So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Side Effects. Woody Allen

Side Effects is a collection of short humorous essays written by Woody Allen 30 years ago. It is his third book and still very funny. Much of the humor is based in New York and Jewish cultural idioms with a sprinkling of mock intelligentsia - all with the neurotic, self-absorbed, and insecure point of view that he made famous.

The first piece, "Remembering Needleman," is a satirical take off on scholarly obituaries. Only Woody Allen would think of bringing marshmallows to a cremation and to donate the ashes to a university for research.

"The Condemned" takes a humorous look at Elie Weisel's Dawn where a man must decide whether to kill a truly evil person.

"By Destiny Denied" is 7 pages of notes for an 800 page novel that was never meant to be written.

"The UFO Menace" is Allen's take on the existence of UFOs.

"My Apology" puts Woody Allen in Socrates' place as he faces death by hemlock.

In "The Kugelmass Episode" the protagonist finds a magic way to cheat on his wife by going back in literature to have an affair with Emma Bovary.

In "My Speech to the Graduates" we find Allen's philosophy most succinctly spelled out: "We are a people who lack definite goals. We have never learned to love. We lack leaders and coherent programs. We have no spiritual center. We are adrift alone in the cosmos wreaking monstrous violence on one another out of frustration and pain. Fortunately, we have not lost our sense of proportion."

"The Diet" explores the insecurities often associated with working in corporate America. A person only identified as F. deals with his work problems by taking control of the only thing he can - his food intake.

"The Lunatic's Tale" is about a successful doctor who is driven crazy by his love for two different women. The ending is right out of a 1950's sci-fi movie.

"Reminiscences: Places and People" is composed of one-page memories of Brooklyn, New Orleans, Paris, Mexico, and a meeting with a famous author.

In "Nefarious Times We Live In" we are taken inside the mind of a person who attempts to assassinate a president.

"A Giant Step for Mankind" takes a humorous look at scientific research. How do scientists develop techniques like the Heimlich Maneuver for dinner table choking? See the actual research journals here.

"The Shallowest Man" reads like a Hasidic fable set in modern New York about death, love, and caring.

"The Query" is a short play in which Abraham Lincoln tells a joke that changes his life and saves the life of another man.

"Fabrizio's: Criticism and Response" treats the restaurant review as scholarly criticism, complete with reader responses.

"Retribution" reads a bit like the movie Annie Hall with ideal romance thwarted by human foible.

Woody Allen fans will love the book. Others will find some classic Allen humor that is still delightful to read, if neurosis, problematic human relationships, and death are things you like to read about.

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