After Dave Barry won this year's Pulitzer Prize for newspaper commentary he was asked how the award might affect his life.
"Oh, I don't know," he said. "I'm hoping it makes me a little taller."Barry also was quoted as saying he was utterly astonished by winning the award since the main purpose of his writing has been "finding different ways to get the word `booger' into the newspaper."
But as these 81 selections that first appeared in the Miami Herald show, there's little doubt that Barry's aims are far more elevated. Another newspaper-columnist acquaintance of mine recently suggested: "We columnists should all get together and hire someone to murder Barry, since he's murdering us every time he writes a column." Dave Barry is, quite simply, the funniest newspaper columnist in America.
Let the proof lie in some samples of his work. Here is Dave Barry on:
- Summer camps: "There is some kind of rule that says summer camps have to have comical-sounding Indian names and hold big "pow-wows" where everybody wears feathers and goes whoooo. Actual Indians, on the other hand, give THEIR summer camps names like `Camp Stirling Hotchkiss IV' and hold dinner dances."
- Sailing: "There's nothing quite like getting out on the open sea, where you can forget about the hassles and worries of life on land, and concentrate on the hassles and worries of life on the sea, such as death by squid."
- Fashion: "The leading cause of death among fashion models is falling through street grates. If a normal human woman puts on clothing designed for these unfortunate people, she is quite naturally going to look like Revenge of the Pork Person."
But Barry's work can't and shouldn't be reduced to nice, compact quotes. It's the whole, mad premise behind his approach to topical subjects that makes his writing so memorable. A typical Barry essay can begin with the ostensible purpose of discussing the defense of Western Europe then proceed to combating underarm rash and it ALL seems quite natural.
Barry wanted this book to be titled "I'm Not Making This Up," but his publisher figured "Greatest Hits" would sell better. Whatever it's called, buy it, read it and see for yourself that Barry is the best in his business. And I'm not making that up.
Hunter S. Thompson's latest offering, "Generation of Swine," is subtitled "Tales of Shame and Degradation in the '80s." It's pat and it's easy, but the greatest shame and degradation belongs to Thompson for foisting off such swill on fans who appreciated him at the height of his powers in the '70s.
The essays in this book first appeared in the San Francisco Examiner, where Thompson writes what is supposed to be a weekly media column. It's obvious that he is struggling both with the form and the topic.
Thompson's most powerful and memorable work has always been in long pieces that allowed him his virulent ramblings. Given the time and space he could pull it all together. And it was quite often brilliant.
But given 1,200 words to get the job done, he just doesn't have room to work. Plus, given marching orders to make the media his theme, he struggles by often doing nothing more than regurgitating the news of the week just past. Here are how three successive entries begin: 1. "There was madness in the news last week." 2. "There was action all over the globe last week." And 3. "Last week was a fast one for news."
It gets a bit tedious. You come away with the distinct feeling that Thompson spends all his time watching TV news beamed to him from his 120-channel satellite dish. In fact, three of these essays are about his satellite dish.
There are rare glimpses here of the Good Doctor of Gonzo at work - a series of columns from the Florida Keys are among the best in the book. But don't expect any redux of the "Fear and Loathing" kind.