The best book written in the last 20 years about not writing a book is Geoff Dyer's Out of Sheer Rage. But if you've already read Dyer's book about not writing a book about D. H. Lawrence and you'd like to find another quality entry in the book-about-not-writing-a-book genre, I'd suggest Michael Showalter's Mr. Funny Pants. Showalter (reading at Powell's this evening), who's best known for TV comedy troupes The State and Stella, as well as the movie Wet Hot American Summer, announces at the beginning of Pants that he wants his book "to be an 'important memoir,' okay maybe not as important as A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius but, in all likelihood, equally as important, or at the very least, only slightly less important." He's well aware of his limitations:

Does a musician pick up a guitar to write a song and be like, "I want to sound just like Jason Mraz?" No, of course not. Instead, he thinks to himself, "I want to sound just like Neil Young." And then he winds up sounding like Jason Mraz. But he tried to sound like Neil Young. Can you fault him? I highly doubt that you could (fault him). In other words, I'm trying to write as well as David Eggers but I sound like Jason Mraz and that's okay.

More Funny Pants after the jump!

The rest of the book is a series of short chapters about how Showalter will go about writing Mr. Funny Pants. He plans to write an 1800-page first draft in order to be taken seriously, so he goes and buys reams of paper in order to experience what his manuscript will feel like when it's done. Then he individually counts each of the pages to make sure that he didn't get cheated out of any paper. He offers writing tips by dissecting (an apparently real) poem he wrote in high school that includes the line "I smoked a reefer with them." ("It's not bad enough that I said 'reefer,'" Showalter writes, "I had to say 'a reefer.' I don't know that there is such a thing as 'a reefer.'") He signs up for an online university, tries to adopt a cat, and writes out the ten rules for making sandwiches:

4. "Toast It"

Toast it. Toast the thing. Put the thing in a toaster and toast it. Toast the motherfucking thing.

This is a very funny book. And the framing narrative about the writing of the book keeps this from feeling like a discombobulated jumble of bits that didn't quite work in a live comedy show. Comedians publish those sorts of cash-ins all the time, but Showalter has taken time and effort to make Pants stand on its own, even if you've never seen his standup act before. It's a delightful piece of finely crafted absurdist writing.

Showalter will be appearing at Powell's City of Books today at 6 pm. It's free!