Book Review: Tales Too Ticklish to Tell

Title: Tales Too Ticklish to Tell

Author: Berke Breathed

Author’s current web site:

Date: 1988

Publisher: Little Brown & Company

ISBN: 0-316-10735-2

Length: 122 pages

Illustrations: cartoons

Quote: “The news is there is no news…it’s all old news. Today there was death, greed, hypocrisy and White House lies…nothing new there!”

This is another volume of the history of the fictional Bloom County, where middle school children and animals relate to the news in ways real children and animals probably never have done or will do. In Tales Too Ticklish to Tell we get the full story of what was going through the minds of Opus and Lola when they mutually cancelled their wedding at the altar, how Bill the Cat failed to defend himself against charges of wholesomeness and saw no alternative to becoming a televangelist, how Opus was run out of Bloom County after Bill preached about the evils of “penguin lust.” This is the first volume to contain the iconic full-color strips where the blonde “tonsil sucker” got to John’s brain, where Steve “shredded” Barbie with his imitation of Colonel Oliver North, and where warnings about the hazards of sniffing dandelions prompted Steve (followed by the animals) to get high on dandelion pollen.

In other sequences not available in the selective reprints, the regular characters in the cartoon strip go on strike and are replaced by adult human “management officials,” Oliver sees stars spelling out the message “Repent Oliver” (and observes that it’s difficult being an agnostic), Opus works as a garbage collector, and Cockleberry Cockroach challenges Milquetoast’s position as tap-dancing spokesman for the cockroach community.

Sequences that were anthologized include the one where Steve was kidnapped by Zygorthian raiders and “Gephardtized,” the one where the Zygorthians participated in a formal congressional investigation and charmed the population by looking like big-eyed puppies, and one of several where Opus worked at the Bloom County Beacon.

Tales Too Ticklish to Tell was a bestseller when new and is therefore easy to find online. You may find a better price from other online sellers; however, if you buy it here, it’s a Fair Trade Book. That means that, of the $5 per book + $5 per package you send to either address at the lower left-hand corner of the screen, Berkeley Breathed or a charity of his choice will receive $1. If you buy five copies (or one copy of each of the similar-sized original “Bloom County” paperback books), you send a total of $30 to either address, and Breathed or his charity will get $5. So, if you want these vintage books, buying them from this web site is a way to show respect and support for a living writer.

Needless to say, you can show even more respect and support by buying Breathed’s new books, for the full new-book price, directly from his web site; if you like good-natured comedy and goofy-looking animal cartoons, this is encouraged.

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Book Review: The Five Minute Marriage

Book Review: The Five-Minute Marriage

Author: Joan Aiken

Date: 1977

Publisher: Warner (paperback), Doubleday (hardcover)

ISBN: 0-446-89682-9

Length: 280 pages of text

Quote: “My uncle is so set on the marriage between my two cousins, that he intends to disinherit them both if the wedding does not take place before his death.”

Conrad Aiken, the well-known American poet, had two daughters who grew up in England. Neither tried to write the sort of very very serious and ambitious novels or poems their father wrote. Jane Aiken Hodges specialized in period romances; Joan Aiken (who also married) wrote a few period romances, a few ghost stories, a few murder mysteries, a few contemporary novels, a few imitations of Jane Austen, and one volume of light verse, but was best known for stories about children. Indeed a pair of children, usually a brother and a sister, always “gifted,” emotionally but not physically precocious, are a sort of trademark of her fiction; they’re in this romance too.

The most conspicuous feature of this novel is that Ms. Aiken was obviously playing with the genre. This is a Regency Romance with all the trimmings, the nice but poor girl adrift in a hard world with a mother who’s more of a burden than a protector, the handsome hero who doesn’t seem too promising at first but comes through for the heroine in the end, and all the historical details at a convenient distance from the action…but everybody, arguably including the heroine, Philadelphia or Delphie, has a given name lifted from Arthurian romance, and the hero is burdened with a family name that you’re meant to pronounce like “Pennystone” while you see it as a rude joke.

In the years to come, in her novels for Jane Austen fans, Joan Aiken would really pitch into the bizarre mix of snobbery and misogyny that seems to have complicated women’s lives at the turn of the eighteenth century. In this novel she accepts it. Delphie is obliged to marry Gareth because her uncle thinks she’s Gareth’s first cousin; she consents to the marriage on the promise that it can be dissolved easily once her uncle dies, but the plot thickens…it doesn’t have to make sense, hey? It’s a Regency Romance…Cousin Elaine may be trying to kill Delphie, Cousin Mordred overtly tries to kill Gareth, various other vague and/or illegitimate relatives complicate matters as much as possible…anyway, at the beginning Gareth and Delphie don’t like each other, at the end they do, and all the plot twists tie up in the requisite cellophane-transparent heart-shaped bow at the end.

You won’t believe it. You’re not actually meant to believe it. You’re meant to laugh, and feel relief that your own love life, however messy it may be, is surely less preposterous than Delphie’s. That you will do.

I have exactly one serious objection to this novel, apart from my feeling that editors should have insisted on spelling Gareth’s family name “Pennystone.” The objection is that, if this should happen to be the first of Joan Aiken’s books you read, you might not go on to read and appreciate the books Aiken herself seems to have taken more seriously. This is an amusing romp through the ridiculous, hardly to be compared with the mock-history series that began with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, the character studies of The Girl from Paris or If I Were You, the nonstop nonsense of Arabel’s Raven, the dreamlike stories in Not What You Expected, the subtle social commentary of Morningquest, or the right-to-death eloquence of Midwinter Nightingale.

Though Joan Aiken no longer needs a dollar, readers “meeting” this writer for the first time should visit the blog about her books maintained by her heirs: Some writers’ heirs seem to prefer that the writers’ books quietly disappear and stop reminding them of what they’ve lost. Other writers’ heirs, like Walter Hooper with C.S. Lewis and, apparently, Lizza Aiken with Joan Aiken, keep the books alive for one or more generations after the writers are gone. There won’t be any more books by Joan Aiken but there are plenty of them already (she wrote more than a hundred), and many are still in print.

