Humor

Writing Humor – A Classically Educated List

Few things are, I was rudely reminded, more difficult than writing humor.  I used to write a lot of humor until I discovered that writing things that aren’t humor is often both more lucrative and more rewarding.

The Malakiad Cover Image

But that changed last month.  I sat down with one of my contributor’s copies of The Malakiad and found myself laughing out loud at my own jokes (I know this is bad form, but for a bit of perspective, please bear in mind that Eddie Murphy would laugh at his own jokes on a certain Saturday night TV show before telling them.  That means that I can do whatever I like).

I realized that, huge effort or not, I had to write the sequel to this one, even if the publisher refuses to buy a sequel (to avoid this sad outcome, please go out and buy several copies of the first book at your earliest possible convenience, and gently persuade your friends to do the same.  At gunpoint if necessary).

Of course, I immediately found it tough going.  Humor is not for the faint of heart.  Want to know why?  Cool, because we’ve created a list.

1.  Humor uses up ideas at a breakneck pace.  If you’ve ever been to a standup comedy show, you’ll have realized that (unless it was really, really bad) the rhythm of the jokes is pretty rapid, with setup following punchline and vice-versa.  The idea is to keep the audience engaged.  Of course, it’s impossible to keep this kind of pace up in a 300 page novel (and if you know of exceptions, I want to read them, so drop me a line in the comments), but the temptation to make the book funny all the time is there.  Even so, all those funny ideas about Greek heroes and anachronistic secondary characters you thought would fill up a whole series, disappear quite quickly.

2.  Different kinds of people have a different kind of sense of humor.  This is probably the deepest pitfall of all.  My own sense of humor ranges from dry British wit to no-holds-barred, absolutely-nothing-is-off-limits humor of the type form the 1980s.  I don’t get offended at any kind of joke, no matter who it lambasts, as long as it’s funny.  I accept that humor is often cruel, and still revel in it.  But even though I’m extremely liberal in what I’ll accept, there is stuff that some people find hilarious that I think is juvenile and, not to put too fina a point on it, just plain dumb.  Nose-pick jokes.  Fart jokes.  The kind of stuff that makes four year-olds giggle has it’s place, just not in my library.

3.  There are different narrative structures to humor, and you have to choose between them.  Beyond the different types of sense of humor, the way its presented also makes a huge difference.  You can structure humor as a series of punchlines peppered within a different context, or you can tell, completely deadpan, a story whose premise is funny per se.  Or, you can go after the absurd.  In a novel, you will have the space to attempt all three, which makes attempting to balance them out a bit of a daunting task.

Example of Offensive Humor

4.  Humor is cruel.  This is the biggie.  We live in sensitive times in which most people who actually read are likely to be offended by perceived lack of sensitivity in a humorous work.  The problem is that humor often laughs at the subject as opposed to laughing with him.  Much of what humans find funny is based on taking a stereotype or common situation and then either turning it on its head or presenting it in such a way as to become ridiculous.  The problem is that those stereotypes are often offensive to someone, and the common situations are common because a lot of people do certain things, and they don’t necessarily want to be made fun of.  My solution to this one is to ignore the possible backlash and to write whatever the hell seems like a good idea at the time.  So The Malakiad pokes fun at everything from Greek Heroes to Jehova’s Cooking to Political Correctness.  I try to be an equal opportunity offender because everyone and everything has inherent humor in them… if only they also had the capability to laugh at it.  I strongly believe that the humorless, whether it be Puritans, Prohibitionists or any other holier-than-thou group are the ones who most need to be laughed at.

5.  The readers of your serious work might hate your humorous novels.  This is a risk, of course.  My SF novels tend to be aimed at people who enjoy thinking things through, a reasonable adventure or mystery, with a love story and usually an underlying philosophical question in there somewhere (I don’t do message fiction–I prefer readers who think to readers who want to be immersed in an echo chamber).  It’s quite likely that a lot of the readers attracted to that kind of book will find a novel about a Greek called Kopulus somewhat… well, I’d better leave it there.  Let the critics think up their own insults.

6.  If the book is actually funny, not funny is a painful Muriel’s Wedding sense, but actually funny, the critics will hate it.  Critics have no sense of humor.  Live with it and move on.

Hope that is enough to keep anyone from attempting a humorous novel.  The marketplace is crowded enough without you, so go write that deep, heartfelt experimental piece instead.  We won’t miss you in the least!

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine author with several novels and over 200 short stories published.  You can buy The Malakiad here.

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Contributor Copies Continued

Unlike many authors, I read every single contributor’s copy I am sent.  Why, you ask?  For many reasons.  The first and most obvious is that It helps me keep up with what’s happening in those corners of the genre that I frequent.

