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[dl] Books



After six decades of making us laugh, comedy legend Carl Reiner keeps the smiles coming with two new books.


IN THE HIT FILM OCEAN’S ELEVEN
, veteran con man Saul Bloom, played by Carl Reiner, must be lured out of retirement to take one last big job. After several Emmy Awards and 60-plus years as an actor, director, and writer, Reiner himself would be forgiven if he wanted to close the book on his own illustrious career. Instead, the 87-year-old comedy legend has done just the opposite, penning two new books that not only tickle the funny bone but scare and stimulate the brain as well. They are Just Desserts: A Novellelah (Phoenix Books, $15) and Tell Me Another Scary Story … But Not Too Scary! (Phoenix Books, $17), both of which hit bookstores this month.

Reiner likes to kid that most of the under-30 crowd recognizes him only as “that old fart from the Ocean’s series.” But the winner of the prestigious Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor is best known for creating The Dick Van Dyke Show and for his role opposite his friend Mel Brooks in their beloved comedy sketch “The 2,000-Year-Old Man” from Your Show of Shows. “People of all ages -- 13, 50, 80 -- know ‘The 2,000-Year-Old Man,’ “ Reiner says. “We did five albums, and we cut such a wide swath with that character. In fact, last night, we decided we’re going to do another album. I wrote down a few dozen questions this morning to throw at Mel.”

Yet Reiner admits that of all his creative pursuits, writing is the one he takes the greatest pleasure in. He has released nine books over the years, including a short-story collection called How Paul Robeson Saved My Life: And Other Mostly Happy Stories and a bio-novel called Enter Laughing, which was recently released in a 50th-anniversary edition.

“All those other hyphens I have, actor-director-screenwriter, require help to get your work to the public,” he explains. “You need a stage, a set, a director. But when you’re writing a book, it’s just you, your brain, and the page.”

In Reiner’s Just Desserts, protagonist Nat Noland, a romance novelist, distracts himself from his blank page by writing a tongue-in-cheek e-mail to God. Nat spells out three punishments he would mete out upon sinners if he were the one in charge. In a twist on Reiner’s film Oh, God!, in Just Desserts, God not only answers Nat’s e-mail but follows through on his suggestions as well.

The Nat character shares a few traits with his creator -- in particular, the tendency to talk to himself. “I’ve always said, ‘Ask yourself questions,’ “ Reiner says. “If you’re a fairly intelligent person, you may get a good answer in response.”

And Reiner will continue to revamp his image with the under-30 set -- the under-12 set, even -- come September, when he’ll release Tell Me Another Scary Story, a sequel to his 2003 hit children’s book, Tell Me a Scary Story ... But Not Too Scary! The book will feature kid-friendly spooky tales and will come complete with a read-along CD.

So, will these books be the final bow for this octogenarian? Not a chance. He’s still looking ahead. “I’m proud that, at this point in my life, I’m not going back to something that has been done before but am trying something new,” he says. “The fact that I’m still creating is the most exciting thing.”