When the going gets tough, the tough make jokes. We’re in a recession, getting older, and the Earth is melting, but there’s humor to be had. (No, really!) This quartet of books puts a humorous spin on what it’s like to be us. Go forth and laugh!

FABLES WITH A TWIST
Oh, animals. They can be so cute and sweet. Except when they’re behaving like jerks or committing acts of violence. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary, a collection of 16 twisted tales masterfully illustrated by Ian Falconer (of Olivia fame), will be literary catnip for readers who’ve speculated on what pets or wild creatures are really thinking. In David Sedaris’ world, our anthropomorphized furry and feathered friends can be thoughtful, kind, annoying or depraved; it depends on the individual. Fans of the author and radio commentator’s previous books likely will be split between those who love this wild escalation of Sedaris’ dark side and those who can’t abide stories with shocking, unhappy endings. But it’s a jungle out there, and Squirrel spares neither personality foible nor distasteful aspect of human nature or the animal kingdom (a parasite that prefers hippopotamus anuses comes to mind). This collection is a dark-humor lover’s delight that raises the question: What will Sedaris do next?

HUMANS WERE HERE
It’s been six years since Jon Stewart and his team published America (The Book), but they haven’t been idle—they’ve been working on an even more ambitious project. You see, when humans become extinct and the Earth is colonized by aliens, the new residents probably will have lots of questions about what came before. With that in mind, they created Earth (The Book): A Visitor’s Guide to the Human Race, an extremely detailed reference book about what we’ve left behind, how we lived and likely reasons we’re not around anymore (pandemic? nuclear holocaust? robot rebellion?). This hilarious-yet-rueful tome—all written in the past tense, of course—covers everything from government to fashion, natural disasters to advertising. Illustrations, charts, photos and collages add to the satiric fun, though a faux nude photo of Larry King might seem un-fun to some. There’s a helpful suggestion-cum-plea for the aliens, too: that they reanimate us from DNA so we can together “give this planet the kind of caretakers it deserves.” It’s a poignant end to a funny, smart book.

NEW (PREPPY) GENERATION
It’s generally true, to be sure, that a lot has changed in the last 30 years. In the land of prep, this is the most shocking change of all: “Preppies in the 21st century all wear the unnatural fibers we collectively refer to as ‘fleece.’ ” If Lisa Birnbach says it, we know it’s true; 30 years ago, she wrote The Official Preppy Handbook and revealed the secret code of the natural-fibers set. Now she and designer extraordinaire Chip Kidd have issued True Prep: It’s a Whole New Old World, a guidebook for prepsters not sure what Muffy would do in the face of reality TV, Facebook and the Martha Stewart and Bernie Madoff scandals, to name just a few. This copiously illustrated manual offers reassurance and guidance aplenty, via advice for hiring staff (say “chef,” not “cook”), fashion rules (“Nose rings are never preppy”), a map of “Gay and Lesbian Prep America” and loads more. The creators’ cleverness is nicely tempered by their fondness for the tribe, and those who take the book seriously will be more than ready to achieve maximum preppiness. Whether you adore or eschew pastel and penny loafers, True Prep is a delight.

I FEEL BAD ABOUT MY BRAIN
Nora Ephron has met Cary Grant and Dorothy Parker, but remembers nothing about them. She was at “The Ed Sullivan Show” the night the Beatles performed, and only recalls the obnoxious fans. As she muses in I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections, “On some level, my life has been wasted on me. After all, if I can’t remember it, who can?” But, as with 2006’s I Feel Bad About My Neck, what she does remember is fascinating, entertaining and a lovely contemplation of what it’s like to grow older, every single year. The accomplished screenwriter (Julie and Julia, When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle, among others) writes about her love for journalism and New York City, and her sadness upon learning her beloved Teflon emits poisonous gases. She holds forth on the vagaries of email, and shares what it’s like to have a favorite play flop. Throughout the book, the touching sits alongside the funny; essays like “The O Word,” in which she muses on what it’s like to realize she is old, will hit home with anyone who’s wondered if they’ve made the most of life. And who hasn’t?
 

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