A pair of funny books recently hit our office’s (virtual and wooden) shelves: Brian Abrams’s e-book And Now…An Oral History of “Late Night with David Letterman,” 1982–1993 and Stephin Merritt’s 101 Two-Letter Words, a hardcover featuring illustrations by Roz Chast. The books share the Lowbrow Reader’s coveted, Oprah-esque stamp of approval, the phrase “Letter,” and little more. Let’s check ’em out!
New York is in an eerie and mildly depressing state. Joan Rivers and Lou Reed have left the planet; Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera have left the ballpark; Philip Roth has left his writing desk; and in a few months, David Letterman will be leaving the television. We turn to younger generations to replenish our stock of heroes—the pressure is on, Generation Y! But first, we can salute the outgoing idols. And Now…An Oral History of “Late Night with David Letterman” gets in early with Letterman adulation. The book examines not Letterman’s current CBS show but its wildly influential precursor, which ran on NBC between 1982 and 1993. Abrams (a Lowbrow Reader contributor) talks to an army of Late Night writers, guests and machers, narrating the creation and execution of the program that essentially redesigned the talk-show mold. It is being published as part of Amazon’s Kindle Single series.
For more than two decades, through his various recording projects—most famously the Magnetic Fields—Stephin Merritt has proven himself one America’s most consistent and funny songwriters. Somehow, 101 Two-Letter Words (a title that seems fodder for a Top Ten List) is his first book. Few Merritt projects come into the world without a set of strict conceptual rules. This one? Each spread features a four-line verse about one of the two-letter words allowed in Scrabble, alongside an illustration by Roz Chast, the New Yorker cartoonist. The author and illustrator are unlikely bedfellows. Chast’s work is about motion and hysteria; Merritt is still, deadpan and monochromatic. Yet this is a smart pairing, with Chast’s illustrations helping the writer’s quiet jokes scream. Here is Merritt on the favored two-letter word of our grandparents:
“Oy gevalt! Oy vey! I often
wish I spoke Yiddish;
but then I’d have to eat chopped liver,
and gefilte fish.”