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Free-Range Chickens Paperback – May 12, 2009

3.6 out of 5 stars 51 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Rich, an author and Saturday Night Live writer, delivers a punch-and-jab gigglefest in his follow-up to the similarly chaotic Ant Farm. A slim book of short takes, Rich doesn't stray far from his formula-many of these pieces would work as mercifully brief (and funny) SNL skits-but it's a formula that delivers a laugh on every page. Split into thematic sections-Growing Up, Going to Work, Daily Life, Relationships, Animals and God-Rich's twisted observations are often dark, especially in the Growing Up portion; "terrifying childhood experiences" include "peek-a-boo," and the people hiding in 7-year-old Rich's closet (Freddy Krueger, Chucky, a murderer, his dead uncle, and his doctor) pine, "Man, I cannot wait to kill this kid." Rich offers this brand of humor in a wide range of flavors, going, for instance, directly from Pheidippides of 490 B.C. to an "All-you-can-eat buffet fantasy" in the Daily Life portion. Still, there isn't much here that's not laugh-out-loud funny, perfect for rainy-day/toilet-top browsing or one long, painful guffawathon.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

“A punch-and-jab gigglefest . . . that delivers a laugh on every page.”—Publishers Weekly

“Simon Rich is still the freshest, funniest new writer today.”—Chicago Sun-Times
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks (May 12, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812977114
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812977110
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #569,014 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Don't be thrown by the high ratio of negative reviews for FREE-RANGE CHICKENS. As many readers point out, the book was a free addition to their Kindle purchase, so they went "into" the book cold.

As for me, my only real complaint is that the book has far too many blank pages (about 16) in an already slender volume.

But will YOU like Simon Rich's humor? Here's your acid test: Read the following excerpt, and if it tickles you, you're in.
***
GOD: Did you start that war over in South America?
ANGEL: Yes sir, just as you specified.
GOD: And you gave Fred Hodges that migraine? In Fayette, Maine?
ANGEL: Of course, I followed all your orders to the letter.
GOD: Okay, great. So the next part of my grand sweeping plan is... the next part is... um...
ANGEL: Yes?
GOD: Wait, hold on... I know I was going somewhere with this...
ANGEL: . . .
GOD: It's the [darndest] thing. I had this giant, all-encompassing plan, but I can't for the life of me remember what it was.
ANGEL: Did you... write it down somewhere?
GOD: Nah. It was all up here. (Points at head.)
ANGEL: Well... maybe if I say some of the things that you've done so far, you'll remember?
GOD: That's a good idea. Let's try that.
ANGEL: Okay... um... assassination of Julius Caesar... the great San Francisco fire... World War I... World War II... is anything coming back?
GOD: I know all those things are connected somehow.... they were all part of this awesome plan I had... I just can't remember what the payoff was.
ANGEL: . . .
GOD: I guess I bit off more than I could chew.
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Format: Paperback
First of all, let me say I absolutely loved this book. Which may surprise you considering I only gave it three stars. Although I gave it 3 stars instead of 5 is for two main reasons.

First, is because his humor is not exactly accessible. Which is to say- you either have the very specific taste to find this sort of stuff funny, or you don't. It's great like some indie rock bands I could name are great- A small cult following of obsessed fans who worship them. Comedy books are not exactly mainstream in the first place, and his particular kind of humor is obscure even within the genre. Seriously, how many joke books could you find on the top of the NYT bestseller list, let alone written in this style? That's one reason I had to give him 3 stars, because he failed to make a book that just about anyone could enjoy. It's a book that I found hilarious, but I can easily understand not everyone will- I just apparently happen to have a very similar brain wiring to make me tick as Simon Rich does, but the vast majority of people do not.

Second, is that even though I am a huge fan of this book, I can easily say just about everything he's written after this has been about 10 times better. 'What in God's name' for example, is a masterpiece- unless of course you're very religious in which case you'd probably be offended. If you loved Free-Range Chickens you'll love basically everything he's published after it even more. Moreover, his later stuff actually has mainstream appeal (as opposed to this), so there's a good chance you'll like those books even if you hated this.

Rich's writing here is not conventional at all, though he's well aware of it and is not even trying to be.
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Format: Hardcover
When all else fails, humor is the saving grace of a world awash in crisis. Thus, a sob becomes a hysterical segue into burst of laughter inspired by a twenty-four year old writer for- why not?- the infamous "Saturday Night Live". Rich's random flights of wit and fancy are presented in sections: "Growing Up"; "Going to Work"; "Relationships"; "Daily Life"; "Animals", and- again, why not? "God".

A quirky kid already hip to the craziness around him, Rich's collection kicks off with threat assessment, the same old canards adults have poured into the fertile imaginations of children for generations: "Got your nose.-Please just kill me. Better to die than to live the rest of my life as a monster." Then there is the matter of the tooth fairy: "Is she... a cannibal? What else does she take? Does she take eyes?" Or an intimate conversation between two frogs: "Why do human children dissect us?"

As the inquisitive boy grows through the awkward stages of adolescence no one can avoid, he betrays his geekiness, vaguely hoping to slide through a series of social blunders. The oddities only become more specific and embarrassing. Reality is closing in, time travel the only option for changing the past, unsuccessful Opium Wars, a Greek marathon, a creative approach to a seriously bad actor's presence in the world, life's absurdities served up as a rich buffet no mean feat for this young torturer of logic.

And who else but Rich could manufacture the hubris to challenge God, to ask the harsh questions ("Why did Seth Brody of Hartford, Connecticut, have a seizure while ordering a hamburger at Denny's?"). The age-old question of why bad things happen to good people is sometimes resolved as a simple case of mistaken identity. Okay, so certain types of humor are an acquired taste.
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