Picks and Pans Review: Laughing Matters

updated 03/14/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/14/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

Edited by Gene Shalit

The trouble with being the editor of a humor collection is that no matter how carefully you bend to the task at hand, the most you can expect for your trouble is ingratitude. You leave yourself wide open to the criticism of cranks who question your taste, your fitness for the job and your vital signs. No matter which humorists you choose to include, they can think of six others you've stupidly neglected. And if by some chance they do approve of the people you've chosen to include, they'll be affronted by the specific pieces you've chosen to reprint. Gene Shalit can relax. Well, Gene Shalit can sort of relax. He had the great good sense to include Robert Benchley, Ring Lardner, Franklin P. Adams, Frank Sullivan in the persona of the great cliché expert Mr. Arbuthnot, Woody Allen, Dorothy Parker, Howard Moss and Roy Blount Jr. As a matter of fact Moss's "Ultimate Diary: Further Daily Jottings of a Contemporary Composer" is almost worth the price of the book. "Drinks here," begins the entry from Monday. "Picasso, Colette, the inevitable Cocteau, Gide, Valéry, Ravel and Larry. Chitchat. God, how absolutely dull the Great can be! I know at least a hundred friends who would have given their eyeteeth just to have had a glimpse of some of them, and there I was bored, incredible lassitude, stymied. Is it me? Is it them? Think latter. Happened to glance in mirror before going to bed. Am more beautiful than ever." "Ultimate Diary" and "Blue Yodel Jesse" by Blount almost make up for the fact that Shalit neglected to include anything by Nora Ephron, Jean Kerr, Moss Hart and Alexander Woollcott, didn't include enough by George S. Kaufman and included one too many pieces by Fran Lebowitz. There is also far too much doggerel by Ogden Nash and Samuel Hoffenstein. But perhaps Mr. Shalit, best known as the NBC-TV movie critic, has a sequel in mind. If he thinks he is up to that kind of aggravation. (Doubleday, $24.95)

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