Observational Humor for Cynics and New Yorkers

Book review: Rules for Others to Live By, by Richard Greenberg

These loosely connected (very loosely) essays and comments require a certain dry, dark, cynical sense of humor to really enjoy them. I did enjoy them though, for the most part. The audiences is definitely New Yorkers, and I can imagine these might not find broad appeal outside of a certain set of wry, snarky, mildly condescending New Yorky types. I am that, so especially the first part of the book with lots of inside jokes about various NYC types, situations, and neighborhoods was so funny to me. I marked so many lines that I couldn’t stop laughing over. For example: “I find myself in Midtown occasionally and never am out of it before I’ve resolved to retire to the foothills of Vermont and open a store that sells dry goods and tea.” My husband said this nearly verbatim on his first visit to Manhattan.

Some essays didn’t hit the right notes with me. I’m not a theater person and Greenberg is a Tony-award winning playwright, so he often tells stories from his career, or that are theater gossipy, and I couldn’t really get into or care about those. The same for some pieces that tell specific, fairly uninteresting stories about his friends in great detail. Or topics that veered into the rich person dinner party philosophical vein. Just not for me. The second half of the book felt like it had way too many of those.

But it was worth the read for some of his general observational gems, that’s when I think his storytelling talent is at its strongest. To name a few:

Acknowledge that you’re the center of the universe, then radiate.

I manufacture guilt with such efficiency you’d think I had a loom.

However grisly the present may get, I’m never tempted to revel in the past because the past sent me explicit instructions not to. (This poignant remark after he remembers an unhappy moment when he told himself not to look back on this time in life with undeserved fondness when it really wasn’t all that great. I loved this, I’ve absolutely done the same!)

It’s also skewed towards a somewhat older audience, but to be fair, I’m not very old and I still enjoyed it. He admits this himself: “Even in my youth, I didn’t have appeal to the youth market.” He says he’s always been more of a middle-aged person even when he wasn’t that old. I empathize, so maybe that’s why some of the anecdotes and attitude appealed to me!

You might like it if you like Seinfeld, it’s kind of Seinfeldian in its humor.

Rules for Others to Live By: Comments and Self-Contradictions
by Richard Greenberg
published October 4, 2016 by Penguin Group Blue Rider Press & Plume

I received an advance ebook copy courtesy of the publisher for review.

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