Pub Day Repost: Dear Mr Pop Star by Derek & Dave Philpott: Hilarious, Unique, Addictive are some Adjectives I use to describe this Incredibly Entertaining Book

Dear Mr Pop StarDear Mr Pop Star

by Derek & Dave Philpott
eARC, 412 pg.
Unbound, 2018
Read: July 24 – August 7, 2018<br/

In my intro post for this Tour Stop, I said that this book was “almost indescribable” and I really mean that — the blurb for the book says, “deliberately deranged letters to pop stars from the 1960s to the 90s to take issue with the lyrics of some of their best-known songs.” And that’s right, but it doesn’t seem to get to the heart of it. The answer to the first question in the Q&A is a pretty good description, though. But if you don’t want to read that (which I get, you’re wrong — but I get it), I should probably try to convey what you’ll find here.

Let’s take a look at the letter they wrote to Starship. I don’t feel too bad about talking about this letter in detail because their take on their song “We Built this City” is common (I used to own, for example, a t-shirt that made the same joke, just in briefer form). Now, their letter goes into a great amount of detail about the nature of foundations, different types of them, etc. and how this makes their “design project” the “most ludicrous” in the history of architecture. This kind of thing is funny, and a collection of these sort of letters — as well-written as these are — would be worth the time to read and would make you laugh — I’d give it a pretty high rating, encourage you to get it, etc.

But what separates this book from similar tomes, what makes it special is that on the very next page, you get to read a response from Martin Page, who co-wrote the song. Page mounts an impassioned defense of the song — full of references to Rock classics as proof. I’ll spare the details so you can appreciate Page’s inspired choise in response. Each letter printed in this collection is answered by a songwriter, musician, or other representative of a musical act. Some of these responses debate the premise of the Philpott’s letter, some answer in the same vein, others take the premise and run with it in their own way — some appear to be in on the joke, others appears to be flummoxed that anyone would take their lyrics in this insane manner.

In particular, Tears for Fears, The Knack, and NuShooz/J. Smith had great responses — Kimberly Rew (of Katrina and the Waves) is my current favorite. EMF must have either absolutely loved or utterly hated writing their response, I cackled at it. The Human League and Wang Chung composed very long responses — some are as short as a paragraph or three. I really could keep listing some other distinctives about the responses, and great ones to look for — but this is already getting pretty long.

They also include some lIttle notes or postcards like the one to ELO, talking about the impossibility of their name; to “Mr. John” about the unacceptability of violence on any night; or to John Parr (involving canonization of a particular Muppet, and the danger of exposing him to flame) — I just reread that one and cracked up, again. These probably couldn’t support being stretched into a letter of any length, and there are no responses printed — but are very likely the most funny parts of the book.

There’s an elevated vocabulary used by the Philpotts — this isn’t an uneducated reaction to lyrics. The letters are frequently erudite and earnest. The letters don’t come across as something written for comedic effect — yes, they’re funny. But that’s not the intention. Somehow, that happens without turning the joke back on them for misunderstanding the lyrics, either. They’re a strange kind of tribute, but this kind of close reading of a lyric is a form of flattery.

Many of the acts haven’t made much of an impact in the States, and I clearly don’t know enough about British Pop Music to understand each of these — but thanks to youtube and lyrics websites, I was able to get the gist of what I was supposed to be reading about (and I was able to enjoy those I was feeling too lazy to look up). But by and large these are acts and songs that are well-known enough that this book is accessible to readers from around the English-speaking world (and maybe larger, I’m not an expert on music listening habits). The acts run the gamut from Herman’s Hermits to Judas Priest and many, many points in between.

