The sequential art in this book is sort of structured around a preliminary “confession,” which supplies its lines as subject titles for the sections of the volume, like “I confuse fiction with reality” and “I care about punctuation — a lot.” Most of it is expressed in pages of nine to sixteen panels, with each page detailing or iterating a distinct idea in the general space of reading, writing, and book husbandry. Less often, but more enjoyably to me, a page bears a single Scarry-esque drawing with a host of minutely annotated features, such as “The National Department of Poetry” (89). The art is stylized and dynamic, with a naïve air, but obvious skill at efficient communication.
The “humor” of the affair is chiefly created through wordplay and relatably-depicted states of bibliophilia. I don’t think I had a laugh-out-loud moment in reading the book, but I was often smiling.
humour is a key lubricant of life. Humour is a social glue. Humour is the best anti-arrogance device. Humour is the best anti-despair device. Humour is what may separate man from other creatures. So why is humour neglected?
I first read this book at the tender age of six or so. I knew it was supposed to be funny, because the way I had found it was by browsing the humor shelves of the public library. (At six I was already exploring out well beyond the confines of the library’s juvenile sections.) It probably had a salutary effect on me, in terms of making the gamesmanship in which it purports to offer instruction seem utterly repellent, albeit curiously arresting.
Potter often describes the complex and antagonistic relationship among the three factors of sportsmanship (constructive sociability in the game context), skill (mastery of game-specific processes and contents), and gamesmanship (exploitation of socio-psychological factors to defeat opponents). In fact, gamesmanship turns out to be not so much about the “art of winning” (note the sparse and apologetic chapter on “Winmanship”), but the art of precipitating losses in rivals.
Some of the best bits of the book are the elaborate (and often pointless) diagrams, and the end-matter: especially “A Queer Match” in the “Gamesmanania” section (105-107). Appendix II, a “Note on Etiquette” betrays the essentially esoteric character of gamesmanship, which may account for the fascination it once exercised over me.