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All Humor Coverage

Jessi Klein’s second essay collection, I’ll Show Myself Out, finds Klein in her 40s, parenting a toddler and trying to regroup in unfamiliar Los Angeles, a world away from her beloved New York City. “I constantly feel like I’m a leaky raft in open water,” she writes in “Listening to Beyoncé in the Parking Lot of Party City.” It’s a thoughtful essay that laments the changes of midlife and motherhood; it also had me laughing out loud, wishing I could share it with a friend.

Some of Klein’s essays are light—the one about her love for designer Nate Berkus, for instance, or learning to live with her ugly feet—while others dig a little deeper. She builds one essay around the “underwear sandwich,” a contraption postpartum moms wear to cope with bleeding and birth injuries, somehow managing to make fresh, feminist points in the process (and, yes, making me laugh out loud again). These voicey, funny essays give unexpected dimension to familiar topics, such as how widowers remarry faster than widows or that the mommy wine-drinking trend is out of hand.

One of the collection’s themes is anxiety—Klein’s, her partner’s and her child’s—and how it can rear up in the most innocuous-seeming moments. Another is Joseph Campbell’s concept of the hero’s journey, which Klein muses on to marvelous effect throughout the book. She turns the narrative template on its head, positing that pregnancy, birth and early motherhood are full of rigors and pitfalls, as difficult and life-altering as any masculine adventure. “We just feel the guilt of being terrible monsters, ironically, at the exact moments that we actually, as mothers, become the most heroic,” she writes.

Klein, who has produced and written for TV shows such as “Saturday Night Live,” “Inside Amy Schumer” and “Big Mouth,” fills in the picture of a woman at midlife who’s beginning to make sense of it all. This collection is as entertaining and heartfelt, personal and comic as they come.

Jessi Klein’s second essay collection is full of voicey, funny pieces that give unexpected dimension to the familiar topics of motherhood and midlife.

If Gary Janetti’s keenly observed memoir of his formative years, Start Without Me: (I’ll Be There in a Minute), is any indication, he’s always had a sharp eye and a sharper tongue.

That sarcastic sensibility has earned him fame and acclaim as a writer and producer for “Will & Grace” and “Family Guy,” creator of the British sitcom “Vicious” and star of the HBO Max animated show “The Prince.” Now, in this follow-up to 2019’s Do You Mind If I Cancel?, which focused on his career beginnings, the raconteur extraordinaire journeys back to his precocious childhood in 1970s and ’80s Queens, New York.

Those years had many glorious moments for Janetti, and readers will gleefully snort at his hilariously spot-on recollections. In grammar school, “The Carol Burnett Show” provided life-affirming joy. In freshman gym class, he discovered a prodigious talent for and love of square dancing. During his sophomore year, horrified by the prospect of football, he cleverly manipulated the system by spending gym periods with a guidance counselor (and drawing from soap operas to keep her hooked on his imaginary troubles). Always, movies and TV were a balm for his inability to connect with other kids and his fear of people finding out who he really was. “The things I liked, I liked too much. The things I didn’t, all other boys did,” he writes.

Some essays give insight into how things got better for the grown-up Janetti, providing moments of loveliness among the operatic complaining. For example, after a lengthy critique of destination weddings, Janetti reveals with a wink that he married TV personality Brad Goreski on a Caribbean cruise.

Start Without Me is equal parts acid and heart. It’s a collection of sardonically funny stories about a firecracker of a kid who hadn’t yet found his kindred spirits. It’s a series of entertaining tirades about life’s indignities. And it’s an engaging look at the origin story of a man who, despite years of self-doubt, has finally embraced his particular superpowers.

Gary Janetti’s keenly observed, hilarious memoir of his formative years in 1970s and ’80s Queens is equal parts acid and heart.

In How to Be Perfect: The Correct Answer to Every Moral Question (9 hours), Michael Schur, creator of “The Good Place” and co-creator of “Parks and Recreation,” explores philosophical questions about how humans define good character and behavior and how to achieve it. The audiobook is read mostly by the author, whose well-paced, attentive narration keeps his humorous, personality-driven (albeit sometimes meandering) content clear and engaging.