Anyway, to buy The Five-Minute Marriage (and other vintage Aiken books) here, send $5 per copy + $5 per package to either address in the lower left-hand corner of the screen. If you buy four books for a total of $25 that may work out to less than you’d pay some other sellers whose per-book price appears, at first, to be much lower, so shop carefully.

Morguefile book review cat:

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Book Review: Bloom County Classics of Western Literature

A Fair Trade Book

Title: Classics of Western Literature: Bloom County 1986-1989

Author: Berke Breathed

Author’s web site:

Date: 1990

Publisher: Little Brown & Company

ISBN: 0-316-10754-9

Length: 250 pages

Illustrations: cartoons by the author

Quote: “[A]t seven I was scanning the ‘News Capsules’ section of the Los Angeles Times. Any head­line including the words FIRE or MURDER prom­ised something vital.”

And so Berke Breathed grew up to write a comic strip in which the characters were children and animals and the plots were headline news stories. For ten years he drew the cartoon daily. Toward the end of this book he announces the transition to drawing it weekly…in news-story mode: the plot line is that Donald Trump’s body has died, his brain has been implanted into the brain-dead body of Bill the Cat, and he’s “developing” Bloom County by firing all the other characters.

This Fair Trade Book was discussed on the Blogspot a few years ago (and, yes, it sold). In view of its timeliness, it’s reappearing here.

In this collection we watch Quiche dump Steve because he spends some time in a body brace, Opus jilt Lola because despite his lovableness he’s just another commitment-phobic 1980s youth at heart, Milquetoast the Cockroach test everybody’s commitment to nonviolence, Oliver blow his cool when asked what led up to the Big Bang, “Deathtongue” morph into “Billy and the Boingers” and expire, the other characters banish Opus from the boardinghouse after hearing a sermon about “penguin lust,” Rosebud admit that the character “he” always insisted was male is “played by” a female (who later gets pregnant), Steve sue Santa Claus for delivering violence-promoting toys, Zygort aliens convert Steve into a Sensitive New Age Guy, Opus try to become a smoker, the kids make (and give away) a fortune selling hair tonic made from Bill’s underarm sweat, Opus attempt to rescue his mother from the Mary Kay Cosmetics test lab, and Ronald-Ann lure Opus from reenacting “Star Trek” to sipping pretend tea with her headless doll. Newsmaking people (and products) are mentioned by name every five or six pages and by implication in almost every strip.

If you don’t remember the original news stories, will you still chortle over every page? Probably. If you don’t get a joke, you’re sure to find someone who can explain it. Real cats don’t have underarm sweat glands; real penguins don’t look like Opus, either. According to the stereotype of the 1980s, Vietnam veterans like John  (the most sensible man in Bloom County) were supposed to be the drugged-out wrecks; in Bloom County that social function is taken over by Bill. But Mary Kay cosmetics, which were marketed by and to church ladies, really were “tested” by torturing animals just like Revlon and Max Factor, and there really were religious conflicts, in some Protestant families, between women (stereotypically the daughters) who boycotted the cosmetics for that reason and women (stereotypically the mothers) who wanted to support fellow church ladies’ business. If he’d had a wife or a sister, Breathed might have been able to exploit the further irony that the real reason why girls like me didn’t buy Mary Kay was that smearing any “moist” stuff on our faces aggravated our acne…unfortunately this comedic element was missing even from the full sequence that was published as Night of the Mary Kay Commandos.

However, as with Pogo and Charlie Brown, the humor of these cartoons is so universal that missing a few topical points wouldn’t keep you from enjoying the book. Steve’s “sensitive” phase was part of a trend, but it’s funny because Steve’s only lovable quality is his complete ignorance of what True Love might be. Opus’s persecution reflects 1980s fear of the influence of the Religious Right, but it’s funny because the children and animals care about each other.

Most of the people who wanted this collection already have it, and now it’s possible to get the five-volume collection of Bloom County reprints here…

Classics of Western Literature is, however, a collector’s item and a Fair Trade Book, not to mention being a valuable source of pre-campaign jokes. To buy it online here, send $5 per book + $5 per copy to either address at the lower left-hand corner of the screen, and I’ll send $1 per book to Breathed or the charity of his choice.

This Morguefile book review cat is much cleverer than Bill…

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Book Review: Let’s Stop Beating Around the Bush

A Fair Trade Book

Title: Let’s Stop Beating Around the Bush

Author: Jim Hightower

Date: 2004

Publisher: Viking

ISBN: 0-670-03354-5

Length: 227 pages, plus index

Quote: “The Bushites are—let me put this as politely as I can—NUTS!…and it’s time we stopped beating around the bush about it.”

What’s an anti-Republican campaign book like this doing on this web site? Although the Blogspot members and I believe that, currently, Republican presidential and congressional candidates are the less dangerous kind, we are all about fair hearings for all sides. Facts tend to be arranged in slanted ways by biased writers, so it’s good to read both Republicans’ and Democrats’ books.

In this book, Jim Hightower demonstrates his skill at a specific genre of comedy: Pick a successful politician, find some statistics about what he’s done, and exaggerate the bad effects for which the politician can in some way be blamed. Extrapolate from every statistic the most outrageous ramifications: “If Bush is elected, you’ll soon be able to surf in Asheville.” “American will reach that long-sought utopian ideal of a nation based on 100% pure consumerism.” “You’ll soon be able to eat [B]russels sprouts that not only taste like bonbons but also will have your heartburn medicine and erectile dysfunction pills genetically spliced into every bite.”

It was funny but perhaps frightening when it was new. Now that W Bush’s second term has come and gone, and we still have the same coastline, a few of us are still working, and Brussels sprouts still taste like leafy green vegetables, it’s comedy all the way. Any time people try to project today’s facts into the future, they’re likely to come up with things as absurd as Hightower’s fantasy about Brussels sprouts tasting like bonbons. That’s the nature of the game. So people trying to draw attention to today’s facts can be excused for going all the way into comédie noire. What’s inexcusable is ignoring the facts.

