Catcher in the wry

So I gave in to an impulse this month and purchased the New! Improved! Bob & Ray Book (c. 1986) as part of my audiobook subscription. And ooh, not gonna do that again. I mean there’s not much chance I will do it again, that’d be silly, but just in case I should ever be tempted, no.

Let us just say – as attentive readers are now sighing and waiting for me to say once again – that their performance style depended on a sort of knowing, ad-libbed energy that’s entirely missing from a straight reading of collected scripts by two elderly men. Especially given that one of them was mere months away from forced retirement due to lingering illness. You can hear Ray becoming more exhausted (medicated?) as the recording goes on… I think I’m supposed to be cheering for the game old trouper, and I would be, except it’s all so bloody sad.

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So because I now need cheering up, and because I was pretty impressed with the game old trouper for all that (a sixtysomething man using ‘computer software’ in the correct context, in 1986, might be the definition of codger cool) let’s move on to the next installment in our review series: Humour.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos:

“Do you realize, young woman,” H.L. Mencken once told friend and sometime protege Loos, “that you’re the first American writer ever to poke fun at sex?”
She realized it, all right. Gorgeous, glamorous and self-absorbed to the point of sociopathy, Lorelei Lee is the archetypal Girl Your Mother Warned You About. Which doesn’t mean her adventures aren’t a lot of fun to read – after all, is it Lorelei’s fault so many gentlemen never listened to their mothers? A smartly wicked American classic.

Notes From a Big Country (US: I’m a Stranger Here Myself) by Bill Bryson:

Bill Bryson’s humour always goes down easy – he’s the kind of tourist you wish was sitting next to you on the long bus tour, observant and witty in all the right places. Housebound in New England,  though, he stalls a bit; ironically enough one of the funniest pieces in the book is the Foreword in which he relates, grumpily, how filing columns for the UK’s Night & Day magazine was so not his idea to begin with.
There’s only so much drollery you can mine out of the American experience, after all, and most of it has been mined so often the tunnels are due to collapse any minute now. By the end of the book, Bryson’s visibly struggling for material, reduced to such tired old targets as megamalls and the energy crisis. Still, he is at all times armed with his unique and genuinely fresh perspective between worlds, and an endless capacity for bemusement (I doubt you’ll find an ode to the trash compactor anywhere else in the genre). Notes is a smoothly satisfying read.

The Jeeves & Wooster stories by PG Wodehouse: Jolly good, what?

Right Ho, Jeeves:

Bertie Wooster’s getting tired of his friends tripping over him in their rush to consult Jeeves. So when his master valet’s scheme to unite Gussie Fink-Nottle with Madeline Bassett falls apart, Bertie steps in…and, of course, steps right into it. Fairly standard plot twists ensue (in fact, most romantic-misunderstanding comedy conventions can probably be traced back to this source) but the dialogue’s as much fun as ever. And any book that contains the account of Gussie’s drunken attempt to give the prizes at Market Snodsbury Middle School is worth treasuring.

Joy in the Morning:

The odd title of this Jeeves-and-Wooster treat refers to Bertie’s feelings at his escape from ‘what my biographers will probably call the Steeple Bumpleigh Horror.’ Readers will be more likely to call it screamingly funny. Features a host of deliciously Wodehousian characters trying to get out of the usual romantic scrapes, this time with a filip of real peril in the person of ‘young Edwin’ the well-meaning but mildly homicidal Boy Scout. Considered by many fans to be the best novel in the series.

The Code of the Woosters:

The adventures of likeable nitwit Bertie Wooster and his pluperfect valet Jeeves, Totleigh Towers division. Their attempts to unravel the romantic complications of friend and foe alike (whilst NOT stealing the silver cow-creamer) inspire Wodehouse’s familiar verbal farce to new — and hilarious –heights. The highlight is probably the introduction of Roderick Spode, the would-be fascist leader of the Black Shorts (‘all the shirts were taken’). Highly recommended for anyone in need of a good, civilized laugh.

Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit:

Uproar in the Wooster household: Bertie’s grown a mustache. Before Jeeves can recover, the intrepid duo must flee to the country under threat from ‘Stilton’ Cheesewright, who’s convinced Bertie has designs on his fiancee. What follows is a wild whirligig of coincidences, miscues and pratfalls that — strictly speaking — reads a bit like a parody of itself. Even Bertie’s usual verbal meanderings go just a leetle too far afield for reader patience…or at least they would if this were anything but Wodehouse, and thus also wonderfully, deliciously, laugh-out-loud funny, every line of it.

Dave Barry Slept Here:

The premise is simple: as a public service to bored schoolchildren everywhere – also, a means to hit up school boards for serious cash – Barry has reinvented the high-school American history text. All important events now take place on October 8 (chosen for many important reasons, such as “it is our son’s birthday”).
He’s also excised the ‘really dull parts’ (treaties, dates, actual facts, etc.) but after discovering that no mention of women and minority groups = no customers, has carefully included such gems as “Elizabeth…who was called the Virgin Queen because it was not considered a tremendously smart move to call her the Really Ugly Queen.”
The American Revolution is the most important event in history, of course, except possibly Super Bowl III (“This historian won $35”). From there Barry moves on to the Founding Fathers’ letter from Visa (“If you do not pay…we will regretfully have to return you to British rule”) the South’s pre-slavery attempts to recruit help via classified ad (“Are you that special ‘can-do’ kind of guy or gal who’s willing to work extremely hard…plus we get to keep your children?”). All leading naturally into the Ford/Carter administrations (“The Seventies: A Relieved Nation Learns That It Does Not Actually NEED a President”).
An excellent read for anyone in danger of taking life – American or otherwise – too seriously.

Dave Barry’s Only Travel Guide You’ll Ever Need:

Going, going… real gone, man, in the inimitable Barry style. Net result: a likeable but mostly kinda uninspired collection of ‘helpful’ travel tips and anecdotes. The best and freshest gags involve North American travel destinations, including a Floridian’s-eye view of Walt ‘You WILL Have Fun’ Disney World, along with semi-factual highlights of all fifty states (Conneticut’s Official State Dip Enhancer is ‘chives’). And of course there’s the Barry take on Canada (“Beavers on Currency? Yes. Hockey Players With Teeth? No.”) Probably for die-hard fans only, especially given the existence of Chris Harris’ Don’t Go Europe!

The Dog is Not a Toy (House Rule #4) – Get Fuzzy Collection #1 by Darby Conley:

In the comics world, the presence of fuzzy critters doesn’t always, or even often mean sharp wit, which is why I think so many are enchanted by Darby Conley’s imaginative – and wonderfully well-observed – take on life with pets. Covering some of the same gently surreal territory as ‘Calvin & Hobbes’ and B.Kliban, ‘Get Fuzzy’ features a cat and a dog revealing their innermost thoughts…and they’re just as goofily alien as you always suspected they’d be.
Along for the ride is their Everyman owner, Rob, and his permanent grudge at the universe for convincing him to house furry critters in the first place (“Get a cat, they said. Zero maintenance, they said…”) Lots of fun for the sophisticated comics fan and/or pet owner. (Future Shoe: And as a bonus, this is way before Conley trotted out the Cockney cat and the political slant…)

I Was a Teenage Katima-Victim! by Will Ferguson:

Unite the country or bust… mostly bust. Actually, to hear Will Ferguson tell it, it was all a big misunderstanding. He was lured into Katimavik, the youth volunteer program, by pictures of sun-bronzed outdoorsmen (“They were smiling. They had chainsaws”) and the chance to get out of chemistry class. Instead he found himself shoehorned into increasingly eccentric housing with a bunch of even more eccentric groupmates, cleaning out sewer lines. And that’s just the first two chapters.
After awhile, though, the tone gets more thoughtful, and even tender, as the teenage ‘curmudgeon’ gropes his way to something that resembles an understanding of Canada…and/or human nature. Like all really great humorists, Ferguson understands that there’s nothing siller than real life — and he has a knack of making you think about real issues at the same time you’re laughing out loud. I’m looking forward to his other books.
(Future Shoe: They include the snarky sociological send-up How to Be a Canadian, written with his playwright brother Ian.)

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