David Bruce: The Funniest People in Books, Volume 3 — Activism, Advertising, Advice


• Norman Mailer was an activist, among his many other activities. During the Cold War, he was arrested in New York for civil disobedience when he appeared with 1,000 other citizens to protest a law requiring people to go to fallout shelters whenever an air raid drill was held. When the air raid drill siren sounded, many of the protesters unfurled umbrellas that bore the legend “Portable Fallout Shelter.” Mr. Mailer was also a parent. At the Elliott Bay Bookstore, he once did a reading. Afterward, he signed many books. In line with a parent was a boy. Mr. Mailer talked to the boy and asked him if he could do something for him. The boy replied, “You could help me with my term paper.” Mr. Mailer laughed, then said, “Oh, no, my son already asked me, and I told him no, too.”

• Some people really take politics seriously. Jack Huberman, a Canadian, became an American citizen so he could vote against George W. Bush in the year 2000 election. Mr. Huberman is the author of the books The GOP-Hater’s Handbook: 378 Reasons Never to Vote for the Party of Reagan, Nixon and Bush Again (published in 2007) and The Bush-Hater’s Handbook: A Guide to the Most Appalling Presidency of the Past 100 Years (published in 2003).


• In 2007, a notable hoax was perpetrated by the publishers of the Lemony Snicket books, which are subtitled “A Series of Unfortunate Events.” In this hoax, a new organization, the “Happy Endings Foundation,” was set up in order to promote happy endings in books for children. According to the foundation, “[S]ad books are bad books.” Therefore, members of the foundation wish to get rid of the Lemony Snicket books, even employing two gerbils to shred such books. The hoax was successful, being written up in some book blogs, and of course it garnered even more publicity for the Lemony Snicket books after journalists began writing that it was a hoax. As hoaxes go, this one was clever, and I encourage more hoaxes such as this, even though it may mean encouraging more shameless publicity for books that are so famous and so often purchased that they don’t need it.

• A few decades ago, advertising copywriter Edward S. Jordan wrote an automobile advertisement designed to appeal to women (aka “girls” in the first half of the 20th century) who loved the outdoors: “It’s a wonderful companion for a wonderful girl and a wonderful boy. How did we happen to think of it? A girl who loves to swim and paddle and shoot described it to a boy who loves the roar of the cutout.” Lots of letters from women poured in and praised the ad. A woman from West Park, Ohio, wrote this letter: “I don’t want a position with your Company. I just want to meet the man who wrote that advertisement. I am twenty-three, a blonde, weight 130. My wings are spread. Just say the word and I’ll fly to you.”


• Daniel Handler is often thought to be the real Lemony Snicket, author of the children’s book series called A Series of Unfortunate Events; however, Mr. Handler says that he is merely Mr. Snicket’s representative. For example, he often appears at book events that Mr. Snicket is supposed to appear at but does not. One day, Mr. Handler appeared at an event and said that an exotic bug had stung Mr. Snicket in the armpit, thus keeping him from appearing in person. To prove that this had happened, Mr. Handler bought the exotic bug — trapped in a glass — with him. He also gave the children who had hoped to see Mr. Snicket in person some excellent advice designed to keep them from ever having an exotic bug sting them in the armpit: “Never raise your hand, especially not in class.” By the way, Mr. Handler’s parents understood how to get him to read. They would read to him at night a suspenseful story and stop reading when they reached a cliffhanger. Then they would leave young Daniel with strict instructions not to turn on the light and read after they had left. Of course, young Daniel would turn on the light and start reading as soon as his parents had left — as they knew he would.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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Music Recommendation: Leslie Pereira & The Lazy Heroes — “Sweet Summer”


Music: “Sweet Summer”


Artist: Leslie Pereira & The Lazy Heroes

Artist Location: Los Angeles, California

Record Company: Big Stir Records

Record Company Location: Burbank, California

Info: “Big Stir Records presents the finest music from the global pop rock scene on CD, vinyl and digital downloads. Based in California and featuring artists from the US, UK, Sweden and Germany, BSR also curates a weekly Digital Singles Series, hosts live shows in the US and UK, and publishes Big Stir Magazine. Pop outside the box with Big Stir!”

