In What I Hate From A to Z (Bloomsbury USA, $15), New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast provides us with a list of the many things she dislikes or is anxious about, in alphabetical order. Each item is illustrated with both a cartoon and a brief, wry statement. (For instance, on Balloons: “When I look at a balloon, all I see is an imminent explosion. Where’s the fun in that?”)
The book was inspired by a game Chast plays to help herself fall asleep at night. Think of a category (rock bands, prescription drugs, movie titles, diseases). Then try to come up with an alphabetical list of items in that category.
This little game wouldn’t help me fall asleep. (Lists, to me, are anything but relaxing.) Nor would I recommend this little tome as bedtime reading. Unless visions of plunging elevators or lightening strikes are the kind of thing that sends you happily off to dream land.
But in the light of day, What I Hate is a joy to read. Chast is one of our best cartoonists. It’s a rare issue of The New Yorker that doesn’t contain her work—if you read the magazine, you probably already know (and love) her cartoons. She‘s published a number of popular cartoon collections and children’s books. I went to a gallery exhibition of her work a few years ago, and although I couldn’t afford a single one of them, I wanted to own them all.
Her prose, as it happens, is just as arresting as her cartoons. An elevator, she says, is “The perfect storm of claustrophobia, acrophobia and agoraphobia.” About Ouija Boards, she warns: “When that planchet starts traveling across the board, either someone is being a jerk, or you’re opening a door that should really, really stay closed.” She also considers some interesting questions. What’s wrong with tunnels? Can nightmares be prevented? Is the ocean trying to kill you? Other aversions Chast illustrates quite compellingly in this book include Quicksand, Overloaded Electrical Sockets, Mysterious Dental Tools and Spontaneous Human Combustion.
Is this book for you? Or for that special neurotic someone on your holiday gift list? The blurb on the back cover answers that question nicely: “If you are the sort of person who never worries about spontaneous combustion, has fun at carnivals, and thinks that the shape of a hammerhead shark’s head is just fine the way it is, that’s terrific. I’m happy for you. This book is for everyone else.”