Spring collections: Light reading recommendations for spring break

C. Jayne Trent

Spring break and time for some light reading. Here are three of my favorite funny essay collections: The Bencheley Roundup by Robert Benchley, The Thurber Carnival by James Thurber and Howl, a Collection of the Best Contemporary Dog Wit by the editors of Bark magazine.

“The Bencheley Roundup is a collection of humorous short works written between 1915-1945 and collected by Nathaniel, Benchleys son in 1954. He chose these particular works because he felt they held up the best, and 60+ years later, they still do.

Benchley is a master of gentle mockery, skewering art critics, fad diets, politics, marriage, child-rearing, Broadway, opera and, of course, himself. He presents himself as a baffled everyman trying his best to cope with daylight savings time, fancy dress dinners, asking for directions or traveling with children. He does not fare well in these encounters, but his struggles are always amusing and wittily written, though not lucrative: He is paid so much per word, or per page, or perhaps,he writes.

One of his best lines is from Kiddie-Kar Travel: In America there are two classes of travel – first class, and with children.His essay on How to Get Things Done begins this way: A great many people have come up to me and asked me how I manage to get so much work done and still keep looking so dissipated. My answer is Dont you wish you knew?and a pretty good answer it is, too, when you consider that nine times out of ten I didnt hear the original question.Give vintage Benchley a chance; you too might find out how to get things done.

“The Thurber Carnival is a wonderful collection culled from several of his publications, including “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” and my all-time favorite, “The Dog That Bit People.” Many of his iconic cartoons are in here as well; excerpts from “The War Between Men And Women,” “The Pet Department,” “Fables For Our Time and Famous Poems Illustrated.”

Let me tell you about Muggs, the dog that bit people, a large, irascible Airedale, inexplicably loved by the family even though through the years hed bitten everyone except Thurbers mother (hed made a pass at her but he missed). The dog was so feared that he was fed on a table, because if you reached for the floor, hed bite you. Thurber describes Muggs reign of terror calmly. The more egregious the dogs exploits, the more matter-of-factly he lists his failings.

Many of Thurbers family stories become quietly surreal in this way, as do his cartoons. A man and woman are in bed, the wife saying to the husband, All right, have it your way – you heard a seal bark. Unseen by the irritated wife and perplexed husband is of course a seal, perched over the headboard of the bed.

“The Thurber Carnival is a good introduction to Thurber if youre new to him. Just watch out for those elusive seals.

“Howl is just plain fun. How can you not love a collection that includes Henry Alford“How To Tell the Difference Between Your Mother and Your Dog” (Hint: throw rugs are involved), “What My Dog Has Eaten Lately” by Bonnie Jo Campbell and Carolinas “In Heat and Im Not by Abigail Thomas”? You dont even have to be a crazy dog lady to love this book. But if you know a crazy dog lady, this would be a great gift.