Hall Of Idols #23: James Thurber


Twenty-thrid installment in a series exploring very important people in my life.

Let me start explaining how this will work: I listed 65 idols of mine. Every Friday (with the exception of those reserved for the Rock Chain posts) I’ll draw one of the names (following a system that it’s really not important to be explained here) and talk about it.

Therefore, the order in which the names will appear doesn’t necessarily shows where they rank in my preference.

As a final introductory note, this is also not a biography article. I’ll just write how I feel about people represented in it, their talent and their importance in my life.

If you are an avid reader and one of your favorite genres is comedy, you probably already read or even are a fan of James Thurber. If you do like to read funny texts and never read him, you have a lot of homework to do.

James Thurber is seen as one of the most popular humorists of his time and you only need to read some of his stuff to know why. His short stories are brilliant and filled with irony and dry humor, always making fun of everyday life and ordinary people.

James Grover Thurber was born December 8, 1894 in Columbus (OH). His father was a clerk and had all the characteristics which would later filled his short stories characters. His mother was, according to him, a natural born comedian. It’s not difficult to figure why his writings developed the way they did.

Thurber lived in Paris in two periods of his life from 1918 to 1924, until he decided to move to Greenwich Village in New York City and started working as a reporter for the New York Evening Post. In 1927 he managed to get a job as an editor in The New Yorker and that’s when the real fun began.

Thurber delighted the readers of the magazine not only with his stories but also with his cartoons. He drew them in a different fashion – on large sheets of paper with black crayons – due to his failing eyesight (result of an ill-fated William Tell game he played with his brother when he was a child).

I first became acquainted with the work of Thurber when I went to study to be a translator. My literary translation teacher presented us with a text from him – I can’t recall the name now, but it was hilarious. It was about a guy who was a guest in the house of a friend and when he wakes up, everything start going wrong for him in the bathroom, until he unwillingly destroy it. Anyway, as soon as I read it, I was just enthralled by his style and laughing my ass off as well.

Therefore, as soon as I got a chance I bought a book with a collection of his stories called “Lanterns and Lances” in a used bookshop in Denver, Colorado, I did. It is a very old Time magazine version (1962), but I can’t recommend it enough. Stories like “The Darlings at the Top of the Stairs” (about a child answering the phone), “The Porcupine in the Artichokes” (about writers in a party), “The Spreading ‘You Know’”(where he just slams the coming of the expression into the English language), “Friends, Romans, Countrymen, Lend Me Your Ear Muffs” (where he says to be desperate about how everybody is speaking bad English) and my personal favorite: “The Tyranny of Trivia” (about how he tries to avoid insomnia thinking about letters and words that start with it. It’s the work of a genius, to say the least), alone, make the book worth reading.

Thurber is living some kind of a revival now, as his short story “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, became a major picture starring Ben Stiller, who actually lists Thurber as one of his influences.

As a final note, I only need to say one thing: the only recognition of the art of humor writing in America is called “The Thurber Prize for American Humor”.

Therefore, Mr. Thurber, “H” is not only for hoodlum, hooligan, hophead, halitosis or hysteria. It’s also for Hall Of Idols. Welcome, sr.

Be sure to check out my book “Straight And Lethal”.

You can contact me at: carloantico666@gmail.com

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