I read this as a school assignment when I was in the sixth grade. I think it was first published in 1948. I have seen, within the last year, about a h...moreI read this as a school assignment when I was in the sixth grade. I think it was first published in 1948. I have seen, within the last year, about a half hour of the old fifties-era movie of it, starring Clifton Webb as the beloved father. I have not seen the Steve Martin one. (If I'm not wrong, there's a second one with him, too.) I grant that this extremely light memoir of family life in pre-World War One America paints an extremely rosy picture, but it is not unrealistic. There is room in this world for fond reminiscence. Basically, this book is a tribute to the parents of a family of twelve children. The family is clearly upper-middle class, but the quality of life described is not available to those who fit the upper-middle-class bill today. One reason this book is worth reading in our fear-stricken age is that it is a reminder that, at least on the surface, a self-made man in the early 20th century could set up a virtual palace for his family, perform civic duties cheerfully and give his children a sense of well-being. The obvious question for anybody reading this review is, "Is CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN a lie?" Ultimately not. I believe it appeals to a sense of idealism. It is free of the snobbery of most memoirs of the privileged. It is not Jacob Riis. (Look him up, my Goodreads pals!) But it is not a flashy reflection of gaudy times. What I took from this book in sixth grade was that a family could believe in diligence, good works and duty and still be happy. If it's not true that most diligent people who do good and fulfill duties are happy, it probably is true that any happy person is diligent, does good works and fulfills duties. (less)
I saw P.J. O'Rourke promoting this book on THE DAILY SHOW. I realized it might be the one book in existence which might give me a sense of economics,...moreI saw P.J. O'Rourke promoting this book on THE DAILY SHOW. I realized it might be the one book in existence which might give me a sense of economics, so I made the economy of buying it. This book is about a book, that being Adam Smith's THE WEALTH OF NATIONS. O'Rourke has a very clear mind. He gets and gives the gist of Adam Smith. I felt my intelligence increase as I read his recontextualization of Smith's great work. I was imagining things, I'm sure. What I was NOT imagining was the elation I felt reading O'Rourke's cogent prose. However, what could have been a timeless summary of THE WEALTH OF NATIONS will, unfortunately, date quickly, because O'Rourke, after making a perfectly good point, often throws in a reference to today's (or, as in the case of his Rosalyn Carter joke, yesteryear's) news. I literally didn't grasp the premise of some of the jokes. It wasn't that Adam Smith was remote, it was that O'Rourke was. That said, his delight in conveying Smith's message is real. Read it before you forget who Kenneth Starr was. (less)
The titles of Kinky Friedman's books are always funny. This one goes beyond being funny. It captures an unmistakable something about the heartland. It...moreThe titles of Kinky Friedman's books are always funny. This one goes beyond being funny. It captures an unmistakable something about the heartland. It's the real thing!(less)
The title is funny. It just IS. The cover makes me laugh. I'm giving a slew of Kinky Friedman books five stars because of the titles. THE CHRISTMAS PIG i...moreThe title is funny. It just IS. The cover makes me laugh. I'm giving a slew of Kinky Friedman books five stars because of the titles. THE CHRISTMAS PIG is a funny title. But THE CHRISTMAS PIG: A FABLE is funnier. (less)
Here's another Kinky Friedman book I'm giving five stars because of the title. There was a play, famous in the 1930s, about little old ladies and a guy...moreHere's another Kinky Friedman book I'm giving five stars because of the title. There was a play, famous in the 1930s, about little old ladies and a guy who dressed like Teddy Roosevelt. It was a very funny play. It was called ARSENIC AND OLD LACE. So the title of this book makes me chuckle.(less)
I'm giving the Kinky Friedman books which I'm selecting five stars each, because their titles are so funny. I'll go so far as to explain this particula...moreI'm giving the Kinky Friedman books which I'm selecting five stars each, because their titles are so funny. I'll go so far as to explain this particular title. J. Edgar Hoover, of course, was head of the FBI from its inception until his death in 1972 or so. He was ubiquitous. Every American recognized him. He had a sullen face and disturbing hair with no part, combed back with greasy kid stuff over a dome which held the secrets of the good and the bad alike. T. S. Eliot wrote a poem, famous in the mid-twentieth century (and not really famous anymore) called "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." So the title of this book cracks me up.(less)
Before he became the famous person he is, Jon Stewart wrote this book. I think he is the best comedian since Groucho Marx. This is a collection of short...moreBefore he became the famous person he is, Jon Stewart wrote this book. I think he is the best comedian since Groucho Marx. This is a collection of short pieces. One is a Lovecraftian story of a visit to the Kennedy Compound, another is about the waiter at the Last Supper. This will not shatter your love of JFK or the Savior. It increased my worship of Jon Stewart.
