‘My Favorite Murder’ Dual Memoir Tackles Mental Health and Personal Issues with Humor

Book review: Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered, by Karen Kilgariff & Georgia Hardstark (Amazon / Book Depository)

We have gone from living inside your headphones to pouring ourselves out onto the page like a couple of Edna St. Vincent Millays.

There aren’t many podcasts that become phenomenons, but My Favorite Murder, styled as true crime/comedy from comedian and writer Karen Kilgariff and former Cooking Channel host Georgia Hardstark certainly qualifies.

Begun in early 2016, the podcast amassed a fiercely dedicated listenership. The format was a blend of haphazard storytelling – a murder story retold by one host to the other, and interspersed with their funny, irreverent, profanity-laden observations on life, behavior, and mental health. Their following blossomed into a supportive on- and offline community, with the pair selling out live shows at major venues worldwide.

This dual memoir, told from alternating perspectives, gives some insight into their pre-podcast lives, including personal experiences that underscore the messages behind some of their beloved quips (fuck politeness; buy your own shit, stay out of the forest; you’re in a cult, call your dad; etc.).

It skews towards mental health and self-help, although like listening to the show, it branches into more directions than would seem reasonable, leaving you wondering where it’s going but enjoying the messy, sometimes silly or surprisingly serious journey. On the podcast, this comes across effortlessly; on the page, a little less so.

Both have been through their share of ordeals – eating disorders, drug/alcohol abuse and addiction, career disappointments, insecurity and self-doubt, family struggles, anxiety, depression, bad relationships, bad decisions in general – to name a few topics covered there and here. Hearing these candid experiences addressed directly and shamelessly hit a chord with countless listeners. I know it resonated with me, and the timing felt especially apt when I first tuned in to the podcast and couldn’t believe they were speaking this language I desperately needed to hear.

This is to say that it makes sense that their book would be a loose “how-to guide” told through memoir/advice essays. Although the podcast is nominally about true crime, I didn’t expect the book to be, and it’s not. There are a few crime stories mentioned, with some tenuous connections to the life lessons being illustrated, but that’s it.

Both of the women have been refreshingly open about their dedication to therapy, and a heavy focus of the book is on the benefits it provides. That’s helpful to hear, sure; but it’s not particularly enlightening or enjoyable to repeatedly read some iteration of the message that therapy is amazing, everyone should go, etc. That’s probably all true, I aspire to have some someday. But the message is repeated too frequently, and without any consideration that therapy, especially in the quantities these two consume it, may not be so easily and widely accessible for reasons beyond merely making the choice to go.

There are plenty of lessons and mantras given, some more useful, some sounding like empty self-help-speak, and some uncomfortably personal even for memoir territory. As with hearing about someone else’s dream that was obviously significant to them but to you is just a dream, so is it with hearing about someone else’s therapy revelations. I hope they resonate with readers who need to hear them? I don’t know what else to say about it.

There’s also a difference between Georgia’s chapters and Karen’s, and depending on who you may have sparked with in listening to the podcast, you may enjoy some chapters more or less accordingly. Strangely, because I probably have more in common with Georgia, I tend to prefer Karen’s perspective. I don’t mean that to sound critical on a personal level at all, but I’ve felt it in the podcast and the book’s divide in narrative voices emphasized it. I got more out of Karen’s chapters, content- and hilarity-wise. That may be completely the opposite for others.

And Georgia writes one story, of being caught alone with a photographer, flattered that he wanted to photograph her, and it turning into a terrible situation that’s one of the most powerful and meaningful stories she’s told. It’s interspersed with the wisdom and insight she’s drawn from this ordeal and how the podcast itself drew the memory to the surface and helped her process it. Her walk through this incident was remarkably brave and commendable. It’ll stick with me.

Worth knowing: Despite some valuable life advice (Karen’s warning not to spew all your bullshit to too many people or treat your friends like the audience of your “one-woman show” felt spoken eerily directly to me as I suffer someone performing just such a show) and the occasional hilarious bit wrapped around a relatable life story, this is really only accessible to the podcast’s listeners and will more than likely leave others lost, confused, and wondering what the big deal is.

It pains me to write this because their storytelling has helped me greatly in the past and provided much-needed laughs and emotional boosts, but I’m not sure this book, in this form, needed to happen. There’s very little here they haven’t already discussed in some form on the podcast, even several of the same stories exactly as I remember hearing them told there. Although sometimes the chatty, meta tone works, elsewhere it reads as not necessarily edited. And Benjamin Dreyer would massacre this thing with his red copyediting pen for all the ‘??’ and ‘?!’s.

Die-hard MFM fans will nevertheless be thrilled, as will those who find some piece of advice hits home, with a few truly laugh-out-loud moments mixed in. 3/5

Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered:
The Definitive How-To Guide

by Karen Kilgariff & Georgia Hardstark
published May 28, 2019 by Forge Books (Macmillan)

Amazon / Book Depository

19 thoughts on “‘My Favorite Murder’ Dual Memoir Tackles Mental Health and Personal Issues with Humor

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  1. Interesting as I read about this somewhere else (Kirkus?) and added it to my wish list but based on your review I don’t think I am the right audience for this book. I have never listened to the podcast and might get tired of the therapy angle. Perhaps I will try the podcast. Thank you for this very useful steer. On another note, what is your secret for reading so much? Do you have a long commute to work and read on the train? Do you never sleep? Do you have strict rules about keeping off social media and Netflix. I love reading but paradoxically seem to do everything but!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I definitely recommend trying the podcast first. I think you have to get into their style and shtick first, the stories in the book kinda jump right in and I think without any context wouldn’t be that meaningful or interesting, really. The podcast is great, I loved it a bit more in its first years but it’s still pretty good. If you try it and really connect with them then read the book.

