Tuesday, December 8, 2009


It's James Thurber's 115th birthday, which means I'll have to pick up one of my Thurber collections and find something to read before I go to bed. Or bed might be the best place. There is something reassuring about Thurber, almost soporific. His best material explains why you think and behave the way you do, why everybody is so foolish, and why that foolishness is so utterly predictable and repetitive. We work to a pattern and patterns are endlessly amusing.

Half blind from age seven, he was completely blind by the time the New Yorker assigned an eighteen year-old Truman Capote to help him around, which meant helping him visit his mistress during lunch hours. Blindness made him angry and being angry made him unpleasant, but his writing was always graceful and companionable. The reader was his intimate friend, his accomplice, sharing his grudges and mistakes. The interiorness of his world conjured stories to flesh out what he couldn't see.

He was a two way threat, a writer who also drew. Office-mate E. B. White would rescue his doodles out of the wastebasket and put them in the magazine. They were throw-away drawings, but that was their charm. They were transcribed thoughts.

James Thurber appears six times in A Book of Ages.

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