Review: Unqualified by Anna Faris, Chris Pratt (Foreword)

The road that led me down to pick this book up is a funny one and can be mainly credited to one character: Andy Dwyer. So basically, I was in a funk of watching a bunch of Parks and Recreation videos that started off with this hilarious compilation below of Chris Pratt bloopers that had me nearly choking with laughter, while simultaneously wiping away laugh-crying tears.

I inevitably went down a rabbit hole of binge-watching clip after clip of Parks and Rec, and all this to say, I knew something productive would come of it because this whole preface led me to Unqualified by Anna Faris, since I recalled that Chris Pratt wrote the foreword, and after reading his words, I can only say: Andy would approve.

But the funny thing is, I quickly forgot all about the previous noise when I put on Anna’s easygoing narrative-voice on audio (perfectly made for storytelling), which snared me in right away. I immensely enjoyed the window into her whirlwind world.

Her comic memoir and first book, Unqualified, will share Anna’s candid, sympathetic, and entertaining stories of love lost and won. Part memoir, part humorous, unflinching advice from her hit podcast Anna Faris Is Unqualified, the book will reveal Anna’s unique take on how to navigate the bizarre, chaotic, and worthwhile adventure of finding love.

The book showcases an honest firsthand account of despising high school (“The guiding question of my teenage years was simply, How do I survive this time in my life?”), getting rejected from audition roles (the most exciting one to read about was the Friends audition that later led her to a much bigger role in the show), school-grade crushes (“It was that heady rush of young love that has no basis in logic at all.”), marriage, family, sharing her “penchant for digging into other people’s personal lives,” and more on life and all its aspects. I bonded over the many insights shared from Faris.

The biggest compliment I can pay is that I was so into Unqualified that I continued dreaming about in my sleep, granted I stayed up listening till 1 am and slept for only five hours that night, but still. This book reads of truth. Also, I’m glad I decided to listen to this on audio since her soft-spoken, calming voice has this subtle raspy factor to it that I came to appreciate.

Other essays that stood out for me were about:

  • going to her high school reunion after twenty years and having her 90s romantic movie-worthy ending… just read this passage:

 “I’d been at the reunion for all of one hour, but it was long enough for me to feel like I was in high school again, and to be ready to get out. I mean, Green Day was pumping through the loudspeakers. Chris drove down and picked me up, as we’d planned, and it did feel a bit like the lion rescuing the lioness from the hyenas. It was amazing to watch the reaction as he came through the door. I still felt like headgear-wearing, awkward Anna Faris, but when Chris came in, he was all movie star. There was a collective gasp as he whisked me away and, yes, that was fairly satisfying, I guess. I’m human, after all.”

  • her utterly moving chapter about her son, Jack Pratt. This was the most telling chapter in her memoir where I was continually taken off guard, and I applaud Anna Faris for her ineffable strength and endurance. I felt all the things she described, from the terror of feeling her water break two months before she was due, to the boredom through her bed rest, and then the inevitable scenario of going into labor… All these high-intensity moments stayed with me long after the last page.
  • unfolding the history behind Chris’s fascination with learning to french braid, which had piqued my interest last year when I saw this:

“My mom loves to French braid my hair. It’s a weird thing she does even now that I’m an adult. But she always starts a little too high and I end up looking like a sister wife. Three or four years ago, Chris was watching her do a French braid and wanted to learn. He already knew how to do a regular braid because his sister taught him when they were kids, and he’s into knots in general, from being an outdoorsy guy.”

  • And last but not least, what’s a memoir with sharing some blast from the past photos?

Unqualified 1-- bookspoils“(I’m the short one).”Unqualified 2-- bookspoilsUnqualified 3-- bookspoilsUnqualified 4-- bookspoils

My knowledge of Anna Faris before reading this could be narrowed down to her character Cindy Campbell in Scary Movie (which I definitely shouldn’t have watched at the age that I did), but after reading Unqualified, I feel like I’ve got a more solid perspective on her as a person, which is all I could’ve asked for. Bottom line: I love a good spot-on memoir I can be swept into.


