REVIEW: ‘Let’s Pretend This Never Happened’ – Jenny Lawson

Let's Pretend This Never Happened Book Cover Let's Pretend This Never Happened
Jenny Lawson

When Jenny Lawson was little, all she ever wanted was to fit in. That dream was cut short by her fantastically unbalanced father and a morbidly eccentric childhood. It did, however, open up an opportunity for Lawson to find the humour in the strange shame-spiral that is her life, and we are all the better for it.

In the irreverent Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Lawson’s long-suffering husband and sweet daughter help her uncover the surprising discovery that the most terribly human moments—the ones we want to pretend never happened—are the very same moments that make us the people we are today. For every intellectual misfit who thought they were the only ones to think the things that Lawson dares to say out loud, this is a poignant and hysterical look at the dark, disturbing, yet wonderful moments of our lives.

There’s no doubt that Jenny Lawson has had some hilarious moments in her life – many involving various poultry or wild animals. However, instead of turning these anecdotes into a witty memoir, Lawson decided to write her biography in a jumbled, word-vomit way. For me, that really ruined it.

While I found myself smiling at the ridiculous stories, I more often found myself frustrated with endless run on sentences, and Lawson’s babbling. It seemed to me that she was insecure about where she came from, almost nervous and over-compensating with a false sense of bravado. I also found the ‘Editor’s Notes’ rather trite and forced; they didn’t add anything to the story, being included in the way they were.

From a formatting point of view, I found the footnotes frustrating, as on an e-book they all just show up in a list at the end of the text, so are fairly useless. Perhaps something for authors to keep in mind, given the ebook market is flourishing.

Overall, I think what could have been a very entertaining read was spoiled by a lack of editing, and a decision to write so loosely. I personally hadn’t heard of Lawson before reading this, and can’t say that I’ll go looking for more of her work now. That said, from other reviews I have read, many people seem to enjoy what she has to say… and if you don’t believe me, feel free to find out for yourself. Check it out here or here. If nothing else, there’s an amusing mouse in a cape and with a rapier on the front cover!


Literary-Junkies-ButtonAnd now for this month’s Literary Junkies Question Round-up!

1. What are you reading right now? Tell us about it!

To be honest, I was a little late finishing Let’s Pretend This Never Happened – I only finished it this morning! So I haven’t started anything new yet.

2. What books are on your bedside table at the moment?

There are no books on my bedside table… my mother holds firm that a house isn’t clean unless it looks like nobody lives here (she doesn’t actually say that, but it’s true – our house is crazy tidy). So, no books lying lazily around!

3. Amazon recently released the 100 books to read in a lifetime. What did they miss that you would add?

I think their 100 books are a pretty good start! Having read it, I’ll be adding a few to my list of Books to Read Before I Die – and there are some on my list that Amazon missed!  Check mine out to see what I think are the must-reads.

4. Are there any books being published in 2014 that you are anxiously awaiting?  If so, what are they?

I’m looking forward to The Little Beach Street Bakery – Jenny Colgan, and  the paperback edition of Quintana of Charyn – Melina Marchetta. I’m one of those crazy types that need all of their books to match, so I have to wait for the paperback to be released! Other than these two, there are plenty of books I’m waiting for, but I have no idea when to expect them!

5. Name the next 3 books in your To Be Read List (the ones you will be reading next on your list.)

First on the list is the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth; I have to read them before the movie comes out! Then, I’ll be reading and reviewing Bangkok Transit – Eva Fejos for Fictionella. After that, I think it will possibly be Blind Spot – Terri Persons, but that’s a week or so away yet, so I may have changed my mind by then!

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One L – Scott Turow

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“One L” is the story of Scott Turow’s first year as a law student, at the prestigious Harvard Law School (HLS). When I first picked up this book, with its contemporary looking cover, I was excited to finally find a book about a young person’s experience in law school. It took quite a while (and several references to the Korean war) for me to realize that the book had actually first been published in 1977. I was very surprised; other than outdated cultural references, the content relating to life in law school seemed very relatable. It was at that moment that I realized that the institution of law schools everywhere has remained more or less the same for many, many years.

Turow begins his story by explaining how difficult it is to get into HLS (which, presumably, most law students are already aware of); they take only the best and brightest graduates. On the first day, with so many exceptional people in one room, you may expect personalities to clash. Instead, from Turow’s accounts, most of them seemed to bond in mutual terror of what law school might hold.

