Posts Tagged ‘Comedy’

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2013: Melissa O’s Picks

December 20, 2013

I read a wide variety of books, both fiction and nonfiction. Ask me for a suggestion and I most likely have read something that would appeal to you. But I still enjoy wandering the library stacks. Stumbling across a fabulous book is like finding a gem in a pile of costume jewelry. Costume jewelry is fun and fleeting, but some books are treasures that become friends for life. These are some of the new friends I made this year. Some have been out there a long time, others are more recent arrivals, but they are all worth checking out and passing along for more to enjoy!

When You Look Like Your Passport Photo, It’s Time To Go Home by Erma Bombeck
I am a huge fan of Bill Bryson. One day while lamenting I had read and reread all his books the title of this book caught my eye. Intrigued, I picked it up. I am so glad I did! I laughed so hard I was sore the next day. I found out Erma Bombeck had a syndicated newspaper column and was a well known humorist. Somehow she had flown under my radar. But no more! In this collection of humorous writings she describes her travels around the world with her family.  And a word of warning: I had this on audio book and had to pull over because the tears of laughter were blinding me.

Variant by Robison Wells
If you thought surviving high school was hard, then this book takes it to a whole new level. Benson Fisher thought he was escaping an intolerable foster care system when he made it into the elite Maxfield Academy. He arrives excited for his new future, but something just seems not quite right. And then students start to disappear.  At this boarding school breaking the rules can literally kill you and escape is impossible.

Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb
When I think of dragons I imagine powerful creatures to be admired or possibly feared. This is the first of Robin Hobb’s Rain Wild Chronicles, and these dragons are pathetic and sickly. They cannot survive without their human keepers and as sentiment grows against them they are driven out on a perilous journey. But will they reach safety? Or will the enemies surrounding them doom the dragons forever?

High Country Fall by Margaret Maron
Since I was heading into the mountains for a vacation, I thought what better book to take along then one set in the North Carolina Mountains. And I fell in love with Judge Deborah Knott. Not just because the books are well written, or because the setting was so perfectly described I felt I was there, but because she is so ordinary and believable I felt I was her as I was reading. Judge Knott escapes the pressures of a recent engagement by subbing for a fellow judge in Cedar Gap. There she stumbles into a murder mystery and danger, and what about that handsome DA Lucius Burke! This book is the perfect mix of action, mystery, humor, and romance.

Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
If you thought writing restaurant reviews was easy, just wait until you read this biography!  Ruth Reichl was the New York Times restaurant critic for most of the 1990’s. With humor and wisdom she draws you not only into the restaurant world, but into her world as well. This book is so well written you will feel you can close your eyes and be sitting in a top steakhouse, or a tiny Chinatown sushi bar, eating along with her.

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

May 23, 2013

It has been foretold by Agnes Nutter, witch extraordinaire and general loon, that the world is going to end and Agnes Nutter’s book of prophecies has never been wrong. The antichrist and the end of days are upon us.

Good and evil are about to go to war and no one in heaven or hell can be bothered to stop it. That is, no one except a demon that likes to drive too fast and an angel that is enjoying life on earth just a little too much. Crowley, the demon, and Aziraphale, the angel, like doing their respective jobs and they would never completely disobey orders, but they might fudge things just a little to hopefully avoid the apocalypse. Crowley actually likes humans and Azipraphale definitely would miss the music too much. They decide that when the antichrist is born they’ll make sure he is given a bit of heavenly tutoring along with his evil lessons. But when when the time comes, Crowley and Aziraphale realize they’ve made an enormous mistake. They’ve misplaced the antichrist.

Pratchett and Gaiman have written a hilarious story about what would happen if the antichrist were lost and raised by the most normal loving family in the world. Would he still grow up to be harbinger of evil, or could he, along with his misfit pals and his hellhound named “Dog,” actually avoid their fate? It is an endearing tale of what it means to be human, while also questioning the nature of good and evil. It’ll make you laugh out loud, but more than anything, it’ll make you appreciate the band Queen.

Find and reserve this book in the library.

Fresh air with Terry Gross Just for Laughs : interviews with 18 stars of comedy.

February 25, 2013

I really enjoy learning about the art of comedy. It has always been an admirable skill to make someone laugh especially when life is not so funny. When I found this audio download available through my library, I was very happy. This 3-hour audio contains 10-15 minute snippets of past Fresh Air interviews. There is a nice variety of comedians old and new, working in a variety of genres, giving the listener a wide variety of experiences. The compilation includes the following interviewees: Aziz Ansari, Mike Judge, Trey Parker & Matt Stone, Sarah Silverman, Will Ferrell, Denis Leary, Sacha Baron Cohen, Stephen Colbert, Mort Sahl, George Carlin, Don Rickles, Tina Fey, Tracy Morgan, Joan Rivers, Steve Martin, Billy West and Woody Allen.

Terry Gross, recipient of the 2003 Edward R. Murrow award, is a fantastic interviewer. The interviews are a very casual experience. I never get the impression that she crams for the interview but draws from her own knowledge as a fan and asks questions that are important and interesting to the listener. She is completely engaging and most importantly, not afraid to laugh.

Although there are many laughs, there are also things to ponder. I love to hear about all the work that goes into being a seemingly effortlessly funny and successful comedian in a chosen genre. Much of what makes people laugh can be controversial. This discussion of controversy was most intriguing and thought provoking. Comedy to me is very raw and sometimes not pretty whether the comedian is taking from his/her own life experiences or holding a mirror up to society.

