Sunday, June 28, 2009

Well, if I called the wrong number, why did you answer the phone?

A few days ago, overcome by inertia and the urge to procrastinate, I perused the iGoogle gadgets and further personalized my Google homepage.  Now, when a new browser window opens, I am immediately presented not only with the traditional Google search field, but a Wikipedia search field, a word of the day, German word of the day, Spanish word of the day, NYTimes top stories, weather, a box in which to play hangman (which has already robbed me of too much time and will probably be removed soon), pictures of places to see before I die, etc.  I'm loving it.  I'm also loving a little box entitled "Quotes of the Day", which shares three new quotes a day.

Not all the quotes are great, of course, but some of them have procured a smile or given me a moment of reflection.  One of today's quotes made me giggle: "The only winner in the War of 1812 was Tchaikovsky.".  I had never heard of its author, Solomon Short, so I clicked over to check him out.  I was not further intrigued, but did happen upon the name of one of my favorite authors and enjoyed reading some of his quotes.  And now, instead of going to sleep like I definitely should be, I am curled up in bed thumbing through a collection of his short stories and blogging about it.  Because, gentle readers, I would hate to think you have somehow missed out on James Thurber.

James Thurber was best known for his contributions as both a short story writer and cartoonist for The New Yorker, and was a colleague and friend of E.B. White (author of Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little, among other things) and Dorothy Parker.

Thurber's writing is clean, simple, sophisticated, elegant, and hilarious.  His creativity and wit are matched by few, and his gift of satire is impeccable.  Thurber's most famous short stories, fables and cartoons are compiled in a book called The Thurber Carnival.  Our family's copy is battered and worn from decades of frequent use (first by my father, then by me).  I particularly enjoy the elements of Thurber's writing that provide glimpses into the lives and thoughts of the New York's literary elite during the first half of the 20th century. 

In case you're curious, here are the titles of some of my favorite Thurber stories (all of which can be found in the Carnival): Something to Say, The Departure of Emma Inch, If Grant Had Been Drinking at Appomattox, The Greatest Man in the World, and What Do You Mean it WAS Brillig?.   (Truth be told, the last story in this list is actually not very politically correct, as its primary subject is Thurber's difficulty in understanding the way his African-American-- a phrase he did not employ-- housekeeper spoke.  However, it is worth remembering that we are all products of our own time and culture, and Thurber was no exception.  Whatever unfortunate elements may be present, it is perhaps not necessary to ignore the brilliance in this story because of them.  Thurber was doubtless a progressive in his day.)

Anyway, if you are so inclined, I urge you to give Mr. Thurber a try.  He's an American Genius, that one.

I'll leave you with a quote by Thurber himself on his writing later in life:
   "With 60 staring me in the face, I have developed inflammation of the sentence structure and definite hardening of the paragraphs."

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