      I’m actually an at-home freelancer, after years of reading almost entirely on the commute, funny enough! I ride a stationary bike for an hour minimum a day though, because I work so much that many days I don’t even leave the house so I desperately need the exercise, and I read while doing that. I do watch a lot of TV (or so it feels!) but I think I read more. I don’t really use social media, I recently started posting on Instagram again after a year away or so, but getting off of social media was hands down the most enormous time saver I’ve ever found!

      And honestly, it also helps that at the moment I live away from my home country with only my husband, basically, no friends here and very few social engagements to otherwise occupy my time 😂 I understand what you mean, I go through phases where I want to read but am just more in the mood for TV. I think it’s one of those things that the more you do, the more you want to do it. I had a phase of barely reading for a couple years just because I got out of the habit, which seems strange to me now but just happened. Try carving out a little time for it, even 20 minutes or so a day, and maybe you’ll find yourself naturally fitting it back in your schedule, that’s what happened for me!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for your tips for more reading. I definitely feel more content if I have spent time with a book. So which country are you living in now? I assumed you were American living in New York. And you mentioned you also do translations- from what language? I live in a small town near London. I once did some exams to be a translator from French to English but never did any paid work.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You’re right actually, I am an American from New York, but have been living elsewhere the last several years, in Germany, France, and Austria, currently Vienna. I do translations from German to English but boring stuff, nothing literary – medical, financial, business comms, etc. I don’t really prefer the actual translation though, my main work is editing others’ translations, making sure they didn’t leave anything out and read like proper English instead of something that’s been translated.

        I’m so envious, I wish I knew French! We were just in France for a week and reminded me how much I wish I understood it better. I studied it in school but have always been pretty terrible at it.

        And I visited a friend in London last year and really liked it, I’d love to see more of England. It must be nice to live near London but still in a small town 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve never heard of this podcast. About how long is each episode? I have a commute to work of about 25 minutes, so I hope it’s not much longer than that.

    If people want to read a funny memoir about mental health, I suggest they check out Jenny Lawson’s work. You can read each book separately, but I think it helps to read them in order.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Their regular episodes are around an hour and something, and they do minisodes where they read listener stories and those are only half an hour, good for your commute. The podcast really is good and worth a listen (start with an older episode, if you decide to try it!) I just was disappointed with the direction they decided to go for a book, I guess. Lots of people, myself included, have felt heard or a connection to how they talk about themselves and various life issues, but I’m not sure it made sense as an advice book, even done in their unique style.

      I’ve had Jenny Lawson’s books on my list forever! I don’t know why I’ve hesitated on getting to them, I think because I never read her blog and it felt weird to just kind of jump in to her memoir, but I do it all the time with others so who knows why I had that reaction. I’m glad to get that recommendation from you, I definitely need to move those up the list.

      Like

      1. Just to reiterate: people say it doesn’t matter, but I think it’s important to read Let’s Pretend This Never Happened first. Her childhood, courtship pre-marriage, and pregnancy tell you LOADS about her personality.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve been afraid that this is what the book would be. I totally still bought a copy and I’m looking forward to reading it but it’s too bad that it likely won’t resonate with those who aren’t already familiar with the podcast!

    But man, I’m not even mad about buying it. Take my money! Their podcast really helped me when I needed it and I still look forward to the time I get to spend with them, even if I’m cleaning the kitchen while I do it.

    Great review.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely, was the same for me! They helped me so much when I didn’t even quite know what it was I needed to hear. Totally unexpected, especially from anything with ‘murder’ in the title. Not to mention how much more tolerable they’ve made house cleaning 😂

      I was just a little disappointed with the book, I guess, maybe because it feels like they could have a better book in them, just not quite this one. Or because I’m not a self-help reader so anything slightly in that tone doesn’t click with me. But it does have its total gems and is absolutely worthwhile to read! Karen’s stories especially cracked me up. I’m excited to hear your take on it!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I just reviewed this book a few days ago. I totally agree with all of your observations, I think I was a little more willing to overlook the problems because of my love of the podcast-but good you warned people about it, because it is quite rambly, and the connections to true crime are definitely tenuous at best. I also relate to Georgia more-is it not crazy she did meth at one point? I found that shocking…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think I missed your review, I’ll have a look, thanks for letting me know! I’m really interested in what others thought of it.

      I love the podcast too, I just felt like this could’ve been better, knowing what they’re capable of there, I guess. It still had its moments and I adored some of Karen’s stories. I was shocked too when Georgia mentioned having done meth on the podcast the first time, but she’s brought it up so many times since then the shock has worn off. Oddly enough I have more in common with her fundamentally but I can’t relate to her hardly at all. Strange, I know.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. It does seem that we had a similar response to this one! The back and forth that absorbs me on the podcast did feel more forced here. The message that therapy is helpful strikes me as valuable when periodically in their podcast, but did dominate the message a bit in the book without any helpful advice for getting access or even any acknowledgement of the barriers people might face.

    I initially liked Karen’s chapters better, but towards the end, I was also enjoying Georgia’s chapters more.

    It’s a shame this wasn’t as wonderful as the podcast and more able to stand on its own!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know, I kind of hate being that person who criticizes by pointing out privilege, because we all have it in some way, to some extent, but it felt so tone deaf here I couldn’t ignore it. At one point Georgia mentioned “doubling up on therapy” to prepare for something stressful and I was astounded. Like it’s as easy as doubling up on vitamin C when a cold is going around! It just bugged me.

      Liked by 1 person

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