I cannot stress enough how much fun I had with this book — I read whole letters or notes aloud to family members, and/or forced them to read one for themselves. These are the perfect literary equivalent of potato chips, you can eat a handful at a time and then leave the bag for later (along those lines, it’s possible to read too many at once). The letters are short enough that you can just dip in and out of the book. And, I can assure you, these are the kind of thing you can return to later and still enjoy — not unlike a good pop song (huh, wonder where I got that imagery?) A combination of satire, analysis, tribute and comedy — without any meanness or cruelty — Dear Mr Pop Star will appeal to music lovers from all sorts of eras. Do yourself a favor and grab this today.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the authors in exchange for my participation in this tour stop.

—–

5 Stars

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Dear Mr Pop Star by Derek & Dave Philpott: Hilarious, Unique, Addictive are some Adjectives I use to describe this Incredibly Entertaining Book

Dear Mr Pop StarDear Mr Pop Star

by Derek & Dave Philpott

eARC, 412 pg.
Unbound, 2018
Read: July 24 – August 7, 2018<br/

In my intro post for this Tour Stop, I said that this book was “almost indescribable” and I really mean that — the blurb for the book says, “deliberately deranged letters to pop stars from the 1960s to the 90s to take issue with the lyrics of some of their best-known songs.” And that’s right, but it doesn’t seem to get to the heart of it. The answer to the first question in the Q&A is a pretty good description, though. But if you don’t want to read that (which I get, you’re wrong — but I get it), I should probably try to convey what you’ll find here.

Let’s take a look at the letter they wrote to Starship. I don’t feel too bad about talking about this letter in detail because their take on their song “We Built this City” is common (I used to own, for example, a t-shirt that made the same joke, just in briefer form). Now, their letter goes into a great amount of detail about the nature of foundations, different types of them, etc. and how this makes their “design project” the “most ludicrous” in the history of architecture. This kind of thing is funny, and a collection of these sort of letters — as well-written as these are — would be worth the time to read and would make you laugh — I’d give it a pretty high rating, encourage you to get it, etc.

But what separates this book from similar tomes, what makes it special is that on the very next page, you get to read a response from Martin Page, who co-wrote the song. Page mounts an impassioned defense of the song — full of references to Rock classics as proof. I’ll spare the details so you can appreciate Page’s inspired choise in response. Each letter printed in this collection is answered by a songwriter, musician, or other representative of a musical act. Some of these responses debate the premise of the Philpott’s letter, some answer in the same vein, others take the premise and run with it in their own way — some appear to be in on the joke, others appears to be flummoxed that anyone would take their lyrics in this insane manner.

In particular, Tears for Fears, The Knack, and NuShooz/J. Smith had great responses — Kimberly Rew (of Katrina and the Waves) is my current favorite. EMF must have either absolutely loved or utterly hated writing their response, I cackled at it. The Human League and Wang Chung composed very long responses — some are as short as a paragraph or three. I really could keep listing some other distinctives about the responses, and great ones to look for — but this is already getting pretty long.

They also include some lIttle notes or postcards like the one to ELO, talking about the impossibility of their name; to “Mr. John” about the unacceptability of violence on any night; or to John Parr (involving canonization of a particular Muppet, and the danger of exposing him to flame) — I just reread that one and cracked up, again. These probably couldn’t support being stretched into a letter of any length, and there are no responses printed — but are very likely the most funny parts of the book.

There’s an elevated vocabulary used by the Philpotts — this isn’t an uneducated reaction to lyrics. The letters are frequently erudite and earnest. The letters don’t come across as something written for comedic effect — yes, they’re funny. But that’s not the intention. Somehow, that happens without turning the joke back on them for misunderstanding the lyrics, either. They’re a strange kind of tribute, but this kind of close reading of a lyric is a form of flattery.

Many of the acts haven’t made much of an impact in the States, and I clearly don’t know enough about British Pop Music to understand each of these — but thanks to youtube and lyrics websites, I was able to get the gist of what I was supposed to be reading about (and I was able to enjoy those I was feeling too lazy to look up). But by and large these are acts and songs that are well-known enough that this book is accessible to readers from around the English-speaking world (and maybe larger, I’m not an expert on music listening habits). The acts run the gamut from Herman’s Hermits to Judas Priest and many, many points in between.

