Favorite Humorous Stories – Mark Twain

No survey of humorous stories is complete without including those of Mark Twain. Having assigned myself the recent task of choosing three of my favorites, I have spent many happy hours immersed in the pages of his funny tales. My chief resource has been Mark Twain. Collected Tales, Sketches, Speeches, & Essays 1852-1890, published by The Library of America, (1992), from which all quotes are taken. My choices are completely personal, based not so much on a story’s literary merit but on its capacity to make me laugh. Some people will immediately take issue with me for not including Twain’s famous story “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog” (first published November, 1865), which was later reprinted as “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” True, it’s a great funny story, but for me it lacks the sheer absurdity and audaciousness that characterize Twain’s best stories. So here are my three favorites. You’ll just have to read his stories and make your own list.

When I read “How I Edited an Agricultural Paper (first published July, 1870), my first impression was how well it applied to our current fact-challenged times. Twain did write for a variety of small newspapers and magazines, so I suspect there is a seed of truth upon which the story is based. It begins as the narrator temporarily fills in for the editor of an agricultural newspaper, who goes on vacation. Upon his return, the editor reacts indignantly to what his temp has written in his absence: about turnips growing on trees, the “moulting season for cows,” that “the pumpkin, as a shade tree, is a failure,” and discussing oyster beds under the heading of landscape gardening. Twain comes right back at the editor in equally indignant terms, claiming that he his articles have greatly increased the newspaper’s circulation (as fascinated readers clamored to find out what the new guy would write next). Twain’s final rebuttal to the editor makes this story as fresh as the day it was written: “… I tell you that the less a man knows the bigger noise he makes and the higher salary he commands.” Remind you of any “news” commentator or talking head you know?

“The Story of the Good Little Boy Who Did Not Prosper” (first published May, 1870) tells the story of a boy named Jacob who “always obeyed his parents, no matter how absurd and unreasonable their demands were…” So right off the bat, with the title and opening line, we are given ample clues of the writer’s own attitudes toward childhood and the prevailing popular sentiments surrounding it. We learn in the story that Jacob read his Sunday-school books with great passion, and admired the little boys portrayed there. In fact, his greatest ambition was to be put in such a book himself. But no matter how hard he tried, nothing ever went right with him. He tried so hard to be good but, unlike the good little boys in the Sunday-school books, never got his reward. In his life, it was always the bad boys who came out on top. Finally, he encounters one such group of bad boys, as they tethered together a pack of dogs and were about to attach some empty cans of nitro-glycerine to their tails. Jacob happens to sit down on one of these cans and, well, you can see where this is going. I’ll leave it to you to find out what happens to poor Jacob. Let’s just say, it was not a pretty sight. Twain concludes, “His case is truly remarkable. It will probably never be accounted for.”

Last but not least of my favorite Twain stories is “Cannibalism in the Cars (first published November, 1868). On a train to St. Louis, the narrator tells of meeting a stranger, a “mild, benevolent-looking gentleman,” who sits down beside him and relates a “strange adventure, speaking sometimes with animation, sometimes with melancholy, but always with feeling and earnestness.” (I love that introduction. Not only does it set the mood for the story, but it’s an apt description of the way the author himself wrote and spoke.) The stranger relates the events of an evening train ride from St. Louis to Chicago. Aboard were twenty-four passengers, all male. Later that evening, it begins to snow hard, and eventually the train comes to a complete halt, trapped in the middle of nowhere by a huge snow-drift. Days go by, and the men get hungrier and hungrier. They have plenty of wood aboard with which to keep warm, but not a lick of food. On the seventh day, one of the men makes a grim announcement: “Gentlemen,—It cannot be delayed any longer! The time is at hand! We must determine which of us shall die to furnish food for the rest!” The methodical manner by which one of them is elected, with the passengers voting on the issue as if they were members of Congress, is hysterical. It also demonstrates my long held opinion that no topic, no matter how repugnant or unthinkable, is taboo for a humorist. Remember this story was written when the tragic fate of the Donner Party (1847) was still fresh in people’s minds. At last, the train survivors sit down to their gruesome feast, “with hearts full of gratitude to the finest supper that had blessed our vision for seven torturing days.” In delicious detail the stranger recounts the culinary qualities of the man they had just consumed as well as the others to follow (yes, they went on to elect and eat others). I will leave it to you, dear reader, to see how the writer could possibly end such a tale. Bon appétit!

 

 

 

 

 

 

“…a fantastic children’s story book. I LOVED IT!”

DDN-kindlecover3-1Here is the latest review of my book Dragon Daily News by Lynn Worton. Thanks, Lynn.

Review 5*****

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review.

This is a fantastic children’s story book, I LOVED it!

