I have scouted out a bunch of interesting looking holiday-themed books for us this year. Every week between now and Christmas, we’ll be reviewing a holiday novel. When I found P.J. O’Rourke’s Holidays in Heck, I thought it sounded like a fun collection of short stories for the holidays. I suspect most of us have spent at least one holiday that could be described that way, and some people feel like they do that almost every year.
In case you aren’t familiar with him, O’Rourke is a bestselling author who is best known as a political humorist. I really like his very dry sense of humor, so I enjoyed Holidays in Heck. This collection is, for the most part, about his family although politics can’t help but seep into his stories. He is still a curmudgeon – if anything, even more than when he wrote Holidays in Hell a couple of decades ago. His tongue in cheek style could be easily misinterpreted by anyone who isn’t used to his incredibly dry humor, which ranks right up there with Andy Rooney’s.
An FYI: Much to my surprise, this book is very appropriately named if you live in Europe – if you live in the U.S., not so much. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a very funny collection of stories; however, they’re about vacations, not “the holidays” as most of us in the U.S. think of them.
Here are some typical O’Rourke comments from Holidays in Heck:
On airline travel: “Apparently there are rules about traveling for fun. The first rule is to find the most crowded airplane on an airline that regards its customers as self-loading freight. Bonus points if the cabin crew is jocular about this…Passengers must be very fat, hold babies on their laps, and make certain the infants are suffering from painful ear infections. Passengers should also bring everything they own onto the plane in wheelie bags and ram these into my knee as they go down the aisle…”
On the Galapagos: “Isolation allowed unusual life-forms to flourish. It’s an experiment we all made, when we were single, with Chinese take-out left in the refrigerator for six months. Interesting what happens when all the ecological niches, except the shelf the beer is on, are empty. General Tso’s chicken can develop into something that fills the whole fridge.”
On ocean diving: “Back in the Zodiac (and rather pink ourselves) we were told by our guide, ‘You’ll notice the puffer fish is particularly friendly – because it is poisonous.’ ‘Typical,’ said a Houston hostess who has to endure a lot of political fund raisers.”
On the WWII memorial in Washington, DC: “Maybe ‘Croquet Wickets de Triomphe’ is the effect being sought…The fountain pools, though lacking fish, are very fish pond-like, and these, combined with an artificial waterfall, produce a miniature golf course foreground for the Lincoln Memorial.”
On shopping: “As near as I can tell, shopping is, for women, what hunting is for men. Except that they never get to use the remote control, battery-operated electric-shock dog collar on misbehaving store owners who are supposed to be helping them hunt for antiques.”
On horseback riding in Kyrgyzstan: “In the first place, I don’t know how to ride. I can’t ride a horse up a mountain. I can barely ride a horse at all. Until shortly before doing this impression of Sir Edmund Hillary as Roy Rogers, my equestrian experience was limited to going around in circles to calliope music on a pony with a pole through its middle…Not only didn’t I know what I was doing, I didn’t know where I was doing it.”
If you’re never read any of P.J. O’Rourke’s work, you’re missing out on a funny experience. In Holidays in Heck, he goes off on everything imaginable involving the travails of traveling away from home when your home (of spouse and three children) follows you along. If you’ve read his work, you already know you’re going to enjoy this collection so you don’t need me to tell you that he’s still just as funny as you remember.
Holidays in Heck was released on November 1, 2011, so it should be available from your favorite bookseller below:
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