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) “What To Do While the Family is Away” from Love Conquers All, Robert Benchley

The family is off on holiday: what does Daddy want to do with his freedom? What does he actually end up doing?

    Somewhere or other the legend has sprung up that, as soon as the family goes away for the summer, Daddy brushes the hair over his bald spot, ties up his shoes, and goes out on a whirlwind trip through the hellish districts of town.
Available FREE on the Robert Benchley Society website.
(2) “Mrs. Crane and Mrs. Carrington” from Compete Stories of Dorothy Parker, Dorothy Parker

Sometimes summer is simply unbearable. Nothing but parties, parties, parties. How do these ladies stand it?

    All those silly, empty women. Never a thought about anything except clothes, never a discussion about anything really worth while. It isn’t so bad in the winter. You can get away from them, a little bit, in New York . . . . But in the summer, down here in the country, there's literally no getting away from them.
(3) “Rus in Urbe” from The Best of O. Henry, O. Henry

To stay in New York City for the summer or head to the south shore of Long Island? Is New York really the “finest summer resort in the world”? Maybe. But Long Island has something Manhattan doesn't. Ducks.

    The city seemed stretched on a broiler directly above the furnaces of Avernus. There was a kind of tepid gayety afoot and awheel in the boulevards, mainly evinced by languid men strolling about in straw hats and evening clothes, and rows of idle taxicabs with their flags up, looking like a blockaded Fourth of July procession.
(4) “Uncle Meleager’s Will” from Lord Peter Views the Body, Dorothy Sayers

Although Sayers is not generally known as a humorist, her Lord Peter Wimsey novels and stories contain much humor. This tale, set in summertime, is a mystery — but not a murder mystery — involving a young woman who takes life far too seriously and how she learns to lighten up.

    “Hi!” cried Mary; “Look where you’re going!” cried her friend.

    They were too late. A splash and a flounder proclaimed that Lord Peter had walked, like Johnny Head-in-Air, over the edge of the impluvium, papers and all.

    “You ass!” said Mary,

(5) “Ellsworth Leggett and the Great Ice Cream War” from A Fistful of Fig Newtons, Jean Shepherd

What’s causing all the commotion in downtown Hohman, Indiana on this sweltering night? Is it a dartball tournament? No, an ice cream war. Reading this story will make you want to go in search of a scoop of pineapple and a scoop of Dutch chocolate in a sugar cone.

    It had all begun on steamy hot day in July. It was a Friday, and there were none who suspected that this nondescript day would go down in legend. It was hot, really hot, as only Indiana can get when the sun hangs like molten ball in the brass-colored skies, the air so thick that the clothes poles and trees shimmered in your vision.
(6) “The Old Margate Hoy” from The Last Essays of Elia, Charles Lamb

Although Lamb wrote this essay in 1823, what he says about seaside resorts and the people who vacation at them still holds true. The language may be a bit dated, but human nature remains the same.

    But it is the visitants from town, that come here to say that they have been here, with no more relish of the sea than a pond perch, or a dace might be supposed to have, that are my aversion. I feel like a foolish dace in these regions, and have as little toleration for myself here, as for them. What can they want here? If they had a true relish of the ocean, why have they brought all this land luggage with them? Or why pitch their civilised tents in the desert? What mean these scanty book-rooms -- marine libraries as they entitle them -- if the sea were, as they would have us believe, a book "to read strange matter in?" What are their foolish concert-rooms, if they come, as they would fain be thought to do, to listen to the music of the waves? All is false and hollow pretention. They come, because it is the fashion, and to spoil the nature of the place. They are mostly, as I have said, stockbrokers.
(7) Three Men on Third, H. Allen Smith

The great American summer pastime presented in Smith’s inimitable style. These are anecdotes and vignettes, so you can dip in and read as much as you please at a sitting.

    Roger Cramer, playing center field for Detroit in a game at Comiskey Park in 1945, saw a red hen cross between his position and second base. Roger caught it and found a card tied to it. The card said “This is to be a gift for the wining pitcher.” Three Detroit pitchers laid eggs, but Earl Caldwell pitched a shutout for the White Sox and got the hen.
(8) 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?"
(9) “Indoor Golf” from A Wodehouse Miscellany, P. G. Wodehouse

Raining outside? Try indoor golf. The Miscellany features light pieces on diverse subjects ranging from golf to spectacles to advertising and also includes poems and Reggie Pepper and Bertie Wooster stories.

    The seventh is the longest hole on the course. Starting at the entrance of the best bedroom, a full drive takes you to the head of the stairs, whence you will need at least two more strokes to put you dead on the pin in the drawing-room. In the drawing-room the fairway is trapped with photograph frames--with glass, complete--these serving as casual water: and anyone who can hole out on the piano in five or under is a player of class.
(10) "Watching Baseball" from Love Conquers All, Robert Benchley.

Sweet Old Bob lays out the rule of the game of baseball–the rules for the observers, that is. Recent visitors to our ball-parks–such as Boston's Fenway which Benchley frequented with Mrs. Jack Gardner–must concur that his suggestions for wearing apparel are, sadly, unheeded today.

    In the matter of hostile remarks addressed at an unpopular player on the visiting team, it would probably be better to leave the wording entirely to the individual fans. Each man has his own talents in this sort of thing and should be allowed to develop them along natural lines. In such crises as these in which it becomes necessary to rattle the opposing pitcher or prevent the visiting catcher from getting a difficult foul, all considerations of good sportsmanship should be discarded. As a matter of fact, it is doubtful if good sportsmanship should ever be allowed to interfere with the fan's participation in a contest. The game must be kept free from all softening influences.
Available FREE on the Robert Benchley Society website.