Also, it is interesting to see comedians out of their element. Guess what? They are people just like you and me. They are not always a laugh-riot which is even more proof that comedy is an art requiring hard work. So if you need a laugh AND like to think, check out this downloable audio book.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce

November 17, 2010

The most recent edition of this book is illustrated by Ralph Steadman.  So that’s one reason why you should just go ahead grab yourself a copy.  But maybe you can’t get your hands on that one — maybe instead you have the unillustrated and economical-in-every-way Dover Thrift Edition.  Fear not: it’s the same book, just without the kinky illustration of “Belladonna” (n. In Italian a beautiful lady; in English a deadly poison.  A striking example of the essential identity of the two tongues).

Bierce began this “dictionary” in 1881 as a serial in a newspaper, and continued “in a desultory way and at long intervals until 1906.”  He has been compared to Oscar Wilde and Jonathan Swift, at least in terms of his wit.  However, not always: he was a Union soldier at Shiloh, Chickamauga, Lookout Mountain, Missionary Ridge, Kenesaw Mountain, and many other bloody and horrible Civil War battles, though at the latter he sustained a serious head injury, despite which he reenlisted as soon as he was able.  Thus, if you pick up any of his Civil War writing, you will find scant hilarity.

But none of that here.  The Devil’s Dictionary is grouchy and hilarious or cynical and mean-spirited, depending on your mood (and his, maybe).  It’s meant for opening at random and reading aloud.  Bring it to Thanksgiving and amuse your family!  Here’s one to read while you pass around the ham:

“Trichinosis, n. The pig’s reply to proponents of porcophagy.”

Or when that Irritating Aunt/Sister/Lady Etc. starts prattling on about late parties, loud music, miniskirts, and how Kids these days don’t know Things:  “Prude, n. A bawd hiding behind the back of her demeanor.”

Or maybe Your Cousin the Insufferable Harry Potter fan temporarily takes his spoon from his mouth (or doesn’t) and starts to ramble on about the new HP movie:  “Hippogriff, n.  An animal (now extinct) which was half horse and half griffin.  The griffin was itself a compound creature, half lion and half eagle.  The hippogriff was actually, therefore, only one-quarter eagle, which is two dollars and fifty cents in gold.  The study of zoology is full of surprises.”

Or perhaps your family declares that they’ve had quite enough of you reading aloud from your stupid book, thank you very much, this is even worse than last year when you harassed Poor Father with an endless recitation of Gertrude Stein: “Erudition, n. Dust shaken out of a book into an empty skull.”  Alternatively: “November, n.  The eleventh twelfth of a weariness.”

Check it out.

The Mysterious Secret of the Valuable Treasure by Jack Pendarvis

May 3, 2010

Have you ever felt upon first hearing a song or a band that you’ve spent years longing for this sort of music, but you weren’t aware of your desire until you actually heard it?  This was what it was like when I first read Jack Pendarvis: his is precisely the type of brilliant writing that I had been looking for, but I wasn’t aware of this longing until I started reading him.  He is the first author since John Kennedy Toole whose prose made me laugh so hard that I fell over and drooled on myself.

Like all excellent authors, he does not live inside of a pigeonhole; however, this makes it difficult to describe his fiction or quote him out of context.  Sometimes I imagine his narrative voice is that of a deranged but harmless barbershop quartet tenor who has cozied up to me on a park bench, waxing insanely poetic about his halcyon days of yore.  Or sometimes it’s as though you’re listening to a clever friend relate an ingenious anecdote that you will in turn tell to someone else, but in doing so you will plagiarize all of your friend’s inflections and idioms because their hilarity is infinitely superior to yours.

This book is his first short story collection, which has two epigraphs. The second is a line from Goethe’s Faust, part 1: “Das ist deine Welt! Das heißt eine Welt!”  This translates roughly to “That is your world! A world most rare!”  It makes more sense in context, so I’ll quote it here at length:

Narrowed and cumbered by piles of books
That are gnawed by worms and grimed with dust,
And which, with its smoke-stained paper, looks
Swathed to the roof in a dingy rust;
Stuck round with phials, and chests untold,
With instruments littered and lumbered with old
Crazy, ancestral household ware-
That is your world! A world most rare!
And yet can you wonder why your soul
Is numbed within your breast? And why
A dead, dull anguish makes your whole
Life’s pulses falter, and ebb, and die?

Faust is a doomed man whose giant brain depresses him.  This line is also quoted by Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy, in which he argues that Greek tragedy is a combination of Apollonian and Dionysian elements–the former entails restraint and harmony, the latter meaning unfettered ecstasy.  If you have read Faust then this will make sense to you.  If you haven’t read Faust, well, what are you waiting for?  It has a devil in it!

What does this have to do with Jack Pendarvis?  Everything!  His stories are like hilarious Greek tragedies: his characters are all suffering in some capacity, and readers derive pleasure from this suffering.  Maybe one is suffering because he’s a pitiful loser lacking charisma and sexual prowess (see “Sex Devil”), or maybe another is suffering because she’s a frustrated writer seething with creative energy who is forced to make ends meet by reviewing stupid, sub-par novels (see “Our Spring Catalog”).  Or maybe one is a security guard stuck in a Samuel Beckett-esque nightmare where the only potential for meaningful connection is with a piece of plastic pipe (see “The Pipe”).

Without cruelty or schadenfreude, Pendarvis transforms the misery of stifled creativity, broken dreams, and abject loneliness into something hilarious.   Read his wonderful fiction.


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