Archive for the ‘Treatise of Humor’ Category

“Picasso at the Lapin Agile” – Steve Martin

Take Picasso, Einstein, and Elvis, and roll them up in a bar… then write a play.  I think I liked Martin’s female characters better than his use of historical figures.  No precedence for them, but they had more life on the page.

Currently reading Louis de Bernieres.  Lovely.  Slightly off-kilter.  Wonderful use of multiple characters.  “The War in Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts”, considering the setting in a civil war type situation with people trying to wipe out the native population, this could easily slip into a dark realm, perhaps get out a soap box, but de Bernieres so far has managed to skirt around the political by letting the political self-destruct on its own. 

Also currently reading “Giles Goat-Boy” by John Barth.  Tremendous.  The story of Jesus retold on a college campus in the 60s, with a goat and a super-computer.

Simultaneously reading “Skinny Legs and All” by Tom Robbins.  I like Robbins, I really do.  I don’t even need to know what the book is about, just let the words slip by like Jell-O.


Books I’ve read that I plan to categorize:

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins

Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins

Trout Fishing in America by Richard Brautigan

Been Down so Long it Looks Like Up to Me by Richard Farina

PG Wodehouse

Monty Python scripts

Cold Comfort Farm by Stell Gibbons

Snow White by Donald Barthelme

Roald Dahl

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

The Woman Who Walked into Doors by Roddy Doyle

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

The Man Who Was Thursday

Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh

Zebra Derby by Max Shulman

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole


Reading list:

Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hasek

Tristram Shandy

Ella Minnow Pea

The Master and Margarita by  Mikhail Bulgakov

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Down to the library, picking the shelves, books I’ve never heard of, fresh off the press:

Attack of the Theater People by Marc Acito

So this is one type of humor that just doesn’t click with me, but which is very popular in the mass market.  Very straight-forward, trying to be bigger than it needs, to encompass everything flat out, instead of relying on the flavor.  It could have felt more 80s, instead of saying it was being 80s.  The flavor of the big city lost out to the suburban feel… lacking hecticity… and then it got up on the Statue of Liberty and it announced to the world, “I’m going to be important!  I’m going to encompass politics and insider trading and AIDS!  I’m going to give you the shallowness of 80s materialism! And I’m going to do it all with a character who isn’t good at much at all!”  But touching topics doesn’t necessarily mean saying anything new or interesting on them, or giving them new perspective.  More of a grocery list marked Decade than an actual immersion.

The MC was the type of character I saw a lot in my BFA classes.  Unassuming, meek, at one with failure.  Not my favorite type of character right now.  Right now I’m enamored with the underdog who finds out he excels at the most bizarre skill.  Think: Walter from the new movie “Muppets”: he has no skills, but he’s enthusiastic, and at the end, he is the bestest whistling Muppet ever.  Yaaaaayyyy!  A character who fails too much is hard to root for.  When he gives up, I give up on him.

Regardless, the good news is that I finished the book.  The bad news is, I was disappointed.  (Secretly hoping for a B-Movie farce where NYC was literally taken over, King Kong style?  Yeah… I was.)  Maybe if I’d read the first installment, I would have had more empathy for the characters.  Honestly, second books often lose that empathy because writers consider that it’s already been built. 

Re-readability: I wouldn’t go down that shiny walk of fame again.

Practical Jean by Trevor Cole

A brilliant premise with a mass market style.  I appreciated the fact that the MC was spectacularly good at creating things so breakable they almost never made it out of her ceramics shop.  I also appreciated the fact that she planned to give all her friends Death wrapped up in a shiny red bow.  But then, I didn’t appreciate the fact that the conclusion the MC came to, via the author, was that the only thing in the world that would make any of the women happy and satisfied on their Last Day was sex.  Such a shallow and physical satisfaction would have worked well for one of the women, maybe the final denouement in a Rule of Three, let Jean try her hardest to please a third friend, give her everything under the sun, try the intangible and the tangible, and then, surprise! the answer is sex.  But to start with such and then continue on that path for the second friend… well… it made it seem like any male author writing as a woman, this is how he sees them.  Not to be a rampant feminist, but the shallow female has been overdone, as has the super-feminista. 

Re-readability: I’d like to see someone else do this premise.  I really would.  I like the dark humor of the premise, and I’d love to see what someone could do that would be off the charts.

The Girl with the Glass Feet by Ali Shaw

This one was lovely.  I recommend it.  A modern world on St. Houda’s Island, cut off from the too-fast high-paced world, really gave the modern fairy tale a good base for the world.  Miniature flying cows, people turning into glass, hermits, people cut off from each other by the mud in the actual landscape.  The characters wrestled with the off-beat problems they were facing, and the fact that their worlds had been touched by this break in the Law of Nature.  A meek, quiet MC thrust into trying to be part of the world for once, and learning from a more out-going character.  It could have easily fallen back to that plot line, which has been done before, but the wondrous thing of the world Shaw created was that he never let it become staid.  Even the subplot with the MC’s stand-offish father was given new life.

Re-readability: not only that, but I would recommend the book, and I don’t do that often.

The Defenestration of Bob T. Hash III

Partly great, partly could have been better.  Imagine living in suburbia akin to Pleasantville, where pleasantness is regulated.  You’re the main editor of a language-learning book series, and every picture and scenario mirrors your own life (or does your life mirror the scenarios??).  The previous editors have all disappeared mysteriously after their book came out.  And then, in a twist of fate, you parrot is anthropomorphized into an exact copy of you, allowing you to escape.

