Thursday, September 17, 2009

Review: Hell is Other Parents & Special Offer

Summary: I read No Exit in my early twenties, and I remember thinking hell might very well be other people, okay, sure, but under what far-fetched conditions would anyone ever actually be trapped forever in the company of strangers with no sleep or means of escape?

Then I became a parent.

From Deborah Copaken Kogan, the acclaimed author of the national bestseller Shutterbabe, comes this edgy, insightful, and sidesplitting memoir about surviving in the trenches of modern parenting.

Kogan writes situation comedy in the style of David Sedaris and Spalding Gray with a dash of Erma-Bombeck-on-a-Vespa: wry, acutely observed, and often hilarious true tales, in which the narrator is as culpable as any character. In these eleven linked pieces, Kogan and her husband are almost always broke while working full-time and raising three children in New York City, one of the most expensive and competitive cities in the world.

In one episode, exhausted from a particularly difficult childbirth, Kogan finds herself sharing a hospital room with a foul-mouthed teen mother and her partying posse. In another, Kogan manages to crawl her way to her own emergency appendectomy, which inconveniently strikes the same week her infant’s babysitter is away on vacation, her adolescents are off from school, her New York Times editor needs his edit, and the whole family catches the flu. And in the book’s capper essay, she drives twelve hours, solo, with a screaming toddler in a rent-a-car in a futile effort to catch a glimpse of her eldest child in his summer camp play.

Yes, Shutterbabe is all grown up and slightly worse for the wear, but her clear-eyed vision while under fire has remained intact: You’ve never read funnier war stories. -- Voice

When I received HELL IS OTHER PARENTS AND OTHER TALES OF MATERNAL COMBUSTION by Deborah Copaken Kogan a few weeks ago, the first thing I noticed was the cover -- I thought it was adorable. (Of course, I am a little partial to pink.) Since the book is a collection of essays about being a mother, I wanted to wait until just the right time to read it -- when I needed a little pick-me-up or a few laughs. Well, my husband went out of town and my kids were fighting like crazy, so I decided it was the perfect time. I only had a few hours of peace and quiet that day, so I spent one afternoon just reading these entertaining (and insightful) essays.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that HELL IS OTHER PARENTS was listed on the Entertainment Weekly Must List at Number 4. I always pay close attention to the EW Must List, and I think they were spot on with this recommendation. HELL IS OTHER PARENTS is a very funny, yet also very touching, look at being a mother. Ms. Kogan writes about so many universal themes of motherhood that I think all women who are moms (or have moms) will appreciate her insights into family, kids, and other parents.

One of the first essays in the book which I found to be positively hilarious (and oh so true) tells about the author's experience with one of those helicopter parents (a parent who hovers over his/her children.) At the park, another child's father basically tells Ms. Kogan that she needs to stop her young daughter from climbing up a large rock. As most moms will tell you, they don't need a stranger telling them how to take care of their kids. In a later story, Ms. Kogan talks about a mother from her daughter's school who becomes way too involved in her own daughter's relationships. As sad as the story is, it's an all true look at parents in today's society.

As is the case with any collection of essays, there were definitely some that I appreciated and related to more than others. While most of the stories did touch on being a mom, I thought there were a few that kind of went off on some tangents. I actually found myself really enjoying the essays where the author discussed her family, and not really loving the ones about her life before kids. I guess that's because of where I am in my life right now. Others who read this book might find that they like the essays about her college life and her past boyfriends, but I wanted more information about her husband and children.

I will give a huge amount of credit to Ms. Kogan for her honesty. She shows not only the wonderful things about being a mom, but she is also brutally honest about telling things like they are. Whether that be about the difficulties of being a mom, about balancing work and family, about affording to bring up a family in New York City, or even about the strife in her personal life, the author is refreshingly candid about everything. I think it's her honesty that makes this book so real. Of course, her ability to laugh at herself and others makes this book very entertaining as well!

And, now for the Special Offer: Thanks to the folks at Hyperion and Voice, I have three of these adorable "Hell is Other Parents" tee-shirts to giveaway. I absolutely love this shirt and think it's definitely good for a few laughs! To win one of these tees, all you have to do is buy HELL IS OTHER PARENTS! Be one of the first three people to e-mail me at with a copy of your receipt, and you will receive this adorable tee pictured above. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. or Canada mailing addresses only; and I will accept receipts until October 1st!


lilly said...

I'm not very crazy about essays in general but I think I'll go for this one. I need some laughs right about now and I'm also a mom worrying constantly if I am doing the right thing so I think this would be a good remedy for the both.

Beth F said...

Super review. I have just added this to my list of good gifts. I have a friend who could have used this book when her kids were young. I like the idea that the book is essays -- busy parents can read one at a time.

Please don't enter me in the giveaway.

bermudaonion said...

The book sounds like so much fun! I've experienced many helicopter parents through the years.

S. Krishna said...

I wasn't sure about this one because I don't have kids, but I think I'll be one of those who actually enjoys the essays about her pre-kids days more!

Jonita said...

I'm definitely adding this one to my wishlist- as the mom to three boys who alternately show me what love is and drive me crazy, I'm sure that I could get into this. Especially on the crazy days. Great review!

Florinda said...

I'm absolutely going to read this one. I liked Shutterbabe, so I may find the pre-kids stories more appealing than you did :-), but having been a parent for 25 years, I've seen lots of hellish parents. Hopefully, I've rarely been one...

Thanks for the great review!