The Humor Code: A Book Review April 9, 2014Posted by Onely in book review, Reviews.
Tags: Joel Warner, Peter McGraw, Simon and Schuster, The Humor Code
1 comment so far
Copious Readers, welcome to the second installment in our new series Things That Don’t Have Much To Do With Being Single. Marketing managers at Simon and Schuster kindly provided us with a review copy of The Humor Code–A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny and asked that we write about it on Onely. At first glance, we thought, “Hey, this has nothing to do with singles’ rights!” But we really, really wanted a free book. So we said sure, we’d review it. Plus, we rationalized, single people like to laugh, right?
McGraw, Peter and Joel Warner. The Humor Code–A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny. Simon and Schuster. New York. 2014.
Two guys. 19 experiments. Five continents. 91,000 miles. And a book that will forever change the way you think about humor.
That’s the publisher’s summary. Here’s mine:
An intrepid sweater-vest-wearing university professor (Pete) looking for the grand unified theory of humor and a jaded journalist looking for a fluff story (Joel) quickly find themselves, if not over their heads, at least frighteningly up to their nostrils in a flood of humor, as they try to observe what makes people in different cultures laugh and why. A lot of the laughter they encounter is fun, some is dirty, some is mean, some is unintelligible, some is even dangerous. They make some assessments based on science, such as when they look at various gender bias studies (verdict: no, Adam Corrolla, men are not funnier than women). The authors also form theories based on interpersonal interaction, such as when they compare penis sizes with Japanese actors-slash-game show participants.
The Humor Code has not one, but two, storylines. First, there’s the travelogue, intertwined with expository prose analyzing the results of their adventures. Second, there’s Pete’s struggle to become a standup comic–or at least to develop a standup routine that, based on what he’s learned about humor, cannot fail to entertain. He appears on stage several times, each instance in a sweater vest. I won’t give away the end result, except to say that he gets better with practice.
The Humor Code is, appropriately and necessarily, funny. But the whole time I was reading I kept thinking, A book about what makes me laugh is making me laugh. A book about what makes me laugh is making me laugh. It was a very fractal feeling–not unpleasant, but rather like little meta fingers massaging my brain.
Our heroes go in search of Tanzanians who remember the contagious laughter outbreak, omuneepo. They examine headlines in the satirical newspaper The Onion published right after 9/11 to learn how laughter offsets tragedy (for example, “September 11 Hijackers Surprised to Find Themselves in Hell”). They meet with some of the Danish cartoonists who drew the famous and infamous cartoons of the prophet Muhammad that caused so much uproar around the world.
Speaking of which, here’s one for your next cocktail party: many of the cartoons didn’t even feature the prophet Muhammad; the vast majority of people protesting or defending them hadn’t even seen the drawings; and–this tidbit should be brought out after the canapes when people are well into their martinis and mojitos–the one cartoonist who did draw an actual prophet Muhammad with an actually offensive bomb in his turban was later in his home with a five-year-old daughter of a friend, when presumably a non-fan of his cartoon beat down the door with an ax and chased the cartoonist into his panic room–leaving the ax man alone with the little girl. She may or may not have drawn cartoons of Muhammad at some point in her Crayon career, but fortunately, the ax man hadn’t seen any and left her alone.
This book is full of cocktail party fodder, but it dives deeper than that too. Essentially, when it comes to humor, we humans are more united than divided.
Tags: David Bedrick, Oprah and Dr. Phil, prejudice against mental illness, singles blog, singlism, Talking Back to Dr. Phil
A love-based psychology promotes social justice, whereas mainstream psychology treats the difficulties of individuals in a vacuum –David Bedrick, J.D.
Copious Readers, Onely has been unhappy with Dr. Phil for a very long time, because he has counseled single people to embrace themselves and their hobbies and be happy, so that they can find a partner. Instead of just being happy, period.
So we were glad to have the opportunity to interview David Bedrick, author of Talking Back to Dr. Phil: Alternatives to Mainstream Psychology. (Belly Song Press, 2013). He proposes a “love-based psychology” that goes beyond the normative (restrictive) ideals that our society (as evidenced by Dr. Phil) puts upon people.
Bedrick’s approach parallels Onely’s efforts to dismantle normative prejudices against unmarried people. We disagree with the idea that couples (whether socially coupled or married) are “better” than single people, or more deserving of government protection.
We came up with some questions for Bedrick that we hope will flesh out the similarities in our missions. In a series of posts, we will tackle one or two questions at a time.
Are people trying to “Normalize” your way of living to their (more common) way of living?
