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Of All Things

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Of All Things

Robert Benchley

Project Gutenberg

Robert Benchley was well known as a humor columnist in the first half of the twentieth century, and if you’ve read anything by the Algonquin Round Table writers, you’ve probably heard his name.  Some talk of the Harlem Renaissance, some of the Inklings, but for my money, if there’s a group of friends who can be pleased with the benefits their friendship has brought to literature, it should be the Algonquin Round Table, who hung around at the Algonquin Hotel getting drunk and making jokes at one anothers’ expense, then using the conversations to inspire their writing and making money from it.  There’s a certain common style and mood from those writers that you’ll find in Benchley’s work, too.

His many columns and essays were collected into twelve books while he was alive, and as of this week, two of those books are now available on Project Gutenberg.  Of All Things is just as funny as Love Conquers All.  

I had a few favorite essays.  I liked “A Piece of Roast Beef,” in which Benchley visits a variety of restaurants, from a cheap diner in the Bowery, to a restaurant frequented by businessmen, to an elite and highbrow place, to try to discover whether there is any discernible difference between the roast beef served at such different prices.

Considering the basic ingredient, it was a perfectly satisfactory meal, and I felt that twenty cents was little enough to pay for it, especially since it was going in on my expense account.

I also liked “Football, Courtesy of Mr. Morse,” in part because it was funny, and in part because it offered a glimpse at something I hadn’t thought about before, which was how football fans followed the game live before the existence of television.  This essay is set among the people who have gathered to try to follow the game from the live news sent out from the stadium by telegram, not always correctly, clearly, or in order.

“Yale won the toss and chose to defend the south goal, Princeton taking the west.”

This mistake elicits much laughter, and a witty graduate who has just had lunch wants to know, as one man to the rest of the house, if it is puss-in-the-corner that is being played.

The instrument behind the board goes “Tick-ity-tick-tick-tickity.”

There is a hush, broken only by the witty graduate, who, encouraged by his first success, wants to know again if it is puss-in-the-corner that is being played. This fails to gain.

“Gilblick catches the kick-off and runs the ball back to his own 3-yard line, where he is downed in his tracks,” comes the announcement.

There is a murmur of incredulity at this. The little ball on the board shoots to the middle of the field.

“Hey, how about that?” shout several precincts.

The announcer steps forward again.

“That was the wrong announcement,” he admits. “Tweedy caught the kick-off and ran the ball back twenty-five yards to midfield, where he is thrown for a loss. On the next play there was a forward pass, Klung to Breakwater, which—”

Here the message stops. Intense excitement.

I love knowing that there are ten Benchley collections in existence that I haven’t read yet.  It gives me something to look forward to.

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Written by Contented Reader

October 12, 2011 at 7:08 am

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