by Patton Oswalt
I can’t tell you how happy I was to unwrap this gift from my wife: not only am I a tremendous Patton Oswalt fan; not only have I been reading bad books lately; but it was Jolabokaflod, the Icelandic “Christmas Book Flood” tradition which we tried out this year – you give each other a book for Christmas Eve and then spend the rest of the evening reading. Okay, I waited until Christmas Day to read most of it, and finished it on Boxing Day – but this was an excellent present to start off the Christmas gifts with, and an excellent book to read.
In some ways, it reads like Oswalt’s standup: it’s eclectic and unexpected, shifting subject and pace and even genre with no notice at all: you read the prologue, and then the first piece, which is a personal essay about Oswalt’s youth – and then the second piece is a mock-up of movie notes on an imagined zany comedy about an amnesiac getting married. And the first piece is so interesting and insightful and intelligent that it takes you quite a while to realize that the second one is entirely – not. Well, no, it’s still interesting: but now it’s interesting because it’s a joke, not because it is a reflection on the moment when one realizes one is an artist at heart; even though that realization came to Oswalt in an amusing circumstance, the essential concept of the essay is to describe that self-realization, which, like most great insights, slipped away again almost immediately, to return only in fragments spread out over years –and, I hope, truly recovered for Oswalt in this writing.
Because Patton Oswalt is an artist, a comic artist. This book has humor in every way it is possible to have humor: it has over-the-top toilet humor (The amnesiac bride piece has it all – drunkenness, vomit, nudity, dildos falling onto sushi platters – all the classic gags.); it has subtle and ironic humor, often dark and often self-deprecating; it has one-liners and pieces that are all one long set-up for the final punchline. There are visual jokes as well as literate ones. And like any great comic artist, Oswalt has managed to include a number of genuine insights, frequently hidden as jabs thrown at the world and society’s ugliness and stupidity. Because as Oswalt tells us in the title piece – which title comes from a very effective system of dividing the nerd world, into those who prefer zombie stories, versus spaceship stories, versus wasteland stories – he is a wasteland guy, a fan of the Road Warrior: one who would, in his imagination, destroy the world and society, in order to focus on the last remaining survivors and their idealistic quest to keep their own sense of what’s important, even in a world that has gone mad around them. It’s a quest that Oswalt has stuck to, and a torch of reason and compassion that he carries still, and that carries through this book. It was a joy to read it, to laugh along with him, and even more, to think with him.