The Adventures and Misadventures of the Extraordinary and Admirable Joan Orpí, Conquistador and Founder of New Catalonia
By Max Besora
400 pp. Open Letter Books. $18.
Humor is one of the most highly subjective qualities of all. Far more of us can agree on the quality of a great drama or adventure than a great comedy, and even classic comedic films and novels feel far more controversial than others.
I love the film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” for example, but I know others who found it a total bore. Likewise, those Judd Apatow films — most of which star the terminally unfunny Seth Rogan — do absolutely nothing for me, though they clearly have a large and devoted fan base.
My first experience of watching a Charlie Chaplin film was in Kharkiv, Ukraine back in 2012. A girlfriend at the time had taken me as, being a silent film, it was one of the only movies we could go out and enjoy together. But we didn’t enjoy it together. I laughed the whole way through, while she barely cracked a smile. I trace the unraveling of our relationship back to that evening.
That’s partly because, however much we might try and deny it, shared tastes regarding films and literature matter far more than we might let on.
I’ve heard tell of people who base their relationships on whether or not a potential friend or partner enjoyed A Confederacy of Dunces. It’s the first question they’ll ask on a date or, all too often these days, an app.
As a result, I am not friends with nor have I dated any of these people, as I believe that book to be one of literature’s most overrated.
Ultimately, though, I believe that judging people based on the types of books they do or don’t like is a luxury that’s quickly vanishing from society. It won’t be long before a first date professes his or her love of “Twilight” or the latest James Patterson schlock and we propose to them right then and there.
“At least you read!” We’ll say.
So it will be when someone professes their love for “The Adventures and Misadventures of the Extraordinary and Admirable Joan Orpí, Conquistador and Founder of New Catalonia.”
That is, if they can actually manage to get that title out without turning purple and dropping dead on the spot.
We can discuss our mutual love of the independent publisher Open Letter Books, which is how I learned about this book, which was a part of my yearly subscription with them. We can debate whether paperback or hardcover books are ultimately superior. We can even discuss the quality of Catalan literature.
But what we cannot do is discuss our shared love of this particular book, as I very much do not harbor any kind feelings toward it whatsoever.
On the back of my lovely paperback edition, there is a blurb by one Ryan Chapman that states “If Cervantes and the Monty Python guys were shoved into the Large Hadron Collider … we might get something like Joan Orpí.”
I must disagree with Chapman there, because despite my aforementioned love for Monty Python and my very, very fond feelings for Cervantes’ Don Quixote, which I think we would all agree is an incomparable classic, “Joan Orpí” is a crude, unfunny, tortuous slog.
One of the things I especially love about my Open Letter Books subscription is that its publisher, Chad Post, includes a letter with each book speaking to its finer qualities. About “Joan Orpí” he writes:
“I’m willing to guarantee that you’ll find yourself chuckling out loud before page 20…”
I made it to page 50 with nary a chuckle, read a few more pages toward the middle, and the last three or four pages, and still no pleasurable sound escaped my lips.
There are an assemblage of fart jokes, a great number of absurd medieval songs, and an episode featuring vagina dentata that all failed to amuse me even the slightest.
Perhaps it’s me. Perhaps I’m just a tense, humorless sod. I won’t rule it out.
But “Joan Orpí” feels to me like a book for a person who thought “Don Quixote” needed to be ratcheted up by about 10,000%, who needs to be beaten into bloody, beefy pulp with their humor, for whom the word “subtle” feels utterly foreign.
When the moon Nazis descend, burn all our books, and make “reading” a thing of the past, I might consider a relationship with such a person.
But not today.