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Review: Pumpkinflowers by Matti Friedman

It was one small hilltop in a small, unnamed war in the late 1990s, but it would send out ripples still felt worldwide today. The hill, in Lebanon, was called the Pumpkin; flowers was the military code word for “casualties.” Award-winning writer Matti Friedman re-creates the harrowing experience of a band of young soldiers–the author among them–charged with holding this remote outpost, a task that changed them forever and foreshadowed the unwinnable conflicts the United States would soon confront in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

“The idea was not “death before dishonor,” “no surrender,” or anything like that but rather “let’s get through this.”

Pumpkinflowers brought out the most physical and emotional reactions I’ve had ever since I started reading books. I was so awash in feelings that I tried to desperately shut down, but with every few pages, especially in part one, my eyes welled with tears that would just fall with the blink of an eye.

The traumatic war events exist in such a brief moment on the page but linger for so long in my mind, sometimes so intensely that I found myself fighting off silent tears long after the book was closed.

My eyes felt utterly exhausted and dried out by the time I reached the second part of the book. This feeling of complete mental and physical fatigue was something I’d only experience before with A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. Having tragic event upon tragic event upon unprecedented loss, with no warning or breather in between, left me depleted.

There is one moment that stands out, however, where the author tries to lighten the text. That moment when a soldier named Jonah stood guard in the turret:

“…and by this time Jonah was spooked, but he kept reciting the poem as he moved his head back and forth, and that was when he heard a rustle next to the tank and saw the shape scuttling on the ground, and it was real, not his imagination, and his heart stopped and started racing at the same moment, like three heart attacks all at once, and it was a plastic bag. That is a real Pumpkin story, and I wanted to tell it here because I realize that isn’t how most of my stories end, but it is how most ended in real life.”

It’s true, most stories shared in this book didn’t end on an equal note. Which brings to mind the start of part 1 “about a series of incidents beginning in 1994 at the Israeli army outpost we called the Pumpkin, seen through the eyes of a soldier, Avi…”

The author, Matti Friedman, made the clever writing decision to not introduce Avi’s last name till the very end so that we couldn’t Google it prematurely and find out his ending. As soon as the last name was revealed, though, I had chills go down my spine. Since we spent nearly half the book with Avi, I naturally grew attached to him through his thoughts shared from the letters written during his military service.

“Everything here is a kind of illusion. Opposite the place where I am sitting, on a hill, is a beautiful villa with a large garden and red shingles. It’s a pastoral scene. But if you look closely, you see the bullet holes all over the house, and you see that the garden is neglected because no one dares live there, in such dangerous proximity to the outpost.
It’s very hard for me to put my finger precisely on the feeling I have when I’m here. It’s a kind of sadness mixed with longing so deep that sometimes it’s painful. And fear, of course. It’s strange, but the fear doesn’t bother me at all. It’s part of the sadness and the longing. It’s with me all the time, but not directly, kind of sneaking up on me. That’s how it appears when you’re alone. I mean not when you’re literally alone, but when I step away for a second and think about home, about my friends, or about a love story I haven’t started yet.”

“I have the feeling that everything is disintegrating, everything is falling, everything I know is changing inexorably and all of the principles of life are collapsing. I need to find some kind of definition for how to proceed, otherwise I don’t think I’ll be able to find any kind of way forward at all.”

My tears are struggling to fall, but I feel them. And so are his words anchored to my core. This irreplaceable individual will soar my mind for days on end.

I wish I had the ability to effectively capture his presence on the page, but I don’t. There’s only this:

“There is a special language used to describe our dead soldiers, a language that makes them all sound the same, not just because you can’t say anything bad but because most were so young that there isn’t much to say at all. What they really were was potential. So in this language they are always serious students, or mischievous ones, and loving siblings, and good at basketball, and there was a funny thing they did once on a class trip, and in the army they always helped their friends. And they are, forever, “soldiers,” though most thought they were just doing that for a while before their real life resumed. It is said in their honor that they were prepared to sacrifice themselves for the rest of us, but of course they weren’t, not most—they just thought it wouldn’t happen to them, and the lucky ones weren’t given time to realize they were wrong.”

