The microscaled, high-concept humor piece seems to be in vogue with all the cool kids: see the recent book of lists from McSweeney's, "Mountain Man Dance Moves," or "The Areas of My Expertise," by John Hodgman. What's different about Rich is his tone and his referencesor rather, his lack thereof. You'd think that a current Harvard senior and former president of The Harvard Lampoon might serve up a hipper-than-thou shivaree of pop culture or highbrow allusions. But aside from the occasional nod to the Bible or a movie (the Bulgarian narrator of "Pen Pal" refers to the Disney hit "Small Mermaid"), the stories tend toward the universal. Some of them could have been written 50 years ago.
The New York Times
A contributor to Mad, 22-year-old Rich is a Harvard senior, a former president of the Harvard Lampoonand the son of New York Timescolumnist Frank Rich. Half of the short humor pieces collected here previously appeared in the Harvard Lampoon, and Rich has taken his college collage and mixed it with new material for a satirical salmagundi that bites back. Since brevity is the soul of wit, the book has 57 varieties of playlets, essays and mirthful monologues, and most are only two pages long. Imaginative premises abound, such as X Fileswith dog characters. In the title piece, ants plot an escape: "We've been digging tunnels ever since we got here. We always end up hitting glass." Since a college-level audience is targeted, older readers might find some references puzzling. In his original proposal to Random House (a portion of which was printed in the New York Observer), he claimed that the "subject matter—horrible, inescapable doom—is well-suited for a younger audience.... I think kids will be attracted to the book's unpredictability. The tone remains constant throughout, but the topic changes every page with the abruptness of an iPod shuffle." True, these fragments are fun, and some are so abrupt they could have been iPhoned in. Others are as unpredictable as YouTube, as in your face as MySpace (which will both surely be used for online promotions). (Apr. 3)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
This laugh-out-loud funny, oddball collection of 57 short sketches contains the observations and memories of Rich, a 22-year-old Harvard senior and former president of the Harvard Lampoon(also the son of New York Timescolumnist Frank Rich). Recollections of childhood pen pals, imagined notes from teachers, make-believe girlfriends, and other schoolboy tales make up most of the text, and many of the pieces are written as dialog between two characters. Rich parodies professional athletes who thank God for their victories and reflects on what happens when murderers accept religion to get into heaven. He explains how The X-Fileswould change were the protagonists dogs investigating what's missing after pets are neutered and considers what happens when the carnival "guess your weight" worker gets married. He finishes the collection with thoughts on government and war. Recommended for academic libraries and larger public libraries where contemporary humor is popular.
Read an Excerpt
I was chatting with a girl at a cocktail party last weekend and she asked me, “If you were stranded on a desert island and you could only take three possessions with you, which ones would you pick?”
“That’s pretty tough,” I said. “I guess my first-edition copy of Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited, James Merrill’ s Collected Poems, and my lucky Sonic Youth T-shirt.
Well, it turns out the girl was a government research scientist. It’s a long story, but basically when the drugs in my cocktail wore off, I woke up completely naked on a sandy strip of land in the middle of the ocean. A few hours later a jet plane whizzed by and parachute-dropped the record, book, and shirt onto the shore.
I realize now that I definitely could have chosen better items.
“The last three days have been hell. I have no food, shelter,or medicine. The Sonic Youth T-shirt has an enormoustear through the front. It’s pretty cool-looking, and it shows I’ve had the shirt for a long time, since before Sonic Youth got big. But the tear lets in a lot of cold air,and the larger insects keep getting trapped in it.
Every few hours I flip through the Merrill anthology in the hope that one of his poems will be about fire building or water purification or how to make medicine, but so far they’re all useless.
I spent yesterday morning tying the Bob Dylan record to a stick with weeds and swinging it over my head to try to receive radio waves. I don’t remember why I thought that would work.
If I had asked for a Bob Dylan CD, I could have at least used the reflective surface to maybe heat up some sand. I’m not sure what that would accomplish, but at least I’d feel like I was doing something.
This morning I ate the poetry book and the shirt. Tonight, I’m going to try to eat the record.
Let me tell you some more about this island. During the daytime, the sand is so hot that I need to constantly hop from foot to foot to prevent my feet from getting burned. At night it’s below freezing. There are no trees. There’s just sand, weeds, and some kind of volcano. Every fish I’ve caught so far has been poisonous.
I just realized that, technically, my house counts as a possession. I could have asked for my entire house.
I don’t even like Bob Dylan. I just wanted to sound cool.
From the Trade Paperback edition.