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Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans

The Best of McSweeney's Humor Category

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating

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Created in Darkness by Troubled American
When asked about Timothy McSweeney's Quarterly Concern by The New Yorker, Dave Eggers explained, "I try to make the magazine as untimely and irrelevant as possible."

He's doing a good job.

Frankly, I don't remember if I heard about this gaggle of loosely-formed literary Gen-X writers before or after I read Eggers' memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. What I do know is that at some point in time, a large percentage of the humor in my inbox seemed to point to the McSweeney's web site.

Timothy McSweeney's Internet Tendency, which goes by a variety of other names (today it is "Timothy McSweeney's Blind Bastard Child Will Be President Someday"), is the digital version of Timothy McSweeney's Quarterly Concern. What the two publications share in content, I don't know. I've never read Timothy McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, though I understand it is unwieldy and rambling. The web site is just rambling.

Within its pages you'll find a mishmash of articles, lists, and indefinable bits and pieces of flotsam and jetsam. Mostly jetsam.

The lists read something like a distant and disowned genealogical descendent of David Letterman's Top Ten Lists, and they are hilarious! Currently on the site, you'll find, "Why The Lone Ranger Gave Up His Cell Phone" (One of the reasons is "Couldn't take advantage of friends-and-family rates, on account of being lone.") and "Obscure Chinese Proverbs" ("A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it is insane."), among many others.

The articles are something akin to the stories on Comedy Central's The Daily Show in that they are not news and not always exactly fiction. Remember back in college when you used to spend an inordinate amount of time lounging around other people's smoke-filled rooms giggling uncontrollably at ridiculous ideas. One gets the impression that the writers at McSweeney's merely did this better than the rest of us - so much so, that they were able to take it to the next level: publishing.

Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans is supposedly "The Best of McSweeney's Humor Category." This is of course, subject to debate. One of my favorite pieces on the web site which doesn't appear in the book is "I am Michiko Kakutani," in which a white middle aged insurance salesman confesses to having conjured up the personality of Michiko Kakutani, the brilliant and acerbic New York Times literary critic, as a college prank.

I imagine it was something of a huge undertaking to whittle away the mountain of humor that the McSweeney's gang has created over the years into the manageably portable collection that is Created in Darkness. And the book is full of gems.

One of these, "It's Not Actually a Small World," describes a series of incidents in which serendipitous chance meetings never occurred. Another of my favorites is, "Group Mobilization as a Desperate Cry for Help," in which a Flash Mob is organized by a spurned boyfriend outside his ex-girlfriend's house. My favorite piece in the book, though, is John Hodgeman's, "Fire: The Next Sharp Stick?" (A play for three cavemen).

Not every piece is as brilliant as the aforementioned three. I found "Unused Audio Commentary by Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky, Recorded Summer 2002, for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring DVD (Platinum Series Extended Edition), Part One" to be about as long-winded and boring as its title. But there are about 45 articles to choose from, and a good many of them will have you guffawing out loud. And because a large portion of the web site's laughs are supplied by the Lists, the editors heaped a generous helping of those into the book, as well, including:

"Ineffective Ways to Subdue a Jaguar"

"International Equivalents, Cake Hole"

"Rapper or Toiletry?"

If, by this point in the review, you're shaking your head in confusion, unsure what to think about the odd bites of the articles I've only briefly glossed over here, then DON'T BUY THIS BOOK. It's not for you.

However, if you're intrigued by the descriptions of these articles and find yourself snickering at the titles of the Lists; if you grew up on Saturday Night Live and are a Monty Python fanatic, this is YOUR BOOK. Run right out and get a copy tonight. It will undoubtedly add humor to your day and literary flavor to the reading selection in your lavatory.

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