Actors from “The Good Place” comprise the audiobook’s remaining cast, with Kristen Bell, D’Arcy Carden, Ted Danson, William Jackson Harper, Manny Jacinto, Marc Evan Jackson, Jameela Jamil and even philosophy professor Todd May (who had a cameo on the show) bringing distinctive tones, attitudes and comedic gravitas to their performances.

This is a lively audio production for thoughtful readers interested in questions of goodness (“Should I punch my friend in the face for no reason?”), and it’s perfect for listening in both spurts or over a single long stretch. How to Be Perfect turns serious questions into playful thought exercises to aid in making better decisions with less angst.

With guest appearances from the cast of “The Good Place,” this is a lively audio production for thoughtful readers interested in moral dilemmas.

Most people couldn’t proclaim that they’ve concocted “nine of the biggest, boldest, and most world-changing supervillainous schemes” that are “both scientifically accurate and achievable” without inspiring great skepticism. But if anyone’s going to be a reliable source for dastardly plots bolstered by plausible project plans, it’s Ryan North, the bestselling author of How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveler.

As a longtime writer for Marvel and DC comics, the Eisner Award-winner gets paid to come up with heinous and destructive crimes for fictional heroes to foil. In How to Take Over the World: Practical Schemes and Scientific Solutions for the Aspiring Supervillain, North harnesses his expertise as a “trained scientist and professional-villainous-scheme-creator” to craft highly detailed plans for achieving world domination. In “Every Supervillain Needs a Secret Base,” for example, he patiently yet firmly explains why the best place for a base is not inside a volcano. Perhaps the aspiring villain should build a floating lair in the ocean, or venture into the sky? North has analyzed every option, and he’s got recommendations—not to mention budgets, timelines and risk analyses for scenarios ranging from starting your own country to cloning dinosaurs to destroying the internet. The results are archly funny and always thought-provoking.

Clever illustrations by Carly Monardo up the fun factor, and sidebars take deep dives into carbon-capture technology, airspace ownership laws and more. How to Take Over the World is a wild journey that’s sure to leave readers pondering North’s assertion that “once [the world is] understood, it can be directed, it can be controlled, and it can be improved.” Whether they use his advice to achieve supervillainy or to flip the script and save the world is up to them.

If anyone is going to concoct highly detailed, scientifically accurate plans to achieve world domination, it’s Ryan North.

Greg Brennecka is a cosmochemist with a sense of humor and a flair for making complex topics both understandable and entertaining. We asked him to share a little scientific advice for all those who feel inspired to study the stars after reading Impact.

No doubt you get this a lot, but what exactly is a cosmochemist?
Ha, well, most people don’t even ask—probably because they just figure it’s something completely made up. I guess I would properly define cosmochemistry as the study of extraterrestrial materials with the goal of understanding the origin and evolution of our solar system and our cosmic neighborhood. But basically, it’s just looking at stuff not from Earth to learn cool things.

The subtitle of your book is quite memorable: How Rocks From Space Led to Life, Culture, and Donkey Kong. What was your history with Donkey Kong before writing Impact?
To be honest, I am more of a Ms. Pac-Man fan, but I also enjoyed the original Donkey Kong arcade game quite a bit growing up. I also usually choose a Donkey Kong character when racing in Mario Kart because I love throwing bananas all around the course. Please don’t hate me for that.

Your book brims with wit and humor. Have you ever considered stand-up cosmochemist comedy?
If there is a job more made up than “cosmochemist,” it is “stand-up cosmochemist comedian”!

Read our starred review of ‘Impact’ by Greg Brennecka

Many of the concepts in Impact are highly technical and complex, yet you’ve found a way to make them accessible to readers. What’s your secret?
My secret is that I am not that great at discussing things in a technical way! I think it helps that a lot of the questions we ask in geology and meteoritics are straightforward questions, such as “When did this happen?” or “What happened that could make it look like this?” There may be some technical aspects to how we get at the answers, but the questions and goals themselves are usually very relatable to readers of all backgrounds, and I think that makes my job as a writer a lot easier.