I cannot stress enough how much fun I had with this book — I read whole letters or notes aloud to family members, and/or forced them to read one for themselves. These are the perfect literary equivalent of potato chips, you can eat a handful at a time and then leave the bag for later (along those lines, it’s possible to read too many at once). The letters are short enough that you can just dip in and out of the book. And, I can assure you, these are the kind of thing you can return to later and still enjoy — not unlike a good pop song (huh, wonder where I got that imagery?) A combination of satire, analysis, tribute and comedy — without any meanness or cruelty — Dear Mr Pop Star will appeal to music lovers from all sorts of eras. Do yourself a favor and grab this today.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the authors in exchange for my participation in this tour stop.

—–

5 Stars

A Few Quick Questions about Dear Mr. Pop Star


I had the great privilege of asking a few questions of Mr. Dave Philpott regarding this great book. It was tough to come up with the questions, the temptation to get into some of the particular letters/responses was great — I also had a song or two I thought about trying to get their take on. But I restrained myself — at great personal cost. But it was worth it — these are some of the best answers I’ve received in one of these. . .

This seems to be largely a UK-based endeavor — for the sake of my largely US audience, could you introduce Derek & Dave Philpott and the background for this project?
To be totally frank with you we are just two ordinary blokes. I’m obsessed with music, am extremely knowledgeable about it and it’s my day job, So I revere and view artists and songs from a skewed perspective. My father though knows nothing about music, is completely detached from it and doesn’t know or care if a tune is by a world famous artist or a band in a garage down the road. Hence, when Mick Jagger sees a red door and wants to paint it black, I marvel at an angst-ridden motif of despair and the hopelessness of the human condition from the pen that bought us ‘Sympathy For The Devil’. My dad though, oblivious to Mr. Jagger’s pedigree, will say:

‘’What a fool! If he doesn’t put a strong undercoat on there it’s going to turn up purple. Your Uncle Len did that once and..’’

…and then he’s off on a diatribe about bad D.I.Y. or, as I believe our American friends call it, Home Improvements. How it would always work is that I would play him a song, or perhaps even give him a copy of the lyrics to a famous tune, let him digest it for a while and then wait for the gold, which would normally just be him wittering on for a while about the record interspersed with details of how his day would pan out and what the neighbours were up to. I would note this all down, edit it and it would form the body of a letter to the artist. In 2008 we put together a website of about 50 or 60 letters, which we would add to regularly, and then we set up our Facebook page. We thought it was funny enough that these unanswered missives were sitting there in the misty ether. We found ourselves with a fierce fan base and then one day, about two years into the project, we got a reply from one of the artists themselves. Crucially this contact was secured not through official channels but from a mutual fan who knew the pop star personally. We then realised that this could be an interactive dialogue with the rock and pop stars and that, importantly, we could get to these artists through ‘the back door of the industry’. This could be through friends of friends, roadies and crew, the bass player’s cousin or any indirect route. This made the process a lot more personable, as we were being recommended by people who knew who we were and what we did and that it was all a bit harmless and daft. Eventually we got to the point where the rock stars were telling each other. I wrote to a pop star last year, asking if they would like to get involved and if they knew who we were, then the immortal reply “Oh god, I’ve been dreading and looking forward to being asked one day!” came back and we were absolutely thrilled.

We made sure that we got the full consent of the artists to use their replies and that they were happy for us to share them. Every single one of them told us that they were more than happy and they all got behind us and some even supported us by telling their own fans about us.

Owen Paul told us, in not so many words, that he felt that this is so obviously an organic project which he’d seen this grow over years and if we had been a couple of journalists then he just wouldn’t have got involved because it would be contrived rubbish.

It took us a long time, nearly an entire decade in fact, but we ended up with enough material for a book which we self published after an amazingly successful campaign on Kickstarter, through which we were able to raise £18,000. The success of that volume bought us to the attention of our now publisher, Unbound, who encouraged us to do a second.