In a less pleasant vein, I sometimes find that the places that published my work might not be up to the expected standards–which means I won’t sub there again.  Or, conversely, the other stories might be so good that I feel like a third grader walking taking that stroll with Virgil and Dante… completely out of my depth.  I always send my best stories to people who make me feel that way.

So I get a lot more than just reading pleasure from this practice–it’s professionally useful, too.

It’s nice to have a serious-sounding excuse to read more stories, isn’t it?

Anyway, before this digression gets overly long (yes, I know it’s already too late for that), today’s post deals with a couple of contributor’s copies from a couple of years ago (never said I was fast, did I?).

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Visions III: Inside the Kuiper Belt is one of those anthos that did the Dante thing to me.  To be completely honest, I didn’t like the cover art, so wasn’t expecting too much from the stories inside.  And then, one after another, they all turned out to be absolutely brilliant.  Every one of them was a space adventure that was both well written and entertaining, a combination which, as anyone who’s picked up a Year’s Best antho lately can attest, is getting as rare as three dollar bills.  Better still, middle-class guilt and political concerns are nearly completely absent.  What joy in this day and age!

Not only do I recommend this anthology wholeheartedly, but I also put my money where my mouth was and sent the editors stories for two more anthos in this series, both of which are sitting in my TBR pile, and both of which I am looking forward to anxiously!  Go out and get one, you won’t regret it.

Strangely Funny 3

Strangely Funny III is a different animal altogether.  Humor can often be hit-or-miss, but this series takes the risk and handles it well.  Of course, there are a few stories that don’t quite work for me, but most of them do really well in both telling their story and getting some laughs – admirable goals both!

The stories skew towards horror and the humor sometimes tends to the ghoulish over the slapstick (or combines both).  Not something I’d normally pick up at a bookstore, but definitely a genre it’s good to be familiar with – especially since I have been known to write humor every once in a while.

So yes, I’ll keep reading my contributor copies, and let the cutsheet bandits to do their own thing.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer.  His novel Siege is for those who think they’d enjoy Visions III, and The Malakiad for those who think Strangely Funny would be more their cup of tea.  He aims to please!

The Other British Master

Looking back, I wish I’d combined this post with the one I recently wrote about Sir Terry Pratchett.  After all, Pratchett and the subject of today’s post, Niel Gaiman, were friends, collaborators and, by all accounts, shared a sense of humor.

Smoke and Mirrors - Niel Gaiman

More to the point, two of the books I read: Pratchett’s book of short stories and Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors are directly comparable.  Both collect lesser known work by two great writers and will be of more than passing interest to anyone who’s already familiar with their major achievements.

Now, I’m not a Gaiman fan in the traditional sense.  I haven’t read all that much of his work, other than Good Omens which I bought for the Pratchett content and enjoyed.  In light of this, starting with the less-acclaimed shorter work might not seem like the sensible thing to do.

That, of course, has never stopped us before, so why begin now?

So, from this book, I can confidently say that I like some of Gaiman’s writing.  Would I enjoy Sandman or American Gods?  From this sample, I really have no clue.  I always find graphic novels just a little thin and unfulfilling…  American Gods is certainly more promising.

And Smoke and Mirrors?  Definitely enjoyable, and the breadth of Gaiman’s interest in on display here.  Some stories are, naturally more memorable than others but all display Gaiman’s love for the slightly surreal and his sense that nothing is so serious that fun cannot be poked in its direction.  My kind of book.

It feels very similar to the Pratchett, somehow less solid than a novel-length work, but a very satisfying sprinkling.

Of the tales here, one of them sticks out as a nearly perfect example of… something.  I’m not sure what, exactly it is, but if you want to decide for yourself, it’s entitled “The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories” (and you have to admire the kind of lunatic who would put “and Other Stories” in the title of his story, don’t you?).  It’s a strange and wistful and surreal story.  The ending wasn’t what I’d wanted it to be, but that might just have been the point.  I still think of it often.

Of course, if you’re reading Gaiman, that’s because you haven’t seen him on YouTube.  He is one of the most compelling public speakers I’ve ever seen.  If you can take a certain dose of Michael Chabon (did he create the Hipster persona or just perfect it?) without throwing your device out the window, I highly recommend this interview in which Niel Gaiman discusses his relationship with Terry Pratchett in detail.  It is mad and brilliant and still poignant and touching.

Anyway, this is a fun book, but I think the cool kids all started with Sandman, so that might be a good idea too…

 

Gustavo Bondoni’s is an Argentine writer whose latest novel, the Malakiad, is aimed squarely at those readers who miss Douglas Adams an Terry Pratchett and wish that there were more lunatics writing science fiction and fantasy.  It’s available in paperback and Kindle editions.

The Malakiad – Launched!

