Irreverence Entry #1: Born Awkward…Just Like Everyone Else

Irreverence Entry#1: “Born to be Awkward,” a photo/comedy book, by Mike Bender and Doug Chernack

borntobeFrom the authors who brought you Awkward Family Photos, Awkward Family Postcards, Awkward Family Holiday Photos, and (yes!) Awkward Family Pet Photos comes a new addition: “Born to Be Awkward.” If you liked any of the variety of Awkward Family photography mentioned above, you won’t be disappointed with the new arrival, as it follows in the same format and invocation of our intrigue with looking at photos that remind us of our own awkward families. But this time…there are babies.

It’s a short “read” of mostly pictures with small captions, and I breezed through it in about 30 minutes during some quality family time in which my brother and his girlfriend watched football, and my dad phubbed us all as he checked the Facebook feed.

“Born to be Awkward” is composed of the best of Awkward Family Photos of the wee little ones, babies, spawn, etc. And who doesn’t love babies? Well, actually quite a few people…but who doesn’t love pictures of babies looking terrified, being distressed, and generally failing hard at being a small human? Right! That’s more like it!

Why do we enjoy looking at awfully composed photos of families that we don’t know? Why do we laugh when we see parents in Winnie the Pooh and Eeyore costumery with their progeny in the middle of traumatic childhood scaring photographic evidence? Why will we scroll for hours through AwkwardFamilyPhotos.com to see children screaming on the laps of Donnie Darko-esque Easter Bunnies or glamour shots that remind us painfully of an era where our shame paled in comparison with the size of our teased hair?

Photos themselves capture our essence at any given moment in time. Even a bad photo, selfie, or glamour shot is still a record, a documentation, of us. Everyone has heard the idea that photographs steal a piece of our soul, and this is true at the most basic level, because photographs are, undeniably, an impression of us that will most likely (especially in the digital age) survive our physical bodies.

Photos also allow us to see ourselves through a different eye than that of the mirror. Sometimes we glimpse ourselves in a way we have never considered before. In this way, photos reveal a part of ourselves that is otherwise inaccessible.

More to the point though, why are the Awkward Family photo book series such a hit? My theory is that in addition to photos providing proof of our existence, and allowing us perspective, photos (of the nature in the Awkward books especially) allow us a shared experience with humankind on a larger scale.

In some capacity or another, we all have families. And our families sometimes do things that make us groan, or laugh, or gasp, or any other manner of reaction. Having photographic record that these emotions extend beyond ourselves and are part of the larger human condition is a relief and a fun way to relate to humans for even the most antisocial of us out there.

To say it another way, family is a lot like poop.

Stay with me here please….

On Facebook the other day, I was commenting on Burger King’s Halloween Whopper (that monstrous meat-thing with the black bun) and how it turns your poop a terrifying shade of green. Subsequently, I got a more than average response on this post from friends who could relate to the topic at hand. People were telling me of times they had green poop, or how they liked to study poop for health concerns, or other foods that turned poop colors. In short, everyone poops and everyone has a family. It’s a common ground on which we can usually form a minimalist human connection. This is the connection that forms the bridge of small talk that leads to the ground where we become friends, lovers, etc. Relatable moments within family groups (and poop) brings us closer together as a species.

Anyways…the photos that I could relate to in “Born to Be Awkward” were the ones that I enjoyed the most. It’s a little known fact that sometimes newborn babies are not very good looking. They take a few days to sort of “pink up” and adjust to the conditions outside of mom. I was definitely one of these unattractive newborns, with my wayward punk rock assemblage of black hair, my arms covered with rolls of fat like the Michelin Tire mascot, and beady, souless eyes that give me the shivers even to this day. Seeing some of the other bewildered and frazzled babies in this book make me feel better about being a late bloomer.

Comedically speaking, it’s not that hard to get a laugh out of me. The pictures of toddlers in mid-freefall, hovering inches above the ground because they were squireling around when the cameraman was adjusting, and are about to pay the price, are gold. And “Born to be Awkward” provides plenty of these within.