Is there an artist/group or song that you’ve tried to write about but just haven’t gotten things just right?
Yes, indeed, the one that springs to mind first is Stiff Little Fingers. Many of their songs are based around The Troubles in Ireland which started in the late 1960s, an era that my Dad lived through and, due to being that bit older, knows more about than I. He was quite rightly very uncomfortable about deriding the subject matter and lyrics, so we decided that we would poke fun at ourselves by writing a letter to them where we deliberately got the wrong end of the stick by misunderstanding the song for comedic effect. Looking back I think that that letter completely changed the project for the better – we realised that we could turn the joke on ourselves and this allows the artist to hit back at us. For the new book Dr Hook and Tears for Fears both informed us that they couldn’t find the inspiration to reply to our first efforts because they weren’t up to our usual standards, probably because of the fact that at the time we were compiling the whole project, and had our eye off the ball. So we screwed up the first letters and started again, thought it through and came up with completely new letters which they lapped up and their responses were magical. They were absolutely right.
Of the responses you’ve received from artists/groups, which has been the most surprisingly good? Either you didn’t expect a response quite along the lines of their letter, and/or theirs was better than you expected? (I’m sure you have some on the other end of the spectrum, as well, but we’ll ignore them)
From the new book it’s Geoff Deane from Modern Romance, Chris from The Waitresses, Mott the Hoople, Wang Chung and Nik Kershaw. They absolutely slaughtered us with their wit and inventiveness. Although I have to say that we are always impressed at the answers that we get back, the effort that the stars put into their replies is astounding and we’re flattered that they give us so much time and attention. Each letter is a wonderful surprise.
You’re obviously enjoying a measure of success from artists and readers (otherwise this book wouldn’t exist), what’s the most interesting criticism you’ve received — either from a reader, critic or musician? Has it changed your approach to anything?
Feedback from our friends online is vital to us and this is why we’ve always tried to be as interactive as we can on our Facebook page, which dad does try to be a part of as much as he can, but he is obviously from a era where things were a little less ‘immediate’ and a lot more polite. Sometimes when we send messages via Messenger and there’s a ‘seen tick’ but no reply, Dad feels that this is incredibly rude, but it’s just the way things are now in the world. He like so many pensioners comes from a more courteous past.

There is a certain luxury of this real time interaction with the people who follow you though, in that you can bounce ideas out there via status updates and see how new material is received in general. If it chimes and makes people laugh then you can integrate it into letters. Also when we first began our letters were fairly flowery – we would spend sometimes weeks perfecting them, making sure that we never repeated words, writing very elaborate scenarios to tie in with the different songs. Perhaps we were trying to be a bit too clever to impress the artists. But the feedback we got told us that we could actually lose a lot of the purple prose and just get straight to the point and this has crucially changed how we write now. Being succinct actually means that the focus is more on the replies and probably makes our missives easier to respond to, as they not bogged down in unnecessary language.

Also a lot of anoraks on the prog forums were incensed, claiming that we’d invented the responses from some of their heroes as ‘there is no way that Mr. XXXX would respond to this outrage’. I loved that – it meant that we really were getting somewhere.

Of all your letters in this particular volume what are the one or two that you’re most proud of?
Bruce Woolley’s is a masterpiece. Also as fan of Gong, getting Daevid was a massive deal for me. It was one of the last things the great man did before he left us, and he absolutely loved it. I was going to include it in the first book but felt it was too soon after his passing. Then I was dithering about putting him in this one and I had a vivid dream, in which he visited my house, knocked on the door and said,

“I am ready to speak”

Thank you very much for your time — and for this book. I had such a great time reading it, I hope you have great success with it!
Bless and thanks, Mr. Newton