Don’t React to their behavior–Act Out their behaviour!
Onely: Dr. Bedrick, you say in your introduction to Talking Back to Dr. Phil (xvii):
The norms inherent in mainstream psychology’s diagnoses essentially reflect the majority’s beliefs, values, and viewpoints regarding psychological health. As such, it is a psychology often in service of normalizing people, seeking to help them act more reasonably and get along better with others even when the accomodation is contrary to their natures and life paths.
Do you agree that the normalization performed by mainstream psychology parallels the normalization of romantic relationships that occurs in our culture on a daily basis? If so, how do you think this impacts people who are “single at heart” and have no desire to seek a committed-romantic partner (which would be a life path contrary to the norm)?
Bedrick: Absolutely! Most blatantly in the way mainstream psychology promotes stereotypic gender roles that not only marginalize GLBT relationships but all relationships.
Mainstream culture encourages, celebrates, and bestows privileges on people who partner, especially those who partner in a traditional marriage. People who use their energy to focus on their own creativity, ambitions, healing, happiness, or non-traditional paths are looked at as if something is wrong with them. The internalization of this experience, a kind of shame, can leave people feeling depressed, angry, or both. This shaming can pressure people to look for a partner even if that is not truly their way.
Onely: How would you apply a love-based-psychology to someone who fears being single because of family pressure, or (Western) cultural pressure? (more…)
Tags: barbara mcnally, Eat Pray Love, Ireland travel, Jamaica travel, singles blog, singles memoir, unbridled
McNally, Barbara. Unbridled. A Memoir. Balboa Press, 2013.
I totally want to go to Ireland. I totally want to make sandwiches for underprivileged girls. I totally do not want to take burlesque dancing lessons. I totally want to re-read Unbridled.
What it’s about:
Essentially, the book is about a woman, our narrator, who tries in self-destructive ways to get out of her suburban marriage-with-kids life. No offense to the suburbs, or marriage, or kids, but she feels that somewhere in the whole combo, she lost herself. So she rips herself free into singledom (I won’t tell you how), leaving behind a tangled mess of family and feelings that she regrets but cannot repair, at least not at that time. She embarks on a journey of self-seeking to Ireland and Jamaica which (spoiler alert?) ultimately allows her to return home and reconnect with her daughters. Then she gets semi-naked and dances at a hospital.
Why It’s Less Annoying than Eat, Pray, Love:
Does story of a quest for personal fulfillment via travel sound familiar? Unless you’ve been living under a literary rock for the past few years, you’ll recognize this book as possibly capitalizing on the whole Eat Pray Love phenomenon. Now, I happen to hate very much on Eat Pray Love, so I was worried that I would be equally annoyed with this book. But no. I read it in three sittings (or lie-ings, if you count the bathtub).
First, McNally isn’t spoiled. She doesn’t have a zillion-dollar book contract to fund her journey. She pays and budgets like one does on a real trip. Second, she isn’t vain. Not once do we hear a man gushing about how beautiful she is (although don’t think that means we don’t see a good deal of carefully wrought sex in the book). Third, she acknowledges that she is leaving behind some serious responsibilities, especially her daughters, and this weighs on her. Her love affair–with a falconer on the grounds of an Irish castle nonetheless–isn’t claustrophobic and the culmination of her journey, as if single is ok as long as in the end you couple up. Rather, McNally leaves her lovely falconer after one day and moves on, not without regrets but also happy to be continuing her journey as a free, single woman. All this is totally opposite of EPL. So we can thank the EPL phenomenon for opening up the market to books that are actually–in my opinion–better in many ways than EPL.
“I held the meat gingerly and stretched my arm out like a branch. A very nervous branch.” (88, on feeding a falcon)
Saving Gracie: Book Review March 24, 2013Posted by Onely in book review, Reviews.
Tags: Jill Teitelman, middle-age mom, Saving Gracie, single mom
Marty was married for 17 years seventeen years, so he’s used to thinking in terms of us. When I say I instead of me, he notices. (173)
This is Onely’s first review of a novel. It’s about singleness–the good, the bad, the self-absorbed ex-husbands. How was the book? Well, it got me through two sick insomniac nights.
Ruth was single for a long time and loved it–she traveled the world, met fascinating people (lots of them men, and lots of those she slept with) and overall relished her freedom. She worked on her writing; she thought, Who would want to be married if they could get published instead? (44)
Then suddenly she reached her early forties and her biological clock kicked in. Late. Too late? Not quite, but its ticking was loud enough to impair her judgment when choosing Jake as her husband.
