It's not easy writing a newspaper column, Russell Baker observes wryly in his introduction to "There's a Country in My Cellar," which is, of course, a collection of his witty columns - more than 100 of them.
Writes Baker:"Most of these pieces were written under the influence of desperation, which is the newspaperman's normal state of mind. Deadlines do that to him. He lives in a world where time is forever running out. On his inner clock it is always two minutes to midnight, and the work only half done, maybe not even started yet, and he absolutely must have it ready for the printer before the bell tolls, whether he has anything to write or not."
Baker's first column appeared in 1962, and he has written nearly 4,000 since. Of this vast output, the ones included in this book are the ones Baker thinks are his best.
They do not read as if they were written "under the influence of desperation." Rather, they read smoothly and well. They follow a logical progression from beginning to middle to end - even if some of them deal with completely illogical, off-the-wall ideas.
Consider "Bulmer Strikes Back." Here, Baker writes of what everyone dreams of but rarely dares to do: get revenge. After months of being put off by three construction contractors who began work on his home but did not complete it, Bulmer takes matters into his own hands. He kidnaps the three malingerers at gunpoint and forces them to finish the work on his house. This little morality tale both satisfies and amuses the reader.
"Letter to a Waitress" is just that. A man who wanted "to get lunch eaten before dinnertime set in" gently chastises a coffee shop waitress who neglected to take his order. Baker's ironic treatment of the issue is hilarious.
These are just a couple of the delicious selections Baker has to offer. His book is not meant to be read in one sitting. Rather read, muse and chuckle.