I read many of the stories in this book about thirty-five years ago. I was in eighth grade or so. I was steeped in the work of THE NEW YORKER humorist...moreI read many of the stories in this book about thirty-five years ago. I was in eighth grade or so. I was steeped in the work of THE NEW YORKER humorists of the mid-century: James Thurber, E. B. White, Robert Benchley and Dorothy Parker. Perelman was of particular interest to me for two reasons other than the fact that he was one of that crowd of writers: 1) He co-wrote two movie scripts for my heroes, The Marx Brothers (MONKEY BUSINESS and HORSEFEATHERS) and 2) He was still alive and writing. I had a subscription to THE NEW YORKER and, every four issues or so Perelman had a little piece. Anybody reading this review probably has some familiarity with Perelman's prose. It is miniaturist, complex and slapstick. Each piece (about a page and a half long with a column or two of advertisements and a cartoon) had six or seven words William F. Buckley would have been hard-pressed to define. I admit I was usually somewhat lost reading these, in a way which was not true when I read Thurber or, say, P. G. Wodehouse. While Perelman's stuff appeared every four issues or so circa 1974 (he being in his seventies then, or older) every six weeks or so there would be something by Woody Allen. It was clear to me even then that Woody Allen's stories were penned in homage to Perelman. It was as if Allen wanted to let Perelman know his writings had been worthwhile. I do not sense that Woody Allen was trying to compete with Perelman. First of all, the language was nowhere near as complex in Woody Allen's case and the tone was, somehow, a warmer one, but I do think Perelman picked up on the similarities. He did an interview on NBC's New York affiliate's "Live At Five" show just when the last book to come out in his lifetime (VINEGAR PUSS)was published. This was in 1975 or so. The interviewer asked him about NEW YORKER "casuals", the brief bits of humorous prose THE NEW YORKER had virtually invented, and Perelman said the only living practitioner of this art other than himself was Woody Allen. Perelman's writing is cold. You won't find a trace of pathos. Nevertheless, if you want to sample literary confection of the sort NEW YORKER readers used to inhale, seek THE MOST OF S.J. PERELMAN. (less)
These are jokes, gathered the same way as folk archivists gather songs. This sort of story-telling is as rare today as singing on the back porch with...moreThese are jokes, gathered the same way as folk archivists gather songs. This sort of story-telling is as rare today as singing on the back porch with a banjo and a Coleman lantern.
The jokes are really stories. You've heard Travelling Salesman jokes, but these are Travelling Salesman tall tales. They are hilarious and you do learn a lot about how people in rural parts of America fifty years and more ago spoke.
A lot of people who like humorous writing won't find these stories particularly intriguing. There is almost no insult humor as we know it. These are just whoppers that are dirty as get-all.(less)
The prime mover of the Beatles wrote this and that is why it's still in print. It has its interesting points outside of the fact that it's John writin...moreThe prime mover of the Beatles wrote this and that is why it's still in print. It has its interesting points outside of the fact that it's John writing it: The wordplay is fun, the drawings are amusingly silly and Paul McCartney did a mirthful little preface. But, if you're looking for the lilting poetry you hear in such songs as "A Day In The Life," "Across The Universe," "Imagine" or "Number 9 Dream," you're not going to find it here. John Lennon was a great songwriter whose lyrics matched his plaintive melodies. The little items in IN HIS OWN WRITE are the fun little things a genius does when he's not doing what he really loves to do. An anecdote: In 1973, when I was a spending all my waking hours hoping for a Beatles reunion, I noticed a first edition of this in a little memorabilia shop in my town. They wanted ten cents. I had forty cents. The bus home was thirty-five cents. I paced back and forth, missed the bus, paced back and forth again and then went outside, without buying the book and got the next bus. I have been kicking myself for thirty-four years now!
