Assume the Worst

In fourth grade Sister Eugene Marie taught us to lower our expectations. When you Assume the Worst – the title of a hilarious collaboration between Carl Hiaasen and Roz Chast – you won’t be disapppointed. Sometimes, you might be happily surprised.

In their “Graduation Speech You Will Never Hear,” Hiaasen offers his humorous advice, accompanied by Roz Chast’s signature illustrations.

Among my favorite lines:

“….when the ignorant outperform the attentive—dimness triumphs. The result is that we end up with dangerously unqualified leaders, and then sit around disconsolately hoping the worst of them will be taken down by scandal or maybe an exploding prostate…”

“Stupidity is a real-world pandemic from which there’s no refuge, even at college. Each year, on prestigious campuses from coast to coast, no small number of diplomas are handed out to young men and women who barely scraped by.” (accompanied by Chast’s diploma for a Bachelor of Existing.)

“Spending all your waking hours doing only what feels good is a viable life plan if you’re a Labrador retriever…”

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Starting the New Year Going Into Town with Roz Chast

After Roz Chast entertained me with her clever graphic novel about her aging parents in “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant,” I couldn’t wait for her next installment of graphic humor, but her Going Into Town, a Love Letter to New York had me thinking I should carry the book with me the next time I visit the city. Not only are the illustrations and text hilarious, the chapter on how to use the subway could be very useful for my directionally clueless nature.

With her signature New Yorker comic strip art and her East Coast conversational style, Chast takes the reader from a basic layout of Manhattan, through “stuff to do…food…apartments” and all the practical basics for living, surviving, accessing Manhattan.  As promised, this is not a guide for tourists (although some might find it helpful) but an insider’s manual – “some maps, some tips…Nothing too overwhelming” created for her daughter, a freshman in college in Manhattan.  

Lately, I’ve been reading historic tomes full of man’s inhumanity to man, and it’s lovely to start the new year with a funny and optimistic view of one of my favorite cities. Might be a good new year’s resolution to read more like this.

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

9781608198061_p0_v13_s260x420We all die eventually, right?  And, with a little luck – or not, depending on our state of health – we may live to a very old age.  But most of us would prefer to be in denial about death, old age, debilitating illness, and any talk about the inevitable future. Roz Chast, cartoonist for The New Yorker, addresses these uncomfortable issues with grace and humor in her graphic novel/memoir – Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

If you have lived through the agonizing ritual of watching your elderly parents decline and die, Chast’s comments may offer some comfort when you realize you are not alone in your conflict of resentment vs caring.  Issues of her parents’ slow decline, their resistance to change and to any discussion about change, despite their increasing inability to manage ordinary tasks – are handled with poignant humor.  I laughed out loud at some of Chast’s punch lines, but also cringed a little at how close she had come to knowing how I had felt when dealing with my own 94 year old mother.  Could it be Chast has discovered some universal truth about aging daughters with elderly parents?

Whether or not you have experienced Chast’s story of watching her parents age well into their nineties and die, her story of human behavior and parent-child relationships has the notes of humor, nostalgia, guilt, and love easily relatable to anyone.  You may be crying at times – but mostly you will be laughing – maybe at yourself.  Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?  has that Dr. Seuss quality of delivering truth with a good dose of reality, as you smile through the drawings and words of wisdom.