December 14, 2006


Try Rebooting Yourself: A “Dilbert” Book. By Scott Adams. Andrews McMeel. $10.95.

New Math: Equations for Living. By Craig Damrauer. Andrews McMeel. $9.95.

     Scott Adams has been having a very tough time of it in his personal life.  He developed a rare ailment that virtually prevented him from speaking for a time, although he seems partially to have recovered; and his drawing-hand problems became so severe that he had to find a way to create his Dilbert strips entirely by computer.  But Adams, one of the most successful cartoonists in history, has managed to keep his personal travails entirely separate from his cartoon world: Dilbert is as fresh, funny, pointed and eerily accurate in its depiction of the modern large-company office environment as always.  The 28th Dilbert collection, Try Rebooting Yourself, actually does contain a one-of-its-kind sequence in which Adams draws himself (about as well as he draws everything else).  It starts with him addressing his readers, saying that he is about to draw an unfunny panel because so many people have requested it, then finding himself in succeeding strips trapped in the Dilbert world – which Adams proceeds to model loosely (very loosely) on the film version of The Wizard of Oz (he eventually gets out after repeatedly saying, “There’s no place like my home office”).  The rest of the book – which includes a bonus page of eight color stickers of Dilbert and his cubicle-dwelling cohorts – is the usual Adams weirdness rather than the unusual kind.  Characters who seem as if they work just two cubicles down from you keep popping up: Medical Mel, whose endless ailments here include an intestine trying to escape his body; a Cubicle Cockroach; a new hire called Sourpuss, who says such things as, “People say the glass is half full, but they don’t say of what”; a giant dung beetle to gather up victims of downsizing; Vijay, the world’s most desperate venture capitalist, who cannot stop throwing money at bad ideas or no ideas; and many more.  Then there are the usual suspects, of whom the most entertaining is frequently Dogbert – who here provides tech support (or nonsupport), invents “an external antidepressant” that used to be called pepper spray, leads a seminar on dealing with difficult coworkers (concluding that “the only way to deal with them is to quit your job and become a syndicated cartoonist”), and guides Dilbert through “the land of unrealistic business assumptions.”  All this lunacy works because it is not mere cleverness – the real-world connection is amazingly strong.

     Craig Damrauer, on the other hand, only thinks he has found a real-world connection in New Math, which is strictly a cleverness-for-its-own-sake book.  It’s worth a (+++) rating as an offbeat stocking stuffer, but it’s one of those little books that you zip through in 10 minutes, chuckle at here and there, and then forget.  Damrauer simply casts various elements of life into the form of mathematical equations, whose quality is hit or miss.  For instance, “Rat = (Mouse x 4) – Cute” seems to make an obvious point (although people do keep fancy rats as pets).  “Disappointment = Expectation/Reality” seems somewhat sensible, and “Dog = Cat + Loyalty” is funny, if scarcely a new sentiment.  But Damrauer does not always follow math’s logical principles, even in fun: “Deadbeat Dad = Paternity/Responsibility” should really be “Paternity – Responsibility.”  And before considering New Math as a stocking stuffer, take note of this equation: “Santa Claus = The Tooth Fairy + 250 lbs.”  New Math is ultimately a case of “Occasional Outstanding Cleverness – Outstanding.”

No comments:

Post a Comment