The Horrific Tale of The Decaffeinated World, Part 1

Strong coffeeAbout 2 months ago I wrote a blog post explaining how I want to write fun short stories (preferably silly or comedic in some way) based on ideas that you, my readers, come up with and pass on to me. Not because I’m lazy – I always have a million ideas buzzing around (which actually gets annoying sometimes) – but because I think it could be a fun new way to interact with my readers and also actually get back to creating more on this blog (which does, to be fair, have the word “creation” in its title). Anyway, if you haven’t seen that blog post, or would like to suggest an idea or want to see the sorts of ideas I’ve received already, have a look here.

The first story I’m going to write is based on a suggestion by CricketMuse, another writer/reader/blogger/teacher who has been blogging at least as long as I have and who has managed to retain far more focus than I ever could. This blog is a must for anybody interested in books, writing, and well just words pretty much!

The story suggestion is: “Suppose aliens swoop in with a coffeebean emp– how will the world cope being caffeine free?” As a coffee drinker, this idea terrifies me. Let’s see what this terrible imagination of mine does to this perfectly great idea (sorry in advance)! This will be in at least two parts but maybe three (just to break it up for you readers (okay, fine, to break it up for me too))!

The Horrific Tale of The Decaffeinated World

Part 1

by the considerably caffeinated Matt Watson

I stared out the window motionlessly as the morning cup whirled down my throat and into my body in a desperate yet routine attempt to bring me back to life enough to drive to work and pretend to be a normal person, just like everybody else pretends to be. We all have that drug of choice to help us achieve this – for some it’s smoking, others it’s alcohol, for some weird people it’s something even vaguely healthy like tea or juice or even water. But for a large amount of us, all around the world, it’s coffee that enables us to feign functionality in a world that is set to drain us until we are nothing left but a mechanical husk of what we once were. It was coffee that had provided me with a means of being an adult for the last twenty years.

My hand moved, without thought, to lift up my coffee cup to my mouth, only something was wrong. I nearly threw the mug into the roof with its lack of weight that I was clearly not prepared for, but being quite sure I had not gained any superpowers in the previous moments of contemplation and window-staring I found myself surprised at the possibility that I had already consumed all my coffee. I looked into the mug only to see desolation and crushed hopes.

I put the mug back down and rubbed my eyes. “It’s too early for magic tricks,” I mumbled to anybody who would listen.

“What magic tricks?” she retorted from the other room.

“My coffee is gone but I swear I didn’t drink it.”

“Oh darling…you just need another coffee. Make yourself another one.”

She was right. Of course she was right. She always was. I had accepted that a long time ago – I think it was in the marriage contract or something. I stood up after a couple of attempts and reached into the cupboard for the coffee, but again the coffee jar was not as heavy as I had been sure it was only moments earlier. I looked at it in my hands – completely empty, not even the coffee dust on the sides. It looked like as if somebody had cleaned it. But…nobody had been in the room since I last looked at it a few minutes ago. I put the jar backed and checked the cupboard properly. Then I checked the entire kitchen.

“Are you okay in there?” The noise had intrigued her, but not enough to actually come and see what was going on.

“Erm…yeah. The coffee has just…disappeared.”

“Well maybe you ran out, dear. Get one on your way to work or something.”

“Yes…yes that’s a good idea. Of course.”

I finished getting ready, with only a few sips of coffee struggling to keep me conscious I was quite certain. I felt like I was losing my mind, which was something that usually required more than ten coffees to occur, not just a few sips. But maybe I hadn’t slept well. I had no reason to worry about it just yet.

No, the moment when I felt I was more justified in my all-out-panic was when I pulled out of the fifth consecutive fast food drive-through window without a coffee. All of them, much to their own surprise, had been entirely depleted of their coffee stocks in what seemed to be the first time ever. I drove to a nearby supermarket, but the same thing had happened there. After two more stores that yielded the same impossible results, I drove to work with a sudden fondness for armageddon.

At the office, it turned out, we had also run out of coffee. I don’t want to sound melodramatic or anything, but I am quite certain I fell to my knees and screamed “nooo” at the top of my lungs for a few seconds before rolling over into the foetal position.



“So like…do they talk or what?” The long, bony, surprisingly ungreen (it was more a light pink) finger of the alien known as Boll poked one of the dormant beans.

“Don’t touch it you idiot! We still don’t fully understand them yet.”

“Oh, sorry Boss.” Boll stood up properly after being reprimanded by the creature he called Boss, but who was otherwise known as Ocks. Ocks was elected boss not by any sort of mental or emotional aptitude he possessed or had displayed, but because of the fact he was only 97 centimetres in height. As Boll stood at an appallingly tall 189 centimetres, his career prospects looked pretty dim. Such was the way of life for the Floating Nobulas, a curious nomadic people of unknown origins who travelled around the galaxies causing minor mischief normally by accident.

