If You Like Thorne Smith You May Want To Try...

H. Allen Smith

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P.G. Wodehouse

Carry on Jeeves: The fashionable young airhead Bertie Wooster delighted Jazz-Age readers with his reminiscences of his imperturbable gentleman's gentleman, Jeeves. In this collection Wooster gives us eight hilarious tales in which the stoic butler gets Bertie and pals out of one scrape or another. Oh--I'm sorry!--it's Martin Jarvis, PRETENDING to be Bertie Wooster! I keep forgetting, so remarkably does the actor inhabit the flighty, inconsequential and risible character. In lesser hands, the Wodehouse shorts could become tedious, lined up as they are. A high-energy performance such as Jarvis's might soon reach the law of diminishing returns. But so inventive, so utterly charming, is actor-director Jarvis that he transcends the limitation of his material.

Five Complete Novels: (The Return of Jeeves, Bertie Wooster Sees It Through, Spring Fever, The Butler Did It, The Old Reliable)

Enter Jeeves: 15 Early Stories: The first half of this book contains the first Jeeves tales, as they appeared in periodicals. If you've read 'Carry on Jeeves,' there's a lot of overlap here, although the style was polished up a bit later. The second half features Reggie Pepper, Bertie's prototype. His stories are entertaining in their own right, although they can't hold a candle to later Wodehouse. Still, it's interesting to see the evolution.

Most of P.G. Wodehouse: The most lavish P. G. Wodehouse collection ever published. In addition to Wodehouse's best known and beloved Jeeves and Bertie stories, The Most of P. G. Wodehouse features delightful stories about The Drones Club and its affable, vacuous members: Mr. Mulliner, whose considered judgment on any and all topics is drawn from the experiences of his innumerable relatives; Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge, the man of gilt-edged schemes; and Lord Emsworth, ruler of all he surveys at Blanding's Castle. Rounding out the collection are Wodehouses's witty golf stories and a complete and completely hilarious novel, Quick Service. As Jeeves would say, "The mind boggles, sir."

Robert Benchley

Benchley Lost and Found: James Thurber once said that every humorist is haunted by the idea that the piece she is working on was done faster and better by Robert Benchley in 1919. And if Thurber said that, the scrubs that pass for wits today should be doubly scared. (Dave Barry once told me that Robert Benchley was his favorite humorist, and it shows, but we should give him points for honesty.) Benchley Lost and Found is a collection of pieces culled from the old Liberty Magazine, the work of those indefatigable scavengers, Dover Publications. This means that while the 39 pieces in the book aren't all of Benchley's gems, the volume is a nice introduction to one of America's true comic genii. Picking something at random: "'By George,' I said, examining it, 'it is not only a vitamin, but it is vitamin F! See how F it looks!' And, sure enough, it was vitamin F all over, the very vitamin F which had been eluding Science since that day in 1913 when Science decided that there were such things as vitamins. (Before 1913 people had just been eating food and dying like flies.)" Read Benchley. Make yourself happy.

The Benchley Round Up: Robert Benchley's wit appears effortless--it is a blend of autobiography, satire, the inconsequential, and the sudden surprise. At the start of "Fall In!" he muses, "It may be because I do not run as fast, or as often, as I used to, but I seem to be way behind on my parades. It must be almost a year since I saw one, and then I was in it myself." At one time Benchley was everywhere, a prolific reviewer and ubiquitous actor and screenwriter; now we must be grateful for his son's selection of humorous sketches. The Algonquian witster remains as brilliantly nonplused as ever as he observes his species in all its skewed play--from football's confusions to the folly of footnoters to French for Americans. When Benchley declared, "The surest way to make a monkey of a man is to quote him," he can surely not have been looking to himself. James Thurber's remark seems truer: "One of the greatest fears of the humorous writer is that he has spent three weeks writing something done faster and better by Benchley in 1919."

Benchley's Best: James Thurber: "In all Benchley, a fresh wind stirs in every page. In all his books, you find him ducking swiftly, looking closely, writing sharply."

The Best of Robert Benchley: "It took me fifteen years to discover that I had no talent for writing, but I couldn't give it up because by then I was too famous." --Robert Benchley Such wildly inaccurate self-deprecation is typical of Robert Benchley. In his lifetime he was known as a critic, a humorist, an actor, and an auteur, while the weekly luncheons he shared at the famous Algonquin Hotel Round Table with other luminaries such as Dorothy Parker and Alexander Wollcott became the stuff of legend. Famous, he was, indeed--but also a very fine writer, a fact readers can judge for themselves in The Best of Robert Benchley, a compendium of 72 of his funniest stories. There is, for example, his meditation on the future of the species, Future Man: Tree or Mammal, in which he posits that the humans of the future will be both brightly dressed and legless (you'll have to read the essay to find out why); or The Real Public Enemies, in which he laments the hostility of inanimate objects: "Take for example, when you are trying to read a newspaper on top of a bus. Suppose you want to open it to page four. The thing to do is not to hold it up and try to turn it as you would an ordinary newspaper. If you do, it will turn into a full-rigged brigantine, each sheet forming a sail and will crash head-on into your face, blinding you and sometimes carrying you right off the bus." His solution? Deceit: "Say, as if talking to yourself, 'Well, I guess I'll turn to page seven.' Or better yet, let the paper overhear you say, 'Oh, well, I guess I won't read any more.'" Benchley's ruminations are almost always on small matters: playing cards, attending banquet dinners, home repairs; yet they are universal experiences. Who has not, at some point in his or her life, stood in an impossibly long line at the post office, only to discover, upon finally arriving at the counter, that some essential element of the letter or package has been done incorrectly or left undone entirely? No subject is too small or too trivial to escape Benchley's notice, yet he invests each with the trappings of epic conflict--underdog Benchley against the newspaper, or hay fever, or noise--struggles which all too often leave him bloodied but unbowed.