Asteroids have been in the news of late, with NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission. What excites you most about it?
One thing to keep in mind with DART: It’s conceivable that we will need to adjust the path of an asteroid to keep it from hitting Earth someday, so making sure we know how to do that is a pretty sound preparation. And I know that “sound preparation” isn’t usually associated with excitement, but I am always very excited by humanity striving to do cool and difficult things, advancing our capabilities.

What’s the most common question about asteroids that you get?
For asteroids specifically, probably whether Earth is going to be hit by one—which probably isn’t a surprise given the popular Hollywood movies on the subject. When it comes to meteorites—the small chunks of asteroids that land on Earth—I sometimes get asked about being hit by one, but also often about what they are worth if you find one. I guess that tells us pretty clearly what motivates people: fear and money.

“Basically, it’s just looking at stuff not from Earth to learn cool things.”

If you could be magically transported to another planet so you could get a better look, which would you choose?
Oooh, that is tough. I would probably be most interested in a planet’s potential ability to harbor life, so it would be hard to argue with Mars. Do moons count? Because if so, probably one of the moons of Jupiter or Saturn, like Europa or Enceladus. There are some potentially habitable exoplanets that are being discovered almost daily now, as well, so some of those would be incredible to check out up close.

If you could go back in time on Earth, what would you want to see most?
Wow. I would probably want to figure out how life got its start on Earth, so I would travel to sometime around 4 billion years ago. If I had a second choice, perhaps Cretaceous age or so when the dinosaurs were cruising around. I wouldn’t last long, but it would be an exciting few minutes!

What has been your most breathtaking experience looking through a telescope?
For me, it probably didn’t even take place while using a telescope. Just lying down and looking at the stars in places without light pollution, I get a real feeling for how vast, diverse and dynamic the cosmos are. It blows me away every time I get the chance.

“I am always very excited by humanity striving to do cool and difficult things.”

Your book combines a love of history with a love of science. Who are some of the writers who have influenced you?
This is an easy one: Bill Bryson. His A Short History of Nearly Everything was an incredibly influential book for me and really got me into learning about the history of science and culture. I reread it in 2017, and the lack of information about meteorites is what inspired me to write Impact. I also really enjoy stuff by Mark Kurlansky (Salt) and Yuval Noah Harari (Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind).

Your book ends with a discussion of some of the most fascinating unanswered questions in space science. What research are you working on now?
My colleagues and I are working on a few different topics mentioned in the book. One is searching for the source of water on Earth. Currently we are doing this using lunar rocks, of all things, but I think we are onto something, so keep an eye on the scientific literature. Secondly, we are working on what I like to call “cosmolocation,” which is studying meteorites to find out where they originally formed in the solar system. Basically, this involves re-creating the solar system’s structure from when it first started—before all the planets formed and moved everything around to where it is now.

There’s a long tradition of amateur astronomers. What advice do you have for someone who wants to start studying the night sky?
This might be a weird answer, but I would let them know that they don’t need to buy that big backyard telescope as a first step. There is so much open-access data available from NASA and other agencies that people can just poke through and make discoveries on their own using data about the surface of Mars or deep space images from space telescopes like Hubble. There is a lot yet to be discovered in those data troves, should one feel like getting involved.

A bona fide meteor master shares the secret behind his accessible, fascinating and funny debut, Impact.

The essay collection Black Nerd Problems (8 hours) presents the opinions of William Evans and Omar Holmon, creators of the website by the same name. The two explore geek culture topics ranging from the frivolous to the serious, from the shifting definition of nerd to deep dives into Black superheroes.

The think pieces in this collection beg to be read aloud, and Evans and Holmon deliver high-energy performances with humor and verve, making this audiobook a real treat for fans of pop culture critique. It won’t surprise anyone to discover that the authors are poets as well, and the conviction behind each of their declarations makes the listener feel like they’re hearing a lively podcast or sitting around a table arguing with friends.

Whether you disagree with their opinions, find them insightful and thought-provoking or are indifferent to the subject matter, you will undoubtedly be entertained by Evans and Holmon’s performance.

The authors of this essay collection perform their audiobook with humor and verve. It’s a real treat for fans of popular culture critique.

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