[Review] - How To Archer: The Ultimate Guide to Espionage And Style And Woman And Also Cocktails Ever Written

[Authors Note: The usual Monday Morning Movie Review will not appear today, as the only thing in theatres this weekend worth spending money on is The Avengers, and I've already seen it twice. So you know what I did? I read a book... then saw The Avengers again. It's still good.]

Courtesy of HarperCollins
Ever wanted to know how many pounds per square inch of preasure it takes to break a child's collar bone? Ever wanted to successfully impersonate Steve Miller? How to win in a casino (it involves lots of Asians)? What the plural of editrix is? If you answered 'no' to any of these questions, what is wrong with you? Do you lack curiosity and joy in your life? Do you sit alone at night, watching reruns of America's Most Wanted, eating Ramen noodles and tap water, wondering when your next electricity bill will arrive? If you answered 'yes' to any of those original questions, then How To Archer is the book for you.

There is a worry with books like this, by which I mean books based on successful TV shows, but not continuations of the show, that they'll just be a recycling of the jokes that worked in the context of the show. Very rarely do the same jokes work in the context of a silent book, often because jokes rely on timing and delivery, and the quality of the funny person saying them. Also, they are usually gags or tie-ins that loose their funny after a dozen pages or so, and just become monotonous.

Happily, Sterling Archer's How To guide manages to avoid most of that. Yes, there are some recycled jokes from the show (it is ostensibly an expansion of the first season episode Training Day), and many more from his twitter account, which I swear is the only twitter account worth reading. But, because the book is written from the first person, with Archer talking directly to you, you forgive it because who doesn't repeat themselves from time to time. Though, this also proves to be the book's largest weakness, as it really does make the assumption that you are a fan of the FX series, and familiar with Archer's voice and rhythms.

You are, aren't you. A fan, I mean, how can you not be? Amorous cartoon spies, whats not to like? You know what, if you've never seen it, go and buy it off Amazon, watch it and come back.

Back? Funny, right? OK. Hit the jump for the rest of the review.

Straight away, this book would work so much better as an audio book. As  mentioned above, the biggest failing is that it relies on reading it in Archer's voice. Otherwise, it looses most comedic effectiveness. It's still a good book, just not the book it's designed to be. Now, granted its not that hard to imagine Archer's voice, if you've seen an episode of the show you can imagine it pretty readily. But actually hearing H. Jon Benjamin read this would be many leagues better.

Otherwise, this is a fantastic book. Not just as a companion to the series, of which there are negligible references. It's written, as Archer points out several times, as a How To Manual, to teach regular folk like us how to become the world's greatest spy. Or at the very least, not become that "other (lame British) secret agent." However, he also points out (repeatedly) that he can't teach people how to be awesome, and is only contracted for 30,000 words. What it has done is perfectly capture Archer's personality in the prose. Every line is written as if Archer had done so: with as little foresight and as much apathy as possible.

The amazing thing is, like the character on the show, the book is frighteningly intelligent, coated with a think veneer of attention deficit stupidity. There is actual knowledge contained in these pages, surrounded on all sides by (knowingly) sexist, possibly racist, definitely ignorant remarks. Anyone not familiar with the show, and not understanding the tone of the book could easily be incredibly offended, especially woman, who don't come off well at all, because Archer is an asshole.

The book is broken into six sections, the length of each varies. How To Spy covers weaponry, combat and interrogation resistance ("Ever stubbed your pinky toe really badly on the metal leg of your bed frame? Because you strike me as the sort of person whose bed would be on a cheap metal frame.") and a distinct lack of cobras. How to Drink is a recipe book for Archer's favourite cocktails ("Molotov Cocktail: Unless you happen to live in Finland between 1940 and 1945, not only do not drink this, please please please do not even attempt to make it. Seriously, HarperCollins is far enough up my ass already."). How To Style concerns the proper way to buy clothes ("Tailored suits: You can probably squeak by with twelve."). How To Dine concerns food ("I never - never - eat lunch at home. Because I don't have a vagina."). How To Women concerns hookers, mostly. And How To Pay For It concerns personal finance ("Raccoons are just fun in general.").

Most impressive are the Unarmed Combat and Cocktails sections. Paired with comments like "Hapkido: Steven Seagal holds a ham-flavored belt in it", the Combat section is a wonderfully terse, yet informative break down of the major forms of combat from around the world. Not entirely informative, just enough to be interesting, and get you on to the next joke. The Weapons section is similar, though more detailed, and surprisingly low on jokes, as if the information were actually being imparted by someone who knows what they are talking about, they just don't care about you. The Cocktails section is the most shocking, containing nearly twenty pages on just cocktail recipes. Actual recipes, that you can make, and drink, and wake up the next morning regretting. This section also contains the best running joke of the book, concerning Archer's complete lack of knowing what gomme syrup is, and why it's used in nearly all the best drinks.

While most books in this genre are interesting little Easter Eggs, making you feel like you're part of show, How To Archer will probably never be mentioned on the show. It is it's own beast. It's obviously for fans, not just a gag gift. And it's a quick read, able to be dashed out in a couple hours (if that), and then forgotten about on your bookcase. But, for what it is, it's a great little book to read on a train, or while you're sitting in a doctor's office. And, it contains this passage, which was the only one in the book to cause containment to fail, and for me to laugh out loud (in a crowded theatre, during intermission no less).
"Instead of a tasteful rendering of a handsome man introducing a beautiful woman to the subtle melange of complex emotions and intense physical pleasure which is anal sex, I get a gingerbread centaur shitting a soccer ball. I'm bailing."
And yes, there is an illustration that accompanies that passage.

Now I can't wait until season 4.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


  1. Robin24 July 2013 at 20:40

    I was reading this on the bus, and the gingerbread centaur line made me laugh so hard - for 5 whole minutes, with snorts and tears - that everyone on the bus started looking at me. And I still couldn't stop laughing.

    1. by MR. Clark25 July 2013 at 08:15

      Years ago, I was reading a Dave Barry book at a bus stop, and was stiffling the laughter so as not to look like a maniac. So instead of making any noise, I was shaking uncontrollably. To the extent that a kindly old woman came over and asked me if I was having a fit, and if I needed help.

      You'd think I'd have learnt my lesson about reading comedy in crowded places, but no. Not at all.