It's too bad the original cover doesn't show up here. [Note, 12/02/2007: I thank Keely, one of my fellow Goodreads Librarians, who, after reading this...moreIt's too bad the original cover doesn't show up here. [Note, 12/02/2007: I thank Keely, one of my fellow Goodreads Librarians, who, after reading this, corrected things by putting a picture of the cover here.] It was [is] a drawing by Al Hirschfeld, the great NEW YORK TIMES chronicler of stage and screen faces. The drawing depicts Groucho, Harpo and Chico. Published in 1972 or so, a good thirty years after the Marx Brothers officially quit the movie business, WHY A DUCK consists almost entirely of stills from from nine of their thirteen movie comedies. (The editor, Richard J. Anobile, left out, for legal reasons, one classic, ANIMAL CRACKERS, and for legal reasons AND reasons or taste, ROOM SERVICE, A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA and LOVE HAPPY.) But this is not merely a collection of stills. The major routines from each movie are virtually reproduced in still pictures with printed dialogue. It's as if Anobile had re-edited the films, cutting extraneous parts. It is a great introduction to the Marx Brothers. While nothing beats seeing the movies, students of comedy can learn a lot about craft following these book form recreations of the Marx Brothers' best scenes. The photographs are various sizes, and the layout is such that the humor is heightened. As a coffee-table book, WHY A DUCK is almost perfect. Richard J. Anobile did the same for W. C. Fields with a book which, I think, pre-dates this one. It's called A FLASK OF FIELDS and also features a Hirschfeld drawing on the cover. Anobile is also known for a Pyrrhic victory: In 1974, he published THE MARX BROTHERS SCRAPBOOK, an amazing book of interviews he did with many of the people who worked with the Marx Brothers. He interviewed Jack Benny and (I think) George Burns. He also interviewed people who'd written for the Marx Brothers (songs, scripts, scenarios, etc.) He interviewed Zeppo Marx and Gummo Marx. But, he also interviewed, and at incredible length, Groucho. Groucho is almost completely unguarded here and tells the sorts of stories you might imagine he'd tell his children or nieces and nephews or close friends. Shortly after the book was published, Groucho was suing Anobile. Groucho was in his eighties and would be dead in three years. If I'm not wrong, Groucho won and the book ceased to be printed for a long time. Whatever the outcome of the suit, one thing is certain: Instead of becoming the ultimate source on the Marx Brothers it was intended to be, THE MARX BROTHERS SCRAPBOOK became a much-disparaged curiosity. I think it's the best record of Groucho's inner life we'll ever get. But nobody can complain about WHY A DUCK, except to say that it is out of print.
Having visited Great Britain twice for a week at a time in 1995 and 2000, I can say Queenan captures what I noticed only peripherally. This is not a t...moreHaving visited Great Britain twice for a week at a time in 1995 and 2000, I can say Queenan captures what I noticed only peripherally. This is not a tourist's United Kingdom. It is not a tawdry account, either, as are so many travel books claiming to be off-the-beaten-path accounts. Joe Queenan has genuine affection for the United Kingdom. Again, he avoids another trap: He does not become smug in his affection. Reading QUEENAN COUNTRY I get a sense of a country which still eats meat pies, pulls a chain to flush instead of pushing a handle and spells one-syllable place names in such a way as to make them look as if they have three syllables. One chapter describes a rock and roll performance by a middle-aged band in a little club and highlights the ease with which the audience, the same age as the band, slips into the groove.
I just bought this today. (It is, indeed, now available in the United States, but I can't find the American edition listed here. The Canadian will do....moreI just bought this today. (It is, indeed, now available in the United States, but I can't find the American edition listed here. The Canadian will do.) I, of course, haven't finished it, but I've looked in the index for references to each Beatle (I being a Beatles fan) and read as much as I could in the space of a few hours about Michael Palin's friendship with George Harrison, and Palin's second, third and fourth-hand stories about the other Beatles. By the way, there are a lot more entires about George than the index indicates. George is usually referred to in the text as "George H," which is something the people who assembled the index seem not to have taken into account. But all for the better: George is present in many places in the book. As I read various hand-selected entries I also stumbled across things I never expected: Michael Palin has spent a fair amount of time in Sag Harbor, a Long Island town about an hour from where I live. I've seen it many times, and Palin's description of its marvelous, multitudinous plant odors is accurate. Of course, Michael Palin hosted SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE once or twice and his encounters with the SNL people are illuminating, adding to the already vast wealth of information about that endlessly fascinating series. (Its producer, Lorne Michaels, even gets a nod in the acknowledgements.) In short, this is a Transcontinental time capsule of the seventies. Palin and the other Pythons are hanging out in Malibu writing LIFE OF BRIAN, but what's interesting is Keith Moon is with them. He was going to be in the movie but died before this could happen. Palin shows his Wodehousian side when he says (long before getting to know Moon, by the way) something like "Keith Moon is in the habit of driving sports cars into swimming pools and leaving them there." Palin describes working with Stephen Frears, Tim Curry and Tom Stoppard on a film of THREE MEN AND A BOAT. All of this is before Frears