Saturday, September 08, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #251: The Four Elements by Roz Chast

The great thing about used book stores is that you find random stuff you didn't expect. Oh, sure, anyone can fire up the Google box these days and get that one book that you know that you want to read, but, without browsing, you'll never know what's two inches to the right of it, or three aisles away, or right behind you as you turn around wondering what that funny-looking bookcase has in it.

I have this particular book only because of that serendipity. I wasn't looking for The Four Elements, the 1988 book of Roz Chast cartoons. (There may be someone, somewhere in the world who is actually looking for it in particular, but I doubt it.) But I was poking around the Humor And Cartoons section of a good used bookstore recently, to see what I could find there.

Maybe it would be Charles Addams or Peter Arno, maybe Gahan Wilson or B. Kliban. That day, it was Roz Chast.

Four Elements is fairly early in Chast's career, but she was fully-formed with her distinctive humor even by the mid-80s. It's full of multi-panel cartoons on quirky topics like "From the Depressing Aisle" and "The Wide-Body Train," "Stores of Mystery" and "Voodoo for Today." There are some actual single panels, but more typical is an oddball wordy thing like "Consumers' Review with Henry Tothero: This Week -- Rubber Bands," which has a chart with prices and ratings.

Chast's world is pretty New York-centric, full of eccentrics and oddballs -- her cartoons are about weird business establishments and unusual obsessions, the opposites of common sayings, decorating tips that aren't quite right, and the uniquely weird. (Such as the table "What Cities Could Buy If Every Single Inhabitant Contributed Just One Measly Dollar Towards an Apartment in Glamorous New York City".) Chast has a distinctive tone more than anything else, a just-this-side-of-hectoring free-associative flow coming as if from a Upper East Side matron who is secretly much weirder than you expected.

Look, you're unlikely to come across this particular book. But you might find a Roz Chast book, and you should pick it up if you do. (Particularly if it has a lot of her cartoons.) And, even more so, you should spend time poking around semi-aimlessly to find the quirky things you love -- life is too short to spend it doing the same crap as everyone else.

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