Humor in My Writing

Do I have a sense of humor? Unequivocally, yes. If that’s so, why isn’t there more humor in my books? Or even in this blog? I’ve thought about that a lot.

In person, with people I know, I can be very funny. I tell jokes, make up puns, have (sometimes) cleverly phrased reactions to events, news stories, etc. On not infrequent occasions I tell a good joke to my students. If word hadn’t sometimes gotten out, I think people around me would never know I was a serious writer. I’m quite sure I seem like an ordinary guy, not too deep, with the normal interest in women, fast cars, sports, scotch and all the rest. I’m sure nobody knows the tears I’ve shed. Only rarely might they get a glimpse of that.

I sometimes make up bilingual jokes, particularly in French or Japanese and English. I like to have a good time. I smile easily. I’m fun, it seems. (Or stupid.) Am I hiding my seriousness? Trying to deny it? I’m really not sure, but I can say absolutely that I don’t hide it in the writing.

Of course my topic is serious—I’m trying to tear down much of the way we’ve interpreted Western civilization because it’s killing us—but that doesn’t preclude using a little humor to do it, does it? My funniest book, The Water Book, looked at water and the natural world through stories, jokes, literary anecdotes and humorous drawings (my own). The substructure of the book was serious but I tried to enhance it with as much clever and funny stuff as I could—and it was the only book of mine ever published. You’d think I’d take a hint from that and keep laying it on so that the reader would feel better entertained. But even that book didn’t sell well, so what’s the point? Add that to the fact that, as I’ve said here so many times already, I don’t actually write my books—they write themselves—so it’s hard for me to say that I’m going to try to be funnier. I’m just the guy holding the pen, remember?

In fact, when humor does emerge in my writing I say, “Well, would you look at that! It’s funny, isn’t it!” Then I pat myself on the back and move along. Maybe the writing would benefit more from such moments, but they come when they come. What this says to me is that I’m a serious individual and dead serious about what I write. Why, then, am I usually so jovial and easy-going in person? It’s a puzzle, for sure.

I’ve often thought that if I did get published more, I’d have to get out there and dance (book tours, lectures and so on) and could finally integrate my writing and my personal life. It might make me act more serious as a person, but it could just as well inject more humor (since that’s a big part of me) into my writing.

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