Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Great Classic Humor

Great Classic Humor, edited by Mark Twain
Publisher: BBC Audio/AudioGo
Date: stories from the 19th century; audiobook published 2009
How did I get this book? borrowed from the library
Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
GoodReads | Publisher

I stumbled across this audiobook at my local library and thought it sounded perfect for the Classics Club (even though it wasn't on my list!). I typically love humor books and was curious to read some selections from the 19th century. Poking around on GoodReads after I brought it home, I was a bit surprised to see so many negative reviews (last time I looked, it had an average rating of 1.71!) -- it seems the consensus is that 19th century humor isn't all that funny. Having now read it myself, I have to both agree and disagree.

I think part of the problem is people tend to find things they can relate to humorous and a lot of the topics these stories cover are not necessarily relate-able to modern audiences. Some certainly are, but definitely not all. And to be perfectly honest, I think humor meant something slightly different back then. Many of these stories showcase irony, cleverness, or mischief -- all within the realm of humor, but not exactly stand-up comedy material.

I will admit that very few of these stories got a true laugh out of me, but Mark Twain's A Restless Night had me in stitches! Anyone who has ever shared a bedroom with another person who falls asleep promptly, while they lie awake with a preoccupied mind, worrying that every toss and turn might wake their companion (this describes me so well!) will most definitely find this particular story extremely funny. For better or worse, this is a perfect example of how the relate-ability of a story can boost a person's opinion of it.

Another of Twain's stories I found particularly amusing was Experience of the McWilliamses with Membranous Croup. This one is a tale of a couple with a sick child, fretting over every little thing they do or do not do and how it will affect the poor dear -- it might not sound funny, but it truly was. The dynamics between the couple as they did and un-did each other's actions in an attempt to control the un-controllable was extremely well done. Whether or not you have children, their indecisiveness is probably something a lot of people can relate to, at least to some extent.

There are five other stories in this collection by Twain, but the rest are by other authors such as Harriet Beecher Stowe and Oliver Wendell Holmes, among others. I must confess, Twain's were my favorites, but a honorable mention definitely goes to Holmes' A Visit to the Asylum for Aged and Decayed Punsters, an amusing tale including quite a bit of word-play. There were multiple narrators used throughout the collection and their performances were very good. Despite the brevity of these stories though, I did find my mind wandering at times. I cannot honestly say they all captured my attention, but they were still an interesting look back in time.

Reading Challenges:
Classics Club
Back to the Classics: a 19th century classic

Classics Club #2


  1. I'm sad to hear that so few of these struck you as funny. So many of Mark Twain's quotes make me laugh, I was hoping this collection would be equally good.

    1. Twain's definitely were my favorites of the collection and 20 of the 27 were by other authors! I found Twain quite a bit funnier than the others.

  2. Oh wow, that's the lowest rating I've ever seen for a book on Goodreads. Then again it only has seven ratings so that's pretty rare too, I usually can't seem to find books with so few ratings.

    I agree that humour from different times can be hard to grab sometimes, for example I remember reading Decameron (14th century?) in high school left me with lotsa confused feelings. I'm glad you are enjoying classic bits of literature though :)

    1. That definitely is a low number of ratings for GR -- I think it's at least partly due to the fact that this collection is only available on audio --without other print editions, I think it limits the book's audience.

      I'm definitely glad I chose this one -- the more I look into classics, the more my list grows of ones I want to read!

  3. That is a super low rating. I think the stories in the this collection sound amusing though. If this is only in audio though I probably won't tackle it unless I have a decently long trip in the car sometime in the near future. I'm more of a physical book reader. Great review! Glad to hear you are really enjoying the classics. I need to read more of those, I miss them!

    1. Yea, the audio-only format seems to mean only a very few people have reviewed it. It's definitely good for a car ride or other multi-tasking. I definitely miss the classics too and am determined to read more of them this year. There are so many different options to choose from, there is definitely no need to make them feel like homework, which is what I'm usually afraid of when I consider which one to read next :)

  4. Sounds like a very interesting anthology--I would never have thought either Harriet Beecher Stowe or Oliver Wendell Holmes were funny at all! I remember reading A Restless Night decades ago--vintage Twain humor :)

    Seems like a good way to get a variety of authors, and a look at some of their lesser known works, at least for the modern reader.

    1. The one Holmes story was really quite amusing & I guess Stowe had a few tales up her sleeve too! Twain was definitely the star though, in my opinion :)

      Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Since I got OverDrive I haven't been to my library. I kind of miss it. Books like this make me want to go.

    1. OverDrive is awesome! I find I can sometimes get certain titles more quickly at the actual library when the OverDrive waiting lists are long though.


I'd love to hear what you think :)