BOOK SPOTLIGHT: Dear Mr Pop Star by Derek & Dave Philpott

Today we welcome the Book Tour for the almost indescribable Dear Mr Pop Star by Derek & Dave Philpott — hopefully that “almost” is accurate, or I’m going to have trouble when it comes to my post about it (as if being one of this massive group isn’t bad enough — seriously, check out that graphic!). Along with this spotlight post, I have a Q&A about the book, and then I’ll be giving my take on the novel here in a bit. (those links’ll work once the posts are live)

(click to embiggen)

Book Details:

Book Title: Dear Mr Pop Star by Derek & Dave Philpott
Publisher: Unbound
Release date: September 20, 2018
Format: Hardcover/ebook
Length: 416 pages

Book Description:

“If you don’t like this book, then you’re no friend of mine.” Ivan Doroschuk, Men Without Hats

A collection of hilarious letters to iconic pop and rock stars with fantastic in-on-the-joke replies from the artists themselves: Eurythmics, Heaven 17, Deep Purple, Devo, Dr. Hook and many, many more…

For more than a decade, Derek Philpott and his son, Dave, have been writing deliberately deranged letters to pop stars from the 1960s to the 90s to take issue with the lyrics of some of their best-known songs. They miss the point as often as they hit it.

But then, to their great surprise, the pop stars started writing back…

Dear Mr Pop Star contains 100 of Derek and Dave’s greatest hits, including correspondence with Katrina and the Waves, Tears for Fears, Squeeze, The Housemartins, Suzi Quatro, Devo, Deep Purple, Nik Kershaw, T’Pau, Human League, Eurythmics, Wang Chung, EMF, Mott the Hoople, Heaven 17, Jesus Jones, Johnny Hates Jazz, Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine, Chesney Hawkes and many, many more.

About the Authors:

Derek and Dave Philpott are the noms de plume of two ordinary members of the public, working with help from a worldwide social networking community.

For More Information:

Goodreads ~ Unbound ~ Twitter ~ Facebook

Lessons From Lucy by Dave Barry: America’s Funniest Human Tries to Learn a Few New Tricks from an Old Dog

Lessons From LucyLessons From Lucy: The Simple Joys of an Old, Happy Dog

by Dave Barry

eARC, 208 pg.
Simon & Schuster, 2018
Read: July 19, 2018

Before I say anything else, Barry has set up an Instagram page (well, probably not him, actually — he states in the book he doesn’t understand Instagram) for his dog, Lucy. You should absolutely check it out and then come back to read what I have to say about the book. Dog Pictures > my blog. Pretty near always.

With that out of the way . . . Dave Barry has been a dog person for most of his life, one of the many reasons I like him. I distinctly, and fondly, remember columns and/or references to Earnest and Zippy (the emergency backup dog) years ago. Those two make a brief appearance in this book, but they aren’t the focus. The focus (if you can’t tell from the title) is his dog, Lucy. At the time of writing, Barry and Lucy are the same age — 70 (or 7 times 10 in her case), which means that both of them have many fewer days ahead of them than behind — which sounds awfully morbid for Dave Barry to talk about, but he does so frequently and purposefully.

As they’re at similar stages in life, Barry notices a huge difference between the two — Lucy is far happier and seemingly better adjusted than he is. So he sets out to try to learn a few lessons about life from her, which he passes on to his readers. Things like Pay Attention to the People You Love; Don’t Let Your Happiness Depend on Things; and Don’t Stop Having Fun. None of these, Barry knows, are original or ground-breaking — they’re pretty much common sense. Yet, they’re the kind of common sense things that he (like many/most humans) doesn’t actually do a great job at.

The result is a mixture of a Self-Help book and a Humor book — humor about himself, his life, as well as dogs. Sometimes the swing between the two genres can be jarring, but that’s pretty rare. For the most part, he moves easily between the two, taking the readers along with him on this ride. I can’t tell you how many times I went from grinning, chuckling or laughing out loud to getting misty-eyed within a couple of pages. It seems that Barry has learned a little bit about writing over the decades.

