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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Laughing All the Way

The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill BrysonI fin­ished read­ing The Road to Lit­tle Drib­bling over a week ago, and I’m still laugh­ing.

I’m a suck­er for a fun­ny sto­ry, and Bill Bryson has pro­vid­ed me with a steady stream of them since I first dis­cov­ered him in Gran­ta mag­a­zine back in the ’80s. I couldn’t get enough of his wise­crack­ing tales about grow­ing up in Des Moines, espe­cial­ly the epic fam­i­ly road trips he endured.

His lat­est book, in which he more or less recre­ates the mean­der­ings around and mus­ings about Britain’s quirky cor­ners that he mined so suc­cess­ful­ly in Notes from a Small Island four decades ago, deliv­ered just the dose of laughs I need­ed to off­set a par­tic­u­lar­ly intense stretch at work. Humor is a first-rate anti­dote to any num­ber of things, I’ve found, includ­ing stress. This is why I also own a well-worn copy of the DVD Fer­ris Bueller’s Day Off

Mr. Mysterious & CompanyI dis­cov­ered humor between the cov­ers of a book ear­ly, when I first read Sid Fleischman’s Mr. Mys­te­ri­ous & Com­pa­ny as a child. Mr. Fleischman’s sto­ry not only had me laugh­ing in delight, but also man­aged to worm its way deep into my psy­che, pop­ping out decades lat­er when I had chil­dren of my own and inau­gu­rat­ed a unique Fred­er­ick twist on Fleischman’s Abra­cadabra Day. Read Mr. Mys­te­ri­ous & Com­pa­ny and you’ll get the idea.

A few years after dis­cov­er­ing Fleis­chman, I stum­bled across a P. G. Wode­house anthol­o­gy on my grandfather’s book­shelf. I was 12 or so, and enor­mous­ly pleased with myself for appre­ci­at­ing Wodehouse’s spe­cial brand of British humor. (Of course it helped that I had just returned to the U.S. from a stretch liv­ing in Eng­land.)  His nim­ble style! His flaw­less com­ic tim­ing! And oh, his char­ac­ters! What bud­ding writer could pos­si­bly resist Bertie Wooster’s sub­stan­tial Aunt Dahlia, who fit­ted into his biggest arm­chair “as if it had been built round her by some­one who knew they were wear­ing arm­chairs tight about the hips that sea­son”? Or how about his for­mi­da­ble Aunt Agatha, whom the feck­less Bertie described as wear­ing “barbed wire next to the skin”? And then there was that pig named the Empress of Bland­ings…. I was a goner.

Years lat­er, I read some­where that when Wodehouse’s fam­i­ly heard him chuck­ling in his study as he wrote, they knew the work was going well. I seem to recall read­ing the same thing about Sid Fleis­chman. I don’t know whether Mr. Bryson’s fam­i­ly hears him laugh­ing, too, but I hope my fam­i­ly hears me. Not all my books are humor­ous, but near­ly all of them have humor­ous moments, and when some­thing I write strikes me as fun­ny and I make myself laugh, I think of writ­ers like P. G. Wode­house and Sid Fleis­chman and oth­ers who have trav­eled this path before me, and I know I’m in good com­pa­ny.

2 Responses to Laughing All the Way

  1. thinkingwomansite June 28, 2016 at 8:43 pm #

    What a delight­ful arti­cle! I remem­ber dis­cov­er­ing Aun­tie Mame on the well-stocked book­shelf of one of my reg­u­lar babysit­ting gigs, and real­iz­ing after laugh­ing my way through half of it that it was fic­tion. It wasn’t long after that I dis­cov­ered James Thurber on the book­shelf in our fam­i­ly room, and the three years of back issues of The New York­er on my mother’s desk. I still have my mom’s copy of The Screw­tape Let­ters, and that Thurber. Look­ing back, I also real­ize that the major­i­ty of my favorite books, the ones that I reread, and the ones I always rec­om­mend, are infused with humor. Thank you for remind­ing us of the joy of laugh­ter!

  2. Vicki Palmquist June 29, 2016 at 12:31 pm #

    We had two very fun­ny books on our book­shelves when I was grow­ing up. One was The Edu­ca­tion of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N by Leonard Q. Ross. It’s still in print and my twelve-year-old self thought it was hilar­i­ous. I used this book when I first start­ed doing decla­ma­tion. It always got a laugh. The oth­er book was The Snake Has All the Lines by Jean Kerr. Because of it I went to the library to find Please Don’t Eat the Daisies. She was the first author to make me aware of Broad­way as a place where writ­ers cre­at­ed the sto­ries … and I was hooked. Humor is essen­tial in our lives … my life … so I’m off to get new copies of these books. Thanks for remind­ing me about humor­ous books, Heather!

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