Audible and thought it would be a funny listen. I don’t really know that much about Colin Jost or have any particularly strong feelings about him, but I always get a kick out of watching him and Pete Davidson on Update so I figured why not give it a go.

Like most memoirs of this type, the book is a collection of stories, mostly funny, about Jost’s intro to comedy and his time at SNL. The essays are good and I laughed out loud at more than one of them, although I was left wondering how one person, who never really does anything dangerous, can injure themselves so many times. He had some interesting insights into what it’s like working at SNL – the long hours, the seemingly endless amount of rejection, and how you always have to be prepared to just roll with the punches (pun intended).

I think jost is a little too fond of Staten Island and maybe needs to be more critical of its flaws and that he should probably get over the google incident, but what stuck with me were his more meaningful essays about his mom and the NYC fire department. As a community of firefighters, many were first responders for 9/11, including Jost’s Mom, and I really appreciated his thoughtful essay on what that was like for him and his family. I’m a sucker for men who openly love their moms (hello Trevor Noah), so I really liked this essay.

Beyond that I don’t have a whole lot to say. Jost alludes at the end that he may soon be moving on from SNL and I would agree with his assessment that after 15 years, it’s probably time. I’m interested to see what else he’ll do next. There’s just one thing in this book he’s wrong about; Aidy Bryant. She is the best cast member.

Son of a Critch

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Author: Mark Critch
Genres: Memoir, Humour
Pub. date: Oct. 2018 (read Jun. 2018 on Audible)

I went on a little bit of a Newfoundland binge back in June, listening to both Son of Critch and Rick Mercer Final Report back to back on Audible. For my blog readers, Newfoundland is an island located on the far east coast of Canada. It was the last province to join Canada and its influence from the English and Irish have left the island with a very distinct sense of culture and place. I grew up in Newfoundland and so it has a huge place in my heart.

Mark Critch is a Canadian and Newfoundland comedian well known from the Canadian comedy show, This Hour Has 22 Minutes. I consider him a bit of a Newfoundland icon and always get a kick out of his comedy. I was drawn to the audiobook because it’s narrated by Mark and I was looking for something light to read during the pandemic.

If you’re looking for an account of how Mark got into comedy, you won’t find it here, likewise if you’re looking for a highly accurate memoir of his childhood, I don’t really think this is it. But if you’re looking to have a laugh at some truly wonderful storytelling, then you’ve found what you’re looking for. As the name suggests, “a childish Newfoundland memoir”, the book is heavily focused on Mark’s childhood. He talks a lot about growing up on Kenmount Road before it was the booming metropolis that we know today and the struggles he had with always getting into mischief at Catholic school and with his highly Catholic (and nosey) mother.

St. John’s did away with it’s heavily religious school system when I was in the third grade, so I couldn’t really relate, but I definitely think it captured a lot of what it was like growing up in St. John’s at that time and a lot of what it’s quintessentially like growing up in Newfoundland in general. I questioned the authenticity of a lot of Mark’s stories because he was so young in many of them that I doubted he could actually recall very much from that time, but every story made me laugh out loud, so I was able to overlook it.

I suspect there’s a bit more in this book for Newfoundlanders to enjoy than your average reader, but there’s so much hilarity packed in here that I do think anyone can enjoy! I would still love to read another memoir about how Mark got into comedy and all the cool people he’s worked with over the years, but I can wait. Definitely recommend this if you want a laugh.

Dear Girls

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Ali Wong
Genres: Memoir, Humour
Pub. date: Oct. 2019 (read Nov. 2019 on Audible)

I don’t think I even knew who Ali Wong was a year ago, but suddenly she is everywhere and she is hilarious. I think I first heard of her when I read this buzzfeed article about how awesome her glasses are and how she finds the frames by converting sunglasses into glasses. I was like, this woman sounds cool, so I watched both her comedy specials on Netflix when I was home sick one day and thought they were hilarious. I made my husband watch Always Be My Maybe with me, and while I had some issues with the movie, I still enjoyed Ali’s acting and comedy.

If you’ve seen her comedy specials, then you’ll probably like this book. She recycles some of the same themes, but it just serves in making you feel like she’s actually a friend of yours. It’s like, “oh yeah, I remember her mentioning that before”, but she’ll take it off on a new tangent and you just feel like you’re getting to know her a little better. Dear Girls is funny, but it’s also meaningful. It’s crafted as a series of letters to her two daughters. It still has Ali’s signature brand of crassness, but overall, its less crass then some of her comedy and she talks about a lot of relevant things.

