Mirth of a Nation: The Best Contemporary Humor [NOOK Book]


A salvo of hilarity from that loose canon of American humor that Mirth of a Nation editor Michael J. Rosen has culled from some 1200 pages of brilliantly original works by our best contemporary humorists. This action-packed compilation of highlights includes Bobbie Ann Mason's stint at the La Bamba hotline, David Rakoff's insights on families, Andy Borowitz's memoir of Emily Dickinson (basically, she was a drunken jerk), and Michael Feldman's helpful (re)locating of the Midwest....

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Mirth of a Nation: The Best Contemporary Humor

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A salvo of hilarity from that loose canon of American humor that Mirth of a Nation editor Michael J. Rosen has culled from some 1200 pages of brilliantly original works by our best contemporary humorists. This action-packed compilation of highlights includes Bobbie Ann Mason's stint at the La Bamba hotline, David Rakoff's insights on families, Andy Borowitz's memoir of Emily Dickinson (basically, she was a drunken jerk), and Michael Feldman's helpful (re)locating of the Midwest.

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Editorial Reviews

Chicago Tribune
A creative, engaging humor collection.
Seattle Weekly
Plenty of extremely entertaining material can be found here.
Katherine A. Powers
As I read it again, now alone in my apartment, I am once more laughing uncontrollably. —Boston Globe
Richmond Times-Dispatch
The cream of the current humorist crop.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062038036
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 12/21/2010
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 640
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet 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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Read an Excerpt

“You'll Never Groom Dogs in This Town Again!”

Henry Alford

Spitting is prohibited in subway cars mainly to:

  1. encourage politeness
  2. prevent spread of disease
  3. reduce the cost of cleaning cars
  4. prevent slipping

From the Telephone Maintainer civil service testAssume that, while a [Bridge and Tunnel] Officer is collecting a toll from a motorist, the Officer sees a child tied up in the rear of the car. Of the following, the best thing for the Officer to do is to:

  1. ignore what has been seen and continue collecting tolls
  2. try to delay the car and signal for assistance
  3. reach into the car and untie the child
  4. tell the driver that he cannot use the bridge unless he unties the child

From a preparation guide for the Bridge and Tunnel Officer civil service testThe proper technique for selling floral designs involves:

  1. ignoring customers when they are waiting for service
  2. being assertive, taking no nonsense from the customer
  3. treating the customer the way you want to be treated
  4. calling the customer “honey” or “dear”

From an exam given by the Rittner's School of Floral Design in Boston, Massachusetts

In earlier, simpler times, you became established in a trade by following a steady path from apprentice to journeyman to master. You matured into a trusted artisan through a natural process, and you did not need to be worried about becoming “certified” and filling in computer-readable answer bubbles with a number-two pencil and responding “true” or “false” on a psychological test to the statement “I prefer tallwomen.” No, a blacksmith was a blacksmith because he was a blacksmith; chandlers chandled and wheelwrights wrought wheels. In today's superrationalized, postindustrial world, however, we trust numbers more than experience, so to qualify for almost any money-making endeavor, from lawyer to interior decorator to cement mason, you may be obliged to take a test. There is a Certified Picture Framers examination. There is an Aerobics Instructors test.

In an attempt to identify exactly what employers and professional organizations are looking for in their employees and members--and, incidentally, to identify exactly what work I might be suited for other than the underrationalized and basically preindustrial labor of freelance writing--I took thirty-one official or practice tests. The tests ranged from tests for bartenders, postal machine mechanics, radio announcers, and travel agents to tests for addiction specialists, geologists, foreign service officers, and FBI agents. (I did not take the exam for state troopers, however, having taken offense at some of the questions in a preparation guide for that test: “When driving a full-sized car, are you tall enough to see over the steering wheel?” “When standing next to a full-sized car, can you easily see over the top?” “Can you climb over a full-sized sedan either lengthwise or from side to side?” The writers of the test seemed to suspect me of being a dwarf.)

My results were not always encouraging; I passed only three tests.There is not yet a test for freelance writers, of course. It occurs to me that perhaps this is just as well.

