Monday, June 12, 2006

'Liberating the Limerick'

Not long ago, I received an invitation for a book party to take place later this week, celebrating the launch of Ernest W. Lefever's latest publication, Liberating the Limerick: 230 Irresistible Classics.

I have not yet read the book, but I knew months ago that it was coming and am looking forward not only to reading it, but reading an autographed copy. (As you can see from the photo at left, Dr. Lefever and I go back a ways -- I think that picture was taken almost 20 years ago, on the night that Robert Bork received the Shelby Cullom Davis Award for Integrity and Courage in Public Life.)

To my surprise, Sunday's Washington Times featured Liberating the Limerick in a review by books editor Carol Herman, who writes of it:

Let's face it. For many people the limerick signifies a naughty little construct. Often salted with dirty words and an attitude to match ("There once was a man from Nantucket . . ."), the limerick lives in most imaginations as the drunken uncle of polite word play.

With the publication of Ernest W. Lefever's insightful and entertaining collection "Liberating the Limerick," all that, as they say, is about to change. As Mr. Lefever writes in the book's introduction, "This collection of 230 verses by fifty authors, past and present, demonstrates that limericks can be wise, hilarious, and often sexy without being obscene."
Herman wonders how Lefever, author of such serious-sounding (and, indeed, serious) books about public policy as Ethics and World Politics; Scholars, Dollars, and Public Policy: New Frontiers in Corporate Giving; Uncertain Mandate: The Politics of the UN Congo Operation; and Nuclear Arms in the Third World: U.S. Policy Dilemma, could come to edit a collection of light verse.
Throughout the book, Mr. Lefever shows that tackling even the most prickly issues need not be a dry or joyless endeavor. The inclusion of New Yorker cartoons throughout the book is lagniappe.

The question that will likely occur to readers first approaching this book is: How did Mr. Lefever, the founding president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, the author of a dozen books on ethics and politics, and the holder of a Ph.D. in Christian ethics from Yale University, come to compile a book of limericks? Mr. Lefever writes: "Frankly, I don't regard this collection as a descent. Many, perhaps most, of these verses reflect facets of truth and virtue wrapped in irony and caricature."
Dr. Lefever told me that he has been savoring and collecting limericks since he was a teenager. He culled the 230 in Liberating the Limerick from about 9,000 that he has found and saved over the past seven decades.

The book has already gained praise from other authors who know something about humor. Actor/writer/game-show host Ben Stein calls it "startlingly wholesome" and "full of fun." Christopher Buckley, whose novel Thank You for Smoking has been turned into a successful movie (still in theatres) wrote his own limerick in tribute:
A tireless man named Lefever
With limericks did beaver and beaver
Producing a tome
You'll want in your home
It's delicious and deucedly cleever.
Liberating the Limerick is being released at just the right moment: Immediately available for summer beach reading and in plenty of time to become a Christmas stocking-stuffer.

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