Monday, December 19, 2011

Humor me: An anthology of funny contemporary writing

By Ian Frazier, Editor

Book review by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

My father-in-law, Edgar E. Willis, who wrote the great book, How to be funny on purpose: Creating and consuming humor, looked at this book.  He had just read and enjoyed Michael Shelden’s Mark Twain: Man in White (Random House, 2010), so his inclination was to immediately turn to Frazier’s Mark Twain entry, “1601.”  Familiar with this essay, Willis turned up his nose saying not only was it a poor choice (from all the Twain essays that could have been chosen), but it was truly distasteful — lewd and bawdy.

What’s interesting about the Twain piece is that it was singled out by Frazier in the “Introduction.”  He said this:  “Start again [after laughing uproariously]: Now let us turn our attention to the anthology itself, and its contents, which include an eminent piece by the eminent writer Mark Twain on the subject of Shakespeare farting.  Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahah, oh God why did I start with that one?  There’s no way I can describe the farting piece without breaking up completely, oh God oh jeez.  What now?  Heeheeheeheeheeheehee!  A-hee.  A-ha.  Deep breath.  Breathe . . .” (p. x).

I thought his introduction to this book was childish, juvenile, and completely stupid, ridiculous, and irrelevant.  What is truly “stupid, ridiculous, and irrelevant” is that very few pieces in this book deserve (earn?) the “hilarity or hysteria” the author gives them.  I thought, too, that any editor who would begin a book on humor in this way, cannot be trusted.  It was not just “over the top,” it was outrageous and inappropriate.

With respect to Ian Frazier’s introduction, you’ve undoubtedly heard the cliche, “He doth protesteth too much.”  I found the following quotation at “Sigmund, Carl and Alfred under the title, “He doth protesteth too much,” which speaks precisely to Frazier’s approach in his introduction:  “This is the same sort of phenomenon as the famous “I am not a crook” type of statement. If you have to keep asserting something like that, it is often the case that you probably are a crook. Likewise, if you have to keep mentioning that you are “reality-based”, it becomes more and more certain that –whatever you may be, reality has little to do with it.”

If you have to keep asserting how funny your book selections are — that they keep you laughing uproariously — then it is easy (and proper) to assume the book selections that follow are very unfunny.  Be forewarned.

When Willis returned the book to me, he had nothing to say about it — which speaks volumes about the book, the editor, and the selections.  When he likes a book, it is clear from the quotes he shares, the discussions he engages in (or stimulates), and the specific positive comments he makes.  None of that here.

The three-star (out of five) review of the book by the Sacramento Book Review at said, “It's hard to not be skeptical when reading a book pitched as an anthology of funny writing. Humor itself is highly subjective, but the foreword to the book promised laugh-out-loud, gut-wrenching, funny stories. The ensuing book, however, didn't match what the foreword or the title promised.”  Precisely!  Well said.

Toward the end of the “Introduction,” Frazier says, “There are great pieces in here, so you SHOULD enjoy it.  If you don’t, the problem is with you” (p. xii).  It is true that humor is subjective, but when you pick up a book called Humor Me it should be chock full of “great pieces.”  You shouldn’t have to wade through 50 others to find them.  Second, I thought the problem with this book could be me, but when Willis, a true expert on humor and what it takes to be funny, clearly confirmed my point of view, I realized it wasn’t me at all.  The problem with this book is Ian Frazier and the selections he made for this book.  Don’t waste your time on this one.

This book is available at Humor me: An anthology of funny contemporary writing

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