The Malakiad Cover Image

Every author on the planet loves book launch days.  That moment when people around the globe can (finally!) enjoy the fruits of all the hard work in writing, rewriting, selling the book, working with the publisher to edit and givin suggestions for cover art.

The Malakiad, my comic fantasy that takes place in Heroic-era Greece launched today.  You can buy it at Amazon right now.  Yes, right now!

As a special bonus for Classically Educated readers, I’d like to tell you about the genesis of this paticular volume.

It begins (as many of my writing adventures do) in the late 1980s when I read Another Fine Myth by Robert Lynn Asprin.  That was my introduction to humorous genre work, which eventually led to my love for Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett.  I devoured each book by these guys as soon as I could get my hands on them.

Unfortunately all three are now gone, having died much too young.

Worse, I am unsatisfied with the current crop of humorous genre writers.  The problem isn’t their talent–I believe most aretop-notch writers–but the type of humor they attempt: watered-down, milquetoast and nowhere near as funny as their precursors.  The problem, I believe, is that genre humorists today are genre writers first, humorists second.  So, like most people in SFF, they are extremely aware of the sensibilities around them and write in such a way that no one at all could ever be offended.  Punches are being pulled in unforgivable numbers.  The books are set aside with a sigh.

That method isn’t particularly funny.  As Seth MacFarlane or Mel Brooks would tell you, the secret isn’t to offend no one, but to offend everyone equally.

And that’s why I wrote this book.

The Malakiad won’t offend too many people.  It’s meant to make you laugh, not to make anyone unhappy.  But it does poke fun at human foibles and it does ridicule things that are open to ridicule.  I wrote, in essence, the book I wanted to read, hopefully the kind of book that the great writers of the past wrote.

Is this one as good as its predecessors?  That’s for readers to say.  Critics, of course will be fed to the nearest large carnivore (unless they like the book, in which case they are extremely intelligent people who should be celebrated).

For now, all I’ll say is that, if you miss Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett or Robert Asprin, you could do much worse than to give this one a go.

Enjoy!!

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer.

Reading Pratchett, Tinged with Sadness

I’m going to be honest.  If I was allowed to take the complete works of one humorist with me to a desert island, that writer would be P.G. Wodehouse.  For my money, he is the funniest author ever to grace the English language.  And I do mean grace: his sentences are a thing of beauty.  Without ever getting in his own way or using obtuse vocabulary, he managed to build perfect gems of writing… in almost every single sentence.  I can’t overstate the difficulty of managing that.  Sometimes you just want to write a sentence to get you from point A to pint B, but Wodehouse never allowed himself that.

If I had to keep ranking them, the second on my list would be Douglas Adams.  The perfect distillation of the English sense of humor.  Sadly, his oeuvre is too small to keep me entertained for an indeterminate period of time out in the south seas after a shipwreck but it is more intense.  He is more laugh-out-loud funny than Wodehouse is.

But though he doesn’t top my list on the pure humor and entertainment front, Terry Pratchett is by far the best novelist of my three favorite humorists.  He was the man who picked up the torch left by his predecessors and decided that he would not only write humor for humor’s sake, but he would break Wodehouse’s rule about writing a novel and make the books about something.  And they would be funny.

So, you get social conscience and human foibles and difficult topics with your humor.

I’ve read widely, and I’m here to tell you that only Pratchett has managed to handle that particular volatile mix without having it blow up in his face.

Most humorists fall into two camps: the ones that exploit the human condition for a few laughs and the ones who attempt to make us care.  The first group doesn’t really give a damn about humans as a group (or at least they aren’t there to make us think about humanity).  They just want their humor to be relatable enough so you’ll laugh at the right time.  The second group is usually preachy, holier-than-thou and so, sooooo concerned.  They are anything but funny.

Pratchett pulls it off.  You end up caring deeply about the issues in his book without ever having the sense that the writer is obsessed, and that the issues have taken over his work.  (actually, this happens to issue-driven books in any genre, not just humor.  When the agenda pushes the plot and characters aside, it’s a recipe for disaster).

So it’s with great sadness that I am reading the final few Pratchett books for the first time.  One can enjoy a book upon re-reading, but you never have the same sheer joy of discovery as you did the first time you encountered the words.  Since his death, a Pratchett book that I hadn’t read before became a priceless treasure.

Over the last year, I’ve consumed three of those treasures.

A Blink of the Screen by Terry Pratchett

A Blink of the Screen is a rare treat.  It collects Pratchett short stories.  Some of them we’ve all read before, but many are early work published in tiny magazines or very local newspapers.  They show a master at work before he was a master, with flashes of the genius that made him world-famous, but without the skill at weaving it all together.  Still, there are some gems in here, and punchlines that will make you chortle.  I enjoyed it.

Snuff by Terry Pratchett

Snuff made me even sadder.  It’s a Discworld novel.  If having any unread Pratchett book is a treasure, a Discworld book is like having the Crown Jewels and the Romanoff treasure all at once.  To make things even better, this is a Sam Vimes book.

