Why I'm Like This: True Stories
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Why I'm Like This: True Stories

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by Cynthia Kaplan

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Cynthia Kaplan takes us on a hilarious and sometimes heartbreaking journey through her unique, uncensored world—her bungled romantic encounters and unsung theatrical experiences; her gadget-obsessed father, her pill-popping therapist, and her eccentric grandmothers; her fearless husband, whom she engages in an ongoing battle over which of them is the most


Cynthia Kaplan takes us on a hilarious and sometimes heartbreaking journey through her unique, uncensored world—her bungled romantic encounters and unsung theatrical experiences; her gadget-obsessed father, her pill-popping therapist, and her eccentric grandmothers; her fearless husband, whom she engages in an ongoing battle over which of them is the most popular person in their apartment; and, of course, her vengeful, power-hungry one-year-old son.

Kaplan's voice is a lot like the one in our heads—the one that most of us are only willing to listen to late at night . . . maybe while locked in a closet. What a relief it is that someone finally admits that she is afraid of nearly everything; that she is jealous even of people whose lives are on the verge of collapse; and that she has, at times, tried to pass for a gentile.

Editorial Reviews

John Searles
“This is a charming collection of essays in the spirit of David Sedaris…”
Jerry Stahl
“Funny, sweet, weirdly life-affirming and painfully true…”
Debra Ginsberg
“Cynthia Kaplan’s gift is her ability to take on life’s absurdities and come out a winner.”
Laura Zigman
“Cynthia Kaplan is very funny. These piece are very, very funny.”
“Kaplan consistently amuses while cutting surprisingly deep.”
Paper Magazine
“WHY I’M LIKE THIS is a collection of personal essays that are as funny as they are poignant.”
Detroit Free Press
“WHY I’M LIKE THIS is an impressive debut and Kaplan has a wonderfully natural comedic style.”
New Orleans Times-Picayune
“When Kaplan is funny, she’s very funny…Well worth reading.”
USA Today
“Knee-slapping hilarious…Fans of David Sedaris or Anne Lamott will appreciate (Kaplan’s) quirky way of looking at life’s intricacies.”
New York Times Book Review
“Quick–witted, neatly written and unapologetically grandiose…in the spirit of Dorothy Parker…[Kaplan] renders weird and rowdy scenarios with style.”
Time Out New York
“One of downtown’s coolest actors . . . you’ll laugh until you can’t breathe.”
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
It's a fairly unusual occurrence for a book to inspire us to skip through the halls of our offices, quoting lines to each other and collapsing in laughter. But this one did the trick. Cynthia Kaplan's collection of heartfelt and sidesplittingly funny autobiographical essays takes a razor-sharp look at the memories of her life: her eccentric grandparents, her adolescent growing pains, her early work experiences, her marriage, and the birth of her child. In so doing, this first-time author has managed a rare feat: to revisit those universally painful life events that once made us cringe or cry, and make us laugh instead.

Let's see, there's the time when a boy she liked "asked me to rub sun block onto his back…. Had I this moment to live again, I would have offered to apply the sun block later, in private, with my tongue." Pining for the boy, Cindy loved him "like a dog loves a bone." But she asks herself, "Why do they do that? There's no meat left on it. Is it wishful thinking? Is it the idea that meat was there once and maybe it will be there again one day, or is it just nostalgia? Oh, that meat was good, remember that meat? Nummy, nummy, nummy."

Why I'm like This is a lovingly rendered tribute to "the myriad facets that make all our lives the magical, crazy, infuriatingly wonderful mysteries they are," and Kaplan's refreshingly individualistic, indiosyncratic way of looking at -- and living in -- the world will delight readers of every ilk. (Summer 2002 Selection)