We here at Onely say that people can (and maybe even should) be happy in their single state–which makes us sound a lot like subatomic particles so let’s call it single-at-heart (“it’s how they live their most authentic life,” says Dr. Bella DePaulo).
I was worried that Ruth would become one of those people who feels desperate and worthless if single. And yeah, she does have some of that, but it’s because she has a son–and single mothers don’t always have the option of living single-at-heart, even if that’s what they really are. If she can’t pick up her son at school, is there someone else who can? (Jake doesn’t count–he only does things with his son when he feels like it.) Or does she have to race across town in a panic?
She dates a bit, hoping for that extra support, if not exactly love. And what she is lucky enough to find is not what she expects, but it’s what we need more of in this world–a support system of close-knit neighbors who can share resources and childcare and food and rides to the hospital. Something to penetrate the walls of the apartments and condos and single-family homes. She meets Grace.
Now, their friendship doesn’t magically create one of these idyllic eco-and-alternative-family communities, but it is tiny, shimmering example of what could be. Grace has two sons and a husband and a relentlessly positive attitude. In many ways she functions as a husband for Ruth, providing platonic emotional support–that continues even during Ruth’s short marriage to another man, Marty. They make a tiny community.
When Grace falls ill, her friends and neighbors–remembering how she had always had a smile for them–rally around her, bringing food and running errands. The community grows bigger. Ruth and Marty split up because Ruth doesn’t love him and has less fear of raising her son alone. But Grace, the pebble that started the pearl, is still sick. Her most intimate care falls on Ruth.
The most fascinating part of the novel for me was hearing Ruth’s thoughts as she tries to figure out what to say to her best friend, her sick friend, who was always so upbeat and remains upbeat despite feeling uncomfortable. Ruth is more of, well, let’s just say she’s more like me, a cautious optimist and realistic pessimist. She analyses every interaction with Grace during her sickness–should she tell her friend a joke? When her friend falls into a rare moment of depression, should Ruth try to pump her up, or should she agree that the situation is frustrating and let the moment of despair sit for a minute, because maybe Grace is sick of optimism? (more…)
Going Solo–With the Rest of Society (a book review) February 28, 2012Posted by Onely in book review.
Tags: Eric Klinenberg, Going Solo, Going solo book review, living alone, rise of single living
Eric Klinenberg. Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone. The Penguin Press, 2012.
I began my exploration of the world’s first singleton societies with an eye for their most dangerous and disturbing features, including selfishness, loneliness, reclusiveness, and the horrors of getting sick or dying alone.
A singlist statement like this one would normally make us here at Onely ululate and tear at our hair. However, it’s hard to fault Eric Klinenberg for his honesty or his preconceived notion of solo living. After all, in 2002 he had just written Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago, a book about the hundreds of people who died in 1995 when the heat index hovered for days in the low 100s. Most of the victims lived alone. Their tragedies informed the CDC’s list of risk factors for heat wave victims:
Living alone, not leaving home daily, lacking access to transportation, being sick or bedridden, not having social contacts nearby, and of course not having an air conditioner.
But in Klinenberg’s new book, he discovered that
. . . singletons have helped revitalize the public life of cities, because they are more likely than those who live with others to spend time with friends and neighbors, to frequent bars, cafes, and restaurants, and to participate in informal social activities as well as civic groups. (230)
Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone examines and celebrates this relatively new social trend. Klinenberg uses the term “singletons” to mean people who live alone, as opposed to “singles”, who may or may not be socially single (eg. unmarried/unpartnered) and who may or may not live alone. We at Onely like this distinction and will be using “singleton” in the same way henceforth on this blog.
In his engaging text sprinkled with statistics, Klinenberg touts the benefits of living alone, tramples stereotypes about the selfish, rotting singleton, and profiles some of the heavy-hitters in the field of singles’ rights, such as the Alternatives to Marriage Project. Yet despite all the praise of this lifestyle, the book never loses sight of the fact that right now, in our current society, living alone is generally only an option for the very privileged–or the very woebetrodden.
The most important parts of this book (but make no mistake, the entire book is important) are those which acknowledge the latter: the poor, frail, ill, and/or isolated folks who die in heat waves (for example). The goal is not to deride them, or the practice of living alone. In fact, by asking How can we prevent underprivileged singletons from succumbing to the dangers of living alone?, Klinenberg is actually saying, Living alone is such a valuable experience, how can we allow more people to have it safely? Or in his own words: (more…)
Single Women: Tell Your Stories to the Camera July 22, 2011Posted by Onely in book review, Great Onely Activities.
