Day 3, Revisited: Books that have made me laugh

I was looking through some of my books this past weekend in a vain attempt to put some order to my shelves, and I realized that I was completely wrong in my response to day three of the Thirty Day Book Challenge. I had originally selected Gore Vidal’s Live from Golgotha, and although I certainly did laugh my way through the book with its unapologetic irreverence, as i looked through my less obviously funny academic books, I realized that they were the ones that truly made me laugh.

I’m not kidding, let me explain. I don’t tend to find humor in obvious places, but I do (I think) have a sense of humor. The vast majority of my reading consists of academic non-fiction, and let me tell you, these historians have a wonderful sense of humor! I think I’ve laughed more reading Isaiah Berlin and Peter Gay than while reading anything labeled as comedy. Thankfully, I annotate my books heavily so I can back this claim up. Allow me to submit the evidence, although I know that I will be dropping some serious “cool points” by showing this…

and yes, even footnotes can be funny...


Day 3: A Book That’s Made Me Laugh

Oh dear. I’ve been dreading this one since I saw the challenge, and I was hoping that maybe I could skip it, ignore it, or maybe even lie about it and pick a book universally found funny and write some sort of a post around it. But my integrity won’t let me lie, and Beverly’s “day 3” post made me realize that I’m not alone in my predicament. I suspect that this will be a terrible post, and I apologize ahead of time.

I don’t tend to read books (or watch movies for that matter) that are obviously funny or billed as comedies. The truth is that I seldom find those things funny at all.  I’ve read a few of those books, such as Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books, and his Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, or Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminatus Trillogy, and although they certainly made me chuckle, I don’t remember laughing out loud in a way that elicited strange looks from the people around me.

Then there are those books that have made me laugh out loud, even embarrassingly so, but for reasons that I think are probably not in keeping with the spirit of today’s challenge. Take my last entry, Dickens’ Old Curiosity Shop, as an example. God knows I laughed out loud often during the read. And along those lines, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged would also be a nice fit. I laughed long and hard at what she thought passed for clever writing and deep philosophical thinking. But no, that kind of laughter doesn’t qualify.

So what does? What book that I’ve read has truly made me laugh out loud? Well, after much thought and procrastination (this should be day 5 now), the answer came to me as I was waking up this morning; Gore Vidal’s Live from Golgotha. It’s an odd little book about a time-traveling news crews, holograms, and a tap-dancing St. Peter, and at times it reads like an odd mutation of Vonnegut, Pynchon, and maybe even a little Tom Robbins. I don’t remember who said this, but I remember seeing it described it as “outrageously irreverent impiety,” and it is exactly that. It’s also intelligently satirical (of religion, 24-hour news channels, politics, modern mega-churches, and so much more ), often downright wicked with its humor, and absolutely blasphemous. It may not be his best book, and it’s undoubtedly immature, but it’s certainly his funniest, and I did laugh my way through it.

I read it many years ago in 1993, so I’ll leave it up to the publisher to give you the synopsis:

Timothy (later St. Timothy) is in his study in Thessalonika, where he is bishop of Macedonia. It is A.D. 96, and Timothy is under terrific pressure to record his version of the Sacred Story, since, far in the future, a cyberpunk (the Hacker) has been systematically destroying the tapes that describe the Good News, and Timothy’s Gospel is the only one immune to the Hacker’s deadly virus. Meanwhile, thanks to a breakthrough in computer software, an NBC crew is racing into the past to capture—live from the suburb of Golgotha—the Crucifixion, for a TV special guaranteed to boost the network’s ratings in the fall sweeps.

As a stream of visitors from twentieth-century America channel in to the first-century Holy Land—Mary Baker Eddy, Shirley MacLaine, Oral Roberts and family—Timothy struggles to complete his story. But is Timothy’s text really Hacker-proof? And how will he deal with the truth about Jesus’ eating disorder? Above all, will he get the anchor slot for the Big Show at Golgotha without representation by a major agency, like CAA 1,896 years in the future? Tune in.

Maybe Woody Allen should turn this into a movie.

Gore Vidal (and others) on why Italo Calvino is so great

I’m currently in the midst of an Italo Calvino kick. I’ve just finished reading If on a winter’s night at traveler and am about to start re-visiting Cosmicomics, which, although I’ve read as individual stories, I’ve never read them together as a united work (post coming soon).

I remember reading Calvino many years ago, and absolutely falling in love with the seeming ease with which he told a story. His words seemed to play with me, pulling me effortlessly through the narrative. With a lightness unique to him, he could relate incredibly profound meaning. I’ve never smiled so much while reading any one else, and that is as true today as it was when I first encountered him.

Apparently I’m in pretty good company with this opinion, as is evidenced by this New York Times Audio Special: Celebrating Italo Calvino, where literary luminaries such as Umberto Eco, Carlos Fuentes, and Salman Rushdie, Wallace Shawn, and many others met to read from and sing the praises of this writer. Another big fan of his is Gore Vidal, who, from what I’ve read doesn’t seem to be a “big fan” of many. He had this to say of Calvino,

Where Calvino was there was literature. Like it or not.

Below is the interview where Vidal explains why Calvino, at least for him, holds such a remarkable place in the modern literary world.