“And yes, apparently they do talk. They are alive after all.”

“But some of those human people said that most living things on Earth don’t talk, that only they do.”

“Yes, Boll, but just because some human told you that you’re going to believe it? Trust me, they’re not the brightest pack down there. These beans can talk,” and Ocks paused to look, no, stare, at the coffee beans, before pointedly asking “can’t they?”

The silence was mostly humiliating. They had come a long way to pick up these beans, to save them from the evil humans who kept grounding them up. They had agreed not to mess with the human affairs other than to remove all coffee beans and place them onto the several hundred ships that waited patiently outside the solar system in which the Earth existed. They already had a few issues to solve, such as where they would actually put these beans in the long term, but this silence was not assisting the situation.

Running out of ideas, Ocks finally played his blackmail card. “Fine, if you don’t talk, I’ll just send you back to Earth and you know what ha-“

But Ocks didn’t need to finish his sentence, as thousands of tiny eyes sprung open. One tiny bean finally hopped forward and bowed politely. “I apologise…we do not know how to handle such kindness as that which you have poured upon us.”

“Yes,” started another bean, “usually we just have boiling water poured upon us.”

“Sh!” The apparent leader of the beans didn’t want to give the aliens any ideas. “We are at your service, so long as you spare our lives.”

Ocks and Boll looked at each other, before Boll exclaimed “Awesome! We have a tiny army!”

Boll’s gigantic and quite hideous grin quickly disappeared with a knock to the top of the head from Ocks. “We have plans to make.”


By lunchtime, it had been declared on the world news that coffee no longer existed. It had completely disappeared, not just the stuff in the shops but also the actual plants themselves. It was as if the human race had been hallucinating the stuff, the entire concept, for the last few centuries. Except that when they checked books about it, it was still in there. There were still websites dedicated to it, there were still bad bumper stickers on the backs of cars referring to it, there were still shops and cafés whose business depended on it even if those shops and cafés suddenly looked like victims of a really huge theft (which, to be fair, they were).

It was declared an international emergency. Wars were temporarily brought to a ceasefire, political squabbles were put aside, natural disasters politely asked to take a hike for a short while. The 7 billion inhabitants of the planet needed to put their minds together to find a solution. Which would have been a great idea if it wasn’t for the withdrawal headaches from which large amounts of the human race were beginning to suffer.

However, despite my headache, even though I was emotionally volatile, I realised that this was my moment to shine! This was when I would become a hero, the hero that saved the world’s coffee supply! Today, I would be the biggest single cure for a headache ever! Because while the planet searched itself for something it no longer possessed, I turned my eyes to somewhere entirely different…

To Be Continued….

A tribute to Rik Mayall

There isn’t much I can say about the passing of Rik Mayall yesterday that hasn’t already been said. It is a huge loss – his unique brand of anarchic comedy, from The Young Ones through to Bottom, Blackadder and movies like Drop Dead Fred, inspired a whole generation of comedians. At 56 it feels he was taken far too early, and as many other comedians have noted on social media (especially Twitter), he was a whirlwind of creative energy that has left a bit of a void all of a sudden.

So, rather than ramble on any more, I’m going to include some of my favourite clips of his here. In order, there is the shop keeping scene from Bottom, then his first appearance as Lord Flashheart in Blackadder, then a scene from Drop Dead Fred (where he plays an invisible friend) and finally a compilation of some of his funniest moments from The Young Ones because it was too hard to pick one scene.

Just a word of warning, some of this stuff might be offensive. Otherwise, enjoy!

R.I.P. Rik Mayall! You’ll be missed.

My New Misquoted Twitter Account

quotation marksI don’t mean that I have been misquoting my new Twitter account. What I mean is that my new Twitter account is about misquotes – real quotes twisted into something slightly different.

I’ve been enjoying being silly while I write on my second blog, A Listophile’s Haven, which if you haven’t visited yet feel free to go visit it and tell me how funny I’m not. But I have been planning for about as long to start a second Twitter account, also for the sake of some silliness, and now it’s finally here and I have it up and running.

So if you want to see me ruin a bunch of famous quotes (of course you do), check it out by clicking here, or if you’re a Twitter user you can find me at @Misquotationed – feel free to follow me too, and of course send requests for quotes for me to ruin if you like.

Many of the quotes I’ll be misquoting are about things I’m interesting in, such as books, music, coffee and so on. A lot of the quotes will be authors and comedians but also some actors, philosophers and other people will be thrown in for good measure. The point is, there might be some interest in it for you if you already follow my blog, so give it a go!

