Sunday Book Reviews – 2/23/20

Bookshelf books, photo by Alien Motives

Wit’s End by James Geary (2019, Norton)

This appears to be a short book at a mere 226 pages, but appearances are deceiving; it’s shorter than that. The book’s effective length is reduced another fifty pages by index and end notes, then another four by a glossary of classic jive terminology. The remaining pages have extensive white space due to a format leaning toward short chapters (often leaving a quarter of a page or more empty at the end of a chapter, then taking the first third of the page for the next chapter with a number and a title) and structures such as poems and plays.

All told, there seems to be about 150 pages of material. Luckily for the reader, that’s enough.

The book’s premise is simple: the author believes that “wit” should be rescued from its contemporary redefinition of being solely humor-related and should instead be restored to its classical interpretation of intertwining two dissimilar concepts through a point of commonality, a specific form of creative thinking. In pursuit of this viewpoint, he examines and defines wisdom as distinct from intellect.

The author’s done considerable research on the matter, and through use of unexpected chapter presentations and a slew of examples, makes a solid case for his position.

People interested in psychology, humor and creativity are likely to find the book engrossing, and its short length only increases the chances that they’ll burn through it. For them, it is absolutely worth the $15 it will cost, new. For other people, the anecdotes are still interesting, and it’d still be worth $15… but probably $15 Canadian.

Everybody’s Favorite Duck by Gahan Wilson (1988, Mysterious Press)

Gahan Wilson was 89 when he passed away last November. Throughout the course of his life he gained considerable fame as a cartoonist, specializing in odd and often morbid humor. He was the natural descendant and sometimes the alternative to Charles Addams, with his pieces regularly featured in both Playboy and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

He was also a writer. Most of his production in that regard was limited to short fiction for horror anthologies, but sometimes his ideas grew into full novels. That was the case with Everybody’s Favorite Duck.

The plot features a thinly-veiled version of Sherlock Holmes and Watson on the trail of an analogue of Professor Moriarty. What is known is that the plot involves Art Waldo and his creation Quacky the Lucky Duck (literary stand-ins for Walt Disney and Donald Duck) and that The Professor isn’t alone for a change. He’s invited along The Mandarin (Dr. Fu Manchu) and Spectrobert (Fantomas), both of whom have their time in the spotlight sparring with the great detective.

The book is filled with both broad and subtle humor, irregularly wandering into awful territory just long enough to remind the reader that Gahan Wilson is the author before stepping back to humorous mystery. The result is a book that should satisfy any Holmes fan and most who aren’t.

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About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.