Posts Tagged ‘humor’

Hyperbole and a Half

Hyperbole and a half


This is a book I wrote. Because I wrote it, I had to figure out what to put on the back cover to explain what it is. I tried to write a long, third-person summary that would imply how great the book is and also sound vaguely authoritative — like maybe someone who isn’t me wrote it — but I soon discovered that I’m not sneaky enough to pull it off convincingly. 

– Blurb on back cover of Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened (2013) by Allie Brosh.

Hyperbole and a Half is probably surely the best thing to come out of MS Paint. I didn’t even know you could actually put MS Paint to use, let alone develop content for the ‘funniest site‘ or ‘most humorous weblog‘.  And if I were an aspiring writer/cartoonist/graphic novelist, MS Paint would not even make my list of “tools to use”. I’ve been reading a lot of graphic work these past few years. I even discovered Osamu Tezuka, and started an as of now incomplete Buddha collection. Tezuka, who has been called the god of Manga, produced work that can qualify as sublime. Reading Brosh’s raw MS Paint caricatures of herself and her dogs, right after browsing through Tezuka’s work taught me one thing: art does not have to sophisticated to be good or great; crude can be brilliant. Of course, it would not be fair to either Tezuka or Brosh to compare their works with each other’s. Other than the use of illustrations, there is nothing, really, that they have in common.

Brosh, for instance, relies as much on her prolific writing skills as she does on her simple (not!), unrefined line drawings (that my pre-schooler found oh-so fascinating – “what IS that thing?”, he kept asking). Brosh also has the singular talent to convert the mundane, the important, and the nothings into a page of giggles.

The two ‘stories’ I found the most funny, and laughed the hardest for, are “The Party” and “Dinosaur (The Goose Story)“.  The second one in particular touched a nerve – I am the victim of a goose attack myself. I do not recall with relish or pride the time when a daddy goose flew several yards to hiss and spit at me. Recollecting my pathetic sputterings of “Hey! No!” before I ran in a random direction does not do good things for my self-worth. It didn’t end too badly though – while my kindly neighbors prepared to launch their own attacks, armed with heavy driftwood sticks and black shawls, to save my hysterical self, the goose decided to land a few inches from my head and waddle back to its brood. Apparently, this is typical goose behavior – geese never wander too far from their offspring, even when they are being mean. I was guilty of trying to take a picture of his day old goslings, though. In my defense though, goslings are cute, I was a good distance away from the family when I tried to take the pictures, and I did stop when I got the sense that daddy didn’t appreciate it.

The point of that little anecdote was not to one-up Brosh (her story is funnier, and she is way funnier), but only to point out that I share her goose-love and I was able to relate to her terror.

Brosh also writes (and draws) about depression, and uses the same stick figures and very little else  to talk about how debilitating her depression was, and difficult it is for “normal” people to understand what is going on, and how difficult it is for depressed people to explain how they are feeling, or even to conceal their true feelings from aforementioned “normal” people.

And then there are stories that I confess I didn’t fully understand or find very funny. Perhaps, my humor IQ is not very well developed.

Whether you want to spent a few hours reading some side-splitting stories that feature some mean stick figures, or if you are looking to read, laugh and ponder, Brosh might have written just the book for you.

Plus, if you own dogs, or are attracted to dog stories that are the opposite of warm and fuzzy, then you have no excuses not to read the book. She really does have a “simple dog” and a “helper dog”. If you are intrigued, run to your library or head over to her site.


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Remember when iconic, fictional Carrie Bradshaw decides to pay Big’s ex a visit? When Carrie discovers that Barbara is part of a children’s book publishing unit, she famously makes up a story, about dear Little Cathy.

Barbara: What makes Little Cathy special?

Carrie: Well, she’s got these magic cigarettes….Little Cathy and her magic cigarettes. Whenever she lights up, she can go anywhere in the whole wide world…Arabia, New Jersey…

Barbara: You want to write a children’s book about smoking?

Carrie: It’s a children’s book for adults.

Barbara: You’re outrageous. I love it!

Jeff Kinney has probably without doubt succeeded where Carrie failed. Wimpy kid, Greg Heffley is a hit, among the kids.

I saw my first Wimpy Kid book in an eight year old’s book shelf. He was a collector and was looking forward to the release of the latest book in the series. I spent a few seconds flipping through the book and decided the format looked interesting. I was also curious about eight year olds’ reading preferences (the parent in me speaking). And so when I saw a rare Wimpy Kid book lurking on the bookshelves of the local library, I considered myself fortunate that it was not on hold for some kid, and checked it out right away. I happen to like sardonic humor, and all the cynicism and sarcasm was not totally lost on me. Middle school, high school or even college, tend not to be the shiniest years for many adults, and (for some) it can perhaps be funny reminiscing about all the fun times when some of us were pimply, gauche adolescents trying desperately to be cool (or not to be uncool).

While I found the book funny, funny enough that I would consider reading another book in the series, I also felt uncomfortable that this was being marketed as a children’s book. I can’t really put my finger on it – there is nothing that screams ‘inappropriate’ to me, but somehow an adult’s recollection of middle school misery, funny as it may be, may not necessarily be suitable for middle schoolers. I can imagine that many kids would ‘identify’ with Greg – who doesn’t like to read ‘classics’ like Little Women, likes to spend most of his time either playing video games or sleeping, is socially awkward, is beginning to find the opposite sex attractive, who is lazy and doesn’t like to eat his vegetables. In other words, he is not particularly likeable. He, however, does seem to be wise beyond his years (not in a very good way) and has a dry sense of humor that is perhaps somewhat unusual for kids his age (or not?).

I found out the reason Mom took us to the water park today: It was half price for families.

I don’t believe that protagonists have to be particularly pleasant – in fact wicked can be spectacularly funny. I also don’t believe that all books have to dole out life lessons. But I am an adult.

I understand that my memories of being a child are from over a decade ago, and that reading and other entertainment preferences for children have since then evolved. But I am not sure I want my child to appreciate this kind of dry humor so early in life – it seems that it would be tantamount to losing one’s childhood. I would be very sad indeed if children these days bid a premature farewell to childhood even before they hit their tenth birthdays. Though the book does deal with real feelings that many of us go through: wanting to be popular, being aware of what one has and what one does not have, wanting to go up against parental authority, feeling misunderstood; I am not sure if the book would really help a child deal with these feelings, other than reinforce the idea that unpleasantness and laziness can be cool.

On the other hand, if I was a kid growing up today, I’m sure I would feel that the adult in me was being unjustifiably paranoid. After all, the book is funny.

The series is certainly a good candidate for summer reading for young adults (I am still not sure it is suitable for children), especially if they are not a big fan of the Reading is Fun club. They might not read their Little Women, but they’ll gladly read the Diary.

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