The cornucopia is, by definition, a horn-shaped symbol of abundance, overflowing with fresh food; it’s also a musical sort of word. These two facts make “cornucopia” the perfect description for Save Room for Pie, the twenty-fourth book by Vanderbilt University graduate Roy Blount Jr. Several of Blount’s earlier titles are also collections of humorous essays, observations, poems, and songs. This collection, devoted to the celebration of food—mostly of the Southern variety—collects all those and more, including a food-related one-act play, actual but oddball news stories, and made-up but oddball news stories previously used as bluffs on the National Public Radio program Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.
While the book consists mostly of leftovers from magazines, the radio, and about a million other outlets for all things Blount, none of it has reached an expiration date. Consider this timeless simulation of Southern hospitality:
Come on in! Busy? Me? No! Sit right down here in my favorite chair and keep me up all night and drink my liquor. Can I run out and kill our last chicken and fry her up for you? No? Wouldn’t take a minute. Are you sure? Oh, don’t let the chicken hear you, she’ll be so disappointed.
Many of the pieces in Save Room for Pie began as columns for Garden & Gun magazine, and they serve as a testament to Blount’s status as one of the last practicing members of a dying breed: the humor columnist. Throughout most of the twentieth century, the humorous essay belonged to columnists who filled the pages of newspapers and magazines like The New Yorker, Look, Saturday Evening Post, and countless “men’s” and “women’s” magazines, along with specialty publications like Sports Illustrated or Outside. In any given week, newsstands would overflow with witty observations from the likes of James Thurber and E.B. White—or, here in the South, William Price Fox and Lewis Grizzard. While some of these publications still manage to cling to an audience, most of their humor columnists have been relegated to the closet that holds the IBM Selectrics and the red pencils.
Not Roy Blount Jr.
In the past few years Blount has published humorous essays and observations in not only Garden & Gun and Sports Illustrated, but also Smithsonian, The New York Times Book Review, The Oxford American, Men’s Journal, Conde Nast Traveler, and a ton of others. The sheer output of his work over the decades—and the fact that he continues it without slowing—has made him an American treasure, someone whose every word tends to be funny, who could dash off a shopping list that would make you laugh in a way that caused people around you to stare.
And public radio has given Blount’s humor music. Much of the work in this collection takes the form of light verse, another somehow antique-sounding genre, which he frequently shares with his radio listeners, often in recitation and occasionally in off-key song. (Blount has been a member of the all-author band Rock Bottom Remainders and has championed the “Society for the Singing Impaired.”) Here, for example, is his “Song to Barbecue Sauce”:
Hot and sweet and red and greasy,
I could eat a gallon easy:
Lay it on, hoss.
Nothing is dross
Under barbecue sauce.
Hear this from Evelyn Billiken Husky,
Formerly Evelyn B. of Sandusky:
“Ever since locating down in the South,
I have had barbecue sauce in my mouth.”
Nothing can gloss
Over barbecue sauce.
It is a type of measured and metered silliness that has all but vanished from American life—writing that is simultaneously common (hoss) and sophisticated (dross) while also making fun of itself for putting on airs. It is as delightfully sinful as a third piece of strawberry pie.
Michael Ray Taylor teaches journalism at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. He is the author of several books of nonfiction and coauthor of a new textbook, Creating Comics as Journalism, Memoir and Nonfiction.