Book Log #15 – Funny Planet

Funny Planet – How Comedy Ruined Everything by Ken Jennings [Duke University Bookstore]

This book is amazing. Unsurprising for a many multiple time Jeopardy winner, this book is packed full of comedy history, facts, anecdotes, scientific studies and insightful commentary.

I picked it up when my son was doing a summer camp at Duke last year. I read a chapter or two, then for the next year wasn’t in the mood to hear how my last refuge from the state of the world was *also* terrible. With polls trending my way a bit and in the throes of a pleasantly escapist beach vacation, I summoned the will to dive into it again.

And man, was I glad I did. it is easily one of the best books I’ve read in the past few years, despite the rather dire thesis that the current saturation level of comedy permeating our every hour has led to many ills, including our current president.

There is so much to take from this book, both hopeful and disappointing, that I hardly know how to thimbalize it for this post.

One important bit is the evidence that mocking or making light of serious societal dangers, even with the best intentions of raising awareness or opposing them, can have the unintended consequences of dulling our perception of the importance. The Colbert Report in its attempt to point out the foibles of flawed conservative thinking may have helped enable it. John Stewart’s delight at the comedy cornucopia of Trump’s candidacy may have helped obscure the dangers therein. To say nothing of the comedy arms race on Twitter.

Everyone with an interest in comedy should read this book. I’ll loan you my copy.

Book Log #14 – Exhalation: Stories

Exhalation: Stories by Ted Chiang [Little Shop of Stories?]

I don’t remember when I read this. I assume I picked it up at Little Shop of Stories as an impulse purchase, there’s no record I purchased it at Amazon or had it on my wishlist. Additional evidence is that this was one of the best books I’ve ever read, and that more often comes from the curated selection at LSOS.

I talked about this book to anyone who would listen, and there are only a handful of books I can say that about. And what’s amazing is I didn’t write about it here. So I’m rectifying that mistake.

I can’t find my copy, but that is almost certainly because I forced someone to borrow it.

This is an amazing collection of literary science fiction stories. The writing is smooth and flawless and the ideas are fun and clever.

The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate is one of the best time travel stories I’ve ever read — the problem of suspense in time travel narratives is difficult to come by, but this story’s convention works perfectly for that. The setting is also unique, almost reading like an Aesop’s Fable.

Exhalation, from which the book’s title is taken, is an amazing bit of hard science world building.

It’s been a while, but I don’t remember there being a weak one in the bunch. Funny, poignant, interesting… this book’s got it all.

Go read it. Now.