Tags: Nika Beamon, single women of color, singles documentary, successful single black women, successful single women
You may be able to take part in the upcoming documentary series Independent Spirit: Successful Women in America Speak Out on the Joys and Pains of Modern Day Single Life.
The producers hope to hear from single women of *all* enthicities: Black, Asian, Latina, White, whatever! If you want to tell them what it’s like being a single woman [legally single or socially single], please contact Nika Beamon at email@example.com, and please include a .jpg photo and a bio, which are needed for the treatment package going to the executive producer.
Photo Credit: 997 Ourem
Hard Core Onelers: Hired Hermits March 11, 2011Posted by Onely in book review, Food for Thought, Great Onelies in History, Reviews.
Tags: hermit, victorian england
Welcome to the latest installment in our series Hard Core Onelers, where we feature people who take independence to new or interesting extremes. Today’s subject: Hired Hermits.
Copious Readers, what would it take for you to become a hermit?
Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. Doubleday, 2010. (Onely recommends: Read this book. It’s amazing.)
For a time [at estates in Victorian England] it was highly fashionable to build a hermitage and install in it a live-in hermit. At Painshill in Surrey, one man signed a contract to live seven years in picturesque seclusion, observing a monastic silence, for 100 pounds a year, but was fired after just three weeks when he was spotted drinking in the local pub.
An estate owner in Lancashire promised 50 pounds a year for life to anyone who would pass seven years in an underground dwelling without cutting his hair or toenails or talking to another person. Someone took up the offer and actually lasted four years before deciding he could take no more; whether he was at least given a partial pension for his efforts is sadly unknown.
Queen Caroline had the architect William Kent build for her a hermitage at Richmond into which she installed a poet named Stephen Duck, but that was not quite a success either, for Duck decided he didn’t like the silence or being looked at by strangers, so he quit.
Copious Readers, would you be a hired hermit? For how long? Under what sort of parameters? Before I’d make my decision, I’d need the answers to a few simple questions:
Do people have to journey through the woods and up a mountain to see me? Am I confined to the cave/cottage or can I frolic in the nearby fields too? Does the public come to watch me do my hermitting? Do I get food delivered or must I rely on my gardening and snare-making skills? Am I allowed to trim my nails and nose hairs?
I thought long and hard and decided I could last at least five years under some combination of these conditions. Time to nap! Time to write! Time to do backbends and tree pose! I would only need just a few meager possessions:
–warm babbling brook running through the cave floor
–some bags of cashews
–memory foam mattress
–$20,000 year stipend (good cat food is expensive)
–make that $60,000 (good cat food is really expensive)
–access to medical care (assuming the doctor makes cave calls)
–visits from my family and friends (depending on the conditions set by the estate owner, these might have to be clandestine, involving parachutes and balaclavas)
Rich estate-owning readers, want to add a touch of whimsy and mystique to your premises? By following the few simple guidelines above, you can have your very own Onely hermit, with crisply groomed nose hairs.
Photo credit: aug.edu
Book Review: Seeking Happily Ever After October 4, 2010Posted by Onely in book review, Reviews.
Michelle Cove. Seeking Happily Ever After–Navigating the Ups and Downs of Being Single Without Losing Your Mind (and Finding Lasting Love Along the Way). Penguin, New York. 2010.
General assessment: A fun bathtub read. Cove writes well, in an accessible style with vivid examples. Singles of different stripes will relate to many of the book’s insights, such as this example of Europe’s progressive singles optic:
“In America, the government taxes the household, whereas in Europe the government taxes the individual. That means many people in the United States who marry get certain benefits and provisions that make marriage a better economic choice” (261).
That said, this book, like all books, has some parts that could be improved. Mostly, the title. (Which is better than saying, “Mostly, the content.”)
I have read most of this book, but not all of it yet. I didn’t have to! I could skip right to the chapter most relevant to me and my personal outlook on romantic relationships, thanks to the fun structure of the book. Cove’s premise is that single women often fall into one of four very broad categories:
I should probably stop here and say that this book is largely written from a hetero female perspective using hetero females as real-life case studies. I would have liked for the title to indicate as much. Our Not-So-Copious single male readers can still find relevant insights in the book–such as when interviewee Cindy says, “We want our partner to be everything. And that’s just impossible! Nobody can be everything!”–but as it is now the title gives the impression that singlehood is such an inherently female obsession that the book’s female slant doesn’t even need to be mentioned.
