Wednesday, October 12, 2005


THERE are some books that entertain, others entertain and a few educate. This book is a rare combination of all three. It springs surprises like a magpie singing its heart out in the backyard of your home. Its message is clear and it resonates like the wind kissing your ears. Long after it's gone, you ponder over its images, much like the lingering memory of the words you have read in this book.

READING this book of humorous prose was like finding a treasure chest of
gems, and then taking each precious stone and examining it closely.
Between the front and back covers are 500 years of witty, sterling,
sometimes almost peerless humorous prose guaranteed to evoke laughter and
Some credit goes to Frank Muir for adding gems of his own in the preface
of each passage by a different writer. Muir's playful wit and perceptive
remarks are like garnishing on an exotic dish.
There are pieces of prose that recall a forgotten time, from such
luminaries as Joseph Addison, Charles Dickens, P.G. Wodehouse, Mark Twain.
Then there are the more modern ones like Kingsley Amis, Graham Greene,
Joseph Heller, Bernard Shaw, James Thurber, Auberon Waugh, Tom Wolfe
together with relative unknowns like Richmal Crompton, Maurice Baring, Rev
Sydney Smith, Sir Thomas Overbury.
Frank Muir's conducted tour of these passages, some oh-so-too-short and
others inspirationally lengthy, covers every aspect of the human condition
through five centuries reflected in the humour of 600 writers.
Muir has obviously gone to great lengths to research the backgrounds of
the writers for this massive anthology. From reading it, one cannot but be
reminded that through time, there have been many people who wrote mainly
for the joy of expression and whose masterpieces are living testimonies of
their high ideals and standards.
Describing the title of the book, Muir who himself is 40 years familiar
with the subject defines humour as "in between wit and buffoonery" and "as
far as this book is concerned the most interesting subdivision of comedy".
He adds, "If wit belongs mainly to the well-educated classes and
buffoonery to the lower classes, humour is middle-class."
And to that very broad middle spread to which most of us belong, The
Oxford Book of Humorous Prose is both information and entertainment. For
those who partake constantly of harmless, jovial banter which often leads
to laughter and those who like to inject gaiety and good cheer into the
lives of friends, this book is surely a collector's item.

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