became the prestigious director he is now; just as Tim Curry is hitting his stride and somewhat before Stoppard became the revered figure he is today. (And what he's done with THREE MEN IN A BOAT since then has been most interesting. He's put its author, Jerome K. Jerome, in an epic piece of theatre.) Palin, during the filming of THREE MEN IN A BOAT, writes in his diary about the fact that he's exhausted rowing the boat each day during filming. This is the mid-seventies. Cut to the nineties (which this book, of course, does not cover) and Palin has become one of the most intrepid makers of travelogues in history, visiting remote spots the world over. MICHAEL PALIN DIARIES: THE PYTHON YEARS, 1969-1979, will prove to be a lasting source of information about the entertainment industry of the seventies, but it is also written in crystalline prose. It is often amusing and invariably perceptive. No, I haven't read much of it at all, but visiting parts of it at the front and back of the book and in the middle, I can say, this seems right. I was in high school when MONTY PYTHON was first shown on American TV, and I remember its increasing fame. Friends of mine went to see the Pythons at City Center in New York. I knew another who'd gone to the New York premiere of MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL and I remember him saying the members of Monty Python were handing out cocoanuts. Sure enough, Palin talks about handing out the cocoanuts. This book is spot-on, as the Brits would say. (Or at least as an American watching British TV in America says.) (less)
I confess to having only flipped through this book, but I kept flipping and suspect I've read about half of it. I avoided it for years. In fact, I did...moreI confess to having only flipped through this book, but I kept flipping and suspect I've read about half of it. I avoided it for years. In fact, I didn't even glance through it until February, 2007, at least fifteen years after it came out. It's a lot more revealing than I expected it to be. I get a real picture of Graham Chapman. I've searched in vain elsewhere for any account of him that really portrays him as a three-dimensional person. Part of the reason this book is so revealing about him is, obviously, that he's dead, so the people who knew him feel free to be honest. But the portraits of the other members of this landmark group of comedians tell enough about them to show that this is not merely a book designed to entertain. I got a sense of very driven comedians. What strikes me is that, unlike, say, Peter Sellers, the members of Monty Python don't seem to have operated in a commercial world. MONTY PYTHON'S FLYING CIRCUS was a BBC show. The BBC can make someone famous, but, inasmuch as it's run by the British government, money doesn't come into play for BBC stars. Monty Python only made significant money toward the late 1970s, several years after the series stopped filming and the group had gotten exposure on PBS, America's not-for-profit network. With American fame, the group recorded records and made some movies in the late '70s and early '80s. My point is that the group, at its peak, was not corrupted by Mammon. They wanted to be funny and they were given tremendous leeway to film the program they wanted. I think it would be better to compare them to University professors allowed to speak freely before their students. They made a dent on a generation of intelligent youth. MONTY PYTHON SPEAKS is a look at a team of artists, actually. It gives a sense of their craftsmanship. It is not about superstars. It is about influential comedians who will be known for a long time by students of comedy. (less)
If anybody tells you Mark Twain wasn't a liberal, find this book, put it in your posession and read every other chapter outloud to that person. Writte...moreIf anybody tells you Mark Twain wasn't a liberal, find this book, put it in your posession and read every other chapter outloud to that person. Written rather late in his life (1891 or so), this is Twain's nonfiction account of a trip on a passenger ship around the equator. He writes a chapter describing a comic incident aboard ship and then the next chapter is a sober indictment of man's inhumanity to man. The chapters on Australia are most telling. He sees the Australia's treatment of Aboriginal peoples very much the same way he saw the American slave system. It offends his very being. He describes the dinners given in his honor, the luxury afforded him and the good luck which accompanies him as he tours Australia and New Zealand. Mayors of small and large towns want to be photographed with him, people toast him. He travels in the fastest trains. Indeed, he marvels at the technology allowing him all this. But suddenly, as in one chapter in which he describes the systematic slaughter of Aborigines, the comic mask is tossed aside, and a man of utmost sensitivity is revealed. For we live in a world where one has to be extremely sensitive to notice the horror inflicted by conquerors on the vanquished. FOLLOWING THE EQUATOR makes such sudden shifts from light to darkness as to be shocking. Twain is still an icon. Picture him in that white suit, with his white hair and white, flowing mustache. Imagine this man coming to your town. Brass bands play before he reaches the lectern. He tells hilarious stories, makes great comebacks when people try to show how comic they themselves are and he even smokes cigars with those who'll smoke with him. His train moves on. Several weeks later you read his article about your town. He says funny things you know are true. Suddenly, he refers to a little set of shacks he's seen from the train. You hadn't known he'd seen them. He describes the desperation of the people inhabiting them. He says your country put them in those shacks. He says his country has done that, too. He wants you to feel as ashamed of this as he is. But he made you laugh, didn't he? Why did he do that?(less)