First let me just say that I realize John Cleese’s “old British fart” Twitter persona has made him pretty unpopular in a lot of places, and that I would not normally have read his new book. But, given that it was a gift from someone who is smart enough to not be online as much as I am I decided to give it a try. It was helpful in making that decision that the book is quite literally pocket sized and took me less than an hour to read including breaks.
Brevity may be the soul of wit but it’s also the blessing of the famous person who owes a book to their publishers. This book is just over 100 pages but given the generous spacing and the smaller paper size I wouldn’t be surprised if it only amounted to around 30 pages of actual material.
And the material itself? Basically this is a TED talk about creativity and how to engage your mind in the creative process. I suppose Cleese has some justification to present himself as an authority on the subject, but the content here is all stuff you’ve heard before, about how you have to start working before the idea is perfectly formed, how the time spent staring at a blank page is actually part of the process, how you have to do multiple drafts and kill your darlings, etc. Cleese seems blissfully unaware that he’s treading on familiar ground, presenting these pearls of wisdom as though he’s come up with them himself.
Even worse for people who have the misfortune to pay actual money for the book, it’s not funny. I finished reading it this afternoon and I don’t remember Cleese making a single joke or nod at humor. The only thing I laughed at was the ending, when I realized that Cleese really had stopped writing in the middle of a thought. As the kids might say it has big “I just hit my word count” energy. A lazy, uninspired effort from start to finish.