What’s So Funny?

whats so funny new yorker january
As you’ve probably gathered by now, I’m a fan of The New Yorker magazine. I like their covers. I like their cartoons. And I especially enjoy “Shouts & Murmurs.”  This particular issue has one that totally cracked me up.


whats so funny shakespeare
It is a parody of a modern-day interview with Shakespeare. It purports to be newly discovered quotes from interviews with the Bard when he was promoting his work. Shakespeare says things such as, “I hate getting notes from theater owners. They’re always, like, Romeo and Juliet shouldn’t die and stuff. I thought that was a cool ending. I don’t know.” I’d recommend getting this issue for that article alone.


whats so funny new yorker
This week’s “Shouts & Murmurs” takes on the current issue of the relationship between the U.S. and North Korea. It is unabashedly making fun of Trump, and if you are a fan of the president, you would think it insulting rather than humorous. But If you are a Trump supporter, you probably wouldn’t be reading The New Yorker much anyway.


whats so funny usa north korea
But as a writer, it is worth reading regardless because it is a good example of what some—lots of?—people find funny.


Wikipedia lists 23 genres of comedy in this format:


whats so funny forms humor
Consider the various forms of comedy. What do you find funny? And would any of them enhance your writing?

Read it Already

new yorker june 2017
The June 5 & 12 issue of The New Yorker is fabulous.


It is jam packed with work by well-known writers. Philip Roth wrote the Life and Letters piece, “I Have Fallen in Love with American Names,” and discusses his early influences.


sherman alexie clean cleaner cleanest
This issue includes not one but three fiction stories. Sherman Alexie is one of my favorites, and his “Clean, Cleaner, Cleanest” article is great, though not as off-beat as some of his work. He is joined by Will Mackin and Curtis Sittenfeld.


toni morrison work you do person
There is a whole section titled On The Job. Another of my favorite authors, Toni Morrison, has a very strong piece here: “The Work You Do, the Person You Are.” Others in this section include Jennifer Egan, Richard Ford, Chris Ware, and Akhil Sharma.


This issue includes two poems, by Kaveh Akbar and Tracy K. Smith. The usual book reviews and commentaries on TV and Movies are present as well, of course.


If the cover price of $8.99 seems a bit steep, get thee to the library. And read it already!

The Importance of “What” and “Why”

new yorker hillary clinton donald trump campaign reading

I’ve written a couple of blog posts about what writers can learn from the current political campaigns. A piece in the October 31st issue of The New Yorker takes a different approach.


presumptive thomas mallon campaign reading
Thomas Mallon is a novelist, essayist, and critic whose book Finale: A Novel of the Reagan Years is now available in paperback. His novels usually portray politics and politicians from a POV other than the political “star.”  In “Presumptive” he talks about who would be his protagonist if he were to write a novel based on 2016—and why. He makes some excellent points about what makes an effective main character.


the unconnected campaign reading
The same issue of The New Yorker features an article by George Packer. Although he starts with an interview with Hillary Clinton, the bulk of the article is tracing the historical bases of current allegiances to the Republican and Democratic parties. He’s thorough and scholarly but highly readable. Read it with a view to what makes compelling nonfiction.


Whether you lean toward fiction or nonfiction, the principles of a good story are the same: you need a compelling what (in the form of a character and/or event) and a believable why (the motivation or circumstances that molds the outcome).


american nations colin woodard
[Photo credit: Amazon]
Continuing the election-related focus, I recommend Colin Woodard’s American Nations: A History of the Eleven Regional Cultures of North America.  It might just as well be titled “The United States and How It Got This Way.” His premise is that sub-cultures within the U.S. today can be understood in terms of who settled various parts of the continent, when, and under what circumstances. His labeling of the regions takes a bit of getting used to, but he provides a map. Overall, he has closely tied what to why in a highly readable and (for me) informative book.


FINAL TAKEAWAY: Election season is a great time to read voraciously!

When Books Make It to The Small Screen: Call The Midwife

I’m one of the legions of TV watchers addicted to Call The Midwife. It’s gritty and real. In spite of the historical context, it deals with issues important today, issues of women’s health and the monumental role of childbearing in women’s lives.
The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth, book cover
The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth
But even being a big fan, I was unaware that the series grew out of Jennifer Worth’s book, Call The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times, until I read this week’s issue of The New Yorker.
The New Yorker cover, June 20, 2016 issue containing Call the Midwife article
The New Yorker June 20, 2016
Given my recent blog on First Women, I noticed the cover right away. In browsing the issue, I came across a two-page article by Emily Nussbaum: “Crowning Glory: The sneaky radicalism of Call the Midwife.”
page of The New Yorker, “Crowning Glory: The sneaky radicalism of Call the Midwife” by Emily Nussbaum
“Crowning Glory: The sneaky radicalism of Call the Midwife” by Emily Nussbaum
Nussbaum wrote succinctly and powerfully about the TV series. She called the bloody, gory images set against a backdrop of tender, socially conscious humanism a “metonym” for the series. Every episode delves into “female reproductive experience. . . politicizing matters more often left personal, and vice versa.” For me, one of the most powerful things Nussbaum said was, “It treats invisible women—old women, poor women, homely mums—as rich wells of drama.” This is the sort of thing readers hunger for and writers should seek to exploit in their stories. 


I haven’t read Jennifer Worth’s book, but I intend to. Having spawned this captivating series, it’s likely to be the best kind of memoir—a true story as gripping as well-written fiction.


I urge everyone to read the Nussbaum article and at least sample the PBS series. Reader or writer, see where it leads you!