There’s some sibling shots I can definitely relate to. Namely the ones where the older sister is pushing the brother out of the shot or clamping a hand over his mouth, eyes, all airways, etc. Oh yeah, I totally did that. And the re-creation shots with side by side photos of the childhood pose and the present day subject in the same pose are good for a chuckle.

What I considered a big negative of this book was the last chapter; 11 pages that contain no photos whatsoever, but rather glossy photostock pages of photo frames where you can chronicle photos of “My Awkward Baby.”

Look, if I’m going to pay full retail price of $15 for this book, I do not want 11 essentially blank pages to include the product of my reproduction skills (baby) with this lot of clown babies that have been offered up for the amusement and scorn of the entire world. Those photos of my own (hypothetical) child are sacred, and to be kept within the photo album and away from the harsh, laughing world. These photos are for my family and I to look upon and fondly share the inside jokes, and flaws we have grown up with and taken an entire childhood to make peace with. These photos….these photos are OUR AWKWARD.

We’ll probably pull them out years later when the girlfriend/boyfriend comes over to the house though. I mean…it’s only fair. Because some family traditions are worth relating.

File Under Awkard in the thesaurus: amateurish, rude, stiff, all thumbs, artless, blundering, bulky, bumbling, bungling, butterfingers, coarse, floundering, gawky, graceless, green, having two left feet, having two left hangs, incompetent, inept, inexpert, klutzy, lumbering, maladroit, oafish, stumbling, uncouth, uncoordinated, unfit, ungainly, ungraceful, unhandy, unpolished, unrefined, unskilled.

I received and reviewed a complementary copy of this book as part of the Blogging For Books program.

This is the first entry in a new blog effort called Irreverent Thesaurus. Please visit and follow irreverentthesaurus.wordpress.com for more.

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Another Bleak and Violent Future in Teen Fiction

red

Another Bleak and Violent Future in Teen Fiction

a book review on

Red Queen By Victoria Aveyard 

Teen literature has always tended to err on the angsty side. And I love that. Sometimes you just need a good, miserable wallow in things being not what they should.

Back in my day, growing up with Potter and Bella Swan, things would get dark and lives would be in danger, but the landscape was fairly navigable from deep trauma until you were too far in the series to care about saving yourself heartache when these characters disappeared. Now…welcome to a brave new world, where every other teen fiction book is part of a series and the first book usually hits hard with death, destruction, family massacre and dystopian visions of how much our future is going to suck.

A book like Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard doesn’t stand out in the current world of teen fiction because it follows the formula they’ve all come to mimic (and to great success). There’s a teen heroine (sometimes a male, but less and less common) and she’s different. She loves her family and best male friend, and will do whatever it takes to save them from evil government/monarchy/monster mayhem. Also, it’s the future and the world is way messed up…kinda unlivable, a totally changed landscape. The differences to make the work unique with Red Queen are best summed up with an analysis  from GoodReads reviewer Rachel Carver who writes: “Red Queen is Game of Thrones with Katniss as the Mockingjay with X-Men…”

So nothing is new.

But does that mean that Red Queen is a “bad” book; not worth reading? Thankfully, no. Red Queen was a page-turner, written well, made intriguing with fun and terrifying characters, and told with a strong, admirable female narrator at the helm. I didn’t mind that it fused a lot of popular themes and story lines into one narrative. It was fun. It was also pretty traumatic.

Red Queen doesn’t pull any punches. Our main character, Mare Barrow, lives in a gritty future world on the bottom of the social totem pole, and when she’s given the chance to ascend into the ranks of hierarchy things get bloody and vicious. I’m not one to censure literature, and so if a teen has the capability to read this book and wants to, then go for it. But it reads like an adult work to me. I’m a Tarantino fan, and I was cringing at some of the blood lust.

