Dysfunctional Families

“I think a dysfunctional family is any family with more than one person in it.”

Mary Karr (who has a new book out called The Art of Memoir)

Scheduling holiday plans, drawing names for gift exchanges, tracking down a regulation size casserole dish for your squash. All of it’s good family fun, but only in retrospect. If our faces really did freeze that way when we made snotty faces like our moms said, most of us would be walking around with our eyes permanently rolled into the backs of our heads this time of year, from the group texting arguments alone.

But, as the above quote from the wise Mary Karr illustrates, we all have crazy families. You might even be the crazy one in yours! Think about it: that was “a look” your sister gave your mom when you suggested everyone pitch in to buy a water buffalo for a struggling family instead of exchanging gifts (which is totally a thing you can do).

So instead of messaging your brother to complain, but then accidentally messaging the brother you were complaining about, make some hot dip and settle in to the couch with these movies and books about families that are (maybe?) even more dysfunctional than yours. You can also check out last year’s post, It’s All Relative, for how to cope with your specific family issues by…that’s right, reading!



Arcadia by Lauren Groff: If you’ve been on the holds list FOREVER waiting for Groff’s new Fates and Furies, her previous novel about the family that grows from a group of 12 who start a commune in New York in the 1970s ought to hold you over. And if you like it and you want more like it, watch the documentary Surfwise, the documentary of a real life family of surfers who lived in an RV and got weird.

An Almost Perfect Moment by Binnie Kirshenbaum: Every relationship between a teenage girl and her mother is dysfunctional at one point. Do I recommend this book a lot? Whatever, it’s so good and quirky and heartwarming and cringe-worthy. If you’d read it already, I’d stop talking about it. Another great book in this wheelhouse: Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple.

Byron In Love: A Short Daring Life by Edna O’Brien: This biography of the famed poet Lord Byron tends toward the illegal side of dysfunction. I’m talking about incest and drinking wine out of skulls, the latter of which maybe isn’t illegal but frowned upon.

Landline by Rainbow Rowell: If you hate the sound your partner makes when they chew turkey, just imagine that they’re away for the holidays and the only way you can talk to them is on your old landline phone and they will be 22 again. Or just lock yourself in the bathroom and read this excellent book.

ANYTHING by David Sedaris: Sedaris is the king of hilarious and peculiar families. Read it all but ESPECIALLY Holidays on Ice, this time of year. Actually, read it out loud with your own peculiar family.

Family Matters by Selected Shorts: This is an audiobook of feel good short stories, all dealing with “colorful episodes in the lives of families”. It’s read by various authors. My favorite is “The Loudest Voice” by Grace Paley, read by Linda Lavin.

Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews: A friend sold me on this sweet book by telling me it was the Little Miss Sunshine of novels, and she was right because she’s a helluva librarian. A troubled quirky fam on a wild road trip.

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson: Sure your parents do annoying things, but have you ever suspected them of faking their own deaths for some epic performance art? This novel has recently been turned into a film starring Christopher Walken, Nicole Kidman, and Jason Bateman.

The Position by Meg Wolitzer: More embarassing parents! Wolitzer consistently provides premises for her books that are interesting; and I always think she’s not going to be able to keep the momentum, but she always does. This one is about the aftermath of a family whose parents wrote a Joy of Sex type book in the freewheelin’ 70s.



Four Christmases: I tuned into this movie expecting some straight up cheesy hi-jinx, and I got it, but it also hit, like, reeeeal close to home.

Home for the Holidays: This is my favorite FAVORITE holiday movie (tied with It’s A Wonderful Life). Besides my obsession with Holly Hunter mentioned in previous posts, I love this movie because everyone is so annoying and/or maddening in the truest ways. It’s a rare Thanksgiving movie, instead of a Christmas movie. Robert Downey Jr. is amazing and has the best lines. It cracks me up and then I’m always sobbing by the end. GET THIS MOVIE!

Lars and the Real Girl: I’m not positive that my family would react as wholesome-ly if someone brought home a sex doll that they pretended was a real person, but I bet if it was Ryan Gosling, we’d be pretty forgiving. This is a sweet winter cozy flick.

Moonstruck: Mouthy Italian families, love triangle with brothers. On one hand Nicholas Cage, but on the other, CHER!

Parenthood: Not the TV show, but the Steve Martin movie with Keanu Reeves playing pretty much himself and a song about diarrhea that you won’t be able to get out of your head for the next fifteen years.

Royal Tenenbaums: Obvi.

The Station Agent: This is a tender little movie and no one in it is actually family, but they form a familial bond, while each of them deal with loss in their separate lives. Bobby Cannavale is about the cutest thing ever in this film. If him and Holly Hunter would make a film I would probably pass out.