Kirkus Reviews
Debut collection of essays traversing everything from the mysteries of summer camp and the eccentricities of one’s parents to acting in independent films and the love one feels for a newborn. Freelance journalist Kaplan grew up in the WASPy Connecticut of the 1970s (“In my town there were so few Jews that unless you were dressed like the Hasidim, it just didn’t occur to people that you might be Jewish”). Like many a humorist, she observes high school from the edge of popularity, watching her girlfriends slow-dancing with jocks while she nurses multiple cases of unrequited love. After graduating from college, she settles in Manhattan and tries her hand at acting in commercials, indie films, and theater. (“I play at least one lesbian a year in one or another downtown theater.”) To support herself, she waits tables—usually running into her overeducated former classmates. Her fellow waiters teach her the lyrics to Sondheim songs, the choreography from every Broadway show from the past 50 years, and how to make a decent cappuccino. She finally abandons restaurant work for the world of the retail headhunter, which allows her the financial freedom to seriously pursue acting. The eccentrics of the world seem fond of Kaplan; she moseys through a community populated in part by a therapist who needs more help than her clients (the therapist tries to borrow money, credit cards, and prescription drugs from her patients), a gadget-loving father (he was one of the first drivers in the 1960s to own a mobile car phone), and a host of loser boyfriends (one even stood her up on her birthday). Not everything is glibly rendered; as Kaplan’s grandmother succumbs to Alzheimer’s, the author’s meditation on thesymbolic value of inanimate objects—in this case her grandmother’s leather pocketbook—is simple and heartfelt. A fresh voice with a bright future.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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P.S. Series
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5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.54(d)

Read an Excerpt

Queechy Girls

There was always one girl at camp whom everyone hated. It had nothing to do with cliques or teams or personal dislikes, and it was not even that everyone had discussed it and a consensus had been raised based upon certain irrefutable evidence. It was just like everyone hated lima beans and the color brown. It was obvious and it was universal, so it didn't require organization.

Everyone at Queechy Lake Camp hated Lisa Hope Mermen. There were no reasons why and there were a million reasons why. Her breasts were too large and her hair was limp. She had probably had her period since she was ten. She was a very mediocre athlete. She was not nor ever would be considered coltish. She was nice to everyone and some people hate that. She had no friends and some people took that as a sign. She had two first names and insisted on using both. At best, she was ignored. At worst, she was teased and bullied and shoved into the lake. Tricks were played on her, food stolen from her. Intimate articles of her clothing, particularly her brassiere and large to-the-waist panties, were raised on the flagpole in the morning just before assembly. There they were buffeted unkindly by the Maine breeze, these colors of the enemy territory, to be saluted by smirking, suntanned cuties.

Why was she still here, Lisa Hope Mermen? Why did she return summer after summer to a camp where a philosophy of equality symbolized by a de rigueur camp uniform of simple white midi blouses and navy shorts still failed to work in her favor because her midi blouse required darts? Why didn't her parents switch her to music camp or send her to Europe where everyone had limp hair?

Queechy Lake Camp was certainly the most beautiful girls' camp in Maine. It was situated on a tree-topped hill which gracefully sloped down to the edge of the lake, clear, blueblack, and serene. At the high end of the camp the bunks formed a large circle around a perfectly manicured blanket of grass, unlike the bunks at Pine Forrest and Bluebird Lake, which were dotted willy-nilly throughout the woods. At the center of the circle was the aforementioned flagpole. As night fell, this happy configuration of lodgings, their lights winking in the dusk, resembled nothing so much as a shoreline of exclusive summer cottages; the darkening courtyard, a navy lake. Paradise.

Then, a little lower down, there was Queechy House, an enormous green Adirondack affair standing exactly as it had for almost one hundred years, its plaque-covered walls a testament to the overachievements of past Queechy girls: Best Field Hockey, Best Basketball, Best Waterskiing. The Archery Award. The Craft Award. The Queechy Spirit Prize. On one side of Queechy House there were the living room and the commissary and the mail room, and on the other side were the dining room and the kitchen (which no one ever saw except on Cinnamon Toast Nights, when everyone in your bunk got to go in and eat as much cinnamon toast as they could. The record, set by Rose Bunnswanger in 1957, was something like forty-nine pieces). Behind Queechy House was a gathering of humongous old pine trees and beneath the trees were twenty or so Adirondack chairs, painted dark green. This spot was called Beneath the Pines, without sarcasm. Team rallies happened here, and Friday night services. If you were friends, one of you sat in the seat and one of you perched on the wide armrest, so you were connected, so there was no mistaking it.

Every building had a name. Please Come Inn and Nellie 's Nest and The Barn and Hill House and Mildred, just Mildred, after an English lacrosse counselor who perished in the bombing of Dresden. She had gone there with false papers to search for two elderly cousins who were believed to have been in hiding. There was a field hockey field and a lacrosse field and two softball fields and there were tennis courts and volleyball courts and basketball courts and sailing and canoeing and waterskiing. And there was kickball and newcomb for the younger girls. The field hockey and lacrosse counselors came from England, like Mildred, because the English know those sports best.

