My Life and Hard Times by James Thurber

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My Life and Hard Times (1933) is a pleasant, gently funny but fairly slight batch of autobiographical reminiscences. Thurber focuses his very short book (115 pages in this paperback) on his childhood and does a vivid job of bringing to life early 20th century Colombus, Ohio.

The book is really a series of very short stories, almost family tall tales, with a couple more essayic pieces. The entire work is very diverting and entertaining but does not stick around the mind all that much. Thurber and The New Yorker, of which he was a staff writer and cartoonist, referred to works like these as “casuals”, and that is how they feel in both ease and impact.

Two pieces really standout in reaching the heights of almost screwball farce: “The Night the Bed Fell” and “The Day the Dam Broke”. But even the less substantial stories are delightful in their view of Thurber’s madcap family, especially his quasi-senile Civil War Union veteran grandfather. Thurber illustrates scenes throughout in his scratchy cartoonist manner.