The Funniest People in Books, Volume 3: 250 Anecdotes

These are the first 10 anecdotes from my book The Funniest People in Books, Volume 3: 250 Anecdotes, available for .99 CHEAP at online booksellers such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple iBookstore, Kobo, etc.:

Activism

  • Norman Mailer was an activist, among his many other activities. During the Cold War, he was arrested in New York for civil disobedience when he appeared with 1,000 other citizens to protest a law requiring people to go to fallout shelters whenever an air raid drill was held. When the air raid drill siren sounded, many of the protesters unfurled umbrellas that bore the legend “Portable Fallout Shelter.” Mr. Mailer was also a parent. At the Elliott Bay Bookstore, he once did a reading. Afterward, he signed many books. In line with a parent was a small boy. Mr. Mailer talked to the boy and asked him if he could do something for him. The boy replied, “You could help me with my term paper.” Mr. Mailer laughed, then said, “Oh, no, my son already asked me, and I told him no, too.”[1]
  • Some people really take politics seriously. Jack Huberman, a Canadian, became an American citizen so he could vote against George W. Bush in the year 2000 election. Mr. Huberman is the author of the books The GOP-Hater’s Handbook: 378 Reasons Never to Vote for the Party of Reagan, Nixon and Bush Again (published in 2007) and The Bush-Hater’s Handbook: A Guide to the Most Appalling Presidency of the Past 100 Years (published in 2003).[2]

Advertising

 

  • In 2007, a notable hoax was perpetrated by the publishers of the Lemony Snicket books, which are subtitled “A Series of Unfortunate Events.” In this hoax, a new organization, the “Happy Endings Foundation,” was set up in order to promote happy endings in books for children. According to the foundation, “[S]ad books are bad books.” Therefore, members of the foundation wish to get rid of the Lemony Snicket books, even employing two gerbils to shred such books. The hoax was successful, being written up in some book blogs, and of course it garnered even more publicity for the Lemony Snicket books after journalists began writing that it was a hoax. As hoaxes go, this one was clever, and I encourage more hoaxes such as this, even though it may mean encouraging more shameless publicity for books that are so famous and so often purchased that they don’t need it.[3]
  • A few decades ago, advertising copywriter Edward S. Jordan wrote an automobile advertisement designed to appeal to women (aka “girls” in the first half of the 20th century) who loved the outdoors: “It’s a wonderful companion for a wonderful girl and a wonderful boy. How did we happen to think of it? A girl who loves to swim and paddle and shoot described it to a boy who loves the roar of the cutout.” Lots of letters from women poured in and praised the ad. A woman from West Park, Ohio, wrote this letter: “I don’t want a position with your Company. I just want to meet the man who wrote that advertisement. I am twenty-three, a blonde, weight 130. My wings are spread. Just say the word and I’ll fly to you.”[4]

Advice

 

  • Daniel Handler is often thought to be the real Lemony Snicket, author of the children’s book series called A Series of Unfortunate Events; however, Mr. Handler says that he is merely Mr. Snicket’s representative. For example, he often appears at book events that Mr. Snicket is supposed to appear at but does not. One day, Mr. Handler appeared at an event and said that an exotic bug had stung Mr. Snicket in the armpit, thus keeping him from appearing in person. To prove that this had happened, Mr. Handler bought the exotic bug — trapped in a glass — with him. He also gave the children who had hoped to see Mr. Snicket in person some excellent advice designed to keep them from ever having an exotic bug sting them in the armpit: “Never raise your hand, especially not in class.” By the way, Mr. Handler’s parents understood how to get him to read. They would read to him at night a suspenseful story and stop reading when they reached a cliffhanger. Then they would leave young Daniel with strict instructions not to turn on the light and read after they had left. Of course, young Daniel would turn on the light and start reading as soon as his parents had left — as they knew he would.[5]
  • Barbara Feldon, who played the role of Agent 99 on TV’s Get Smart, is friends with artist Jan Stussy, whom she calls “the most prolific artist” she knows. She once asked him about his creation of art, “How did you develop the courage?” He replied, “When I was in the 10th grade, I realized that if you simply make the first mark, the rest will just happen. Whether it’s that first mark with a brush on a canvas or pencil to paper, boldly make it and then let yourself free-fall. Art creates art.” Hearing this, Ms. Feldon, who is now the author of Living Alone and Loving It, added writing to her other creative endeavors, and she often tells herself, “Make the first mark.”[6]