Leslie Pereira & The Lazy Heroes have also released the album GOOD KARMA.

Price: $1 (USD) for track; $10 (USD) for 10-track album

Genre: Pop. Indie Rock.






Big Stir Records


David Bruce: The Funniest People in Books, Volume 2 — Work


• Isaac Asimov died at age 72 on April 6, 1992, after having published 477 books. Actually, since he had completed several books that had not been published at the time of his death, and since some collections of his short stories and essays have been published since he died, the number of books he has written or edited and published is now over 500. How could he write that many books? Well, for one thing, he wrote seven hours a day, seven days a week, not taking time off for holidays or weekends. He once said, “All I do is write. I do practically nothing else, except eat, sleep, and talk to my wife.” Don’t feel bad for him — he was doing what he loved: “I am so ill-rounded that the 10 things I love to do are write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, and write. Oh, I do other things. I even like to do other things. But when asked for the 10 things I love, that’s it.”

• Comedian Phyllis Diller was much influenced by the book The Magic of Believing by Claude M. Bristol. It gave her so much confidence that when she was fired at the San Francisco Purple Onion by Keith Rockwell as a result of some intrigue by other people, she didn’t grow angry at him; instead, she told him, “That’s OK. I don’t really need this job to make my way in the world of comedy. You gave me my start, and that’s enough. Don’t worry about me; I’ll be fine.” Mr. Rockwell was used to being screamed at by the people he fired, and Ms. Diller’s gracious response to being fired impressed him so much that a few days later he re-hired her.

• Eve Arden was married to actor Brooks West, with whom she starred in many theatrical productions. After World War II, Brooks was having a tough time getting his career as an actor established again, so his friend the novelist John Steinbeck came to the rescue. He told Brooks, “I have noticed that when actors sign a contract, they always seem to be offered another job right away. So I have drawn up a contract between us that I want you to sign.” Mr. Steinbeck then had Mr. West sign a joke contract. It worked — soon after, Brooks was offered a real contract.

• Author Jane Yolen started her writing career as a journalist (the play about talking vegetables that she wrote in the first grade doesn’t count), but she quickly discovered that she needed to do creative writing. She admits that she used to cry when she interviewed “poor people in terrible straits,” and she admits that she used to make up facts. This, of course, is something that a journalist (except perhaps for those “journalists” writing in sensationalist supermarket tabloids) cannot do.

• William Peter Blatty used to write comedies such as Blake Edwards’ A Shot in the Dark for Hollywood in the 1960s, but the market for these movies dried up, so he wrote the horror novel The Exorcist, then turned it into a screenplay. Of course, The Exorcist became a great horror movie and made him famous. Later, when Mr. Blatty was mentioned as a possible author for a comedy screenplay, a movie studio head was astounded: “William Peter Blatty! The guy who wrote The Exorcist? You want me to hire him for a comedy?”

• Before becoming a science fiction writer, Anne McCaffrey worked as an advertising copy layout artist for Liberty Music Shops. While in an elevator, she heard a salesperson tell actress Tallulah Bankhead that a new record player could play up to four hours and a half of music. Ms. Bankhead often played romantic music on her record player, so she turned to her boyfriend and asked mischievously, “Dahling, do you think that will be long enough?”

• Before becoming famous as the author of the Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling was the worst secretary ever. At meetings, she would sit and take notes — but the notes weren’t about the meeting, they were about plot ideas and characters. Another reason she was frequently fired was that she typed her manuscripts while she was supposed to be working.

• Roald Dahl, the author of the noted children’s book Matilda, had a hut in which he did his writing. The hut was filled with mementos of his life, including a big ball made out of foil that had wrapped the many chocolate bars Mr. Dahl had eaten throughout his adulthood. The hut also included a memento of one of Mr. Dahl’s operations: his hipbone!

• Caryll Householder, author of This War is the Passion, once worked as a cleaning lady, but unfortunately she was afraid of mice. Part of her job was to take dead mice out of traps, but rather than do that herself, she paid the cooks to do it. The bribes took up most of her salary, so she quit her job.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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Music Recommendation: The Incredible Sucking Spongies — “Barracuda”


Music: “Barracuda”

Album: OUT NOW!

