The Art of Funny

Saul Bellow laughing

Stunning Sentences

In a recent interview, George Saunders said, “Writing is about charm, about finding and accessing and honing one’s particular charms.” For me, humor has overwhelming, alluring charm. Anyone who can make me laugh instantly takes on a special, shimmering gold aura. As one student once wrote in my teacher evaluation, “I learned a lot, but she laughs a lot.”

Alas, usually I’m the audience, laughing at the joker, because the only person in the world who thinks I’m funny is my husband. (Though everyone thinks he’s funny). It’s a sad thing, since my work-in-progress novel is supposed to be a romantic comedy.

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One Point Nought Nought

One Point Nought Nought

How old is she, the chair of judges asks the coach, unable to believe her eyes. The reply—fourteen—sends a shiver up her spine. What that young girl has achieved blasts away any progression of numbers, words, and images. It defies understanding. There’s no way of classifying what has just happened. She tosses gravity over her shoulder, her tiny frame carving itself a space in the air.

Why did no one tell them that was where they were meant to look, protest the spectators who miss the moment when, on the ten centimetres’ width of beam, Nadia C throws herself backwards and, arms outstretched, launches into a triple back flip. They turn to one another: has anyone understood? Did you understand?

The electronic scoreboard shows COMANECI NADIA, ROMANIA, followed by a 73, her competitor’s number, but where her score should be: nothing.

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HITTING SHELVES #36: The Gentleman by Forrest Leo

The Gentleman Forrest Leo

The Gentleman by Forrest Leo comes out today!

It’s exactly the type of novel you would expect from a debut writer like Forrest Leo, who was born in 1990 and raised on a homestead in remote Alaska… if what you expected was a picaresque romp through Victorian England with a guest appearance from Satan. (He is the “gentleman” of the title.) It seems that Lionel Savage, a poet in London, has accidentally sold his wife’s soul to the devil. And now, with the help of his butler and a supporting cast of equally ineffectual intellectuals, he means to get her back. The Gentleman is properly batty–like Jeeves and Wooster with deadly weapons and supernatural powers. You’ve never read anything quite like it.

We asked the author one question.

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Non-Fiction by Non-Men: Nina MacLaughlin

Nina MacLaughlin

Nina MacLaughlin is the author of Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter, a memoir about her transformation from journalist to carpenter. After spending her twenties as a staff writer at the award-winning alternative newsweekly the Boston Phoenix, in 2008 MacLaughlin quit her job to work as a carpenter’s assistant. Eight years later, MacLaughlin continues to pursue both building and writing. Her reviews and essays have appeared in the Boston Globe, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Believer, The Rumpus, The Millions, and Bookslut, among other places, and she has been a guest on All Things Considered. MacLaughlin also writes a blog called Carpentrix. She lives near the Charles River in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

EB: Have you always been a nonfiction writer?

NM: I totally was not. I got a job at the Boston Phoenix out of college, and I had worked doing journalism in high school and college, so working at the Phoenix was a very sense-making job. At the Phoenix I was writing book reviews and profiles, which are, of course, nonfiction, but in my own brain I was always a fiction writer. I always thought, Oh, if I write a book, it’s going to be a novel. When I was twenty-three or twenty-four, I took a fiction-writing workshop at GrubStreet [a creative writing center in Boston], and I thought, All right, this is it. This is what I want to do. It was all short stories, novels, and I never read nonfiction. Ever. Truly never. And then I started my carpentry work… Continue reading

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The Boomstick Film Club: The Guest

The Guest

Watch it with us: Netflix streaming

I’m not going to spoil anything important about the fantastic Adam Wingard film The Guest. But if you want the optimum first viewing experience, stop reading right here and go watch it right now. Are you back? Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

The Peterson family is mourning the recent death of their oldest son, Caleb, a soldier who was killed in combat. One day a stranger named David (Dan Stevens) knocks on their door, claiming to have served in the same unit as Caleb. He has nowhere else to go so they invite him to stay the night. Gradually David gets to know all four family members and manages to charm them while raising more and more questions, with us and with them, about who he is and where he came from. The Petersons’ 20-year-old daughter Anna (Maika Monroe) is the first to realize David is not who he says he is, but by then he has his hooks into every member of the family, including her.

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Calvino SIX MEMOS cover image

At the time of his death, Italo Calvino was at work on six lectures setting forth the qualities in writing he most valued, and which he believed would define literature in the century to come. The following is from his essay on “Quickness.” It is translated from the Italian by Geoffrey Brock.

I’ll start by telling you an old legend.

Late in life the emperor Charlemagne fell in love with a German girl. The court barons were dismayed to see that their sovereign, overcome by ardent desire and forgetful of royal dignity, was neglecting imperial affairs. When the girl suddenly died, the dignitaries sighed with relief — but only briefly, for Charlemagne’s love did not die with the girl. The emperor had the embalmed body brought to his chamber and refused to leave its side. Archbishop Turpin, alarmed by this morbid passion and suspecting some enchantment, decided to examine the corpse. Hidden beneath the dead tongue he found a gemstone ring. As soon as he took possession of it, Charlemagne hastened to have the corpse buried and directed his love toward the person of the archbishop. To extricate himself from that awkward situation, Turpin threw the ring into Lake Constance. Charlemagne fell in love with the lake and refused to leave its shores.

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