Jason Brenner, From the Boardroom to the Bathroom: Ramblings on Life by a Typical 24-Year-Old Male (Writer’s Showcase, 2000)
[originally posted 14Mar2000]
My first book review in over a month! (No thanks to Gunter Grass and E. C. Large… I’m finishing them, slowly, I promise.)
Humorous journalists, when attempting to publish a full-length collection, run into some pretty rarefied territory. Everyone knows who Dave Barry is. Everyone knows who Hunter S. Thompson is. Almost everyone knows who P. J. O’Rourke is, and those who profess not to are tree-hugging snivelling little communists who are frantically trying to rewrite history to prove that Stalin never hurt a fly and the Russians actually won World War II. (Well, okay, they did, kinda. But the analogy still stands!, as a wiser man than I once said.) How many of you know who Neil Zurcher is? Bill Cardille? Uh huh. That’s the problem with regional journalists who release books. Like cheap claimers finding themselves in the Breeders’ Cup, they’re often so outclassed that their names fade into oblivion, whether they deserve it or not.
This isn’t always the case, though. If Neil Zurcher is Ricks Natural Star (who finished dead last, and damn close to dead, in the 1996 Breeders’ Cup Turf), you can at least consider Jason Brenner as Budroyale, who was second by not-too-much in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic (burning a good $50 or so of my hard-earned greenbacks). His head was in the right place, and he proved his ability to run with the big boys, but something was missing (obviously, since it was the winner’s first win in six months and his last to date). In the case of Budroyale, I’m still trying to figure it out. In the case of Brenner, I latched onto it pretty quickly: focus.
Barry and O’Rourke put out books on one subject. We’re used to that these days, even in newspaper-article-compilations. The last really popular miscellaneous compilation book was Thompson’s immortal The Great Shark Hunt (and most of Thompson’s books, of course, are of the one-subject variety), and that came out way, way back in… I don’t remember. But it’s been a long time. Trust me on this. [ed. note 2013: it came out in 1972.] So moving from subject to subject as quickly as Brenner does here tends to jar somewhat against the skull.
This is not to say it’s a bad read. In fact, it’s a pretty good read, and I found myself laughing in far too many places to feel comfortable; I saw way too much of my own life between the beginning of college and my own twenty-four-year-old year for my own comfort. (And Jason, let me warn you: the things you realized you’re losing someday when you hit your twenty-fourth birthday are all gone by the time you’re thirty. If you’re lucky, the bastards will let you keep your sense of humor… but that’s it.) And the things I didn’t recognize, well, those are even funnier. If you don’t know how a thinking human being is capable of breaking his nose while playing a game of one-handed co-ed touch football, you should probably pick this book up. If you have a son who’s going into college soon (or perhaps grade school, these days), this should most likely be required reading, especially if you’ve been able to successfully block your own college days out of your head.
It’s also a quick read, nothing incredibly deep, which is exactly what I needed after twelve hundred pages of Günter Grass and four hundred pages of E. C. Large and his plant pathology, and since I know some of you are looking for light reads to balance out the heavy stuff on your plates this year, I’d stick this somewhere on the list– like a good sherbet, it cleanses the palate between meditations on Nazis and fungi before moving on to the plight of Jewish immigrants in turn-of-the-century New York (not that anyone else would go from Dog Years to Call It Sleep in one month–at least, not without a masochistic/suicidal bent to their personalities).
In short, although I blew that about three paragraphs ago, it’s a pretty solid debut, and once this columnist for the Hartford Courant has enough material under his belt to start doing one-subject books, it’s entirely possible that we will find ourselves looking at the new Brenner during those times, these days, when we’re torn between the new Barry and the new O’Rourke. A promising beginning. ** ½