101 Two-Letter Words, by Stephin Meritt, Illustrated by Roz Chast
Throughout this book the author makes allusion to himself as some kind of rock star because apparently he was in a band I’m not familiar with called the Magnetic Fields. This book is certainly amusing, in a juvenile sort of way, but it is written by a first-time author who thinks himself to be a lot more clever than he is. Still, if you are looking for a book that appeals to someone’s inner child that features a lot of jokes about sex, as well as vampire dogs and zombie people, as well as a great many jokes about life force and Scots English , this book is certainly one that can be appreciated as long as you don’t take it too seriously. In fact, the less seriously you take this book, the better you will likely think of it. I found the book at least mildly amusing myself, as some of the poems are particularly amusing and some of them are just crude, although those are likely the ones the author himself is most amused by, as it appears that his sense of humor is not far removed from that of a ten year old boy.
In terms of its contents, this book is very consistent. Every one of the 101 two letter words from aa (a type of lava) to za (an abbreviation for pizza, apparently) that is acceptable to use in Scrabble is given an illustration as well as a four-line quatrain with an ABCB rhyme scheme, and organized in alphabetical order. This book therefore exists on several levels that are likely to be popular to the young–for one, this book is at least somewhat educational in that it provides useful words for word games that children may be fond of playing and can play with better skill after reading a book like this. Besides the worth as far as games are concerned, these short words are useful vocabulary to pick up, whether ae (one) is interested in learning about words relating to music or short words that are used in English but that come from origins as diverse as Yiddish and Chinese. The images are generally entertaining and at least a few of the words appear as running gags throughout the book, like the ai, a three-toed sloth from Brazil. If you want to laugh at this while reading poems devoted to em and en dashes and other short words, you can certainly do far worse than this book.
One of the better aspects of this book is that it appears that there was a certain amount joy that went into writing this book. This carries into a certain amount of joy that can be taken from this book by the reader. For example, the poem about oe (wee) contains Scottish jokes, as do several of the words here, while another poem included takes a look at the world from the point of view of The Wizard of Oz’s Toto. During the course of writing this book the author’s dog died and some of the poems reflect the point of view of someone who is deeply fond of animals and finds them to be very suitable to joke about. As the poems themselves show a sometimes warped sense of humor, it is best to take them as skewed and not to read too much into them, although the author has a lot to say about sexuality, making jokes about bisexuality (bi is one of the two letter words) as well as even a bestiality joke about a woman having an affair with an ai. Thus, this is a book that many readers will probably enjoy a bit less than the author enjoyed writing it, as the case is when a writer makes jokes that are not necessarily humorous to every audience.
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