The sad part is, the facts in Let’s Stop Beating Around the Bush are still true. “Having blasted off the top third or so of a mountain—along with its forests and animals—the coal companies then bulldoze the rubble (which used to be the mountaintop) into the valleys and streams below, burying them hundreds of feet deep with what the companies call ‘spoil.’” This has happened. It’s still happening. And we’re not seeing any efforts on the part of W Bush’s alleged opposition to reverse this process.

Where I live, Republicans have started displaying messages like “If you think coal is ugly, look at poverty.” I am looking at poverty, and I can say that I would literally starve before I’d strip-mine my land…but then I don’t have children. By and large coal miners do not want to poison us all; the ones I’ve met are human beings who want to earn a decent living in their own communities. To Republicans I say: there must be some alternative that is preferable to either strip-mining or poverty.

Possibly as a reward for buying a real book instead of trying to read Hightower on a computer, we’re told, “Bill Gates, Michael Dell, and the other pooh-bahs of high-techery…brag that theirs is a ‘clean industry.’…They might try selling that…[claim] to the people around Guiya, China. This is one of the low-wage hellholes that America’s high-tech executives use as a dumping ground for their electronics waste, which includes some 45 million computers that are discarded annually…Computers are loaded with toxins…Poor Asians are paid a pittance to scavenge various metals and other resalable compounds out of these machines. Indeed, about 100,000 people, including thousands of children, in Guiya toil in the midst of piles of electronic trash, using acid to extract traces of gold, dumping cathode-ray tubs filled with lead, opening toner cartridges by hand…Guiya’s groundwater is now so polluted that the people have to truck in water for human use.”

Think about this the next time you call the repair shop and they say, “It would be cheaper to buy a new computer.” For you, maybe…but think about the human beings stuck with the horrible job of “recycling” your old computer. Maybe secondhand parts will serve your needs until you can move back to a clean, Green, non-electric and fully recyclable metal typewriter, or until the industry invents a less toxic way to build computers, after all.

And let’s hope none of the male readers of this book is still buying herbicides to give his lawn that Astroturf look that went out of style approximately five minutes after Astroturf was invented. “Atrazine is the most commonly used weed killer…Atrazine residue runs off into our waterways, and it’s now found in our drinking water, groundwater, streams, snow runoff, etc.—even rain…Atrazine causes male frog cells to produce an enzyme that converts their testosterone to estrogen, perverting their sexuality and destroying their reproductivity…The Environmental Protection Agency allows three parts per billion of atrazine in our drinking water. Yet the frog mutation is taking place in water with only one tenth of one part per billion.” And some people are still looking for a genetic cause for homosexuality?

Hightower is a full-time professional Democrat who would probably like to be called his party’s answer to Rush Limbaugh. He wrote this book as a campaign document, a bit of Bush-bashing. The facts are, however, bipartisan. The real enemy is selfish greed, which affects Democrats and Republicans in similar ways. “Just when you start to cheer for these Democrats, their leader gets caught…In 2001, on the night of December 20…Democratic Senate leader Tom Daschle [was] slipping a little ol’ provision into the ‘miscellaneous’ section of the Pentagon’s appropriation bill. Tom’s amendment had been written…on behalf of Barrick Gold…one of the biggest mining corporations in the world…Barrick owns a massive gold mine in Tom’s state of South Dakota…[T]his mine is in line to become another Superfund site, potentially costing the company $40 million to clean up…Daschle’s little ol’ amendment…exempts Barrick Gold from ‘any and all liability relating to the mine’! It exonerates this corporation for all ‘damages to natural resources or the environment.’”

Facts, Gentle Readers. You could read’em and weep. Or, with Hightower’s help, you can read them with a smile…if only the kind of peculiar twisted grin George H.W. Bush wore while declaring the Gulf War. Why agonize when you can strategize? Satire can be a good source of ideas. Fact-packed satires are the best. Check the facts! Use them! Don’t let them be forgotten, merely because the election’s over and the predictions went the way of last week’s weather forecast. Hightower hands us names, and since you’re reading this review on a computer you can type in the names and use the Internet to update the numbers. Thirteen years after the 2004 election, this book is surprisingly relevant.

Hightower is alive and writing at . So, this and his other vintage books are Fair Trade Books. For $5 per book + $5 per package, payable to either address in the lower right-hand corner of the screen, you get a clean secondhand copy and Hightower or a charity of his choice gets $1. If the Postal Service is still using the same packages they used the last time I shipped books, you could throw in at least There’s Nothing in the Middle of the Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos and possibly If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates for a total of $20 (all three, paperback), and Hightower or his charity would get $3. He’s written another book; as usual, we recommend buying new books from bookstores, book parties, or authors’ web sites, whenever possible, to encourage writers.

Morguefile book review cat:

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Book Review: Complete Book of Roasts Boasts and Toasts

A Fair Trade Book

Title: Complete Book of Roasts, Boasts,and Toasts

Author: Elmer Pasta

Author’s web site:

Date: 1982

Publisher: Parker Publishing Company

ISBN: 0-13-158329-8

Length: 375 pages

Quote: “Say you’ve been forewarned that you will be the subject of a roast. List all your own personal characteristics and look them up here. Jot down the Boasts under each category.”

Elmer Pasta’s claim to fame was that he supplied simple one-liners like these to comedians, including Phyllis Diller and Art Linkletter, who worked his jokes into their famous performances. If you liked the sort of jokes that can still be heard on endlessly rerun TV comedies from the early 1960s, here are 375 pages of them.

Each “characteristic” (job title, hobby, relationship to the joker, feature of appearance) that could safely be ridiculed, under the rules of 1980s etiquette, here receives four comic insults (the roasts), one comic comeback line (the boasts), and one joke that may be insulting or may be a neutral silly pun (the toasts). Thus:

“APARTMENT MANAGER: ROASTS. She said she has a lush apartment for rent. I believed her when I tripped over a drunk!…” (To read the other three roasts, you’ll have to buy the book.)

“BOAST. All my apartments have nice views but there’s no overlooking the rent!

