Friday, November 4, 2011

Untimely Reviews: Demetri Martin's "This is a Book"

I'm pretty excited for this particular review since the subject actually came out this year. Granted, it was in April, but that beats the untimeliness of my Dylan review. It's all in the feature's title, though, right?

Anyway, once I was done reading the Bob Dylan biography, I moved on to a book with a pretty awesome title: This is a Book by Demetri Martin. Now, before I tell you about how awesome I think Demetri Martin is, and how I enjoyed the shit out of his book, allow me to drop two non-noteworthy tidbits: I’d guess that less than 10 percent of my library is hard-bound. Maybe less than five. I just don’t ever not wait for paperback. Chronicles, however, was a gift, and given to me new, so it was in its original pressing, and obviously hard-bound. Second, the fam’ and I were in Durango in June, and there are two stores I can almost never not spend any money in: Southwest Sound and my favorite tome slinger of all time: Maria’s Book Shop.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk Martin.

Just under three years ago, I was in Wellington, KS for a job training and this was right around the time that Martin’s show, “Important Things with Demetri Martin” had aired on Comedy Central. I was sitting in my hotel room with this beefcake and he was driving the channel changer.

“This show sucks,” he said.

For the record, I'm not sure if that clip is from an actual episode of "Important Things" or if it's from an evening of standup; I just found it on the 'Tubes. Either way, my work-training partner (Editor's Note: Yes, all three of those breadfasts were his, and yes he ate every last bite.) might as well have insulted my cooking. I happened to think Martin’s show was stellar, even though I knew it wouldn’t last, as it was too off-the-beaten-path and not raunchy enough (Note: I’m looking at you, Daniel Tosh, Nick Swardson.) for today’s C.C. viewing audience. If you cut all that away, though, it was pretty darn funny at its core.

When I first heard about his book, it came courtesy of this episode of the Sklarbro Country podcast on which Martin was the guest, and as a side note, if you’re not following the Sklar brothers on Twitter you’re missing out on some quality humor. Regardless, a month later, scouring the shelves of Maria’s with that urge to buy something, I came across This is a Book.

Naturally, I didn’t get moving on it until I’d finished Chronicles, but I mowed through it in three shifts. For the record, an interesting approach to book writing makes it a fast read on its own, but the content of each page is so damn funny that it’s hard to put it down. I mean, I can’t remember the last time I grabbed my wife half a dozen times to read passages to her. It was that enjoyable, and at its root, not that different from the show, which is probably why I liked it so much.

Some highlights:

There’s a chapter called “Hotline” early in the book, and it plays out a scenario in which you need to get out of a public situation, but need the assistance of a phone call to do so. You’ve seen this: Girls will have a best friend call their cell phone at a precise time on a blind-date evening, a parachute if you will that allows them to bail if things aren’t going well. Heck, I’ve been on a date and done it myself, but for a different reason: the restaurant we’d selected was just really not going to cut it. Our appetizer was terrible, the server was a jerk, and nothing entrĂ©e-wise appealed. The simple solution was to shoot a friend a text and ask for a phony emergency call, so as to avoid the awkwardness of having an everything-about-our-17-minutes-in-here-has-totally-blown conversation.

The “Hotline” chapter is only two pages long, but it’s freaking hilarious, as is the book’s eighth section, “How I Felt,” which does a remarkable job of using the color-as-a-metaphor tool that writers often employ, i.e. “green with envy.” Martin has, shall we say, a more colorful approach to the technique.

“I quickly became purple with punches to the face and, on and off, even more purple with DJ lights that were still rotating. Things got worse when Violet’s boyfriend pushed me into a candle. I turned orange with fire and then gray with smoke. Thankfully, I quickly became pink with fruit punch after Carl threw some on me to put out the fire.”

There’s a chapter called “Statistics” in which we get such gems as “99.99% of all castles in America are located in fish tanks.” Or, “America is the leading exporter of the phrase ‘Oh no he didn’t.’” Or, “Per capita, just about everyone has no idea what a ‘capita’ is.”

A chapter titled “Who I Am” cracked me up from start to finish.

“I am a man…I am also a former baby and a future skeleton…I am ‘brother’ and I am ‘son’ and I am ‘father’ (but just according to one person, who does not have any proof but still won’t seem to let it go)…People have known me by many titles. In high school, I was ‘Student’ and ‘Key Club Vice President’ and ‘Queer Bait.’ In college I was ‘Pledge’ and then ‘Disappointed’ and then ‘Transfer Student’ after that…I have been called many things, like ‘Hey You’ and ‘Get out of the Way!’ and ‘Look Out!’ And then, some time later, ‘Plaintiff.’”

There are awesome chapters like “Some Drawings” and “Palindromes for Specific Occasions” and “Honors & Awards (for Which I Would Qualify).” There’s the hilarious “Charts & Graphs” and the clever “Frustrating Uses of Etc.,” and those are only some highlights of the first two parts of the book.

Part three starts off with one of my favorite stories about a guy who buys a fruit stand only to see it smashed by a car. There’s a witty chapter about the power of personalized checks, one called “Epigrams, Fragments & Light Verse,” and another collection of drawings. In the final part, Martin gives us the epic “Confessions of a White Guy with Dreadlocks,” the gut-busting “Zing!” that features this example:


Woman Sitting Next to Me on Airplane: So, what do you do?

Me: Oh, I get paid to make boring small talk with strangers on airplanes.

--And then sat in hostile silence for next 5 hours of flight.

Finally, we get another chapter with statistics in it, and one called “The Word Awards,” featuring hits like, “The Ensemble Award for the Least Frequently Used Combination of Words went to I was wrong, which was presented by last year’s winner I have a drinking problem.”

I seriously cannot remember the last time a book made me laugh that hard. I was even embarrassed at times because I was beginning to think guests at the bar were suspicious of the state of my mental health. For real, though, I had the same laughs all over again reviewing it for this post. And if you don’t believe me, peep the quotes on the back cover. They include Conan O’Brien, Will Ferrell, Malcolm Gladwell, and Chuck Klosterman, who said, “This book is so funny I forgot to laugh. I know that sounds like a childish criticism, but I mean it literally: This book is so funny, I forgot a whole bunch of things -– who I am, what I stand for, large chunks of my childhood, my sense of equilibrium, how to fall asleep, and when I’m supposed to laugh at things.”

So get yourself a copy, or if you know me, borrow mine, and if you like that Klosterman quote, check in next week for a review of one of his books. (Hint: No, it’s not the new one.) And if you're still unsure, follow Martin on Twitter. You know: baby steps.