And if you haven’t added me on my normal Twitter account feel free to do that too, by finding me at @abritishperson or by using the Twitter widget on the side of this page! I normally follow back and I only tweet about rubbish some of the time.


Book Review: The Pleasure Of My Company

The Pleasure Of My CompanyI came to this book with high expectations. The Pleasure Of My Company is Steve Martin’s second novel/novella, and after having read his third and most recent a couple of years ago, An Object Of Beauty, which blew me away with its eloquent language and profound insights into the world of art, I knew I was probably going to like his first couple of books (I seem to be working my way backwards). Luckily, I wasn’t disappointed.

The Pleasure Of My Company is very different, both in story and character types. Martin is brilliant at painting deeply flawed characters who struggle for one reason or another, but, due to the way he writes and develops them through the story, you tend to fall in love with them as a reader. In this short novel (it’s around 160-170 pages – on the outside is says a novel but inside a novella) the main character is Daniel Pecan Cambridge, a young man somewhere in his late 20s or early 30s (depending on his mood) who suffers from a number of neuroses which leave him mostly trapped inside his house. As a few unexpected events occur in his life, including winning the Tepperton’s Pies Most Average American essay contest, as well as taking in some unexpected guests in need, slowly Daniel’s universe is forced to expand and he gets a taste for what his life could become if he could just break free. Of course, breaking free is not that easy for the modern neurotic.

Daniel is such an unusual character, but Martin has depicted him so vividly by writing from Daniel’s perspective. You get to read his thoughts on the various women in his life, from Elizabeth the real-estate lady to Zandy who works at a shop, to his student-counselor Clarissa. Through these insights, you see the way his mind works as he craves any attention he can get off these three women and dreams up loving relationships with them, even though he also second-guesses himself and wonders if he is just being ridiculous. At one point, when he finally gives up hope on at least one of these women, he says “She had destroyed whatever was between us by making a profound gaffe: She met me.” While quite witty, it also reveals the true nature of Daniel’s mind – self-deprecating and fully aware that his own limitations are not normal. And I think, perhaps, it is this self-awareness that helps us to sympathise and empathise with Daniel, because it brings attention to the fact that deep down he does want to break down some of these barriers in his life.

Martin’s language control throughout the book is quite remarkable, as well, as so much of the feeling of the story comes from the writing. The way Daniel describes situations can be very blunt and matter of fact, but it’s also very important that his fears be made to feel very real. One of his key fears is that of roadside curbs, namely that he cannot walk over them onto the road. But while the actual fear itself seems ridiculous to most readers, the feelings that the fear produces can still be welled up inside us through the use of building atmosphere through long, panicky sentences. As an example, this is a paragraph from one of the times that Daniel does walk over a curb (it happens a few times in the story):

If I’d allowed my body to do what it wanted to do, it would have fallen on its knees and its head on the ground, its arms stretched out on the sidewalk. Its mind would have roiled and its throat would have cried, and nothing but exhaustion would have made it all stop, and nothing but home could have set the scale back in balance. But instead, I marched on, spurred by inertia and the infinitesimal recollection that I had recently crossed a curb and had not died.

It takes Daniel nearly two more pages of writing to actually cross the dreaded curb here of which he speaks, but through the use of such language as this we find ourselves rooting for him as some kind of unlikely hero, as if he were facing a much more serious threat than he actually is, and that really is a sign of clever writing.

Ultimately, The Pleasure Of My Company is a triumph over adversity, and a fascinating view into a life that many of us could never even imagine. It is funny, sweet, tender and brave, and is a testament to Martin’s ability as a writer and a storyteller. If you haven’t read any of Martin’s fictional writing, I urge you to give it a try – he’s not just “a good writer for a comedian/actor”, he’s a brilliant writer full stop.

Book Haul!

It’s been a very long time since I bought books, and it’ll be a very long time until I can do it again, but lately I did buy a few books to last me through most of the summer. I thought I’d just quickly show you them, as I made sure I bought only books I was very keen to read. Also, The Last Girlfriend On Earth which I reviewed here was among these books but I figured I didn’t need to show it again. Now, to the books which I shall also briefly comment on because, you know, it’s me and that’s what I do!

The Girl Who Saved The King Of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson. This is the second novel by the Swedish novelist, who is famous for writing the amazingly funny The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared, a novel which was Sweden's bestselling book the year it was released, which has achieved international fame and has even recently been made into a movie. Very excited about this one.

The Girl Who Saved The King Of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson. This is the second novel by the Swedish novelist, who is famous for writing the amazingly funny The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared, a novel which was Sweden’s bestselling book the year it was released, which has achieved international fame and has even recently been made into a movie. Very excited about this one.

