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It’s a trend that has filled bookstores with clutter: A publisher takes a concept worthy of a semi-ambitious magazine article, pumps some air into it, sheathes it in a hard cover, and then adds blurbs and a table of contents. That’s essentially the provenance of New Yorker editor Ben Greenman’s fiction debut, anyway. Superbad: Stories and Pieces is a collection of 25 essays and humor riffs that alternate between flat and impenetrable. Greenman, to his credit, isn’t a Dave Barry wannabe—or at least he doesn’t try to stick a punch line in every sentence of a 210-page volume. Instead, he goes for slapstick story lines, like the one about a hardass colonel who brags to some guy’s wife about how he kicked her husband’s butt in tug of war. It’s a conceit that draws a snicker or two, followed by a sense of deflation when you realize that the riff has no legs. Other resounding failures in the collection include Greenman’s attempts to write satirical musicals about the Elian Gonzalez imbroglio and the Florida recount fiasco; in both cases, the artistic challenge calls on a level of cleverness that Greenman can’t supply. Fishing for a laugh in Superbad, though, doesn’t invariably haul in snags. In a one-pager titled “Notes on Revising Last Night’s Dream,” the author writes, “Old girlfriend who has moved on to date other men should not look so beautiful,” and “Tibet has no stock-car racing,” among other laughers. Pray that Greenman is struck by that sort of inspiration when he talks at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 21, at Olsson’s Books & Records, 1307 19th St. NW. Free. (202) 785-1133. (Erik Wemple)