A side note about Vimes.  While there are many amazing characters on the Discworld, Vimes became the most important of all after Pratchett discovered him halfway through the series.  He represents the everyman, but also the fatalist.  I have a friend who swears by the witches, but it’s Vimes who serves as the backdrop to Pratchett’s most mature work.  I like him even more than I like the Luggage and Death, and that’s saying quite a bit.

The only consolation I had when I finished this one was the knowledge that Raising Steam is still safely buried somewhere in my TBR pile.

The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett

The last book of the three I had to hand was The Shepherd’s Crown. The Tiffany Aching books fall in the Young Adult category and are a lot less funny.  Pratchett’s sense of humor is still there in the background, but these aren’t meant to be laugh-out-loud funny, but a coming-of-age story for a young witch growing into her powers.  All of Pratchett’s humanity is on display in these, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend them to someone out for a laugh.  However, it is to Pratchett’s eternal credit that he manages to make a Young Adult story aimed at girls compelling to a not-particularly-young adult male who (as attested to by earlier entries) is more likely to pick up a spy thriller than a book about a teenage witch.

I don’t think we’ll ever see another writer quite like this one for a while.

 

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer.  He has a comic fantasy novel entitled The Malakiad coming out on March 22nd (it can be pre-ordered through this link).  If you enjoyed reading Pratchett, you will likely enjoy this one.  Also, the title comes from a very rude word in Greek, so there’s that.

Party Like You’re in India and It’s a Thousand Years Ago

A few years ago, we published our most popular post ever.  Ironically, considering that we try to be at least a little bit high-brow and are proud of being elitist pigs, our most popular piece was a humorous story about parties written by our vampire columnist.  It immediately went viral and everyone read it.  Then, like all these things, everyone forgot about it.  (even more ironically, our second-greatest hit was a depressing relationship piece written by a columnist calling herself Scarlett – argh, there goes our street cred).

We may be elitist, but we aren’t proud and we like clicks as much as the next blog, so we asked Baron H (famous as the main columnist of the now defunct Undead Smart Set) to do a follow up to that one.  He hemmed and hawed that he’d gotten all the best parties in the first one, but when we pushed, he started saying things like “well, there was that one time in Mexico, but I really shouldn’t talk about that…”  We told him he was going to talk about it or we’d call in the stakes and garlic brigade, and the results are below.

 

Greetings and Salutations,

It’s always a mystery to me why mortals get so exercised about parties.  They’re entertaining, yes, and often instructive, but from what I’ve seen of the blowouts organized by humans, they’re not really all that special.  Granted, there are some exceptions, but in general I’ve found that the undead have much better blowouts… Perhaps the fact that we’re permitted to eat the mortals present make our festivities inherently better.

Nevertheless, there were some good party eras in the past and it’s worth celebrating the ones I missed last time.  Nothing too new, of course, because modern people have no idea what a good party looks like – not even in the seventies, when sex was a lot more free and easy than it is today.

 

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5.  The Re-consecration of Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan

Now this was a good party to be undead at mainly because, for a glorious few days, the strict taboo on not killing the partygoers was lifted.  Every male was expected to bring something to the party – specifically, every male was expected to bring a prisoner, captured in battle to sacrifice at the altar.

No one is quite sure what the final number of victims were.  Sources have said that it might have been as high as eighty thousand killed over the course of four days.  As a witness, I’d say that there certainly were a lot of them, although I’d be hard pressed to give an exact count.  Why, you ask?  Well, there are certain things that a gentleman doesn’t discuss… let’s just say that there were other things happening at the party apart from the sacrifices.  It was good enough for fifth place on this list.

 

kubla khan pop-up coleridge

4. Kubla Khan’s Xanadu

I didn’t mention this last time because I wanted to spare Coleridge’s blushes.  I told him all about the parties, how the great Khan would empty entire nations to have the right kind of food and drink for the table and the right shade of girls on hand for his soldiers.  But then he went and got stoned out of his mind and forgot most of it.

I tried again, but the woman I told it to was either even more stoned than Coleridge or had a really low opinion of what her contemporaries could understand.

Either way, these were amazing parties with a seriously dark edge, but I’m done trying to explain them to humans.

 

Nero's Domus Aurea

3. Nero’s Domus Aurea

This is a gold dome near to my heart.  Nero’s Rome was possibly unique in its tolerance of the undead.  They were pretty much up for anything back then, and would happily invite anyone – and anything – out of the ordinary to join in.  When you have accepted that infinite power corrupts infinitely, and have decided to enjoy that fact, it takes a lot of creativity to make you feel special again

At this place, every night felt special.