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman. I bought almost all of Gaiman's novels last year, then never got around to reading them and had to leave them boxed up in Australia for the time being. This, his latest novel, will help make up for that a little I hope.

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman. I bought almost all of Gaiman’s novels last year, then never got around to reading them and had to leave them boxed up in Australia for the time being. This, his latest novel, will help make up for that a little I hope.

If you haven't seen the brilliant television show QI, get off my blog and go and look up QI on Youtube right now (I'll talk to you in a few days upon your return). For those more familiar with it, this book basically deals with the same sorts of information the show does, and even includes snippets from the show. A good way to find out a lot of what you know is wrong, and very funny too.

If you haven’t seen the brilliant television show QI, get off my blog and go and look up QI on Youtube right now (I’ll talk to you in a few days upon your return). For those more familiar with it, this book basically deals with the same sorts of information the show does, and even includes snippets from the show. A good way to find out a lot of what you know is wrong, and very funny too.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce. Don't know much about this one, but the title made me curious. Every now and then I make a reckless purchase based on something like the cover or the title. Fingers crossed.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce. Don’t know much about this one, but the title made me curious. Every now and then I make a reckless purchase based on something like the cover or the title. Fingers crossed.

Imagining Alexandria by Louis de Bernières. One of my favourite ever authors, famous for Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Birds Without Wings and Red Dog, this is his first collection of poetry. What I've read so far is beautiful.

Imagining Alexandria by Louis de Bernières. One of my favourite ever authors, famous for Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Birds Without Wings and Red Dog, this is his first collection of poetry. What I’ve read so far is beautiful.

The Pleasure Of My Company by Steve Martin. I was swept away by a more recent novel by Steve Martin recently, An Object of Beauty, and have decided to backtrack to his first two works of fiction. This one is about a modern-day neurotic, and as I expected it is incredibly intelligent, witty and insightful. Steve Martin, I have to admit, is a very impressive writer.

The Pleasure Of My Company by Steve Martin. I was swept away by a newer novel by Steve Martin recently, An Object of Beauty, and have decided to backtrack to his first two works of fiction. This one is about a modern-day neurotic, and as I expected it is incredibly intelligent, witty and insightful. Steve Martin, I have to admit, is a very impressive writer.

Shopgirl, by Steve Martin. His first work of fiction, this short novella looks at a young woman working in a shop who embarks on a relationship with a man nearly twice her age. I am yet to read it, but the praise I have heard about it, plus the fact it was made into a film, make me suspect it's as good as everything else I've read by Martin.

Shopgirl, by Steve Martin. His first work of fiction, this short novella looks at a young woman working in a shop who embarks on a relationship with a man nearly twice her age. I am yet to read it, but the praise I have heard about it, plus the fact it was made into a film, make me suspect it’s as good as everything else I’ve read by Martin.

Well, that’s it for now. I aim to have proper reviews up of all seven of these books over the next couple of months, so keep an eye out for them!

What books have you bought or borrowed recently? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

My Ten Favourite TV Comedy Shows Ever

It occurred to me recently that while I have written blog posts covering some of my favourite comedians, I haven’t written any such list of my favourite TV comedies. By TV comedies I don’t mean stand-up or sketch comedy, I mean shows with storylines (however vague those storylines might seem at times). I choose not to use the word sitcom because some people associate that negatively with comedy, which is silly because every comedy with a storyline, no matter where in the world its made or set, is a sitcom. But I digress.

This list will feature a mixture of British, Australian, NZ and American comedy, so it varies in style quite a lot. Here goes, in no particular order.

30 Rock30 Rock – One of my favourite shows from the last decade, this award-winning show deserves all the praise it gets. Based on Tina Fey’s experiences as a writer for Saturday Night Live, the idea of a show focused on the behind-the-scenes of such comedy and entertainment shows is simple but effective. What really makes the show is the wide array of personalities in the characters, brought to life by some (surprisingly) great acting from the likes of Alec Baldwin, Tracy Morgan and others. Definitely one of the more intelligent comedies to come from America this last decade. It takes a few episodes to get into but it’s worth it ultimately.

Black BooksBlack Books – One of the biggest cult comedy classics to come out of Britain recently (well, a decade ago but that’s still fairly recent), Black Books introduced us to Bernard Black, the grumpy drunk Irish bookstore owner on the outskirts of London, as well as his best friend Fran and bumbling assistant Manny. Only eighteen episodes across three series, every episode is amazing in its own way and even more so if you watch it in a marathon with a few bottles of wine and some good friends. Unsurprisingly, both Dylan Moran (Bernard) and Bill Bailey (Manny) have enjoyed growing success in their stand-up comedy careers since this show. One for book-lovers (and wine-lovers) everywhere.

