Text by Diane Slocum

In January, when the days can often be dark and dreary, especially as we await relief from months of pandemic, humor can be the best medicine.

“The Chicken Sisters” (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, December 2020), KJ Dell’Antonia’s debut novel is a hilarious romp in sisterly rivalry. Rival families at Chicken Mimi’s and Chicken Frannie’s have vied for a century to claim the title of best chicken in Kansas. When intermarriage mixes up the two families and one sister appeals to a TV competition to settle the feud, the other sister takes on the challenge. Family secrets emerge, and the sisters must decide between their rivalry and their heritage.

“This Time Next Year” (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, December 2020) by Sophie Cousens is also a debut. Two babies are born just after midnight on New Year’s morn. Quinn, the boy, gets the first baby prize, and even the name that the girl baby was supposed have instead of the less-exciting Minnie. And Minnie feels that is the luck that dogs her as the years go by. On their 30th  birthday, they meet — he a successful businessman, she about to lose hers. Quirks of fate continue to bring them together.

Not hilarious, but full of wit and charm, “Peristroika in Paris” (Knopf, December 2020) by Pulitzer Prize-winning Jane Smiley is another feel-good book to keep the doldrums away. A racehorse in Paris (nicknamed Paras) escapes and first joins forces with a streetwise dog, then ducks and an opinionated raven. Finally, a young orphan who can hide a horse at his great-grandmother’s home becomes Paras’ companion in a search for true love and freedom.



Clovis photographer and journalist Steven Sanchez put his love of music and photography together into his book “Rock & Roll for Everybody.” The project started with his radio station employer assigning him the job of getting rock concert photos for the station’s website. He expanded it from there to chronicle all the top bands that performed in Fresno, whether rap, rock, folk or indie, whether at clubs, outdoors or at arenas, and whether they are just starting out or long-standing legends.

Sanchez has lived in the valley most of his life. He has a BFA in film from the University of Nevada and has worked in fields such as screenwriting videography, journalism, marketing and public relations.



Writer’s Digest University offers a Comedy Writing Workshop led by Leigh Anne Jasheway, who teaches at the University of Oregon and has published 24 books. Learn the best emotions to evoke humor. Sessions include 7 Joke Types and How to Use Them, Taking Your Brain to the Funny Side and More Fun Tricks, such as inherently funny words. Enrollment is $229.99. Details: writersonlineworkshops.com/courses/comedy—writing—workshop.



Matt Duczeminski writes in Lifehack

“10 Reasons Why People Who Read A Lot Are More Likely To Be Successful.”

Among the reasons he gives are “They have increased focus,” “They spend time wisely” and “They have increased memory.”

Go to Lifehack.org to read all his reasons and how they lead to success.



The National Book Award for Fiction went to Charles Yu for “Interior Chinatown.” Les and Tamara Payne won the nonfiction award for “The Dead Are Arising,” a biography of Malcom X. Douglas Stuart won the Booker Prize for his debut novel, “Shuggie Bain,” about a lonely gay son and alcoholic mother in Scotland.



The Malahat Review Long Poem Prize is accepting entries until Feb. 1. Entries must be made through Submittable. Poems must be 10-20 pages long when printed in the magazine, which allows for up to 36 lines per page. U.S. entrants’ fee is $40 U.S. Multiple entries are allowed ($15 each). No published work or simultaneous submissions. Details at: malahatreview.ca/contests/long_poem_prize/info.html.

FanStory is offering a Future Flash Fiction contest with a Feb. 12 deadline. Story must take place in the future and have a maximum of 500 words. Membership in FanStory is $9.95 per month or $89 per year. Prize is $100.



“A day without sunshine is like, you know, night.” — Steve Martin, 1945

“What’s another word for Thesaurus?” — Steven Wright, 1955

“Don’t sweat the petty things, and don’t pet the sweaty things.” — George Carlin, 1937—2008