by Svetlana Grobman, CPL Librarian
Originally published by the Columbia Daily Tribune.
This April marks the 34th anniversary of National Humor Month, established by humorist Larry Wilde to increase our awareness of the therapeutic value of laughter. Why choose April? Well, the weather is often bleak, and taxes are due on the 15th. Also, it starts with April Fools’ Day, well-known for its pranks and jokes, such as a BBC show featuring Italians harvesting “spaghetti trees” (1957), a “news” story about Alabama changing the value of pi (1998), or an NPR program about exploding maple trees (2005) —all followed by overwhelming responses from an easily fooled public. I, for one, fiercely argued the plausibility of exploding maple trees with my skeptical husband.
"There are several kinds of stories, but only one difficult kind—the humorous…The humorous story is American, the comic story is English, the witty story is French…The humorous story is told gravely; the teller does his best to conceal the fact that he even dimly suspects that there is anything funny about it; but the teller of the comic story tells you beforehand that it is one of the funniest things he has ever heard, then tells it with eager delight, and is the first person to laugh when he gets through. And sometimes, if he has had good success, he is so glad and happy that he will repeat the 'nub' of it and glance around from face to face, collecting applause, and then repeat it again. It is a pathetic thing to see."
And who’d know this better? Today, 100 years after Samuel Langhorne Clemens’ death on April 21, 1910, he is still a beacon of American wit and humor, and his life and art are still celebrated.
“Mark Twain, Unsanctified Newspaper Reporter” by James Caron (University of Missouri Press, 2008) traces the beginning of Twain’s career. Michael Shelden’s excellent “Man in White: The Grand Adventure of His Final Years” (Random House, 2010) provides a fresh look into Twain’s twilight years, and “Mark Twain’s Book of Animals” (University of California Press, 2010) reports on his fascination with animals. The library also will be offering several Mark Twain programs this month.
Since Twain’s death, numerous American humorists have made us laugh: James Thurber, Damon Runyon, Erma Bombeck, Dave Barry, Bill Cosby, Jerry Seinfeld, Garrison Keillor, David Sedaris, Ellen DeGeneres, to name a few. Yet, in this article, we’ll concentrate on some recent library additions.
Jill Conner Browne’s “American Thighs: The Sweet Potato Queen’s Guide to Preserving Your Assets” (Simon and Schuster, 2009) offers hilarious tips on enjoying one’s inexorable trudge into geezerdom. Having previously written books on finding a man, raising kids and coming through a divorce, Browne’s latest discusses issues such as: “How, no matter what skin you’re in, to make it last a lifetime” or “Why you can never trust anyone over eighty-five.”
Actor George Wendt reminisces on his career and his relationships with Woody Harrelson, Chris Farley, Farrah Fawcett and others in “Drinking With George: A Barstool Professional’s Guide to Beer” (Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2009). Entertaining from start to finish, the book also is filled with Wendt’s extensive collection of trivia and history.
“Why My Third Husband Will Be a Dog: The Amazing Adventures of an Ordinary Woman” by Lisa Scottoline (St. Martin’s Press, 2009) offers brief and humorous pictures of daily life that include forays into home improvement, constructing a chicken coop and figuring out mystifying insurance policies.
The second collection of humorous pieces from The New Yorker, “Disquiet, Please!” (Random House, 2008), presents humorists from earlier generations: E.B. White, S.J. Perelman, James Thurber and others, as well as more contemporary writers such as Calvin Trillin, Garrison Keillor and Steve Martin. The emphasis, however, is on newcomers, including Yoni Brenner and Larry Doyle, and the topics range from Aesop’s fables to Donald Rumsfeld and how to operate a cell phone.
In “Don’t Make a Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings: Madea’s Uninhibited Commentaries on Love and Life” (Penguin Audio, 2007), Tyler Perry’s fictional creation, Madea, contemplates love, sex, getting ahead in life and the 1,000-plus uses of Vaseline.
“Raising the Perfect Child Through Guilt and Manipulation” (Harper, 2009) by Elizabeth Beckwith is part funny memoir, part social commentary and part sound advice for overburdened parents. With chapters such as “How to Scare the Crap Out of Your Child (in a Positive Way)” and “Spousal Indoctrination and Other Related Things,” how can one go wrong?
The therapeutic qualities of laughter cannot be overstated. Loretta LaRoche’s “Relax — You May Only Have a Few Minutes Left” (Villard, 1998), has been called “the Erma Bombeck of stress reduction.” Her last book, “Life Is Short—Wear Your Party Pants” (Hay House, 2003), presents readers with “Ten Simple Truths That Lead to an Amazing Life.” These truths include resilience, living in the moment, optimism, acceptance, creativity, moderation, responsibility, meaning, connection and, of course, humor.
And, if you are still not convinced of the power of humor, reread Ambrose Bierce: “Laughter is an interior convulsion, producing a distortion of the features and accompanied by inarticulate noises. It is infectious and, though intermittent, incurable” (“The Devil’s Dictionary”).