...busting up my brains for the words

Friday, November 11, 2005

Mommy knows worst

As promised, here is my review of James Lileks' latest book, Mommy Knows Worst; Highlights From the Golden Age of Bad Parenting Advice. I gave a copy to my mother and got myself my own copy, too. As far as I know, all of this humorist's books are similar to this one. It's choc full of illustrations, photos and clippings. The original item is presented and then the author riffs his wry spin on the item.
Lileks is in his element when he's interpreting pictures. That's his schtick in much the same way that telephone conversation is Bob Newhart's schtick. The author has a keen eye. If men are visually oriented, then Lileks is gifted with 20/20 hindsight. He is able to immediately grasp any significance of a picture, find the comic angle and then put his wacky humorous insights into words for maximum laughability, or at least, for enough effect to turn one corner of your mouth into a grin.
The author sets the tone for this book by placing near its beginning, a picture with this caption; "Do not kiss me....or I will strangle you with my giant monkey-feet". When I'd first seen the picture of this infant, I just saw a picture of a baby. But after reading Lileks' take, I revisited the picture and yes, by God he's right. That baby does indeed have giant monkey-feet! Poor kid. I hope it received the proper corrective surgery. But I wonder if that surgery was performed by a doctor or a veterinarian. Maybe the kid is now in the San Diego Zoo. Lileks doesn't say, but he's got plenty of other funny observations. The heart of the book is Lileks' mixture of outrage and bemusement over the audacity of generations of baby doctors who'd thought they knew something about baby care but were completely and absurdly wrong in more ways than we should have to know. They thought that babies should be placed face down for sleeping. They thought that the rays of direct sunlight were good for extended and repeated periods of time. They never thought to advise the invention of and use of seat belts in cars. On and on and on, Lileks presents laughably false notions that baby doctors had as well as obvious harmful do's & don't do's. For instance, the experts advised new parents, in Lileks' words; To sum up what we've learned thus far; Give the baby air and don't stun it with opium.

In one inspired moment, the author transmits his warning to the hapless mothers of yesteryear;
Mom! This is the future! Hello! THEY DON'T KNOW WHAT THEY'RE TALKING ABOUT!

No review of this book would be complete without mentioning the graphics. Lileks is a modern geek but he is also very much a retro freak. This book is very beautifully illustrated with brilliant color and reproductions of mostly 50s and 60s design. It's fun to look at and it's funny to read. This was an excellent distraction for me, as my arm is broken, I'm dealing with constant low-level pain and it was possible for me to read it in my condition in ways that reading something more demanding, like
say Friedrich Nietzsche, would not. This is an excellent book for people who are bedridden and need to be cheered up. But others would enjoy it, too.
My mother has finished reading it, as well. I asked her of her thoughts. She reports that the book is fairly accurate. She remembers these inept pieces of advice from the years when she was raising six children. Of course, she knew that some of that advice was absurd even back then and did not follow all of it, even though the "experts" urged parents on. But there are some pieces of advice in this book that were entirely unknown to her. So far as humor goes, my mother didn't find herself all that much amused by Mommy Knows Worst. She doesn't remember having a Laugh Out Loud moment in her read and she commented to me that Bill O'Riley's book was funnier. This doesn't surprise me very much. Lileks' humor is almost always rather gentle. His comic sensibility is for my generation much more than for my mother's.

This reminds me of a realization I'd had whilst reading this book. It plays quite a bit like an issue of Mad Magazine; Illustrations. Glib, irreverent commentary on the illustrations. Wackiness.

This is not your mother's Oldsmobile. If Lileks is your cup of tea, I can recommend this book. It's funny and it's educational. That's a useful combination, even if you're not a mom.


Post a Comment

<< Home