As you know, gentle reader, the year is winding down, and I tend to cut my annual reading list off the week after Christmas sometime. So I thought that this book, which I purchased in 2021, would make a fitting fin de siècle. However, I have previewed the 2024 Winter Reading Challenge, and it begins on January 2, so I might as well count the books that I finish before then as 2023. It will help pad my anemic total for the year if nothing else.
Long time readers will know I have been a big fan of Dave Barry since I seemingly stained a borrowed copy from Smurphy in high school. Although those keeping track would say, “If you’re such a big fan, Brian J., why haven’t you delved into his work since that audio book in 2020?” Maybe I’ll allude to that a bit by-and-by.
In my defense, I have also reviewed:
- Best. State. Ever. (in 2020).
- Insane City (in 2016).
- Dave Barry Does Japan (in 2011).
- Dave Barry Turns 40 (in 2011).
- Homes and Other Black Holes (in 2009).
- The Shepherd, The Angel, and Walter the Miracle Dog (in 2009).
- Dave Barry’s Only Travel Guide You’ll Ever Need (in 2009).
- Dave Barry’s Gift Guide to End All Gift Guides (in 2007).
- Big Trouble (in 2006).
Suffice to say, I’ve been a fan for a long time. Although I do not remember the last words my father spoke to me, I remember the last thing Barry’s father said to him (he, the father, wanted some oatmeal). So take it for a given that I’m a Dave Barry fan, okay?
Well, that’s a lot of pixel inches in self-defense. What of this book?
This book starts with a preface which abbreviates history in Dave Barry fashion (a longer treatment of American history appears in Dave Barry Slept Here: A Sort of History of the United States, Smurphy’s book that I might have soiled with snack food when it was brand new) and then reprints Barry’s year-in-review columns/articles from 2000 to 2007 (skipping 2001, as the events of September were too recent for him to be funny). Read fifteen years on, the book astonished me both with “That was twenty years ago already?” (Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Kelly Clarkson wins American Idol in 2002, and so on) as well as “That was twenty years ago?” The latter stems from how many names from the headlines today appear in gags from the turn of the century. I counted 7 jokes about Donald Trump whose role on The Apprentice kept him in the cultural zeitgeist back then. But, like so often happens, I found 6 jokes about Joe Biden late, presumably based on his performance in the Senate when confirming Bush appointees in the latter’s second term. We have gags about Vladimir Putin and Robert Mueller, the iPhone, and other things as familiar today as they would have been when the jokes were fresh.
As I have mentioned (just recently–see above) that I am a Dave Barry fan from way back, I have to wonder how he “hits” with the younger generations. I mean, he spends the preface goofing on history, and I appreciated the jokes, but I wonder how much of an outlier I am because I was a bit of a nerd in school with a great degree of retention and speed of recall that led me to dominate the chapter-review Jeopardy!-style quizzes in the Western Civilization class that Smurphy and I shared. I know a lot of history that my boys do not and probably won’t ever. Plus I am not sure that the style of humor has wide appeal in 2023. Dave Barry actually retired as a regular columnist in 2004 (continuing to do his annual reviews and gift guides, though). That long ago.
I probably wonder about this every time I read a Dave Barry book, but he might well be the last American humorist with wide reach. I mean, I know that Roy Blount, Jr., is still churning out monthly columns and Doug Larsen is still working–or they were the last time I had subscriptions to magazines where they plied their trade–but Barry had reach, and eventually had a television show based on his life. Starring Harry Anderson, for crying out loud. I am not sure anyone could ever recreate that. Certainly not in print.
It looks as though Barry, like many other authors (Hiaasen, Pearson, and so on), turned to young adult books in the 21st century, which was a good business move as the YA market was just about the last refuge of big-selling books. It also means that I probably won’t find them at book sales since I don’t hit the children’s books sections (and the old, unsorted book sales for the Friends of the Christian County Library and Friends of the Clever Library seem to have gone by the wayside). But I still have plenty of other Barry titles to discover in the adult humor sections because he was pretty prolific in the 80s and 90s.