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Posted October 12, 2011
From the Humor Lit Books Blog
The Library of America - best known for its collections of American authors from Nathaniel Hawthorne to Philip Roth - set for itself a seemingly impossible task: anthologizing the fifty funniest masters of American humor writing. To that end, they joined forces with the acclaimed comedian and writer Andy Borowitz, who rocketed to fame through his wildly popular satirical website, The Borowitz Report. Instead of it customary somber black cover, the Library of America packaged its humor anthology in bright orange, perhaps sending a signal that it was trying something new. Against all odds, the finished product is a surprisingly satisfying and consistently funny collection that might be the best American humor anthology on the market.
Editor Borowitz's eclectic (and some would say eccentric) taste includes the usual suspects - James Thurber, Dorothy Parker, S.J. Perelman - but it also encompasses standup comedians (Lenny Bruce, Bernie Mac, George Carlin), forgotten masters (Terry Southern, Peter DeVries, Frank Sullivan) and people not usually thought of as funny but who turn out to be (Langston Hughes, Sinclair Lewis). There are little-known humor pieces by Philip Roth and Charles Portis and a rarely seen National Lampoon story by a young John Hughes, "Vacation '57," that became the basis for the successful movie franchise that kick-started Hughes' career. Rounding out the collection are stellar pieces by such contemporary wits as George Saunders, David Rakoff, Ian Frazier and The Onion.
In addition to the fifty pieces, the biographical endnotes are uniformly excellent, and Borowitz's introduction is a hilarious gem in its own right.
Sticklers may quibble about the absence of some writers; an anthology that only includes fifty writers is bound to have some omissions. But this compact, unpretentious volume makes no claims to be all encompassing. What it does do, and does so brilliantly, is entertain. All in all, this is an exceptional effort, and an indispensable book for anyone who likes to laugh. Grade: A.
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