Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Years With Ross

With so many books out there, unread, and new ones coming out, why reread? I recently compared rereading favorite books to dining at favorite restaurants or even eating favorite foods. There are a myriad of beverages, but when the chips are down, I prefer English Breakfast tea, hot, with honey and milk. It's familiar, comfortable, satisfying, and rejuvenating.

I'm on a rereading kick these days with three of the seven books I'm currently reading being rereads, and my next books will be rereads of Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck.

The Years With Ross, by James Thurber, was one of my father's favorite books, and I read it at least two if not three times when I was a teenager. In rereading it this past week, I was startled to realize that it shaped who I am every bit as much as the Little House books, the Anne of Green Gables books, Gone With the Wind, and Austen's novels.

Harold Ross was the founder editor of the New Yorker magazine, where Thurber worked for awhile, starting in 1927, and to which he contributed stories, articles, and drawings throughout his career. The Years With Ross is a memorial by Thurber to Ross, an exacting editor and a unique individual who was responsible for launching many remarkable authors and artists into their careers. He was irritable, naively sweet, fond of practical jokes, obsessive, possessive, and force to be reckoned with.

I loved reading again Thurber's countless anecdotes of Ross in the office, dealing with the likes of E. B."Andy" White (author of Charlotte's Web, et al and long time employee of and contributor to The New Yorker), Alexander Woolcott (theatre critic and inspiration for Sheridan Whiteside, the main character in the play The Man Who Came to Dinner), Dorothy Parker, and other luminaries of the infamous Algonquin Round Table.

The best part, however, was when I reached the section in the chapter entitled "Miracle Men," about Ross's fruitless quest for the perfect managing editor which contained The Theory and Practice of Editing New Yorker Articles, by Wolcott Gibbs, whom Thurber labels the "best copy editor that the New Yorker has ever had. This is essentially the New Yorker style guide and having read it several times as a teenager, I can honestly say that I took Gibbs' guidelines as gospel and have applied them to my work as a writer, editor, and reader.

Here is a link to it so that you can read it in all its glory.

Disclaimer: Since I haven't read this since I was maybe 17, I don't pretend that my writing faithfully adheres to these guidelines. Evolution happens, but more often than not, if something rankles me as a reader, it's probably on Gibbs' list of "don'ts," except for item #25. Unlike Gibbs and Ross and the New Yorker, I am not hostile to puns but embrace them, relish them, and wish I was better at devising them.

My copy of The Years With Ross is now replete with earmarked pages that contain references to articles I want to read. I may have to subscribe to the New Yorker just so that I can have access to their archives. I did read Shirley Jackson's chilling short story, The Lottery, which was published in the New Yorker in 1948 and which I found online here. I still have yet to read Why We Go To Cabarets; A Post-Debutante Explains from 1925 and The Cliche Expert Testifies on the Tabloids from 1948. I absolutely loved reading the notes that Thurber dug up that Ross had given Frank Sullivan, author of the latter piece, before running it, especially his thoughts on the word "exotic."

I feel an obsessive need to read all the old New Yorker articles, which could seriously impede my reading and rereading of other books.

Above is one of the first cartoons that Thurber sold to the New Yorker. Seeing again all those wonderful Thurber cartoons, which he sprinkled liberally throughout The Years With Ross was an extra bonus to rereading this wonderful book.


  1. Wow. Sounds like a great book. I love all those old New Yorker cartoons and I think I would love this book too. Thanks for the review!

  2. Interesting that this book was as influential as the Little House books and Anne of Green Gables. That makes it worth a look, certainly! I love the New Yorker now and would probably greatly enjoy reading older articles as well.

  3. I want this book! You convinced me. It sounds absolutely wonderful.

  4. I have picked up your blog while looking for another copy of the Years with Ross. I lent someone my copy 10 years ago and it never came back. Hardly surprising - it's a wonderful memoir, funny, perceptive, heart warming, as well as a marvellous history of the magazine. No library should lack a copy.