There were no socials or dances with boys' camps because Queechy girls were renowned for their winning combination of athletic ability, teamwork, and pep, and pitting them against each other for the attentions of pimply-faced, perpetually engorged (that's Deb Edelstein's word, not mine) boys from, say, Camp Tonkahanni, might undermine the confidence of even the most spirited, talented Queechy girl, not to mention threaten many deep friendships. I, for one, was perfectly happy not to have to deal with some dopey tennis nerd trying to guess my bra size. There were male counselors, of course, but it was not the same because they were all over eighteen. There was Bill Ski and Mark Ski and Jamie Canoe and Jack Tennis and Bill Tennis and Chris Swim and Mike Softball. There was Somebody Riding whose name I never remembered because I hated riding. And there was Corey Silver Shop whom everyone assumed was gay even though most of us had no idea what we were talking about.

There was a theater called Marion's Tent, though no one remembered Marion and there was no tent. My theatrical career at Queechy Lake Camp was distinguished by many memorable performances as the second lead; a girl named Wanda Massey always got the starring role. For seven summers, I was the male half of nearly every romantic coupling written for the musical theater. I was Oscar to her Charity, Captain Von Trapp to her Maria, Tony to her Maria. She was, metaphorically speaking, always Maria.

The very moment parts were posted and scripts handed out, each of us would rush to the edge of some grassy slope to count our lines. The more lines, the bigger the part. Plot development and character were irrelevant. This summer we were doing The Miracle Worker. Wanda Massey was Annie Sullivan and I was Helen Keller. When I opened the script and saw that I had only one line for the entire first half of the play, and that line consisted of one word, "wawa," I nearly went berserk.

Once a summer the Story of Queechy Lake Camp was retold by Aunt Jeanne, the camp director. The entire camp gathered Beneath the Pines, a tangle of interlocked arms and legs, with much tickling of forearms and backs and braiding of hair, to hear how during World War I the camp planted its playing fields with navy beans. Girls as young as nine years old pushed the seeds into the soil and two months later plucked the beans from the leafy vines. They sewed shirts and knitted socks. They were industrious and patriotic and occasionally had air-raid rehearsals. They wore baggy bloomers and smocks and maybe in those days it didn't matter if you were bad at sports or had a large bosom. Some of these girls were the grandmothers and mothers and aunts of future Queechy girls. Katie Cohen was a legacy and so was Beth Reingold and so was Deb Edelstein. Tessie Green's grandmother won the spirit prize twice in a row and she was completely deaf in one ear. Joan Grobman's mother lost half her middle finger in a rock-climbing accident in 1968, the summer she was fifteen, and came back to camp as soon as she was out of the hospital. That's what Queechy girls did. When the story was over everyone sang Queechy Lake songs: "Spirit of Queechy," "Far Above Dear Queechy Waters," "Queechy Friends Forever."

Surely Lisa Hope Mermen was not the only girl whose bathing suit, with its built-in brassiere, remained dry on the front following the backstroke race at swim meets. Surely she was not the only girl without a lilting voice or curly ringlets. And surely a lilting voice and curly ringlets were not the only prerequisites of a successful adolescence. Although who was I to say, since I had a reasonably lilting voice and a decent head of curly ringlets?

But did Lisa Hope Mermen really look all that unhappy? She cheered from the benches at softball and field hockey games, gave her ineffectual all on the "B" basketball squad, sang her heart out in the chorus of Call Me Madam. She befriended younger girls who either didn't know any better or were similarly ill suited to the demands of popularity. Counselors were sympathetic. I was bewildered almost out of my complacency. Almost.

I'd had too many s'mores. I had a weakness for them. I liked the marshmallow to catch fire and burn the entire outside black. I liked the Hershey's chocolate to still be hard, even a little cold; it had to hold its own dually against the heat of the marshmallow and the firm crunch of the graham cracker. If you ate a s'more during a lunchtime campfire, chances were the chocolate bar would be melty from sitting in the sun. Then it melted even more when it came into contact with the marshmallow, and suddenly the graham cracker dominated. I hated that. I'd just as soon skip it if that was how it was going to be. At night, though, on the beach, when everything cooled down, the grains of sand a silver trickle between your toes, when the lake met the sky, when hooded sweatshirts were in order, that was the time to gorge yourself into oblivion on s'mores.

