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Stop Me If You've Heard This: A History and Philosophy of Jokes
Stop Me If You've Heard This: A History and Philosophy of Jokes
by Jim Holt
Edition: Hardcover
84 used & new from $0.01

28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kalamazoo!, July 25, 2008
This is an erudite and clever book, hence the five stars. I'd expect nothing less from author Jim Holt, whose work I've enjoyed immensely before. But as much as I liked Stop Me If You've Heard This, my enjoyment was, of necessity, short-lived.

At less than 7-by-5 inches in size, this is a smallish book. It's also a slender one. If you subtract the index, credits, and bibliography, it has 126 pages of material. Now subtract the 24 illustrations and you're down to 102 pages of text.

At this point, one notices the book's colossal margins, and how humankind's entire "history of jokes" is covered in 41 pages. In fact, this section is as much about joke collectors throughout the ages as the jokes themselves.

But all is forgiven in the book's second half ("Philosophy"), wherein Holt really shines. In addition to providing a variety of jokes types, there are also a number of worthy theories regarding their origins, classifications, and ramifications. In short, this is the part of the book where you'll laugh.

To sum up, while I anticipated a hardcover book, what I got was a bound copy of two essays. These were, respectively, good and most excellent. But imagining a bookstore shopper paying this book's list price of $15.95 makes me a little uneasy. While I was happy to avail myself of the on-line discount, perhaps the publisher could have taken this book's price point more... seriously?

*Finally, as to "Kalamazoo!", it is Holt's submission for the shortest joke in the world. (You'll have to read his explanation on pp. 79-80.)


The Intellectual Devotional: American History: Revive Your Mind, Complete Your Education, and Converse Confidently about Our Nation's Past
The Intellectual Devotional: American History: Revive Your Mind, Complete Your Education, and Converse Confidently about Our Nation's Past
by David S. Kidder
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.49
331 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Please Don't Notify the Authorities, July 12, 2008
I didn't use The Intellectual Devotional in the way it was intended. (That is, reading one entry each day for a year.)

Forget that! There was no way that I was going to wait 24 hours between its excellent and varied entries.

Regarding the few less-than-favorable reader reviews this book has garnered, some do criticize the smallish fonts the authors employ... to these readers, I say muscle up and break out the bi-focals. Each page in this book is devoted to one particular aspect of US history, and on the occasions when I clucked my tongue because some choice tidbit had been left out of a notable American's biography, I'd look the page over again and realize that a profound amount of pithy and important information HAD been included... in short, the Devotional had done as good a job as could be done.

Speaking of pithy, I am now anything but. Buy two copies of this book; one for you, and one for me. (I gave my copy away. Wasn't that a nice gesture?)


The Partly Cloudy Patriot
The Partly Cloudy Patriot
by Sarah Vowell
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.62
326 used & new from $0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Short, Informative, and Funny, June 30, 2008
That's the book I'm describing in my review title above, though it could apply to Sarah Vowell herself. This collection of essays is the best kind of historical musing; Sarah ties in the past with the present, and weaves her own biographical comedy around it all.

Not only is this book relatively brief, but the essays are as well, so if you're looking for a quick chuckle and an "I didn't know that!" before bedtime, keep The Partly Cloudy Patriot on your nightstand.

Also recommended: Assassination Vacation.


Cloud Atlas: A Novel
Cloud Atlas: A Novel
by David Mitchell
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.99
239 used & new from $1.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reading Reincarnated, May 20, 2008
This review is from: Cloud Atlas: A Novel (Paperback)
I finished this remarkable novel at the start of a long plane flight.

Then I turned from the last page of CLOUD ATLAS back to its first.

I don't usually re-read novels, but this book is that jaw-droppingly good. It certainly qualifies as the best book I've read since Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union. As this Amazon page contains analysis and plot synopsis aplenty on it, I'll simply add that this is the rare novel that should have won both literature's Man Booker prize and science fiction's Hugo award.

Wowsers.


Iceman: My Fighting Life
Iceman: My Fighting Life
by Chad Millman
Edition: Hardcover
189 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Tough Guy, Rickety Binding, May 15, 2008
Natch, this is one of those autobiographies written "with" a real writer, in this case, Chad Millman. But given the Iceman's persona and interest reflected herein, this book still has the ring of authenticity, as captured in quotes like these regarding pre-fight preparations:

-- "...I could think, focus, and go over my game plan, which was essentially to go and beat the cr** out of the guy."

-- "My plan was to punch him in the face as much and as frequently as possible."

You've got to love it. (That, or return the book.) My guess is that Iceman fans will enjoy getting the lowdown on Liddell's life, and this also provides an interesting history on how the UFC became what it is today.

I am downgrading this book to four stars because its binding was so crummy, whole chapters fell out as I worked my way through it.


Laughter in the Wilderness: Early American Humor to 1783
Laughter in the Wilderness: Early American Humor to 1783
by W. Howland Kenney
Edition: Hardcover
4 used & new from $1.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Yankee Peddlers and Cabbage Jokes, May 12, 2008
For the reader interested in exploring what form of humor occupied the earliest English colonists of North America, this volume of excerpts provides a fine reference.

