This anthology of humour writing extracted from 'The New Yorker' is a collection of sketches, parodies, and poems and if it does not make you laugh, you are entitled to call yourself "a miserable old git" and go back to concentrating on scaring little old ladies! Work from some of the world's most talented and proven humorists from over a period of time, has been carefully selected and edited into this 'irresistibly funny gathering' by David Remnick and Henry Finder, Editor and Editorial Director respectively of The New Yorker.
Like another reviewer on this page, I agree that "humour is often diluted by concentration" and for maximum enjoyment and digestion of the wit on offer, it is best read in dribs and drabs otherwise the humour does not get fully taken in or appreciated. Accordingly I keep this book in the smallest most 'convenient' room in the house and read a few pages upon each unhurried visitation and have not yet finished it. However, from the amount that I have read it is quite evident that this is a unique collection and perhaps the most humorous and cleverly crafted anthology of this genre ever assembled. The list of contributors reads like the "A" list of world renowned humorists.
I hope that as a reviewer I am not to be compared with the theatre critic described in the book by E.B.White, the renowned columnist at The New Yorker who wrote the famous children's books 'Stuart Little' and 'Charlotte's Web', thus:-
The critic leaves at curtain fall
To find, in starting to review it,
He scarcely saw the play at all
For watching his reaction to it.
When Pandora opened the forbidden box, all the evils of the world emerged. Only Hope remained to support people. Humour is Hope's offsider, without which Hope is only grim determination. There's nothing grim in this collection, granting the sole exception that so many of the "dated" pieces display a disturbing timelessness. Thurber's 1933 article on Mr. Preble and Frank Sullivan's articles from the same era are examples. No matter, this collection from The New Yorker spans time, topic and technique with enough variety for any reader. Broadly divided into such subject areas as "Spoof," "Words of Advice" and, my favourite, "The Writing Life" the assembly of wit can be approached from almost any direction. The editors caution you not to read it cover to cover, - "put yourself on a diet" - but such advice is unwarranted. The variety of the chosen selections passes you from one piece to the next without choking. Within the topic areas the essays are chronologically arranged. Knowing that, you may chose an area and read at random.
A collection as large and varied as this necessarily lacks universal appeal. Tastes in humour vary as widely as in religion or politics. Groucho Marx is mostly unknown in this generation, but on stage, TV and here in print, displays why he was revered as a comic for many years. On the other hand, Remnick and Finder let Steve Martin convince them he's funny. Others remain to be convinced, but his inclusion in this collection still is justified. There is more than just the issue of generations involved. "Classical" humourists abound here, James Thurber, E. B. White and Robert Benchley. From the same era, however, Upton Sinclair would seem an intrusion - until you read "How to be Obscene."
As the chronology of each section progresses, it's clear that much of today's humour varies from early styles. Garrison Keillor is not really funny, but offers light-hearted philosophy in his submissions. Veronica Glen's "My Mao" can only be described as feeble, but is characteristic of the sort of humour the Cold War often evoked. Woody Allen's "Kugelmass Episode" lifts the tone with a whimsical fantasy published in the same year. Selections such as these point up that the collection is of "humour" and not "comedy." The distinction may be thin, but the editors have shown how deftly they have chosen when reviewers here assert the humour is "head" humour and not "gut" humour. Comedy is "gut" humour. "Head" humour suggests reflection and offers an alternative, and often plausible, version of real life. Many of the pieces here provide just that inspiration. Allen's fantasy of Kugelmass presents an update of Thurber's "Walter Mitty," showing how ageless this type of humour can be.
It's impossible to review this collection without commenting on the final piece. Notes on the typefaces are normally of interest only to printers and other publications specialists. Bruce McCall's "A Note on the Type" will almost certainly be overlooked by the inattentive. His satire is the chief reason to read the collection randomly, but it would be rewarding to learn how many readers had to be directed to it. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
This book is a perfect gift for all fans of The New Yorker!
If you are like me, The New Yorker's cartoons draw your attention first. Then, you'll look for quips in verse. You'll scan your favorite features. Next, you'll scan the table of contents for your favorite writers. Finally, you will read articles on subjects of interest.
In all cases, you can expect to be surprised with wit . . . even in the midst of "serious" articles on "serious" subjects.
Unless you have read every issue of The New Yorker over the past 75 plus years, undoubtedly you've missed some wonderful humor in the form of prose and poetry. This anthology lets you quickly access the works that have "stood the test of time" to still produce a laugh now for both editor, David Remnick, and editorial director, Henry Finder.
Over 70 contributors are represented, many by more than one piece.
You are cautioned that "humor is often diluted by concentration" so that you should sample this collection over time in small doses, like medicine.
The works are loosely organized into Spoofs, the Frenzy of Renown, the War between Men and Women, the Writing Life, a Funny Thing Happened, Words of Advice, Recollections and Reflections, and Verse.
The works vary a lot in how quickly they will reach your funny bone. Some will release many laughs, while others are basically one joke that will raise not too much more than a smile. After you have finished all of the offerings to the altar of humor, you may wish to create your own index of which works match best with which moods and times when you read.
I usually prefer compact works suffused with quick humor. Here are my favorites in the collection:
E.B. White, "Duck in Fierce Pajamas" which begins with "Ravaged by pink eye, I lay for a week scarce caring whether I lived or died." and "Critic"
Marshall Brickman, "The Analytic Napkin"
Ian Frazier, "LGA - ORD" which begins with "Grey bleak final afternoon ladies and gentlemen . . . ."
Groucho Marx, "Press Agents I Have Known"
Chet Williamson, "Gandhi at the Bat"
F. Scott Fitzgerald, "A Short Autobiography"
Frank Sullivan, "The Cliché Expert Takes the Stand" and "The Cliché Expert Tells All"
Ruth Suckow, "How to Achieve Success as a Writer"
Michael J. Arlen, "Are We Losing the Novel Race?"
Woody Allen, "Selections from the Allen Notebooks"
Peter De Vries, "The High Ground, or Look, Ma, I'm Explicating"
Robert Benchley, "Why We Laugh -- Or Do We?"
Steve Martin, "Changes in the Memory after Fifty"
Clarence Day, "Father Isn't Much Help"
S.J. Perelman, "Cloudland Revisited"
Martin Amis, "Tennis Personalities"
John Updike, "Car Talk"
Dorothy Parker, "Rhyme of an Involuntary Violet"
Ogden Nash, "Procrastination Is All the Time"
Robert Graves, "The Naked and the Nude"
Communing with these wonderful writers will also encourage you to read more of their work, and the works of those they spoof. What could be finer?
I hope that the editors consider producing a second volume that includes serious works which contain humorous asides and interludes.
Look on the bright side of every "overly serious" subject. In that way, you can avoid the "deadly dullness" stall!