The amount of blood, wine, food and bodily fluids spilled at any of these parties could fill an ocean basin, and I suspect they probably tried.  I shudder to think of the wasted blood.

 

White Smoke from Papal Conclave

2. Papal Conclave of 1644

One normally doesn’t think of the Catholic Church as a hedonistic and freewheeling institution.  In fact, if one doesn’t know the right people, it might seem precisely the opposite (assuming one politely looks the other way on the subject of altar boys).

The reality is very different.  Everyone knows that in earlier, less social-media-conscious centuries, the Vatican had a brothel for its priests.  Also there were Medicis in there – those guys knew how to throw a party.

But that just scratches the surface.  If you want to see what the Vatican is capable of, try to get invited to a conclave.  Better yet, build yourself a time machine, or go around the earth really fast or get hit by lightning and go back in time to 1644 and get invited to that conclave.

While everyone in Rome was distracted by the fact that, oh, woe, the Pope was dead and also by the fact that someone had wisely ordered that the water from various fountains be replaced with wine, leaving the population drunk for days, the cardinals shut themselves in a huge palace with every courtesan in Italy.  The wine also meant they didn’t realize that a lot of their wives were also missing, and so were a number of altar boys.  Finally, I find it amazing that no one commented that the white smoke smelled decidedly funny.

The Cardinals themselves?  They were having such a good time that not one of them threatened me with a crucifix during the whole party.

 

Indian Sex Temple Carvings

1. Indian Chandela Dynasty

Look, I know there have been good parties everywhere.  But when they’re so good that you actually carve the images of them on temples and they’re still causing comment a thousand years later, then you were really on to something.

Such was the situation in India during the Chandela dynasty.  As Mel Brooks used to say, “It’s good to be the King”, but it is even better to be the king of a civilization whose Pantheon includes a deity called Kama, essentially a god of sex.  So you can spend the entire GDP of your people on a huge party, run through the entire supply of virgins of both genders in a few nights, and still say that you were observing a religious holiday.  Bliss.

Today all the guides tell tourists that the temples are carved with all aspects of life and that sexual lust was one of the things of which one had to be purified before entering the sacred space – hence its prominent placement along some walls.  It’s not hard to tell that that is purely PR spin and you should pay no attention to it whatsoever.

We know exactly what those temples are: they’re the 10th century equivalent of those Instagram pics of the party last weekend.  The one that got a little out of control.

I know because I was there – being immortal has its perks!

 

Anyhow, this time I’m really out of parties worthy of including in future lists, but if you know of any coming up that might compare to these…  well, just leave a comment and the owners of this blog will invite me.

Kind Regards,

Baron H

 

 

Gustavo Bondoni’s latest novel is entitled Incursion.  He assures us that, if you enjoy adventure and action by believable characters, you’ll like this one (of course, he’s the author, what else is he going to say?)

Three Unconventional Roads To Wodehouse

Mention PG Wodehouse in a conversation and most people will immediately think of Jeeves and Wooster.  That’s partly due to the success of the books and stories, but, I suspect, mostly because of the various film and TV adaptations.  Of course, the one with Hugh Laurie as Wooster utterly deserves to have that notoriety.

But there is more to Wodehouse than the butler and his hapless gentleman.  No less a writer (and polymath) than Isaac Asimov said that Wodehouse, on a sentence level, is one of the three greatest writers in the English language (the other two, if memory serves, being Austen and Dickens).

People often scoff at that, of course.  A mere humorist upstaging countless numbers of earnest, serious writers, some of whom are even politically committed?  Blasphemy.  My answer to that is simple: pick up any of Wodehouse’s books, turn to a random page, and read any sentence that is more than five or six words long.  If you know anything about literature or writing, the odds are that you will have to concede the point.  He is consistently that good.

The above means that it’s a bit of a tragedy that casual readers don’t always go beyond Jeeves and Wooster so, in order to address that failing, we present three other good Wodehouse books (and discuss the three very different editions we read).  Think of it as a Classically Educated public service (you can thank us by buying our mug)!

The Girl in Blue.  PG Wodehouse.  Paperback

The first is The Girl in Blue.  This is a fairly typical standalone Wodehouse novel, and is a good non-Jeeves primer.  As you can see from the cover illustration of the version we read, a policeman ends up in a pond.  This is a recurring theme in Wodehouse, and upon reflection, we feel that if it were only a recurring theme in other types of literature as well, the world would be a better place.  Of course, star-crossed lovers feature as well, another central tenet of the canon.  If you’re going to start, and have already read the Jeeves books, this is a good place to begin.