Will Cuppy

The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody : In this and his various other books, Will Cuoppy he does a dead-on takeoff on what passed for "popular" history and science writing in his time. "The Decline and Fall..." is his masterpiece, a posthumously-published work on the failings and peculiarities of the famous and infamous in history. This is laugh-out-loud humor for the educated. This book is totally irreverent towards everything but the truth -- and even though it was written in the 1940s, it remains fresh and timely: Cuppy does not show us the builders of Western Civilization as heroes nor as villains, but as people who got into some very funny stuff (in all senses of the word). As soon as I discovered Cuppy I knew I had to get as much of his material as I could get my hands on -- and he has never disappointed me. Brainy and funny, this is an author deserving of being much better known.

How To Be a Hermit: (AMAZON.COM REVIEW: Dr. Steven M. Struhl) Will Cuppy always managed to say something funny, no matter what the subject. His humor often was very dry and subtle, and at its best can have you chuckling over some comment for days. This is an early work of his, and his style does not seem fully developed. Nonetheless, you will find many of the unique observations and ways of describing the world (and its inhabitants) that make his later books true masterpieces.

This book has a remarkably "modern" feel to it, and will be a revelation to anybody who thinks that books must be topical to pack a punch. This volume, written over 65 years ago, still is remarkably incisive and witty today. Indeed, reviewers of Cuppy's time fell all over themselves trying to find somebody with whom they could compare him. The best most of them could do was cite Mark Twain, but in the final analysis Cuppy has the distinct advantage over him in writing short humorous essays.

How To Tell Your Friends From Apes: (AMAZON.COM REVIEW: Dr. Steven M. Struhl) Cuppy again produced another largely unheralded masterpiece with this book. His humor is extremely subtle in many places, which may explain some of this neglect. His method was to read everything, from the best known to the most obscure, then write an essay of about two pages. At his best, he can have you laughing again and again. Just consider the footnote that ends his very short essay on the Cro-Magnon Man: "Perhaps we of today are inclined to overestimate the intellectual powers of the Cro-Magnons, who lived at least 25,000 years ago. As some of my readers may recall, even so recently as twenty or thirty years ago people knew hardly anything. For earlier data one has but to glance at the family album."

What else can we add, except to note that he covers the other primates, various birds, fair to medium mammals and awful mammals?

Sinclair Lewis

Selected Short Stories: Thirteen stories selected by Lewis himself which illustrate the wide range of his art and interests.

Babbitt: George E. Babbitt, a conniving, prosperous real estate man from Zenith, Ohio, revels in his popularity, his success, and, especially, in the material rewards they bring. He bullies his wife, flirts with other women, and patronizes the less successful. But when his best friend is sent to prison for killing his wife, Babbitt's middle-class complacency is shattered, and he rebels, seeking a more "meaningful" life. His small revolt is quickly defeated, however, by public opinion and his own need for acceptance. Babbitt captures the flavor of America during the economic boom years of the 1920s, and its protagonist has become the symbol of middle-class mediocrity, his name an enduring part of the American lexicon.

Dodsworth: Touring Europe with his beautiful but spoiled wife Fran, millionaire Sam Dodsworth, known as the American Captain of Industry, witnesses the clash of American and English cultures at the same time his marriage falls apart.

James Thurber

The Thurber Carnival: "It is time that we stopped thinking about James Thurber as a mere funny man for sophisticates and recognized him as an authentic American genius. And the Carnival, by offering the cream of his work in a handy and attractive volume indicates impressively the scope of his gifts. . . . Mr. Thurber belongs in the great line of American humorists which includes Mark Twain and Ring Lardner. "

Writings and Drawings: The shy Midwesterner James Thurber became a famed cartoonist and humor writer almost, it seems, by accident: Thurber in person was often depressed and self-conscious, darker strains that emerge fitfully in his sly, absurdist work. Garrison Keillor, a sunnier brand of Midwestern humorist, has assembled four longer works with many of Thurber's drawings and short pieces for the Library of America edition of Thurber's selected works. Many of these cartoons and writings are now classics, and Thurber's edgy, modernist humor--not to mention his usually bewildered protagonists--has influenced many of the best cartoonists today.

The Thirteen Clocks: How can anyone describe this book? It isn't a parable, a fairy story or a poem, but rather a mixture of all three. It is beautiful and it is comic. It is philosophical and it is cheery. What we suppose we are trying fumblingly to say is, in a word, that it is Thurber.

The Beast in Me and Other Animals: A Collection of Pieces and Drawings About Human Beings and Less Alarming Creatures

Ring Lardner

Selected Stories: Ring Lardner's quirky imagination and his ear for the American vernacular endeared him to such formidable critics as H.L. Mencken, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, and Virginia Woolf. This collection brings together 20 of Lardner's best pieces, including the six Jack Keefe stories which comprise You Know Me Al.

The Annotated Baseball Stories of Ring W. Lardner, 1914-1919: Hilton (Eastland: Legend of the Titanic, Stanford Univ. Pr., 1994), a baseball fan since 1936, has assembled an annotated edition of Lardner's fine baseball stories. Lardner, a sportswriter who turned to fiction, is noted for his tales involving Jack Keefe, a semiliterate, vain White Sox pitcher. Featuring 12 general baseball stories in addition to 12 Keefe tales, this volume goes beyond Matthew J. Bruccoli's Ring Around the Bases: The Complete Baseball Stories of Ring Lardner (LJ 6/1/92). Hilton's footnotes and illustrations profile the real-life players and others whom Ring mixed with fictional creations in his vivid fictional depictions of the national pastime.