“TOAST. Here’s a toast to our apartment manager—the only way you can get her to paint your apartment is to move out!”

With a few obvious exceptions (mostly in the relationships category), the jokes are unisex, alternating between “he” and “she”; two of the other roasts cast the apartment manager as a “he.” Most of them are generic, silly, and harmless.

To anyone over age 40 (or anyone who has spent a lot of weekends watching one of the Reruns Channels with Grandma) these jokes will have a vaguely familiar ring. A few may even be too old to make sense to younger people. Do young people still recognize “a tomato with lots of lettuce” as slang for “a young woman with lots of money”? (People my age understood it, but didn’t say it—we had newer words.) Then again, if you want to participate in a “roast” and exchange comic insults with a friend, the age and familiarity of these jokes may make them safe.

According to Google, Elmer Pasta is alive and well, although his Facebook and Linked In pages are visible only to visitors who are logged in through one of those sites, which annoys me so much I’m not even willing to bother logging in to Linked In. He’s still a writer and advertiser, and some of his toasts are now available as reusable graphics. Right. Here’s the kind of e-friend I want to be to Pasta:

Friendship quote - Here's a toast to someone who's truly a best..

And to other writers whose early works I resell as Fair Trade Books. To buy the Complete Book of Roasts, Boasts, and Toasts, send $5 per book + $5 per package to either address in the lower left-hand corner of the screen. From this $10, Pasta or a charity of his choice will receive $1. If you buy four copies, send me $25, and Pasta or his charity will receive $4.

The Slovenlys of Cloverleaf Hill

[This story may need some explanation…While living together my family did pick up our “creative clutter” at the end of the day, but we grumbled about it. Early in my teens, I wrote a series of comedy stories about a larger, messier family who never picked things up and thus achieved surreal, preposterous clutter. This was the first one. It was typed, illustrated with cartoons by the author, and assembled as a picture book. Some young relatives of mine liked it.]

Once upon a time, on Cloverleaf Hill, there lived some people called Slovenly.

Mr Slovenly liked to make tapes.

Mrs Slovenly liked to cook, and sew, and paint pictures.

Peter Slovenly liked to play music.

Messalina Slovenly liked to read magazines and catalogues.

Sandra Slovenly liked to play with dolls.

Charlie Slovenly liked to whittle and make modern art out of wood shavings and Band-Aids.

Grandmother Slovenly liked to knit.


Most of the time Grandmother Slovenly stayed in her room. You can see why.

If you ever go to visit the Slovenlys, do not sit still.

Once a man went to visit the Slovenlys without knowing that he should never sit still in their house. He sat down and began telling Mr Slovenly about some encyclopedias.

“You have a nice voice, young man,” said Mr Slovenly. “Let me get that voice on tape!”

The man felt pleased with himself. “As I was saying,” he said, “everyone ought to have an encyclopedia….” and he began telling Mr Slovenly all the advantages of having an encyclopedia.

“I think we have one somewhere,” said Mr Slovenly, “but we don’t have one on tape yet. I see you brought yours along. Why don’t you just read me a bit from the encyclopedia?”

The Slovenlys were always buying replacements for things after forgetting who had used something last or where he had put it.

The young man wanted very much to sell Mr Slovenly an encyclopedia, so he opened the volume he was carrying and began, “A, the letter, from the ancient Phoenician, alef, an ox…”

“Hold on,” said Mr Slovenly. “A voice like that deserves some Background Music. Where did I put that tape? Let me see, let me see,” and he rummaged around amongst various shelves and cases of tapes. The children began to wander through the room, looking at their visitor and leaving trails of their favorite activities behind them. Mr Slovenly found the tape he wanted and slotted it into Side A of his tape recorder.

The encyclopedia man began reading again, with soft, slow music playing in the background. “Thought to represent an ox’s head…”

“Oh, hello,” said Mrs Slovenly to her husband, “since you’ve got him set up to record, dear, why don’t you peel some potatoes? You can let him hold the bowl.” She set a large bowl of potatoes on the encyclopedia man’s knee, behind his encyclopedia. “That way I can listen to you, and catch the afternoon light on the willow tree over on Railroad Hill.”

“Hebrew aleph, a bull,” the encyclopedia man droned on, while Mr Slovenly peeled potatoes into the bowl on his knee. Mrs Slovenly set up her paints.

Sandra Slovenly pulled off the encyclopedia man’s boots and emptied Peter’s guitar picks into them. She wanted the box Peter kept his guitar picks in for a dolls’ wardrobe.

“Who’s got my guitar picks?” called Peter Slovenly. He began wandering about, and wandered into the room where his father was recording. “I want to record along with the next song on that tape,” he told his father. After rummaging about in his room, he came downstairs with his violin and began playing along with the tape. He stood behind the encyclopedia man, propping his sheet music on the man’s shoulder.

Sandra Slovenly decided Peter’s guitar picks would be safer if she tipped them back out of the man’s boots and poured in a layer of styrofoam pellets from one of the packages Messalina had ordered from one of her mail-order catalogues, for insulation. Along with the pellets she tipped out a pair of shoes, which she left on the floor while she nestled the guitar picks securely in more layers of pellets.

“Who’s got my shoes?” called Messalina Slovenly. She came in and retrieved her new shoes before Sandra could think of anything to do with them. “Hush, don’t whine, Daddy’s recording everything,” she told Sandra. “You can have my old shoes instead.” She changed shoes and sat down to listen to the encyclopedia man while she browsed through the new catalogue that had come with the new shoes.

Mrs Slovenly finished painting, picked up a sweater Peter had thrown over a chair, and began darning the sleeve. Charlie began whittling a stick, aiming the shavings into the encyclopedia man’s hat. Mr Slovenly popped in a new tape. Messalina put the potatoes on the stove. Peter got tired of playing the violin and left it on the chair beside the encyclopedia man while he went upstairs for his guitar.