At first, I thought that the description of the fear must have been greatly exaggerated. Granted, I spent about a year getting used to ‘how uni worked’ (a luxury afforded to us in our five year degree), but my terror as a first year was never truly warranted. However, at HLS, things seemed to be quite different.

Scott Turow - One LExcerpts from Turow’s journal show that their classes, including contracts, procedure, torts and ethics, covered content that was largely similar to what we have learned. The main difference lay in the method of teaching. Enter the ‘Socratic Method’ (the likes of which you will have seen in informative movies, such as ‘Legally Blonde’). Basically, this is when a teacher stands in front of the class and, instead of lecturing for an hour, raises issues and then fires questions at students. Failure to prepare adequately could mean humiliation at the hands of a teacher. It was this desire never to look stupid that fueled the fear in first year HLS students (‘One L’s).

Failure is repulsive to law students everywhere. The thought of it makes us sick. What would our days in law school be like if there was no choice but to over prepare for every class? Do every page of reading, BEFORE the lecture, and have enough coherent understanding of the material to be able to answer in depth questions about it? Personally, I believe that this method of teaching would encourage us to be better students, and help provide us with the critical and quick thinking skills that lawyers need. That said, there is no doubt that our stress levels would be even higher than they are now.

Other than talking about ‘the fear’, the continuous theme for the book is Turow’s awareness of what law school is making him become; the lack of opportunity to think freely (rather than interpreting and recognizing the thoughts of someone else), the harsh treatment of other students standing in your way, and a general loss of compassion. In Turow’s case, this is illustrated by his barring someone from his study group for not providing their share of the notes. At Flinders, a conversation in the courtyard last week about a law student’s general intolerance for ‘stupid people’ in law school, and ‘even more stupid’ people outside of the law school reflects a similar lack of compassion.

In many respects, HLS in 1977 is no different to Flinders Uni in 2012. There is an immense pressure to do well, which is perpetuated by the students around you. Grades seem paramount, in the desire to graduate with honours. Some students will drive you crazy with their inability to know when to stop asking questions, or when to shut up. Exams drive fear into the calmest of men.

Personally, I don’t know if it’s a good thing that law school has resisted a change in fundamental ideas over the last 35 plus years. Turow agrees, and the afterword added to the most recent publications of this book explains a little more about how law schools have begun to change for the better, and eliminate a fraction of the pressure on students. However, the overarching message of the book seems to be that it is imperative to hold onto your sense of right and wrong. It’s very easy to condemn someone for not ‘meeting the standard’ in law school, just as it is easy to let the fear cripple your passion. Maintaining a sense of balance is what will get you through law school; it is easy to forget that, though the admission process is far less harsh here than at HLS, your peers still needed to meet certain admission requirements that ensure we are reasonably evenly ranked in ability.

I found this book very interesting; previously an English teacher before going to HLS, Turow expresses his emotions clearly throughout the book; his anxiety, frustration, and eventual exasperation about the system show a clear progression of his state of mind during that first year. It may scare potential law students away, but offers a new level of insight, perhaps better suited to those already over the hurdle of admission. Give it a read! You can purchase it here.

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Eat, Memory – Amanda Hesser

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Amanda Hesser - Eat, MemoryA clever idea by Amanda Hesser saw writers across America contributing essays about what food means to them; twenty-six authors shared stories about their favourite food memories. There were Jews cooking the passover meal in Berlin, a brother cooking comfort food for his Autistic sister on their birthday, Indian’s trying their best to introduce their families to the delicate French cuisine, an ode to garlic, and one to gravy, and gripes by those who don’t love food about people forcing them to eat desserts.

The great variety of stories lent itself to a very interesting read. These acclaimed writers, with their wide swath of life experiences, were able to paint pictures that made your mouths water. Not to mention the stories are accompanied by the relevant recipes, so that we can cook similar delicious morsels at home.

Rather than just be a book of people describing a meal that they’ve eaten, this book cleverly is more about the strong emotions that can be attached to something as simple as a meal. That feeling is something everyone can relate to, and reading the anecdotes triggers memories of the reader’s own memorable meals.

This book isn’t very long, and each individual essay only spans a few pages, so it’s a great book for food-lovers with not much time on their hands. Definitely worth a look. You can get a copy here.

