Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Thurber Carnival

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded. This time, a review of The Thurber Carnival (Harper, 1945).

Isn't it strange and sad how James Thurber has been slowly slipping out of the public consciousness? I can recall in college having a stapled photocopy of all his "Male Approach" drawings, and could identify a friend or acquaintance who matched the behavior of each one of the cartoons in the set. And yet, a couple of months ago, I came across a much-loved and cared-for umpteenth edition of The Thurber Carnival and realized I had not thought about Thurber in years.

At one time, this book was probably a resident of most of the bookshelves in this country. Originally published in 1945, it's a large omnibus which compiled the entirety of the earlier My World and Welcome to It and selected essays and stories from six previous anthologies, along with some of his cartoons. The scattershot approach sort of makes you glad that publishers don't really assemble books in this fashion much anymore.

Of course, it's all wonderful stuff, with the quiet observations of people's public, and occasionally over-the-top behavior contrasting the actions they repress. Thurber was every bit the equal of America's greatest humorists, and I was really amused to consider that no matter how much our culture homogenizes, no matter how much we bury ourselves in technological geegaws, the middle-class male is much the same as he was seventy years ago. And dogs, well, they never change. This very funny book deserves to once again be a resident of most of the bookshelves in this country.

(What? You mean when you were in college, people didn't carry stapled photocopies of Thurber in their backpacks? How strange!)

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