I honestly planned on reading this book when it first came out, but it turns out I had a root canal that day (probably), and that sidetracked me. Nonetheless, here I am.
Growing up, I was weaned on the humor writing on Dave Barry. When he retired, I wasn’t sure I could find another writer so tuned in to my own odd view of comedy. I didn’t know much about newspaper publishing. Did other humor columnists exist? Would the current Homeland Security threat level even allow it? Around here, the funniest thing the Chicago Sun-Times ever drummed up was a picture of the Cubs game, which, until recently, was always hilarious.
But a few years back, I ran into the blog of a certain Ned Hickson of Florence, Oregon, who, in defiance of the Patriot Act, is a humor columnist. I enjoyed the blog, but I was surprised to find that, after 15 years as a writer, he hadn’t published any books. So I was happy to see this collection of his newspaper columns come around.
HUMOR AT THE SPEED OF LIFE
There’s an irony to this title. People these days are known to have short attention spans. However, by its very nature, a collection of weekly columns is episodic, jumping from subject to subject. While this book is, of course, for people with a sense of humor, it is also perfect for the TL;DR generation; or for anyone with a daily train commute; or for that unexpected free time you discover you have when, after you put the kids to bed, your wife tells you sorry, she has a headache.
Humor at the Speed of Life is divided up into 6 sections, each with a thematic focus. The first two – the longest sections – focus on a variety of subjects the author has reported on over the years. These can be anything from giant rabbits to glowing mice to melting cell phones. Due to the time span covered, some references in the material are dated. Readers of a younger age may find themselves scratching their heads on occasion. But it’s always funny, always spirited and off-the-wall. The author has a knack for taking the reader in directions they don’t expect, throwing in a surprise twist or two that lets you know that he didn’t really have a subject to begin with. But, really, laughing out loud while reading is always a good sign, even if it annoys the train passenger next to you.
The remaining sections cover a host of stories and anecdotes about family life. This is where the author shines. This is humor with heart. Not only does he have a large (enough) family to generate plenty of material, but he knows that almost everything in normal, everyday life having to do with kids or marriage is funny on some level. Let’s face it, if you can’t see the humor in your life, you’re probably in for a rough ride. Even if you can’t at the moment, let me assure you that humor will help smooth out those rough patches (which is why you should read humor books).
This is what humor with heart is all about. You can’t force it. It just happens, because it’s you’re life and you’re sharing it. That’s why we read, or take in any kind of art, to see the world from the artist’s perspective. In these stories, the author knows how to inject just enough comedy, just the right amount of skewed perspective, to fully realize the truth of the situation without getting so ridiculous that he loses the reader. And if you have your own family life that you can relate it to, so much the better.
I don’t think you can go wrong with Humor at the Speed of Life. It does what it sets out to do. It chronicles one man’s fight against being a normal guy whose journalism only presents the mundane facts of our everyday world. There may not even be any facts in this book, that’s how good of a journalist he is. I’m not sure, though.
I was too busy laughing.
1. Ebook version not recommended as a bathroom reader.