The premise makes me giddy.  But after the first half the book, the parrot actually turns to completing the language book in earnest and fixing things the real Bob messed with before his disappearance.  Darn.  Although it was a clever take on what would be an insidiously fun learning tool (think: Zuiikin English, a Japanese aerobics tv program that teaches travel English with such exceedingly important messages as: “I’ve been robbed by two men” and “Take anything you want!” and “Spare me my life!” and the lovely “It’s your fault that this happened.”)  Bob T. Hash III, the non-parrot version, was doing this exact subversive tool.  He was going to send people to Mexico, knowing nothing of finding bread and water, and everything about losing their golf clubs.

As a parody of textbooks, it was interesting, but alas, the plot that was set up in the first half of the book was never followed through.  There could have been some serious doppleganger parrot/human fight-out moments!  Whee! 

Maybe next time…

Re-readability: Parts of it, yes.  Maybe it would be best to flip through to a random section on the second read and just enjoy the moment.

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Last night ’twas my privilege to attend a screening of “Naked Lunch”, and then the Lit Fest panel afterwards.  One of my more strange friends had told me years ago that “Naked Lunch” was truly a strange movie, almost incomprehensible.  Oddly enough, it made sense to me!  The life of a writer!  Violent typewriters!  Jealousy!  Reality!  I’m sure this says something about my state of mind.  Burroughs begins to make sense.  Run, run for your lives! 

 Afterwards, ’twas also a privilege to finally see “Harold and Maude”.  What a lovely movie!  I truly wish I’d had a Maude when I was growing up.  Sometimes I feel my teenage years were nearly as oppressive as those of Harold’s, though I didn’t quite realize it at the time, just surviving.  My grandfather would be my closest thing to Maude, the man who never grew up.  And I realized long ago, being a responsible adult doesn’t mean you need to grow up.  A friend told me at the GPTC that I should never lose my “delight for life” and though I hadn’t realized I had any, I see it now, that childish fun aspect of life… that refusal to be bogged down by being an adult.  I refuse this mask of adulthood!  I threw it into the fire and roasted marshmallows on it! 

 This afternoon I attended the Lit Fest panel of how to become a cult novelist.  I plan to work on that one!  Putting heart and soul into writing, to make it truly the best story it can be, to make it hurt and love, to bleed on the page, to go deeper…  and then to stand on the street corner in a bunny suit and jump up and down. 

 For the past five years, I’ve been studying humorous writing.  Cult classics like the “Princess Bride”, and movies like “Spinal Tap”.  I finally realized that specializing with that gives me a good base there, but that can’t be all.  One also needs something pointed inside the humor, something that hurts, even just a little, something that bears Truth on it like a tiny scratch on a grain of rice.  I have my basis.  Now what?  It wasn’t until reading a Max Shulman novel last week that I realized I hadn’t even finished a grand romp by Thorne Smith from earlier this summer.  “The Glorious Pool” went unfinished.  I realized I’ve become disillusioned, a bit, that I’ve stopped laughing.  These books might be the best of “humor”, but they are lacking something underneath.  A good escape, but lacking.  And here I’ve been studying them so diligently, perhaps learning, and my education lacks.  At least I’ve recognized it!  Yaaay!  The first step of an addict is to admit there is a problem. 

Although not all great books can balance humor and pathos.  And not all books can balance funny and important.  I tried reading “Crazy in Alabama” and made it halfway before setting it aside.  The first part was interesting.  Not exactly what I expected, but interesting.  I guess I didn’t fall for the narrator.  You gotta feel for the narrator, or what’s to pull you through?  And when suddenly the scope changed from the boy’s life, to a national crisis, a clash of black and white civilization in the 60’s, it lost that close perspective of his life, tried to reach too far… just one reader’s opinion, of course, as the book has won oodles of awards.  I really have gotten jaded about books.  Even “The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Klay” fell short when it went from the family to the world.  I’ve found one thing I can’t abide by in books, I guess.  Not to say that there shouldn’t be a global perspective, shouldn’t be something “important” lying in wait.  But sometimes that overshadows the story and the purpose of reading a fictional account of a fictional person–it ceases to be fictional and becomes non-fiction, ceases to be about a person, the character becomes acted upon (or thrust into a situation where they didn’t actually have a place in reality) instead of the one acting.  Seems like the novels that do suddenly become nearly non-fiction win a lot of awards, though, “tackling the tough issues”, so they must be doing something right!  Or, says the jaded side of me, do the reviewers go lighter on them because they are tackling the tough issues, and forget about the story we started reading? 



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The default post title reminds me of this adorable little keychain I had as a child.  A tiny kitten, falling into a commode, proclaiming: Good-bye, cruel world!  Which is probably only funny if one can look at the world as less than cruel.  Slightly sadistic, yes, odd sense of humor, yes, but cruelty should be reserved for those who do not believe in happiness and purposefully attempt to bring others down into the abyss. 

 The default post title also reminds me of the new world I’ve discovered over the past few months.  Rather than being confined to the city of mine birth, I’m poking my head out of this scratchy eggshell, blinking into the sunlight, and contemplating my next move.  Suddenly every opportunity is open.  Despite having scoffed previously at such things as an MFA, which I could easily do in my hometown, but, pshaw, what for?  I’ve been shown, through the eyes of a crazy person in my attic, that there’s something else out there–a la “The Boy Who Could Fly.” 

 So, hello, world!



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