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Book Review: Your Wildest Dreams, Within Reason

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If you could spend an hour inside Mike Sacks' brain you would probably get lost. You might also find yourself giggling uncontrollably or wind up sobbing in a ball on the floor.

You would not be bored.

Sacks has written humor pieces for the New Yorker, McSweeny's and The Believer, and his new book Your Wildest Dreams, Within Reason draws together a wealth of these in one volume. The author's previous book, And Here's the Kicker, was an excellent collection of interviews with top humor writers and with Wildest Dreams he again works with freestanding parts to build the whole. The result is a hugely eclectic and highly original collection of vignettes, lists, songs, letters and the odd Craigslist ad.

A special blend of understatement and absurdity reigns throughout, with comedy often springing from the contrast of inexplicable content and casual delivery. In a piece titled "What in the Hell Is That Thing? FAQ", an office temp sends out a chirpy mass email explaining the presence of a killer robot to his concerned co-workers. Sacks has an eye for the vagaries and minutiae of correspondence and in many pieces the communiqués of daily life -- party invitations, emails -- take a bright and friendly tone while radiating an alarming message (see "Rules for my Cuddle Party", pg. 71), or else take off in surprising directions.

Some of the pieces have a literary focus and Sacks, a staffer at Vanity Fair, writes about the business of writing and publishing with a familiarity that allows him to skewer its frequent inanities, glad-handing, and intellectual pretensions with precision. In a piece titled "The Rejection of Anne Frank" the oblivious publishers who have just rejected Frank's diary manuscript helpfully tell her to consider writing something more "book-club friendly" and to focus on her "tween demographic."

In "A Short Story Geared to College Students, Written by a Thirtysomething Author" the eponymous author takes ham-fisted swings at college culture, using slang that's either 15 years too old or else that never was, and his attempts to be edgy instead wind up wistful and incredibly off-key; the portrait of a literary misfire.

Though the stories in Wildest Dreams have no connection to each other, Sacks' persistent voice infuses the whole collection with off-kilter delight. Instead of dealing with the humdrum of actual reality it's the kind of humor that creates its own imaginary world to explore or demolish, full of wildly imaginative detours that will leave you laughing and perhaps bewildered.

(Within reason.)

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