Tuesday, May 29, 2018

AMATEUR HOUR :: Kimberly Harrington

A version of this review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness and is reprinted here with permission. This book was also one of my Nerdy Special List picks for May. Go see all of the May recommendations here.

You don't need to be a mother (or foulmouthed) to enjoy Amateur Hour: Motherhood in Essays and Swear Words. A self-described "Real Piece of Work," freelance creative director Kimberly Harrington lets her yearning, indignation, exhaustion and attitude fly in pieces that span far beyond motherhood.

Harrington has a caustic, intelligent wit, and her humor pieces, generally laced with biting sarcasm or satire, are exceedingly entertaining. Yet her talent shines most when that wit merely eases the sting of deeper candor about challenging subjects--grief, divorce, the desire to be seen--particularly when jarringly juxtaposed with a comic listicle.

Harrington evokes a swaggering Hell yes! vibe with her take on "If Mama Ain't Happy, Ain't Nobody Happy" ("If Mama ain't yelling and instead is very, very singsongy, ain't nobody getting out of this one alive"), then pulls the emotional rug out with the devastation of a first-pregnancy miscarriage in "Tiny Losses." "What we finally saw, as she held the wand still, was a small gray jelly bean resting on its side at the bottom of my uterus, like a stone in an empty bucket."

The collection varies widely in form and substance, grounded by Harrington's insight and sincerity. Pinpoint observations communicate an intimacy that compels appreciation regardless of personal experience with the subject matter. One does not have to be a mother to enjoy Harrington's work. If the promise of swear words isn't enough, come for the humanity.

STREET SENSE:  I was so happy Shelf Awareness starred this review to hopefully give Ms. Harrington's work a little extra notice. Her essays are hilarious and often touching, hitting such a variety of subjects (motherhood, marriage, parenting, bodies, bake sales, grief, careers and other perils of adulthood) there really is something for everyone and even those about a subject far from one's own experience is read-worthy. In fact, those were often the ones that grabbed me the most.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE:  Actually, a few one-liners(ish) I loved and portions from a piece on the invisibility of women:

From Your Participation Trophies are Bullshit:  "We are good-jobbing kids right into incompetency."

From If You Love Your Grandparents, Go Visit Them: "The powerless and the vulnerable, forever the canaries of our own morality."

From Dear Stay-at-Home Moms and Working Moms, You're Both Right:  "Of course reducing all of mothering to two opposing sides is such an American thing to do, isn't it? To make it a catfight wrapped in apple pie."

From Ashes to Ashes: "The surgery scars sprinkled across her body marked every time age or disaster tried to take a swipe at her. They did not mark her deficits; they were a tally of her triumphs."

From Hot-Ass Chicks:  Because no one really sees middle-aged women, do they?..So. Pardon me if by the time we are middle-aged and it seems we are not making enough of an effort to be on proper display while not grossing men out with our very existence and teaching our daughters how not to be assaulted and arranging the magazines on our coffee tables just so, pardon me if I don't get a bit down about how it'd be great to just have a tighter neck or a thinner waist. Because I feel like I'm owed something for having juggled all these chain saws for so long, that all that balancing and "on the other hand"-ing should've resulted in some killer core strength right now. That I should be rewarded with just the right amount of visibility.

COVER NERD SAYS: I admit it, I picked this one for the subtitle. Promise me swearing and I'll follow you just about anywhere. There is an art to doing it well, however, and Harrington nails it. This cover is not directly in my wheelhouse, but I recognize it's super well done. The grenade with lethal heart fragments is spot-on. I get the target audience might be primarily women and mothers, but I think that doesn't do the book justice. I wonder if having the grenade a color other than pink might draw more varied sets of eyes. But that's likely just my anti-pink self and overall this cover is a winner.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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