In the follow-up to his award-winning debut novel, Once Removed, Steinbach-based author Andrew Unger returns to familiar territory with The Best of the Bonnet, a selection of articles from The Daily Bonnet, the website where he has posted approximately 2,300 satirical news articles over the last five years.
Unger found it a challenge deciding which stories to include. He selected popular articles, ones that he personally really liked, and decided against ones that might have been popular when first written, but didn’t make much sense years later.
“A lot of humour is based on context, so sometimes there are jokes, especially if they are referring to current news events, which only work for a week or two,” he says. The editors at Turnstone Press also brought their perspectives to the selection process.
“I think, in the end, we have a great collection that people will really enjoy.”
Unger and his editors also spent some time determining groupings, and looking at the order of articles within a particular section, so that the flow was right. “I think it’s kind of like how a musician might think about the flow of an album,” he says. “There’s an order and pacing and even juxtaposition of ideas that has to be right.”
The author’s satirical writing style suggests that “Mennonites do, indeed, have a sense of humour.” According to Unger, “Mennonites are diverse, of course, but some groups of Mennonites used to frown on humour. They were so pious that any form of lightheartedness was considered a sin. You couldn’t even laugh. Life was serious, after all. Even writing fiction was considered sinful. Just three generations back, my father’s family was like that.
“Things have changed, but I think some people still have the impression that Mennonites don’t really laugh, and I hope The Daily Bonnet helps to change that perception.”
Unger maintains that this collection is honouring Mennonite quirks as much as criticizing them.
“I use the medium of satire to point out flaws in my community, my religious background, and myself, but I think that The Daily Bonnet is also a celebration of Mennonite traditions. Many people could look at their own backgrounds, the way they were raised and so on, and find things to dislike and other things to admire. I think it’s important to bring both elements to light,” he says.
“Life is full of complexity and nuance, and I’ve tried to approach the Mennonite world with this in mind.”
Many of Unger’s articles explore the importance of identity and community. “I think questions about identity and community are not always easy to answer, but are essential nonetheless. Even if we can’t answer them clearly and concisely and even if the answers are complex, they’re still worth asking,” he says.
“Essentially these questions are ‘Who am I?’ and ‘How do I fit into this world?’ and, as strange as it may sound, I think that satire can help us answer these questions. By critiquing certain aspects of my own background, I am saying, ‘This is part of me,’ and sometimes ‘I wish it wasn’t like this.’”