Friday, November 23, 2012

How to Get Through the Day - Thurber-style

James Thurber
Photo from The Thurber House
Earlier this year I reread James Thurber's My Life and Hard Times, an autobiographical collection of humorous stories of his growing up in Columbus, Ohio. 

In Lances and Lanterns, which I am reading now and which was published in 1961, Thurber is all about Words. He loves playing with words, inventing words, using words to help him drift off to sleep. He is not amused by words used by the advertising world - "the men in the grey-flanneled minds."  He abhors Hollywood's penchant for overstatement and use of exclamation marks in movie come-ons. 

He has become a bit of a curmudgeon which makes him all the more endearing to me. And the simple drawings of his only add more insights into this wonderful writer's creativity.

Thurber takes on Henry James in "The Wings of Henry James" and the questions of an eight-year-old in "A Moment with Mandy." Together they ponder such mysteries as "Why didn't God make bats butterflies?" "Why didn't God give dogs glasses?" and "Why don't foxes wear foxgloves?"

He starts off the book with a hilarious piece called "How to Get Through the Day" in which he advises:
--Never answer a telephone that rings before breakfast.

--If you want to keep your breakfast down, do not read the front page, or any page, of the morning newspaper

--Avoid the ten o'clock news on the radio, at all costs.

--Do not open the morning mail when it arrives if you are alone in the house.

--Stay away from afternoon naps, but as for a nip before dinner, "I am all for it unless it leads to nipping that doesn't end until after three o'clock in the morning.

--Select dinner-table conversations with care to avoid the gloomy "running from the muddle-fuddle of international relations to the dangers of cholesterol."

--Don't watch television's "Westerns and police bang-bangs."

Although written in the 1950s, these seem to be good rules for our time as well.


  1. These are pretty good rules for any time and I think I may sit down for a spell later and write my own alphabet ABC's. I like that idea, Belle.

    I picked up my copy of Read This on Wednesday and promptly read it, being extra careful with it for it will definitely be my book exchange gift at December's book group.

    An interesting side note you might appreciate. I ordered the book from a little local Indie bookseller, Barbara's Books. When I went to pick it up, I said my name was Penny and was promptly interrupted by the sales clerk, who exclaimed, "Oh, it is right here. It looked so interesting when I ordered it for you that I ordered a few more for the store". An interesting conversation ensued.

  2. That is funny about the book! I would have thought all the indie bookstores would be hawking it. How nice to know that we have made some ripples, Penny.

    In keeping with the ABC Gratitude List, I made an ABC list of authors on my bookshelves: Alcott, Boswell, Cameron, Dillard...I had one author or more for each letter except for Q,R,U,V, and X. I will have to work on that.