That issue aside, back to the four categories, which I feel are as accurate as any categories can be and which give a pretty good idea of the span of the book:
–Looking (Eagerly) for Mr. Right
–Experiencing Conflicting Feelings About Being Single
–Changing Love-Life Goals
–Navigating a Marriage-Obsessed Culture (Subtitle: Time-out, people. Who decided this was a race, and what’s the *&*ing rush?)
Each major grouping contains several sub-categories. For example, I fit into the last category, which contains three chapters: The Someday Mom; The Slow and Steady; The Trailblazer. Each starts with a handy Pop Quiz that tells you whether or not the contents is suited for you. Really, they’re mini-questionnaires.
And I adore questionnaires. I love being asked for my opinion. I love the safe, cozy feeling of seeing my answers added up, categorized, and in the end telling me a little bit about me, if only a small corner of myself and if only for an instant. I found out I was a Trailblazer (yay!), by answering the following quiz: (more…)
Cool. Single. CEO. November 19, 2009Posted by Onely in book review, Reviews.
Tags: single CEO, single entrepreneur, single startups
Cool. Single. CEO.
That’s the tag line for a great blog, Single Startups, which profiles companies and products created by single people. I can’t remember how I stumbled upon this blog–maybe one of our regular readers or some blog I read regularly flagged it. In that case, many thanks, long-forgotten flagger!
Here’s how the CEO of Single Startups describes her site:
Single startups is an interview blog designed to explore the lives and businesses of single entrepreneurs. Through personal interviews with CEOS, founders, and serial entrepreneurs, I hope to unlock what makes this special group…well, special.
I often get asked why I choose only to interview single entrepreneurs. A certain intangible quality exists in this determined group and I believe that not every successful business person would be so if they didn’t have a supportive partner waiting in the wings.
Having another person lay out your tie or cook you a hot meal cannot be discounted as being a key factor in start-up success. Those who have the endurance to survive and thrive despite this support are the people I want to meet, and people from whom we can all learn.
I do question whether simply having a partner when starting your own business is an automatic bonus, or whether society trains us to see a partner as such. That same person cooking your hot meal might also be insisting you sit down at the table and eat it at 6 pm, which is when your West coast customers are most likely to be at their desks.
Nonetheless, having a (super) supportive partner to pick up life’s logistical slack (car emissions inspections leap to mind; sigh) certainly would free up a lot of time for you to plan your marketing strategy and tax dodges. I agree that single small business owners–sort of like single parents–should be generally admired and learned from.
In particular, we need to find out what legislative gaps or other institutionalized discrimination they face as single CEOs. For example: Singles pay more in taxes. How does this affect single-owned startups?
And socially, how does being a single businessperson affect interactions with one’s clientele? Do customers look on a single CEO as an independent trailblazer or an unsettled lone wolf? Or neither?
Specifically, are small businessowners similar to politicians, in that they almost have to be married–ideally with children–in order to hold any significant office or achieve significant success? (Lest you think I’m exaggerating–me? exaggerate?–I assure you I have a Powerful Personal Anecdote that illustrates just this point, and I will post it later.)
I would love to see Single Startups pose these questions to the single CEOs profiled in the blog! (Although maybe these issues have been raised and I just haven’t read enough posts to notice.)
Copious Readers, have you owned or do you own your own business, as a single person? Do you know any single CEOs? How much does having a partner contribute to an entrepreneur’s success?
P.S. In order to boost my self-esteem and sense of inner verve, from now on I will sign my name with an exclamation point. Let’s see how this goes down at the office (where I am definitely not the CEO).
(Old-Timey) Pop Culture: Stephen King’s The Shining April 9, 2009Posted by Onely in book review, film review, Pop Culture: Scourge of the Onelys, Reviews, We like. . ..
Tags: isolation, nuclear family, single writer, stanley hotel, stephen king, the shining
My sister and I recently ghost-toured The Stanley Hotel. The building inspired Stephen King‘s The Shining, his classic novel about a classic nuclear family–father, mother, and psychic son–who move to an isolated hotel in the mountains of Colorado to care for it during the snowed-in winter. After our tour, Caroline and I watched the The Shining miniseries, for the thrill of seeing good-looking actor types walk around the same places we commoners had just tread.
While watching, I got to thinking about whether the story is King’s commentary (conscious or not) on the Western world’s view of couplehood (and, by extension, the nuclear family) as the core unit of society, around which our lives should preferably be built. I’m interested to know what our Copious Readership thinks the plot “means”. Here’s what happens when our three fresh-faced heroes (Jack, Wendy, and little Danny) arrive at the hotel in October: (more…)