Wednesday, September 9, 2009
The Snark Handbook
Got snark? I do! Right here in my hot little hands ... thanks to my dear friend Lawrence Dorfman, author of the definitive "reference guide to verbal sparring": The Snark Handbook.
Larry and I go way back. He's been making me laugh for 34 years and counting. I'll be away for part of this week, helping to celebrate the book's publication. The launch party will take place at The Owl Shop in New Haven, CT tonight. I can't wait! While I'm gone, I thought it might be fun to introduce you to both Larry and his hilarious new book.
I sent Larry a list of interview questions last week, then we sat down to chat about them over the phone on Saturday morning. By the end of call, I was laughing so hard I could barely type as he offered his views on the latest food trends. Today, I present my interview with Larry for your reading pleasure. Consider it an appetizer, if you will, something to whet your whistle and leave you craving more ... and you will crave more. Happily, there's a cure for that: its called The Snark Handbook and I recommend it, highly!
Why Snark? Why now? Are we living in a particularly snarky age?
We are. I think we've become a much more jaded society after the bubble of the 80's and 90's burst. People started to get nastier while at the same time formed little survivor cliques to shield them from life's onslaught (jeez, feels biblical, no?) ... anyway, snark has always been a way of including those around you who are smart in a private joke at the expense of others. Yes, it's a little mean but so what? It's stunning the amount of ridiculous stuff that comes out of people's mouths these days. Snark calls them on it.
I love that The Snark Handbook discusses the etymology of the word; I had no idea it was used prior to, say, 1999! Is there a difference between being sarcastic and being snarky?
Snark is more a tone that's taken when you combine sarcasm and a snide remark. I like that definition, the combination of "snide" and "remark". Sarcasm can be gentle - snark is usually not so kind. But it's definitely funnier ... usually. Sarcasm can also be more obvious, while snark takes some thought - you have to be smart enough to "get it", you have to be quick to the punch line. I've tried using snark in a bar and gotten dead silence ... then 5 minutes later the light bulb will go off and someone will say: "oh, now I get it!"
As I've said, you and I go way back ... and you were snarky before I'd ever even heard the term. Is the talent for snark innate? Were you born snarky?
I was born smart. Snark came right after. In my family, it was all about making my father laugh, who could make my father laugh? So, in some sense, my skills were honed in the family, around the table. I've always loved the well-turned phrase, the bon mot, the clever remark, the put-down ... plus, I watched a lot of movies. My grandmother loved movies, she used to play piano for silent movies. When we would go to visit her, she always took us to the movies - sometimes as many as three in a weekend. My favorites were always ones where there was clever banter, like the Marx Brothers comedies or those Cary Grant films. Or television shows like Get Smart, that was written by Mel Brooks. I loved the witty banter.
I'm only half-way through the book and, so far, one of my favorite pieces of snark is the lifeguard line from the "Work" chapter: "I used to be a lifeguard, but some blue kid got me fired." Do you have a favorite piece of snark? Do you collect them ... like flair?
I tend to like the political snark best, followed closely by what I call the "complicated snark". One of my favorites is a Maugham quote that goes: "She plunged into a sea of platitudes, and with the powerful breaststroke of a channel swimmer, made her confident way towards the white cliffs of the obvious".
The cut-to-the-quick snarks are also favorites, like "if you're looking for sympathy you'll find it between shit and syphilis in the dictionary", a David Sedaris quote.
As for collecting, I hear it all the time and think I should write it down for a second Snark book ... but then I remember JAWS2 and change my mind.
I'm a visual geek, so I have to comment on the book's design: its extraordinary! Can you tell me a little bit about the design? Clearly you were going for a particular kind of look - which you achieved in spades, by the way - was there a reason for that?
The deal I made with my publisher, astute business man that I am, is that, as they weren't going to pay me much money, I get to say what I want regarding the specs. And they went for it.
