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Posts Tagged ‘humor

“I got a little bored after a time. I mean, the road seemed to be awfully long.”*…

 

Explore– and enjoy: “14 classic works of literature hated by famous authors.”

* Aldous Huxley on On the Road

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As we devour the dish, we might send prolific birthday greetings to E. Phillips Oppenheim; he was born on this date in 1866.  

After leaving school at age 17 to help in his father’s leather business, Oppenheim wrote in his spare time. His first novel, Expiation (1886), and subsequent thrillers caught the fancy of a wealthy New York businessman who bought out the leather business at the turn of the century and made Oppenheim a high-salaried director. He was thus freed to devote the major part of his time to writing. The novels, volumes of short stories, and plays that followed, totaling more than 150, were peopled with sophisticated heroes, adventurous spies, and dashing noblemen. Among his well-known works are The Long Arm of Mannister (1910), The Moving Finger (1911), and The Great Impersonation (1920). [source]

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Written by LW

October 22, 2017 at 1:01 am

“We look at this as the best of all possible worlds; but the French know it isn’t, because most people speak English.”*…

 

“I was wrassling some general. Some general with a beard.” James Thurber’s drawing for “If Grant Had Been Drinking at Appomattox.”

At the end of 1930 Scribner’s Magazine began publishing what would prove to be a short-lived series of “alternative history” pieces. The first installment, in the November issue, was “If Booth Had Missed Lincoln.” This was followed by a contribution from none other than Winston Churchill, who turned the concept on its head. It was bafflingly titled “If Lee Had Not Won the Battle of Gettysburg”—but, as we all know, Lee didn’t win the Battle of Gettysburg. Instead, Churchill’s essay purported to be written by a historian in a world in which Lee had won not only the battle but also the entire war. This fictional historian, in turn, speculates what might have happened if Lee had not won the battle. This type of dizzying zaniness brought out the parodist in Thurber, who published “If Grant Had Been Drinking at Appomattox” in The New Yorker in December. The next month Scribner’s published a third essay (“If Napoleon Had Escaped to America”) before bring the series to an end. All three pieces were soon forgotten, but Thurber’s parody became one of his most famous and beloved works…

Enjoy it (online or in PDF or Google Doc form) at “If Grant Had Been Drinking at Appomattox.” Find more of the Library of America’s “Story of the Week” offerings here (where you can also sign up for their nifty weekly email drop of stories from their archive).

* Mark Olson at the “Histories: The Way We Weren’t” panel at Boskone 28.

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As we retreat to the High Castle, we might spare a thought for Oliver Wendell Holmes (Sr.); he died on this date in 1894.   A physician, poet, and polymath based in Boston, he was a member of the Fireside Poets, acclaimed by his peers (his friends included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and James Russell Lowell) as one of the best writers of the day.  His most famous prose works are the humorous “Breakfast-Table” series, which began with The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table (1858).  Many of his works were published in The Atlantic Monthly, a magazine that he named; he popularized several terms, including “Boston Brahmin” and “anesthesia.”

Holmes was also an important medical reformer.  In addition to his work as an author and poet, Holmes also served as a physician, professor, lecturer, and inventor, and although he never practiced it, he received formal training in law… an enthusiasm he passed on to his eldest son, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1902 to 1932, and as Acting Chief Justice of the United States from January–February 1930.

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“Care keeps his watch in every old man’s eye / And where care lodges, sleep will never lie”*…

 

 xkcd

See also

* Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

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As we keep a stiff upper lip, we might recall that it was on this date in 1952 that Britain became the third country to conduct an atomic bomb test.  Its “Operation Hurricane” was carried out at Monte Bello, Australia, using an improved plutonium implosion bomb similar to the U.S. “Fat Man” (detonated over Nagasaki).  To test the effects of a ship-smuggled bomb (a threat of great concern at the time), Hurricane was exploded inside the hull of the HMS Plym (a 1,450 ton frigate) which was anchored in 40 feet of water 400 yards off shore.  The explosion, 9 feet below the water line, left a saucer-shaped crater on the seabed 20 feet deep and 1,000 feet across.

Hurricane’s mud-laden explosion

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Written by LW

October 3, 2017 at 1:01 am

“The Agee woman told us for three quarters of an hour how she came to write her beastly book, when a simple apology was all that was required”*…

 

Since 1982, the English Department at San Jose State University has sponsored the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, a whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels…

The winner of the thirty-fifth Lyttoniad is Kat Russo from picturesque Loveland, Colorado. Kat describes herself as having twenty-six years of experience in covering social awkwardness with humor and stories about her cats. She spends her time working in outdoor retail and at a wildlife rehabilitation center while trying to figure out how to use her art degree.

Conceived to honor the memory of Victorian novelist Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton and to encourage unpublished authors who do not have the time to actually write entire books, the contest challenges entrants to compose bad opening sentences to imaginary novels. Bulwer was selected as patron of the competition because he opened his novel “Paul Clifford” (1830) with the immortal words, “It was a dark and stormy night.” Lytton’s sentence actually parodied the line and went on to make a real sentence of it, but he did originate the line “The pen is mightier than the sword,” and the expressions “the almighty dollar” and “the great unwashed.” His best known work, one on the book shelves of many of our great-grandparents, is “The Last Days of Pompeii” (1834), an historical novel that has been adapted for film multiple times.