Mr Mulliiner Speaking PG Wodehouse

Unlike the above novel, which is unrelated to other Wodehouse tales the Mr Mulliner stories are linked together in various books.  The one we’ll be discussing here is entitled Mr. Mulliner Speaking, and is sheer happiness.  Mr. Mulliner is an older and wiser character, so he is usually above Wodehousian shenanigans but, to the eternal entertainment of his drinking buddies, he has a number of young, nearly brain-dead, relations who get themselves into ridiculous situations.  They always work out for the best, of course, but the way they do reminds us that in Wodehouse, as in life, it’s about the journey, not the destination.  And few journeys are more rewarding.

We read this one in the original hardcover from 1929 (pictured above), and it was fun to experience it as pre-war readers would have.  But even though these are plentiful and affordable, there’s no real need to track one down, as 1929 is reasonably modern, so the book is just a book, not some artifact.

 

Utterly Uncle Fred PG Wodehouse

Finally, we reach the main course, a volume entitled Utterly Uncle Fred, which is quite possibly, the perfect Wodehouse.  The reason is that Uncle Fred is, perhaps, the most demented character in his oeuvre.  Age has not made this one wise, not in the least.  Instead, it sharpened his sense of chaos.  Of course, he is a kindly old man despite the propensity for landing his nephew in the soup, and his ability to get everyone in trouble is matched only by his knack for pulling them back out.  Once again, it’s the journey, not the destination that makes this book.

The book above is an omnibus edition (one of the nicest things about Wodehouse is the number of collections you can buy) containing three novels and one story, so it’s a meaty proposition.  We’d recommend buying it even if you’ve never read a line of Wodehouse in your life… but most people are too cautious with their money to do so, perhaps start with one of the other two.

Or just read some Jeeves and Wooster.  I’ve never heard of anyone going wrong with that!

BTW, apart from mugs, we also have a Facebook page.  You can like it if you like it!

The 2015 Post

Hand Emerging From Crypt

Our strangest (albeit most critically acclaimed) guest blogger, Baron H, is back from wherever he’s been hiding these last few months (we sincerely hope his explanation for his absence below isn’t indicative of reality).  Why he would bizarrely send us his New Year’s resolutions in March is likewise a mystery, but as we had no other piece planned for today we decided to run it anyway, and see whether our readers would suck it up or simply abandon the blog in droves.  For those new to Classically Educated, Baron Hieronymous is the net’s only undead blogger – he claims to be a vampire – and he gives etiquette advice with a particularly strange twist.  Of course, we think he’s just a deranged old coot out in the wilderness somewhere, but that doesn’t change the undeniable fact that he penned our most popular post ever.

Greetings and salutations,

There are various reasons for the fact that my first post of 2015 is in March as opposed to January.  The first two (minor reasons) have to do with the fact that a) we undead are in no hurry, so a couple of months is nothing to us and b) that I was in a relationship with a mortal that didn’t quite work out, so I lost a bit of time while I worked out the details of the feast I was going to throw in her honor; she was a hit with my friends, as was the garlic sauce she attended the dinner in.

The main reason, however, has nothing to do with that at all.  You see, I’ve been feeling a little guilty over the fact that many of my previous posts (here and here, for example) have specifically been aimed at explaining and clarifying everyday situations or historical trends.  I seem to have forgotten that my function, in death as it was in life, is not to be a force for good, but a force for evil.  I live in New York, after all, and have a reputation to maintain.

So, with that firmly in mind, I have decided to write my 2015 resolutions on the first days of March.  The reason for this is that all the people who made resolutions on New Year’s day have probably already broken them, so this will remind them that they are just worms with no discipline (I apologize to my zombie readers who might be offended at the mention of worms).

So, with no further ado, here are my resolutions for how to make the world a worse place in 2015.

1) Send in a script for a new reality show to the good folks at the networks.  This one will follow a group of schoolkids in the bible belt as they become progressively dumber and more confused as the battle for what is right and proper education rages on.  One day, they will be taught one thing, and the next, they will see the polar opposite.  This will definitely go on the air as the it will appeal to both conservatives and liberals.  Eventually the ratings will go through the roof, as the poor kids will wind up so confused and misguided that they will end up almost as stupid as the average TV audience.  And remember folks, an audience that can relate to the characters on the screen is an audience that won’t change channels!

2) Donate money to a cause run by fanatics, but stipulate that the gold (I don’t trust this newfangled paper currency) can only be used for PR and advertising.  What more could we want than another group of true believers with no sense of humor or capacity to understand the concept of “middle ground” with more money to get their vew across.  Perhaps some group that thinks indoor plumbing is an offense against the gods of native people might work.

3) No more giving werewolves bottes of Head & Shoulders for their birthday.  This is just mean, and the fun of it wore of a long time ago.

Pyramid Zombie

4) Hire a zombie to haunt the pyramids.  I’ve wanted to do this for ages, but with airport security the way it is, it was always tough to get zombies on airplanes.  But now, I hear they have Twitter in Egypt, so I’ll tweet for local candidates interested in the position.  And then I’ll wrap the winner in bandages, place him in a crypt and sit around watching CNN until the story comes on.

