Thursday, June 27, 2013

James Thurber

I was introduced to James Thurber about seven years ago and have since made a point of reading him at least once a year. I am trying to go through his canon slowly, seeing as how he’s dead and all. Thurber is the humor writer to whom all others are compared, including David Sedaris, Bill Bryson, and Calvin Trillin. (Actually, all three authors have won the Thurber Prize for American Humor.) He was one the first employees at the New Yorker, starting in 1927 as an editor and later adding cartoons to his repertoire when his friend and coworker E.B. White (Charlotte’s Web, anyone?) found some of his wadded-up drawings in the wastebasket and had them published. He was a profound dog lover and often featured them in his work. (The “Thurber Dog” is a definite icon.)

Thurber stories are funny in a way that transcends to some extent the time period in which they were created, which is to say that his subjects are often universal: family members’ peccadillos, unruly children and pets, and marital discord. (I do tend lose him when he writes about his hired men and women; skip those stories or just take them for what they’re worth as remnants of a bygone era.) The Scary, Controlling Wife features in many of his pieces, and while I might be tempted to be a tad indignant about it (being a very understanding sort of wife myself), I find myself laughing instead.

Read Thurber for his appreciation of the absurd, for his evident love of language and wordplay, and for his unique way of seeing the world. For a good sampling, pick up The Thurber Carnival and be sure to read “The Night the Bed Fell” and “If Grant Had Been Drinking at Appomattox”.

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