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Enlarging the Library of Humor

Clif Cleaveland, MD
14 February 2008

Readers responded to my December invitation for nominees for humorous books with a rich array. Imagine libraries of humor in schools, businesses, and offices of government. Think of the results if we turned to humor at moments of frustration or disappointment. Unlike tranquillizers and anti-depressant medication, reading has no allergic or toxic side-effects.

Melissa Atkinson nominates the books of Bill Bryson, especially The Thunderbolt Kid, which deals with the author's experiences in the 1960s.

Steve Bartlett points out the advantages of used bookstores in locating older books which he deems more humorous. He recommends The Thurber Carnival, especially its stories, "The Night the Bed Fell" and "The Day the Dam Broke." His favorite author for laugh-out-loud humor is Jean Shepherd. He highlights In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash and Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories.

Bill Casteel seconds the nomination of James Thurber and adds the works of H. Allen Smith. Bill has discovered a great reservoir of humor in box-sets of Seinfeld CDs. Bill reports checking his blood pressure before and after watching an episode and reports amazing drops. He offers the thought: "remember: you don't stop laughing because you grow old; you grow old because you stop laughing."

Kitty Forbes proposes books by a quintet of writers: Charles Portis's Norwood, Elise Sanguinetti's The Last of the Whitfields, James Wilcox's Modern Baptists and Sort of Rich, Woody Allen's Without Feathers, and Patrick Dennis's Auntie Mame.

For Alison Hoffman, My Fine Feathered Friend by William Grimes tops her laugh list. Although not a humorous book, she commends Sarah Gruen's Water for Elephants.

Grant Law recalls the pleasure found in the books by Lewis Grizzard, who was also a wonderful stand-up comedian. Grant guarantees laughs if you read Elvis Is Dead and I Don't Feel So Good Myself and They Yanked My Heart Out and Stomped That Sucker Flat.

Jack McEwan pointed me to The Humor of Christ by Elton Trueblood. I located this out-of-print book on-line and share Jack's regard for its fresh assessment of Christ's use of satire, irony, and humor in His teachings.

Elizabeth Martin highlights the series by Effie Leland Wilder about "everybody's favorite busybody, Hattie McNair and her fellow residents at the Fair Acres Retirement Home." Titles include Out to Pasture (But Not Over the Hill), Over What Hill? (Notes From the Pasture), Older but Wilder, and One More Time.

Mark Reneau commends The Portable Dorothy Parker, especially for its sampling of book and theater reviews which Ms. Parker wrote for Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. He admires the four books of Woody Allen and their aphorisms such as, "The lamb and the lion shall lie down together, but the lamb won't get much sleep." Further recommendations include A Subtreasury of American Humor, edited by E.B. and Katherine S. White and its updating, Laughing Matters by Gene Shalit, Garrison Keillor's joke shows on CD (Pretty Good Jokes and More Pretty Good Jokes) and the CDs of Prairie Home Companion, The New Yorker Book of Cartoons, and "anything by David Sedaris, especially the CD of his Carnegie Hall show; his experience with the "Stadium Pal" is the best thing on it and it will leave you in tears."

Libby Workman seconds the vote for Dorothy Parker and reminds us of the great humor in the writings of Molly Ivins. Shady Grove by Janice Holt Giles is a favorite of her family. As a sequel to reading Confederacy of Dunces, Libby and her daughter visited the landmarks cited in the novels "as if they were shrines." Libby points to the pleasure to be found in comic strips, especially weekly renditions of Opus.

Frank White highlights the novels of Canadian Robertson Davies, particularly The Papers of Samuel Marchbanks. Frank has used www.bookfinder.com to locate out-of-print books. "We should all read Dickens's American Notes and Martin Chuzzelwit just to give us perspective on our American character and insight into our current political polarizations. It might help us to get over ourselves." Frank further recommends Hunter Thompson, Hollis Gillespie, Dave Barry, P.G. Wodehouse, Bailey White, and Oscar Wilde, along with H.L. Mencken (A Menchen Chrestomathy), Bernard Shaw, and Bill Bryson. On a more classical note he reminds us of the humor to be found in Rudyard Kipling, Shakespeare, and the librettos of Gilbert and Sullivan.

Correspondents cited the role of humor as they confronted complex, administrative situations or dealt with personal loss and business setback. We cried upon delivery into this world. Not long afterwards, we grinned and later laughed. Sustaining the ability to laugh can grant us relief, perspective, and patience as we deal with the daily surprises of our lives.

I invite your nominations of movies, radio and television programs, and DVDs that have made you laugh. Send me your nominees for inclusion in a future column.
Contact Clif Cleaveland at cleaveland1000@comcast.net.