The Whimsical World of James Thurber

My family has several oddball favorite movies.  I’m not sure if it’s accurate to call them “cult classics,” because the cult only extends to – at most – the seven of us, but uttering only one line of any of them is enough to conjure up the entire plot and any number of inside jokes.  Among those movies is The Secret Life of Walter Mittywith it’s motif of “ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa.”  When I found out that it was based on a short story, I snatched up the volume from the library that day, but I was somewhat disappointed to discover that the source material had none of the comic intrigue and really, none of the plot (what else do you expect from a 12-page story?).  I needn’t have been disappointed, though, because that collection (My World and Welcome to It) turned out to be one of the most entertaining and humorous books I’ve ever read.

It’s a collection of short stories written by James Thurber for The New Yorker, and the advantage of having so many little pieces gathered together is that if one doesn’t grab your fancy, you’re no more than 10 pages from the next one.  Of course, you may well get through the entire book without hitting a dud.  I highly recommend it, especially if you’re looking for something easy to pick up and read in short spurts.

Between the portrait of the man whose job is to complicate phone numbers, and the story of the woman reading Macbeth like Agatha Christie, there’s a lot to like here.  From Death in the Zoo:

Perhaps the principal trouble with American zoos, as regards bears, is that the men in charge of them think that all female bears look alike to a male bear.  This conclusion, arrived at from the premise that all female bears look alike to the men in the zoo, is unfortunate to the point of being deadly.  To a male polar bear, female polar bears are as different as thumbprints to a G-man.  A male polar bear likes only about one female in every fifty he comes across in a day’s courting swim.  Some bears swim seventy-five miles along a bear-infested coast before they find a female cute enough to bother with.

Not knowing this, the Fleishhacker Zoo men brought Bill a mate one spring that he couldn’t abide.  She put starch into everything she washed and cheese into everything she cooked; what is more, she kept scratching constantly.  Bill swatted her out of existence one day as nonchalantly as if she had been a fly.


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