Christmas stocking fillers

Book reviews by Steve Bennett

Every Christmas, bookstores are awash with ‘humour’ titles – stocking-stuffers that range from the witty to the dire. Here’s our verdict on a small handful...

Why Me? The Very Important Emails Of Bob Servant by Neil Forsyth (****, Birlinn £6.99, Amazon: £4.54)

Spoof correspondence is such a well-established genre now, that dealing with speculative writers probably keeps the customer services department of most companies in business.

In the guise of Bob Servant, a slightly bonkers Dundonian whose main claim to fame is the size of his window-cleaning round, writer Neil Forsyth works in the sub-genre of going after the email spammers. Again, it’s not a unique proposition, but such is their naked desperation to close the scam and their incomplete grasp of English, that they both miss the joke and tenaciously keep the exchanges going.

Thus we wind up with the spectacle of the Malaysian banker (‘Do not call the bank direct, I work in a secret department. They will not know me’) doling out love advice to Bob’s fictional sun, which he obtained by cutting and pasting some lyrics from an old Jimmy Cliff song – which then spirals into a bizarre mini-soap opera.

Because of Forsyth’s keen eye for the absurd and a convincing way of engaging with the spammers in his fantasies, Why Me? becomes so much more than simply a wind-up, but a collection of short, funny yarns played out on the fringes of the real world.

Unnovations by Charlie Brooker (****, Faber, £7.99. Amazon: £4.95)

This is a reprint of the 2002 book, written when Charlie Brooker was a virtual unknown, whose main claim to fame was creating the TV Go Home website of bogus TV listings. On Amazon Marketplace, new copies of the original edition are going for £137 – so there’s clearly quite some demand for this comic rarity.

A mock version of gadget catalogues, this is typical Brooker, with social satire taking the less edifying aspects of modern life to their bleak, uncompromising limits. The most coveted item, for example, seems to be the KissMammal 2003, a vacuum-packed, squealing sex beast, genetically modified to boast six rear orifices for your copulating pleasure.

Elsewhere there’s a head-mounted disguise to convince the imaginary prostitutes in your head that your mouth is a shop and a helmet that eliminates the sight of homeless people. The horrific items are darkly funny, if deeply disturbing. Imagine the Argos catalogue edited by Anders Breivik.

Harry Hill’s Bumper Book Of Bloopers (*** , Faber, £6.99. Amazon: £3.49)

Mainly its a ‘bumper book’ because it’s so wasteful of paper, with just one funny misprint, celebrity quote or stupidly wrong exam answer per page, more or less. It’s not really got anything to do with Hill, save for his face on the cover and a single-page foreword, rather it’s a standard collection of ‘bloopers’ of varying levels of wit, several of which you will have seen before.

That’s What She Said by Justin Wishne and Bryan Nicolas (no stars, Plume, £9.99. Amazon: £8.99 )

Is it possible to punch a book in its stupid face till it bleeds? That’s the reaction you’re likely to get from this fetid drivel.

Imagine the most tediously unfunny fuckwit you can imagine. The sort of person who detects the slightest innuendo in anything, ‘hilariously’ interjecting ‘that’s what she said!’ after pretty every sentence that contains even the most minor ambiguity, such as the use of the word ‘it’. Then imagine listening to him (and it will be a him) for about six hours solid.

This is the print version of that waste of oxygen – page after page of sentences with TWSS written after them – all of which have been collated from a website called TWSSstories, the 925,270th most popular website in the world (genuinely, according to Alexa).

Two examples: ‘I was watching The Food Network and the host was making mini doughnuts.After applying the cinnamon-sugar coating she said, “And now it’s ready to pop in my mouth... mmm” TWSS.’ and ‘My brother, my friend and I were in the Jacuzzi and my brother splashed my friend with water. She said, “Eww, it got in my mouth” TWSS’

Even reading a few pages is horrible. It’s an experience that left me feeling dirty and used, ashamed to go out for fear of strangers’ accusing eyes boring into me, knowing my pitiful disgrace. TWSS!

The Daily Mash: Welcome To The Mental Hospital (***, Mash Books, £9.99. Amazon: £7.09):

OK, so the Daily Mail’s paranoid blend of shock stories, middle class obsessions, bonkers columnists and exploitation of female insecurities is the easiest of targets, but the Daily Mash strikes some good hits.

It sometimes – and inevitably – trots out the usual cliches of the Mail-bashers, with pieces about ‘workshy trees’, immigrant birds and the mixed health messages of what is good and bad for you, but this compilation does take pains to cover the whole complex psychology of the newspaper, with sections covering lifestyle, finance, sport and small ads – as well as just the usual right-wing topics.

Often The Mash gets the angle spot on, such as its take on the current economic crisis and the vacuity of the diary column, and there are some good jokes scattered through its pages, even if the level is inconsistent.

It’s not The Onion – though clearly it wants to be – but a reasonably funny, and occasionally on-the-button mockery of the phenomenally successful newspaper

Misery Bear’s Guide To Love & Heartbreak (**, Hodder & Stoughton, £12.99, Amazon: £6.74):

Misery Bear is one of the more unusual internet phenomenon, with up to a million people watching the short, tear-jerking films about a depressed and lovelorn cuddly toy.

Now the cash-in book which, at a quite brazen £12.99 for just 56 heavily designed pages seems pretty steep. It doesn’t really do much other than expected, a few sad cartoon strips and melancholic photo-stories taken from the online videos, alongside such items as cocktail recipes for the lonely drunk.

The obligatory Facebook and Twitter pages are there, plus such items as lists of chat-up lines, diary entries and the ‘top five tearjerky books that made me cry’. It’s all a bit formulaic, and though captures the tragic life of the Misery Bear, doesn’t really have much of a life beyond the 20 minutes or so it’ll take you to read through it. For hardcore fans only – if there are enough of them – and people who buy books with adorable teddy bears on the cover. Customers who bought this item also bought calendars of polar bears and picture books of Boo, ‘the world’s cutest dog’, says Amazon.

Published: 19 Dec 2011

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