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My Life and Hard Times

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  2,558 Ratings  ·  214 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 m ...more
Paperback, 106 pages
Published October 6th 1999 by Harper Perennial Modern Classics (first published November 1933)
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Feb 15, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: bio, short, humor, classics
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
Huma Rashid
Jan 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: classic
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
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.
May 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 17, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Apr 30, 2010 rated it did not like it
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
May 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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?
Aug 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
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
May 18, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 22, 2014 rated it it was ok
Here's Muggs, a choleric airedale that lived with the Thurbers:
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
Jan 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Is this book funnier than Steven Colbert? Yes, it is. Is it funnier than your mom? Yes, it is. Is it funnier than Samuel Beckett? Believe it or not, YES IT IS! Is it funnier than Spiro Agnew? Trick question! Spiro Agnew is not funny. This is actually the funniest book ever. You won't believe that it was first published in 1933. 1933 was not generally considered a funny year, but this book is absolutely hilarious. It's a must read! Check it out!
Dec 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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.
❂ Jennifer
Dec 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars - Deducted 1/2 star for being too short. Otherwise an excellent example of midcentury, midwestern humor excellently written.

Slightly wordier review:
May 20, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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.
Garrett Faylor
Jan 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
Do not read this book if you share a bed with someone and they are asleep.
Laura Verret
When I was in ninth grade, I read a book called Themes of Literature as my literature program for the year. (Of course, I read gobs of other books, too.) There were many stories in that book that I’ve already forgotten – that I forgot within weeks of reading them. But then there were others that stuck with me…

I’ve mentioned the chapter from Call It Courage which I found in that book and which made me long to read the rest of the story. And I’ve mentioned reading A. A. Milne’s play The Ugly Duckl
Feb 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 16, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Jun 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 02, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
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
Jun 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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.
Catherine  Mustread
Listened to # 5 of the nine stories in this book, titled "More Alarms at Night" on Selected Shorts, for which the link can be found here:

Then read the text version online at this link:

Perth Amboy plays a part in the middle of the night humor.
Nov 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
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?
May 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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.
Oct 20, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics
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.
This is really a short book of sketches, and it seems doubtful that there is much here that is autobiographical. I generally enjoy old-fashioned sketches, particularly those of Stephen Leacock, who was masterful at writing short but very funny stories. Unfortunately I didn't really enjoy this book by James Thurber. It was a bit of a chore to get through.
Matthew Johnston
Jun 27, 2017 rated it liked it
It might be my fault for picking this book, but the "humor" sounds more like your dad's friend who is making a joke at a party and smiles as he awaits your laughter, so you need to pity laugh to avoid an awkward moment. Maybe I'm not clear on the definition of humorist, or the humor missed me and is better intended for almost funny friends of your parents.
Bobbie Darbyshire
May 28, 2017 rated it did not like it
Up next in the book group’s between-the-wars season, Thurber, described in my 1948 Penguin edition as “America’s greatest genius of humour”, relates anecdotes about his family and his education. At thankfully only 135 pages, including numerous drawings by the author, it didn’t make me laugh once, and I think Thurber would have been a very irritating man to be stuck in a lift with.
Jul 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics, humor, memoir
An enjoyable book of humorous family occurrences. A glance into the past - early 1900's - and what family life was like. Just as dysfunctional then as now!
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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
More about James Thurber...
“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.” 8 likes
“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).” 8 likes
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