My Life and Hard Times
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My Life and Hard Times

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4.18 of 5 stars 4.18  ·  rating details  ·  1,736 ratings  ·  146 reviews
Widely hailed as one of the finest humorist of the twentieth century, James Thurber looks back at his own life growing up in Columbus, Ohio, with the same humor and sharp wit that defined his famous sketches and writings. In My Life and Hard times, first published in 1933, he recounts the delightful chaos and frustrations of family, boyhood, youth odd dogs, recalcitrant ma...more
Paperback, 106 pages
Published October 6th 1999 by Harper Perennial (first published 1933)
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Community Reviews

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Bucko
I remember having to read "The Dog That Bit People" in class during my sophomore year of high school. Twenty five bowed heads in a room, each making no sound (save the occasional sigh), and one nerd giggling his bespectacled head off, which was me

These stories are absolutely superb. "The Night the Ghost Got In" and "The Dog That Bit People" are wonderful, and the episode in "More Alarms At Night" where his dad "threatened to get Buck" is laugh-out-loud hilarious. I love the characters, as well....more
Jill
May 30, 2007 Jill rated it 5 of 5 stars Recommends it for: the world
probably the funniest (in a wryly funny, self-depricating, midwestern sort of way) thing ever written in the english language, and the cartoon illustrations are even better.
Nandakishore Varma
A humourous book, but only mildly so. I expected much more from the author of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. However, these quirky reminiscences are enjoyable, if only for Thurber's inimitable style.

Aristotle said: "The world is a tragedy to those who feel, and a comedy to those who think." Seeing the past through the wrong side of the telescope, Thurber is is able to invest apparently distressing events with the patina of humour which brings out his delightfully eccentric family (including hi...more
Realini
Thurber and the Wide Sargasso Sea
As I try to write about Thurber, with his My Life and Hard Times and The Wide Sargasso sea by Jean Rhys, I think that I should change my reading strategy.

At this stage, I try to read all that the great books on the top 100-150 lists of books given by The Modern Library, TIME, The Guardian, Friendswood and eventually Le Monde. Le Monde has a different perspective, with its list of best books- „Starting from a preliminary list of 200 titles created by bookshops and...more
Sarah
My Life and Hard Times. James Thurber. 1933. Perennial Classics. 106 pages. ISBN 0060933089.

Okay, okay, so I know James Thurber is a celebrated author and artist who spent the majority of his career writing for The New Yorker, but that was over 50 years ago. I really need to start washing my hands of classics such as these because they're just too old. I can appreciate his talent, but from an enjoyment standpoint I just need to stick to later, humorous biographies written by people that are stil...more
Chrissie
Before starting: I need something light, and I love memoirs, so this should be perfect.

And it was! A very short memoir that says it all. Some writers don't have to talk and talk and talk, just a few short episodes, all humorous, tell about the essential elements of James Thurber's boyhood growing up in Columbus, Ohio - the flatlands. Even though the chapters could be seen as short stories, they are not! They are true episodes in this humorist's life. The book was written in the 30s and it has lo...more
Ellen
What a fun and fast read this one is! Of course, it's really dated, but if you don't mind that Thurber's sense of humor just keeps you moving on through these very funny stories of his family life. You can just see the characters in action - the father having the bed fall on him, the little brother acting up, the mother being a crazy woman, and more. Very funny!

I'd recommend this one to anyone who likes humor, and who enjoys James Thurber. I'm moving on to the next one of his books that I found...more
Matt
I find the disparaging comments from twenty-somethings about Thurber's "My Life and Hard Times" amusing. So would Thurber, because he could always use another philistine foil for his smart protagonist. If you find this material to be too dated you should get off Facebook long enough to have real interactions with real people, then you'd appreciate Thurber's wickedly understated and subtle wit. If you don't get it, it's not because the material isn't funny. It's because you don't get it. Get it?
Carole
Yes, yes, yes! This book was great! Everyone needs to read it right now. I laughed like crazy.

This is James Thurber's memoir - it's a collection of 10 stories from his childhood/youth. It's only about a hundred pages long, so I was hoping I'd be able to read the whole thing whil waiting in line at the bookstore where I was doing my Christmas shopping. But the lines were actually moving pretty fast, so I had to buy it.

