Between the Lines: Layers of laughter in new book from The Onion

In books, calendars and online, the bright but twisted writers and editors at specialize in satirizing world news and features in mostly hysterically funny ways. One of its best headlines was “Tenth circle added to rapidly growing hell.”

Now the paperback edition of its 2012 “The Onion Book of Known Knowledge” is out, and the laughs are coming nonstop (Little, Brown, $15, 256 pages). This “definitive encyclopedia of existing information in 27 excruciating volumes” is a parody of encyclopedia-type tomes, and requires a certain sense of humor for full appreciation.

Among its entries are these definitions: “Civil Rights Movement: A global campaign aimed at getting human beings to treat people like human beings.” “Keyboard: Block of wood into which nails are driven and keys are hung so they don’t get lost.” “‘King Kong’: 1933 Hollywood motion picture featuring a stop-motion ape puppet that somehow managed to scare a generation of people enduring the most cataclysmic economic crisis in world history.” “Kindness: Quality of selflessness or goodness that is exhibited solely so that the universe will then owe one something in the future.” “Sleep: Restful period of unconsciousness during which precious hours that could be spent building a more productive life and career are lost forever.”

Prose and lexicon

These two titles are reminders that words can be fun to play with, as well as motivating:

“Wordbirds” by Liesl Schillinger, with color illustrations by Elizabeth Zechel (Simon & Schuster, $17.99, 224 pages): Lots of chuckles and knowing nods in this “irreverent lexicon for the 21st century.” Try these definitions: “Parking spaced: To have forgotten where you parked your car.” “Earduds: Those who appear in public with headphones or earbuds clamped to their heads.” “Recognore: To pretend not to see someone you know when it might be awkward to say hello.”

“Things We Forget” by J.J. Penn (Perigree, $16, 288 pages): Sure, you can say these sticky-note formatted “little reminders of what matters most” are sappy, but you’d miss out. Consider: “An apology is a good way to have the last word.” “Arguing with a fool proves there are two.” “The ‘secrets of success’ work only when you do.” “Say it to their face or not at all.”

H.G. Wells in Strand

Strand magazine managing editor Andrew Gulli has a talent for finding and publishing lost writings by famous authors, including Joseph Heller, Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett, Graham Greene and Ray Bradbury. Now he emails a reminder that the new holiday edition of Strand contains “two previously unpublished works by H.G. Wells” in the rare book and manuscript section of the University of Illinois library.

“One is a short essay on the perils of an uneducated democracy, and the other is a short account of a typical day in his life,” Gulli said. “The ‘democracy’ article was incredible in that Wells seemed to predict the anarchy of the situation in the Middle East, where countries that are venturing into democracies are in turmoil. An interesting side note is that Reader’s Digest rejected the article, written in 1937, likely because his liberal nature irritated the editors.”

Look for Strand at Barnes & Noble and other bookstores ($6.95). To subscribe to the quarterly: (800) 300-6652 or

Gulli and his sister, Lamia Gulli, are co-editors of “No Rest for the Dead,” a serial by 26 A-list mystery writers (Touchstone, $24.99, 272 pages). Royalties are being donated to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

A mystery writer’s favorites

The editors at the industry magazine Publishers Weekly tapped Edgar award-winning mystery writer Thomas H. Cook (“Sandrine’s Case”) to name his favorite mystery novels. Consider his list as a guidepost:

“The Woman in White” by Wilkie Collins: “Much of what became standard in crime fiction was first done here, so it is not only an engaging read, but a fundamentally instructive one.”

“A Crime in the Neighborhood” by Suzanne Berne: “The ‘crime’ turns out to be far more profound and long-lasting than any single act of violence could be.”

“A Dark-Adapted Eye” by Ruth Rendell: “Psychological suspense for adults, with real people confronting real, and very dark, problems.”

“A Coffin for Dimitrios” by Eric Ambler: “From the moment (two central characters) hear of the mysterious Dimitrios, the reader is returned to the lost Balkan world that flourished between the two world wars, a boiling cauldron of expediency and deceit rendered in exquisite detail.”

“True Confessions” by John Gregory Dunne: “The novel begins with a crime based on the Black Dahlia murder, and from there steadily deepens into a work of great emotional power, complete with an unforgettable portrait of Los Angeles in the ’40s.”

“The Eye of the Beholder” by Marc Behm: “A story of obsession, with a private detective called only The Eye who follows a nameless female serial killer for more than a decade.”

“A Simple Plan” by Scott Smith: “Two brothers and a friend come upon a crashed plane in whose shattered ruins they find an enormous sum of money. The story builds steadily as the wages of sin become more and more costly.” Sam Raimi directed the 1998 film starring Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton and Bridget Fonda.

“Sneaky People” by Thomas Berger: “Set in the 1930s, the main character’s efforts to plot his wife’s murder creates one of the most hilarious tales of misadventure you will ever read.”

“The Quiet American” by Graham Greene: “ Published in 1955, it provides an intensely observed portrait of Vietnam on the eve of French defeat. Part novel of intrigue, part mystery, part love story.” The 2002 remake of the 1958 original starred Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser and Do Thi Hai Yen.

“Cutter and Bone” by Newton Thornburg: “It’s the story of one man’s obsession with another man’s crime, in this case, a murder. What makes it unique is that the ‘murderer’ may not have committed the crime at all.” The renamed 1981 movie “Cutter’s Way” starred Jeff Bridges, John Heard and Lisa Eichhorn.

New site for bookstore

Stores selling used books are sometimes patchwork projects, where sagging shelves and cardboard boxes overflow with a hodgepodge of casually cataloged titles. Not so at the well-organized Humane Society of the Sierra Foothills Bookstore, which is managed and staffed by volunteers. It recently moved a few doors down from its previous site and into “much nicer quarters,” said spokeswoman Heidi Buck.

“Our volunteers sort through thousands of donated books and organize them by subject,” Buck said. “Each section is staffed by experts (in those genres), and you can ask them for recommendations. They’re knowledgeable and passionate – many are retired schoolteachers – and they have the store looking like a Barnes & Noble.”

A grand reopening celebration is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday through next Sunday, featuring author appearances and daily drawings for gift certificates (with purchase). Book prices are 50 cents to $1, with proceeds “helping animals in need,” Buck said. “Our motto is, ‘Saving animals, one book at a time.’”

The bookstore is at 13412 Lincoln Way, Auburn; (916) 765-2938,

Upcoming author appearances

•  Ten authors “whose lives and works are rooted in the Sacramento River Delta” will gather for a chat and book-signing, 1 p.m. Saturday at the Moon Cafe Gallery, 13955 River Road, Locke; (916) 776-1780.

The Avid Reader in Davis will host two disparate authors. The store is at 617 Second St., (530) 758-4040:

• Food writer, hunter and James Beard award-winning blogger Hank Shaw for his new cookbook, “Duck, Duck, Goose,” 7:30 p.m. Dec. 4. In his book, Shaw, who’s said to be “on the forefront of the marsh-to-table revolution,” shows home cooks “how to obtain, clean and cook” domestic and wild fowl.

• Cooking instructor, restaurateur and mother Tini Piccinini for “The Goodbye Year: Surviving Your Child’s Senior Year in High School,” 7:30 p.m. Dec. 7. The “Italian auntie” is every parent’s guide to navigating his/her child’s senior year, and comes equipped with “modern sensibilities and recipes galore.”


If you have information on author appearances or other book-related special events, email it to bookmarks@sacbee.comat least two weeks before the event. To read the online calendar, go to Questions? Call The Bee’s Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128.