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Holiday Book Bonanza ’09:
Mark Peters

It has become a holiday tradition on the OUPblog to ask our favorite people about their favorite books.  This year we asked authors to participate (OUP authors and non-OUP authors).  For the next two weeks we will be posting their responses which reflect a wide variety of tastes and interests, in fiction, non-fiction and children’s books.  Check back daily for new books to add to your 2010 reading lists.  If that isn’t enough to keep you busy next year check out all the great books we have discovered during past holiday seasons: 2006, 2007, 2008 (US), and 2008 (UK).

Mark Peters is a language columnist for Good and Visual Thesaurus, as well as the blogger behind The Pancake Proverbs, The Rosa Parks of Blogs, and Wordlustitude.  He writes a monthly column for the OUPblog.

Martians + Norse Gods = Merry Christmas

With honorable mentions to Duplex Planet by David Greenberger, The Police Log by Kevin L. Hoover, Attack Poodles by James Wolcott, and The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons, if forced to choose, at the point of a gun or pointy stick, I have to say my favorite book is What I’d Say to the Martians by Jack Handey.

You probably remember Handey from the “Deep Thoughts” segment on SNL. If so, you’ll be pleased to see selected Deep Thoughts, including the classics “I believe in making the world safe for our children, but not our children’s children, because I don’t think children should be having sex” and “You know what would make a good story? Something about a clown who makes people happy, but inside he’s real sad. Also, he was severe diarrhea.”

If you know Handey from his New Yorker essays, those are included too, including glorious flights of lunacy such as “Thank You for Stopping,” the title essay, and “Ideas for Paintings.” That piece’s “Stampede of Nudes” suggestion makes me want to stampede to art school immediately: “The trouble with most paintings of nudes is that there isn’t enough nudity. It’s usually just one woman lying there, and you’re looking around going, ‘Aren’t there any more nudes?’ This idea solves that.”

There are even a few of Handey’s SNL sketches, like “Unfrozen Cave Man Lawyer” and Happy Fun Ball,” which includes the memorable disclaimers “Happy Fun Ball may stick to certain types of skin” and “Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball”.

Whether in a sketch, one-liner, or essay, Handey has an effortless, casual, preposterous style that is consistently funny and surprising and cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. I just don’t know anybody this funny. I’m so jealous I want to barf into his shoes. Bottom line: If you don’t want this book, you must hate laughing, love, life, yourself, and funny cowboy dances (another specialty of Handey’s). Just get this book. Trust me.

As for children’s books, I don’t have a lot of contenders, since I live a barren, childless existence and my inner child has been eating lead paint for decades. I don’t know if this truly qualifies as a children’s book, but what the hell: As a kid, I remember checking Padraic Colum’s The Children of Odin out of the library over and over again, long before I was smart enough to buy the damned thing.

Then, as now, I preferred to live in an absurd fantasy world, and Colum’s retelling of the Norse myths was like mother’s milk, though less gross. The adventures of Odin, Thor, Loki, Balder, the trolls, and the rest are as colorful and awesome as contemporary religion is bland and awful. You won’t even have to wait till 2012 for the end of the world—or Ragnorak, as the Norse myths called it. That provides entertainment and saves time.

Bottom line: You can’t go wrong with Martians or Scandinavian deities at the bookstore. (Or at the track, but that’s another story).

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