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Time for a New Standard

In my 50 Before 50 goal list, one of my goal is to read all the books which have won prizes for humor.

I’m not impressed.

So far I’ve been following the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse prize list, but I think it’s time to find another list. The last two books I’ve read in this list were Reasons to be Cheerful and Zookeeper. I didn’t even finish Zookeeper, because I just wasn’t enjoying it. Reasons to be Cheerful was fine, but not gripping and not hilarious.

Why did these books fail me?

Humor is a very individual thing. It’s a risky endeavor, crafting a joke that is funny but not mean spirited or vulgar. Ellen is a master at this sort of thing. I don’t consider irony to be very funny. While I enjoy slapstick or physical humor, that can be very difficult to convey in writing. I remember loving the book Everything is Illuminated but while I appreciate the humor, I didn’t laugh out loud until I saw the movie adaptation which brought the physical humor to life.

I’ve noticed a lot of the award winning books are cynical, which doesn’t appeal to me. I get that people think that being cynical allows us to appreciate and laugh at the absurdity of life, but I don’t think life is absurd. Life is chaotic and painful and surprising and bewildering, but not meaningless.

Lest anyone think I’m just a grump, there are books that make me literally laugh out loud. Anything written by Jenny Lawson, Anne Lamott, Christopher Moore, Helen Fielding or Mindy Kaling is a winner for my funny bone. You’ll notice that the only author from that list who is on the Bollinger list is Helen Fielding.

The purpose of this goal is to find other authors that tickle my funny bone, and so far that has failed. The funniest book I’ve read in this current pursuit was the memoir written by Parker Posey, which is, coincidentally, not on the list.

I’m not going to give up.

I’m not sure exactly what to do next, but I’m not in a rush. The holidays are upon us and time is precious. I’ll get back to this in the new year!

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  1. I also think Jerry Seinfeld was good at making people laugh without being mean-spirited or vulgar. Also Jim Gaffigan. I enjoyed Tina Fey’s book, and of course David Sedaris. Although I will say I prefer listening to him. There’s just something about his voice, his timing, etc., that really enhances the humor. Ditto Gaffigan, now that I think of it.

    1. I totally agree on Sedaris, love his stuff when he reads it, less funny just reading it.

      It’s unconventional, and basically a long form comic, but we loved “What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions”by Randall Munroe in which the author answers hypothetical science questions sent to him by readers of his webcomic, xkcd.

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