I wanted something that looked like a hardcover but was affordable, an impulse item for a low price. I also wanted it to be "cool" and well-designed - I wanted it to look like something I would buy. It was sort of done on the cheap but it's all in knowing where to look. The illustrations are from Shutterstock and cost very little. I found these great pen and ink drawings from the mid-1800's (no royalties - the artist is dead) that really worked as chapter headers. It was eerie, almost like kismet, how it all came together.
My brilliant editor, Ann Treistman, came up with the idea of the "ticker tape" at the bottom of the pages and pushed for textured paper in a slightly off-white color. She had this vision that the book should be almost like a bible, or an old-fashioned reference guide, something that readers could refer to again and again. That was the look she envisioned. Ann also pushed for the two-color aspect and I think printing the jokes in red is a great touch. The main thing was, I didn't want to put crap out there and I think we succeeded. Thank you, tho.
Let's talk a little about "The Masters of Snark"; certainly, Groucho Marx would have to be near the top of the list. Fran Lebowitz qualifies as well ... who would you add to the list?
Well, I love the literary folk (go figure) ... Dorothy Parker, Gore Vidal, Ambrose Bierce, many others, they're all in the book. Today, people like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are way at the top. The TV shows of Aaron Sorkin were always loaded with snark and I would say one of the reigning queens has to be Tina Fey. 30 Rock is just chock full of snark. At the core, it's all smart, not just mean. I was never a Don Rickles fan and those celebrity roasts did nothing for me (although I like Sarah Silverman for many reasons besides her brilliant wit). Oscar Wilde has got to be there, too.
What's next for you? (As an author.)
I have a cigar book I'm working on. Cigars and snark are a match made in heaven (besides Churchill, Groucho, George Burns, W.C. Fields and countless others), cigars really allow you a great prop for accentuating the occasional snark. I also love 'em. And so many people hate them with the heat of a supernova so it makes the setting for some great snark banter. It was originally going to be called the SNARKY CIGAR LOVER but there's a lot of "real" info in it, so it'll probably be called something else. I hope to keep the package design though.
The only problem with having written The Snark Handbook is that now I'm under pressure to snark. I've set a high bar for myself. If I say something and it's not snarky enough - people call me out on it ... like your husband. We had an email exchange and he got snarky with me for not being snarky enough! The bar has been set high.
Since I'm running a food blog here, care to share your latest food obsessions? Are you snarky about food?
I'm really down on HELL'S KITCHEN. I like Ramsey, but I think the producers have chosen the most idiotic, untalented chefs in America to be on that show. It's like watching a train-wreck ... you can't take your eyes off it. Who do I hate more this week? The Whoopi Goldberg wannabe or the stoner with the broken arm? I get that it's television, but come on ... these people would have trouble serving a prison sentence, never mind serving dinner.
I'm glad we've gotten away from foam.
I'm a little over the term "field to table". It's gotten ridiculous, like it's a license to charge absurd amounts simply because its "field to table". What I'm really into now is "field to floor" ... they just haul the food in from the farm and dump it directly onto the floor, then I get down on all-fours and eat it. No table, no fork, nothing ... its very holistic.
At a certain point, burgers are either good or terrible ... I could care less who's got "the best".
I thought the farmer's market meant better prices? I was at the Union Square Market last week and the everything was so expensive. The prices were crazy. I keep having this vision of an old-time farmer on his porch, ya know, overalls, flannel shirt, a piece of straw dangling from his mouth ... and he's waiting for his limo to arrive. Farmers have become the new rock stars ... somebody's got to pay for all the limos.
Pork rocks. RP and I shared an amazing maple glazed, slow-roasted pork at Caseus recently, served with cornbread and collard greens ... it was brilliant.
HUGE thanks to you, Larry, for taking the time to do the interview. I laughed, I cried from laughing, it was a blast!
As for my readers, what more can I say except: go out and buy the book. The Snark Handbook is more than just a collection of the world's greatest snark, its a manifesto, a call-to-action, if you will. Plus, its a damn good read. As Larry says: "if you don't laugh at least 50 times, I haven't done my job." Trust me, he's done his job.
I'll be back on Friday. Cheers!