09 August 2012

Review: Stuff White People Like: A Guide to the Unique Taste of Millions by Christian Lander


I used to be a regular visitor of  the eponymous blog that spawned this book. I was aware from the first that it should really be titled "Stuff liked by stereotypical, white, middle-class, liberal, urban Americans aged between about 18 and 40", but that didn‘t make it any less funny. I‘d check in, smile or occasionally giggle over the humour, agree or disagree with Lander, and then move on to the next blog in my feed. For some reason (i.e. I found another blog I liked better – I have limited time to read blogs and only ever juggle about 10 at any given time) I stopped reading the blog, but coming across the book in a second hand shop brought a smile to my face and I bought it and took it home with me to read. 

The thing to keep in mind when reading this book is that it is, as I said above, very much about stereotypes and therefore it is by necessity hyperbolic. It also seems to aim to shoot down or at least uncover pretentiousness and one-upmanship, which makes it satirical. These are the foundations of the humour. Hyperbole and satire of course go together like thunder and lightning – you can‘t really imagine one without the other. 

I discovered, however, that this book is best read with frequent breaks between chapters, stretched out over a long period of time. The reason is that after reading 3-4 chapters one after the other it begins to grate, sounding less humorously satirical and hyperbolic than bitter and self-hating, even bordering on vitriolic at times. The tone is such that if a non-white person had written it, it would sound very much like racism, and if written by a member of any other class than the middle, it would be classist, and by any nationality other than American it would sound jingoistic. You get the picture. In order to preserve the humour as it was meant to be understood and enjoy the book as it is meant to be enjoyed, i.e. as light comic entertainment playing with stereotypes, I therefore recommend treating it like a blog and reading at most two chapters at a time. 

This makes Stuff White People Like a perfect read for the bathroom or for those pesky TV advertising breaks. Goodness knows the ad breaks on Animal Planet are long enough for one to finish a novel in a surprisingly short amount of time.

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