John Pollack prefaces his exploration of puns with his experience at the world pun championship. This was the most intense part of his book, The Pun Also Rises: How the Humble Pun Revolutionized Language, Changed History, and Made Wordplay More than Some Antics. The rest of the book ranged from snoozy to informative and mildly entertaining.
The book is just riddled with puns! It cries out for groans of appreciation. Over and over. You must appreciate puns to get the most out of Pollack’s writing. He slides puns into every paragraph, whether he’s talking about brain chemistry or England in the Middle Ages.
He name checks Shakespeare, of course. But he also tells stories of history’s unknown punsters, focusing especially on times the pun was ascendant. Every variation in the punning world is explained, from visual to homophonic and homographic. Pollack leaves no stone unturned.
I’m both a reader and a writer. I like learning about language, although the book wasn’t on the top of my list by any stretch. Another member of my postal book club suggested it. And after learning everything about lexicography in last year’s selection, we all thought this would be an interesting addition to our knowledge base.
Despite a few flaws, I liked this book. Pollack is wordy, since he pushes puns into every topic. The Pun Also Rises suffers from the dreaded mid-book slump. Although it’s only 150 pages long, the middle third was slow and plodding.
And I’m not sure I buy Pollack’s theory that puns drove the course of human history. Just because they have survived doesn’t mean they made history happen. That’s like saying insects are the reason humans accomplish anything. Insects survive cataclysm but they don’t execute the rebuilding. Neither do puns.
But, puns make life more enjoyable. The wink, wink, nudge, nudge of language used effectively is a beautiful thing. If you love the English language, or want to learn more about this aspect of it, grab a copy of Pollack’s book and dive in.