Alphabet Juice by Roy Blount Jr. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Sarah Crichton, 364 pages, $25). I love Roy Blount. I think you should, too. He makes you laugh out loud -- a lot (every couple of pages in this book). Human laughter comes in all sizes, colors, flavors and states of emotional dress, from outraged ("The Daily Show") to infantile (Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck) to raunchy and lowdown ("Californication.") Blount elicits the laughs of generosity and enlightenment; it's the spectacle of a fellow citizen maintaining benevolence while still remaining better and more straightforward than the rest us. (How exactly did our three candidates for Twainhood -- Blount, Vonnegut and Keillor -- get to be such decent chaps, given the darkness of their inspiration?)
His subtitle in this sui generis carnival is this: "The Energies, Gists and Spirits of Letters, Words and Combinations Thereof: Their Roots, Bones, Innards, Piths and Secret Parts, Tinctures, Tonics and Essences; With Examples of Their Usage Foul and Savory." Which tells you exactly what the book is: a bunch of etymologies, pensees, gags and syntactical principals imparted in alphabetical order by a "word man."
What is "alphabet juice" one might well ask? "The quirky but venerable squiggles which through centuries of knockabout breeding and intimate contact with the human body have absorbed the uncanny power to carry the ring of truth." Look up truth on Page 309, as Blount recommends, and you'll find a wonderful joke I'll wager anything you've never encountered before.
That's the way you're going to read this book and Blount knows it, hopping around with happy grasshopper energy from word entry to word entry so that you "wear it out, thumbing back and forth without ever being sure you've read it all."
Which, says Blount, is the way he wrote it.
-- Jeff Simon