Thursday, May 07, 2020

Very British Problems by Rob Temple

This was another bathroom book -- I'm trying to clear out a backlog caused by my extreme ennui over the past six months or so -- and I probably don't have much to say about it.

I mean: I'm not actually British, obviously. And this book is small and frivolous under the best of circumstances, and the best of circumstances were in Britain in 2013 when it was published. But it's fun and zippy and entertaining for those with the right mindset -- that mindset being common in Britain but clearly not restricted to that location -- and I read it, so it gets a post here.

Anyway: Very British Problems. The first book by journalist Rob Temple, and the first major brand extension of the mighty Very British Problems empire, which has since extended to three further books, a TV show, and (possibly only in my brain) a commemorative series of tea-towels, the bespoke Very British Umbrellas, and the smash hit franchise opportunity, Very British Curry Takeaway Stands.

It all began, as things often do this century, as a Twitter feed, which is still active. Temple wrote tweets about various situations he found himself in -- one could also characterize this process as "writing jokes," which is the source of a lot of the best of Twitter. It's all centered around the default assumptions about (white, middle-class, mostly male) British people: they are embarrassed and self-conscious about everything, they live in a land of miserable weather, they will queue up at the slightest opportunity, they never say what they are actually thinking, and their highest pleasure is a nice cup of tea.

These, as we all must admit, are not new jokes. But they are very durable jokes. More importantly, Temple is good at making them, and Twitter turned out to be a great format for both the jokes themselves and the worldwide distribution of same.

And so the Twitter feed started in December of 2012 and this book emerged, collecting posts from that feed, on 10 October 2013. This is breathtakingly quick for book publishing, and illustrates one of the great benefits of Twitter-to-book: the content is already entirely text, and in nice bite-sized pieces which can be easily flowed onto pages of arbitrary size and layout.

The book has twenty-seven chapters, a few of which ("The Very British Test," "Very British Weather," and so forth -- helpfully called out in the Table of Contents in italics) appear to be brand-new content for the book, since they are not written in the format of Tweets. But most of the book is in that lots-of-small-blocks-of-text format, obviously: that's the point.

Again, this book is frivolous, made up entirely of jokes about a certain perception of a certain kind of presumed-to-be-iconic British person. If you like that joke, you will like the Very British Problems empire, and this is a good entry point to that green and pleasant land.

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