Artist: The Incredible Sucking Spongies

Artist Location: Belgium

Record Company: Green Cookie Record

Record Company Location: Thessaloniki, Greece

Info: “The Incredible Sucking Spongies is an instrumental combo originated in 1997 in the city of Antwerp (Belgium). Their repertoire is rooted in surf music but combines influences that go far beyond the limits of the genre, resulting in an infectious and original sound. Besides the Spongies originals they also present often obscure covers. Over the years they built up a notorious live reputation, but they only released 1 limited edition album themselves in 2003: LET THERE BE SURF!”

“The last few years, the band was put on hold mainly to focus on different side projects, but now they’re back in full effect with new material and a new vinyl album on Green Cookie Records. Check it out!”

Filip Borms (bass)

Jan Peeters (guitar)

Dirk Van den Berge (guitar)

Dirk Van Rosendaal (drums)

Price: €1 (EURO) for track; €6 (EURO) for 10-track album

Genre: Surf Instrumental




Green Cookie Records


David Bruce: Travel, War, Work


• Authors are — of course — very proud of publishing their first book. When physician Joseph K. Shija published his first book, which was about pediatric surgery, he flew home to Tanzania. When the customs official asked him if he had anything to declare, Dr. Shija raised his book in the air for everyone to see and declared that he had published his first book!


• When children’s mystery writer Joan Lowery Nixon was a teenager, World War II was raging, and one night while she was asleep the Coast Guard fired at what they thought was a Japanese submarine. The next day, her grandmother told her, “I stood here at our bedroom window and watched the bullets trace red lines across the sky. I was terrified. I didn’t know if we were being attacked or we were defending ourselves.” Ms. Nixon was disappointed at not being woken up because she had missed an exciting part of history, but her grandmother explained, “It was a school night. I wouldn’t wake you on a school night. You’re young. You need your sleep.”

• When Stan Berenstain (co-creator of the Berenstain Bears books with his wife, Jan) was a child, he knew that his left eye was much weaker than his right eye; however, he also knew that he was right-handed, so it made sense to him that he must also be right-eyed, and so he never told his parents about his weak left eye. By the time his weak eye was discovered in an eye examination, it was too late to correct the weakness in that eye. As an adult soldier in World War II, for a while he served with other soldiers who were blind or nearly blind in one eye. These soldiers were known informally as the “one-eyed battalion.”

• The creators and writers of M*A*S*H interviewed many, many Army physicians in order to get material for their show, and of course they learned much that they would not have thought up on their own. For example, sometimes in Korea it would be so cold that when a physician made an incision for an operation and steam would rise up from the opening of the patient’s body the physician would warm his hands in the steam. This fact was used in an episode in which a journalist interviewed the physicians and other people of M*A*S*H.

• The Hon. Hugh Fraser, the husband of Lady Antonia Fraser, author of The Weaker Vessel, was a soldier who parachuted into occupied Belgium. She once complimented him on his courage for doing that, but he replied that it would have taken much more courage for him to tell his sergeant that he wasn’t going to jump.


• When he was a young man, Daniel Keyes, author of “Flowers for Algernon,” worked as a waiter for a luncheonette and ice cream parlor, which was owned by an eccentric man named Mr. Sohn. This eccentric man would do such things as take sugar dispensers, salt shakers, and ketchup bottles off the tables and hide them behind the counter — this was an over-reaction to an unfortunate day during which a practical joker had put salt in the sugar dispensers and sugar in the salt shakers. Mr. Sohn also was convinced that someone was stealing his flatware, so he would take the flatware and also hide it. Of course, customers expect such amenities as salt, sugar, ketchup, forks, spoons, and knives, so the waiters had a real problem. However, they figured out what they had to do to provide good service. They used to hide flatware in their pockets and wherever else they could put it, and they figured out ways to distract Mr. Sohn so that their confederates could liberate the sugar dispensers, salt shakers, and ketchup bottles.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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Music Recommendation: Mark Malibu & the Wasagas — “Monster on the Loose”


Music: “Monster on the Loose”


Artist: Mark Malibu & the Wasagas

Artist Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Info: “They are Canada’s original Surf Punks.

“They first existed from 1979-1982. They were teenagers who  formed out of the ashes of a band called the DeGeneRats. They played with many new-wave and punk bands, confusing audiences everywhere. 

