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At work I have the task of reviewing books and then writing short, pithy reviews that normally say nothing more than what a book is about or why I liked or disliked it. The parameters of my reviews are tight; limited in such a way that I never get to say what I really want to express because of fears something might be said that offends a patron. I understand; I really do. But when did we get so cloistered in our thinking? When did it become wrong to review a book in a manner that truly reflects what the book did (or didn’t do) for the reader? Steve Martin’s 1977 comedic, absurd romp, CRUEL SHOES, has got me thinking about all this. Why would I review a book older than me that has long been out of print? The answer is simple: We have forgotten how to laugh. Life has gotten awfully serious as of late: wars; the economy; natural disasters all over the world; and even the obsession of the Big Three (in Miami) has worn thin. We never stop and flip to the funnies anymore. Why? Laughter is the one constant throughout any tumultuous time period. Okay, to the book. Yes, it is dated. Yes, some of the vignettes are so convoluted and abstract that it is hard to understand some of the points, but every one of the episodes has a flavor to it. If you’ve every read Barry Yourgrau’s A MAN JUMPS OUT OF AN AIRPLANE, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Nevertheless, each abstract thought lends something to the reader. Reading this book is almost like watching Seinfeld. Sometimes it really is about nothing at all; sometimes it’s overtly funny. Look hard enough, and the moral-lesson-thought presents itself. Basically, it’s about laughing. At yourself. At life. And at life’s impractical unpredictability. I leave you with this:The Gift of the Magi Indian GiverCarolyn wanted so much to give Roger something nice for Christmas, but they didn’t have much money, and they had to spend every last cent on candy for the baby. She walked down icy streets and peered in the shop widows. “Roger is so proud of his shinbones. If only I could find some way to get money to buy shinbone polish.”Just then, a sign caught her eye. “Cuticles bought and sold.” Many people had told Carolyn of her beautiful cuticles, and Roger was especially proud of them, but she thought, “This is the way I could buy Roger the shinbone polish!” And she rushed into the store.Later at home, she waited anxiously as Roger came up the steps of their flat. He opened the door and wobbled over to the fireplace, suspiciously holding one arm behind his back.“Merry Christmas!” they both said, almost simultaneously.Roger spoke. “Hey, Nutsy, I got you a little something for Christmas.”“Me, too,” said Carolyn, and they exchanged packages.Carolyn hurriedly opened her package, staring in disbelief. “Cuticle frames?! But Roger, I sold my cuticles so I could afford to buy you some shinbone!”“Shinbone polish!” Roger said, “I sold my shinbones to buy you the cuticle frames!” Roger wobbled over to her.“Well, I’ll be hog-tied,” Carolyn said.“You will? Oh, boy!” Roger said. And it turned out to be a great Christmas after all.Laughter, my friends, laughter.

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