Synopses & Reviews
"On the lawns and porches, and in the living rooms and backyards of my threescore years, there have been more dogs, written and drawn, real and imaginary, than I had guessed before I started this roundup."
Here is James Thurber, arguably the greatest humorist of the twentieth century, on all things canine. In The Dog Department, Michael J. Rosen, a literary dogcatcher of sorts, has gathered together Thurber's best in show. Here we have the stylish prose and drawings from Thurber's Dogs (which connected the words "Thurber" and "Dog" as inseparably as "Bartlett" and "Quotation," as "Emily Post" and "Etiquette"), along with unpublished material from the Thurber archives, a great sheaf of uncollected cartoons, and two dozen "Talk of the Town" miniatures from The New Yorker — the consummate dog book from an artist of extraordinary pedigree. What other author can claim to have penned his own personal breed? The Thurber hound is a creature as unmistakable as Disney's mouse or Playboy's bunny.
In The Dog Department you'll find standard poodles, Scottish terriers, an Airedale, a rough collie, an American Staffordshire terrier — all Thurber family members who inspired quintessential dog tales. For instance, there's Muggs, "the dog that bit people," an avocation that, each year, required Thurber's mother to send her famous chocolates to an ever-growing list of Muggs's victims. There's also a fair share about bloodhounds, German shepherd dogs, and pugs. But what you'll find remarkable and comforting is that reading Thurber from fifty or even seventy-five years ago is akin to reading about dogs today — or about dogs from the previous century, as Thurber grew up reading — or about dogs, we hope, from this new century we've just entered. The Dog Department is proof that Thurber's work defines the canine canon.
About the Author
James Thurber (1894-1961) created some thirty volumes of humor, fiction, children's books, cartoons, and essays in just about as many years. A founding member of The New Yorker
staff, Thurber wrote and illustrated such enduring books as The Thurber Carnival
and My Life and Hard Times,
which have appeared in countless editions and dozens of languages throughout the world.
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.