Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Stop Me If You've Heard This by Jim Holt

I keep wanting to add an ...One Before to the end of that already long title -- not even counting the subtitle, "A History and Philosophy of Jokes" -- once again proving that I never do what I can overdo.

This is a slim book -- 126 pages, before the bibliography and index -- on a humorous subject, but it's meant seriously. It reads, actually, a bit like a master's thesis on humor for some incredibly progressive university, by a student who can write much better than most. It is divided into two, essentially equal sections, one each covering "History" and "Philosophy."

Holt is not trying to explain all of humor -- just the joke. He traces its development from the humorous story, which is not the same thing, and his history seems plausible to me. (Of course, I've never seriously investigated this myself, so he could be wrong -- but, even if he is, he's entertainingly and believably wrong.)

Along the way, Holt throws in a lot of jokes -- some to illustrate his points or extend some idea, and others just because he's writing a book about jokes, so he needs to have some of them in it. Some of those jokes are more colorful than others -- there's a fair bit of blue, to be more precise -- which may offend maiden aunts of all ages and descriptions. Holt isn't quite pedantic, but he does write in a mildly academic style -- this book is meant to be a serious look at humor, not a collection of yucks.

So Stop Me If You've Heard This is a book for people like me: the ones who over-analyze and over-intellectualize everything, who want to know about the history and background of minor parts of human life. I enjoyed it, and, if you're like me, you probably will as well.

No comments:

Post a Comment