Few assertions are easier to disprove, Kohen writes, than the notion that women aren't funny -- especially now, with two of the past four winners of the Mark Twain Prize being Tina Fey and Ellen DeGeneres. From pioneers Phyllis Diller, Joan Rivers and Carol Burnett to the thoroughly modern Margaret Cho, Sarah Silverman and Amy Poehler, the author has collected back stories that show how far women comedians have come. Particularly telling is comparing the chapters on the women of "SNL" during the Gilda Radner/Jane Curtin years to the Kristen Wiig/Poehler years. A couple of quibbles: There's no input from Wanda Sykes or Goldie Hawn. And while packed with great anecdotes and insights from dozens of funny femmes and the men who laughed with them, the book suffers from its rather lazy oral-history structure. It would be a better read if Kohen had condensed more recollections, connected more dots and included more tidbits from her sources' acts. Still, you can always skip around to cherry-pick the boldface names of your choice.
KRISTIN TILLOTSON, FEATURES WRITER
This lovely book celebrates books, and book owning, and book loving and bookshelves. Several dozen book lovers -- mainly authors, but not exclusively -- were asked to choose one shelf of books that best represents them and write a brief essay about it.
The design of this book is lovely, with glossy pages and illustrated with paintings, rather than photographs, of the spines of the chosen books. Rosanne Cash, you'll find, was moved by "The Diary of Anne Frank," "Little House in the Big Woods" and E.B. White's "Here Is New York." What's not to love?
Junot Diaz read voraciously as a child to help improve his own English. "I had come from a family and a place in the Dominican Republic where books were basically medieval -- few people had them, and they were very precious," he wrote. "The United States was a country of books."
Francine Prose's shelf contains Chekhov, Chekhov, Chekhov, Chekhov, Chekhov, Chekhov and Chekhov, along with a few others.
What a beautiful way to get to know a writer: Browse his shelves.
LAURIE HERTZEL, BOOKS EDITOR