August 11, 2022


Calendars (page-a-day for 2023): Church Signs; Never. Give Up.; You Might Be a Redneck If…; Scrabble. Andrews McMeel. $16.99 each.

     Many desktop/tabletop calendars – the ones designed with pages to be torn off each weekday and once per weekend as the year advances – rely on illustrations for their attraction: comics and cartoons, animal photos, etc. Some, though, focus entirely on words, using identical or nearly identical visuals on each page and letting the verbiage-of-the-day carry you through from day to day, week to week, month to month. These are not calendars chosen for their decorative value but for their ability to make you think, or chuckle, or analyze, or otherwise contemplate what is said rather than the surroundings within which it is put forth. Church Signs is a perfect example. Every page looks like one of the old-fashioned church signboards still seen in many areas – the pages are not identical, but they are so close to each other in appearance that the art is certainly not the reason anyone is likely to want to have this calendar to accompany the coming year. It is the thoughts on the pages, like those on real-world church signs, that are this calendar’s reason for being. Many of them are decidedly churchlike if you think about them for a moment: “We manage life savings,” and “Worry not who you are but whose you are.” Others are amusing in a way that bridges the sacred and the secular: “May is God’s apology for February,” and “The longer you carry a grudge the heavier it gets.” Some are admonitory: “Seek respect, not attention,” and “Never mess up an apology with an excuse.” Some require a moment’s thought: “Some people spend a lifetime climbing a ladder only to find it’s up against the wrong wall.” And an occasional one is actually a bit puzzling if you don’t stop to think about it: “And on the eighth day, God said, ‘Okay, Murphy, you take over.’” (Hint: “Murphy’s Law.”) The manner in which these thoughts are displayed may be virtually identical each day, but that scarcely matters: it is words that are the main attraction here – so those who find church signs congenial, or simply like epigrammatic expressions with a mostly religious bent, will enjoy Church Signs throughout 2023.

     Of course, for each particle there is an anti-particle, and in contrast to a mostly inspirational calendar there must be one that is decidedly un-inspirational. And indeed there is, although the official title chosen by creator Elan Gale is “unspirational.” This is the daily-thought calendar called, for 2023, Never. Give Up. That title encapsulates both the sentiment (or un-sentiment) of the offering and one of its approaches. The words – displayed against somewhat varied but always neutral backgrounds that are not in themselves a reason to own the calendar – take the notion of pithy inspirational messages and turn it on its head. Or its rear. Or somewhere. And sometimes that is done with a technique as simple as inserting that period between the word “never” and the words “give up” – since the inspirational version of the comment is the well-known “Never give up,” without internal punctuation. In fact, a good deal of the material here turns common sayings in a different direction: “You should absolutely judge a book by its cover. It’s literally the cover of the book.”  Other items offer suitably skewed personal advice: “Your significant other is wishing you were with someone else.” There are occasional forays into contemporary issues, such as the COVID-19 pandemic: “Wearing a mask forever because I believe in science and I’m ugly.” But most of the material here is timeless, such as “In case of emergency: panic.” There are references to family matters: “Your mom wants the time she put into raising you back.” And there are general life lessons, or un-lessons: “Never do today what can be put off and left undone forever.” And there are plenty of opposite-of-inspirational notes: “Believing in yourself is the surest sign of insanity,” and “Don’t compare yourself to others. You’re not as good as they are.” The comments here always stop short of actual cruelty – they are more of the slightly-sardonic type – but they certainly offer a good alternative to the formulaic and rather treacly “positive thinking” quotations so beloved of businesses and self-proclaimed inspirational thought leaders.

     For those seeking a good alternative to business-style (and typically urban) humor – and not afraid to poke a little fun at themselves or at one of the few remaining groups of people at whom it is acceptable to poke fun – there is the 2023 version of Jeff Foxworthy’s You Might Be a Redneck If…  The ellipsis in the title is the point (you might not be a redneck if you know what an ellipsis is). Every page here, each of them showing Foxworthy in the lower right-hand corner, fills in the remainder of a sentence that begins with the calendar’s title. Among the many “possible redneck” completions here are “you celebrate Dog the Bounty Hunter’s birthday,” “you’re running an extension cord from your home to a shipping container,” “you’ve ever blown up mailboxes with your kids,” and “the only thing upstanding in your family is a TV antenna.” Quite a few of the entries this year revolve around food and drink, including “you’ve ordered French fries with sushi,” “you carry your own ranch dressing with you everywhere,” “your favorite wine merchant is Circle K,” and “you think you are bilingual because you can recite the Taco Bell menu.” Most of the entries, though, are just paeans (you might not be a redneck if you know what paeans are) to a kind of rural lifestyle that persists in folklore, comedy clubs, and maybe even real life here and there. That means there are sentence completions including “your weed eater has hooves and horns,” “your hair sees more bleach than your toilet bowl,” “your favorite style of architecture is double-wide,” “you share bandanas with your dog,” and “you drive with one foot out the window.” For fans of this particular calendar, the fact that it is never mean-spirited means a lot – as does the reality that some of its notions are genuinely funny, such as “your tire swing has a cupholder.” In these days of political correctness and self-proclaimed woke culture running amok (you might not be a redneck if you know what amok means), this calendar could be just the right choice to balance all the outrage and media shrillness in a salutary manner (you might not be a redneck if…you get the idea).

     One thing that just about all the words in all these word-focused calendars have in common is that they could be used in Scrabble by someone who happened to draw exactly the right tiles at exactly the right time. The Scrabble calendar for 2023 has the same look every day – letter tiles from the game on a plain background – but a design that differs in predictable ways throughout each week. The calendar is primarily intended for Scrabble fanatics, but is fine for people who just love word play and letter rearrangement in any form. Every Monday and Thursday, seven letter tiles are offered with the question, “How many words can you make?” There are lots of words that can be created each time – the letters AETUEAR, for example, can make no fewer than 49 Scrabble-valid ones, the highest-scoring of which would be the seven-pointer aureate. Answers to the Monday and Thursday word-making questions are given on the back of each day’s page. On Tuesdays and Fridays, the calendar offers vocabulary expansion: unfamiliar words that are valid in Scrabble and worth remembering in case you pick up the letters to make them. Examples in the 2023 calendar are zincky (“resembling zinc”), groszy (the plural form of the Polish coin grosz), bathyal (“pertaining to deep water”), and qophs (plural of the Hebrew letter qoph, and one of the few acceptable English words in which Q is not followed by U). Wednesday calendar entries offer only one letter – the idea on that day of the week is to find five things that start with that letter. And weekends offer an unscrambling challenge: seven or more letters are given and need to be re-formed into a word, such as KRIEHNG turning into “gherkin,” NIEDEBZ becoming “bedizen,” and VAMDIPI re-forming as “impavid” – with all the unscrambled words, no matter how obscure, being valid in Scrabble play. And while it would be somewhat churlish toward other calendars to point out any errors in them, in a calendar focused on Scrabble it can be fun to hunt for mistakes and have an occasional “aha!” moment. Thus, one weekend Scrabble entry for 2023 has BIIMLCU becoming “umbilici,” but the sharp-eyed Scrabble player (or dedicated editor) will notice that the calendar offers seven mixed-up letters and the unscrambled word contains eight. The remainder of the fun with this entirely word-focused calendar is left as an exercise for Scrabble devotees.

No comments:

Post a Comment