Borley Rectory - Most Haunted House in England

5)  Take a trip to Borley.  Haven’t been there in years, and the ghosts are starting to get unhappy with me.  Stakes and garlic have been mentioned in a couple of their more recent communiqués.

6)  No more eating garbagemen.  This is actually the one I’m mot likely to stick to.  These guys are tasty, easy to pick off the street and always do for a quick meal, but they give me gas.  Oh well, guess I’ll pop in to McDonald’s if I need a quick bite.

Like all resolutions, we’ll see how these go.  In the meantime, be good.

And if you aren’t good, please be certain to invite me along!

Regards,

H

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The Micromanager’s Guide to the Galaxy

Micromanagement

Classically Educated is dedicated to showcasing the largest number of different interesting subjects possible, so we’d be remiss if we didn’t visit the business world every once in a while – after all, a great number of our readers spend most of their waking hours working in an office setting.

The last time we explored the business world, we didn’t exactly focus on best practices and financial wizardry, but instead attempted to identify the dumbest management fads ever.

Perhaps the time has come to do a serious article on business, and explore the trends in… oh, who am I kidding.  There are plenty of excellent business books and blogs to get the good stuff, and the errors are so much more entertaining.

So today, we’ll take a look at the most irritating piece of semi-human fauna one will ever encounter within the workplace ecosystem: the micromanager.  Micromanagement is probably the easiest way to kill any budding buy-in and creativity, both of which are undesirable, because it means that people in the company are treated as adults and have freedoms that many managers are afraid of.  So, in the spirit of making companies a little less threatening to insecure managers, we proudly present a list of the things that make an effective micromanager.

1) Things must be perfect to be released.  There used to be a sign on the wall in Facebook’s offices that said “Done is better than perfect”, which embraced change and gave employees tacit permission to make mistakes in the name of progress.  A good micromanager will always endeavor to act precisely the opposite way.  Things must be perfect, and personally reviewed at least five times by the manager in charge before being released in beta versions.  And employees must be constantly reminded that perfection is the only acceptable result.  If this delays projects constantly and causes missed deadlines, so be it.  There is no replacement for perfection.

walmart deli equipment

2) Some people insist that process is king.  A good micromanager knows that these people are wrong.  Process is not king…  process is GOD.  Strict adherence to processes and regulations is much more important than any positive results that might arise from stepping out of the process structure.  And if any activity within the company is identified as having too few processes, then it must be brought up to standard.  This is especially true if there is a manager who believes in delegating and allowing his people to use their own judgement in charge of that activity, and is doubly true if the department is successful, and therefore undermining the spirit of process-as-God that is being imposed in the rest of the company.

3) Meetings are important.  They are important for two reasons: the first is that everyone must be aligned and agree to follow the process and to iron out all the details regardless of agreed-on dates.  The second is that only in meetings can a micromanager get everyone together to talk about tiny details that they may or not be directly involved with, instead of having people focus on the big stuff first.  That is an important point because, as any good micromanager knows…

Priorities Cartoon

4)  There is no such thing as priorities.  EVERYTHING is equally important.  You cannot have perfection if people insist on doing “important” stuff first, or if sales says irresponsible things like “it’s a billion dollar deal, and all I need is a couple of documents – send me whatever you have right now”.  These people clearly have no sense of proportion and are dangerous to the company.  Be strong and steadfast and never forget rule number one.

5)  Words are important, and only have one meaning.  It is a micromanager’s sworn duty to stop any conversation, no matter how seemingly productive, if another person uses a word that isn’t exactly descriptive of what is being discussed, ESPECIALLY if the meaning is “close enough”.  We’ve talked about this here on CE before, but it’s especially important in a business setting.  People who don’t use exactly the right word are heretics who probably care more about results than about process, and must be corrected – publicly if possible.  Job titles, of course, must be defined with utter precision, because if someone confuses a senior assistant with a junior analyst, it is quite possible the world will end*.

So there you have it!  All you have to do is follow these five simple rules, and the world will work precisely as you wish it to while you are at work.  Even if you are not a manager, they are useful, as who can possibly argue against perfection and precision?  No one will, at least not to your face!  And what you don’t know can’t hurt you, right?

And don’t forget that if you like our Facebook page, you will never miss a post… unless you want to or it irritates you or something.

* And no one wants that unless the proper forms are filled, in triplicate.

PS: a true micromanager will be rereading this post looking to see if all the formatting is correct.  Please don’t fail us!

