Fierce Pajamas: Sparks of Comic Genius

New Yorker Humor Collection is Exemplary, Mostly Hilarious

Gem after Gem in Diadem of Good Writing

Proof that Wit Rules, Shallow or Not

If humor is the gold of literature – well it is in our book – this is a chunk of a pure seam.

The New Yorker still manages to print some of the finest journalism in the English speaking world, distinguished by a deft, elegant literacy where its subjects are treated without sensation, salesmanship, or condescension, but rather, with unflinching, spotlit realism softened with civilized discretion.

The unjustifiably ad-starved (curse those philistine media budget executives who won’t support it as a priceless cultural treasure chest) magazine’s writers and editors combine the tact of understanding psychiatrists with unremitting respect for the dignity of people as human beings, however quirky in impulse or irrational in self justification they might be, whether they are saints or murderers. Their profiles are rounded sculptures, rather than the two dimensional sketches we find in the rest of the magazine rack.

Along with all this talented sobriety, some of its most accomplished writing is to be found in the humor section, where week after week, the Shouts and Murmurs column is often a brilliant page which nails our culture’s hypocrisy, vanity and other foolishness to the wall with painless accuracy, turning the absurd dross of human posturing into the gold of wit that will never tarnish.

For this reason we were delighted to stumble upon a copy of Fierce Pajamas, the collection of the best New Yorker humor pieces from m year or two ago, as we surveyed our library with a view of weeding out enough books to at least get rid of the stacks on the floor (a vain project, as usual – who can find a book which does not contain invaluable information of one kind or another? Books are now the repository of the best information in this new age of the Internet and Wiki with its supply of incomplete and suspect knowledge).

Given the fast pace of modern life in the biggest of big cities, culturally speaking, in the English speaking world, that is to say New York City with its Niagara of events and publications, where even the Times is to long to skim every day, the number of books one actually reads end to end every year can be counted upon one hand. Yet Fierce Pajamas is one of that privileged category, the book that one scours for pages one hasn’t read or that one wants to read again for lack of any that one skimmed past.

A rich cornucopia of brilliant gems, silver candlesticks and gold coins of humorous essays, this volume should be kept by the bedside for nightly nightcaps of amusement, allaying cares and concerns with its reassuring parade of little satires and other debunking of what we take so seriously – too seriously – throughout the day.

The highest peak of New Yorker satire

Of course, those with long memories will know that the finest compendium of New Yorker pieces is not this excellent collection but the fabled Snooze, which was issued 27 years ago.

The only oddity about this parodic peak when you first come across it is that too many of the choices seem to be by the two editors responsible for this literary celebration of the New Yorker’s genius, Alfred Gingold and John Buskin. These evidently rather egomaniacal likterary enablers have had the effrontery to have reserved space for no fewer than 15 and 1`6 of their own works respectively.

It is only a third of the way through this volume that you realize that the explanation for the favor the editors were showing to their own work had a different explanation. The whole thing – even the cartoons – was in fact not drawn from the pages of the New Yorker at all. It was all a parody – of the New Yorker.

But the work is so expert that any of its selections could be included in a typical New Yorker issue and be essentially undetectable by the unsuspecting naive reader. until he or she is finally alerted by the slight increase in fatuity rendered.

The whole thing is embarrassing – how could we be so undiscerning?! – except for the fact that a parody that is almost indistinguishable from the original in tone and approach is surely the most delicious of all.

Of course the New Yorker has moved on since 1986 when the parody hit the bullseye dead center, but the sheer brilliance of this work shines as brightly now as it did then. Should be among the most treasured items in anyone’s personal library, but most espeically that of any writer.

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