Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Friars Club Encyclopedia of Jokes

I got this book as a birthday present, which is fine, I like joke books. This is indeed, an encyclopedia of jokes, at 500 pages, organized alphabetically by topic. Some are contributed by famous members of the Friars Club, others are unattributed. But imagine my surprise when I stumbled across a joke I wrote in the book! So, this book was published in 1997, and back in 1992, when I was working at Bellcore, I submitted this questionable joke to rec.humor.funny. And what do you know, right there, on page 95, there it is. It's a crazy world when a book written 20 years ago has a joke in it that I wrote, and I never even knew about it. I'm not sure I'd call it an honor, exactly, the majority of jokes in this book are pretty weak ("If exercise is so good for you, why do athletes have to retire by age 35?"), and many of them are painfully racist and sexist. Some I liked, though:
"Do you suffer from arthritis?" "Of course, what else can you do with it?"
"How do you know when there's a singer at the door?" "They can't find the key and they don't know when to come in." 
"It's not an optical illusion... it just looks like one."
In any case, I got an interesting story out of it!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Elements of Eloquence

I loved this book. I tend to do a lot of public speaking as well as writing, and so finding the right turn of phrase that makes a point particularly compelling is something I think about a lot. And this book is about that, and nothing else. In it, Mark Forsyth makes the bold argument that tricky turns of phrase are largely what makes Shakespeare great, and then illustrates dozens of them, each in its own chapter. Some are well known by their names, such as Personification and Alliteration, but many more have cryptic names (Anadiplosis, Diacope, and Epizeuxis, for example) even though the effects themselves are very familiar. Were I still young, I would likely set about memorizing these cryptic terms and using them in conversation. Thank goodness I'm no longer young. But still, I will keep this fun, clever book around, as a reminder about the clever little tricks that make for excellent prose.

Dear Data

A thought-provoking book in which two artists (Giorgia Lupi and Maria Popova) spend a year making colorful charts of everything in their lives. It is a great reminder that data makes us see things differently, sometimes leading to insight, but also sometimes interfering with human experience.