BlackadderBlackadder – Rowan Atkinson’s other famous comedy series (Mr Bean being perhaps the slightly better known one), this showed off the man’s more sarcastic side of his humour. Each series was set in a different historical period, my two favourites being the Elizabethan England era and World War I. There was even a telemovie involving time travel made as a sort of reunion one-off back in 2000, and there’s a great parody of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (and a very clever parody, I might add). Atkinson was brilliant as the ever scheming Blackadder, but Tony Robinson as his dimwitted sidekick Baldrick was just as funny – it really does take a genius to play a total idiot well. Other notable regulars included a very young Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, as well as Miranda Richardson, Tim McInnerny and in the first series Brian Blessed.

The Mighty BooshThe Mighty Boosh – This unusual British comedy is one of those shows that I first saw in Australia about ten years ago late one night. After a single episode, I was both utterly confused and totally entranced and wanting more. With each series, the storylines became increasingly twisting and daring, not to mention more and more surreal, as the settings change from a dysfunctional zoo, to an apartment above a shaman’s shop, to the shop itself. But, despite this, the characters grow and develop as time goes on and you’ll soon find yourself warming to them as you sing along to some of the ridiculous songs in each episode. If you haven’t seen this, watch it in order from the first series – the second is the best but it takes a while to get used to, I think.

The IT CrowdThe IT Crowd – While many people think of The Big Bang Theory when it comes to sitcoms about nerds, for me I’ll always prefer The IT Crowd. This recent British classic comedy wrapped up last year with a one-off episode that follows from four very successful series, and centres around two young computer geeks who work in the basement of the giant building for Reynholm Industries. It also centres around their boss, Jen, who knows nothing about computers, and the big boss of Reynholm (the boss changes from season two onwards to the “son” of the boss from the first season) who is constantly trying to sleep with Jen. The storylines are sometimes absurd, but that only adds to the charm of the show in my opinion. A must-see comedy from recent years, it was created by the same person who created Black Books, Graham Linehan, for a bit of extra trivia.

Danger 5Danger 5 – This bizarre Australian comedy parodies the 70s spy genre in the most unusual way – Hitler is alive in the 70s, for no explicable reason, and the show centres around a group of spies who try to stop his various plans and fail to assassinate him at the end of each episode. Some of his plans include things like, you know, bringing dinosaurs back or kidnapping an entire country – normal stuff, basically. Despite seeming over the top, this series was actually really hilarious and a pleasant surprise. I’m hoping there’s a second series coming sometime soon.

Flight Of The ConchordsFlight Of The Conchords – In real life, Flight Of The Conchords are a NZ music duo who write comedy and parody songs, and who are both immensely talented. In the television show named after their band, they play fictionalised versions of themselves as they pretend to try and make it in New York, with little success apart from one super creepy but hilarious stalker. The first series of this is much better than the second, as the first series was written after the songs, but the second series they had to write the songs and episodes simultaneously which loses some of the magic. Still, both series are well worth watching – this show is very cool, very awkward and very funny. One for music fans everywhere, and also for both Aussies and New Zealanders (as there are so many jokes in there about the relationship between people from the two countries).

The SimpsonsThe Simpsons – This might be stating the obvious, but really I couldn’t not put The Simpsons on this list. I have grown up with this show (I am barely older than it), and despite its low points I also think it has bounced back in recent years (but everybody is too jaded from when it got bad ten years ago to try it again – seriously, watch some new episodes, they’re pretty good again now). Some of the highlights of my day on Twitter are the quotes of the day from this show (with accompanying pictures). When a show has been around this long, it’s alarming how much you can relate to it – “it’s like on that episode of The Simpsons” is a phrase I probably use too much, but I don’t care. I will always love this show, end of story. (And no, I’m not comparing it to Family Guy which I also love because that is like comparing apples and oranges).

Fawlty TowersFawlty Towers – In Monty Python (which, due to its sketch show nature I cannot include here) John Cleese became famous for his enormous height and lanky body which he could use to great effect in sketches such as the Ministry of Silly Walks and so on. He also became known for his anger (he actually had genuine anger problems back in the 1970s mind you), and so he managed to bring hotel owner Basil Fawlty to life in a mix of rage and slapstick silliness across the twelve (yep, there’s only twelve) episodes of this classic comedy.  First shown on television in 1975, the same year Monty Python and the Holy Grail was released in cinemas, this show helped take Cleese’s fame to all new levels, and for good reason. If you haven’t watched this in a while, watch it again. Trust me.

Harvey Birdman and FredHarvey Birdman: Attorney At Law –  This show features Harvey Birdman, once hero of classic Hanna-Barbera cartoons from the 1960s, as a laywer who fights cases often with his old enemies as the other attorneys. The clients also come from other characters from those old cartoons (one of my favourites is The Jetsons, who inform Harvey they’re from the future, from the year 2002, as he looks at his 2004 calendar on his desk in confusion). A very clever and witty reinterpretation of old characters, this show stayed interesting and hilarious across all three series and thirty-nine episodes, and I would consider it the best of all the Adult Swim cartoons by a long shot.

