Cannonball Read V: This Is A Book by Demetri Martin
Every time I walk into a bookstore these days, I marvel at how much the “Humor” section has changed. It used to be that whenever I would make my way to that section, my hopes would be dashed when all I found were those irritating “bathroom readers” and books full of jokes about how miserable it is to be married. Thankfully, the section has evolved, with comics and television writers coming out with novels, “how to” guides and memoirs. Through no fault of their own, not every comedian makes the smoothest transition to publishing. Some comic styles are too avant-garde, to use a douchey word, or too dependent on getting the right tone across. Luckily, despite his own unusual style, Demetri Martin has created something both smart and hilarious in This Is a Book.
If you have not heard Martin’s standup prior to reading, it is not necessary, but I highly recommend it. Martin’s style is much like that of Zach Galifanakis or (the gone far too soon) Mitch Hedberg; a series of unrelated, quirky one-liners, sometime accompanied with music, or in Martin’s case, drawings. A lot of the humor comes from not the words themselves, but the implications behind them. Martin counts on the audience to connect the dots and paint their own picture of why something is funny, which is a daring and undoubtedly scary way to go. A few of Martin’s chapters in This Is A Book are made up of these one-liners, which are, in my opinion, his greatest strength.
Martin also takes advantage of the opportunities for elaboration that a book affords, since he does not have a 30 or 60 minute time limit to deliver his material. One memorable joke of his from his standup routine is given this treatment, to fun results. The original joke is a sort of one-off statement that leave the viewer to sort of fill in the blanks as to why it is as funny as it is (I can’t find the original quote, but this is as close as I can remember): “You always hear about the guy who was raised by wolves. You never hear about the guy who was raised by the guy who was raised by wolves. The problem is, you have a non-wolf imparting wolf teachings.” With his chapter, “Dad,” Martin gets to expand on this joke, telling the story of the poor young man who just can’t seem to live up to his dad’s wild standards. While much longer than the original joke (about four and a half pages,) the joke does not run long or get old, and Martin’s entertaining style and details make it a fun read.
Also impressive are Martin’s chapters dedicated to literary devices, like “Palindromes for Specific Occasions,” and “Frustrating Uses of Etc.” In the former, Martin creates palindromes for moments such as, “A butler politely asking the young son of his rich employer to go to the bathroom as he gets him ready for bed.” (“Emit debris, Sir. Bedtime.”) Perhaps the most impressive of his creations in this chapter is the 8-stanza poem he writes that, while sort of silly and nonsensical, is a palindrome and does contain full sentences. Any English language nerd should enjoy that, as well as “A Christmas Carol: the Deleted Scene,” in which Scrooge encounters the confused and flustered Ghost of Christmas Future Perfect, because really, who understands that tense anyway?
Summing up what is great about this book is pretty difficult, because, as I’m sure you can glean from this scattered review, everything is so different. A perfect book to pick up from time to time and read a chapter or two, Martin’s This Is A Book is a fun and often impressive example of how interesting language can be, as well as what ridiculous things you can do with it.
(Note: Any revenue generated from purchases made through the amazon.com affiliate links in this review will be donated in entirety to the American Cancer Society.)