Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Getting Serious About Humor: More Memoir

The World's Largest Man  by Harrison Scott Key is another genuinely funny memoir. In many places, we're talking about humor in nearly every paragraph. A good work that won the Thurber Prize in 2016.

Now a big reason for my Getting Serious About Humor feature here at Original Content is to provide me with opportunities to study humor writing. So here are some thoughts:

  • The World's Largest Man reminded me of Priestdaddy, another Thurber winner, by Patricia Lockwood, in that they are both about a specific growing up experience with a specific, out-sized, over-the-top father.  Lockwood's father is a Catholic priest (yeah, read the book to see how that happened) while Key's father was a rural southern salesman. We're talking about people who are writing about the uniqueness of their young life. Arguably a lot of readers won't relate to the situation...except they are talking about fathers, and a lot of us had one whether they provided us with an unusual upbringing or not. 
  • While reading The World's Largest Man, I also thought a great deal about I'm Wearing Tunics Now by Wendi Aarons, the last book I wrote about in this series. Now, Wearing Tunics, also funny, also a memoir, seems more essay-like than Largest Man.  It also seems more outer directed than Largest Man, as if the author is reaching out to the readers who will identify with her experiences. I'm thinking of Largest Man as inner directed, as if the author is pulling readers in to his experience.

Two Different Ways A Humor Writer Could Go

So these books illustrate, I think, two different ways a humor writer could go:

  1. A book-length memoir about a specific, unusual experience/relationship. The uniqueness of the experience/relationship being the reason for the writing.
  2. A memoir made up of essays that deal with how the writer's experiences represent what was going on with other people at the time they were living them. The relatability of the experiences being the reason for the writing. 
I didn't realize I'd be doing so much reading of and thinking about memoir when I started this. But that is the humor reading that's turned up for me.

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