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Edited by Mordecai Richler.

Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, c1983.
542pp, cloth, $24.95.
ISBN 0-7710-7479-4.

Reviewed by Adele Ashby.

Volume 12 Number 2
1984 March

"Dying is easy," said actor Edmund Gwenn on his deathbed, "comedy is difficult". That, despite the fact that many people, including critics, do not take comedians and writers of comedy seriously. But, as Richler demonstrates in this new anthology, comedy is entitled to a little respect. In fact, "A Selection of Good Writing That is Also Funny" could be an appropriate subtitle. Richler took two years to collect the contents, concentrating on writers of the preceding twenty years, since the last major anthology, edited by E.B. White, appeared seventeen years ago. There are sixty-four pieces from longer works of fiction, short stories, short plays, letters, parodies, satires, send-ups, and put-downs, arranged chronologically by the birth date of the author. The oldest is by Leacock (b. 1869 and the only Canadian) and the newest by lan Frazier (b. 1951). In between there is H.L. Mencken, Damon Runyon, P.G. Wodehouse, Leo Rosten, Saul Bellow, Joseph Heller, Jessica Mitford, and Nora Ephron, to name only a few, plus some writers not generally thought of as humorists, such as V.S. Naipaul, Beryl Bainbridge, and Kenneth Tynan. Some of my favourites are Groucho Marx's hilarious correspondence with a bunch of literal-minded lawyers, Russell Baker's "Bomb Math," Art Buchwald's "Saving Food Paper," and Woody Allen's "The Kugel-mass Episode." Richler's criterion for inclusion was: "It had to make me laugh-sometimes at seven o'clock in the morning, before my first cup of coffee." Not all of them did that to me, but there were more than enough to make it a worthwhile purchase. One curious omission is Richler himself. Some of the scenes from his books are funnier, in my view, than some of the pieces he selected, but he has provided an excellent essay on the nature of humour and the craft of writing it in his foreword.

Adele Ashby, Toronto, ON.
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