Messalina shoved the violin under the encyclopedia and laid her schoolwork across the encyclopedia man’s knees. He was now reading about aardvarks. Peter played the guitar while, one by one, the others brought in bowls of potato soup and ate them. Then, one by one, they put their empty bowls in the sink, brought in plates of tuna salad, and ate those. Mr Slovenly popped in another tape. His children wandered about carrying various personal belongings and crumbly ginger cookies.

The UPS man came to the door to deliver some yarn Grandma had ordered from one of Messalina’s catalogues. Messalina signed for it, and rushed up to Grandma’s room, leaving the package on the floor and shouting, “Grandma, Grandma, your yarn’s here.”

Grandma Slovenly shuffled downstairs. The encyclopedia man did not realize what an appearance by Grandma Slovenly portended. He was now very warm, bundled up amongst the sweaters, schoolbags, papers, magazines, and other Slovenly clutter that had begun to pile around him, and he felt rather sleepy.

While a tape was still winding along in the tape recorder, the clock struck seven. All the Slovenlys got up, leaving their paraphernalia behind, and went out. The encyclopedia man thought that even a family as eccentric as they would come back in a few minutes, so he obligingly went on reading about the town of Aberdovey.

Little did he know that the Slovenlys were going out of town for the weekend. When the tape reached its end the encyclopedia man thought that, as long as nobody was paying any attention to him, he might as well get a drink of water. Ignoring a crash behind him he picked his way through the Slovenly clutter to the kitchen, where all the dirty dishes were still stacked in the sink. Whole, raw potatoes were strewn over the counter but there were no clean glasses in the cupboard.

The encyclopedia man held a half-cup measure to the faucet, but no water came out. He tried the bathroom, but no water came out there either. The Slovenlys had turned off the water and electricity and drained the water lines before they left, to make sure their clutter was not destroyed by flood or fire while they were gone. The encyclopedia man found nothing to drink but a bottle of cough syrup. After drinking it he felt inclined to lie down in the bathtub and rest.

What had crashed behind him had been the usual avalanche produced when anyone moved quickly in the Slovenly residence. A tumbling box of holiday decorations had started a cascade of quilts from the antique china cupboard, giving it an excuse to fall forward, as it often did. That was why quilts and afghans were stored there in front of the china. The china cupboard had tipped a bookshelf part way over. Between them the two pieces of furniture blocked the encyclopedia man’s way out of the house. As he picked his way through the house the next morning the encyclopedia man saw no other way out.

He might, of course, have pushed things aside and gone to a door or window…but you already know that the Slovenlys themselves intimidated the encyclopedia man, so you can imagine the effect of their Slovenly clutter, including the three encyclopedias they had bought in the past five years. He was afraid of breaking something, possibly a leg.

He might have found food and water if it had occurred to him to look for the Slovenlys’ refrigerator, which was kept in the basement to save expenses…but since this young man sat down in the Slovenlys’ house, you already knew he was not intelligent. Really it was a wonder the encyclopedia man survived.

Luckily for him the Slovenlys had only gone away for three days, so, although he was not able to get out of the house, he was able to eat raw potatoes and drink cough syrup until the Slovenlys came back. As soon as he heard the key in the lock, the encyclopedia man ran to the hallway. As the Slovenlys came in, pushing things aside and throwing their coats, boots, hats, and suitcases in the hallway, the encyclopedia man dodged past them and ran away.

“Who was that?” said Mr Slovenly absentmindedly.

“I thought he was a friend of yours,” said Mrs Slovenly.

“Look,” said Peter Slovenly, “he’s drunk all the cough syrup.”

“And stepped on my doll bed,” said Sandra, picking up a rather bent cardboard doll bed from the middle of the hallway floor.

“And tangled up my yarn,” said Grandma, snatching a half-wound hank of wool off the sitting-room floor before any more of Charlie’s shavings mixed in with it.

“He’s no friend of mine,” said Mr Slovenly. “He must be one of Peter’s friends.”

“Who, me?” said Peter indignantly.

“Please don’t invite him again,” said Mrs Slovenly.

“No fear!” said Peter.

So, if you ever go to visit the Slovenlys, you have been warned, and I will not be blamed if you ignore this warning and sit down.

Movie/Book Review: Ten Things I Hate About You

This is from an old, old draft…I don’t often write about movies; I usually experience movies as backgrounds to knit and/or fall asleep by. However, my husband and I once shared a Blockbuster Evening that inspired me, the next morning, to list ten things to hate about this low-budget remake of The Taming of the Shrew. Why waste a review? Those who remember Ten Things I Hate About You may at least get a chuckle out of this list of ten things to hate about Ten Things I Hate About You.

The book was written by David Levithan. I didn’t buy it, but in the unlikely event that this review makes anyone want a copy of it I could get it from Amazon, in which case it could be a Fair Trade Book.

1. There’s more than one male character in Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. There’s also more than one male character in Ten Things I Hate About You, but, since all the teenaged male actors except the star look, talk, and act alike, we have to see them as a crowd to be sure.

2. There are only two substantial female characters in The Taming of the Shrew. To round out the cast, two girl characters have been added to Ten Things I Hate About You. Katerina gets a best friend who is nice but stupid, just like Bianca. Bianca, here played as even a dimmer bulb than Shakespeare made her, gets a worst friend whose wattage is almost low enough to excuse her nastiness, but not quite. So, there are three kinds of teenaged girls: dumb, mean, or both. Even in a farce, teenaged girls deserve more options than this.

3. All the older characters in The Taming of the Shrew are stupid clowns, but by and large the young characters are polite enough to ignore this fact. (There are exceptions.) Mostly it’s the audience who get to laugh out loud. In Ten Things I Hate About You, this instructive bit of social commentary disappears. There’s no pretense of courtesy or even civility toward the older generation. The teenagers use up all the laughter at the adults, and leave very little for any adult viewer to enjoy.

4. In The Taming of the Shrew, no explanation is given for Katerina’s character. She’s a foul-mouthed, bad-tempered, spoilt brat who beats her sister up just because she can. In Ten Things I Hate About You, Kat becomes human, but wimpy: she’s depressed because she’s a rape victim. Recently. Shakespeare’s Katerina would have clobbered anybody who laid an unauthorized finger on her.

