Mirth of a Nation: The Best Contemporary Humor

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9780060953218: Mirth of a Nation: The Best Contemporary Humor
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Seriously Funny Writing By Today's Most Celebrated Authors

At last, a premier showcase of fifty-four great literary humorists and masters of the journalistic jab, the social spoof, the parodic proof, the satire, the tirade, and the send-up. Here are those "last laughs" and "wit's end" pieces everyone turns to first but then loses in back issues of favorite magazines and newspapers, including:

  • Merrill Markoeon Networking with angels
  • Garry Trudeau on re-retranslating Madonna
  • David Sedaris on reviewing school Christmas Plays
  • John Updike on cross-dressing with J. Edgar Hoover

Also included are riotous contributions from Henry Alford, Jon Stewart, and David Ives, as well as millennial maxims by Mark O'Donnell, gardening advice by Mertensia Corydalis, and highlights from Randy Cohen's savvy "News Quiz."

Brought to you by The Thurber House

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Review:

Mirth of a Nation is a collection of short humor pieces compiled by the Thurber House, which is a very dry way of describing a very funny book. Mirth is, at long last, a truly perfect humor-browser's read, for everything--everything--is presented with a wry wink. The book opens with Dave Eggers's guidelines for submitting work to the Thurber House ("Before undertaking the typing, straightening, and mailing of your submission, please do us the small favor of washing your hands. Please.") and closes with Al Franken's refreshingly mean-spirited index ("Luntz, Frank, likelihood of his immediately turning to index and looking up his name, 48"). In between is a hilarious collection of both new and previously published pieces. Targets range from contemporary issues (Chris Harris, tackling the UFO phenomenon in "What We Talk About When We Talk About Little Green Men": "If their object is stealth, why must they employ colored, blinking lights on the outside of their spacecraft? Is it alien Christmastime?") to the biblical, as in Ian Frazier's marvelous "Laws Concerning Food and Drink; Principles; Lamentations of the Father" ("Heed me; for if you sit like that, your hair will go into the syrup. And now behold, even as I have said, it has come to pass.") The book is so funny, in fact, that it would be a pity to give away any more punch lines. Grab a copy and see for yourself. --Ali Davis

About the Author:

The editor of More Mirth of a Nation: The Best Contemporary Humor, Michael J. Rosen has been called the unofficial organizer of the National Humor Writer's Union, a pretty good idea for an organization that could offer all kinds of benefits to its struggling members (currently numbering more than 300 who have never been published in The New Yorker or aired on NPR). He has been called other things as well, like in third grade, and then in seventh grade especially, by certain older kids known as "hoods," who made his life miserable, specifically during gym class, lunch period and after school. Later, much later, the Washington Post called him a "fidosopher" because of his extensive publications on dogs, dog training, and dog-besotted people. The New York Times called him an example of creative philanthropy in their special "Giving" section for persuading "writers, artists, photographers and illustrators to contribute their time and talents to books" that benefit Share Our Strength's anti-hunger efforts and animal-welfare causes. As an author of a couple dozen books for children, he's been called...okay, enough with the calling business.

For nearly twenty years, he served as literary director at the Thurber House, a cultural center in the restored home of James Thurber. Garrison Keillor, bless his heart, called it (sorry) "the capital of American humor." While there, Rosen helped to create The Thurber Prize for American Humor, a national book award for humor writing, and edited four anthologies of Thurber's previously unpublished and uncollected work, most recently The Dog Department: James Thurber on Hounds, Scotties and Talking Poodles, happily published by HarperCollins as well.

In his capacity as editor for this biennial, Rosen reads manuscripts year round, beseeching and beleaguering the nation's most renowned and well-published authors, and fending off the rants and screeds from folks who've discovered the ease of self-publishing on the web. Last summer, Rosen edited a lovely book, 101 Damnations: The Humorists' Tour of Personal Hells; while some critics (all right, one rather outspoken friend) considered this a book of complaints, Rosen has argued that humor, like voting and picketing and returning an appliance that "worked" all of four months before requiring a repair that costs twice the purchase price, humor is about the desire for change. It's responding to the way things are compared to the way you'd like things to be. And it's a much more convivial response than pouting or cornering unsuspecting guests at dinner parties.

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