Oh the Hilarity!

~posted by Jenny C.

It’s been a while since I shared my favorite silly picture books with you, and I have a whole new crop of ridiculous and delightful picks!

Find McToad Mows Tiny Island in the SPL catalogMcToad Mows Tiny Island
by Tom Angleberger
This book is both completely ludicrous in plot and remarkably satisfying. McToad loves Thursdays, because on Thursdays he mows tiny island. It speaks to me as someone who inevitably does things the hard way, because it’s more fun. McToad’s appealing, warty face really adds to the experience of this excellent collection of Things That Go. Continue reading “Oh the Hilarity!”

What’s Funny, Part 2: Dysfunction — how bad is it?

The time for labeling and loving books about “dysfunctional” families is past. Readers have moved on, having acknowledged that no family is actually “functional” and that’s okay. Now we want to read more exciting dysfunction stories: we need more drama, more humor, and more action. We might throw in a little horror and suspense like in the The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson; or maybe some literary heartbreak as in Father of the Rain by Lily King. But when times are low many of us long for a good old-fashioned Archie Bunker dysfunctional family you can just laugh at. (If you don’t know the show, think “Family Guy”) If you enjoy Southern humor, try Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman. CeeCee is a victim of her mother’s insanity and is “saved” by wealthy Aunt Tootie and her servant Oletta who are the original Southern odd couple. It’s a funny book with serious implications: will a girl who throws slugs into her neighbor’s yard ever make Southern belle-dom?

Speaking of the products of a screwed up childhood, what about Johnny, the puzzled writer in Requiem, Mass by John Dufresne? Johnny’s father’s a bigamist with several families; his sister lives inside her imagination and his mother is convinced her children are alien changelings. Sounds like sheer slapstick with a pinch of surprise dysfunction. And remember the “find family where it is” phase, starring Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees and Billie Letts’ Where the Heart Is? Presenting Family Man by Elinor Lipman! Anything by Elinor Lipman will be full of silly dysfunction pushed to the max, making you laugh ruefully. In Family Man, Henry Archer, divorced gay man, reconnects with his ex-wife when her new husband dies and rediscovers his stepdaughter in an amazingly improbably coat check scene. What makes this admittedly dysfunctional family so lovable is the author’s talent for characterization. Henry is a real sweetie looking for a family, his ex is barmy and his daughter is lovably naïve: perfect conditions for a happily offbeat family.

In Addition, by Toni Jordan, Australian teacher Grace Vandenburg spends so much time with her counting routines that life is getting squeezed out. She counts everything, schedules excruciatingly exact time periods in which to accomplish tasks and even counts poppy seeds on her cake, allowing only a set number for each bite. This is dysfunctional and it must stop – because Grace has a new boyfriend, Seamus, who won’t take no for an answer. Seamus tries to help Grace kick her OCD by seeking help in some of the most poignant and hilarious ways: it makes you twice about pharmaceuticals vs. dysfunction! Are you functional if you think you are?

See also: What’s funny? (Part one)

What’s funny?

Sometimes we just want a funny book, but our definitions of “funny” differ widely according to individual taste, background and predilection. When I was six going on sixteen I thought my mother’s sense of humor was just bizarre. She loved Jerry Lewis, Tony Curtis and Lucille Ball: it was the slapstick humor she loved. To me, this kind of humor seemed mindless and slightly wrong, since it’s not particularly funny when people fall or get clobbered by a flowerpot. It’s not funny to me. I can’t bear to watch “Funniest Home Videos” – all those poor injured animals and people lying in agony while their loved ones film the whole thing. Others, like Mom, love this type of humor. So when people say they want to relax with a funny book or movie, it’s a crapshoot whether anyone else will love their choice. So, maybe Continue reading “What’s funny?”

Sit Down with Stand-Ups

My colleagues inform me that March is the official month of mirth, a more depressing concept I truly cannot think of. Despite my enormous reservations with such a frivolously joyful demarcation (what next, Cake and Presents Day?!?), I resign myself to acknowledging such trivialities in my role of public servant.

So here we are. Mirth. Laughs. Jollies. Chortles and/or guffaws. Who better to administer a professional prescription of glee than stand-up comedians? It seems like two decades ago the apex of a comedian’s career was landing an eponymous sitcom on broadcast television. Since the sitcom is now a relic of simpler times the only recourse for gagsters appears to be quill and parchment. 

The funniest nail in the sitcom coffin has got to be Larry David’s HBO comedy series Curb Your Enthusiasm. Two of the show’s side-splittingly hilarious co-stars, Susie Essman and Jeff Garlin released books recently. Ms. Essman’s What Would Susie Say? takes its tone from the foul-mouthed, outspoken housewife she Continue reading “Sit Down with Stand-Ups”