Some of the book is advice for her daughters on funny things that have happened to her, while other advice is really thoughtful points on comedy and what it means to be a visible female minority. I liked that she talked about how frustrating it is to have your success pinned on your race and gender, but also about how annoying it is to also constantly be asked about it. She will never be “just another comic” and will always be defined and asked about what it’s like to be female and Asian and a comic.

I was dying to request a copy of this from Netgalley, but I decided to hold off so that I could listen to the audiobook instead. The fact that it’s narrated by Ali makes it so much better. She does cycle around a lot of the same ideas though, so I was glad she didn’t overdo it by making the book too long. Personally, I thought she hit a great balance and would definitely recommend both her audiobook and Netflix comedy specials!

Educated

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Tara Westover
Genres: Memoir, Non-Fiction
Pub. date: Feb. 2018 (read Nov. 2019 on Audible)

Educated was our book club pick for November and I really wanted to listen to it on audiobook, but it took me forever to finish my previous audiobook (The Amber Spyglass), so I was a bit late in starting it and had to really rush through it.

Fortunately it had a good narrator and it was a compelling story, so it wasn’t too hard to listen to and push through. I’ve heard nothing but good things about this book since it came out, but I’m not a big non-fiction reader and it sounded a lot like The Glass Castle to me, so I never bothered to pick it up. I was excited to finally read it, but I do have to say that after finishing it, despite some differences, it did still remind me a lot of The Glass Castle.

Don’t get me wrong, I really liked The Glass Castle and I really liked Educated, but it was really hard not to compare the two and at times I definitely got some serious deju-vu from Westover’s story. While Tara Westover and Jeannette Walls did have different stories, there were still a lot of similarities. They both grew up in families with fathers suffering from mental health issues who are very much paranoid about the government and as a result, decide to mostly live off the grid – taking advantage of their families by keeping them isolated and somewhat in the dark to what the outside world is really like.

However, Mormonism plays a very large role in Westover’s story and was one of the more fascinating parts of the book for me. I haven’t had much exposure to the Mormon religion and it was really interesting to learn about Mormon beliefs, how they were interpreted by Tara’s father, and how those beliefs oppressed and impacted Tara throughout her childhood, formative years, and even into adulthood.

Despite the title, Westover’s story was about so much more than just education. In retrospect, her education was probably the part that interested me the least. I like how she examines at the end of the book the role her education played in opening up her eyes and allowing her to escape the cycle of violence in her family, but overall I don’t think most people read this book to learn about her education.

That said, how Tara managed to get into college and obtain a PhD from Cambridge with no formal childhood education is still a mystery to me and something that seemed to be glossed over in the book. I really struggled to believe she would be so successful with so little support (emotional and financial) and I did wonder if we were really getting the full story at times. She says she was bad at math and that she really only ever read the book of Mormon, so its a bit mystifying to me how she managed to get through multiple degrees, much less excel at them. But obviously their family life taught the children something because 3 of the 7 Westover’s went on to earn doctorates.

So while I did like this book and Westover’s writing, I was neither shocked by the content, nor totally convinced of the story. What I do admire though, is that Westover actually wrote and published this account of her family. The entire book really is about her struggle to both emancipate herself from her family, but still be loved and accepted by them. She sacrifices a lot in order to gain an education and even though she recognizes the harmful and destructive tendencies of her family members, she still yearns to be one of them.

It was really interesting to read about the long term impacts that Mormonism had on her life and how long it took her to recognize the ways in which she has been oppressed and ignorant. I say her book is admirable because the very act of committing to paper this story of her family and then sharing it with the world pretty much guarantees her continued exile from her family. The ending is very nebulous because her story really is not over yet and her family story is still unresolved. But I admire her for recognizing the harmful parts of her family’s behaviour and deciding to expose them when her family refused to listen to her or to change. Her father has obvious issues, but her recount of her brother Shawn was much more chilling. Good for her for finally saying, enough is enough, if you won’t change, I will expose you.

I still gave it 4 stars, but I wasn’t quite as enamoured with it as the rest of the world seems to be. It’s well written and thought provoking and it works well as a memoir, I just found it a bit of a challenge to suspend my disbelief when it actually came to her education. That said, Tara was gaslighted by her family for years and as a result her memories have been tampered with and are likely unreliable. But I guess it just makes her story all the more inspirational and like I said, at its heart, I don’t really think this was a book about education. Still a 4 star read for me despite some of these criticisms.