Review: Mommy Knows Worst

Mommy Knows Worst: Highlights from the Golden Age of Bad Parenting AdviceMommy Knows Worst
by James Lileks

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mommy Knows Worst / 1-4000-8228-5

I'm a long time fan of Lileks and his Institute of Official Cheer material. I loved "The Gallery of Regrettable Food" and "Interior Desecrations", and thoroughly enjoyed "Gastroanomalies". However, it's an old adage that it's difficult to be funny all of the time, and "Mommy Knows Worst" seems to be an example of this.

"Mommy Knows Worst" suffers, if from nothing else, from a problem of format and material. Whereas the pictures of food and furniture from Lileks' other books were colorful and instantly evocative (or "evacuative", for readers with sensitive stomachs!), the majority of the pictures in "Mommy" are black-and-white photos of child sketches, plastic nipple diagrams, and organizational photos of what, precisely, needs to be in the room before giving birth or milk feeding. This means that there are far fewer hoots of "Look at THIS!" (elicited by such things as a chicken leg with pearls and a garter on it for no apparent reason) from the reader and far more frowning at baby sketches and musing quietly on how even the most terrible shaders could still, apparently, find work. In other words, it's funny, but it's not the usual gasping-for-breath funny that Official Cheer usually elicits.

Along the same lines, the copy accompanying the pictures has a different timbre. Where the food recipes had upbeat, perky, and easily mockable instructions and exhortations ("You CAN cook with 7-Up!!"), the stilted monotone of "Into a pint of boiling water stir flaxseed, also known as linseed, until it forms a paste just thick enough to flow from a spoon," just isn't highly amusing in itself. Lileks dishes out the best mockery he can under the circumstances ("Is this good? Or bad? ... It's hard to say, since this book gives no indication what the poultice is for."), but it's just not the same. Even Lileks seems to realize this, as the commentary feels largely tired, flagging, and lacking the usual Lileks energy and verve.

"Mommy Knows Worst" is amusing and - properly enshrined on your coffee table - will elicit the occasional chuckle from family and friends. Just don't be surprised to find yourself turning back to the old "Gallery" for the laughs and guffaws that "Mommy" just can't quite supply.

~ Ana Mardoll

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