As has happened every year since the contest went public in 1983, thousands of entries poured in not just from the United States and Canada but from such far-flung locales as England, Wales, Ireland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Botswana…

All of the 2017 category winners and runners-up– all of which are eminently worthy– at “The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.”

* P.G. Wodehouse, The Girl in Blue

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As we read ’em and weep, we might send amusing birthday greetings to Ernest Lawrence Thayer; he was born on this date in 1863.  A Harvard classmate (and Hasty Pudding and Lampoon colleague) of William Randolph Hearst, Thayer was recruited by his friend to the humor columnist for The San Francisco Examiner, 1886–88.  Thayer’s last piece, dated June 3, 1888, and published under his pen name “Phin,” was a ballad entitled “Casey” (“Casey at the Bat”) which made him “a prize specimen of the one-poem poet” according to American Heritage.

The first public performance of the poem was by actor De Wolf Hopper on this date in 1888, Thayer’s 25th birthday. Thayer’s recitation of the poem at a Harvard class reunion in 1895 finally settled the question of its authorship.

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“Nyuk Nyuk Nyuk!”…

 

* Curly Howard

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As we celebrate the silly, we might recall that it was on this date in 1948 that Columbia Pictures released “Hot Scots,” the 108th short film featuring The Three Stooges.  The Stooges try to get jobs with Scotland Yard after graduating from a correspondence detective school.  They end up as “Yard Men” picking up trash and pruning the hedges.  They inadvertently get their chance to crack a case when– dressed in kilts and talking in phony Scottish accents– the Stooges (as McMoe, McLarry, and McShemp) are given the task of guarding the prized possessions of The Earl of Glenheather Castle.  The castle staff ransack the castle while the boys sleep there, though of course they eventually arrest the thieves.

The comedians released 190 short films for Columbia between 1934 and 1959.

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Written by LW

July 8, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Good reporting should have the same standard as in a courtroom – beyond a reasonable doubt”*…

 

John Hinckley, failed assassin of Ronald Reagan, shown by artist Freda Reiter in front of a television broadcasting his obsession, Jodie Foster.

Courtroom sketches in the United States date back to the 17th Century Salem Witch Trials, and were a necessary staple of reporting on court cases up until recent years when the courtroom was off-limits to photographers and television cameras. It wasn’t until 2014 that all 50 states allowed cameras in the courtroom, though by the late ‘80s most states already had.

As portraits that exist solely out of the necessity for historically documenting legal proceedings, such sketches have never been considered high art, but a current exhibition of sketches housed at the Library of Congress shines a spotlight on some of the talents behind these documents.

The Library of Congress’ exhibition, “Drawing Justice: The Art of Courtroom Illustrations,” features a selection of the Library’s collection of more than 10,000 courtroom drawings, many of which were donated to the library by the estates of the artists themselves…

More background and examples from the show at Dangerous Minds; details on the exhibition, which runs through October 28, at the Library of Congress.

* Barbara Demick

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As we remark that “photography always acknowledged there were cameras before photography,” we might send fiendishly-ingenious birthday greetings to Reuben Garrett Lucius “Rube” Goldberg; he was born on this date in 1883.  A cartoonist, sculptor, author, engineer, and inventor, he is best remembered as a satirist of the American obsession with technology for his series of “Invention” cartoons which used a string of outlandish tools, people, plants, and steps to accomplish simple, everyday tasks in the most complicated possible way. (His work has inspired a number of “Rube Goldberg competitions,” the best-known of which, readers may recall, has been profiled here.)

Goldberg was a founder and the first president of the National Cartoonists Society, and he is the namesake of the Reuben Award, which the organization awards to the Cartoonist of the Year.

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Written by LW

July 4, 2017 at 1:01 am

“If commas are open to interpretation, hyphens are downright Delphic”*…

 

The tilde is 3,000 years old, but is there any grapheme that’s more ~of the times~? The little traveling worm, originally designed to convey approximation (and used in Spanish and Portuguese to denote certain sounds), expresses so much more: strangeness, emotional and physical distance — but perhaps most importantly, sarcasm…

The twisted mark’s twisted story in its entirety at “The Internet Tilde Perfectly Conveys Something We Don’t Have the Words to Explain.”

– Mary Norris (the New Yorker‘s “Comma Queen”)

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As we move our fingers to the upper left of our keyboards, we might send rib-tickling birthday greetings to Moses Harry Horwitz; he was born on this date in 1897.  Better known by his stage name, “Moe Howard,” he was the de facto leader of The Three Stooges, both on stage and off.

Moe, flanked by Curly and Larry, in The Three Stooge’s classic “Disorder in the Court

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Written by LW

June 19, 2017 at 1:01 am

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