And there we have it! My ten favourite sitcoms of all time, and many of these have ranked among my favourites for a very long time already so this isn’t the sort of list that is likely to change easily, either.

So, what are some of your favourites? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Book Review: The Last Girlfriend On Earth

The Last Girlfriend On EarthWriting a lot of short stories last month reminded me of one thing – I need to read more short stories. I mentioned the hilarious collection of short stories by Simon Rich, called The Last Girlfriend On Earth And Other Love Stories, back in this post when I was only 40 pages in, and when I sat down to read more of it two days ago I ended up reading the entire remains of the book in one sitting. I also laughed. A lot.

Up until recently, Rich worked as a writer for Saturday Night Live (he now works for Pixar), so really you would expect him to be able to induce a few laughs with his writing. However I didn’t realise this when I read this book, and was taken quite by surprise just how funny it was. Often funny books make me smile, or sometimes laugh once or twice, but I was laughing repeatedly as I read this and I am now very curious about his other books.

The stories, about 30 in total over 200 odd pages, are divided into three sections – Boy Meets Girl, Boy Gets Girl, and Boy Loses Girl. Despite this, there is a strong cynicism about love and relationships and how people act in relationships through all three parts of the book. For example, in the Boy Gets Girl section is a short story called “Girlfriend Repair Shop”, in which a guy and girl are sitting in a relationship counselling office and it becomes clear that the guy is to blame for the issues the couple are experiencing. But then, instead of dealing with it properly, the guy takes the girl to a repair shop so she’ll stop complaining and return to the blissful person she was at the start of the relationship. While it is quite funny it also makes a good point, as a lot of people seem to be disappointed when relationships don’t retain that honeymoon feeling forever and they realise they have to work hard to keep both people happy. A lot of this social commentary lurks underneath the surface of almost every story in this book, but it by no means takes away from the humour, thankfully.

One key feature of the stories in this book is the use of surrealism – I mean, the book begins with a story about a sentient condom who ends up in a wallet and talks to the other contents of the wallet over time as he slowly tries to figure out what his purpose in life might be. There’s countless references to mythology, such as “Sirens of Gowanus” in which a man is lured by a several thousand year old Siren in modern times, “Cupid”, which features an alcoholic Cupid who isn’t doing his job of making people fall in love, and “Children of the Dirt” which explores the origins of sexual orientations. Then there’s the short but sweet stories – “Dog Missed Connections” is just a couple of pages of what appear to be ads on a Dog Dating site (and this one I absolutely howled in laughter at), “Celebrity Sexceptions” which reads almost like a long joke with a very good punchline, and “Ludlow Lounge” which is a futuristic look at relationships. There is “I Love Girl”, about love in the time of cavemen, the slightly disturbing but very clever “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”, and so much more than I have time to go into here.

The writing itself is sharp and witty, but very varied in style to suit all the different scenarios. Somehow though it never feels forced at any point – you get the feeling that Rich thoroughly enjoyed writing a lot of these tales. Through the constantly changing settings and the alternating between longer and shorter stories, it’s hard to lose interest as you read this book (part of how I read it mostly in one sitting).

If you feel like reading something that will actually make you laugh, and some short stories that are clever, thought provoking and actually quite short, you should pick up this book. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books If You Like Monty Python

Monty PythonTop Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke And The Bookish, in which a lot of book bloggers around the world join in by writing a top ten list based on the topic corresponding to that week. This week the topic is recommending the top ten books based on a particular other book, TV show, movie, etc – for example, if you like this book, you’ll like this other book here. That sort of thing. Feel free to join in and do it on your own blog, just make sure you link back to the blog that started it all (and tell me so I can come and check it out)!

As you may have guessed, I’m recommending all my books on if you have a fondness for the ridiculous British comedy troupe known as Monty Python. In the 1960s and 1970s Monty Python shot to fame around the world, helping redefine comedy with their surreal brand of humour through 4 TV series (45 episodes in total), 4 movies, a live show, and a bunch of albums. Although Graham Chapman is no longer with us, sadly, the other 5 members have been working on a reunion live show that will be broadcast in cinemas around the world – this show, they have admitted, is also to be a final farewell to the group, most of whom are in their 70s now.

