Friday, September 07, 2007

Mere Anarchy by Woody Allen

There hasn't been a new book of Woody Allen humorous essays since Side Effects in 1980, mostly because Allen's production of humorous essays has dwindled to one every couple of years. But, as enough water-drops will eventually wear away a stone, in twenty-five years a small pile of short humorous essays will turn into a book.

Mere Anarchy is Allen doing the same sort of shtick as in his early-career collections Getting Even, Without Feathers, and Side Effects -- lots of New York color, many Yiddishisms, plenty of show-biz references, and a general aura of an earlier era. It isn't necessarily still the '60s in these essays, but you'd be hard-pressed to prove it wasn't still then. (I wouldn't be surprised if Allen, in essayist mode, really wanted to be S.J. Perelman. Then again, if you're writing a short funny piece in the New Yorker style, Perelman's a great target to aim for, since Thurber and Benchley are too specific and idiosyncratic to copy.)

Mere Anarchy contains eighteen pieces, ten of which originally appeared in The New Yorker. The other eight may be original to this collection; there's no separate copyright information on them. (And once again I must complain about the modern tendency to shirk on the copyright notices -- we can't even tell when any of these pieces originally appeared in The New Yorker. If I were God of Publishing, proper notices or prior publication would be required on pain of death.)

I can't say that any of these essays made me laugh out loud, but many of them made me smile, and all of them amused me. I think you have to at least aspire to be a New Yorker to like this kind of humor; it's certainly not for everyone. But Allen is still great with words, such as this bit from "Strung Out":
I awoke on Friday, and because the universe is expanding, it took me longer than usual to find my robe. This made me late leaving for work, and because the concept of up and down is relative, the elevator I got into went to the roof, where it was very difficult to hail a taxi.
If you find yourself arguing with the science in that paragraph, do not read Mere Anarchy. Instead, settle down with a nice boring calculus textbook until you fall asleep, and we'll just leave you in the corner.

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