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Cool, Calm & Contentious: Essays Paperback – August 7, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


Advance praise for Cool, Calm & Contentious
“Now that I’ve read Merrill Markoe’s latest book, I’ve learned a lot—about virginity, fetishism, sociopaths and narcissists, and how she explained the BP oil spill to her dogs. Also that Merrill is funnier, smarter, and more honest than anyone any of us knows. Just accept it—I have.”—Winnie Holzman, creator of My So-called Life, co-author of Wicked

“Alarming and reassuring . . . Wait, that’s impossible.”—George Meyer, writer, The Simpsons

Nose Down, Eyes Up
“Read this novel for its nose-to-the-ground wisdom, for its unsentimental take on family, and for the funniest, furriest pack of jokesters this side of the Marx Brothers.”—O: The Oprah Magazine
“Whimsical . . . an ideal place to bury your nose.”—Los Angeles Times
“Hilarious.”—Publishers Weekly
Walking in Circles Before Lying Down
“Bound to make you laugh out loud.”—People (four stars)
“Fun and charming . . . So spin around three or four times, curl up with your four-legged friend and enjoy.”—Fort Worth Star-Telegram
“A delight.”—Boston Sunday Globe

From the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Emmy Award–winning writer Merrill Markoe lives in Los Angeles, California, the garden spot of America, with four dogs and a man. She has authored three books of humorous essays and the novels Nose Down, Eyes Up; Walking in Circles Before Lying Down; and It’s My F---ing Birthday and co-authored (with Andy Prieboy) the novel The Psycho Ex Game. A lot of additional information about her—including a long bio, goofy videos, etc.—can be found at After great amounts of hesitation, she is also on Facebook. But since she thinks about pulling the page down on a daily basis, check fast.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Villard; Reprint edition (August 7, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345518926
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345518927
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #776,202 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Merrill Markoe graduated from UC Berkeley with a masters degree in art, then went on to use her degree in the most pragmatic way possible by becoming a writer of comedy for assorted venues, including television, movies and magazines,(when there still were magazines.) Along the way she won five Emmys for Late Night with David Letterman and a Writer's Guild Award for HBO's Not Necessarily the News.These days she is STILL writing books and making short films. To learn more than you probably need to know about her, visit And when I say "her", I mean "me." As far as I can tell, I'm the only one writing this.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

84 of 86 people found the following review helpful By jbrown3079 on November 21, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book was worth the wait. The writing is so good. It's more of a conversation than a book.

The approach Merrill takes to difficult subjects is extremely clever. Whether she is talking about her mom or her adventures in relationships, she handles it with wit and grace.

When I was done reading the book, I wanted to be able to give her a big hug of thanks. But since I couldn't do that, I wrote this instead.

This is a must buy.
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57 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Reader on November 15, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've always been a huge fan of Merrill Markoe's novels. I bought this book of essays as soon as it came out. Not only is it hilarious (trying to model herself on Jack Kerouac as a desperate-to-be-liked teenager is full of laughs) but incredibly brave and revealing. Markoe writes with honesty, wit and wisdom on a wide range of topics: her impossible-to-please mother, a perfect explanation of the narcissistic personality, or a river rafting trip for women to bond over. Oh, and dogs! Lots and lots of dogs. This book is a treasure.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Veda Dalsette on December 6, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This was a fun read, especially the parts about Merrill's peculiar yet fascinating mother. She came across as a character we've seen Claude Rains play (and that's why we love Claude Rains). Her 'first time', arty teen, rafting, and 'how to spot an a-word' essays were also fun. I got bogged down with all the dog stuff, but a dog owner may slurp that stuff up like spilled gravy.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Claudia Miles on January 28, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've heard it said that comedians would be cease being funny if they gained too much insight into their neuroses but Merrill Markoe proves that the opposite is true. Delving into the abyss can lead to some pretty humorous findings.

