At an English department book exchange, I received a memoir I’d never heard of, James Thurber’s 1933 memoir My Life And Hard Times. To be honest, it didn’t look good. It was 86 pages long and filled with very mediocre black and white cartoons. Plus, I was judging the book by its cover, and simply because of that godawful cover, I doubted that I’d ever read it.
I got back from snowshoeing last night, got into warm, dry clothes, cracked the book, and read the opening chapter. And not only was that chapter incredibly well-written, but it was funny. Laugh out loud funny. My daughter and I were sitting next to each other on the floor. She was reading her book and I was reading mine, and I kept laughing so hard that she’d make me read passages aloud to her.
But I still thought the book might not be very good. I thought that the first story might be an aberration. There were still those terribly-drawn comics throughout. There was still that really ugly cover. How could a memoir that presents itself so badly be this good?
And it turns out that I was right about the first chapter. That chapter was an aberration. As good as it was, the first chapter was nowhere near as good as most of the chapters in the book. This memoir was a tiny little collection of brilliant and funny essays. The author (Thurber) sneaks up on you. His self-deprecating methods are subtle but successful. It’s almost as if he doesn’t know what he’s doing in his own writing. Yet he does. There’s mastery here. Mastery throughout.
Also, his father is afraid of automobiles.
His senile grandfather lives in the family’s attic and shoots at police officers.
The family escapes a great flood in 1913.
And Thurber’s story about a family dog is so good that I finished it and immediately started re-reading.