About Humor

Humor

We’ve convinced Baron H, our only undead blogger (we actually believe he’s unique anywhere on the internet…), to allow us to use this piece for Classically Educated.  Needless to say, we enjoyed this one almost as much as we liked the one on party eras (BTW, we’re cooking up a second party era post – the Baron has been telling us stories of ancient times again)!  His topic today is humor… but we won’t go with the obvious “gallows humor” theme, of course.  We’re much too mature for that.

 

Greetings,

Every time I talk about humor, I’m asked whether an ancient vampire really ought to be broaching the subject. After all, there are few things less funny than a monster who eats people unapologetically.

This is simply untrue. Being alive (or undead if you prefer) for so long means that the centuries can seriously drag if you don’tmanage to find something to laugh about. In addition to this, vampires tend to be brilliant (evil, of course, but brilliant), and a lack of humor has always been the hallmark of the weak-minded and insecure. One might almost say that it is an exclusively human trait.

There are some groups – particularly militant groups in extremist causes (or, even worse, causes that are “just”) – who seem to be unable to spot the fact that they have, through the spewing of rhetoric, become caricatues of themselves. We all know who they are in today’s world, and I’m not going to turn this into a fight about specific issues, but I was extremely well-placed to watch them in earlier ages.

So, without further ado, I give you the five people (or groups) with the least sense of humor in recent history:

Temperance Movement Carrie_Nation

5) The Temperance Movement in the United States. I was already ensconced within my Park-view apartment in the years before Prohibition was enacted, so I was able to observe first hand the behavior of the members of the Temperance Movement. There is a strong temptation to say that this movement was made up of dry, dusty old bats, but – being a vampire – I have too much respect for bats.

Let’s just say that these are the old maids and parish preachers who created the template for activism in the US, and are probably responsible for keeping alive the tradition that people can only be completely right or completely wrong, and those in the wrong are to be vilified.

Despite being completely ridiculous (a free country under Islamic prohibition of alcohol?), they were completely unable to see the humor in their actions. They were clearly people who needed a drink.

Catherine_II_on_horse

4) Catherine the Great. Most of my time in Russia was spent in the years just before and during her rule. Russia is something of a humorless place at the best of times, but things got a bit extreme when Catherine was on the throne.

The main issue is that the one thing we all wanted to do is to publish an anthology of jokes about the fact that she’d deposed her own husband to gain the throne. Some of the jokes were classics, all of them were off-color, many were about the horse, and poor Peter III did not come out of them looking good (of course, he’d been killed in the deposing, but that just made it better). If Catherine had had any sense at all, she could have secured her legacy by allowing these volumes to be printed.

Or perhaps, if Peter was really that bad in bed, she should have agreed to marriage counseling.

Mussolini's pants

3) Benito Mussolini. After the passing of the eighteenth amendment, I moved back to Europe, just in time to watch the ascension of fascism across the continent. While that kind of thing was natural enough among the orderly Germanic tribes, or plodding agrarian Spaniards, it simply did not work for Italians.

Italians, you see, are not fascists. They are not communists. They really don’t care about politics one way or the other. They care about wine and seafood and sun and love.

So picture poor Mussolini. Here he was with a shiny new dictatorship, trying to convince people to wear khaki shorts and march in lockstep, and here was everyone else, worrying about cars and olive oil. Not a situation designed to make him feel secure on his throne, and one that completely robbed him of any sense of humor. I don’t think he wanted to get involved in the war, but was unable to stand it when the Germans laughed at him because he didn’t have a Poland to play with.

It’s always possible, however, that he was just tired of people making fun of his pants.

Stalin's Mustache

2) Joseph Stalin. Same war, opposite band, and yet another Russian who had a complete inability to laugh at himself. Find an old photo of the man and look at that mustache.

Did you laugh? Of course you did. So did I. It’s impossible not to laugh at that mustache.

He sent me to Siberia for it. In winter. There were three entire Gulags filled only with men and women who’d been unable to control their mirth at the lip foliage.

Which brings us, finally, to…

The Spanish Inquisition

1) Torquemada.

This one is personal.

Torquemada is my big disappointment of the list. He had so much potential, so much to live for. Some of his methods were new to the world, of a cruelty I had never seen in all my centuries. He was my one true friend among the people on this list, and one of the few mortals I (or any vampire) could truly learn from and admire.

But just when I thought he was a force to be reckoned with, he showed an apalling lack of a sense of humor. It so happened that, after a long night of gambling for alcoholic forfeits with his undertorturers, a sinister group of hooded men who would have been excellent poker players (the hoods made it impossible to read their tells), we decided to set fire to Torquemada’s carriage, drive it around the complex and then sink it in the moat.

Oooh, boy.

Anyone with an ounce of humor would, eventually have realized that it was hilarious, wouldn’t he?

Oh, well. As far as I know, I’m still considered a fugitive from the inquisition. The humor of it is that, in this case, everything they’re accusing me of – and much more – is completely true.

So, I’ll see you soon,

H