As seen through the eyes of Sam Venable, the world is indeed bizarre and filled with nuttiness. The archives of the Knoxville News Sentinel offer ample evidence that Venable is a bit of the former and has made a career out of drawing attention to the latter.
For his latest book, Venable has gathered and organized 139 of his newspaper columns—his biggest collection yet—to create a trove of wit and wisdom. In the spirit of “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” he points a finger at human nature, the environment, civil rights and wrongs, and an eclectic mix of other targets, drawing our attention to the foibles, failings, and just plain absurdities that surround us all.
As a native son and treasured institution in East Tennessee, Venable has earned the right to poke fun at its local history, habits, and happenings. He takes full, loving advantage of this license in essays such as “How to Tawlk Good,” “Shall We Gather with a Reptile,” and “The Good, the Bad, the Kudzu.” He takes on the government in a section titled “A Two-Ring Circus with Elephants and Donkeys,” and in another called “Still Waiting for Y2K,” he offers up “A Lesson in Dollars and Sense” and “Blowing the Budget for Bowser.”
Some have called him a modern-day Mark Twain, others the Dave Barry of Knoxville; but while there may be some similarities, Sam Venable is wonderfully unique. He sees—and sees through—the pervasive silliness and stupidity in our world. It evokes wonder in him, and with many a deft turn of phrase, he interprets that wonder for us. Warning! This Product Contains Nuttiness will make you smile, certainly, but it will also make you think and sometimes even touch your heart.
Snow was nice and crunchy underfoot. Not crunchy like peanuts or cornflakes. Rather, it was a silky whispery crunchy.
You can bury your nose deep in the cool violet bed and smell the mix of life and death while pondering the unceasing cycle of each into the other.
Lem Ownby…has plowed oxen, mules, and horses on the forty-four acre farm on Jakes Creek. But he has never owned or driven an automobile.
Sam Venable is one of America’s seventy-six million Baby Boomers who are turning into their parents. He can’t quite see without his reading glasses, he thinks the music kids listen to these days is nothing but a loud racket, and his belt is mysteriously creeping up higher and higher on his chest.
The way Venable figures it, he’s roaring along the road (at about twenty-seven miles per hour, the average speed for someone his age) to Codgerville. You Gotta Laugh to Keep From Cryin’ highlights the observations and lifestyle changes (and a few other things he can’t quite seem to remember at the moment) that Venable has made along the way.
From the day his wife discovers his first ear hair, Venable begins to recognize the signs of old age. Though he had reconciled himself to daily fiber and a distinguished head of gray, he is one step further to an insatiable desire for cafeteria food and permanently leaving his car’s right turn signal flashing.
The news isn’t all bad, though. To his surprise, Venable discovers that his new appearance and habits have qualified him for the senior discount on breakfast at his favorite restaurant. After reading about a scientific study concluding that men’s brains shrink faster than women’s in the normal aging process, Venable has a new source of excuses to explain to his wife why he is missing important dates, times, places, and appointments.
As an official CIT (Codger In Training), Venable delights in other newfound freedoms. He can stand in a fast-food line and stare at the menu for a full two minutes without saying a word (besides, he can’t hear the people behind him grumbling). He can drive as slowly as he likes and has perfected the art of maintaining a death grip on the steering wheel of his car. And he really doesn’t have to listen to anyone anymore; he can merely turn their way from time to time and mumble, “Huh?”
From the swinging doors whose “Push/Pull” directions elude him to the high-tech mysteries of ATMs designed to baffle the elderly, Sam Venable’s rollicking view of life after fifty will leave readers laughing and happy to be a member of the AARP set.
The Author: Sam Venable, recognized for his humor writing in 2000, 2001, and 2002 by the Tennessee Press Association, is a columnist for the Knoxville News-Sentinel. He is the author of a number of books, including Rock-Elephant: A Story of Friendship and Fishing and Mountain Hands: A Portrait of Southern Appalachia. He lives in Knoxville, Tennessee.