One of the best books I’ve read this year.
Let’s Pretend This Never Happened is funny, at least to my own humour schema. I’m aware that some people will not find this book funny, and that their reactions will vary from a grumpy, “Hmph” to wide-eyed sense of shock to “I’m grabbing my torch and pitchfork to burn this”. I’m the one writing this review, though, and unlike DVD commentary, the views and opinions expressed herein entirely reflect my views.
I first started following the Bloggess on Twitter last year, after someone linked to her post about Beyoncé the Metal Chicken. (That post is a chapter in the book, so congratulations on the free sample. Seriously though, read that post and some of her blog; it will give you a good idea whether this book is for you.) Anyone who asks Wil Wheaton for a picture of him collating papers is someone whose writing I need to read. The Bloggess is a constant source of humour, whimsy, and improbable anecdotes. So when I heard she had a “mostly true memoir” coming out, I knew I would need to buy at least one copy.
I ended up buying two, because in my infinite wisdom I knew this book would be my Mother’s Day gift this year.
Normally I can read somewhat inconspicuously in a crowd or in a social situation where people don’t normally read, such as at lunch or a small party. This was difficult to do with Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, because I laughed out loud at almost every single page. I have a very loud, distinctive laugh. I inhale when I laugh instead of exhale, so I sound like a hyperventilating howler monkey. Or a very upset dog. My laughter usually results in other people laughing (with me and at me), so I think that’s a good thing. But in this case it meant I stopped reading after page 4 on Wednesday evening because I didn’t want to wake my dad. I had to restrain myself as much as I could on Thursday while reading this during my dinner break at work, for the walls between the kitchen and the front desk are not that thick.
In fact, I was so taken by this book that I did something I almost never do and inflicted it on groups of my friends on two separate occasions. Because, honestly, who doesn’t want to hear a man read aloud, deadpan, sentences like, “If someone asked me to pick out my own vagina’s mug shot out of a lineup of vaginas, I’d be helpless. And probably concerned about what exactly my vagina had been doing that constituted a need for its own mug shot”? I’m not just endorsing this book; I’m evangelizing it. This is a book my friends need to read, and I am more than happy to read it to them.
Being funny is difficult. I know this because people have told me, on occasion, I am funny, and it’s usually in response to something I said spontaneously rather than something I said with the intention of being witty. There is a fine line between sounding witty and sounding stupid, just as there is a fine line between genius and madness. Nothing is worse than reading a “humourous” book that is trying too hard. For every Let’s Pretend This Never Happened there are hundreds of memoirs that try to be funny and just aren’t. (But this review is not about them.)
I don’t know why Let’s Pretend This Never Happened escapes that fate. If I did, then I suspect I would use this knowledge to make a lot of money. As it stands, I think there’s just something that feels natural about the way Lawson writes. Although, as the subtitle notes, some of these accounts are fictionalized or adjusted for truthiness, they are ultimately drawn from the best source of inspiration for absurdity: real life. While I do not envy Lawson’s circumstances or experiences, some of which sound pretty inconvenient rather than enviable, I do admire the unadulterated joy, the uncut enthusiasm for living, that suffuses her accounts of those experiences. If you get your arm stuck up a cow’s vagina in high school, then you will be traumatized for life, but at least you can turn it into a funny story.
That’s probably why this book speaks to me. I try my best to be whimsical. That is to say, I try to do random or absurd things that we tend to be trained out of doing as we enter adulthood. It’s part of my essential philosophy of being who I want to be instead of who others think I should be; there’s nothing wrong with being responsible, safe, and mature … but that doesn’t mean you have to be boring. Decorum be damned, I have snowball fights in the winter and wear socks and sandals in the summer! And I will keep doing these things, at least until global warming causes snow to go extinct here.
So it’s heartening to encounter someone else who follows such a philosophy, albeit to an even more public and more spectacular degree. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened inspires, variously, feelings of elation, apprehension, terror, relief, and incredulity. Lawson grew up confronted by a menagerie of animals bobcats, “jumbo quail” (actually turkeys), and raccoons. Those are just the living ones and don’t include the taxidermied creations of her father, such as Stanley the Magical Squirrel. From this … charmed … childhood to her fifteen years in human resources to her fifteen years of marriage (poor Victor), Lawson has an abundance of incredible episodes to share. As she notes throughout the book, some of the stories that sound the least believable are the most factual (TVTropes). (The book has photos to prove it.) Humour books can sometimes feel like too much dessert. This book, however, is a full meal: interspersed with her humour, Lawson includes some fairly serious and significant events in her life. Sharing these stories takes courage too. The Internet can be a harsh, judgemental environment.
The overwhelming emotion I’m feeling, though, is joy. Joy mixed with a helping of satisfaction. It’s as simple as that: Let’s Pretend This Never Happened is just really fun to read. My laughter is testament enough to that fact. If you like the sound of the Bloggess’ humour, do yourself a favour and read this book. Or I just might put a giant metal chicken on your doorstep.