Thursday, July 23, 2015

Book Review: Dave Barry Is Not Making This Up

A Fair Trade Book

Title: Dave Barry Is Not Making This Up

Author: Dave Barry

Author's web page: 

Illustrator: Jeff MacNelly

Editor: Gene Weingarten

Editor's own books at Amazon

Publisher: Crown

Date: 1994

Length: 244 pages

Quote: “[T]his book contains a number of columns based on real events. There are also some longer articles...these also contain an unusually high (for me) level of factual content...I want to stress, however, that this title does not mean that this is a serious book.”

Dave Barry reigns unchallenged as the funniest male writer in America. He may well be the funniest male writer alive on Earth. It is, however, worth mentioning that even talents like Dave Barry's work best when supported by the complementary talents of other people. Dave Barry Is Not Making This Up would have been hilarious if it had not been edited by Gene Weingarten, who's written a few good books of his own, and then illustrated by Jeff “Shoe” MacNelly, who'd been writing and drawing a reliably amusing cartoon strip for years before Barry's time. As a combination of Barry's, Weingarten's, and MacNelly's talents, this book should never be read in a public place.

As an aunt, I particularly appreciate the science fair cartoon on page 3, with the posters “Ants and Junk Food /Aunts and Junk Food.” The Nephews are even allowed to tape imitations of it to containers of chips, candy, and ice cream. I hope it may be useful to many readers, including those who are not aunts, or even uncles.

In addition to science fairs, other topics rendered ridiculous in this book include childbirth, fancy sports shoes, dance parties, lefthandedness, a possible ongoing UFO hoax, animals that get into unlikely places, the digestive enzyme supplement known as Beano, circumcision and censorship (yes, this is the column about the painful removal of the Post-Dispatch from the Oregonian), Pop-Tarts that get stuck in toasters, ants that prefer electrical wiring to junkfood, the tax mess created by a bunch of harmless old men who took turns buying lottery tickets until they finally struck a winner, tiresome people on airplanes, Hong Kong's last days as a British colony, a day trip to China, the fad for deliberately “distressed” jeans, courtroom novels, boating, Bimini, the nuisance species known as zebra mussels, one of New York City's least credible muggers, the making of a burglar alarm advertisement, a high-speed lawn mower, a lawn mower drill team, Elvis fans, The Rock Bottom Remainders (a band that's included Barry, Stephen King, Roy Blount, Robert Fulghum, Matt Groening, Ridley Pearson, Barbara Kingsolver, Amy Tan, and other rock fans who've written successful books), bad songs (this series of columns later led to an entire book), piercings, how to ask a girl for a date, really stupid commercials, common grammar mistakes, stupid things kids do because they don't think, male-pattern stupidity, President Reagan's acne and Dave Barry's ugly high school yearbook photo, Barry's son's bicycle accident, a proposed TV series that would have featured Dave Barry, the danger that if teenagers and adults persist in talking to each other they may understand each other all too well, and baggy pants. Well, right, several of those things are inherently ridiculous anyway, but we can depend on Dave Barry to make them even more ridiculous.

Fair disclosure: Although I have a physical copy of each of these books I'm writing about, and although local lurkers may purchase these copies for much, much less than the online price, I should warn local lurkers that my cat Heather apparently heard that Dave Barry has been known to make tasteless jokes about cats and cats' humans. For several months she would pick this particular book off a shelf, out of a stack, even out of a box, and sharpen her claws on it. Heather's grandmother Bisquit and great-aunt Mogwai were partial to a picture book called TheHaunted Birdhouse, which is the sort of story a cat would like; they pawed through it several times but didn't try to shred the book itself. After I put The Haunted Birdhouse up for resale, no Cat Sanctuary cat took any interest in any book for a few years, and then Heather started trying to destroy Dave Barry Is Not Making This Up. I don't know. Now that this book is lost to her, if she finds another Dave Barry book and starts clawing that one I'll know for sure that these cats can read.

(Speaking of anti-cat remarks, check out the title Barry gave this video of what so many cat people wish our pets would do.

What Grayzel taught the rest of my cat clan to do, when the litter box is less than immaculate, is pull a plastic shopping bag onto the floor, spread it out, and pull it up around what they've deposited on it. That's clever, though not always effective. How I wish they'd use the toilet...if the bathroom had a cat door they might even learn to do that.)

Part of Barry's appeal is that readers can depend on him to joke about what a goofy immature “guy” (as distinct from a Real Man) he and his readers are; how much they like loud noises, messes, animals in bizarre predicaments, explosions, and general pointless goofiness. Women, though usually credited by Barry with better taste, find this theme much so that a few of Barry's columns were reprinted in Pulling Our Own Strings. In this book, however, we observe just a slight amount of—could that be seriousness? Maturity? Elvis fans and UFO hoaxers are easy to ridicule; Barry is adult enough to write about the ones who talked seriously to him with respect and understanding. The bicycle accident story starts with a few jokes about kid fads that made me laugh out loud when I read the original column in the newspaper, and still make me chortle today. The end of the column made my eyes water, the first time around, and still has a distinct sobering effect today. So let the reader beware. Every chapter in Dave Barry Is Not Making This Up still contains jokes, but some of them also contain serious thoughts.

Who should buy this book? Anyone with any sense of humor at all who doesn't already have a copy. Send $5 per copy + $5 per package to either of the addresses at the very bottom of this page, and we send Dave Barry or his charity $1. If you want four copies, send us $25 and we'll send Barry or his charity $4. If you want one copy of each of this and three of Barry's other vintage books, we'll see how many we can fit into the package the U.S. Postal Service is using at the time. (Live Right and Find Happiness will become a Fair Trade Book in a few years; for now, buy it from his web site to show respect.)