Remembering the humorist-essayists

I know that I’m never going to run out of new reading, even at the increased pace I seem to be reaching (that is, a book a week or thereabouts, counting as “book” only, well, actual books)–but sometimes I want to take a fresh look at memories of bygone years.

I’ve been thinking about one group of writers I think of as the humorist/essayists, although that’s probably the wrong term. These are folks I read, as much as I could find, some decades ago and enjoyed thoroughly–and I’m wondering whether they’ll stand up to rereading.

Who? Five names comes to mind immediately, but one of the five is a ringer: He’s my age and only well known as an essayist in fairly recent years, and I mostly want to read more of his writing.

Three really are from bygone days: SJ Perelman, James Thurber and Robert Benchley. One is somewhere in between: Woody Allen. The ringer is Steve Martin.

I have a feeling I’m forgetting some of the greats from 40 years ago, when I was doing a lot of this reading; maybe they’ll come to me while browsing the shelves (a combination of short stories, since Livermore shelves those separately, and other classifications–maybe 813.54 or thereabouts? That’s an ignorant guess, since I don’t know Dewey worth a damn).

Turns out Livermore doesn’t own any Perelman–maybe he’s faded away more than I thought. The others are fairly well represented (at least three of them also in films, to be sure). My best guess: The first three will still be funny, Steve Martin will still be great, and Woody Allen…….well, I’m not sure how he’ll fare.

I’m pretty sure the political humorists–Art Buchwald and the lot–won’t have aged very well, and I’ve forgotten most of them.

These are idle musings, but I will start rereading some of this stuff soon. I never subscribed to The New Yorker, home base for much of the best of this sort of writing; maybe I should change that.

There is, to be sure, a solution for Livermore’s lack of Perelman–and for Livermore’s lack of Barbara Fister (I’ve grown to respect her writing and thinking so much that I really want to try her crime novels, but I want to read one before I go out and buy them), for that matter: Link+, the fairly large library cooperative in Northern California that’s surprisingly well integrated into the local catalog. I’ve never used it; that’s about to change, I think.

Amazing: A post about books.

(Yes, I have some thoughts about the current ebook kerfuffle–and about the extent to which public libraries have pushed ebooks and ereaders despite the lack of ownership that was almost certain to lead to stuff like this. But I don’t know when or whether I’ll post anything about it…there are others much closer to the situation, and at least one of them has already said “Why is anybody surprised by this?,” which is a good starting point for a longer conversation.)

5 Responses to “Remembering the humorist-essayists”

  1. Michael Golrick Says:

    By the way, 813.54 is for American novels (and literary criticism of them). Humor essays should be in 817.

    Here is a guide to the three digit version of Dewey courtesy of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Chmapaign (my LIS alma mater): http://www.library.illinois.edu/ugl/about/dewey.html

    I am assuming you looked for Perelman in the catalog. I grew up reading him partly because he was in college with my maternal grandfather, and also appeared regularly in the alumni magazine.

    Thurber and Benchley are great, and Benchley’s sons have done some good things as well. Nathaniel and Peter are the sons. (Jaws [the book] was at least as gripping as the movie.)Maybe it is my Nantucket experiences that made be find The Off-Islanders so funny.

    And…just for your info, the period tables for American Literature have 20th century in “.5″ with “.52″ used for 1900-1945, “54” used for 1945 – 1999, and “.6″ for 2000+.

  2. walt Says:

    Hi Michael,

    Thanks for the correction. Realistically, at Livermore (and I’d guess most public libraries), that means 813.54 is for litcrit, since novels are in Fiction.

    Yes, I looked for all of them in LPL’s catalog–I haven’t actually looked at the shelves yet (813.54 showed up in a couple of author-search listings). That’s how I know LPL doesn’t have any Perelman or Fister–but that Link+ has 72 Perelman and a bunch of Fister, so I can get them from the extended network.

    Interesting that most of the group I named have also been active in motion pictures, in one way or another…

    And yes, I’ve read some of the stuff by Benchley’s sons.

  3. laura Says:

    Walt: libraries have pushed ebooks and ereaders? Really? I’m speaking only anecdata-ly here, but in my experience, we’ve mostly been pushed into them by patron demand.

    Also, if Link+ doesn’t work out for you, you might want to look into this service you may have heard of called interlibrary loan. . . .

  4. walt Says:

    It might be more accurate to say that some library gurus have been pushing ebooks and, in some cases, running away from InevitablyDyingBooks… in some cases, for a very long time now.

    Link+ should work just fine; it’s a form of ILL, but patron-originated, very convenient and within a regional group–but it’s a big regional group (including Cal State campuses, U. Nevada, a bunch of private colleges, many big public libraries and at least portions of UC)! I just have to start using it…

  5. Steven Kaye Says:

    LINK+ is amazing- I’ve gotten all sorts of neat stuff through it. You’ll have to return the books at the circulation desk rather than just dropping them off in the book return slot, at least that’s the case at Santa Clara.


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