Dual Book Review: Book of Top Ten Lists David Letterman (1990) / American Spectator’s Enemies List compiled by P.J. O’Rourke (1996)

I bought both of these books in the used bookstore orgy that was the last two weekends, and since they’re similar in nature, I thought I would review them together.

Not only they both humorous books of lists, but both came out in the late 80s and early 90s. The contents of the The Enemies List stem from columns written in 1989 and 1990; the later chapters delve into the early Clinton years (and have this naive optimism that Clinton will be a single term president). The Top Ten lists were compiled when David Letterman followed Johnny Carson, for crying out loud. In addition to being humorous, both of them are time capsules of a sort. Time capsules that indicate, very clearly, some things don’t change, but some things do (sorry–I have to pound that movie out of my brain).

The thrust of The Late Night With David Letterman Book of Top Ten Lists is obvious. The Enemies List compiles a list of people and organizations that P.J. thought should be included when we revived the traditions of Tailgunner Joe. The original essay, from the July 1989 American Spectator, proved popular; readers wrote in with their own suggestions, so the magazine published them and revisted the topic several years running. Hence, much of the book lists people who the magazine or its readers think impair the proper functioning of the nation and who should be hounded.

The same politicians from almost fifteen years ago are the same punchlines in some cases. Al Sharpton, for instance, is a common motif in Letterman’s collection. In O’Rourke’s more serious obra, we see the same names we curse today. Diane Feinstein. John Kerry (who would almost seem to have served in Vietnam longer than in Congress based on the way he talks about it–as though the former determined his behavior and honor more than the latter–it’s almost like M*A*S*H in a way, wot?). Lt. Governor Gray Davis. O’Rourke exempts Arnold Schwarzenegger. This was 14 years ago.

Both books are quick reads (obviously). The Letterman book is much more topical humor, so it’s probably the better of the two for pure humor value. However, the O’Rourke book contains a very good essay, “Why I Am a Conservative in the First Place”, which is worth the price alone (well, it’s worth the four dollars I spent anyway). Unfortunately, O’Rourke’s compiling for most of the book, so the writing is done by American Spectator readers, but those comments or paragraphs that O’Rourke writes demonstrate his wit. It’s not Holidays in Hell or Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence, and a Bad Haircut, or Give War a Chance, but I still want to be P.J. O’Rourke when I grow up.

Finally! I review some books I like, even though I don’t necessarily agree with the implications. Cripes, fourteen years. I hate the implication that I have watched that much history as an adult.

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