Mayhaps, we should blame it on the changing society and violence you see just in a local newscast. Either way, Red Queen may be a captivating book, but it’s not a “nice” read.

I’ll be very interested to see what Aveyard does for the rest of the books in this series. Keeping up the momentum of this first book is going to be tricky, but she’s paved a good ground to establishing mystery and doubtful loyalties. Total kudos for making the romance that is so frequent in teen fiction more of a backdrop here, and not letting it dominate story-line or character action. Plus(!), Aveyard is just 23 years old. A work of this quality is accomplishment for any age, but that youthful element is nice to see.

Personally, I’d recommend it…but with my own “Parental Advisory” sticker in the description.

4-out-of-5-stars1

Dear Luke, We Need to Talk. Darth…and other pop culture correspondences

This blog is a review of my recent read “Dear Luke We Need to Talk, Darth…and other pop culture correspondences.” I recieved this book free of charge through a nifty little Web site called Blogging For Books. While I didn’t pay for this book, I did choose it from a selection of titles. I disclose this in the interest of full disclosure for any bias this may predispose an author to.

 Dear Luke is a recent publication (still on our new in paperback table at the bookstore) by author John Moe, host of Wits and McSweeney’s contributor. This book is a humorous look at all things pop culture from Star Wars to Friends to Harry Potter. Moe does a good job of throwing in something that I imagine almost anyone can relate to. Part of the fun is in deciphering what piece of pop culture he is going to reference next.

The book is almost 300 pages of brief communication from favorite characters like Mickey Mouse, the shark from Jaws, Kurt Cobain, Dorthy of Oz, Bill Cosby’s sweater collection, and more and then more. Looking at that list though, it’s actually a list of not-so-favorite pop culture icons that Moe speaks for in Dear Luke. No aspect of popular media feels neglected though. With lots of references to music, movies, sports, TV, and even politics, there’s a chuckle here for almost anyone. I feel like I kept up with most of the references, but I did have a couple go by me. I’ve never seen Breaking Bad or the X-Files and so those were more of just a nod of acknowledgement on my part. 

I was not a fan of the “Rejected Super Bowl Half-Time Show Proposals” that were scattered throughout the book ever 5 to 10 pages. It covered the history of super bowl half-time shows, but it seemed like a thin stretch on humor. Then again, I’m not a sports fan or a fan of the half-time shows, so perhaps these sections just weren’t for me. 

I went through as I read and dog-eared all the pages where things that were particularly clever and/or funny stood out to me. My count of marked pages in total came to eight. For a 300 page book, eight instances of entertainment is pretty good. It’s not a spectacular count, but it’s not a total wash either. The book reads almost like a parody movie on pop culture, a popcorn flick, something good to see from Red Box on a rainy day. It’s a standup routine, and it’s effective for a few laughs. I think, that probably being the purpose of the book, it succeeded in this.

My favorite of the comedy vignettes included one from the management of “The Hotel California,” Axl Rose’s manager critiquing his song lyrics, Kurt Cobain writing to the board of Teen Spirit deoderant, the Walking Dead online forum for walkers, a CIA letter about special threat Barney the Dinosaur, and the backstory of the ghosts from Pac Man. Moe did a good job in most of the references to musical pop culture and the mainstays of pop culture. I think the struggle came to some of the less well established pop topics.

I could see this being a book I would buy my dad for father’s day or for a guy friend. For some reason, it doesn’t seem like something I’d reccomend to a female friend. Not that I think that women wouldn’t enjoy the references, it just seemed like something maybe an adolescent boy would get the most kicks out of. This book is very current in covering the trends of what’s popular now or things that have a timeless sense of humor to them. Unfortunately, I think this book will fall off into obsurity in a year or so because it is so current and it dates itself in a big way.

Bottom line: If you see this book in a used bookstore for a couple of bucks, pick it up for a relaxing, light read. Set your expectations low, have fun, and you are good to go.