I’ve loved Barry’s humor longer than either of us would probably care to admit. One of his strengths is finding a way to take an old joke, or at least a joke everyone’s made before — like, say, I dunno, dogs sniffing each other’s hind-quarters — and make it feel fresh and new. More importantly, funny. He’s also able to make jumps from premise to punchline that no one expects. There is, for example, a Hugh Hefner joke where one doesn’t even come close to belonging — and it works perfectly. Even knowing that, you won’t see it coming until you’re snickering at it.

As for the heart-felt material? It works pretty well, too. I don’t think anyone will walk away from this book thinking “Wow! That was insightful. I never would have thought of it on my own!” Nor do I think Barry was trying for it. But, readers will appreciate the reminders to live like Lucy (or their own dog), and the way Barry phrases things might add some freshness to the concept. Which is all anyone can really ask.

I really don’t know if this is Barry’s best — but it’s up there. The ratio of Attempted Joke to Funny Joke is pretty high, I’m not sure if I can think of a higher one in his ouvre. Lessons From Lucy is, without a doubt, his most mature, thoughtful and touching work (that’s a pretty low bar, I realize — a bar he’s worked hard to keep low, too). Couple that with me being a sucker for a Dog Book — even if it is a semi-Self Help book — and I can’t help but give it 5 Stars. This is a winner, no matter what.

—–

5 Stars

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Simon & Schuster via NetGalley in exchange for this post — which is my honest opinion and pleasure to give — thanks to both for this.

Pub Day Repost: Kill the Farm Boy by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne: A Comedic Fantasy Tells a Good Story While Playing with Too-Familiar Tropes

Kill the Farm BoyKill the Farm Boy

by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne
Series: The Tales of Pell, Book #1
eARC, 384 pg.
Del Rey, 2018

Read: June 5 – 12, 2018
Ugh. I wish the eARC didn’t say I needed to hold off any quotations until I could compare it with the final copy — or maybe, I wish I had noticed that very tiny print before I got half a draft of this finished. On the other hand, I was having trouble narrowing down which of my lengthy options to use, because, if nothing else, this is one of the more quotable books I’ve read in the last couple of years.

Kill the Farm Boy is a comedic fantasy, a satirical look at fantasy and even a parody of the genre. But what makes it effective is that for all the comedy, there’s a decent story and some solid characters throughout. It’s be easy for it to be a collection of jokes, with no story; or a tale full of character types, not characters. But Dawson and Hearne avoid those pitfalls.

The titular farm boy, Worstley, is going about his typical day, full of drudgery when an inebriated pixie shows up to announce that he is a Chosen One — one who is destined to save, or at least change, the world. To demonstrate her power, the pixie gives one of his goats, Gustave, the power of speech. The goat isn’t too happy about being able to speak, but since he was destined to end up in a curry in a few days, decides to travel with the newly appointed Chosen One, his former Pooboy. The pixie, having Chosened Worstley, disappears. Worstley the Pooboy (hey, Taran, worse things to be called than Assistant Pig-Keeper, eh?) and Gustave head off on a quest for glory.

Despite the book’s title, we don’t spend that much time with Worstley — instead the focus shifts (for good reason) to a band of hero–well, a group of companions. There’s Fia — a fierce warrior from a distant land, who just wants to live a life of peace with some nice roses — and some armor that would actually protect her (not that there’s anyone who minds seeing here in her chain-mail bikini). Argabella, a struggling bard who is cursed to be covered in fur — she’s basically Fflewddur Fflam and Gurgi combined (last Prydian reference, probably). Every adventuring party needs a rogue/thief, this one has to settle for the klutzy and not necessarily bright, Poltro, and her guardian, the Dark Lord magician, Toby (though some would only consider him crepuscular), of dubious talents. I can’t forget Grinda the sand witch (no, really), Worstley’s aunt and a magic user of considerable talent.

