Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A promise to myself to stop reading shitty "humor" books

Twede's Diner is the restaurant that was the set of the Double R Diner in Twin Peaks. Every time I go to Washington I make a point of stopping at Twede's and having a cup of coffee and taking some time to stare up at the imposing misty ridge that is Mount Si.

Twede's is an okay diner, it's not great. They really want to capitalize on the fact that they were the set for a cult hit TV show and I've got no problem with that. It's their table reading I've got a problem with. They've got "funny" books on their tables, where the word "funny" is a goddamned lie.

There's a particular breed of awful comedy book that's ubiquitous at diners and greasy spoons close to touristy spots all across America. I know I've run into these things on road trips, usually at a shack that sells burgers and happens to be close to an absurd statue of some kind. I guess they're put on tables to entertain weary travelers who have become numb to the company of their companions and need something non-taxing to look at while waiting for a burger and avoiding playing yet another fucking road game. The problem is that these books are all fucking stupid and Mifflin Lowe's I Hate Fun is one of these books.

This is my husband's book, and since it was published about thirty years ago and I'd be shocked if it was popular enough to have been reprinted I'm guessing it was an inherited top-of-the-tank reader from the apartment he lived in when we started dating. It's full of bite-sized sections describing how various types of "fun" activities are actually physically risky or involve dealing with idiots or just take too much time and effort. It's an activity guide written by Marvin from The Hitchikers' Guide to the Universe, basically.

I can see where this kind of thing might be amusing now - a writer could easily sit down and shit out an essay or so a day that sneers at camping or dancing or sex and getting it in a spread-out format might be okay. But two hundred pages of this kind of shit is a bit much, and that's coming from someone whose favorite activity is bitching about books.

And I Hate Fun really suffers from being a product of its time. Even as recently as ten years ago no one would have been startled by, say, transphobia in a countertop joke book. But I was startled to run across two obviously transphobic jokes in the first five pages of the book, with plenty of examples of homophobia, misogyny, and a few "was that a rape joke?" moments tossed in for good measure. What makes it even more startling is that the book's tone reaches for erudite and civilized - too good for petty things like camping or dancing or going to the theater - but these punching-down jokes made it sound like a Southern Baptist trying to talk like a New York ad exec.

The overall tone of the book is amusing, I'll give it that. I was generally content to smirk along with the continued attitude that just staying home, not bothering to socialize, and reading a book because the outdoors is terrible is the safest and best entertainment option. It was a bit obvious, sure, and it was stretched way too thin to justify a whole book, but there was a kernel of cynical schadenfreude that would have made I Hate Fun into a much better essay than a book.

Anyway. Don't read this book. It's awful. And while you're at it avoid shitty humor books in general. You'll know them because they're basically the only books in the "humor" section at your local book store.

As a side note, finding funny books is damned near impossible. I'm certainly not the first one to notice this or comment on it but we have done the "humor" section a grave disservice. Wacky political quotes, collected newspaper comics, and anything that describes itself as "knee-slappingly" "gut-bustingly" or any other variety of "body-part-damagingly" funny is less than we deserve. I vote for a "funny novels" section or "authors with a sense of humor" section. So here are some books that I thought were actually funny: I've laughed aloud at least once in every Neal Stephenson book I've ever read (and the Baroque Cycle is very funny for quite a lot of its 1700 page run time); I literally cried laughing several times while reading David Wong's John Dies at the End; Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart is funny in the saddest way you can imagine, as is anything written by Camus; Hunter S. Thompson is reliably amusing and exhausting; Jane Austen is ridiculously funny, she doesn't have a single novel out there that doesn't have at least one tremendously amusing side-story. That's all I can think of right now, but hopefully I'll be able to read more funny books to give my opinions on if I stop spending time reading shitty books like I Hate Fun.

     - Alli

Lowe, Mifflin. I Hate Fun. Price Stern Sloan. Los Angeles: California. 1991.