So it seemed appropriate to me to base my list on Monty Python. If you like Monty Python’s whacky, surreal, intelligent and most of all hilarious comedy, you’ll probably like these books:

  1. The Murphy by Spike Milligan: Spike Milligan became famous in the 50s as part of The Goon Show, a radio series with the same type of surreal humour that Monty Python became known for. Milligan went on to make sketch shows on television, write a lot of books including several novels and a seven part war memoir, and even write children’s poetry. He was clearly a big influence on Monty Python, so really I could have put any of his books on this list. I chose this one because he published it in 2000, at the age 0f 81, and I loved how funny he still was even as an old man. He attempts to write a lot of the accents through the spelling of words, and that alone makes this short novel a worthy read for Monty Python fans.
  2. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams: Douglas Adams openly admitted that Monty Python were a huge influence on him, and it shows in all of his novels. There’s a complete randomness to these stories, courtesy of the fact that he blows up the Earth early in the first book of the series and really makes anything possible. But underneath, there is some intelligent social commentary going on as well. Very funny books by a very funny man.
  3. The Road To Mars by Eric Idle: Yes, Eric Idle is one of the members of Monty Python, so this book is almost a given for this list. Written a bit over a decade ago, it focuses on a topic he knows well – comedy. The main characters are stand up comedians who travel the galaxy, but the character who most interested me was a robot who didn’t understand the distinctly human concept of humour, and spent his time trying to analyse it to figure out what makes something funny. Very thought provoking while still being as hilarious as you’d expect.
  4. The Last Girlfriend On Earth by Simon Rich: I’ve only just started reading this book today (my girlfriend is reading it right now while I write this) and I bought it after reading this review on the fabulous blog Books Speak Volumes. Just skimming through it and reading the odd page, I am already finding it hilarious and a lot of it is just totally absurd but in a brilliant way. While Monty Python might not be the first type of humour that this reminds me of, I definitely think fans of one would enjoy the other! Excited to sit down and properly read this later.
  5. Preincarnate by Shaun Micallef: Shaun Micallef is a much loved Australian comedian, and he snuck this little novel out a couple of years ago. I was quite impressed by it, for the plot was very complex and totally ridiculous, revolving around time travel and suspended animation. What made it extra funny, though, was the footnotes that Micallef added that sometimes interrupted the narrative flow on purpose – in much the same way that sketches are interrupted by other sketches in Monty Python. Very funny and one of the most insane novels I have ever read. I’d like to reread this one soon, actually.
  6. Calcium Made Interesting: Sketches, Essays, Letters and Gondolas by Graham Chapman: Graham Chapman was also one of the Monty Python troupe, but sadly he died back in 1989. This book is a collection of essays and other various writings by Graham, all of which is hilarious. Often with these sort of books I tend to skim through looking for the more interesting parts, but this one I quite happily read all of – it was just too good! Some of his best work is in here, I think.
  7. The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson:  This is one of the most popular Swedish books of recent years both in Sweden (where it was the best-selling novel the year it came out) and around the world, and recently was turned into a film (which is a reason I need to hurry up with my Swedish language learning). Basically about what the title says, a man who on his hundredth birthday decides to jump out the window and run away, and all the crazy things that happen as a result, interspersed with tales from his youth. Another absurd story, I think it’s the surrealism and unlikeliness of it that makes me think of Monty Python.
  8. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller: I know some of you are thinking “what? He’s clutching at straws now!” But I’m not, nor am I including this just because it’s my favourite ever book, so hear me out. Catch-22 was a hilarious book which ultimately served to expose the real lunacy of war through situations and scenarios which seem too absurd to be possible, but which clearly are quite possible and probable (many of which Heller drew from experience). Likewise, Monty Python often tried to expose the lunacy behind a lot of things, from blind belief and religious fanaticism in “Life of Brian” to politics and media in their TV series, Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Besides, both this book and Monty Python reside among my favourite ever things, so, you know. It’s got to mean something, right?
  9. Mrs Fry’s Diary by Mrs Stephen Fry: Monty Python had a bit of an obsession with dressing up as women for sketches (as the main six members were men, although they did have women who often worked on their films and shows as extras too), and the results were often hilarious. Stephen Fry, the much loved host of intelligent quiz show QI, documentary person, novel writer and all round word-wizard, sometimes writes as Mrs Stephen Fry, playing his apparent wife as his alter-ego. This book is a year’s worth of diary entries, and it is very rude, crude and absolutely hilarious. Fry really knows how to twist words to get every last bit of humour out of them.
  10. An Utterly Impartial History of Britain or 2000 Years Of Upper Class Idiots In Charge by John O’Farrell: This last one is my favourite ever history book. So why am I recommending it if you like Monty Python? Because it is also the funniest history book I have ever read, poking fun at just about every bit of Britain’s past over the last couple of millennia. The humour is often quite absurd and more often just downright silly, just like the comedy in both of Monty Python’s single-story films (the other two were sketch compilations) which were set in the past. Unlike those films though, this book is fairly accurate (and obvious when its not). A must-read for comedy fans of any kind, and of course history buffs.

