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Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans: The Best of McSweeney's Humor Category Paperback – June 14, 2005
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Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans: The Best of McSweeney's, Humor Category, a collection from the clever young writers that bring us the McSweeney's literary journal and Web site, and co-edited by their leader, Dave Eggers, is funny from the first page. And by "first page," we mean the table contents. Of course not every essay, list, and swatch of dialogue are created equal, but the collection has many tasty morsels that are well worth a read, a read to friends, and then a re-read, after a decent interval has elapsed.
Most appealing in the book's starting lineup is J.M. Tyree's "On the Implausibility of the Death Star's Trash Compactor." Humorous as well as thought-provoking, this essay makes the perfect amuse bouche for what is arguably the collection's main course of hilarity, "Fire: the Next Sharp Stick?", "Candle Party," and "Unused Audio Commentary by Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky, Recorded Summer 2002, for the Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring DVD (Platinum Series Extended Version), Part One," all to be found in the early middle. Though a familiarity with candle parties, Howard Zinn, sharp sticks, and other topics satirized in this book is helpful, it's not necessarily required for understanding the jokes. The biggest risk here is binge-reading, as you may exchange audible laughter for the feeling that you are being force-fed an ice cream sundae. If you pace yourself--say no more than four to six pieces at a time--you should have the energy for the final third, including the funny list marathon at the end. Or save a few portions for later when you are really starving for a good laugh. --Leah Weathersby
From Publishers Weekly
In his introduction, McSweeney's founder Eggers says the goal of these short pieces, most of which originally appeared on the McSweeney's Web site, is to be "funny without being humorous," which is an open invitation for critical bashing. It's true that the short stories, essays and lists—oh, so many lists—tend not to have, or even try for, the sort of universal appeal that turns stand-up comedians into bestselling authors. Readers' reactions will depend on whether they share the same level of erudition and love for pop culture as the authors. Greg Purcell's spot-on impression of the deranged voice of Ezra Pound's later writings, for example, will work only for those who know Pound's work, while the "Journal of a New COBRA Recruit" will be equally incomprehensible to people who didn't grow up with GI Joe in the 1980s. If you get the jokes, though, they can be side-splittingly hilarious. Of course, there are misfires, especially those that play with the idea of trying and failing to be funny.
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Top Customer Reviews
Among the stand-outs: the two Ezra Pound pieces (I was vaguely familiar with Pound's WWII activities, so that helps to get it), the Diary of a Cobra Recruit (haven't we all wondered if they were taught how to shoot at everything but the G.I. Joes?), The Letters to Mr. Vandwoude(sic), who refuses to be scammed out of his cash by a faux "orphan" charity, Michael Ian Black's look at why people hate him, and Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky's commentary for LOTR: The Fellowship of The Ring (no matter how you lean politically, you'll laugh your ass off).
There are many more that, if I hadn't just gotten up, I would be able to rattle off for inclusion in the "stand-outs" section, but maybe you should go ahead and buy the book and see for yourself...
Anyway, I read this book over a weekend, and enjoyed just about every minute of it. The one fault I give it is the section of lists at the end. That got old real quick, page after page, but there were plenty of hilarious ones to make it worthwhile.
So do yourself a favor and pick this up. It's a nice selection of humor pieces from one of the few really good humor sites out there.
One more thing, while it's great to read in the bathroom, be careful. I was serious about the laughing out loud. Your housemates will think you're weird.
As others have noted, J.M. Tyree's "On the Implausibility of the Death Star's Trash Compactor" is excellent stuff, relying, of course, on an appreciation for the film "The Empire Strikes Back." In general, the longer pieces tended to much better. Indeed, the longest piece in the book (at 18 pages), is thankfully also one of the funniest, as Jeff Alexander and Tom Bissell imagine a lost DVD commentary for the first "Lord of the Rings" films, as done by Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn. Again, this relies on an appreciation of "The Two Towers" as well as the works of Chomsky and Zinn. It's so sidesplittingly funny that I'm going to violate copyright at work tomorrow by copying it and mailing it to a bunch of friends (I know... so pre-email...). Jim Stallard's excellent 13 page "No Justice, No Foul" is based on the premise that historically, when the Supreme Court has been split, the decision is decided by a 4 on 4 basketball game. Again, the humor is heightened if you're familiar with the personalities that have sat on that august bench. John Hodgman's 10-page "Fire: The Next Stick" is a simple but clever caveman parody of a business meeting. The final piece that really made me chuckle was Keith Pille's "Journal of New COBRA Recruit", which imagines the diary of a shmuck who enters the COBRA force. The humor relies entirely on one's ability to recall '80s TV commercials for G.I. Joe toys...
Another five or so of the shorter pieces worked pretty well, but in general, they fell a little flat. So, overall, a lot more miss than hit for me, but everything's so brief that one hasn't invested a lot in the duds. Ultimately, this is an anthology by and for white guys aged 25-45, and is thus rather limited.
But could we stop talking about how we like to read this book in the bathroom? I am merely one tiny contributor among many to the book, one miniscule contributor among a multitude to the website. I can't speak for everyone. Still, the idea that you are reading something of mine in your bathroom sort of creeps me out. Unless you are Angelina Jolie, and even then I have to think about it. I just don't like the idea that the hand you are using the turn the page on "Lessons Learned from My Study of Literature" was, a moment before -- GROSS! Stop it. Just stop it right now.
True, my entry in this compendium is quite small, putting the odds against you actually reading my words in your bathroom. You probably enjoyed my entry on your back porch during a gorgeous sunset, or on an afternoon spin in your convertible, your best friend reading aloud from the passenger seat, her long hair swirling up furiously, as if a miniature tornado were chasing your Miata, your golden retriever in the back seat smiling that goofy golden retriever smile. Still, there is the remote chance that you are, instead, alone, furtively -- oh God, I can't even think about it.
This book makes a great gift. It's small, and light, and will display your good taste. It will make your best friend happy when she unwraps it, and you more beautiful in her eyes, which is what the holidays are all about. Believe me when I say that you cannot go wrong with this book.
Just try not to take it into the bathroom. Please. For my sake.
Thank you, that is all.