Friday, April 5, 2024


Yesterday a news article revealed that two Caltrain employees used $42,000 of taxpayers' money to construct a house inside the station where they worked. As I read the article, my questions spilled through a couple of options, "Are they taking advantage of the rest of us, or were they extremely dedicated to their jobs and routinely slept at the station anyway?" Both workers have been fired and charged with fraud. The money they spent didn't seep into my thoughts until I read a letter to the SF Chronicle. The writer posted the idea that the City ought to hire them and ask them, "How in the world did you build a living unit with a kitchen and bathroom for only $42,000? Maybe you could show the City how to repurpose all the empty office space in town into low- and middle-income housing." Now, why didn't I think of that?

I flew down to Upland recently. On the airplane seat pocket in front of me, I read the small sign: For Literature Only. I looked for some Shakespeare, but no luck. Instead, stuffed into the slim pocket were precise instructions in a dozen different languages to escape in an emergency. Between Sully's landing in the NYC river years ago and the door blowing off the latest Boeing model, I've decided to pay more attention to the instructions after all.

I bought my sister The Book Lover's Joke Book by Alex Johnson recently. My sister and I share a love of witty comments and puns. I am not so fond of the kind of comedy on shows such as SNL which seems to me to be trying too hard to be funny. I do like subtle humor and humor that makes me groan. My favorite joke is one for English teachers (and the only one I can remember):

What is another name for thesaurus?

I opened the joke book to page 57 and laughed out loud. Here is the first joke I read:

"An Oxford English Dictionary and a Roget's Thesaurus are put in the recycle bin by a school custodian. The thesaurus says to the dictionary, "I can see you're distressed by this." The dictionary replied, "You don't know the meaning of the word." The thesaurus said, "But I know what it is like." Pure groaner of a joke.

Johnson, the author-bibliophile, starts his first paragraph this way:

"When I asked the British Library if they'd like to publish a collection of book jokes, they actually suggested that I write a book on librarians. But I said no, because writing on paper is much easier!" Argggh, a jokester after my own heart.

The book is full of these kinds of good and the worst jokes you've ever heard about libraries and books. At the same time, the jokes give us a view of the construction of a book. Johnson has collected jokes about writers' first drafts, editing, proofreading, setting typefaces, and selecting the cover. Johnson even includes jokes he's unearthed from antiquity. I enjoy the ironies and subtle comparisons that leave me hanging in the air for a moment while I 'get' the joke. Johnson has given me a chance to laugh out loud at a time when we all need a good laugh to lift us up from the news of the day.


Alex Johnson, The Book Lover's Joke Book, is available at:

and yes, it is available at Amazon too, but the website donates to independent bookstores with each sale.

Check out three other books by Johnson:

Book Towns: Forty-Five Paradises of the Printed Word

Improbable Libraries: A Visual Journey to the World's Most Unusual Libraries

Rooms of Their Own: Where Writers Write


This week's weather view from our San Francisco apartment


  1. Oh my gosh, Martha, you've got the write stuff!!

  2. Haha, love your comment,Teresa. Thank you. We need some laughter right now, don't we?


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