5. The movie looks consistently weird. The Taming of the Shrew is supposed to take place in Italy . All the characters are Italian. Although Ten Things I Hate About You is set in the United States, all the actors look Italian-American, except for Katerina and Bianca (who look Swedish-American) and Petruchio, here “Patrick Verona” (who looks Irish-American), and Bianca’s worst friend Chastity and one of the teachers, who are African-American. There might be legitimate reasons for characters having either Italian names or Italian faces but not both, and there might be casts of actors gifted enough to overcome this dissonant effect if they had to work around it; unfortunately, neither of these possibilities is fully realized in Ten Things I Hate About You.

6. The names and stage business allotted to Bianca and Chastity would be a cute reminder of Cher and Dionne in Clueless if they were the only reference to Clueless in Ten Things I Hate About You. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The second-rate remake refers to the brilliant remake constantly…to the extent that my husband, who hadn’t watched or read Clueless, had no idea where the verbal, non-slapstick comedy was found (or why I was laughing).

7. The Taming of the Shrew is a farce with no pretensions to redeeming social value or positive role models. Ten Things I Hate About You is a farce with delusions of redeeming social value (the “statement” that rape victims are often depressed) and delusions of positive role models (who constantly insult all the older people they know and wreck their property). These delusions are an insult to the audience.

8. The Taming of the Shrew has a plot that suggests, but does not require us to watch, scenes of gross violence or major property destruction. Everybody wants to marry Bianca, nobody wants to marry Katerina, nobody’s allowed to marry Bianca until some poor man has married Katerina, and Katerina refuses to marry anybody. While Petruchio undertakes, on a bet, to marry Katerina, Lucentio sneaks in and marries Bianca. Petruchio avoids fights with Katerina by abusing everyone else, ripping up new clothes, throwing food on the floor, and generally being a bigger jerk than she is. This spoils Katerina’s attempts to get her way by abusing weaker people and forces her to learn an unconvincing submissive act, which, in her case, is an improvement. Although Lucentio and Bianca are in love, they soon run into problems; Petruchio and Katerina, neither of whom knows anything about love come to terms that allow them to live together.

In Ten Things I Hate About You, virtually all of this plot disappears behind the violence, property destruction, and general misbehavior. Bianca’s date–one of the generic Italian-looking boys–mistreats her, Chastity turns on her, it’s her turn to get depressed, and there’s also a brawl. Neither Bianca nor any of the male supporting characters gets an adventure of his or her own. Bianca doesn’t even end up with a date for the prom.

9. The Taming of the Shrew was, as noted above, about Italians. There was no obvious reason to bring African-American characters into Ten Things I Hate About You, but, assuming that the director just happened to know a couple of African-American actors who were about as talented as the rest of the cast, one might have expected that at least one of the two would get a decent part; say, Kat’s dull but supportive buddy. One would be wrong. The Black man plays a burnt-out, stressed-out, hopelessly incompetent teacher who turns every scene into a stereotyped racist/sexist rant. The girl is cast as tacky, two-faced Chastity. Right. This is a stupid, obnoxious, tacky, racist movie that misrepresents White American consciousness to an insulting degree, and as a legally White American I find it deeply offensive.

10. After viewing Ten Things I Hate About You, we went on to view a violent action-adventure movie about Ku Klux Klan idiots, in which fake blood and blank cartridges were extravagantly used. That videotape contained a money-back guarantee: any convincing portrayal of a bigot is inherently offensive but if, after watching the whole movie, viewers found it offensive, they could write to the producers and get their money back. That movie did not make me want to complain and get the money back. It wasn’t in either of my preferred movie genres—lighthearted comedies, and sweet family stories filmed in scenes of extraordinary natural beauty—but it didn’t offend me. Ten Things I Hate About You did.

Need the snarkiness stop here? Why? A Buzzfeed writer found ten plot details to hate about Ten Things I Hate About You but, since she apparently enjoyed the movie, she used them to construct the plot for a sequel. Somewhere, somebody may actually make this movie.

And here, courtesy of Thesuccess at Morguefile, is a movie-watching cat:


Book Review: Uncle Shelby’s ABZ

Book Review: Uncle Shelby’s ABZ

Author: Shel Silverstein

Date: 1961

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

ISBN: 0-671-21148-X

Length: pages not numbered

Illustrations: large cartoons (suitable for coloring) by the author

Quote: “[A]lthough Uncle Shelby has never been blessed with children of his own, the little ones have always had a very special place in his tired old heart…I have heard them playing and laugh­ing outside my window while I was trying to sleep and I have thought about them…And so this book—to help all my little friends get all the things in life that they so richly deserve.”

In other words, this book is a collection of mean practical jokes people, mostly older children, have played on innocent young children. The publisher did not recommend sharing it with children. If a child does get hold of it, you’ll need to spend some time demonstrating why all its suggestions are mean jokes…and the suggestion that the child perpetrate any of these jokes on a younger sibling is the meanest of all. I’d break out the serious threat artillery in a case like this. If a niece or nephew of mine were cruel enough to play one of these jokes on a young child, I would go to that niece’s or nephew’s school and demonstrate disco dance steps.

It’s funny for those who are old enough to laugh at a collection of more than thirty mean jokes that wouldn’t work on adults, and that it would be cruel to play on children. They range from a drawing of a lion identified as a dog who likes to be scratched, to a suggestion that if you brush your teeth often and keep them bright and white a predator will find you first in the dark, to a certificate children are advised to turn in at the grocery store to receive a real live pony, to a joke about a travelling salesman who told the farmer “I don’t need to sleep with anybody, I just need directions,” to a recommendation that kids count their fingers while holding their hands over an outline of a six-fingered hand. There’s a smudge on a page identified as where a quarter was supposed to have been glued, if Mommy didn’t pull it off and keep it. Then of course there’s the scrambled alphabet.