Agents

  • Humorist Alan Coren thought that he wasn’t selling enough books, so he complained to his agent, who told him that very few subjects would definitely sell books, and those subjects were cats, golf, and Nazis. No fool, Mr. Coren titled his very next book Golfing for Cats — on the cover was a picture of a swastika. Newspaper columnist Stephen Moss believes that another subject that will definitely sell books is God — whether the book is pro or con on that particular subject. And yet another subject guaranteed to sell books is how to lose weight. Therefore, Mr. Moss is planning to write a book titled How I Found God and Lost Weight on Life’s 18th Hole. On the cover will be a picture of a cat — beside a picture of Hitler.[7]
  • Playwright Arthur Miller could be forceful. After writing All My Sons, he mailed the play to his agent, Leland Heyward, who had not read it one week later. This made Mr. Miller angry, so he went to his agency, demanded that the play be returned to him, and announced that he was leaving the agency. Fortunately, the agency secretary was intelligent. Not wanting Mr. Miller to leave the agency, the secretary asked for permission to allow another agent there to read his play. Mr. Miller agreed, agent Kay Brown read and loved the play, and she called Mr. Miller the very next day to tell him that his play was terrific. She was not exaggerating. All My Sons won the Drama Critics Circle Award. For the next 40 years, Ms. Brown was Mr. Miller’s agent.[8]

Alcohol

  • If you want to hear some good stories about writers who drink lots of alcohol, talk to Joseph Tartakovsky, associate editor of the Claremont Review of Books. Among his stories: 1) Cratinus, an Athenian poet of the 5th-century BCE, died of grief after seeing a cask break into pieces. It wasn’t just any cask, of course — it was filled with wine. 2) Tennyson was not sure what to do after receiving a letter asking him to become poet laureate of Britain. Therefore, he wrote two letters — one accepting and one declining — then he drank a bottle of port. He decided to accept. 3) Sergio Leone, director of the spaghetti Westerns starring Clint Eastwood, once asked Norman Mailer to write a script for him. Mr. Mailer locked himself into a room with a typewriter and a case of whiskey. He wrote for three weeks, occasionally stopping to sing, to curse, and to order ice cubes. The script was never filmed.[9]
  • Kingsley Amis had much experience with drinking way too much, and if any man was an expert on hangovers, he was. One of the things his excessive experience with excessive drinking taught him was to “not take an alkalizing agent such as bicarbonate of soda” when he had a hangover. One dreadful morning he took some bicarbonate of soda, which he chased with some hair of the dog: vodka. His companion decided to do an experiment: “Let’s see what’s happening in your stomach.” The companion poured what was left of the vodka into what was left of the bicarbonate of soda. Mr. Amis writes, “The mixture turned black and gave off smoke.”[10]

[1] Source: Paul Krassner, “Remembering Norman Mailer.” Huffington Post. 10 November 2007 <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-krassner/remembering-norman-mailer_b_72034.html>.

[2] Source: A BUZZFLASH REVIEW: The GOP-Hater’s Handbook: 378 Reasons Never to Vote for the Party of Reagan, Nixon and Bush Again. Accessed 29 November 2007 <http://www.buzzflash.com/store/reviews/800>.

[3] Source: Ceri Radford, “The Happy Endings Foundation hoax.” The Telegraph. 8 October 2007 <http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/arts/ceriradford/oct07/happyendingshoax.htm>.

[4] Source: Edward S. Jordan, The Inside Story of Adam and Eve, pp. 15-16.

[5] Source: Hayley Mitchell Haugen, Daniel Handler: The Real Lemony Snicket, pp. 12, 21.

[6] Source: Barbara Feldon, Living Alone and Loving It, p. 155.

[7] Source: Stephen Moss, “Christopher Hitchens — God’s gift to the world of books.” The Guardian. 26 June 2007 <http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,,2111370,00.html>.

[8] Source: Bruce Glassman, Arthur Miller, p. 34.

[9] Source: Joseph Tartakovsky, “The spirits behind the writers.” Los Angeles Times. 27 February 2008 <http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-tartakovsky27feb27,0,6447088.story&gt;.

[10] Source: Kingsley Amis, On Drink, pp. 92-93.

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