Just don't expect it to be all that funny. This sort of examination of humor is, by default, something of an academic affair. Kudos to Professor W. Howland Kenney (Kent State) for gathering this anthology's contents.


The Case For Make-Believe: Saving Play in a Commercialized World
The Case For Make-Believe: Saving Play in a Commercialized World
by Susan Linn
Edition: Hardcover
63 used & new from $0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Going Against the Corporate Grain, May 5, 2008
A cultural observer from our past would find the thesis of this book as a strange commentary on our age. "Advocating for creative play? Since when do we need lobbyists for make believe?"

Since now. After all, we live in a time when playing "dress up" means putting on a licensed Disney Corporation costume.

As Susan convincingly points out, not only is creative play not encouraged in the media, it actually threatens corporate profits. After all, what kid would need a Playstation if he or she is putting on a puppet show for the neighborhood?

THE CASE FOR MAKE-BELIEVE is not simply a diatribe protesting the way things are. Linn is a child psychologist at Harvard, and she reinforces her arguments with specific (and often heart-warming) case studies of kids, tweens, and teens. I really think this book (and Linn's work with the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood) should be required reading for parents.

Also recommended: Consuming Kids: Protecting Our Children from the Onslaught of Marketing & Advertising.


White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain's White Slaves in America
White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain's White Slaves in America
by Don Jordan
Edition: Paperback
Price: $21.42
29 used & new from $21.42

62 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars New England Work Camps?!, April 28, 2008
This book's authors take a new look at a very old subject. As you probably know by now, WHITE CARGO equates the experience of indentured servants with slaves in colonial America. While this may initially strike some people (me included) as a mere polemic, this book makes its case convincingly.

The book starts with discovery of the body of a teenaged European boy in Maryland in 2003. The remains date back to the 1600s, and he is found in a mound of trash. But who was this kid? And why was his body disposed of so unceremoniously?

Walsh and Jordan tell the story of this anonymous indentured servant, and the hundreds of thousands of others like him, from both sides of the Big Pond. The first group of them arrived in 1619, and most of them were kids swept up from the streets of London. "Society's sweepings" were shipped west and made into indentured servants.

As their stories unfold, the authors accumulate the evidence and arguments that show that both indentured servants and slaves were stripped away of virtually all civil rights and reduced to mere property. Further, the privations visited upon indentured servants (abuse, shortened lifespans, overwork) are so hair-raising, it's surprising this argument hasn't been made so convincingly long before 2008.

This book is vital, it's engaging, and it's news to me. (See also Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II.)


20th Century Ghosts
20th Century Ghosts
by Joe Hill
Edition: Hardcover
56 used & new from $2.46

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's in the DNA, April 27, 2008
This review is from: 20th Century Ghosts (Hardcover)
I suppose that Joe Hill is sick to death of hearing from readers who are surprised (nay, stunned) at his writerly skills. Sure, with a dad like Stephen King, Hill's got the pedigree, but I couldn't help but be skeptical about his talents. And that, as much as anything, is why I picked up this short story collection.

Consider this skeptic converted. From the opening story in this collection, "Best New Horror," Hill shows his mastery of the short story form, as well as a willingness to develop sympathetic characters and then put them in harm's way. (Actually, "harm's way" is an understatement. It's more like Hill drops a Grand Guignol from a helicopter onto them.) This isn't to say that Hill can't write a non-genre short story. He can, and does, and does it so well, it made me wonder if one day, scientists will find a storytelling strand in human DNA.

Sidelight: If you're looking at the paperback edition of this book, please ignore its execrable cover. But while the packaging is wholly unappetizing, its worth braving it for the contents.


Attack of the Theater People
Attack of the Theater People
by Marc Acito
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.66
106 used & new from $0.01

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars WARNING: You May Break into Song Reading This Novel, April 24, 2008
Maybe you've heard Marc Acito on NPR. It's possible that you've even heard the guy sing; after all, he is both an opera tenor and "mental for Yentl." But most likely, you know Marc Acito from his first novel, How I Paid for College. As the blog entries above reveal, Marc has a bright wit, and this book amply reflects it.

Acito's novel relates the further adventures of Edward Zanni and his affiliated theater geeks. Having succeeded in their quest to get Edward into the Juilliard School, we now fast-forward to 1986, and Edward is sitting on his "jazz hands" after getting booted from the school of his dreams.

What follows are a series of (dare I write it?) zany misadventures that together, resemble the plotline of a well-done musical comedy. That is, the characters do break into song periodically, and the results are actually funny. As this vehicle suggests, there's plenty of ba-ba-ba-bing zingers and, it being the 1980s, there is even an insider trading scandal. Good stuff. REALLY good stuff.

Fun Fact: Marc was at a Chuck Palahniuk reading (Fight Club) when Palahniuk remembered reading Acito's byline on a humor column. He then recommended Acito to his literary agent, and a star was born... er, referred.


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