“Considered a touchstone of the Toronto surf scene, they reunited in 2014.”

Mark Malibu: Electric & Acoustic Guitars, Organ 
Stiv T: Drums: Percussion 
Sharny: Bass 
Wavy Davy: Guitar 
Blue Suede Sue: Go-Go 
Son of Swankenstein: Bongos & Bananas 

“All songs written by Mark Sanders except ‘Questioningly’ by Dee Dee Ramone, Johnny Ramone, Joey Ramone, and Tommy Ramone.”

Price: $1 (USD) for track; $10 (USD) for 14-track album

Genre: Instrumental Surf.


Mark Malibu & the Wasagas on Bandcamp




David Bruce: The Funniest People in Books, Volume 2 — Relatives, Reporters, Television, Travel


• Humorist H. Allen Smith once received this letter from two soldiers in Florida: “There is a guy here, a first sergeant who calls himself William Smith, eternally a son of a b*tch beyond belief. This lying b*stard enrages us constantly by claiming that he is your brother. It may not seem important to you, but you ought to do something about it, stop this insufferable jerk from claiming relationship with you.” Unfortunately for the two soldiers, H. Allen Smith couldn’t do anything about the situation — the “insufferable jerk” really was his brother, a highly able soldier.

• In 1969, Judy Blume received a letter from a company that wanted to publish her picture-book The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo. Of course, she was extremely happy, so she ran into her young son’s playroom and danced around while tossing his playthings in the air. Ms. Blume’s young son’s playmate ran home and told her mother, “Larry’s mother is crazy.”

• When author Peg Bracken was growing up, she and her brother sometimes raided the cookie jar. Understandably, their mother did not want them to ruin their appetite before supper, so sometimes young Peg and her brother would find this note inside the cookie jar: “KEEP YOUR BIG MITTS OFF!”


• When a new reporter began to work in Washington, D.C., seasoned editors used to tell the reporter that a press conference was being held to announce the name of the Unknown Soldier. Of course, no such press conference was ever held, but some of the best and most dogged reporters Washington would ever know spent hours trying to track down the name of the Unknown Soldier before they understood that they were the victims of a practical joke.

• Newspaper editor Horace Greeley believed that the word “news” was plural. One day he telegraphed a reporter, “ARE THERE ANY NEWS?” The reporter telegraphed back, “NO, NOT A SINGLE NEW.”


• The Mary Tyler Moore Show was ground-breaking in its day, but very quickly the much more controversial series All in the Family arrived, and writers for All in the Family felt that The Mary Tyler Moore Show dealt with fluff. Bob Weiskopf, a writer for All in the Family, once told his writing partner, “The Mary Tyler Moore Showgot wind of the fact that we’re doing a two-parter on abortion. They’re retaliating: they’re doing a three-parter on mayonnaise.”

• The scripts for The Dick Van Dyke Show were very good — the writers wanted to do their best work for the series. In the five years of the series, only one script was ever rejected. Ten people were at the reading of the script, and after the script had been read, 10 scripts were flung into the air. Series creator Carl Reiner then picked up a script gingerly by a corner and dropped it in a wastebasket.


• When Helene Hanff went to London, she visited several authors’ homes, including those of Charles Dickens and of John Keats. Valerie Grove then showed her the house belonging to John le Carré, author of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. While they were looking at the outside of the house, Mr. Carré himself came out. Ms. Grove said, “That’s him!” Ms. Hanff was properly impressed and replied, “That was something. They showed me Keats’ house, but they never showed me Keats.”

• In The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain wrote about visiting the Mosque of Omar and other interesting sites in the Holy Land. He writes, “Just outside the mosque is a miniature temple, which marks the spot where David and Goliath used to sit and judge the people.” In a footnote, Mr. Twain explains, “A pilgrim informs me that it was not David and Goliath, but David and Saul. I stick to my own statement — the guide told me, and he ought to know.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


The Funniest People in Books, Volume 2 — Buy

The Funniest People in Books, Volume 2 — Kindle

The Funniest People in Books, Volume 2 — Apple

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The Funniest People in Books, Volume 2 — Kobo

The Funniest People in Books, Volume 2 — Smashwords: Many Formats, Including PDF