Synopses & Reviews
Stepping out of the darkness, the American emerges upon the stage of history as a new character, as puzzling to himself as to others. American Humor, Constance Rourke's pioneering "study of the national character," singles out the archetypal figures of the Yankee peddler, the backwoodsman, and the blackface minstrel to illuminate the fundamental role of popular culture in fashioning a distinctive American sensibility. A memorable performance in its own right, American Humor crackles with the jibes and jokes of generations while presenting a striking picture of a vagabond nation in perpetual self-pursuit. Davy Crockett and Henry James, Jim Crow and Emily Dickinson rub shoulders in a work that inspired such later critics as Pauline Kael and Lester Bangs and which still has much to say about the America of Bob Dylan and Thomas Pynchon, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
Rourke's pioneering "study of the national character" examines such legendary figures as the Yankee, the backwoodsman, the minstrel singer, and the stroller to show how the popular comic imagination has contributed to America's changing self-awareness.
About the Author
Constance Rourke (1885-1941) was a historian, anthropologist, and critic who revolutionized the study of American culture. Born in Cleveland, Ohio, and educated at Vassar and the Sorbonne, she spent most of her life in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her influential studies of American life include Trumpets of Jubilee (1927), Troupers of the Gold Coast (1928), and biographies of Davy Crockett (1928), Audubon (1936), and Charles Sheeler: Artist in the American Tradition (1938). Her most famous work remains American Humor: A Study of the National Character, recognized as a classic from its publication in 1931. Rourke devoted her later life to “living research,” exploring regional culture, from Shaker furniture to African-American song, and Western folk tales. She died in 1941, after falling on an icy porch.
The NYRB Classics series is designedly and determinedly exploratory and eclectic, a mix of fiction and non-fiction from different eras and times and of various sorts. The series includes nineteenth century novels and experimental novels, reportage and belles lettres, tell-all memoirs and learned studies, established classics and cult favorites, literature high, low, unsuspected, and unheard of. NYRB Classics are, to a large degree, discoveries, the kind of books that people typically run into outside of the classroom and then remember for life.
Inevitably literature in translation constitutes a major part of the NYRB Classics series, simply because so much great literature has been left untranslated into English, or translated poorly, or deserves to be translated again, much as any outstanding book asks to be read again.
The series started in 1999 with the publication of Richard Hughes's A High Wind in Jamaica. NYRB Classics includes new translations of canonical figures such as Euripides, Dante, Balzac, and Chekhov; fiction by modern and contemporary masters such as Vasily Grossman, Mavis Gallant, Daphne du Maurier, Stefan Zweig, and Upamanyu Chatterjee; tales of crime and punishment by George Simenon and Kenneth Fearing; masterpieces of narrative history and literary criticism, poetry, travel writing, biography, cookbooks, and memoirs from such writers as Norman Mailer, Lionel Trilling, and Patrick Leigh Fermor; and unclassifiable classics on the order of J. R. Ackerley's My Dog Tulip and Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy. Fall 2009 sees the publication of the series' first graphic novel, Poem Strip by Dino Buzzati, translated into English for the first time.
Published in handsome uniform trade paperback editions, almost all the 250 NYRB Classics included in this collection feature an introduction by an outstanding writer, scholar, or critic of our day. Taken as a whole, NYRB Classics may be considered a series of books of unrivaled variety and quality for discerning and adventurous readers.