A collection of essays that have their subjects determined by the letters of the alphabet doesn’t sound particularly like the groundwork for an enjoyable read, but comedian Charles Demers manages to make it so in The Horrors: An A to Z of Funny Thoughts on Awful Things.
We are now in a new age of political correctness that causes us to feel some guilt laughing at certain topics, such as Nazis and depression — both of which are covered in this book, but Demers shifts the focus from the actual subjects to his own experiences with them. This takes away the awkwardness and guilt of the laugh that sometimes slips out in response to a tasteless joke.
That is not to say that these essays don’t deal with difficult topics; it is, after all, in the book’s subtitle that these are awful things. But Demers manages to inject humour into the entire awful alphabet. The more difficult entries such as “M for Motherlessness” are equal in hilarity to entries like “G for Golf.” This is a talent that Demers manages to make seem effortless.
The most refreshing change came not from Demers’ candid and honest thoughts on a whole host of political, social, and personal issues, but from his entry for the letter X. He chose not to write about a xylophone, an x-ray, or xenophobia (though he did touch on this in the essay), he picked xanthan gum: a seemingly innocuous food additive that is in everything from salad dressing to bread. He focused less on this strange product, and more on the food industry itself. Given the current state of food labeling, this essay is both timely and relevant and seems like it will prove to be for some time.
The collection also maintains a strong sense of continuity throughout. Beginning with “A for Adolescence” and ending with “Z for Zzz,” Demers builds from the previous letters. So although you can quite easily open the book to a random letter and enjoy whichever essay you stumble across, you run the risk of not getting the full picture if you don’t read the preceding letters of the alphabet.
All in all, Charles Demers’ The Horrors: An A to Z of Funny Thoughts on Awful Things is a must read. It acknowledges that life isn’t always rainbows and unicorns; it recognizes that sometimes life just plain sucks, but also that this is okay. There are really only two options: laugh about it or cry about it. Demers chooses to laugh, and, if given the opportunity, you should laugh with him.