“It was as if being his daughter had blinded her uniquely, as if anyone else — everyone — had seen and known him in a way she could not.”
Nate Dern, a comedian who has spent time at UCB and Funny or Die, wrote this compilation that is a blend of memoir and fictional, sometimes absurdist, pieces. I’m not gonna lie, it took me a while to warm up to this collection, in the same way it takes an audience member to warm up to a stand up comedian spewing jokes on a stage. Before stumbling across this book, I had never heard of Nate Dern and wasn’t familiar with any of his comedy bits. This also meant that his humor wasn’t easy for me to access initially because I was completely unfamiliar with his style. Reading Not Quite a Genius was the opposite of my experience reading Simon Rich’s The Last Girlfriend on Earth, a collection that is somewhat similar in style, but from a writer I was familiar with and thus was more easily able to dive into his kookier bits that may have been inaccessible otherwise. In the same way that an audience member must be warmed up at a comedy gig, it took me a few chapters to habituate to the writer’s humor and style, but once I did, I laughed to myself multiple times.
For me, the collection picked up about a third of the way through… or that was how many pages it took to successfully warm me up to Dern’s humor. I thought the funniest bits were when Dern shifted more into humorous memoir territory (the first chapter is brilliant as he details his gawky young adult years). While the fictional bits were less my speed, I giggled several times while reading the “Bruce Lee Novelty Plate” and “How Many Farts Measure a Life” chapters.
That said, some of the funny bits just didn’t come across for me in print at all. In my head, I could imagine the fictional scenarios having more ~umph~ if I were hearing them performed live, but I experienced a disconnect while I was reading (specifically the chapter “I Like All Types of Music and My Sense of Humor Is So Random”). That’s the thing about these types of compilations: while this chapter was a swing and a miss in print for me, it might be a grand slam for a different reader. For any reader seeking a comedic collection, there will be a piece in Not Quite a Genius that is a grand slam for you. If you’re already a fan of Dern’s comedy, you’ll probably witness several grand slams.
Not Quite a Genius will be released at physical and digital U.S. bookstores on August 8, 2017!
Disclaimer: I was provided with a digital copy of this book for free from Simon & Schuster via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and have not been influenced by Simon & Schuster or NetGalley.
“I think of the four of us as subject to the same flash flood, all senselessly bailing water into our own boats in hopes the others might end up on dry land.” (p. 122)“Our views of love — what we want from it, what we think it should feel like — are rooted in the context of our lives.” (p. 72)“But now I understand that there are always two breakups: the public one and the private one. Both are real, but one is sensible and the other is ugly. Too ugly to share in cafés. Too ugly, I sometimes think, to even write.” (p. 134)“I didn’t know what was real and what was scripted.” (p. 16)“Nothing was funny, really, but we couldn’t stop laughing the manic laughter of people who know it will be a while before they hear themselves laugh again.” (p. 40)
Before reading this book, I had never heard of Jen Kirkman, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying her memoir that largely details navigating a tricky break up (is there ever one that isn’t tricky?), the pressure to get married, the related pressure to stay married, the peer pressure to have certain feelings about divorce, and living life in your late 30s/early 40s as a single lady.
Kirkman is serious about her career and she doesn’t apologize for it, despite the many pleas that others have for her to focus more on being in a serious relationship regardless of her emotional state or physical state (as in is she in a single place long enough to see someone regularly?). Despite all of her experiences not overlapping with my current pursuits, I found her insights and stories comforting to read, highlighting a few lines here and there that resonate with an icky feeling I’ve previously experienced.
This is an easy, funny read that you’ll probably gobble up after two lounge sessions by a pool/body of water/large bath tub over the summer. I found myself laughing out loud a few times, which may be because all of Kirkman’s material was brand new to me. Another review stated that many of the jokes and stories were duplicates of her stand up jokes, but I wouldn’t have been able to notice that and I found them enjoyable.
I have to share my favorite piece of advice from Kirkman’s book that anyone dating someone seriously absolutely needs to know: if you question why you’re in a specific relationship multiple times or if you can’t actually see a future with someone, END THE RELATIONSHIP!! Now!! Do not keep coasting along until you continue your questioning as you make out with your partner in front of all of your loved ones on your wedding day! END THE RELATIONSHIP! Save yourself, your partner, and pretty much everyone who interacts with you the meaningless pain by getting out of that thing quickly and moving onto something that you’re sure about doing, whether that be another human, your career, or literally anything else that might excite you.
The only part that I really didn’t like about the book was the essay where Kirkman details when she believed that she may have contracted Hepatitis C (Chapter 14, “Doctors without Boundaries”). It felt shame-y toward people who actually have STIs and the whole chapter should’ve been edited out of the memoir.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a physical copy of this book for free from Simon & Schuster in advance of the paperback release. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and have not been influenced by Simon & Schuster.