June 19, 2008


Thank You for Being You. By Bradley Trevor Greive. Andrews McMeel. $9.99.

Unknown Worlds!
By Revilo (Oliver Christianson). Andrews McMeel. $12.99.

Nuts for Racing: A StockcarToons Book.
By Mike Smith. Andrews McMeel. $9.99.

Flanders’ Book of Faith.
By Matt Groening. Harper. $9.95.

      Small gift-size books, whether hardcover or paperback, can be fun in a variety of ways, as these new examples show. Thank You for Being You is the latest entry from the cuteness factory of Bradley Trevor Greive (he doesn’t call it that, but that’s what it is). The book successfully follows the BTG formula of combining remarkable animal photography with clever verbiage that speaks directly to humans. In this case, the theme is friendship, and the idea is that this book would be a fine gift for a very close friend whom you have never gotten around to thanking enough for his or her value to you – a sort of extended greeting card. It’s a nice one, too, thanks to Greive’s usual skill at matching photos and words. “Now, I don’t want to appear needy” accompanies a wonderful picture of a baby monkey clutching a duckling. “Thank you for all the little things you have done to make me smile” goes with a close-up of a fish that does seem to be smiling. “Thank you for getting me revved up and excited about all the possibilities life has to offer” appears under a photo of a dog apparently driving a toy car, with a cat hanging onto the car’s side. Yes, the charms of the book are of a treacly sort, but if you want to get sentimental about a good friend, this is a fine way to do it.

      Nothing sentimental about Unknown Worlds! – which is subtitled “A Collection of Paranormal Cartoons.” Cartoonist Revilo (“Oliver” spelled backwards) goes where no man or woman has gone before, or would probably want to. His best single-panel cartoons are really funny: “The Urban Wolfman,” skulking along in embarrassment while carrying a pooper scooper; a vampire asking a pharmacist for SPF 40,000 sunscreen; a witch bemoaning the fact that her brew “never tastes the same when you cook with frozen newt.” But other cartoons fall rather flat: a severed head on a pole saying “Frankly, I’d rather be in Cleveland”; a “car pool” into which automobiles have driven themselves; “Little Known Facts About the Yeti,” such as that they “actually smell quite good.” There’s fun here, but it’s not all fun.

      The amount of fun in Nuts for Racing is directly proportional to the NASCAR involvement of the reader. Mike Smith’s book is strictly for the speedway crowd. For every panel that will make sense to the casual reader – an arrow pointing to “lug nuts” on a car’s wheel and another pointing to “mixed nuts,” the unruly fans tossing cans onto the racetrack – there are half a dozen or more that will be meaningless if you don’t know the players. One labels the Talladega Superspeedway “the second largest oval in NASCAR” after the huge open mouth of a caricature labeled “Stewart” (driver Tony Stewart, a frequent Smith target). Several are about there being “something that’s just not right” about Toyota in NASCAR. There’s one about the movie Crash with the comment that it must have to do with Kyle Busch’s aggressive driving, and one about a fan’s disappointment that the film Sideways did not turn out to be “about racing at Bristol.” There are plenty of in-jokes here and not many for-anyone jokes.

      The same is true for Flanders’ Book of Faith, which is only for fans of The Simpsons who enjoy watching Matt Groening poke fun at Homer’s faith-is-everything neighbor, Ned Flanders. This book, the eighth release in The Simpsons Library of Wisdom, contains the Flanders Family Tree, a series of Ned’s answers (or refusals to answer) kids’ questions about religion, a page on “Maude Flanders, late mate and mother of Ned’s little kididdles,” plenty on those “kididdles” themselves (Rod and Todd), and so on. A few pages are really funny, such as “A Comic Book of Virtues,” in which Ned’s kids hold him as strictly to Scripture as he tries to hold everyone else; and “Neddy No-No’s: Words Forbidden in the Flanders Home,” such as woodpecker, organ, peephole, erect, cockapoo and Lake Titicaca. There’s also a very amusing “Homer Simpson’s Dream Church,” which includes a Holy Water Slide, Baptism Wave Pool and “Costumed Church Mascot: Howie, the Holy Mackerel.” A mild level of enjoyment of The Simpsons is all you need to have fun with the best of these pages; for many of the others, though, near-fanaticism is a near-necessity.

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