Conversations with S. J. Perelmanby Tom Teicholz (Editor)
What a pleasure this book affords! In these pages one of the delights of sophisticated conversation lives again. The interviews collected in this book comprise a treasury of wit. Perelman (1904-1979) was one of America’s best writers and, undeniably, one of its wittiest talkers. His great ability to take the tired English language and make it new and shiny
What a pleasure this book affords! In these pages one of the delights of sophisticated conversation lives again. The interviews collected in this book comprise a treasury of wit. Perelman (1904-1979) was one of America’s best writers and, undeniably, one of its wittiest talkers. His great ability to take the tired English language and make it new and shiny was perhaps his most amazing feat. For his seemingly effortless contributions to the world of humor and to an avid, exhilarated readership flourishing over six decades the New York Times Book Review declared him a national treasure.
Although he quipped that by profession he was “a feuilletonist, ‘a maker of little leaves,” in these interviews Perelman is repeatedly reminded that he is a clever genius, but he never divulges what makes him thus. Spanning his entire career, these conversations show that from the beginning he was a unique practitioner and a professional curmudgeon. He discusses his progress from youthful cartoonist to comic writer. He amuses listeners with accounts of hilarious adventures in Hollywood working with the Marx Brothers and later with Mike Todd on Around the World in Eighty Days, for which Perelman won an Academy Award for scriptwriting.
His booksBaby, It’s Cold Outside, Chicken Inspector #23, The Rising Gorge, Crazy Like a Fox, and othersshowed the master’s touch, his play with words, and his inexhaustible store of humor. His style he characterized as “a mixture of all the trash I read as a child, all the clichés, criminal slang, liberal doses of Yiddish, and some of what I learned in school from impatient teachers.” But a better description was proffered by William Shawn, the editor of The New Yorker, who said, “He was a master of the English language, and no one had put the language to more stunning comic effect than he did.”
Read an Excerpt
Interviewer: I'd like to ask about the frequent use of Yiddish references and expressions throughout your writing. Words like "nudnik" and "schlepp" and "tzimmas" come in frequently enough.
Perelman: Your pronunciation of "nudnik," by the way, is appalling. It's "nudnik," not "noodnik." As to why I occasionally use the words you indicate, I like them for their invective content. There are nineteen words in Yiddish that convey gradations of disparagement from a mild, fluttery helplessness to a state of downright, irreconcilable brutishness. All of them can be usefully employed to pin-point the kind of individuals I write about.
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