This is a book that would be fun to read aloud.
Allison
May 20, 2007 Allison rated it 5 of 5 stars Recommends it for: lovers of lit humor
Brillance comes in small packages. James Thurber packs a lot of funny and absurdity in a tiny book that you should definitely read.
Huma Rashid
I read this book for the first time shortly after moving to the Midwest. I moved here from Boston when I was ten, and a year or two later, I was flipping through my anthology textbook for my Literature class and found a short story written by James Thurber. It was absolutely hilarious, so I went to the library and checked to see if he had written any actual books. This popped right up so I borrowed it and took it home to read.

This short 'autobiography' is dry, witty, self-deprecating and interes...more
Cadekis
Sadly, this wonderful book is hardly ever referred to. While the world knows that Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, and the Bronte sisters wrote Literature, hardly anyone who hasn't read Thurber recognizes the name. And he's got to be very near the best humor writer out there. I can drive my family crazy by giggling out loud while I'm reading him. They complain, and ask me to stop, but I just can't. I am incapable of reading this collection (his best, in my opinion) out loud, because I burst ou...more
The Book Maven
When I was in my teens, my father decided I needed a little more culture in my life. So he bought me a subscription to The New Yorker.

If I didn't dislike the old man so much, I’d feel bad about wasting his money. Because me and The New Yorker…we didn't get each other. I tried, I really tried to read and understand the articles. (Even then, I knew ENJOYING them would be beyond my meager abilities.) But it was a hopeless case. My idea of culture was the next Christian Slater movie, or the newest B...more
Lauren
Here's Muggs, a choleric airedale that lived with the Thurbers:
description
His expression captures well how I feel about the other reviews on here, people raving about Thurber's golden comedic genius, amazing humor. These vignettes drew some chuckles out of me here and there. That's it.

The prologue, preface, afterword, "about the author", and everything else under the sun that sandwich this light 80+pp autobiography (covering the author's first 24 year) does present an endearing personality.

I googled some o...more
Matthieutc
Good, easy-to-read book. I don't really care for the illustrations but the anecdotes included throughout the book are endearing. The narrative style is quaint and successful in being funny.

The chapter about the day the dam broke was especially inspired. So was the chapter on his memories of Ohio State University:

"I was mediocre at drill, certainly-- that is, until my senior year. By that time I had drilled longer than anybody else in the Western Conference, having failed at military at the end o...more
Katie
My dad read this book aloud to us several times over as I grew up. Even now when I read it myself I hear his voice narrating in my head. It's a wonderfully humorous book. The compilation of stories from James Thurber's life is hysterical, and highlights the quirks of individual families that all of us can relate to in some way. Hands down the best story is "The Night the Bed Fell on Father." I think it's his universal appeal showing that sometimes the best stories come from our own families, if...more
Laura
I have always enjoyed James Thurber and had a particular soft spot for his work. My grandparents took the New Yorker when I was growing up and I would read it when I came over. I loved the Thurber cartoons. As a teenager, I read a book of Thurber's letters to his friends and family which made me like him even more. I find his humor delightful. This was another book which I picked up on sale at the Strand in NY, where I just visited. The Strand is on Broadway and 12th near Union Sq, and all bibli...more
Leah
Jun 09, 2009 Leah rated it 5 of 5 stars Recommends it for: everybody
Shelves: nonfiction
I actually have the fifth printing of the 1961 Bantam Classic edition, but I don't know how to get that information into the system if it's not already there.
James Thurber has a gift with words. He always knows when to add a particular detail and when to add a comment on the events he's narrating. This collection of stories leads me to believe that the author grew up in a uproariously crazy household; in fact, he could have lived a commonplace life, but his telling of it is exquisite.
Katra
I'd forgotten how much I love James Thurber. He's an ideal antidote for stress. As a testament to that:
This morning during a break in some crown work, the dentist returned to find me reading and laughing so hard that I snorted. How often does that happen at the dentists - without gas?
Ted
Hilarious! Are the stories really true? Quite possibly. Could they happen in present-day america? Probably not. Thurber tells stories about his family, characters plagued by phobias but nonetheless ready to make a daring go at misunderstanding what is going on.
Gail
My Books to Film group is discussing the short story and movie "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty". I found this Autobiography/memoir by James Thurber at my local library. The library didn't have a copy of the short story (surprisingly) but did have this book (as surprisingly).

