On Meh-Moirs

For the Staff Reading Challenge I keep talking about, I had to read a book in the “humor” genre. For genres I wasn’t familiar with, I tried to stick with suggestions I had from friends, like I did with Parable of the Sower and The Lies of Locke Lamora. Sometimes I went the popular route, as with The Fault in Our Stars and a crappy Gillian Flynn novel (which, in the interest of time will have to stand in as my mystery instead of the Dorothy Sayers novels I wanted to read, DAMN AND BLAST!).

I wasn’t entirely sure what that meant for a book to be in the “humor” genre. Sure, I had frequented the shelf in my local Borders or Barnes and Noble as a teen, but a lot of those were straight-up parodies of things like travel guides. And I’d already done the audiobook of Bossypants. So I literally went to my handy-dandy 800s shelf and picked up a tiny volume with an 817 call number (Dewey Decimal for “Satire and Humor“) called I Suck At Girls by Justin Halpern, the mind behind the apparently popular Shit My Dad Says (which I’ve never read).

I will say as an avid feminist, at the very least Justin Halpern’s approach isn’t too terribly offensive. He’s not one of the famed “nice guys“—most of his problems aren’t really with women in general but with his own lack of confidence navigating the world of sex and romance. Parts of it were relatable. Most of it read like a romantic comedy and I hate romantic comedies.

But it also just wasn’t very funny. I chuckled from time to time, but the jokes were immediately forgotten. I mean, the dad was funny kind of. But overall it was heartwarming. If it’s going to be a memoir about a romantic history, I probably won’t enjoy it unless it’s there is true, total, cringe-inspiring humiliation. Halpern wasn’t humilated enough for me to care about his happy ending (in which case, good for him, I suppose). But I do give him a lot of credit for eventually maturing and not being a total asshole about women. Even his dad, who seems firmly ensconced in some kind of macho ideal from another age, isn’t that big of an asshole about women. Or maybe I’m blind to mild misogyny after living through the deluge of congressional bullshit with regards to women’s rights.

This book actually reminded me of another book I read last year: Quiet Please: Dispatches from a Public Librarian. Along with I Suck at Girls, this book falls into the category of what I call “Meh-moirs.” A Meh-moir is pretty much what it sounds like: a memoir that’s kind of just “meh.” You read it, you carved another notch in your GoodReads bedpost, and you’ll probably forget you ever read it. Meh-moirs are not really that compelling. In my experience, a lot of the “meh” element seems to come from the author trying to take a humorous approach and just not cutting it. But I’ve read very few memoirs in general and they usually feed a need for tragedy porn within me. Ones I remember reading include Prozac Nation, Girl, InterruptedJesus Land. Ones I remember liking are Every Day by the Sun: A Memoir of the Faulkners of Mississippi and Moments of Being by Virginia Woolf (if that counts).

What makes a good memoir? Unfortunately, I think you need kind of a hook to get people interested. I got Quiet Please when I was checking out other books on librarianship as a potential career path. Life as a public librarian should have interested me, but the execution just didn’t cut it and it tried unsuccessfully to be funny. Maybe it’s that it’s harder to make someone laugh than to make them sad or disgusted? But then again, I remember reading Running with Scissors as a teenager and I kind of wanted to just run the book through with scissors. And Bossypants was pretty good.

So…I don’t know. It might just not be my genre. Or it might be that I should have just gone with David Sedaris or something.


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