Saturday, April 3, 2010

James Thurber

I have a horrible habit of not listening to my mother's recommendations, of avoiding reading the things she says to read or watching the things she says to watch or listening to the things she says to listen to until I'm driven to doing it simply because I've gotten bored with the things I've been reading or watching or listening to over and over again. She is the person who first thrust The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler into my hands, the person who gave me The Secret of NIMH, the person who insisted I watch The Sound of Music and Dirty Dancing, the person who told me I'd really like Elton John and The Band, the person who introduced me to Simon and Garfunkel and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

And yet, with all of that, it still took me months before I read A Wrinkle in Time after she gave it to me and told me I'd love it. She gave it to me along with The Mixed Up Files and NIMH, in fourth grade, and it took me until midway through fifth to bother with it. It, and the other three books in the series, became my veritable Bible from fifth to eighth grade. It, among other things, gave my shop teacher a reason to not let me actually participate in shop class after a fairly harrowing experience with a drill, because he'd lived next to the author, Madeline L'Engle, while growing up and talked to me about this worn out book I insisted on carrying everywhere with me.

In eighth grade, I was spending the day with my father. We were driving around the state, visiting his various clients, talking, and listening to this book on tape he'd gotten out of the library, My Life and Hard Times. I knew of the book. A chapter had been in a compilation book series my parents owned and I'd poured over. Another chapter had been in my seventh grade Lit book, and I'd poured over that one as well. Listening to My Life and Hard Times with my father made me appreciate it, and the author, all the more. It was hilarious. And when I acquired the book-book, it took the place of A Wrinkle in Time as my new Bible.

I've been to the Thurber House in Columbus, OH several times. One time, my father got them to open the house early for us, because I loved it so much and because at some point we were going to have to leave Ohio, and he preferred that to be sooner rather than later. I have several James Thurber tee shirts, a lot of his books, and I still read portions of My Life and Hard Times on a weekly basis. James Thurber's Is Sex Necessary? is the book that I took out with my best friend and roomie's library card whilst in college, and then failed to return promptly (or rather, at all), and ran up a significant (around $200 or so dollars) late fee/replacement cost.

There are problems with James Thurber, as there would be with any white, straight, middle-class male author born in 1894. There are problems I've only begun to assess in my continued and continual rereading of My Life and Hard Times, with regard to race and gender and where the two meet. But his humor oftentimes comes from the ridiculousness of people, and more often than not from himself. And so, I was abso-freaking-lutely thrilled when Keith Olbermann professed to reading James Thurber to his father, because James Thurber is one of those authors who helped shape my life (and this whole beginning part is at least in partial reference to this meme), and who I feel is underappreciated - or at the very least, too much of an unknown. My happiness increased exponentially when the final segment on friday's Countdown was, in point of fact, Keith Olbermann reading a short story of James Thurber's, "A Box to Hide In". And because I love Thurber more than possibly any other author, I had to share. This story doesn't come from my personal Thurber Bible, but I do love it:

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