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Book Review

Book Review: by Lang Reid

You can get arrested for that

I think most of us harbor a desire to thumb our noses at the law, and I am also sure that all of us have broken some law, somewhere, sometime. It was with this feeling of being delightfully ‘unlawful’ that made me take “You can get arrested for that” (ISBN 978-0-552-15406-2, Corgi Books 2007) from the Bookazine shelf.
Written by Rich Smith, the back cover promised it was “brilliant and funny, an outrageous romp of a book”, a “daring crime spree across the United States - a journey to break the dumbest laws on the statute books.” The front cover even spelled it out as “2 blokes, 25 dumb laws, 1 absurd American crime spree” - how could this not appeal to the miscreant inside me?
The concept, while not new, had plenty to be covered. Finding ridiculous laws in the US, the self-styled land of the free, was not difficult, as author Smith soon found out. The immediate problem was one of logistics - choosing which laws and then putting them in some sort of geographical order, so that he could complete his tasks (which were hardly Herculean) in the three months he could devote to the project.
Heinous crimes such as cursing on a public mini-golf range would hardly put anyone on the ‘World’s most wanted’ list, and so even though the ‘crimes’ were fatuously ridiculous, ‘breaking’ them was even more silly, but this was of course the point of the book. In itself rather pointless.
What the book did, while exposing the silly laws, was to actually provide some good vignettes of small town USA, populated with people just like you and I, welcoming visitors to the extent that one woman even went back to her shop to open up especially, just for two young men from the UK who were passing through.
At B. 395, it is not going to break the bank, but it did not leave me breaking out with spontaneous laughter. To tell the truth, I found it a trifle tiresome, as Rich Smith and his friend Luke Bateman drive their rental car across America, seemingly getting drunk every night, and especially if the evening was spent in a Hooters Bar. Many of the laws were broken anonymously, and a photograph of Smith dressed in PJs while fishing does not really do much to show the ridiculous nature of the statute. If he had challenged the local upholders of the law to invoke its penalties it would have been far more entertaining.
I would have liked a list of the laws he hoped to break being given at the front of the book, and then a ‘report card’ at the end, showing which ones he managed to successfully break. Perhaps if Corgi wish to go to a further edition, this could be included. Somehow I doubt if a second impression is likely.
Author Rich Smith has done well to produce a readable book, but it is one that shows his immaturity. For his peers it is probably a masterpiece, but for the rest of us, I fear not. No room on my bookshelf.