Dangerous Minds

(Originally published March 1 2011)

Vanity Fair’s Mike Sacks (who authored And Here’s the Kicker: Conversations with 21 Top Humor Writers on their Craft, a favorite of mine, in 2009) has a new collection of well-crafted comic essays, out today, called Your Wildest Dreams, Within Reason.

Originally published in The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Esquire, and McSweeney’s, there is no over-arching theme to these short pieces other than the fact that they are all “laugh-out-loud/piss-yourself-funny.” Covering topics as wide-ranging as the tell-tale signs your college isn’t very prestigious (“Your mascot is a tiger in a wheelchair”), conversational ice-breakers to avoid (“Lemme guess. Korean?”) and how teenagers aren’t keen on touching his bald spot with their bare feet, it’s one of my favorite books of its kind since Woody Allen’s Without Feathers or Steve Martin’s Cruel Shoes. I hope Sacks won’t mind me saying that it’s a great book to keep in the toilet, but it is, especially keeping in mind the above-mentioned laughter/peeing connection.

Sacks exhibits a most unique talent for channeling idiots, particularly needy or desperate dorks like the guy who hires a plane to drop leaflets on his ex’s house to show her how “new & improved” he is, a groom who tweets his own wedding or delusional “author” Rhon Penny (silent h) who offers to blurb Thomas Pynchon’s next novel (even if he hates it!) in exchange for a reciprocal blurb from the reclusive author for his own unpublished book, “Cream of America Soup”:

You have to be wondering: What is this novel I’ve agreed to blurb actually about? And why is Rhon no longer married? Excellent queries both. I will not tell you why I’m no longer married, but my book’s subject matter is very much like Gravity’s Rainbow in a way, and in other ways not at all. It’s also very much a post 9/11 book, but not overtly. I’m not saying you need to know a lot about the medieval feudal system, Lady Bird Johnson, bats, my ex-wife’s fear of conjoined Siamese cats, democracy or linguini… but it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if you did.

Sacks is quite an accomplished word-smith (I genuflect to any writer who can compose a sentence like “Happiness isn’t… what you once did to my sandwich”) but even so, he’s capable of silently making readers laugh out loud with cartoon “Ikea Instructions” that just about every married couple can relate to, even if their own experiences assembling pressboard furniture do not end in suicide.