I'd had seven, which as anyone knows is four too many. And actually I was feeling all right until the camper-counselor game of duck duck goose. A few woozy moments after I'd chased Karen Basketball two loops around the circle, I felt the s'mores rising up. I felt a revolution of s'mores. I ran up the beach and gave them their freedom behind the sailing hut. I looked down to inspect the damage (everyone looks at their vomit, everyone) and catch my breath. Running and then vomiting is harder than just vomiting. I leaned against the side of the hut. My breath was loud in my ear. Too loud. And there was a funny humming noise. Mmmmm. Mmmmm. It took me a minute to realize it wasn't coming from me. I inched forward, careful not to step in my pile of ex-s'mores, and moved around the corner of the sailing hut until I was crouching beneath its one open window, just next to the door. At first I thought it was, I don't even know, just this big thing, this moving shadow, it was so dark in there. Oh, God, it's a bear. Shit, fuck, shit. But then, then -- in that way you can see people in the movies when there are scenes in the dark, like there 's an illogical light source but you accept it because it's the movies and you really want to see what's going on -- then, I saw her. Years later I realized the moon must have broken through some clouds.

Lisa Hope Mermen lay all but naked on a pile of sails. Her brassiere was wrapped like a bandage around one arm, her dark blue camp shorts scrunched between her legs. Her white body, all breasts and belly and thighs, was aglow. She was breathing heavily; her face looked...I didn't know. Like she was constipated but happy about it. What was she doing? My legs, already vomit-wobbly, were starting to ache from crouching at the window, but I couldn't tear my eyes away. I was watching the Lisa Hope Mermen Movie. The humming got louder. Why was she lying there, naked, humming? Why? It wasn't even a song. Then, suddenly, the dark shorts between her legs were moving and I saw that they weren't her shorts. It was like realizing a piece of mud stuck to your ankle is really a leech. The thing between Lisa Hope Mermen's legs rose up and smiled. A glistening, mustached smile.

Mark Ski.

He moved out of the shadows, naked, his back to me, and stretched his neck to both sides. She said, "That was yummy." He said, "Good." There was a rushing noise in my ears. He lowered his whole body onto Lisa Hope Mermen very, very slowly. I saw his penis. My legs collapsed beneath me. I dropped onto the sand. Poomf.

When I returned to the beach everyone was sitting Indian style in a big circle around the fire and singing "Leaving on a Jet Plane." Joan Grobman and Deena Saks made a place for me between them. I guess I sang along.

A substantive discussion of What I Saw did not commence until after the campfire died and everyone more or less headed off to bed. It lasted until well after two and included my own eyewitness testimony, followed by a question-and-answer period and concluding with a sort of fake, sort of real hypnosis session, in case there was something I was repressing. Then we tried to levitate Beth Reingold.

We slept in pairs in canvas tents on the sand. Lying in my sleeping bag beside Deb Edelstein, her soft asthmatic wheezing keeping time in the dark, I realized this would be the last time. In the morning we would have blueberry pancakes and hot chocolate and go skinny-dipping in the glassy, dawn-cold lake, and then head off up the hill to our various scheduled activities -- lacrosse or archery or pottery. But this was the last senior overnight. The last campfire on the beach. And there was only one more swim meet to go and one more day trip to Acadia National Park and maybe one more pajama breakfast, if we were lucky. There was only the counselor show, Man of La Mancha, left to see. All the craft projects would have to be finished in the next week, all the bunk food eaten, all the lost things found. Suddenly it would be the very last night, the night of the Senior Serenade, when we would go by flashlight from bunk to bunk, like carolers, singing the old songs. I was not going to come back the next summer as a junior counselor because my parents wanted me to do a summer session at Andover. And anyway it wouldn't have been the same. When something's over, it's over.

What People are saying about this

Jerry Stahl
“Funny, sweet, weirdly life-affirming and painfully true…”
John Searles
“This is a charming collection of essays in the spirit of David Sedaris…”
Laura Zigman
“Cynthia Kaplan is very funny. These piece are very, very funny.”
Debra Ginsberg
“Cynthia Kaplan’s gift is her ability to take on life’s absurdities and come out a winner.”

Meet the Author

Writer and actress Cynthia Kaplan's essays have been published in many newspapers, magazines, and anthologies, and she is the author of the collection Why I'm Like This. She has appeared in clubs, theaters, and on film, but never on Law & Order. She lives in New York City with her husband and children.