This book is fun and funny. Reminds me a bit of Will Cuppy's humorous writings. James Thurber had a way with language that pleases the funny bone in me. I will have to check out more of his work. The stories are funny, most...more
Charles
I'd rate it between 3 and 4. I'm not a big fan of stories that are primarily humor. This one was well written and funny in places. I don't know if it quit deserves it's reputation.
Dorothy Donahey
Probably the funniest book I ever read, it's still on my bookshelf since I was old enough to read and appreciate written humor. Having grown up in Ohio, I was apprised of Ohio native James Thurber's work early on. His books were required reading in my Literature classes at Ohio State University. You will howl at his stories of "Mugs, the dog that bit people", "some night she threw them all" and for football fans: university days featuring "Blankowitz". This is my Go-to book when I need cheering...more
Becky W.
Have you ever felt like your family isn't normal? Then you can relate to My Life and Hard Times by James Thurber.
James is a boy who's family is made of interesting people, a weird car, and a house in the middle of an odd neighborhood. This family of five lives in a cinder block on a farm and it’s a difficult life. There is barely enough food to feed her family, the winters are harsh, and the farmer’s cat can’t wait to get his paws on the mice.
Timothy gets sick, and the small cold becomes life...more
Chris Healy
Chris Healy
My Life and Hard Times Review

There are many novels and pieces of literature that are considered classics. These books include Call of the Wild by Jack London, Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Lord of the Flies by William Golding, and Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. The definition of a classic can vary from person to person, but they generally have several things in common. Books known as classics demand respect from society, and are widely accepted to be “good” pieces of literature. T...more
Kat Hagedorn
http://tinyurl.com/neqwdu

I'm not sure I agree that Thurber has been our (American) best humor writer, or our best short story writer. What about Raymond Carver? Doesn't Jon Stewart count?

Certainly, I find his writing humorous, but I also find it a bit monotonous. In this semi-autobiography, I tired easily of the bumblings in the dark. There were far, far too many of these stories. The electric car piece is hands-down the best of them all, but I feel he never achieves that level again in the "col...more
Eric
James Thurber’s memoir of his early years, written before he was even middle-aged, is a look at what it was like to live in the early 1900s with a senile grandfather, a family that didn’t understand the technology of the day, a father who thought everyone else was crazy, and a whole bunch of other people who just don’t communicate. All this is the basis for a series of funny and satirical anecdotes.

Thurber’s grandfather couldn’t tell the difference between a police officer in the early 1900s and...more
Samantha
I just reread this book for the first time since middle school or high school. I definitely appreciate Thurber's humor and subtlety. Here are a few quotes I especially enjoyed:

"Your short-piece writer's time is not Walter Lippmann's time, or Stuart Chase's time, or Professor Einstein's time. It is his own personal time, circumscribed by the short boundaries of his pain and his embarrassment, in which what happens to his digestion, the rear axle of his car, and the confused flow of his relationsh...more
Kaitlin Mooney
I don't want Anna to know I didn't like this book, but I have to be honest on you Goodreads, you are my time capsule, the only proof that I did in fact read that book.

I think I couldn't get into it because I am not an old soul. I didn't relate.

BUT the one story about pretending to be a Doctor during the draft physical was very good and humorous. Not enough for more stars, but I thought I'd mention it.
D_
Am I missing something here? This seemed like a children's book, and maybe I am no longer young at heart, but not a good one either.

The stories were not funny at all and just throwaway anecdotes that might have been funny to the author's immediate family or maybe as part of a silent era slapstick movie, but as written words they were pointless and instantly forgettable.

I liked "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" so I was surprised by the one-dimensional self-centered voice of this "autobiography"....more
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Thurber was born in Columbus, Ohio to Charles L. Thurber and Mary Agnes (Mame) Fisher Thurber. Both of his parents greatly influenced his work. His father, a sporadically employed clerk and minor politician who dreamed of being a lawyer or an actor, is said to have been the inspiration for the small, timid protagonist typical of many of his stories. Thurber described his mother as a "born comedien...more
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Many Moons The Secret Life of Walter Mitty The 13 Clocks The Thurber Carnival The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Other Pieces

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“My mother, for instance, thought-or rather, knew-that it was dangerous to drive an automobile without gasoline: it fried the valves, or something. 'Now don't you dare drive all over town without gasoline!' she would say to us when we started off" (31).” 6 likes
“In the pathways between office and home and home and the houses of settled people there are always, ready to snap at you, the little perils of routine living, but there is no escape in the unplanned tangent, the sudden turn.” 5 likes
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