The Librarian Is In

Ballantine Books

By CARRIE MACFARLANE

Director of Research & Instruction Carrie Macfarlane is the librarian for Chinese, Japanese, Neuroscience, Psychology and the Writing Program.

 

“I’m The One That I Want” by Margaret Cho, 2002

213 pages

RATING

4/5 cardigans

The What

Those who have seen the comedian Margaret Cho perform probably would not describe her as anxious, afraid or uncertain. I’ve never done stand-up comedy, but it seems like it requires a lot of courage. On stage, Margaret Cho is fearless.  I’m the One That I Want is her memoir, and it’s funny. But it also reveals her vulnerabilities.

For those who don’t know Margaret Cho, she is a Korean American who grew up in San Francisco in the 1970s. She is the daughter of immigrants, and she describes her early years as amusing, uncomfortable, and at times, utterly distressing. It takes Cho a while to find her way in life. After she fails out of high school, a performing arts program captures her attention. Falling in with a new group of friends doesn’t end Cho’s troubles, but it does set her on a (winding) path toward her career as a successful stand-up comedian with numerous film and television credits.

The Why

I actually hadn’t seen many (any?) of Margaret Cho’s comedy routines when I requested I’m the One That I Want via Interlibrary Loan. (After I read the book, I had the library purchase a copy — you can find it in MIDCAT.) I learned about I’m the One That I Want when I was compiling a bibliography of diversity and inclusion readings on behalf of the Alliance for an Inclusive Middlebury (AIM). Many schools have bibliographies like the one I was asked to put together, but I decided to expand the scope of ours to include books that I’d enjoy reading in my free time. Meaning, I wanted memoirs and novels. Stories help me imagine different life experiences.

Cho’s life experiences are very different from mine. She grew up in a big city on the West Coast, and I’m from a small town on the East Coast. Her parents came to the U.S. from another country, and mine were born here. She excelled in the theatre, and the only part I ever got in a play was as a narrator who introduced a show then quickly got off the stage. As I read the book, I noted many differences, but I found many similarities too. Cho and I both know why kids do dumb things, but even with the distance and wisdom of age, we still don’t completely forgive them. Cho makes it okay to laugh at her contradictions and struggles, and in doing so, she invites readers to find humor in their own. 

And Cho does struggle. Throughout her childhood and her adult years, she works with a backdrop of negative self-talk, poor body image, sexual harassment, racism, and drug abuse. Cho writes with honesty in a voice that is familiar, yet sharp and illuminating. As I gobbled up chapter after chapter, I felt like I was having a conversation with a smart friend. Cho is a comedian though, so she periodically crosses the line between easy and difficult topics. Her readers should know that sometimes, her comedic observations will sting.  

What I like about I’m the One That I Want  is that it shines a light on the space between Margaret Cho’s on-stage success and her off-stage challenges. And it makes me laugh. Read it, and if you enjoy it, go to MIDCAT to find Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out without Me? and Gabourey Sidibe’s This Is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare. By the way, all of these books are recommended in the forthcoming AlM bibliography, available online sometime soon.

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