There are no shortage of villains — and/or antagonists to this party. There are some pretty annoying elves; a hungry giant; Løcher, the King’s chamberlain and mortal enemy of Grinda; Staph, the pixie behind the Chosening; as well as several magical traps, Lastly, there’s Steve. We don’t meet him (I’m betting it’ll be in Book 3 when we do), but throughout these adventures we how much this world, and our heroes lives, have been turned upside down my the worst Steve since one (allegedly) unleashed the preposterous hypothesis that Jemaine was a large water-dwelling mammal. Steve . . .

The writing is just spot-on good. Dawson and Hearne have taken all these various and disparate themes, tropes, characters and surrounded them with a lot of laughs. There’s some pretty sophisticated humor, some stuff that’s pretty clever — but they also run the gamut to some pretty low-brow jokes as well. Really, these two are on a tight comedic budget, no joke is too cheap. The variation ensures there’s a little something for everyone — and that you can’t predict where the humor will come from. I will admit that early on I got annoyed with a few running jokes, but I eventually got to the point that I enjoyed them — not just in a “really? they’re trying it again?” sense, either.

For all the comedy — Kill the Farm Boy hits the emotional moments just right. There’s a depiction of grief towards the end (spoiler?) that I found incredibly affecting and effective. There are smaller moments — less extreme moments — too that are dealt with just right. Maybe even better than some of the bigger comedic moments. This is the reward of populating this book with fully-realized characters, not just joke vehicles.

I have a couple of quibbles, nothing major, but I’m not wholly over the moon with this (but I can probably hit sub-orbital status). There was a bit about a fairly articulate Troll being taken down by a female using (primarily) her wits that could’ve used a dollop or five of subtly. Clearly they weren’t going for subtle, or they’d have gotten a lot closer to it. But it bugged me a bit (while being funny and on point). Secondly, and this is going to be strange after the last 2 posts — but this seemed to be too long. Now, I can’t imagine cutting a single line, much less a scene or chapter from this, but it just felt a little long. I do worry that some of Poltro’s backstory is too tragic and upon reflection makes it in poor taste (at best) to laugh about her — which is a shame, because she was a pretty funny character until you learn about her.

This is probably the best comedic/parody/satire fantasy since Peter David’s Sir Apropos of Nothing — and this doesn’t have all the problematic passages. I’ve appreciated Dawson’s work in the past, and you have to spend 30 seconds here to know that I’m a huge Hearne fan, together they’ve created something unlike what they’ve done before. Well, except for their characteristic quality — that’s there. I cared about these characters — and they made me laugh, and giggle, and roll my eyes. This is the whole package, folks, you’ll be glad you gave it a chance.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

4 Stars

Planet Funny by Ken Jennings: Chortling Towards Bethlehem? or We Are Amusing Ourselves to Death

Planet FunnyPlanet Funny: How Comedy Took Over Our Culture

by Ken Jennings

Hardcover, 320 pg.
Scribner, 2018
Read: June 21 – July 6, 2018
This is going to be much shorter — and much more vague –than it should have been, because I was in a rush to get out the door on the day I took this back to the library and therefore forgot to take my notes out of the book. Which is a crying shame because I can’t cite some of my favorite lines (on the other hand, I don’t have to pick from my favorites). I’m actually pretty annoyed with myself because of this — I spent time on those notes.

I’m going to try to save a little time here and just copy the Publisher’s synopsis:

           From the brilliantly witty and exuberant New York Times bestselling author Ken Jennings, a history of humor—from fart jokes on clay Sumerian tablets all the way up to the latest Twitter gags and Facebook memes—that tells the story of how comedy came to rule the modern world.

For millennia of human history, the future belonged to the strong. To the parent who could kill the most animals with sticks and to the child who could survive the winter or the epidemic. When the Industrial Revolution came, masters of business efficiency prospered instead, and after that we placed our hope in scientific visionaries. Today, in a clear sign of evolution totally sliding off the rails, our most coveted trait is not strength or productivity or even innovation, but being funny. Yes, funniness.