I actually could have come up with a few more books, but this post is long enough already. I’d love to hear from you, Monty Python fan or not, on whether you have read any of these books and what your thoughts are on them or the Pythons!

The Hyperbole and a Half book – when great blogs make great books

Hyperbole and a Half Book CoverIf you don’t know what Hyperbole and a Half is, you probably should go there right now by clicking on the link half a sentence ago. It’s an amazing blog by Allie Brosh in which she tells tales from her life in a hilarious fashion accompanied by drawings done on Microsoft Paint and done badly on purpose because it’s kind of funny. Her blog is award-winning, and her depictions of her own experiences with depression have been greatly praised by many experts for conveying it so accurately (part two of this blog, which appeared after over a year’s absence, had more than a million hits on the first day apparently).

Upon her return she announced she was working on a book, which would comprise of some of her funniest stories from her blog while also including several new ones (which aren’t on her website). Sometimes when bloggers or cartoonists make books, they don’t have much new content, or at least nothing  really enticing to make it warrant actually buying the book. But this case is an exception – if you like the blog you must buy this book. Please. Just do it. You won’t regret it.

The stories she has chosen from her blog to include in this collection include two of my favourites, The God Of Cake and Party, as well as both parts of the Depression posts (which you should go read on her website if you haven’t already). Some of her new tales include more stories from her childhood, more stories about her frighteningly simple dogs including one that is addressed to them in the hope of helping them survive normal situations in life (with a hilarious Q&A section with questions from the dogs themselves), and more reflections on her own identity as an adult. The new material is just as good as her best work, and just as funny and insightful, and it’s clear she put a lot of effort into this book and didn’t just rush it to try and get it out on the shelves already.

What I particularly love about a lot of Brosh’s writing, apart from how funny it is, is the fact that so much of it is relatable. Sure, not everybody has dogs quite so lacking in the brain department as hers, but dogs are odd creatures who do bizarre things for no reason and she explores that phenomenon so well. Not everybody has experienced what she has, but a lot of people have, and those who haven’t have at the very least probably shared some of the thought processes she explains in this, despite how seemingly ridiculous they are. And everybody can relate to the insane childhood stories – we all probably have similar memories of our childhoods whether we remember them or not. There is something impressive though about the way that she can make these stories seem so much like something all of us have been through and at the same time clearly unique and personal, with her own distinct voice shining through both the words and the drawings.

If you have ever read this blog you must buy this book, as you will love it. If you have never read her blog, go read it first, then buy the book, as you too will love it. If I ever wrote a book half as funny as this one, I would be over the moon!

What are your thoughts on the blog Hyperbole And A Half?

What other blogs turned into books have you read that you would recommend?

Day 15 – Book that should be on hs/college required reading list (30 Day Book Challenge #2)

More comedy! That’s what should be on high school/college “required reading” lists!

I’m being serious though. So many academics and educators seem to ignore comedy, as if it were some lesser form of writing. If you want proof, just look at a) the reading lists currently existing at most schools/colleges/universities, and b) what books win all the big, prestigious awards – it’s rarely something funny (even if it claims it’s funny on the back of the book, it’s often only funny to those who gave it the award).

This, I think, is a major problem, because comedy doesn’t even get a look in at the moment. Yet, as many of you know, through my slight obsessiveness with comedy in all forms, I have read many books which are either just really funny books (such as anything by Douglas Adams) or books actually written by comedians (which can be hilarious, such as The Road to Mars by Eric Idle (of Monty Python fame) and Preincarnate by Shaun Micallef, or can be serious and thought provoking like Steve Martin’s An Object of Beauty and Michael Palin’s The Truth).

Comedians on the whole are not these ridiculous silly people who they appear to be when performing, and most people know this deep down. To be funny requires an incredible amount of creativity, of wit and wordplay, and quite often a darker side to their curiosity and general pondering. All these attributes surely would make for good writing, would they not? In my experience they really do – I’ve in fact made a point of collecting books by comedians as I find them particularly entertaining and interesting.

Last but not least, if we pick the comedy appropriately so that each age group would actually get the humour in the books, then surely this would make the reading so much more engaging for the next generations who, on the whole, seem to be reading less and less. If there’s one thing I think education on the whole is getting wrong, it’s the book choices we give most students – all we’re doing is putting them off reading entirely, which is a horrible thing in itself.

We should be encouraging reading, so let’s give the young ones something good and funny to read and it won’t feel like a chore to them! They might even learn a thing or two!

What are your thoughts? What book or books should we be adding to reading lists for young students? Do you agree with my thoughts, and why or why not?