Wednesday , October 21 2020
A great collection of smart silliness.

Book Review: The McSweeney’s Joke Book of Book Jokes by the editors of McSweeney’s

You don’t need to be a reader or a writer to enjoy the book jokes in this joke book because some of the material is just plain funny regardless of your background and hobbies, but it will certainly augment the laughs and open up a number of gags. For example, the synopses to John Updike’s television work on Newhart, Friends, and Gilligan’s Island are comical, but those who know his writing will appreciate the parody as every show deals with characters going on a ski trip to Vermont, resulting in unsatisfying sexual experiences.

The jokes with the greatest success take fictional characters and place them in real-world settings. I laughed out loud at the office worker frustrated by the poor performance and the spilt honey of Winnie the Pooh and at Gregor Samsa learning his Social Security disability claim had been denied even though “I AM A GIGANTIC COCKROACH” is listed as an impairment. Real world celebrities deal with literature as well. Right-wing talk-show host Sean Hannity lists “The Five Most Dangerous Children’s Books Ever Written,” such as Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which undermines “the capitalist spirit” and ignores “the Christian element of Christmas” and the obvious Communist metaphor of Clifford, the Big Red Dog. A glimpse into the future is provided as a young Ralph Nader writes a book report about Sinclar Lewis’ The Jungle. These two ideas are wittily combined when Lolita’s Humbert Humbert gets caught on Dateline: To Catch a Predator and mistakes Chris Hansen for Quilty.

Writers and those who have attended writing workshops will enjoy seeing the familiar and hysterical notes on author submissions. James Joyce hears back about Ulysses that he should “Show how these characters process memory, language, abstractions, and the urban landscape through stream of consciousness, don’t just tell us,” and it is suggested to Homer that he not repeat the Trojan Horse in The Odyssesy. “Bringing it back would seem tired.”

Many beginning writers have heard the phrase “write as if your parents were dead” from their creative-writing teacher. It refers to the writer not being afraid to reveal himself through imagery, language, and subject matter. An author misunderstands and takes the advice literally, so every story becomes about her parents being dead. Her first short story, “Autumn Days Are Fleeting,” features the lines, “I miss Mom. Why did you take her from me, God?” which then progresses into entire stories like “Telling Children About Grandparents” where a young child named Alison is told four times that she won’t meet them because “they are either dead or unknown.”

Some short pieces like “Unpublished Sequels to Famous Science-Fiction” and “Holden Caulfield Gives The Commencement Speech To A High School” are amusing, but don’t work when the original subject matter isn’t known. However, others can be deciphered and enjoyed. The humor of “Possible Titles For Sue Grafton Novels After She Runs Out Of Letters” is entertaining not just to mystery readers. Anyone who spends time with computers should get a chuckle out of / Is for Slash and F1 for Help. “IKEA Product or Lord of the Rings Character?” is a good game. Sure, Frodo is easy, but who is the Tolkein creation between Molger and Galdor?

Some stories fall flat, but they are the exception. I could name them, but writers and editors by nature are a pretty vindictive group. There’s no need to upset them and take a chance of getting a piece I submit to McSweeney’s spiked out of bitterness.

The Joke Book of Book Jokes provides many laughs and will allow its owner a feeling of smug superiority over those who don’t get the jokes. What more do you need for $12.95?

About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS

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