The Help Desk: "Funny" books are not

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

What's the one thing that will ensure that you never buy a book when you see it on the new releases table at your bookstore?

Capitol Hill

Dear Deborah,

How kind of you to ask. I love discussing my pet peeves as much as Beatrix, my exceptionally gifted daughter-gator, loves playing "Got Your Nose!" with kittens.

Pet peeve no. 1: I won't buy books with jacket blurbs that compare the author to a more famous author that I like — I'm routinely disappointed by the comparison and I think it's a lazy shortcut to get people interested in a book. Pitch the book on its strengths, not someone else's!

Pet peeve no. 2: I would rather let ravens pluck out my eyes than read a book that is classified as "humor" or shelved in the "Humor" section of a bookstore, which some stores have. Calling humor a genre is like calling the sun a chandelier: stupid. It's not a genre and the books that are typically shelved there are about as funny as watching Beatrix try to give a kitten back its nose.