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James Thurber

December 31, 2012

462px-James_Thurber_NYWTSMost everyone who’s been educated in high school has read “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” and knows James Thurber at least through that one story. Critics consider it his best, but I never did. I enjoyed “You Could Look it Up” much more, but my favorites are two that I re-read the other evening: “The Evening’s at Seven” and “One is a Wanderer.”

Both are sad stories, equally as sad as “A Box to Hide In.” I love that one as well, but when I was younger I identified closely with the protagonists of the other two. Even today, I need a couple of brandies when I read “Wanderer.” I guess I’m still identifying.

Some of Thurber’s writing is dated, since it dealt with contemporary topics, but “My Life and Hard Times” endures. And as a former newspaperman, I’m continually enchanted when I read “Memoirs of a Drudge,” Thurber’s recounting of his days as a reporter on the Paris edition of the Chicago Tribune. I reminds me of the city rooms I worked in when I was a young reporter.

Reading anything by Thurber is effortless because he spent so much time getting it right. He wrote most of “File and Forget” in a single afternoon, but in a Paris Review interview he admitted that the ending took him a week to complete  until he was satisfied with it.

Thurber was one of the early writers at The New Yorker, along with E.B. White, Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker and the incredibly gifted Wolcott Gibbs, whom few remember today.  And who remembers Thurber? Academics write books about his work but it’s my guess that the general public rarely bothers to read him.

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