Robert Benchley Society


The Robert Benchley Society announces its "top ten" list of short humorous summertime readings. Following each entry is a brief description and a quotation from the piece. Enjoy!

(1) "Carnival Week in Sunny Las Los," from The Benchley Roundup, Robert Benchley.

Here is Mr. B's unforgettable trip to the quaint, medieval Spanish province of Las Los, or "The the."

    Las Los, nestling, as it does, in the intercoastal nooks of the Pyrenees, makes up into one of the nicest little plague spots on the continent of Europe. Europe has often claimed that Las Los was not a part of it, and in 1356 Spain began a long and costly war with France, the loser to take Las Los and two outfielders.

Also available free on line from the Univ. of Virginia.

(2) Innocents Abroad , Mark Twain.

Twain torments his tour guides during his European travels in the 1850s.

    There is one remark, which never has failed to disgust these guides. We use it always, when we can think of nothing else to say. After they have exhausted their enthusiasm pointing out to us and praising the beauties of some ancient bronze image or broken-legged statue, we look at it stupidly and in silence for five, ten, fifteen minutes--as long as we can hold out, in fact--and then ask --"Is--is he dead?"
(3) Right Ho, Jeeves, P. G. Wodehouse.

The Oxford Book of Humorous Prose (p. 1120 ff) features an excerpt from Wodehouse's 1934 masterpiece, Right Ho, Jeeves. Editor Frank Muir calls it "the most memorably funny scene to be found in any of the Jeeves and Bertie Wooster stories -- [a very drunk] Gussie Fink-Nottle presenting the prizes at the Market Snodsbury Grammar school." The scene captures the essence of a sweltering Summer day in rural England.

    It was the hottest day of the summer, and although someone had opened a tentative window or two, the atmosphere remained distinctive and individual. In this hall the youth of Market Snodsbury had been eating its daily lunch for a matter of five hundred years, and the flavor lingered. The air was sort of heavy and languorous, if you know what I mean, with the scent of Young England and boiled beef and carrots.
(4) "Hairy Gertz and the Forty-Seven Crappies" From In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, Jean Shepherd.

When you're a twelve-year old boy in Indiana, summer means fishing. When Ralph Parker is allowed to go fishing on Cedar Lake with the Old Man, Zudock, and Hairy Gertz, he thinks this means he's one of The Men, no longer a kid. But does it?

    I will have to describe to you what a lake in the summer in Northern Indiana is like. To begin with, heat, in Indiana, is something else again. It descends like a 300-pound fat lady onto a picnic bench in the middle of July. It can literally be sliced into chunks and stored away in the basement to use in winter. Indiana heat. . . is a solid element, something you can grab by the handles.
(5) "The Horse Latitudes" From Lost in the Horse Latitudes, H. Allen Smith.

Summer makes people do strange things. Who knows the reason?

    The dead calms and light, baffling winds of summer lead to a lot of aimless wandering. Sometimes I'd go up to get a haircut when I didn't need a haircut. I simply enjoyed the company of a barber named Vito.
(6) Molvania -- A Land Untouched by Modern Dentistry, Santo Cilauro et al.

This entertaining parody of tourist guide books describes the fictitious country of Molvania in more detail than you might want.

    Depending on what you want from your trip, any time can be good to visit Molvania. As a general rule, spring and autumn tend to be wet, winter is bitterly cold, and in summer the heat can be oppressive . . . Kaca Zrzahevo (literally "stink house") is a surprisingly popular restaurant close to the center of the city. Each dish appears to be lovingly prepared with the freshest ingredients. This, of course, is an illusion.
(7) "Summer Recipes" from May Contain Nuts, Henry Alford.

This surreal garland of summer recipes includes an unlikely salad.

    Summery Chinese Toboggan Salad:
  • 1 can bamboo shoots
  • 1/2 c. sesame oil
  • 4 stalks celery, chopped
  • Juice and zest of 3 lemons
  • 1 wooden toboggan

    Put the toboggan in a food processor and pulse for ten seconds on Eviscerate . . ."

(8) "Summertime, and the Livin' Ain't Easy", from Vinegar Puss, S. J. Perelman.

Here Mr. P. describes a summer spent in Rome in 1959, writing screenplays.

    From eleven to one, I dictated to a secretary in a patois that mingled pidgin English with Hollywood scriptese . . . While I carefully spelled out all polysyllabic words, they frequently came back to me in unrecognizable forms: "Raoul has a strange idioniscanary -- a fondness for snakes," one of the girls indited, and another transcribed my characterization of our breezy ingenue thus: "Babette enters. She is a vivastic creature of nineteen."
(9) The Lost Continent, Bill Bryson.

Though this is a full-length book, it reads more like a series of fast, funny essays in which Bill Bryson describes a year of touring small town America. Here he arrives in his Iowa hometown during the Summer.

    I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to . . . Hardly anybody ever leaves. This is because Des Moines is the most powerful hypnotic known to man. Outside town there is a big sign that says WELCOME TO DES MOINES. THIS IS WHAT DEATH IS LIKE. There isn't really. I just made that up.
(10) "How to Travel in Peace" from Chips off the Old Benchley, Robert Benchley.

Mr. B. discovers the secret of what to do when "the conversational voltage in the smoking rooms of the trans-atlantic greyhounds (ocean liners)" gets too high in the summer.

    I solved the problem of shipboard conversation by traveling alone and pretending to be a deaf-mute. I recommend this ruse to other irritable souls. There is no sense in trying to effect it if you have the family along. There is no sense in trying to effect anything if you have the family along.