What About Bob: There were other Bill Murray flicks I could have put on this list, but let’s just get to the point. WAB is the choicest. You’ll feel good. You’ll feel great. You’ll feel wonderful after watching this.




12 Things to Talk About on Facebook That are not the Starbucks Cup

Lots of times I come across things that are so brilliant, I’m like, “Why isn’t everyone talking about this all the time???” Then I check my Facebook, positive that everyone else must be thinking of their own amazing things to share. And then I’m sad.

I don’t think that we’re all only interested in Starbucks cups or memes about what a real man is or the “Top 6 Things You Need to Tell Your Daughter or Else She’ll Fail at Life”. But I think maybe we’re busy and there are so many things to talk about that we choose not to choose and share that snarky Kermit the Frog meme instead.

I’ve taken the opportunity to narrow your choices down to 12 things I personally cannot believe we are not talking about. Feel free to use them to start your own conversations. I don’t think any of them will offend your great aunt or your friend from high school, but use your judgment.


1. Popcorn: Why does anyone use microwave popcorn? Is it a secret that you can buy popcorn kernels by the bag for, like, a dollar and that they cook in a pot, just as quickly as they do in your microwave, but taste better? For one dollar, you could make popcorn twice a week for a month. This blows my mind every time I make (my husband make) popcorn. If you are unsure about the popcorn, OMG Barbara Williams has a plethora of suggestions for you in Cornzapoppin.

2. “Like Whoa”: Why did people stop saying that? I used it the other day in a sentence that went, “I am going to eat crunchy tacos like whoa”. It is such a versatile phrase and a pretty sweet Mya music video, and it fell out of use much too quickly.

3. Gilmore Girls is making more shows!!!! Why aren’t we all discussing this? Is Sookie going to come back? Catch up on the original series here.

4. Why hasn’t anyone written a self-help book about how to live better by living like a hobbit? It seems like this would be a bestselling idea. I’ll give you an outline: Live Simple. Live Friendly. Live Hobbit. Chapter 1: Find Your Gandalf, pursuing a mate that challenges you. Chapter 2: Love Yourself, hairy feet and all. Chapter 3: Second breakfast, do it. Pipe-weed. Why not?

5. We have a new book club. It’s ingenious. It’s The Book Club for People Who Don’t Have Time to Read and instead of reading a book every month, we sit around and discuss books we’ve read and would like to read. We had Doritos at the last meeting. I am shocked that it hasn’t gone viral because it is so perfect. Next meeting is December 2.

6. Speaking of not having time to read, why isn’t anyone but me talking about the anxiety produced by ever-lengthening lists of books we want to devour? I want to read everything Maira Kalman ever produced.  I still need to read Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies. It’s the time of year I resolve to read Anna Karenina and don’t.  It makes my armpits tickle just thinking about it. There are so many beautiful words out there to read!

7. The movie Housesitter with Goldie Hawn and Steve Martin. There is no reason that this movie should not come up in conversation every day. Goldie is a con-artist who pretends to be Steve’s wife so that she can have a free place to stay and he can make his ex jealous. It’s so funny and sweet and comfortable in that way that movies from the 90s are always so comfortable because it seems like things were easier then or maybe because it makes us feel like we are catching something really good on TV on a Saturday afternoon. Didn’t a movie seem better when you caught it on TV than the same movie seems when you’ve clicked on it after scrolling through Netflix for 45 minutes? See how great this discussion of Housesitter is going?

8. How nice are blankets this time of year (you should make one)?

9. Do you want to talk on Facebook about how you are “over” Facebook and won’t be back for awhile? That’s not really interesting. Better that you leave us with a list of what you’ll be doing while you are gone. Going completely off the grid? Just zoning out and listening to some Steely Dan for a bit? Let us know.

10. I can’t stop listening to Jenny Lewis’ The Voyager and I have no one to talk about it with. It’s so good! Someone check it out so we can talk about it!

11. How genius is the public library in it’s usefulness? You knew I was going to get around to it at some point. The library can help you find a job, go vegan, read up on the new medication you’ve been prescribed, give you the correct forms to fill out for your divorce,  learn a new language, talk to you when you don’t have anyone else to talk to, study for an exam, give you a phone number, tell you whether or not a celebrity is dead, help you find resources to give your kid “the talk” and much more. There is no other place where you can go and basically say, “I’m having trouble with this area of my life” and someone will respond, “Cool, let’s figure this out”. Maybe your mom, but she’s not as good at “going online” as we are.

12. Why don’t you talk about all the things your mom has done for you more often? She would enjoy some Facebook props like whoa.

For more ideas on other things to talk about, please visit your local public library.