By this point, I had lost the fight and was earnestly crying. Just the mere act of writing about this makes me ache. How can someone possibly live through the emotionally scarring horrors they witnessed and be expected to “move on” and return to life as they knew it?

Like, this passage that keeps resurfacing in my mind of Avi’s father, Yossi, who served in the Fighting Pioneer Youth himself:

“There is nothing military about Yossi. He’s a smiling man despite everything, compact like Avi. One day he was back from Suez in his kitchen with Avi’s mother, Raya, and older brother, an infant at the time. The baby’s bottle thumped to the floor, and the young family contemplated Yossi flat on his stomach with his hands covering his head.”

I can hear the fall in my head.

I felt like everything that would follow afterward in the book wouldn’t be applicable to the emotional turmoil that is part one. Plus, having read it from midnight till 3am wasn’t the brightest decision.

It hit me so devastatingly hard because this read was the first time I had a personal look into the lives of IDF soldiers while in combat, coming from someone who went through what he was describing and researching.

Avi Ofner hasn’t left my mind since, and I talk about him to anyone willing to listen. My thoughts just keep going back to how one minute he’s there sharing his thoughts and fears on the page, and the next he’s slipped out of our grasp into the abyss. It was hard to wrap my frantically upset mind around; it still is.Pumpkinflowers 1-- bookspoils

Reading then about Harel, the sole survivor from his platoon and company of seventy-three was all-encompassing.

“Once, in a television interview, Harel was asked how he did it—how he went back to the army after what happened. He looked at the interviewer for a moment. Here was a chance for an expression of ideology or faith, a love of country, all of those generations of Jews looking at him, depending on him not to give up. In the fighting in Jerusalem in 1967 some of the soldiers claim they felt King David himself pushing them through the alleyways. How did Harel go back? There might have been a flicker of disdain in his eyes, but otherwise he betrayed no emotion. “On the bus,” he said. It is one of the great lines.”

On that spot-on note, I think I’ll depart my review with saying that though this was a heavy book to digest, I feel like it was a must-read for me to understand.

“May their memory be a blessing.”


Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Pumpkinflowers, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

Review: El Deafo by Cece Bell

“Our differences are our superpowers.”

Starting and ending the day with a good read will never grow tired on me.El Deafo 6-- bookspoilsStarting at a new school is scary, even more so with a giant hearing aid strapped to your chest! At her old school, everyone in Cece’s class was deaf. Here she is different. She is sure the kids are staring at the Phonic Ear, the powerful aid that will help her hear her teacher. Too bad it also seems certain to repel potential friends.

This funny perceptive graphic novel memoir about growing up hearing impaired is also an unforgettable book about growing up, and all the super and super embarrassing moments along the way.

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El Deafo is filled with all the upheavals and self-questioning of Cece Bell’s early childhood, from experiencing crushes, pushy “best friends” and loneliness, to making many discoveries about lip-reading, including how it can create many awkward misread situations.

El Deafo 7-- bookspoils

I’d highly recommended this for fans of Wonder by R.J. Palacio. This graphic novel was the perfect blend between funny, realistic, and enlightening to keep me flipping rapidly from page to page.

It’s totally fascinating, and alarming at times to read through what the author went through in her school education, from dealing with “well-meaning” yet completely ignorant folks coming up and asking straight up rude questions to her face, to describing the many cues to notice to fully understand a conversation piece in real life or on TV.

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And to include a few other noteworthy moments:El Deafo 3-- bookspoils

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El Deafo 8-- bookspoilsWow. I feel utterly exposed by the above panel.

El Deafo 9-- bookspoilsThis brought to mind a similar exchange in one of my favorite episodes in Master of None season two.

Overall, I enjoyed this middle-grade graphic novel more than I expected with the months of waiting. So the anticipation to finally read El Deafo paid off quite well. Oh, and just throwing it out there: I’d love to see this story turned into a movie in the near future!


Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying El Deafo, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!