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Why I'm Like This: True Stories 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am an avid reader and a fan of B&N, but no book has ever inspired me to write an online review until now. Cynthia Kaplan has charm, wit, feeling, talent, and a wonderful way with words. Each one of her short stories stands on its own, but each is related to her life story. She reminds me somewhat of Elizabeth Berg. A friend asked if I'd like to borrow this book and I declined. Two weeks later the same friend handed it to me and said, "...Sorry kid. I can't take no for an answer on this one..." Thank goodness for friends like mine!
Guest More than 1 year ago
So much in this book reminds me of my own family. Ms. Kaplan is lucky to have been brought up in the midst of this seemingly charming and loving family. Her father sounds like a man after my own heart. And interestingly, I had a dog too and was also not particularly successful in teaching him to play chess.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It's difficult to believe someone could willingly introduce people to their eccentricities, phobias and fears. You find yourself laughing, crying and sympathizing (or if you're truly honest with yourself, empathizing) with her as she grows up over the 200 pages of this book. Cynthia Kaplan sees life from a perspective that few of us have and it's from that view that she is so enlighteningly funny.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was hilarious, while it was slow at times it made up for it in it's hilarous stories of the authors growing up childhood. I would reccomend this for most anybody.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Why I'm Like This by Cynthia Kaplan is a laugh-out-loud and easy read book. Cynthia Kaplan writes a few essays on her life that just put you in a good mood. Kaplan talks about her grandmothers, her gadget obsessed father, her mother, the psychiatrist she sees when her boyfriend dumps her, and of course her wonderful one-year old son. Kaplan's stories are easy to understand and enjoyable because they relate to a human being's day to day life. Kaplan's stories can be uplifting and encouraging, but some can be sad and dull. One thing I liked in the book was the way Kaplan expressed herself. She didn't hold back on the words she used, and she said just what she wanted. She used eccentric words to explain her stories. She also made jokes to entertain the reader and simply made you laugh at the way she would explain her family members, and the things that would happen to her on a daily basis. Another thing I liked about her stories was that they were encouraging. She made me realize what not to do in my life and what to do. One thing I didn't like about the book was the fact that at the beginning of every story she had to write a paragraph that didn't really relate to her and confused the reader. I also didn't like the fact that she used big words. Even though the book was an easy read some words were tough. Even though I didn't like one thing about the book this doesn't mean I wouldn't recommend it. Overall the book was amazing. It was a comedy and I want to recommend it to anyone who hasn't yet read it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Hysterical. She writes how I think. How I tell stories. She starts with a concept, then takes off onto all sorts of stream of consciousness tangents, then lands us straight back into the lap of the story's conclusion. Sometimes, the trip we're taken on becomes the tale. Laugh out loud funny.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ms. Kaplan has a way with words. This much is true. And she's funny. But like that funny, animated woman you meet at the beginning of a party, Kaplan begins to grate on you after you've listened to her go on and on and on about herself. Granted, it's a memoir, but rather than gaining some insight from her take on the world, we get too much information about what she thinks about what she thinks about what she obsesses over and then thinks about. By the final essays I wanted to slap her silly and tell her to get over herself.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am absolutely in love with this book. The tone and sarcasm with which Cynthia Kaplan explores her life, womanhood and motherhood is so enjoyable and realistic. It's great to know that there are women out there just like you! She writes about the most random of things that somehow are still so important to us all. I related so well with Cynthia Kaplan that I didn't want the book to end; I just wanted her to keep going and tell me just how my life would be in the future! This is probably one of my favorite books I've read in a long time!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book has become my new favorite book. I can honestly say that i was sad when this book was over. Cynthia Kaplan has a way of telling stories that makes them so understandable and easy to relate to. She writes about all of the things that everyone thinks, but no one will ever talk about.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an okay book. A little dry in spots but its okay.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read memoirs all the time, especially comic ones. This one is not in the same ballpark as David Sedaris, Sandra Tsing Loh, or even Chelsea Handler. In fact, it's not even funny, and I had to put it down when I was just over half through. Sedaris's father never met a black banana he wouldn't wolf down. Loh's father keeps his work briefcase in an empty cereal box, and Handler's father runs a virtual used-car business from the family's driveway. Kaplan's father buys gadgets. Ha ha.