So You Want to Be a Cosmetologist

In addition to a written test that includes questions on bacteriology, trichology, dermatology, and histology, aspiring cosmetologists in New York State must pass a three-hour-long practical exam. At the busy, dark premises of the Wilfred Beauty Academy at Broadway and Fifty-fourth Street, I took the first four of seven parts of the mock version of the practical exam that Wilfred students must pass before taking the state board examination.

I entered the classroom area, its air redolent with the aroma of singed hair and perfumey fluorocarbons. I joined a group of about thirty white-lab-coat-wearing students who were under the tutelage of the obdurate Ms. Valentine. A short, middle-aged Hispanic woman with full, round cheeks, Ms. Valentine has a slightly regal bearing and luxuriant blonde hair--the empress dowager of Wella Balsam. But upon introducing herself to me she explained, “They call me the Drill Sergeant.”

Pleasantries dispensed with, she reached into the three-foot-tall wooden cabinet in which wigs are dried and pulled out a male rubber mannequin head with slightly chiseled, epicene facial features. Its hair was done up in curlers and covered with a hairnet. Then, with a clamping device, Ms. Valentine used her impressive strength to briskly attach the head to the worktable closest to the wig dryer.

Ms. Valentine barked out the command to begin the first part of the exam--the “comb-out”--and then urged us to be assiduous about “relaxing the set.” Upon seeing that other students were “effilating” (teasing) their heads' hair with combs, I followed suit; but upon snagging and almost breaking one of the comb's teeth in the resultant tangle, I decided that this was not the proper avenue to hair relaxation. I recommenced with a brush. When a bell sounded at the conclusion of the twenty-five minutes, I had fashioned a sort of churning mass of blonde-ness--Gunther Goebbel-Williams after having strayed too close to an air duct. Ms. Valentine strode around the room and, jabbing her finger into some coiffures, briefly combing others, took notes. Her look of unenthused calm suggested a high level of professionalism.

For the hair-shaping phase of the exam, I was given a water sprayer, plastic clips, shears, and a female mannequin head with long, straight brown hair. Handing me an illustration of a head of hair sectioned into four quadrants and one encircling fringe, Ms. Valentine explained that I would have thirty minutes to “section, remove excess bulk, and blend.” This sounded like a tall order. Indeed, it was--I spent twenty-four minutes effecting a fringe and quadrants. During this time, Ms. Valentine slunk down the aisle four times, each time yelling a new command: “Razor!” “Blunt cutting!” “Effilating!” “Thinning shears!” This was not creating an environment in which I felt I could do my best work.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
"You'll Never Groom Dogs in This Town Again!" 9
Cafe Manhattan 27
The Young Man and the Sea 30
How to Be Difficult 36
The Yanni Files 43
A Prayer for Bill Clinton 46
Independence Day 49
Parlez-Vous Francais? 53
An Aesthetically Challenged American in Paris (Part II) 56
You Could Look Me Up ... Sometime 62
I Go to Golf School 70
A Graceland for Adolf 83
Upcoming House Votes 86
Let's Hear It for Cheerleaders 89
Lapses of Photographic Memories 93
A Year-Round Tan for the Asking 96
The Bane of Every Vacation: Souvenirs 99
Memo from Coach 105
As I Was Saying to Henry Kissinger... 108
Away from It All 118
Give One for the Team 121
God, Help Me! 125
Autumn of the Matriarch 128
Future Schlock 137
What We Told the Kids 146
Un Caballo in Maschera 148
The Midwest: Where Is It? 154
Come Stay with Us 158
Desert Surprise: Saddam Picks Bill 162
Return Saddam's Limo ... Now! 165
Laws Concerning Food and Drink; Household Principles; Lamentations of the Father 170
Flowers of Evil: Ask Charles Baudelaire 175
Authors with the Most 178
Long Day's Journey into Abs 181
Yankee, Come Home 185
A Good Man Is Hard to Keep: The Correspondence of Flannery O'Connor and S. J. Perelman 191
Testing, Testing... 197
The Cheese Stands Alone 201
Post-Euphoria 204
Why Are Kids So Dumb? 213
Clarifications 218
What We talk About When We Talk About Little Green Men 223
Design Intervention 225
Too Late to Become a Gondolier? 232
Me and My Delusions 236
Eating the Desk 239
Into the Giga Jungle 242
The Hidden Life of Rocks 248
Degas, C'est Moi 252
You Say Tomato, I Say Tomorrow 256
Chicken a la Descartes 261
Even More Memoirs by Even More McCourts 265
Love Bug 269
More Mergers 272
Rejected Polls 275
Josh Kornbluth
Driving Mr. Crazy 280
Red Diaper Baby 286
Money 298
Trout 314
Jumpin' Jiminy 318
Space Travel Food 321
Piscopo Agonistes 325
The Way of the Ear 338
Eleventh-Hour Bride 343
I Network with Angels 347
Phone Hex 353
Birthdays: So Now What? 356
Things That Are Confusing 364
How and Why Book of Magnets 368
Joyce Maynard Looking Back 375
Bad Numbers 380
Sunken Treasure 384
One Guy's TV 387
After This Word from Motel 3 392
O.J.: The Trial of the Next Century 395
Scrambling for Dollars 401
Gambling in the Schools 405
Diary of a Genius 410
TV Guide, Soon 414
My Genetic Memories 426
The Last Publicist on Earth 429
Memoir Essay 436
March 441
No Strings Attached 460
Ferret-Face 463
Barnes Ennobled 468
T.G.I.Y2K! 472
All Happy Families... 479
Christmas Freud 483
El Nino Has a Headache 491
In New England Everyone Calls you Dave 495
The Million Millionaires March 502
Wing Tsu 505
T. S. Eliot Interactive 509
Buy Me 513
Rejected Celebrity Cab Announcements 517
Conspir-U.S.-cy History 521
Dysfunctional Adult Education Catalogue 524
The All-Purpose Concession Speech 534
Front Row Center with Thaddeus Bristol 539
Humor Thy Father 544
Khmer Roue 547
Taking the A Train to Early Retirement 550
A Few Notes on Sex Education 555
The Last Supper, or The Dead Waiter 561
Pen Pals 567
I Am a Tip-Top Starlet 578
To Our Valued Customers 581
Getting Over Getting Stoned 584
Manifesto 587
Glad Rags 590
From: Corporate Communications at CRT301 593
A Note About the Editor 597
A Note About the Type 599
Index 601
About the Contributors 605
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 17, 2005

