Ad Nauseam: The Onion, Volume 13, The Onion

Three Rivers Press, 2002, 264 pages, C$26.00 tpb, ISBN 1-4000-4724-2

Looking for Christmas presents? The helpful folks at The Onion can rescue everything by rolling out their newest volume in time for gift-wrapping season.

Unlike the previous three Onion books, (two best-of selections and one book of original content), this is a true collection. All 44 issues of The Onion published between November 1st 2000 and October 31st 2001 are contained here, reprinted from the original paper version of the humor periodical. Yes, that includes the famous September 27th 2001 “HOLY F—ING S—T: Attack On America” issue, which tackled the September 11 events well before the rest of America was ready to deal with it.

Compared with their latest best-of collection Dispatches from the Tenth Circle, there’s no denying that Ad Nauseam is, overall, not quite as funny. The Onion can have weaker issues like any other periodical, and this collection also includes those. Still, sifting through the pages, there’s still plenty of amusing material.

Highlights include “New Girlfriend Tests Poorly With Peer Focus Group”, the special “Mayhem 2000” election edition, “I’m Like a Chocoholic, but for Booze”, “Romantic-Comedy Behavior Gets Real-Life Man Arrested” (also found in Tenth Circle, mind you), “Everything in Entire World Now Collectible”, “Girlfriend Changes Man Into Someone She’s Not Interested In”, “Bush Regales Dinner Guests With Impromptu Oratory On Virgil’s Minor Works”, “Author Wishes She Hadn’t Blown Personal Tragedy On First Book”, “Gore Upset that Clinton Doesn’t Call Anymore”, “Stephen Jay Gould Speaks Out Against Science Paparazzi”, “Toaster-Instruction Booklet Author Enraged That Editor Betrayed His Vision” and an article I wish I’d have written; “Everybody Browsing At Video Store Saying Stupid Things”

All of this should be enough to make you laugh for a while. Noticeably thicker than its three predecessors, Ad Nauseam compensates quality by quantity. Even as a cash-grab endeavor, it’s still more than a worthwhile buy for fans of The Onion.

Two things emerge from a linear read of a year in the life of The Onion, though, things that may not be obvious from reading The Onion on their web site:

The first is the developing stories of the “Community Voices” columnists. While I had traditionally considered the recurring columns to be among the weakest sections of the periodical, reading a bunch of them in short succession can really help in making those “columnists” being interesting. I even came to feel a strange affection for Jim Anchower’s “The Cruise”, Hertbert Kornfeld’s tales’o’tha’Accountz Reeceevable Bruthahood and even -gasp- Jean Teasdale’s formerly insufferable “A Room of Jean’s Own”. Go figure.

The second is strictly an accident of history: Reading months of Onion-accentuated silliness before the September 11th 2001 events is a lot like witnessing a nation whistling on its way to a good solid mugging. “A Shattered Nation Longs To Care About Stupid Bulls—t Again” [P.241] indeed. (Fortunately, even recent history shows that America is resilient and does, indeed, care again for stupid stuff.)

One nice side-effect of the “include everything” mission of Ad Nauseam is that I got to re-read one full year’s worth of those terribly sarcastic one-liner “Horoscopes”, which has become one of my favorite features in The Onion over the past few months. Those hadn’t been included in previous collections.

An annoying detail, proving that nothing is perfect: I loathed the splitting up of stories over two, sometimes even three pages. Even though I understand the production constraints leading to that decision, no amount of rationalization could make it look good.

Enthusiasts of The Onion need to encouragement to rush out and grab a copy of this book. Newbies would be best-advised to pick up Our Dumb Century or Dispatches From The Tenth Circle as an introduction: Though there’s nothing specifically wrong about Ad Nauseam, it doesn’t reach the dizzying heights of the first two books.

So… can we hope for Volume 14 next year?

[March 2005: Annual volumes 14 and 15 are out, and if they do deliver hard doses of The Onion‘s trademark type of satire, they’re not books fit to be read all at once and they don’t measure up to the dramatic arc leading to and stemming from 9/11. Recommended, but only for those who already are familiar with The Onion.]

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