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Confessions of a GP – Dr Benjamin Daniels

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Benjamin Daniels - Confessions of a GP

This book wasn’t exactly what I expected. What I had thought would be a fiction-like story encapsulating Dr. Benjamin’s experiences as a doctor in England, turned out to be more like a collection of very short essays, with no connection between them and no logical flow. These essays cover everything from mundane sniffles and imaginary stomach aches, to midnight on-call dramas. Predominantly, however, the stories are of day to day life in General Practice, and the ins and outs of working in the real world of medicine.

That said, most of the individual stories were interesting, if only for a better insight into the life of a GP. I did learn more about the workings of the NHS, and was amused by some of the patient anecdotes. I also appreciated his honesty – Dr. Daniels admitted that he’d made mistakes, and wasn’t shy about discussing his frustrations with the medical world. I was glad to see he was honest, instead of tempering his views for the sake of not upsetting anyone.

It wasn’t a bad read, and while I personally am unlikely to re-read it, I would recommend it to young doctors or medical students, as it gives an idea about what the GP life is like (in the United Kingdom, if you want to be specific, but I suspect that patients are the same everywhere!), and might give you a bit of a laugh! Get it cheaply here.

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Almost Perfect – Kelly Denley

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Almost Perfect is Kelly Denley’s inspirational story of how she took her super-sized family on an Australia-wide journey to bring them closer together, so that they were better equipped to deal with the trials and tribulations that the world was throwing at them.

Kelly Denley - Almost PerfectGrowing up, Kelly Denley had dreamed of the perfect family, and of being the perfect mum, but as the mother of eight she discovered that almost perfect was actually just perfect enough.

A full-time wife and mother since the age of 17, by 31 Kelly Denley has lost sight of who she truly is. Postnatal depression takes its toll on Kelly, her father is given just a year to live, her husband is retrenched, one daughter is hospitalised and another on antidepressants and, in a final frightening development, her eldest boy, who suffers from Asperger’s, threatens suicide. Distraught, Kelly blames herself and knows that everything has to change. Concerned about her children’s school problems and behaviour, Kelly takes dramatic action, putting her university dream on hold so the family can travel Australia for a year in the hope that the experience will draw them closer together.

How Kelly tackles both the joy and pain that lie in wait, from discovering the beauty in nature she’d always been too busy to see and mastering the art of home-schooling in a tent, to nearly drowning in a flooded river and more heartache over her children, makes Almost Perfect an inspiring, moving, yet often hilarious rollercoaster ride of a memoir.

Denley not only conquered year 11 and 12 as a mature age student* so that she could get into university, but she did it with eight kids (two of whom had disabilities). After facing that challenge, and then having to face seeing her kids struggle at school when people couldn’t handle their differences, Denley set her sights higher. To save her family from falling apart, she took them on a year long camping trip around the gorgeous sights and sounds of Australia. Eight kids, two cars, one trailer. Home schooling, family arguments, financial crisis. It was by no means an easy year for the Denley’s, but the rewards that they reaped made it more than worth it.

*Check out this article for a little more information on Denley’s return to high school as a 33yr old woman with eight kids*

Denley tells her story without pretension. In every page, her love for her family is clear. The reader empathises with her battle with her weight, and cheers as she finally sheds her insulation. You can’t help but die a little inside reading about the struggle of her two eldest boys, suffering from Aspergers – the eldest of whom doesn’t even make it on their trip.

While the writing wasn’t always smooth or polished, it was the story that captivated me. Reading about the challenges that this family overcame is strengthening. Without the trip, who knows where the Denley’s would be. With it, they became a tight-knit family unit, dragging their feet to return to their old ‘normality’. Overcoming so many obstacles, the Denley story is an inspiration to us all; families should come before the rat race. Taking time out to get to know and connect with the most important people in one’s life is a paramount goal. The Denley family should be congratulated on their monumental achievements.

This book was hard to rate in a way. Denley wasn’t a polished writer as such, but her story was compelling. It was the story of an underdog, fighting for her family, and herself, in a world that doesn’t always want to accept the outsider. It was a story of triumph.

This book is a must read for anyone who wants to have a little hope, or to any mother who is looking for a way to create the kind of family that every parent dreams about; close, happy and memorable (you can find it here). I wonder, after this huge step, where the Denley’s could go from here…

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