Mooresville Public Library

Mooresville Public Library
MPL Courtyard

Sunday, May 2, 2010

MPL Book Trailer #34: The Thurber Carnival, by James Thurber

When I was in second grade, one of my mother's college roommates stopped by. As was typical whenever a grown-up engaged a child of seven years in conversation, she asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. "A writer," I replied. She was surprised, as this was a departure from the anticipated response of policeman, fireman, astronaut, jet pilot, cowboy, and similar occupations that most boys that age usually offered. After a moment, she recovered her poise and presented her follow-up inquiry: "What kinds of things are you going to write?" "I write stories," I said. This apparently exhausted the subject, and my mother's college roommate returned to adult discussions.

Although I have never read a biography about James Thurber, I imagine he would have said the same thing at that age. Thurber and his office buddy at The New Yorker magazine, E. B. White, who friends called "Andy," were my teenage heroes. Like all the great writers I worshiped in those days (e.g., H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain, etc.), I admired Thurber and White's abilities to craft seemingly effortless prose. As good as White was, I felt that Thurber had an edge, because he was wittier. In junior high school, I was beginning to comprehend dramatic irony, and wit impressed me. That's what I enjoyed about Twain, too. These were clever people, observing everything, and sharing their humorous thoughts about what was happening. That's how I wanted to write. I also wanted to become a rock-and-roll star and walk on the moon, which were approximately as unlikely as my becoming the kind of writer Thurber, White, Twain, et al., were.

So, like almost everybody else, I must be satisfied with appreciating great authors through their works. The Thurber Carnival is a collection of Thurber gems that are sure to deliver smiles and laughs. Our book trailer gives some sense of the scope of Thurber's talents.

Thurber was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1894, just seven years after my maternal grandfather was born in Hamilton, Ohio. Both attended Ohio State University at approximately the same time. Did their paths cross there? Probably not--Ohio State was a big school, even in the early 20th century--but that Ohio boyhood gave Thurber great inspiration for some of his best stories. (Not, apparently, for my grandfather; all of his best stories were from the American West and his days as a cavalry captain during World War I warding off Pancho Villa's raids into Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona border towns.)

Although Thurber spent his adult life rooted in New York City as a writer for The New Yorker, he never forgot his Midwestern experiences. But he was no mere nostalgic writer; rather, he combined his keen observational powers with his finely honed writing skills to produce some of the 20th century's grandest "current events" essays. Writing was everything for Thurber. When he was hospitalized for an operation to save his failing eyesight, Thurber told his friend and editor, Harold Ross, "If I can't write, I can't breathe." Even after he was declared legally blind, Thurber kept writing. When you have something to say, you say it. We are fortunate indeed to have had someone of Thurber's talents saying it.

Bill Buckley
MPL Indiana Room Librarian

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