Saturday, September 8, 2007
A is for Algonquin Round Table
When I was a child my parents belonged to the Doubleday Dollar Book Club, and many books came into our house from it. Along with Best Loved Poems of the American People, this book (right) was an inexhaustible source of entertainment for me. It was certainly in its pages that I first met Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley, two of the quintessential members of the Algonquin Round Table. You can learn more about the Round table here and see a fine caricature of its members here.
I've read most of the work of Parker and Benchley, as well as Alexander Woollcott and Heywood Broun; through the Harold Ross (first editor of The New Yorker) connection, I've branched out into other New Yorker writers like James Thurber (also represented in the book at right), E. B. White, and Wolcott Gibbs. In college I had trouble studying in the library because the bound volumes of that magazine sang their siren song. A couple of years ago I got the complete run on DVD -- what a great present! (Thanks, Onkel Hankie Pants!)
The members of the Round Table were, for the most part, fairly inept at managing their personal lives. (See the movie Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle for some examples.) They were famous for their witty comments (Warning: Do not ever say to me, "Age before beauty," for I will certainly reply as did dear Dorothy, "And pearls before swine.") but a deep vein of sentimentality lay just below the surface. I doubt I've ever said anything as funny as the least of Mrs. Parker's bons mots, but I have tried -- and the sentimentality is certainly there, as my daughters will attest. So, did I get this way from the influence of the Algonquin Round Table, or did their writings and story strike a chord that was already there? Who knows? I'm grateful to Bennett Cerf for editing the Encyclopedia of Modern American Humor and to my parents for checking off the box that brought it into our home. Our copy disappeared or fell apart years ago, but my public library still has a copy -- I hope yours does too.