The drawing of an oboe (a diabolical suggestion to make to a small child, all by itself) mislabelled as a “gigolo” is one of those multilayered comedic achievements that leave me in awe, like Rush Limbaugh’s famous TV show in which he started to call attention to a math mistake made by a left-winger who’d been laughing at Dan Quayle’s “potatoe” blooper, and then, in mid-attack, Limbaugh proceeded to make a second-grade-level math mistake too. No comedian can be funny on that many levels every day and one might, if inclined to envy, wonder whether either Silverstein or Limbaugh could have been inspired enough to plan such effects, or backed into them by accident. The ancient Romans called it genius, and recognized it as a sort of higher-than-conscious level of the mind.

Uncle Shelby’s ABZ is recommended to those for whom laughing-out-loud-as-therapy works well enough that they never feel all that mean. If you can be satisfied by imagining Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd playing these pranks on each other, this book is for you.

Unfortunately Shel Silverstein no longer needs a dollar, and the minimum price of books sold via this web site is $5 per book + $5 per package (payable to either address in the lower left-hand corner of the screen). However, this is a slim book and the package would probably hold three or four others, possibly Fair Trade Books, for which the authors or charities of their choice would receive a dollar.

Here’s that book review cat again, courtesy of Morguefile:

blogjob cat

Book Review: The Obama Diaries

This is now A Fair Trade Book. I didn’t intend it to be; the first draft of this review was written in 2010.

Title: The Obama Diaries

Author: Laura Ingraham

Date: 2010

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

ISBN: 978-1-439-19751-6

Length: 350 pages plus 19-page index

Quote: “These diaries were my way of pulling back the curtain on Barack Obama’s Theater of the Politically Absurd…informed by actual events and, on many occasions, by the main characters’ own words.”

In other words, they’re satire, in a form that’s traditional in the United States but a little too close to the target for some other cultural traditions. In this book Ingraham intersperses her own commentary on the first two years of the Obama Administration with mock quotations from the diaries of the President and Mrs. Obama and several people who worked with them. No attempt is made to give them individual writing styles, but the mock quotations are set in display fonts. Sections purporting to reflect the thoughts of Rahm Emanuel contain lots of those characters from the top row of the keyboard that are most often used, these days, to slip vulgar words through family-filter software.

Nobody has ever accused Rahm Emanuel of being nice, so I’ll accept the claim that his private thoughts are full of boringly repeated obscenities. I don’t know the other people satirized in this book, so I’ll waive all right to comment on the book’s claim to show us what they’re really like; Ingraham has probably met them. In commenting on this book I’ll have to stick to (1) its success in presenting facts, (2) its assumptions about readers’ memory of facts that may be omitted, and (3) its comedy value.

The Obama Diaries succeeds in presenting the facts most of us remember from the regular news media. This book is a recap containing little fresh journalistic work, although it does cite more sources than any one individual is likely to have read/viewed alone. (There’s a long list of acknowledgments in between the text and the index.)

Most of the facts in this book deserve to be in a book. However, when a writer whose own hair is obviously brightened for the cameras tries to suggest that an older person’s hair concerns show vanity, who exactly is being satirized?

And is it really a fact that no twenty-something has ever lived through experiences that anyone wanted to read about? Considering that Dreams of My Father is not so much about Barack Obama himself (only a few quick, blurry bits of his résumé are thrown in at the end) as about growing up in one of the most far-flung families on Earth, with four ethnic identities, four step-parents, and a half-sibling on every continent, I don’t agree that the President’s first book shows a huge amount of vanity. The President and Mrs. Obama don’t seem to suffer from any deficiency of self-esteem, but why should they?

Facts that are discussed in the book include the Obamas’ unpatriotic sound bites, their non-churchgoing, their daughters’ enrolment in the Sidwell Friends School, the bank bailout, the tax rebate, the health care bill, the President’s nicotine addiction, the question of whether the President’s parents were “really” married, the global extended family, Mrs. Obama’s problems with her vegetable garden, the naming of the First Dog, the unpopularity of Obama-care, the President’s failure to attend the funeral of the President of Poland, the inconvenience a presidential motorcade always presents to the neighborhood (is this really the first time Ingraham’s noticed?), comments reported on the President’s dealings with other heads of state, the First Lady’s breaches of formal diplomatic etiquette, the question of whether the Obamas talk too much about their family life, and the President’s reactions to critics when the media has reported any. And more. (Interestingly, the question of where the President was born had not been made an issue in 2010.)

The Obama Diaries occasionally falls below its own standards by overlooking information readers are likely to have.  The question of why Obama has seemed to pick on Sarah Palin, rather than on older Republicans or Tea Partiers, arises in this book. One reason: Palin really is more outspoken, more rural, and more real than some Republicans like. Another reason: Palin’s anti-Green arguments embarrassed some Republicans, e.g. Michael Savage, whose idea of “being conservative” did embrace conservation of the environment. But there’s also another reason: Palin was, like the Obamas and Ingraham and me, born in the early 1960s. Most active politicians are still “elders” to the Obamas; Palin is actually a bit younger. In that sense, she’s fair game.

Then there’s “the most offensive example of the Obamas’ self-indulgent vacationing…when the White House announced that the First Family would head home to Chicago , on May 27, 2010, for the long Memorial Day weekend. This meant the president would skip the tradi­tional wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington …As this incident unfolded the President was coming under intense criticism for his handling of a catastrophic oil spill…” Where did Ingraham go during the Gulf War? I wrote home (from Pittsburgh): “The President has advised all non-essential personnel to leave Washington, after sending our relatives to war. Taking his own advice, he has gone to Kennebunkport.” If the presidential vacation during a time of criticism was tacky, it was not unprecedented.

Then there’s a quote from Ingraham’s fan mail, “an e-mail I re­cently received from a listener, Kevin,” to the effect that “we [haberdashers?] may totally disagree with your [President Obama’s] agenda, but we could at least respect you a tiny bit if you wore a tie.” Fashions change. I for one am glad to see fashion evolving away from useless, uncomfortable decorations. People our age don’t need to burn the neckties and high-heeled shoes Grandma thought people needed to wear to remind themselves that an occasion was special; we can simply recognize them as fashions from fifty or a hundred years ago that, if worn by us, remind everyone that an occasion is silly, like a Halloween party. But surely, if Kevin is old enough to miss neckties, he’s old enough to remember that proper letters to the President were written or typed on good stationery, addressed privately to The President, The White House, Washington, headed with “Sir,” and closed with “Yours faithfully, Kevin Smith,” or whatever his name is—not e-mailed to third parties, and not signed with a given name only. Without the etiquette that went with them, why would anyone want neckties?

