By rough calculation, Dave Barry's Complete Guide to Guys is the author's 4,000th book. This is good news for casual Barry fans who like to keep track of how often the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Miami Herald uses the word booger to create his art, and excellent tidings for the serious Barry student who remains in awe of how a man whose life consists, essentially, of hanging around the house and eating lunch finds stuff to write about year after year. Deep stuff disguised as farting around. And on deadline. (The casual fan is also impressed with the prizewinning journalist's ability to insert the word fart into his compositions and receive money for his efforts.)
By now, real devotees have figured out that the way Barry fulfills his requirement to deliver a book to his publishers every fortnight is recasting favorite themes, shifting emphasis while employing patented idiomatic constructions and catchphrases (such as ''I am not making this up'') in a dazzling display of conservation of matter. A story about the relationship between men and their underpants, for instance, might pay particular attention to men in one version and put the stress on underpants in the next (thus paving the way for a new book called, maybe, Dave Barry's Drawers).
All of this is prelude to talking about Dave Barry's Complete Guide to Guys, because anyone who has read Barry has read the thoughts contained therein before. And yet here they are, still amusing, still eliciting the satisfied nod of recognition, and now presented with fresh new chapter headings, including ''Special Medical Concerns of the Guy,' or: 'It's Just a Sprain,''' and ''Tips for Women: How to Have a Relationship With a Guy.'' (The key point: ''Never assume that the guy understands that you and he have a relationship.'')
Guys, then, in Dave's universe, are dorks. They're forgetful, they have an unnecessary interest in gizmos, and they have no idea how to fold laundry. They're not men (a word the author finds too serious), and they're not boys (who are often emotionally more mature than the fellows he describes). They have no undertones of broodiness (in this they differ from the species written about by Garrison Keillor), but they're not exactly light, either (in this they're similar to the cast of most urban sitcoms). They're no good at asking directions (oh, that old riff). And they're obsessed with sex (duh).
You were expecting new insights? Guys, Barry insists, don't have new insights. The point of reading Dave Barry is to savor the anecdotes, the stories clipped from newspapers and sent in by adoring readers (Dave's Dittoheads!), the mention of the author's pets (''a large main dog named Earnest, and a small emergency backup dog named Zippy'') and son. The pleasure is in surfing the metaphors, the analogies, the delicate curls of phrase: ''the brains of an Odor Eater,'' ''the manual dexterity of an oyster,'' ''the emotional maturity of hamsters,'' ''forearms...bigger than a Barca-Lounger.'' The bonus is reading about duct tape, and nose hair, and the proper distribution of bodies at urinals when more than one guy is present.
Only the truly jaded would dismiss such information as old, or predictable, or material you've seen already on Home Improvement. Barry's talent is to put all the little noodges and itches and adjustments and adaptations of a daily life lived with other human beings in the perspective of the big picture. There's an underreported humanity to such a skill; like Bill Cosby at his best, the writer can unite a troubled nation of readers with his message of universal tolerance for the ups and downs of relationships, or by just mentioning the word goober. Dave Barry's Complete Guide to Guys may not be a collection of the most innovative thoughts the man has ever had, but it's buoyant and easy to carry, and the subtitle is ''A Fairly Short Book.'' Only a professional writer would attempt such honesty. A-