You Can’t Spell America Without ME by Alec Baldwin & Kurt Andersen (2017, Penguin Press)
Humor is difficult to write well, and this parody of a “working diary” demonstrates that fact. In this case, the writing is hampered by three factors.
First is the “Boy who cried wolf” effect. Humor books are written about all Presidents, but shelves are typically full of attack pieces labelled as humor during Republican administrations. This is not a casual or partisan-slanted observation but rather a result of attention I’ve paid to the humor section of bookstores starting back when I was working at Coles, the Book People during the Reagan administration. Worse still, a great number of the anti-Republican books rely on the premise of extreme stupidity for their humor. All Republican Presidents are presented as either so stupid as to have difficulty tying their shoes or so out of touch that they barely recognize that television has replaced the radio. Having read so many of these in the past, the tone of the jokes diminishes their effectiveness.
Second is the length of the book. It is little more than two hundred and forty pages of an Alec Baldwin impression of Donald Trump, presented without Baldin’s expressions and movements. It can be funny for a few minutes. One hour would be too long, and the book is designed to take hours or even days for a casual reader.
Third is the difficulty of parodying a shameless man. Trump does not care if he contradicts himself within the same sentence, much less in two successive statements. He sees no wrong in anything he does, knowing that it will be explained away, covered or even championed by his sycophants.
It would have been difficult for even James Thurber or P.G. Wodehouse to pen a consistently funny book with the chosen premise. It was proven impossible for Baldwin and Andersen.
Doctor Rat by William Kotzwinkle (1976, Knopf)
This is a brutal book. It is great literature, but prospective buyers need to understand what they’re getting into before picking it up.
Doctor Rat is the name of the primary narrator. He is a laboratory rat who has been driven insane by the abuses he has undergone, and in his madness he chooses to defend the necessity of animal testing.
The book was written in the 1970s, and Kotzwinkle performed extensive research for the work. The author assembled examples of every violent case of testing and presents them all within the confines of Doctor Rat’s lab.
The bulk of the book follows Doctor Rat’s fading influence among the other test animals as he explains that their torture and death is necessary for the greater good. It’s a tough sell when the deaths of a few are likely to lead to saving hundreds of human lives. It’s far tougher when the death and torture is being performed to satisfy mild human curiosity about what conditions animals can survive.
Most editions contain the documentation Kotzwinkle used to explain the intricate details of mutilation and vivisection. In addition to running a massive variety of tests, the lab contains every type of lab animal, including those normally seen as zoo creatures or beloved companions. Because the tests described were truly performed, the book can be traumatic for those who keep household pets.
Today, comparatively few studies use destructive animal testing. This book is an effective reminder of why.