I was in high school when my mother handed me a newspaper and said, "You should read Dave Barry. He's really funny. You'd like him." So I did just what she said, because that's just how teenagers are. They do just what their parents want. Of course I didn't read that paper! I couldn't. Even if I had reason to believe she might be right about him, I couldn't let her know that. Duh.
So it wasn't until I was in college that I "discovered" his writing. And I loved it. It's possible that I even had the lyrics of his Tupperware song as my answering machine message for a brief time (hopefully that's doesn't violate any copyright laws, or if it does, that the statute of limitations has passed on that).
So when I heard that he had a new book coming out this month, I had to know more. His latest non-fiction offering, Best. State. Ever.: A Florida Man Defends His Homeland, is his defense of everyone's favorite punchline. From the Twitter feeds of Florida Man and Florida Woman, which show a steady stream of Florida's weirdest and stupidest criminals, to the news headlines that make us all cringe and laugh (often at the same time), Florida is easy to mock these days, and Dave Barry is not amused. However, he is amusing as he joins in the fun, stands up for his home state, and takes us on a fun-filled tour of some of the top tourist spots in the state. Mermaids, psychics, alligators, and sponges--Florida has it all, and Dave Barry has seen it, drank beer, and then shared it all with us in that droll but respectful way he has. I knew Florida was weird before I read this book, but now I feel like it's also wonderful, and I might be tempted to visit if that didn't involve putting on real pants and going into the outside.
But here's the thing about Dave Barry. He doesn't just write non-fiction. He also writes fiction, including The Worst Class Trip Ever, the story of an eighth-grader and his friends who stumble into major shenanigans while on a class trip to Washington D.C.
I am a fan of well written middle grade fiction, and one of my personal book kryptonites is a novel written in first person by a strong narrator. Wyatt Palmer is one of those strong, honest, funny narrators that I could read all day long.
But there is something that I struggle with in Barry's fiction, at least the (admittedly small number of) novels of his that I've read. The story starts out strong and interesting, and then it veers toward slightly improbable, and by the end finds itself in a swamp of the wildly impossible. I can't seem to stop my eyes from rolling as I make my way to the end of the book, knowing that any other author would never be able to get away with the plot twists he comes up with. I still enjoy the books, but they're not as easy to love as the non-fiction.
In short: read Dave Barry. Non-fiction or fiction, it will be worth your time. Even when he's at less than his best, he's still funnier than most.
Uncorrected proofs for Best. State. Ever. were provided by the publisher through NetGalley.com.