Sunday, June 3, 2012

Review: Tastes Like Human by The Shark Guys ★★

Tastes Like Human: The Shark Guys' Book of Bitingly Funny Lists2.5 Stars
I really wanted to love this book. Really I did. When I received the email asking me to review it, I thought it sounded hilarious, and pretty much jumped on that. I love clever, irreverent humor, and I was really excited to read this book - but it just didn't deliver enough for me, sadly, and I've got pretty mixed feelings about it.

This book contains some great examples of witty observations and wordplay, non sequiturs, and paraprosdokians -- fans of Mitch Hedberg will know this last one. For those who aren't, let me explain: It's the kind of joke where the back half of a sentence or phrase is an unexpected punchline for the beginning half. Such as: "I haven't slept for ten days, because that would be too long." or "I ordered a club sandwich. And I'm not even a member!" Your brain has to kind of work in reverse to see the joke. Great stuff. I love it. One such in this book was this one, from "Top 13 Fighting Tips": "8. Never Hit a Guy with Glasses; use full bottles instead." It made me chuckle, and I like that.

Chuckling is good, but I was expecting "bitingly funny" humor that would keep me giggling for the duration, and in that I was disappointed. This ebook is only 144 pages long. I can read that easily in one day after work, but this book took me 3 days to finish, and the last bit was something of an endurance test - it felt like it was trying too hard to live up to that "bitingly funny" title, with irreverence that should be funny but towards the end here was just over the top and edged on being silly (Example: all of the "Top 20 First Date Suggestions"). In and around the funnies I've mentioned before, there was just too much that didn't do it for me. List entries that left me wondering what the point was in including them, how it related to the topic at hand, how the sub-title for the list item related to the list item, etc. There were some which would have benefited quite a bit from just another line or so of detail or backstory... or relevance.

Two examples:
First, from "Top 8 Great Achievements in Sitting", number 7 is "Giving a Sit For Charity":
"Most people change seats after making quick judgment calls - should I get up for this elderly person who might not really be all that old but has just let himself go, or do I really want to wake up to a face like that should I decide to doze off on the bus.
Briton Terry Twining made the mundane marvelous when he changed seats 40,040 times in 48 hours at a soccer stadium in Belgium. It should be said that the stadium was completely empty - free from lager-swilling hooligans who'd likely not take kindly to those making the mundane marvelous in the middle of a game, so points off for deception. (Daily Telegraph, December 2008)
Wake up to a face like what? Do they mean they don't want the first thing they see when they wake up to be the see a face of an elderly person? I'm not sure what they are trying to say here...?
But my main question is: How exactly does charity fit in here? Was this guy seat-hopping for charity or were they just going for a clever list title pun? I wouldn't have ever thought anything about charity except for the title. I'd likely have thought he was trying to set a Guinness World Record (and "Giving A Sit For Guinness" would have worked just as well), or was really, really bored that weekend. But since charity WAS mentioned, and this is "Great Achievements in Sitting" - where's the relevance to the charity? Did he raise $1 for every seat his ass touched and donate it to cancer research, or anything? I don't feel like seat-swapping 40,000 times is much of an "achievement" unless there WAS a point to it. Maybe if he was doing it to call awareness to the true horror of hemorrhoids for sitters everywhere I'd see the relevance, the achievement, but as it is, I'm just left feeling like "Hoookay then..."

...19,999... 20,000! Only 20,040 more to go... Why was I doing this again?

Second, from "Top 5 Out of Control College Parties", number 5 is "Operation Storm the Dorm":
"Return to your freshmen dorm" seems like a terrible theme for a seniors' party. Why would anybody need to revisit such recent history, especially when the rashes from irregularly washed bedding have yet to fully disappear? Presumably the only benefit is that you would now be a senior and could lord over freshmen the minor achievement of having satisfied minimum academic requirements for three years as you attempt to cajole them into your old bed.
Regardless, that was the theme for a soiree at Bates College in Maine, recently found to be the most expensive non-profit college in the US, a year there costing more than someone earning a liberal arts degree would earn in five years of intensive interning. Parents forking out that kind of cake would probably not be thrilled to see the apples of their eyes bruised in a brawl with police. But that's what happened when police tussled with some 200 "return to your dorm" partiers, pepper-spraying several who the officers said refused to get out of the way of an incoming ambulance.
With his elbow on ice and face rearranged according to the preferences of law enforcement, one of the protesters called the cops' use of force "absurdly excessive". While we would be inclined to believe exactly that in most cases, one policeman did have his leg broken in the melee. (No word if it was his opening night.) (Associated Press, May 2010; WMTW-TV, May 2010)

Now, this list is about out of control college parties. But this entry doesn't actually say what the party was or why it was out of control. They hypothesize about the theme of the party, but that sounds more like a hazing scene from Dazed and Confused than an actual party. I just wanted a little more. Rather than just compiling newsclips, I was hoping for that extra step - get in touch with someone who was there and find out what the party was about and how it got wild enough to need riot police. That's what I want to know if you're going to tell me about "out of control parties", not just the outcome like it's filler on the 10pm news. Make it interesting enough so that any of the wild people reading your book will say "Pish tosh! They call that a party? Amateurs. Lemme show 'em how it's done! Jeeves, ready Party Cave." (Or, you know, whatever they named their party planning lair.)

Moving on, I want to talk about the readability. On the whole, the book was easy to read and interesting, but occasionally -- not all the time, or even most of the time, but frequently enough to allow for quite a few highlights on my nook -- I'd run into a sentence or passage that just didn't make sense to me. I'd read it again, and on one specific occasion I read the line a total of five times, even sharing it with friends to see if I was missing something. I tried coming back to it later - sometimes that helps if I just can't wrap my brain around something, but I'm still baffled by it. The sentence is the first one in the "6 Creative Drug Smuggling Operations" introduction paragraph. For clarity, I'll quote the entire paragraph:
Drug traffickers can no longer rely only on backpackers looking to turn a quick buck for a shower back home to get their products to market. While the domestic auto industry can stamp its feet and plead for government bailouts every time foreign competition threatens its innovation-free way of doing business, drug traffickers are forced to deal directly with increasingly sophisticated police methods of detection and stiffer penalties in countries that serve as transit points.
Second sentence, a little long, but that's OK. I got that one. But that first one... It's like it's two sentences in one or something. Or if it was trying to be funny, like throwing a little dig in there at backpackers for being dirty, broke, or stranded in a foreign country, or all of the above, I think it missed the mark, at least with my test subjects friends and I. It's the "for a shower back home" that grinds the sentence to a halt for me. Take that out, and "Drug traffickers can no longer rely only on backpackers looking to turn a quick buck to get their products to market." makes sense.

This example is the most baffling one, for me, but there were others where multiple hyphenated words and long sentences contributed to that feeling I mentioned before of just trying too hard, and not always hitting the mark. Often less is more with humor.

So, overall, this book was just OK for me. Would I recommend it? Yes. Everyone's sense of humor is different, and what may not have worked for me might be exactly someone else's style. I do think that it would benefit from another edit run-through to clean up some of the long sentences and make things more concise, but that's just my preference. Not terrible, but I think my expectations let me down a bit here.

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