Consider: presidential candidates now have to prepare funny “zingers” for debates. Newspaper headlines and church marquees, once fairly staid affairs, must now be “clever,” stuffed with puns and winks. Airline safety tutorials—those terrifying laminated cards about the possibilities of fire, explosion, depressurization, and drowning—have been replaced by joke-filled videos with multimillion-dollar budgets and dance routines.

In Planet Funny, Ken Jennings explores this brave new comedic world and what it means—or doesn’t—to be funny in it now. Tracing the evolution of humor from the caveman days to the bawdy middle-class antics of Chaucer to Monty Python’s game-changing silliness to the fast-paced meta-humor of The Simpsons, Jennings explains how we built our humor-saturated modern age, where lots of us get our news from comedy shows and a comic figure can even be elected President of the United States purely on showmanship. Entertaining, astounding, and completely head-scratching, Planet Funny is a full taxonomy of what spawned and defines the modern sense of humor.

In short, Jennings is writing about the way that humor — the entertainment culture in general, really, but largely through humor — has taken over the cultural discourse in this country, so much so that you can’t make a serious point about anything anymore without injecting a smile or a laugh. This could be subtitled, Neil Postman was right. Jennings looks at this phenomenon through a historical lens (mostly over the last century) and a contemporary lens — analyzing and commenting on both.

The initial chapters on defining humor, the history of humor and academic humor studies are probably the best part of the book — not just because of their scope and subject matter, but because how Jennings is able to be amusing and insightful while informing. (although the amusing part is problematic given the thesis of the book). I enjoyed learning about the use of humor in the 20th Century — who doesn’t associate the two? I don’t remember a time when the best advertisements/commercials weren’t the funniest (other than things like the crying Native American anti-litter AdCouncil stuff). But there was actually a time when that was looked down on? Who knew?

I also particularly liked the history of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and then pivoting that into a look on the way even entertainment changed in the last few decades because of the funny-ification of all things. Jennings gives a pretty decent defense of Alanis’ “Ironic” (while enjoying a few shots at it, too) — and the ensuing discussion of Irony the cultural waves embracing and shying away from Irony, Enjoying things Ironically, and a need for sincerity was excellent.

Politics, obviously, has fallen prey to this comedy-take over as well. From Nixon shocking everyone by showing up on Laugh-In to Clinton (pre-presidential candidate) on The Tonight Show to then-candidate on The Arsenio Hall show to every political player doing Late Night shows. Obama appearing on Maron’s podcast and Between Two Ferns (crediting that appearance with saving ObamaCare?) and onto the entire Trump campaign. At this point, the book got derailed — I think — by getting too political. If Jennings had kept it to Trump’s embracing/exploiting the comedy takeover, I probably would have enjoyed it — but he spent too much on Trump’s politics (while having ignored Nixon’s, Clinton’s, Obama’s), enough to turn off even Never-Trump types.

I’m pretty sure that the book was almost complete about the time that Louis CK’s career was felled by allegations of sexual misconduct — which is a shame, because Jennings had to go back and water-down a lot of insightful comments from Louis CK by saying something about the allegations while quoting the comedian. At the same time, it’s good that the book wasn’t completed and/or released without the chance to distance the man from the points used — otherwise I think Jennings would’ve had to spend too much time defending the use of those quotations.

I think Jennings lost his way in the last chapter and a half or so — and I lost a lot of my appreciation for the book as a whole at that point. On the whole, it’s insightful writing, peppered with a good amount of analysis, research, interviews, and laughs — outside of his weekly trivia newsletters, I haven’t read Jennings and he really impressed me here. In short, it’s a fun book, a thought-provoking book, and one that should get more attention and discussion than it is. I may quibble a bit with some of the details, but I think on the whole Jennings is on to something here — and I fear that it’s something that not enough people are going to take seriously until it’s too late.

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3.5 Stars2018 Library Love Challenge