Make a list of American icons. Under "media," the inclusion of Mad magazine would be an undeniable must.
The satirical magazine dates to 1952, when publisher William Gaines' and editor Harvey Kurzman's visions of a satirical comic book (later a magazine) became a reality.
In the decades that followed, Mad's editors, writers and cartoonists spared no person or institution in the cultural landscape. They made fun of everything, and there were no sacred cows including the magazine's staff itself. In Mad's best years the 1970s its monthly circulation was 2 million-plus.
Mad is celebrating its 60th anniversary with the upcoming hardbound "Totally Mad: 60 Years of Humor, Satire, Stupidity and Stupidity" (Time Home Entertainment, $35, 256 pages; on sale Oct. 30).
It's a compilation of its "high-quality idiocy" from past issues, organized by decade. Included is a removable set of 12 classic Mad covers "suitable for framing or wrapping fish." Also included is an explanation of its mascot, in a chapter titled "Who is Alfred E. Neuman?"
The introduction is a hilarious exchange between political satirist-actor Stephen Colbert and Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report" writer Eric Drysdale.
Thumbing through the coffee table book, we found parodies of the movies "Rocky" ("Rockhead"), "Saturday Night Fever" ("Saturday Night Feeble"), "Lord of the Rings" ("Bored of the Rings"), the "Family Circus" cartoon strip ("The Dysfunctional Family Circus"), the "Desperate Housewives" TV series ("Disparate No-Lives") and so on.
Included too are samples of Mad's regular features "A Mad Look At ", "Spy vs. Spy," "Great Moments in History," "Scenes We'd Like to See," scathing parodies of TV and print advertising, and the distinct, remarkably twisted cartoon strips of the late Don Martin (a.k.a. "Mad's Maddest Artist").
Quick Martin story, from 1972: A writer at the Miami Herald learns that Martin, his wife and their young children have rented a house in Key West for the summer. The writer drives there and interviews Martin, who unexpectedly refuses to allow the photographer to take a family portrait to run with the story.
What to do? Feeling guilty and thinking quickly, Martin draws lifesize faces of his cartoon characters on posterboard, cuts them out and makes masks. He and his family wear the masks for the photographer's portrait, which runs in the Herald's Sunday magazine, Tropic, with the writer's interview.
Author for foster youths
One of the surprise hits of 2011 was "The Language of Flowers" by former Northern Californian Vanessa Diffenbaugh (Ballantine, $155, 352 pages). It's a literary tale involving a young woman who grew up within the foster-care system, and who uses the expressions and meanings of flowers to help others and, finally, to help herself.
The author will be the keynote speaker at the United Way's 11th annual Women in Philanthropy Luncheon to benefit local foster youths. The event will begin at 11:30 a.m. Oct. 15 at the Crocker Art Museum, 216 O St., Sacramento; (916) 808-7000.
The flower-themed event will include a fashion show, lunch, and presentation and book-signing by Diffenbaugh. She will share her experiences of raising a foster child.
She is the founder of the Camellia Network, whose mission is to "create a nationwide movement to support youths transitioning from foster care" (www. camellianetwork.org).
Tickets are $100 at www.yourlocalunitedway .org/wiplunch. Information: (916) 856-3913.
The Sacramento Public Library's One Book Sacramento programs continue with a discussion of "Proud Americans: Growing Up As Children of Immigrants," with author Judie Panneton. The book is a collection of stories about the joys and struggles of coming of age in the United States.
Panneton will explain how children of immigrants bridge to American ways, their translators and their support systems. They have fought to live independent lives while being true to their families' roots and expectations.
Discussions are set for:
6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Robbie Waters Pocket-Greenhaven Library, 7335 Gloria Drive, Sacramento.
6 p.m. Oct. 17 at South Natomas Library, 2901 Truxel Road, Sacramento.
2 p.m. Oct. 20 at Arden-Dimick Library, 891 Watt Ave., Sacramento.
Details: (916) 264-2920, www.saclibrary.org.
Pick of the month
It's 1905. The lovely and brilliant Jane Porter is the only woman in Cambridge University's medical program. The "budding paleo-anthropologist" dreams of world travel in a quest of fossils that will prove the wild evolutionary theories espoused by her hero, Charles Darwin.
Jane gets her chance with an unexpected trip to West Africa, on an expedition into the heart of darkness.
Yes, she finds danger and deceit there, but above all she finds the love of her life Tarzan.
"Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan" by Robin Maxwell is the imagined first-person tale of the independent, strong-willed woman who left civilization for a life of adventure in a jungle Eden (Tor, $25.99, 320 pages). Get to know Jane and you'll fall in love with her, too.
Not coincidentally, this year is the centennial celebration of Edgar Rice Burroughs' first Tarzan novel, "Tarzan of the Apes." "Jane" was authorized by the Burroughs estate.
Quick hits, nonfiction
Wish you had more to read? You need a quick nonfiction consultation:
"Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores" by Jen Campbell (Overlook, $15, 188 pages): Collecting contributions from booksellers to her blog site, the author compiled this off-the-wall offering. As in
"Do you have any sea-monkey food?"
"I'm looking for some books on my kid's summer reading list. Do you have 'Tequila Mockingbird'?"
"Where's your 'true fiction' section?"
"Did I leave my bicycle in here?"
"Joie de Vivre: Secrets of Wining, Dining and Romancing Like the French" by Harriet Welty Rochefort (Thomas Dunne, $24.99, 320 pages): The American author spent 40 years in France, observing the Gauls' sense of enjoying the moment.
She came away convinced they can teach us Americans a thing or two.
Here, she offers signposts for finding life's happiness without pursuing it.
"Books to Die For: The World's Greatest Mystery Writers on the World's Greatest Mystery Novels," edited by John Connolly and Declan Burke (Atria, $30, 560 pages): The editors best- selling Irish crime novelists include essays by 100 authors, such as Michael Connelly on Raymond Chandler's "The Little Sister," and Kathy Reichs on Thomas Harris' "The Silence of the Lambs."
Somewhat academic, but if you love mysteries
"Burn This Book," edited by Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison (Harper, $12.99, 118 pages): Weighing in on "the meaning of censorship and the power of literature" are some heavyweights: Salman Rushdie, John Updike, Russell Banks, Morrison and others.
"The Art of Procrastination" by John Perry (Workman, $12.95, 112 pages): The philosopher-author assures us we can "accomplish a lot by putting things off." He calls it "structured procrastination." Hmm. Maybe we'll read his book tomorrow. Or next week
"The Trivia Lover's Guide to the World" by Gary Fuller (Rowan & Littlefield, $16.95, 288 pages): The geographically challenged can now navigate the world (maybe) with help from Fuller. He uses trivia questions to help us understand what is where, and why.
Speak, writers, speak
The Sacramento branch of the California Writers Club will hold an open- microphone event at 7 p.m. Friday at Barnes & Noble, 6111 Sunrise Blvd., Citrus Heights; (916) 853-1511.
It will give writers the chance to read their work aloud and listen to the writings of others.