The Influence of Books, Part 7 (and Last)

It’s been more than three months since I scribbled the names of old favorite authors on a scrap of paper, and almost a month since I posted part 6.  This, I promise, is the last one, and in some ways the hardest to write–Humor.

I love humor.  I do my best to write humor, I like to read humor, and I’ll take a comedy over a tragedy every time.  As far as I’m concerned, there’s enough tragedy in real life, in the newspaper, on television.  For entertainment, I want laughs.  My favorite romance and mystery authors include humor in their stories, and I’ve mentioned many of them already.  Science fiction and fantasy are somewhat less prone to comedy, but Douglas Adams (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and its sequels), Terry Pratchett’s Discworld stories and the hard-to-describe tales of British writer Tom Holt spring to mind.  Among mainstream novelists I think of Carl Hiaasen.  Many writers sprinkle humor through their more serious works.

Backing up a few decades, I remember a few early favorites.  I still have an old paperback copy of satirist Will Cuppy’s Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody.  Max Shulman wrote a number of comic novels, the best known of which is The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.  Before William Peter Blatty became famous for The Exorcist  he wrote several comic novels.  I wish I still had a copy of his Which Way to Mecca, Jack?, if only to see if it was as hilarious as I remember it.

The two humorists whose books I read and and reread, and still have on the shelf, were the very funny, and very different, Patrick Dennis and Jean Shepherd.

Patrick Dennis is best remembered for Auntie Mame and its sequel, Around the World with Auntie Mame.  My copy of the latter is literally held together with clear tape and probably would not survive another reading.  Dennis wrote several other riotously funny novels, including Genius (the title character bore a marked resemblance to Orson Welles) and Paradise, about the loony inhabitants of a small resort in Acapulco.  Dennis’ most unusal books were the lavishly illustrated (with both posed and retouched stock photos) fictional memoirs Little Me (“the Intimate Memoirs of that Great Star of Stage, Screen and Television Belle Poitrine, as told to Patrick Dennis”) and First Lady (“My Thirty Days Upstairs in the White House, by Martha Dinwiddie Butterfield, as told to Patrick Dennis”).  The two Auntie Mame books and Little Me have been reprinted, but most of Dennis’ other books are out of print.

Jean Shepherd was a radio personality and writer best known for the stories he wove together into the movie A Christmas Story, which he also narrated.  The tales came from two books, In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, and Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories and other disasters.  In Shepherd’s original version, the Bumpus hounds stole the Easter ham rather than the Christmas turkey, but the results were every bit as funny.  I also have a copy of a third collection, A Fistful of Fig Newtons, and every few years I reread them all.

Humor is the most subjective of genres.  What leaves one person with ribs aching from laughter may leave the next person wondering why.  That may be frustrating for the writer, but perhaps such diversity is just another part of the comedy equation.  Life and literature would be boring if we all laughed–or cried–at the same things.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Cheryl Bolen
    Jan 06, 2013 @ 23:23:52

    I applaud you for saying you “try” to write humor. You almost always manage to be funny in your writing, but I don’t like authors to tell me they’re funny. Often, some of these authors don’t get that they’re NOT funny.

    It is very subjective, though humor done very well transcends personal preferences.

    Give me humor over angst any day.

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  2. patodearosen
    Jan 07, 2013 @ 20:33:22

    I’m a Jean Shepherd fan, too, Kay. How I miss him.

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    • Kay Hudson
      Jan 07, 2013 @ 22:18:44

      I’m sure my mother got me hooked on both Shepherd and Dennis, and several of their books on my shelf belonged to her.

      I hope you enjoyed these posts, Pat, because you kicked them off with your question about “five books that influenced yoyur writing,” or however it started. Between us we’ve morphed it beyond recognition, but I had fun with it.

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