The Obama Diaries scores high on comedy appeal. What the First Family’s “dog and veggie show” needed was good clean jokes about it. Ingraham provides those. Mostly she does it in a gentle, I’m-a-mother-too sort of way; no really nasty stuff about the First Daughters’ adolescence, and only one short, family-filtered riff about the President’s parents. If Ingraham doesn’t seem able to find words like, “Go, girl! Give us something to aim for!” at least the catty jokes say that for her.

More often, there are satirical images of “Rahm [Emanuel uttering a vulgar word] every five minutes to keep [Senator Harry] Reid awake,” Desiree Glapion Rogers pouting that “I am the real First Lady! Only far more alluring,” and foreign politicians not being “motivated by their personal opinions of Barack Obama any more than…by their feelings about blue­grass music.”  And then there’s that Kevin character. If you’re using a daily dose of laughter for pain control, buy this book.

I enjoyed this book thoroughly, and recommend it to readers from all political parties. My reservation about this book is the same reservation I had about Ingraham’s first book, The Hillary Trap.

While The Obama Diaries is at least about the public policies of an individual, The Hillary Trap was to an even greater degree about the ideas that had failed to serve Ingraham’s and my slightly older fore-sisters, the left-wing feminists. Because it used Hillary Rodham Clinton as an example of a woman for whom ten specific left-wing ideas hadn’t worked, The Hillary Trap sold well to one political coalition during one year, was written off as Clinton-bashing by everyone else, and was forgotten next year…and the book deserves more careful reading than that.

The Obama Diaries is more topical, but here too, there’s a fine line between skewering people’s mistakes and skewering people. Plenty of political satirists specialize in skewering people. Ingraham has a more substantial talent for analyzing ideas. My feeling is that publishers encouraged her to use a few jokes that should have been donated to Ann Coulter. Maybe that was what it took to reach the bestseller lists, but I think Ingraham had well and truly “arrived,” even in 2010, and could have afforded to take the high road.

The bad ideas of the administration remain to be bashed. I’ve been in the bashing business since 2011, and I’ll be the first to say that Ingraham does the job better than I do. There is some good solid idea-bashing in The Obama Diaries, enough to make the book more relevant today than much that was written about the news in 2010. There is more satirical comedy about individuals, and although those individuals are still in power, so the jokes about them are still funny, the personal focus of these jokes have given The Obama Diaries a shorter shelf life than Ingraham’s talent really deserves.

Buy this book now…it’ll be a museum piece by 2017. It’s a Fair Trade Book: send $5 per book + $5 per package, for a total of $10, to the address in the lower left-hand corner, and we will send $1 to Ingraham or a charity of her choice. (If you want two books, one of which might be The Hillary Trap, send $15 to the address in the lower left-hand corner, and we will send Ingraham or her charity $2.)

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Book Review: Sister Betty! God’s Calling You, Again!

A Fair Trade Book

Title: Sister Betty God’s Calling You Again

Author: Pat G’orge-Walker

Author’s web site:

Publisher: Kensington

Date: 2003

Length: 209 pages

Quote: “After many years of dysfunction and abuse that should have wrapped me in a blanket of mental instability, God, in His infinite wisdom and love, instead placed into my unworthy hands a Ministry of Laughter.”

That’s Pat Walker’s apologia for the comic character Sister Betty, both as Walker has enacted her in comedy skits, and as a character in this series of short stories about a small, not too wealthy, American Protestant church and its quirky members. In addition to Sister Betty, a fragile little old lady who may be senile but can also be wise, there’s Ma Cile, a big tough old lady who is definitely not senile and may be dangerous, and others including Pastor Knott Enuff Money, Deacon Laid Handz, Sister Carrie Onn, Sister Connie Fuse, Sister Aggi Tate, and Minister Breedin Love. These peculiar believers make up the Ain’t Nobody Right But Us Church.

The adventures of this cracked-up crowd form a searching, but apparently sincere, Christian look at the besetting sins of the church. There’s the night some church members (who are at least genuinely single) risk mortal embarrassment and the censure of the church by furtively sneaking into town to meet people they’ve been chatting with on a dating web site, but all they see are each other. There’s the bus trip on which the Greyhound driver thinks he’ll enjoy the conversation of the “beautiful and exotic” church lady who edges an old man with a cane out of the front seat…but little does he know he’s about to be used as the strop on which Sister Ima whets her combat-ready tongue. There is an appeal for “new behinds” for Ma Cile’s grandchildren. After each piece of wacky exaggeration, there are Bible texts that address the serious problem that has just been parodied.

Not everyone will appreciate the comedy approach to the serious problems of the Christian life, and some who laugh at lines like “she looked like a jar of spilled jellybeans with her hat of many colors discarded on the church floor” will object to other lines like “Sister Carrie Onn’s sundress got torn, and she accidentally mooned the man who held on to her.” (The overall tone of the comedy in this book is definitely PG-13; when looking for an example of potentially objectionable jokes to quote, I rejected three that would have violated this web site’s contract.) If, however, you like most of the comedy movies and TV shows being made these days, you’ll probably enjoy Sister Betty. I laughed. A lot. But I was glad The Nephews weren’t there to ask me to share the jokes.

Sister Betty God’s Calling You Again is a Fair Trade Book–a book by a living author that is more often purchased secondhand than new, which this web site sells at a price from which we can send 10% to the author. That means that when you send $5 per book + $5 per package to either address at the lower left-hand corner of this screen, we send $1 to Pat G’Orge-Walker or a charity of her choice. (If you want two copies, you send us $15 and we send Walker or her charity $2.)