    An all-star literary cast

    This anthology's contributors roster is a Who's Who of contemporary humorists: Dave Barry, Garrison Keillor, Merrill Markoe, Al Franken, Dave Barry, P. J. O'Rourke, Garry Trudeau, Jon Stewart, Christopher Buckley, Fran Leibowitz, David Sedaris, even John Updike. Not every piece is laugh-out-loud funny, but there are plenty of stitch busters in here.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2003

    Seriously Funny, no kidding

    Humor books are usually miscellaneous hodge- podges of 'something for everybody.' This one is not. It's a sustained compilation of great writing. Writing by very talented people who are variously smart-alec, smart-assed. and just plain smart. That's the one thing that's similiar about all the pieces: they're just very well done. After that, there's a huge range, from Sedaris's hilariously scatching review of kiddie theatrical productions to Garry Trudeau's re- re-retranslating of a Madonna interview back and forth from Russian. There are as many expected players--Ian Frazier, Fran Lebowitz, Dave Barry, P.J. O'Rourke with terrific pieces--as there are surprises and newer names. Favorites? Howard Mohr (who worked with Garrison Keillor on Prairie Home Companion for years), John Updike doing a parody about J. Edgar Hoover cross-dressing. David Ives, the brilliant playwright, giving a culinary history through philosophers. Even the index, by Al Franken, shows that Mirth of a Nation is serious about being funny, from cover to cover. I have the second volume, More Mirth of a Nation, and, believe it or not, it's even better. Thirds, anyone? I gather from their website it will be out in 2004. Can't wait.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 8, 2000

    Satire and wit galore

    I read Mirth of a Nation and came away thinking I knew something: there are a lot of smartalecks getting paid for this. It was a very funny read and was a good introduction to some of the more noted humorists today, like Dave Barry and P.J. O'Rourke. And there are so many subjects covered, or uncovered, or however the writers decided to eviscerate our tabloid world.

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