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BOOK REVIEW: Stranger Thingies – From Felafel to now by John Birmingham

| 10 December 2017 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: Stranger Thingies – From Felafel to Now by John Birmingham

NewSouth Books
September 2017
Paperback, $24.99
Reviewed by Natalie Salvo

Non-Fiction / Biographies / True Stories


John Birmingham is a satirist, newspaper columnist, writer and blogger. He’s also a man who knows how to find the funny in most situations. The cover of his latest book, Stranger Thingies sees comedian, Wil Anderson going so far as to say that if laughter is the best medicine then he’s claiming Birmingham’s book on Medicare. Stranger Thingies draws together Birmingham’s funniest columns from the last twenty years, from the famous “He Died with a Felafel in His Hand” through to his more recent musings on Donald Trump. It’s fascinating to see how his work and sense of humour has evolved over time and one thing’s for certain, Birmingham is like a master storyteller-come-detective in that he always knows where to find the “lulz.”

So, I’m giving you these pieces, collected over many years. I hope you’ll find most of them funny. I know one or two will slip past you, because in the end the necessarily shared subjectivity of humour rules out a comprehensive universality. That’s a mighty wanky way of saying ‘to each their own’, especially with jokes.
If there is but one thing I’d like to take away from all this, beside the massive royalty payments, it’s the satisfaction of knowing that I brightened an otherwise shitty day for somebody somewhere.

This collection of essays is highly entertaining which allows you to dip in and out of and read in whatever order you please. The articles are organised into seven sections and span a range of different topics from work, politics, domestic affairs, and being a modern man through to more light-hearted themes like: eating, sports and leisure, and a catch-all section called “The Things Themselves.” The latter contains everything from talk about the decline of the waterbed to a cheeky slice of finger-pointing where Birmingham alleges that Johnny Depp committed a second crime whilst he was in Oz (one that involved stealing Birmingham’s car but not the $1.37 in his cup holder.) There is also a clever take on what would happen if magazines profiled men like they do women as well as a nostalgic nod towards the nineties:

It is time. Every decade gets its comeback and it is time for the ‘90s Revival. We should do it for the kids.
For those of you who weren’t there, my little Millennial friends, sit back in this complimentary Hyper-color T-shirt and enjoy a leftover Vanilla Coke while I wrestle a couple of episodes of Buffy I taped into my video-playing apparatus. This technology plays actual tapes, and that’s why we say we’ll ‘tape’ BoJack Horseman rather than, ‘I will digitally store a perfect copy of the ones and zeroes which, properly formatted, will play back a BoJack Horseman episode from my drive, stick or legitimate streaming service.

There are moments where Birmingham enjoys gong off on a nice little rant like when he dipped his toes into the potato scallop versus potato cake debate and he described the sheer stupidity of a $27,000 pudding. There are other moments where Birmingham gets quite Gonzo on the reader like the time he received a call from “Microsoft Security” despite his being an Apple user. His response of “Pornography” or some variant to virtually every question posed by the scam artist was funny and something that a lot of us would secretly love to do. Birmingham also describes things like internet controversies and typos and while he can be sarcastic and keen to skewer many different subjects, sometimes he leaves the best barbs for himself:

It could happen to you this very day, so be kind when you come across some poor soul burning in Typo Hell. You are all one autocorrect away from telling your very important New York publisher that you’ve returned an edited manuscript via FedEx enthusiastically texting them, ‘Yes. I’ve sent you a faecal package!’
(And, yes. That was me, giving succour to those critics who’ve long insisted that my books are shit.)

This collection is a varied one and humour is a subjective beast. This means that some people will gravitate to certain essays over others. This collection does show some versatility in Birmingham’s writing (and let’s not forget that he’s penned thriller novels as well as columns) because he has a stab at poetry as well as send-ups of meetings and the more traditional pieces.

Birmingham has said that humour writing comes from an egomaniacal place and that writers want their laughter to be shared. These pieces are funny and clever, that much is certain. His long-term fans can also appreciate that the story which catapulted Birmingham to fame is also included here in all of its glory:

He died with a felafel in his hand. We found him on a beanbag with his chin resting on the top button of a favourite flannelette shirt. He’d worn the shirt when we interviewed him for the empty room a week or so before. We were having one of those bad runs, where you seem to interview about 30 people every day and they are all total munters. We really took this guy in desperation. He wasn’t A-list, didn’t have a microwave or anything like that, and now both he and the felafel roll were cold. Our first dead housemate. At least we’d got some bond off him.

Stranger Thingies is a fun and engaging set of different columns, blog posts and musings from the weird and wild mind of John Birmingham. The pieces are funny and all too often the author is writing from a place where his tongue is placed so firmly in cheek that it threatens to come out the other side. Stranger Thingies is a rollicking and hilarious read with which Birmingham proves that even after two decades in the business, he can still make ‘em laugh.

Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

About the Author ()

Natalie Salvo is a foodie and writer from Sydney. You can find her digging around in second hand book shops or submerged in vinyl crates at good record stores. Her website is at:

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