Markoe gets personal in Cool, Calm & Contentious, writing about herself, yet doing so makes the book that much more relatable. She shares the impact of being parented by a mother who's less than maternal, shall we say, and how that affected her self-esteem and choices in men. The flip side is that her uobringing also helped form and shape her considerable comedic skills, which have improved with age, while being ruled by self-doubt becomes more a thing of the past. Markoe's lighthearted, breezy style might make it seem like she came by self-knowledge easily, but there's no doubt it was hard won. I imagine some years of therapy (and more years of angst) as she suggests preceded that understanding. But this isn't math and Markoe need not show her work.

I like the description of the Fetish Ball as we've all been in situations where we feel out of place. I think we all do have felt the same sadness in hearing about people who attach harm or humiliation to intimacy and The story is funny because it's so unique and yet so human. The chapter on How to Spot an A****** should be required reading as young people go forth and "date." These seemingly small clues actually point out huge warning signs- and in a funny way. I encourage all my single-and-dating clients to read it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Rebecca Burke on February 15, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This book of essays has an addictive quality to it; I couldn't put it down until it was finished. Though I've never dated David Letterman (here, "Bobby"), attended any fetish conventions, or had any interfaces whatsoever with the Hollywood entertainment industry, I have become a writer and fan of black humor and dogs in response to my childhood and understanding of men and politics. So yes, I'm channeling Merrill Markoe.

This being MM, I knew there would be plenty of wacky female misadventures, funny pontifications on romance, dog stories, and career foibles. Check-check-check-check. There are also a lot of very personal writings about her parents, especially her larger-than-life, hypercritical mother, which will be very funny, sad, or shocking to readers, depending on their experiences of these kinds of persons (I know them well, so found Markoe's accounts both funny and sad). The almost matter-of-fact description of her sexual experiences as a young woman are what shocked me. As an Irish American, I'm afraid this is the kind of thing we usually keep the lid on. Still, I admire her for writing about her awful early sex life because it provides a case study of a young woman's coming of age in a culture that exploits her while telling her it's better to be nice--or cool--than stand up for herself.

But really, the best thing about this book for me was the piece about Markoe's white water rafting trip in Utah. Laugh-out-loud funny--several times. If not for the "talking stick" and portapotty, I might consider going there as well.

She's a very gifted comic writer. Even if some of these subjects aren't of the keenest interest to all readers, it should be hard to resist the allure of her fluent writing and comic insights. And if you love dogs, like me, she can do no wrong.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By takingadayoff TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 7, 2012
Format: Paperback
This is the saddest book of humorous essays I have ever read.

Most of the essays are autobiographical. Merrill Markoe, a comedy writer, begins the collection with a theory -- that all comedians have a dysfunctional parent. The comedians, as children, learn to cope with such dysfunction by making fun of an otherwise impossible situation. Markoe discovered this by asking her comedian friends about their childhoods. I suspect that if she had also asked her non-comedian friends, she would have found that practically everyone feels they had parents who were defective in some fundamental way.

Markoe has quite a lot to say about her mother, who was a clinical narcissist, according to Markoe's diagnosis as a psychiatric comedian. It's too bad that Markoe is still, even into her sixties, dwelling on her mother's faults. Philip Larkin was right when he wrote "They [mess] you up, your mum and dad."

Markoe doesn't write only about her substandard parents. One chapter tells of her first boyfriends, who were also sub-par, and the man who broke into her apartment and raped her, who was only slightly worse than her boyfriends. This really had to be one of the saddest essays in the book.

There were several pieces that featured her dogs, and what they would say if they could talk. A little dog goes a long way, but that's just my opinion, and others may enjoy the dog essays, which are less depressing than the other chapters.

Sad as they were, I did read all the essays, because Markoe tells a story well, but if you are looking for laughs, Nora Ephron, Celia Rivenbark, and Laurie Notaro are all better choices. In Cool, Calm, and Contentious you will find regret, sadness, and poignancy, but few smiles.

(This review is based on a review copy received from NetGalley.)
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