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That Dave Barry has a new book out shouldn't surprise you.

It seems like Dave Barry always has a new book out, and if he wasn't Dave Barry--who presents as so unpretentious and regular and so next-door-neighborly that it's hard to imagine him outside a certain sunny suburban milieu--you might suspect he owns factories staffed by indentured Up with People alumni who follow the manual's precise instructions to bring you the Best-of-Dave Barry humorous hyperbole and true facts un-made up.

You could, if he were not Dave Barry, picture him overseeing a gray sea of typing monkeys, occasionally presenting a promising sheaf of self-deprecating one-liners for his blessing. You could imagine him as a kind of literary Dale Chihuly or James Patterson, stamping his mark upon the units. That's how many Dave Barry books are out there in the universe. (Statistics say there's at least one within two feet of you right now.)

Or, to put it the way it was put to me when I was a young journalist, a Dave Barry book is not news unless it is being recalled for containing a joke that is so funny people are literally (not figuratively) dying laughing. So why am I writing about Dave Barry's new book Lessons From Lucy (Simon & Schuster, $26)? As far as I know, the inevitable best-seller has killed no one (yet). I could be using this valuable newspaper real estate to write about the great Bradford pear scandal or the mysterious disappearance of poet Weldon Kees.

It's Lessons From Lucy for a couple of reasons. The first is pure log-rolling. There is a rule that if you say something nice about a writer's book in print, the writer owes you one. Since I plan to write and publish (and promote and sell) more books of my own in the future, writing something nice about Dave Barry's book is a good plan. Dave Barry (and for me, it's always "Dave Barry" even on seventh and eighth reference and never "Barry" though I might go for "Mr. Barry" or, by the end of this column, "Dave") has more Twitter followers than I do. It's a good business strategy to have him owe me.

Secondly, I read Lessons From Lucy, and as a professional book reader I feel obliged to comment on it. It's what we call in the trade "a nice book," one you could probably give to anyone. It's a gentle and life-affirming take on the things that dogs can teach us written in Dave's genuinely inimitable--though everyone tries--style. If you read this column you know I write a lot about dogs and think about them even more. Dave Barry has some insights into them, which he makes without giving them super-powers.

"I've written a million columns about dogs, and the main point of most of them is that dogs are not that bright," Dave Barry says on the phone from his home in Florida, where he's busying incurring debts from journalists all over the country. "The point of the book is not to say that dogs are wise gurus for us all, but that dogs are simple. And they have learned some things that work really, really well for them."

Then, after the nice book comes to what would be the natural close of this sort of sweet meditation on how we might all benefit from becoming more present and less preoccupied by things that might happen or have happened, something very bad happens in Dave Barry's life. And he writes about that in clear, affecting, honest prose that leaves no doubt that Dave Barry is a real boy.

In another draft of this column--I've been through four or five of them--I compare Lessons From Lucy to Mary Oliver's book of poems Dog Songs. Were this a different kind of piece, I might raise two or three points of congruency between these books, but here I want to point out one important difference. Lucy does not die in this book (she was sitting at Dave's feet when we spoke on the phone the other day). Spoiler alert: No one dies. Everybody ends up OK.

But mainly the reason I'm writing about Dave Barry's book is because I've only recently realized how important his work has been to me.

I first became aware of him in 1983, when he started writing his nationally syndicated humor column for the Miami Herald. That was about the same time I started writing columns three days a week for the Shreveport Journal. I was a kid then, and though interested in column-writing, I really had no idea how to go about doing it. So as a survival mechanism I started--thanks to access to the wire services--reading nearly every newspaper columnist in the country: William F. Buckley, George Will, Mike Royko, Molly Ivins, Pete Hamill, Ellen Goodman, Russell Baker, and Paul Greenberg. I read both John Bloom and his alter-ego Joe Bob Briggs in the Dallas Times Herald.

A lot of those folks are (or were) great stylists; I admire them all. But the only one who did something I didn't think I could do was Dave Barry.

Because Dave Barry was funny every week. He was like Mariano Rivera, he had one pitch. You knew what was coming. And still ... The hardest thing to do with a newspaper column is make someone laugh. (On purpose.)

The worst thing Dave Barry ever did was make that look easy. He spawned a ton of imitators almost none of whom are more than sort of funny sometimes, and none of whom were as consistently humane and generous. I can't be funny like Dave Barry, but I can strive to be like him in other ways.

Though maybe not haircut-wise.

I was listening to my interview with Dave Barry, and there's really not a lot to it. We gripe about how the newspaper business isn't what it used to be (the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette is now bigger than the Miami Herald), we reminisce about how poorly we both play guitar compared to people who can really play guitar (his Rock Bottom Remainders are getting back together for a gig in Minnesota in May) and how guys aren't very good at keeping in touch with their friends. I'm going to be better about that from now on.

And, for the record, you now owe me one, Mr. Barry.


Lessons From Lucy by Dave Barry

Editorial on 04/07/2019

Print Headline: PHILIP MARTIN: Dave Barry owes me one


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