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Funny Stuff
By David Pitt

Ha ha ha! Merrrrry Christmas! -- Sorry, that's supposed to be 'ho ho ho,' but here are some more laughably good Christmas gifts:

Fierce Pajamas (Modern Library, paperback), edited by David Remnick and Henry Finder, is a stellar collection of humor writing from The New Yorker magazine. The table of contents reads like a who's who of American comic literature: E.B. White, Woody Allen, Calvin Trillin, Christopher Buckley, James Thurber, Garrison Keillor, S.J. Perelman, Ogden Nash, Robert Benchley, George S. Kaufman, Steve Martin. There are also offerings from some writers we don't immediately associate with humor: John Updike, Donald Barthelme, Martin Amis, people like that. I was gonna describe some of the wonderful, hysterical material in the book, but why bother, really? The cast speaks for itself. Give this one as a present to yourself.

Similarly, here's More Mirth of a Nation (Perennial, paperback), edited by Michael J. Rosen. It, too, is a collection of humor writing from some of the funniest people out there: Andy Borowitz, Steve Martin, Merrill Markoe, Bruce McCall, Rick Moranis, Paul Rudnick. The cast isn't quite as stellar as Fierce Pajamas', but, pound for pound, the book's just as funny. It's cleverly put together, too, with a (comically) annotated table of contents, a completely fraudulent index, and other unexpected treats.

I'm sure this won't be entirely unexpected: Andy Rooney's latest book, Common Nonsense (PublicAffairs, hardcover), is a gem. This collection of essays finds our favorite nitpicker waxing comically eloquent on such subjects as safety lids (for jars and bottles), lying, penmanship, breakfast, the quality of television, art, movies, signing autographs, birthdays, airlines, and a whole pile more. While Rooney does repeat himself from time to time (some elements of his essays listing things he doesn't like, or things to avoid, or whatnot reappear in other, similar essays), he is always funny, always insightful, always thought-provoking.

And then there's Art Buchwald, another much-loved comic commentator, whose We'll Laugh Again (Putnam, hardcover) makes an ideal companion piece to Rooney's book. Buchwald's latest is also a collection of essays; it also touches on a wide variety of subjects; it also provokes laughs and reflection. The first section, devoted entirely to essays written after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, is rather moving, revealing a sensitive, thoughtful side of Buchwald we too rarely glimpse.

Dilbert and the Way of the Weasel (HarperBusiness, hardcover) is Scott Adams's latest look at the American way of doing business. It's his fourth treatment of this subject, and (naturally) there is some repetition of material from his previous books, but it's surprising how fresh this book seems, how easily he seems to find new things to say. Adams is, of course, the creator of the Dilbert comic strip, and he knows his subject backwards and forwards. Like Dave Barry, he tackles his subject from a skewed angle, and renders it deeply amusing. The perfect gift for Dilbert fans.

Dave Barry Hits Below the Beltway (Ballantine, paperback) is the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist's look at the American political system. Like Dave Barry's Only Travel Guide You'll Ever Need or Dave Barry Does Japan, it's a staggeringly funny, wildly eccentric romp, a hugely inaccurate yet strangely sensible appraisal of a complicated subject. It may not be quite as side-splitting as his essay collections (those just kill me), but it is, from start to finish, deeply warped.

Check out, too his new novel, Tricky Business, published in hardcover by Putnam. You'll find it reviewed elsewhere on this website. And here are three more comic novels:

Doohickey (Simon & Schuster, hardcover), by Pete Hautman, is the delicately deranged story of a down-and-out businessman, his fiancie, his recently-deceased eccentric uncle, and his uncle's barn full of inventions, including, in particular, a doohickey called the HandyMate. Is this all-purpose kitchen gadget the solution to all our hero's problems ... or the start of a whole bunch more? As usual, Hautman works hard for his laughs, and we're rewarded with a richly humorous novel.

Meanwhile Back at the Ranch (Simon & Schuster, hardcover) is Kinky Friedman's wild 'n' wacky tale of a private eye -- also named Kinky Friedman -- a missing boy, and the boy's cat. Oh, and another missing cat. Friedman's cross-country adventure takes him from New York to Texas, puts him in a certain amount of danger, and allows Friedman (the author, this time) to introduce us to an array of bewildering, bemusing supporting characters. I'm still chuckling.

No Way to Treat a First Lady (Random House, hardcover), by Christopher Buckley, finds the wife of the President of the United States accused of her husband's murder. She chooses as her attorney a flamboyant celebrity lawyer who almost never loses -- and who happens to be the man she jilted in favor of the man she's now accused of killing. The novel is typical Buckley, a fast-paced farce with colorful, larger-than-life characters (frequently with satiric names, like the attorney Alan Crudman, or the international financier Max Grab), laugh-out-loud dialogue, and lots of just plain silliness. A great gift.

Editor's Note: This is one of a series of articles on books, on a variety of subjects, as holiday gifts. Find more suggestions in our Columns.
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