When I was first contacted by the author to read this book, I was quite excited. I love stories that get the imagination juices flowing. I am just sorry that due to my rather large reading list, that it has taken me so long to get to read it.

Every single story in this book takes the reader (or listening child) on an amazing adventure. Although I was a little disappointed that the stories were not as long as I would have liked, they are the perfect length to capture, and keep, even the most fidgety youngster enthralled. The author has taken some very ordinary, everyday objects and has woven magical tales around them. There are some fantastic stories in this book, and it is difficult to pick a favourite one. However, I loved the following stories: How to Stuff a Rhino, Dragon Daily News and The Jet Who Wouldn’t Fly. Each story in this book has an obstacle that the characters have to overcome, such as fear or bullies, but they also have a message such as asking for help when needed or believing in yourself. I was sorry to come to the end of the book, as these stories were highly entertaining.

Gene Twaronite has written a fantastic children’s book that sparked my imagination, never mind a child’s. I loved his writing style, which was fast paced enough to keep even the shortest of attention spans hooked; every story flowed wonderfully. I would definitely read more of this author’s books in the future.

I highly recommend this book as a bedtime story for youngsters aged 5-7, a read-along for readers aged 7-9 (depending on reading ability) and as a read-alone for readers aged 9-12. I also recommend this book to adults who love reading Young Adult novels or stories. – Lynn Worton

Posted by the reviewer on:

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Favorite Humorous Stories

Picture1This was going to be a top ten list of my favorite humorous stories that have influenced me the most as a writer. But I got into a nasty argument with myself about which ones to include. Since I seldom win these arguments, I quickly conceded defeat. So I decided to write this instead as a series of installments, each focusing on one writer. That way I can live with myself and don’t have to choose just one story.

Where to begin? For me that’s easy. From early on I was always attracted to writers who could not only set me to convulsive laughter, but make me wonder how in the hell they did that. Thurber was one of my earliest heroes. For sheer range of wackiness and imagination he had few equals. And his stories still hold up well today.

Three of his stories immediately come to mind. I think my favorite is “The Night the Bed Fell,” from his autobiographical book My Life and Hard Times. I do think “autobiography” is a stretch when applied to these stories. It is hard to believe that anyone’s family members could be that crazy, or that events described by the author could have really happened that way. No matter. The stories are pure fun. In fact, they inspired me to write my novel The Family That Wasn’ta middle grade fantasy about a boy who finds his family so impossibly crazy that he writes them out of his life by imagining a new perfect family in which he suddenly finds himself living.

A close second is the story “If Grant Had Been Drinking at Appomattox,” from Thurber’s later book The Middle-Aged Man on the Flying Trapeze. I love the way this story starts, as if everything is perfectly normal in General Grant’s camp: “The morning of the ninth of April, 1865, dawned beautifully. General Meade was up with the first streaks of crimson in the eastern sky.” But history is about to be turned on its head. I wonder how many people, after reading this story, have gone to the Internet seeking information about Grant’s drinking problems. It’s a perfect little gem of alternative history as only Thurber could imagine it.

And how could I not include the much-anthologized “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” from the 1942 classic My WorldAnd Welcome To It. After seeing the preview for the latest movie version of this story, all I can say is, save yourself the agony and read the story instead. There’s a good reason it’s been published in so many collections. Not only is it laugh out loud funny, but it’s perfectly constructed in every detail and guaranteed to make a writer despair of ever being able to write a story like that. Now that’s a good role model! 

You can find all of these stories in the recent collection Writings and Drawings by James Thurber, with selections by Garrison Keillor, published in 1996 by Library of America. 

I’d love to hear comments on your favorite humorous stories.

New Review of The Family That Wasn’t

Reviewed by Mamta Madhavan for Readers’ Favorite5star-shiny-web

http://readersfavorite.com/book-review/14076

The Family That Wasn’t: A Novel by Gene Twaronite is an ideal story for teenagers. John Boggle always wanted a dream family; rich and perfect and a family that appreciated and respected him for what he was. Then he finds his dreams coming true. His family suddenly becomes rich and he becomes John Bartlett who lives in the rich Bartlett mansion. But after a while he starts missing his old, poor Boggle family and he starts searching for them. The search for the Boggle family takes him across the USA and he meets various types of people on this journey.

The story has many shades; it is dark, funny, and peppered with a bit of whimsy. The continuous supply of donuts is one whimsical aspect of the story. John’s travels across the USA and his meeting people changes his perspective of what a family is. The story is appealing to adults as well. The book is fast paced so that once you start reading you might not want to put it down. The book has a lot of messages for readers. I liked the character of John. He is a fun character, a normal thirteen-year-old boy who changes in the course of the story and ends up being wiser. The author has a done a fine job of blending some dark moments, humor, and charm effortlessly. This book will make us rethink the definition of a perfect family and the perfect life that we all want.